I turned 30 years old last fall. As I think back over the year of 2017, I see that the biggest life lesson I learned is how to steady my heart even when it’s breaking. This was not a quick or easy lesson. For about 18 months, I prayed that God would help me not to walk around feeling like a martyr when my circumstances were painful. I wanted to see past my pain to still be a blessing to others, but I knew that I was often falling short of that goal. It’s one thing to dominate my conversations with friends about my hardships for a season, but when that continues over a year, enough is enough. It’s one thing to be heartbroken and exhausted for a season, but at some point, I had to say, “This is my life, and I have to exude the joy of the Lord instead of the pain of Mary.”
Recently I saw this quote by author Lysa TerKeurst: “Just because we’ve been hurt, doesn’t mean we have to live hurt.”
I paid attention to Lysa’s quote because I knew some of what she had been through in the past few years: her husband’s unfaithfulness and substance abuse, her diagnosis of breast cancer and a double mastectomy. Still in the midst of all that, she had the faith and resolve to say, “Just because we’ve been hurt, doesn’t mean we have to live hurt.”
I wrote down her words because this was exactly what I had been trying to grasp over the last year and a half.
In October, I spent an evening by myself at home, determined to get the house clean. As I did the dishes and swept the floors, I reflected over the past month. I sat down on the stool at my kitchen counter and sighed. So much had happened in that month, and as hard as I was trying to be strong, I was still hurting and knew I needed to help myself process the events of the past few weeks. I grabbed my laptop and started typing it all out. I knew that I could send this to one of my friends as a way to vent. I typed 14 pages single-spaced. Fourteen pages of personal attacks, losses, heavy decisions, etc. Yes, that month had had more than its fair share of challenges.
Yet my spirit was not shattered in the way it had been before. God had built up my emotional pain tolerance.
A few weeks later, I went to my childhood friend Amy’s bridal shower. I had forgotten to get her a gift, but I promised to get her one soon and joked with her that my presence was her gift. Amy hugged me and said that it was a gift enough that I came. I was smiling that whole day because I was so happy for her. My friends and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours talking after the shower ended, and I could feel the shift taking place in my heart. I wasn’t focused on my own pain; I was just cherishing my friends.
Life’s challenges have the potential to make me bitter and depressed. But these days I thank God that life’s challenges are making me cherish the people who love me and to take full advantage of the moments I have to love them too. It’s a mystery, it’s a miracle, it’s something I’m over-the-top grateful for: God is making my heart bigger. Because I’ve been hurt and know that others walk around with similar pains and aches of everyday life, I’m more determined than ever to love others well.
I printed off photos the other day—pictures of the girls on their birthdays in May and June, pictures of us at church camp, snapshots with my family at the lake, and photos of the little road trip the 3 of us took to Indiana Dunes. I put them in my photo album and then put some into envelopes to mail to Gabby and Anna’s mom. I dropped the envelopes into the mailbox the next morning and prayed that the photos would bring her as much joy as they brought me.
Photos do something for our mama-bear hearts, don’t they? They remind us of all the good moments. We treasure them. Looking at the summer photos made me catch my breath and consider that these memories wouldn’t have happened if we had given up on each other.
I shared before that I started seeing a counselor. During my 3rd or 4th counseling session, she asked me, “Do you feel like your emotions go up and down depending on how much the girls show love to you?”
I started nodding before she finished the question. I couldn’t agree with her fast enough. “Yes!”
I knew that wasn’t how I was supposed to be handling my emotions, but I wasn’t going to pretend like it wasn’t happening.
She said, “Mary, you need to also be getting love from somewhere besides them. They are teenagers…”
I stared back at her. I wanted to say, “I know you’re right, but what the heck am I supposed to do??!!!” I’m single, so it’s just me holding this fort down. And because of the trauma my girls have been through, they need a lot of my attention. I want to help them with homework and eat dinner with them at night. I want to be the one who drives them places and goes with them to ballgames and concerts. I want to be home with them when they’re home. I want to be available to have their friends over to our house.
Maybe every mom, and especially every single mom, feels this tension. We want to be there for our kids as much as possible. But then there’s not much room in our schedule for others to love us. So of course, my emotions are going to be affected by what’s happening with my daughters on that particular day.
Everybody wants to talk to me about self-care. And the truth is that I do read a lot (which is how I unwind and also get inspired), and I’ve gotten two pedicures in the past 4 months. So sure, self-care, self-care, self-care. (But I probably need to slow down on the pedicures…)
But it’s super tricky to figure out how to shield myself from the pain. I can’t say that I know how to do this yet. What do you do with hurtful words? How do you wake up everyday fighting the fear of the future? Just as soon as I think I have one thing figured out, something else happens.
Just two months ago, I told my friend that I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t win. I texted her, “Half of the time, they don’t even believe that I love them… This love feels impossible.”
I tried to remind myself that God’s hand is still upon our lives. Just like I don’t know how Satan might try to lead my girls into destruction, I also don’t know all the mighty ways God will lead them into light.
So I prayed.
But verses like Galatians 6:9 seemed distant, like maybe they’re true for others but not for us. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
I don’t know how to explain it yet, but God is answering our prayers. Over the past 3 or 4 weeks, I feel like a completely new person. Praise Jesus.
That’s what I was thinking about when I looked through our summer photos. Looking back, I did a million things wrong. But the one thing I did right is I persevered in love.
I hope these last few posts have given you hope that the Lord will help you rise. My heart is with you. I have fresh faith that God comes through after months and years of praying. Xoxo
P.S. I included a few little music videos that Gabby and I made. This is something that we like to do together. ;)
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.