The art of healing…….

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As a medical professional, I have long known that assisting others with physical healing involves both science and art. Evidence based medicine, the “science” of it is the gold standard for modern healthcare. But,
— the art of being truly “present” with the patient,
— the art of having insight into what motivates that individual,
–the art of relating to the person with sensitivity, empathy, and compassion,
all have a critical role in achieving good outcomes.

A few weeks after my son’s suicide, I serendipitously encountered a fellow writer at a conference. We met in the prayer room as she prayed with me in my grief. I left the conference with a gifted book, authored by this dear lady who had taken the time to share in my sorrow. She signed the title page, “Hemmed in Hope! Cynthia”. Little did I know how that book would speak to me in the weeks to come.

Cynthia Ruchti’s  Tattered and Mended–the Art of Healing the Wounded Soul (Abingdon Press, 2015) helped me to reframe the pain and loss that has changed my life forever. She eloquently compares the process of healing souls tattered by tragedies, choices, and traumas to the art of reclaiming and restoring various treasures. As I read each chapter, I found myself drawn into the understanding that God can use even the worst that life on this earth brings to us, mending us into stronger and more centered souls.

Cynthia describes the restoration of two-hundred year old Japanese garments through the techniques of sashiko and boro. As I read of the art of quilt restoration and discarded copper recycled into works of art, I began to believe that I could survive this loss and not be defeated. She writes of tapestries restored, fine arts reclaimed, stained glass recovered, antique dolls redeemed, and broken furniture refurbished. Throughout are two themes: that broken hearts are not to be viewed as unfixable and, thus, left to a miserable existence instead of joyful life in Christ, and that the tattered and mended soul can become a thing of greater beauty and worth than the original.

I still struggle to know how my loss will ever result in something of beauty and worth. I know that since it has occurred, I am ever more sensitive to the multitudes of parents who have lost children and the many survivors of suicide in this world. And, I am thankful for gifted and inspired writers like Cynthia who invest time and talent and effort into offering a new perspective for those of us who feel we have suffered the most unimaginable pain and loss this life can offer. I pray that someday I can help bring similar healing and hope to others.

Happy Birthday, Dan……

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Dear Daniel,

Today would have been your 42nd birthday if your life had not ended so tragically. We miss you. Last evening we had a sort of pre-birthday party for you. Your wife, parents, siblings, aunt, uncles, nephew, and cousins were here, along with a few special friends–Todd and Benny and Jeff. Kerri sent her good wishes, as did Linda and Laura.

Remember the sky lantern you sent up for Robby after his death? We did the same for you. There were eleven of them, all white. One got stuck in a tree–Steffie thought you would find that funny. It harmlessly burned itself out. There was the slightest north wind, and we watched them as they (finally) went out of sight. Then we gathered in the house to share memories. They were good ones. Continue reading

The door. . . . .

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See this door? It is a steel, triple-locked, standard door required for a “safe room” which meets government codes to provide a refuge during tornadoes. It is also the door to our home office and gun safe. The floor, ceiling, and walls of this room are all concrete. Living in Arkansas, a part of “tornado alley”, the construction of this room when we built our home seemed wise. It does provide a sense of security when the weather radio sounds or all local TV programming is preempted with blow-by-blow (no pun intended) descriptions of the paths of dangerous storms approaching our area.

However, I need to use the door as an illustration. I have posted infrequently on this site for the past several months. My most recent post was on August 31, just days after my son committed suicide. Ironically, the post that preceded it (posted in July), referenced a conversation with him in which he was reminding me of my neglect of this blog. I wish it had been a longer conversation. The experts call this feeling I have survivors’ guilt. I just call it regret–regret that I lost him before I lost him. His illness and addiction effectively divorced him from his family, locking him away as securely as the safe room door.

But, there’s more to the door analogy. Because I go through each day–working, cooking, going to church, doing laundry, attending our grandson’s football games, being “social”–doing all these things with the door to my denial and anger and grief securely shut and locked. I think. Yet, at the most odd and inopportune times, that door swings spontaneously open, and my mind is filled with the last images of Daniel. A silent scream of disbelief echoes through my head. My heart fills to bursting with the ache of his absence and the effort of drawing in breath is magnified a hundred times. My body is suddenly crushed by the weight of this loss. And a cloud of sadness envelops me.

Sometimes I am able to cry. Sometimes I am simply overwhelmed and sit in a daze wondering how I got to this place in life. But always, eventually, I, piece by piece, bury those images, silence that scream, tell my heart to keep beating, breathe deeply, and drag my heavy self with its cloud of sadness surrounding me (think Pigpen’s cloud of dirt in a Peanuts’ comic), to that sturdy door with it’s triple dead-bolt locks. I shove all that denial and anger and guilt and grief inside and click by click by click lock all those locks, lean against the secured door, and pray that someday it will remain closed, knowing full well that it won’t.

In truth, I wouldn’t want it to. Because somehow I know that repeating this process is a part of healing the hole in my heart. A card I received observed that I have “a hole in my heart that cannot be fixed by any cardiologist or thoracic surgeon”. I treasure that card because it so perfectly describes the loss that I feel. I now am the mother of two living children and one deceased child. The remnants of the place where Daniel lived will always be there, but, by the grace of God, I know that it will someday bleed less, hurt less, and, ultimately, scar over, so that I can once again not fight with the door.

