Tag Archive | Christianity

What is Left When the Music Fades

Music is a paradox. At least to me it is. Many of us can attest to the healing power of music. To that extraordinary song that reached deeply into our brokenness like a salve. Possibly connecting our heart with God’s in an emotional and meaningful act of worship.  Or to the song that became a mighty anthem of courage and renewed strength providing the determination to press onward.

But what happens when the healing power of that same special song not only fades, but sends your spirit into a fast spinning downward spiral?

I have long been aware that there is a significant contrast in the way my heart and mind will respond to different songs. Or perhaps more accurately, to the memories and emotions associated with the songs. There are entire time periods of music, and not just a particular song or artist, from dark seasons of my life that I have learned to avoid. Within the first few seconds of hearing the melody and lyrics I am transported back to a time of confusion, bad choices and pain. The flood of regret and shame is instantaneous as I am reminded of how grievously I sinned against myself and others. The darkness threatens to overtake me and the fight to put it all back in the past where it belongs is so tiring that sometimes I allow it to linger longer than is necessary or healthy. And so, I intentionally strive to control the negative emotions that secular music triggers within me.

My husband once asked me why I only listen to Christian music. I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong or evil with most secular music. But for me, it has the ability to slice through the healing I have achieved and plant poisonous seeds in my heart and mind. And even if it doesn’t cause harm, the weeds seldom inspire or infuse my soul with joy or peace.

But lately I have been recognizing a growing discomfort and aversion to some Christian music that once  soothed, comforted, empowered and energized my weary soul. And I am finding myself needing to disassociate from the memories and feelings they currently evoke.

Firstly, are my old favourites from my teenage and young adult years. One of the same time periods where I find the secular music particularly triggering for me. I feel a pang of emptiness and my body physically reacts every time I scroll through my playlist and my eyes alight on those artists or albums. It doesn’t seem that my mind wants to revisit either the good or bad moments of those years.

Secondly, are a couple of the songs that provided me immense comfort and strength as I began healing from sexual betrayal trauma and the effects of my husband’s sex addiction three years ago. Anointed songs that enveloped me in God’s loving arms where the tears were wiped from my eyes and a foundation was built beneath my feet for the recovery journey ahead of me. Lyrics that once spoke so deeply to my heart that I had them printed out and close beside me on my desk at work available to encourage me throughout the day. Now I can barely tolerate these songs. Maybe it is a case of too much of a good thing. It parallels my twenty eight year aversion to apple juice. I had an extreme case of hyperemesis during my first pregnancy and the only sustenance I received was from sips of apple juice. It nourished my body. The songs nurtured my soul. They both did their job in bringing healing to my sickness. But I’m not sick anymore. And remembering that I was elicits sadness and makes me feel less whole. When I feel less whole, I am easily deceived and susceptible to spiritual attacks. I am quite adept at filling the void with lies of hopelessness and despair.

For me, music is both healing and destructive. It mends my shattered pieces. And it threatens to break them apart again. My spirit may soar, or it may plummet. Sometimes I am aware, and sometimes I am caught by surprise. That is the nature of triggers. I forever must stand on guard to protect my salvation, recovery and ongoing healing journey to wholeness. Some things are black and white. Good or bad. But so much more are caught in the middle ready and waiting to change the direction of my heart. Good or bad…..

Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:8-10

Advertisements

My Hiding Place

Some days, well, most days, I feel an overwhelming need to escape to my hiding place. Sometimes I run, other times I limp. I have even crawled to my place of comfort, where my soul is soothed, even if only momentarily. This is where I peel off my protective bandage and expose the wounds of sexual betrayal and abuse to the fresh air.

 I often get mixed up with the what, where and who of my hiding place. And by mixed up, I mean I settle in and pitch my tent with the wrong thing, location or person in my attempt to relieve the pressure of my emotional pain.

The wrong thing is often obvious. Using alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling to pacify the screams of the heart. But there are other methods of medicating emotional pain that may seem innocent enough, but the temporary release only infects and deepens the wound rather than heals it. Things such as food, shopping, TV, video games, romance books, over sleeping, busyness, etc. This is where my jar of peanut butter and jumbo size package of chocolate chips fits in.

My where is not so much an inappropriate place that I shouldn’t be, (although I do have places and gatherings I avoid that trigger negative emotions in me) but perhaps not being in the location I should be to face and process my pain. When my daughter moved away from home, her bedroom became my office. It is a wonderful sanctuary for me in many ways. It is where I do my daily devotions and Bible reading, where I write. But sometimes I retreat there instead of sitting on the couch in my living room with my husband confronting my inner turmoil.

My who. This is where I frequently muddle the order. I have many safe people with whom to connect for support and guidance. My recovery support group, counsellor, pastor, friends. My husband. God. All sources of refuge. But sometimes I share my pain with others instead of, or before, my husband because I still fear his rejection and abandonment. And sometimes I lay my pain and confusion at my husband’s feet before bringing them to God’s. As the wife of a recovering addict, there may be times when I need solid advice from a trustworthy source before tackling an issue with my husband. And my husband is the physical heart, arms and ears that God has provided me on earth. But……

God is my hiding place.

God is the One who knows me better than I know myself. And He loves me anyway. I find an overwhelming comfort in that knowledge that both calms and brings tears of wonder to my soul. Me and God. God and me. We have some special hideouts to hang out in when I need the safety, security, assurance and protection of His love and grace.

When my heart needs an infusion of peace and stillness, my Abba Daddy takes me by the hand and leads me to a treehouse nestled in a tranquil forest grove where the quiet beauty of His creation surrounds us. Rays of sunlight filtering through the vibrant green foliage. A gentle breeze. The sound of a stream rippling nearby. A curious chipmunk. The hurts and chaos of every day life melts away from my heart, mind and body as the soothing warmth of God’s presence envelops me in this place where no person or thing can find me. Where the sign on the treehouse reads No Pain Allowed.

There are other times when my heart is searching for acceptance and belonging. It is then that God and I gleefully build a magnificent blanket fort. Armed with our flashlights, a Bible, colouring books and pencil crayons, we huddle cozily together whispering and giggling, delighting in our companionship. As we share gummie bears, chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate from a thermos, soft pillows and fuzzy blankets my heart is filled with contentment and joy that there is no other place God would rather be than right there with me. Just as I am. Just as we are.

This isn’t escapism. This isn’t avoidance. This is the promise that when the burdens of my bumpy healing journey begin to overtake me, God will provide a refuge and allow me time to rest. Sometimes minutes is all I need. Sometimes the minutes become days, or weeks. However long I need in my retreat, I emerge empowered with a calmer, stronger spirit ready to continue the daily battle of recovery. Victory belongs to team God and Cynthia.

You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

Where is your hiding place? Or favourite place to hang out or visit? 

Who would you take with you? Or would you go alone?

The Best Part of Addiction Recovery Isn’t What I Expected

I didn’t know that you could say something wrong in a recovery support group. I didn’t expect the words that flowed so innocently and enthusiastically from my mouth would cause shifting eyes and an awkward silence to envelop the room.

I immediately became confused. Quickly replayed in my mind what I had just said that seemed to make this circle of wounded and healing women so uncomfortable. I hadn’t confessed any of my sins or struggles from the week. Or disclosed any of my husband’s. I hadn’t asked a difficult question or raised a triggering topic for discussion.

What I had done was introduce an unexpected burst of joy and an exuberant declaration of God’s goodness and faithfulness to the group. One year into my recovery as the partner of a sex addict and intimacy anorexic, I heartily exclaimed that the best part of my recovery was my deeper relationship with God.

I was surprised and baffled by their reaction. Most of the women in that room identified as being a Christian. And if not, still readily talked about their spirituality. My support group is not church based, but spiritual self care is a component of our check in, and subsequently, God is regularly mentioned.

But perhaps not with as much passion as I did that day. But it was warranted. Two years later, I have often revisited that meeting in my mind, and still come to the same conclusion every time.

The best part of my recovery from my husband’s sex addiction and my own past sexual sin is the intimate relationship I have discovered with Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the One who whispered my name, took my shattered heart in His hand, and set my feet on a path to healing and wholeness. Jesus is the One who called me out upon the water. To the great unknown. Where my feet may fail. And it would be okay anyway.

As part of my morning routine for an entire month, I listened to the song “Oceans” by Hillsong. The lyrics and haunting melody nurtured my soul and provided me courage. One by one, I tentatively allowed Jesus to pry open each finger that was tightly attempting to hold the shards of my heart together. My trust in Jesus grew. And then I timidly prayed for my Saviour to take me deeper. Not quite knowing what that might entail.  But answering the invitation to ride above and through the waves with Him anyway.

At the same time that God was building my faith in Him, He was enlarging my capacity to trust the genuine healing of my husband’s heart. I was beginning to see my husband through God’s eyes, rather than with my own flawed vision.

And then God challenged me. To trust my husband with my heart. God calmed my fear with assurances of His unconditional, unfailing, unrelenting, extravagant love for me. If I could believe that my heart was safe in the hands of my Creator, then I could trust God’s leading to offer it to my husband.

God did not promise that I would never again be hurt by my husband. God did not promise an easy, quick, linear path to restoring our lives and marriage. But God did promise to never leave me nor forsake me. God did promise to be a faithful, constant presence with a never ending supply of strength for my journey.

I began to understand that my husband will fail me. And I will fail him. And we will both fail ourselves. It is inevitable. Despite our best attempts and intentions, we are imperfect, sinful humans. It is wrong of me to expect perfection from him. It is wrong of me to believe that my husband can and should fulfill all my needs. He can’t. Only God can do that.

My worth, joy and peace is not dependent on my husband’s ability to love or respect me. My healing is not determined by the status or success of my husband’s recovery from his addiction. I matter. I am loved. I am cherished by my Heavenly Father. Every moment of every day.  Just because I am me.

God has become the one sure thing in my life. I know that whatever lies ahead for me, for my husband, for my marriage, that I will be okay. Recovery continues to have highs and lows for me as God draws us both closer and deeper in intimate relationship with Him and each other.

I have confidence that should my husband relapse in his recovery, God will sustain me. I am certain that should I falter in my recovery, God will pick me up again.

It wasn’t until my heart was so completely and utterly broken by my husband’s sexual sin that I began to experience how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is for me. It became more than a Sunday school song. It turned out to be real.

The truth about God’s supernatural healing power and love is never the wrong thing to say.

I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:16-19

I Don’t Want to be Strong

I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want anyone to tell me to be strong. I don’t even want anyone to tell me that I am strong. In my experience, if that character trait is being mentioned, and I need to muster courage and resiliency to get through a situation, then something must be difficult. And distressing. And quite possibly, wrong.

Certainly there is a well meaning encouragement behind the words. An offering of support. Perhaps even given as a compliment. Or a reassurance of hope and the calming of a storm.

Early in my recovery from sexual betrayal trauma and the effects of my husband’s sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, I was tired of holding it all together. I didn’t know how to. And the thought of fighting the destruction was exhausting and overwhelming.

Hearing the exhortations to be strong made me want to scream “But I don’t want to be strong!” I just wanted to be. Whatever that was, I just wanted to be. I wanted someone else to be strong for me. Or better yet, to not have to be strong at all.

If my husband wasn’t a sex addict, I wouldn’t have to be strong. If I hadn’t lived in a sexless marriage devoid of love and affection for twenty years, I wouldn’t have to be strong. If I remained silent and willing to live in an emotionally abusive marriage, I wouldn’t have to be strong. If. If. If.

I thought I had to be strong. And I couldn’t do it. I felt defeated. I remember waking up in the morning already beaten down by the fog of a day covered in pain and uncertainty. My prayer before I arose from bed was not a petition for God to provide me with strength and courage to tackle my day, heal my wounds or save my marriage. My prayer was much simpler, honest and broken. “God, please hold me today.”

God, please hold me today. And He did.

I didn’t have to be strong after all. In my brokenness and weakness, God was more than able to step in and be strong for me. And what I found was that as I ceased fighting, and rested in God’s arms, He began to infuse me with His strength. It just came because it wasn’t mine. I didn’t have to put on my big girl pants because God put His armour on me instead.

God made me ready for my battle of restoration. My Defender. My Protector. The Mountain Maker. The Ocean Tamer. The One who put my life back into place when I thought it was falling apart. The One who showed me that He really does bring beauty from the ashes.

This would be a nice, tidy ending to the story now. But……that’s not how it always works. At least not for me. Sometimes I forget and try to do things on my own strength again. Someone may tell me that I am a strong woman, and that makes me feel proud of the recovery work I have done. I feel affirmed that someone has noticed the changes in me. Sometimes I forget that it wasn’t my own strength that brought me to this place of healing and restoration. Or worse, sometimes I don’t forget, I just don’t acknowledge the One who carried me through and lifted me above my circumstances.

Recently, as my husband and I have committed to improving our emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy, I have found myself once again relying on my own strength. And that isn’t working very well for me. I am struggling. Doing the one step forward, two steps back dance. I pray. But sometimes it isn’t with all my heart. Sometimes it isn’t with a surrendered heart.

God’s grace is sufficient for me. If I let it be. His power is made perfect in my weakness. If I give Him control. But I am still a teeny bit scared of trusting my husband with all of my heart and body. Which also means I’m not trusting God to protect me either.

I have the same power living in me that rose Jesus from the dead, and yet I stifle that power even when God has proven Himself faithful over and over and over again. Even when the battle has already been won.

Now, it is time for the tidy, happy ending, but I don’t have one to this part of my story yet. But it is coming.

God, please hold me today.

O Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress. Isaiah 33:2

Breaking Bread and Broken Hearts – The Morning After

Our first communion together. After 25 years and 6 days of marriage. Four days after my husband’s salvation. And less than 24 hours after shared disclosures of our sexual history, sin and betrayals.

The day before, I heard details of my husband’s sex and porn addiction behaviours. He was blindsided with the stinging news that his wife (that would be me) had an affair many years earlier.

The morning after had arrived. In the two months that my husband had regularly been attending church with me, we often left home separately, as he served on the worship team and needed to be at church early for practice. This Sunday was different. There were guests leading the worship service. He would be operating the sound system but had set it up the evening before. In God’s grand design, we drove to church together. Raw. Quiet. Each of us immersed in our own unrelenting pain. Separate yet united.

We walked into the sanctuary. He headed for the sound station. I sat with a friend. Disappointment weighed heavily on my heart that we were not able to sit together as a couple for our first communion.

The immensity and weariness of our brokenness kept me from singing. My heart was breaking that even here at church, circumstances and seating arrangements were disconnecting us on a very special occasion.

I decided that once I had received my bread and wine (or rather grape juice and cracker) I would go and stand beside my husband at the sound station. There was enough division in our marriage. This would not be another time.  God’s sanctification and redemption was for us to claim.

I was too late. A movement beside me. I looked up and there he was, joining me on my pew! He said we had to be together for his first communion. It was a bittersweet moment. The joy of partaking in our first communion together was covered with an overwhelming sadness. We could not move. Or sing. Or pray and reflect. My husband had his arm around me. I had my head tucked in his shoulder. And we just cried together. Walking to the front of the church for prayer was not a possibility. The weight of our pain immobilized us. Our pastor came to us. Never before or since have I seen him approach anyone seated in their pew for prayer. Nothing was ordinary about that day. After a bit, my husband went back to work the sound system. The rest of the service was a blur. Except for the words of one worship song that resonated deep within me:

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes.

(10,000 Reasons)

The morning after the most difficult day of our marriage, with the day stretching darkly ahead of us, these words brought me a glimmer of hope and light. The sun had come up. And nothing would ever be the same again. We were both now fully aware of all the “whatevers” that had combined to ravage our hearts and marriage. The devastating effects of sexual sin and betrayal were very much our present. And would be daily for a long time to come. But the actions and behaviours were in the past. It was the “whatever” lying before me that remained unclear. And yet it wasn’t. Unknown where the details and timing of God’s plan to rebuild our lives and marriage. Known was the commitment to the process I felt during the communion service from all three of the components in the trinity of my marriage – God, husband and wife.

God gathered a broken man and woman to Him that morning. In the brilliant setting of a communion service. Where we were called to remember the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ as He bled and died on the cross for me. For my husband. For every one of us. Where extravagant love and overwhelming sorrow were forever united at Calvary so they could one day join us on our church pew. Cleansing. Purifying. Transforming. I am forever humbled and grateful.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22,23

Sometimes “Happy” Anniversary Isn’t

Two very special friends from my recovery group for partners of sex addicts had wedding anniversaries this weekend. I first wrote the word “celebrated” but replaced it with “had.” Because although one was a celebration, the other, not so much. And I can’t stop thinking about the transformation that has occurred in my marriage from the not so much to the celebration.

The first friend wrote in an email “We have plans to celebrate our anniversary this weekend.” Even included a smiley face. I responded with “Happy Anniversary! The best part is that it really is happy, isn’t it?! A joy and gratitude filled celebration.”

I learned of my other friend’s anniversary via my Facebook newsfeed. As I scanned the messages of “Happy Anniversary to a wonderful couple!” my heart sank. My first reaction was “Uh-oh.” Because I know, oh, I know, the sting of those words that do not always bring joy. I knew in this instance, that as they had for me, each proclamation would be a poke and twist into the wound of unhappy days behind and uncertain days ahead.

My wedding anniversary became a mocking reminder of just how long I had been mistreated, neglected, unloved, in pain. With every congratulatory acknowledgement I received over the years came the assumption that I had a happy marriage. Or that I would at least have a happy time celebrating it for one day. I failed at both.

Anniversary cards would come in the mail from our parents and church. Some years I opened them and left them out for my husband to see. They might garner a quick glance. Or a snicker at the corniness. Nothing more. No sweet sentiments for my starved soul from him. Other times I would open a card, hold back tears and throw it in the garbage. The words inside too hurtful and so far away from my reality that they didn’t have a place in my home.

For our tenth wedding anniversary, I received a commemorative Precious Moments plate from my parents. It made me cry. As a teenager growing up in the eighties, my bedroom was filled with Precious Moments figurines, many received as gifts on special occasions. This is what my mother thought she was doing now. It should have been a perfect gift, but instead it was so very wrong for my wounded heart. I kept it for another seventeen years. This spring I threw it away along with the painful memories it generated.

My parents and in-laws were the only people who celebrated our anniversary over the years. Not the husband and wife within the marriage. It was another bitter rejection that my husband was not willing to sacrifice one evening of his year to spend with me. The one day, that maybe, just maybe, he would choose to be with me rather than the television or computer or his fantasy world. It seldom happened. Once or twice if there was something he wanted to do. We went to a movie once that he wanted to see. Cast Away. I remember because we don’t go to movies together. There is no theater in our town. It requires a drive to the city. Which would also require spending three hours with me in a vehicle. As it also happens, there are no decent restaurants in our town. Going out for dinner was never an option in his mind. The food choices seemed to be more important than the company (me). It didn’t take long for my mind to make the connection that I was not worth his time.

Less than two months into our recovery for his sex addiction, our 25th wedding anniversary occurred. A momentous milestone with every possible conflicting emotion attached to it. The week before, I mustered up the courage to tell my husband that I wanted to go out for supper. We would have a date for our anniversary, and I would pick the restaurant. He agreed. Now that I had dared to communicate my need, panic set in. My mind was spinning with choosing the “right” restaurant. I was still wary of his disapproval in my selection and trying to find the balance of keeping him happy while staying true to my newfound desire to use my squeaky little voice. And honestly, I knew he wouldn’t want to drive a long distance for our date, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend that much time in a vehicle together either. Supper conversation would bring us enough unease for the evening. I researched restaurants and menus in nearby towns. I hummed and I hawed. But I didn’t discuss it with him. As challenging as it was, it was very important to my recovery (and in retrospect his) that this decision be mine, not his.

We observed our 25th wedding anniversary together. Celebrated would not be quite the right word. It was not a light, party atmosphere in our section of the restaurant. We were both self conscious and uncomfortable. Conversation was awkward, tentative, but very polite. As an added bonus, we were keenly aware that less than a week later we would be sitting in our counsellor’s office hearing his disclosure. And what I also knew was that he was about to be blindsided by mine.

The pain between us was palpable that evening. We shared it. Each of us holding more secrets in our hearts that would soon be exposed. Each of us searching for hope in each other’s eyes.

We have returned to that same restaurant now to celebrate our 26th and 27th wedding anniversaries. It is never too late for a bride and groom to begin new traditions.

Maybe that evening was a celebration. Maybe God was looking at us with a twinkle in His eye. A smile on His face that His plan for redemption was in motion. Because it was. It most definitely was.

He has taken me to the banquet hall, and His banner over me is love. Song of Songs 2:4

Sundogs and Rainbows – or When God Sends a Hug and a Promise

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. God sends me rainbows. I’m not kidding. Or imagining things. Rainbows have shown up too many times, at just the right moment when my heart needed reassurance of God’s care and presence in a situation for them to be a coincidence. Sure, rainbows have randomly occurred on days that are just any other days for me. And then I can smile at how marvellously God has designed every aspect of creation for our delight. There is always a message in the beauty of creation for my heart to receive.

And then one day I received a sundog. Disclaimer that this is not scientifically correct, but the most understandable way to describe a sundog if you haven’t seen one would be that it is a rainbow on either side of the sun that is formed in cold weather by ice crystals. Winter’s rainbow.

And so it was, that frosty January afternoon as our truck left town and turned onto the highway, a brilliant sundog appeared ahead of us. This was only a few days after hearing the words from my husband “I am a sex addict.” The reason we were unaccustomedly in a vehicle together going to the city, or anywhere for that matter, was for individual counselling appointments with a sex addictions recovery therapist. My first. His second.

The atmosphere inside the truck was as heavy and still as the frigid air outside. But we were together. And that meant something. Especially when I looked up and saw the sundog. God’s hug in that moment. For me. God’s promise that He was with me holding my hand on this journey He was setting before me. The unmistakable sign that I was not alone. That whatever may or may not happen, God was with me. I would be okay.

God has signs all around us all the time. Some are obvious. Others we don’t recognize for what they are. But the miracles and wonders are there. I call these “God moments.” A friend describes them as “God-incidences.” God knows exactly what will speak words of comfort, peace, strength, courage and hope to my soul and to yours. He knows what will make each of our hearts smile when we need it most. A hummingbird, a smile from a stranger, a flower growing in an unexpected place, a meaningful compliment, a starry night……. a sundog on a desperation filled day.

Did the knot in my stomach untangle? No. Did the lump in my throat disappear? No. But the warmth of God’s embrace allowed me to take a deep breath, look heavenward, and thank God for the inevitable and much needed change that was beginning in my life. And as an added blessing, He brought my husband along for the ride too.

For I am the Lord , your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you. Isaiah 41:13