Words of hope. . .

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My middle son was the victim of suicide on August 26, 2015. He was 41 years old. A bright, intelligent, creative, and talented young person, he had made some dangerous choices as an adult, choices that ultimately cost him his life. In her great wisdom, his beloved daughter shared this text with us the day after we laid him to rest:

This is going to be long but thought I should share with everyone. I’ve been reading Charlotte’s Web with Lorelai when we have time to read at night. It’s been a few days since we’ve had time for a chapter obviously but last night I sat down to read to her. Wouldn’t you know it was the chapter where Charlotte dies and I feel like the following quote was mean to be read by us after all of this:

“A little tired, perhaps. But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days. . .”         (from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, 1952)

It is hard to comprehend the torment that a mind must feel to result in ending one’s life so violently. I know that my son struggled with addiction and feelings of unworthiness. The man that ended his life was not the charming, outgoing, loving, sensitive son that I once knew. Somehow I feel that God looked down on this tormented soul and said, “Oh, son, in my great mercy and love I am going to allow you to make your way home to me so you can at last rest in peace once again.”

My prayer is that no other parent should feel this pain. My hope is that once again, for all of our family, we will enjoy “this lovely world, these precious days”, remembering the remarkable person who has gone on to a better home.

A new perspective. . . . .

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A few blogs ago my writing was full of angst as I talked about feeling like I was, figuratively, at the “end of my rope”. I wrote about a good friend’s advice that one should just “tie and knot and hang on” when finding oneself in that predicament. However, as I read from my favorite devotional Daily Strength for Daily Needs (compiled by Mary Tileston with original copyright 1997), I came across a sentence that changed my perspective.

Let us fall into the hand of the Lord. Amen.

Suddenly I could imagine letting go of that knot and drifting into the strong yet gentle hand of God as I fell. Is that not where we all need to be? Letting go of the need to control current events. Letting go of the worry about what might go wrong in the future. Letting go of the perceived need to be all things to all people. Letting go of the desire for the unattainable–perfection in this life.

And, instead of holding on for dear life as that rope burns our hands and our sweaty palms begin to slip, just trusting that our Lord and Savior is there to catch us as we fall, and letting go. He is, after all, our Savior.

The psalmist wrote about God’s hand:

Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. Psalm 31:5

and

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God. My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. Psalm 31:14-16

And Peter spoke in the New Testament about “letting go and letting God”, when he wrote:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

For several years I had this message posted on my refrigerator:

Good morning. This is God. I will be handling all your problems today. I will not need your help. Have a nice day.

I think I need to post it there again, to remind me that the rope of my life with all its difficulties and dilemmas and perceived disasters is poised right over God’s hand. I may just need to let go of that knot and rest in God’s strong, gentle, loving, open hand.

Thank you, Lord, for this reminder. I pray that it may speak to another’s heart. Amen.

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What’s in a flag?

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not a racist, white supremacist zealot who believes the confederate flag should be widely flown over state capitals in the south. I am a woman who grew up in the 60’s, a woman with vivid memories of what segregation was and the suffering of those who struggled to end that tragic era in American history. I cry when I watch the movie The Help. I celebrate when I “Remember the Titans”. I have a painful memory of my dad, in his ignorance, telling Mother that he was reluctant for me to ride to school with “those boys” in the 1950s in Indiana (a state so much more progressive than his home in the south). I didn’t understand that he was talking about the color of their skin.

But, a flag is just a piece of cloth, a part of this country’s history. It has no power to think, to plot, to obtain a weapon, or to pull a trigger. Destroying every confederate flag, every likeness of one, will do nothing to end the violence that marks our culture The confederacy existed. The Civil War happened. Changing school mascots and fight songs (Fort Smith’s the Rebels and “Dixie”) will not heal the wounds caused by bombs and bullets and words.  Changing the name of a street named “Confederate Boulevard” will not cause one extremist, one terrorist, one mentally deranged, one hate-filled and evil individual to forget their desire to injure innocent people. Destroying all reminders of that tragic chapter in America’s history puts us at risk of forgetting the reality–that American blood was shed on this soil because of man’s desire to control and use others for monetary gain, because of political forces desiring more power for the states and less for the federal government, and because of the ill-conceived and non-Biblical notion that all men are NOT created equal and that the color of one’s skin or the home of one’s ancestors is a formula to measure that individual’s worth.

Maybe we do need to see this flag occasionally, to remind us of just how bad things were. To remind us of the horrors of an America disunited. To inspire us to be more tolerant, more loving, more kind, and more prayerful. History exists so that we can learn from our mistakes. Have we really learned the lessons of the Civil War? The flag is not the problem. People are the problem. Evil exists in this world. Sin exists. Human nature is not perfect. We need more than just our humanity to keep us in line. We need God.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

Our land needs to be healed. Not just to be healed of those who cause mass murders and terrorist attacks, although, of course,  we all desire that those events should cease to exist. But to be healed of thinking that we can handle it all by ourselves. Our American tendency to a belief that independent individualism is the answer to all things is inherently flawed. This country was founded by men of faith. Our money reads “In God We Trust”. I’m afraid that we are trying to blame these tragic events on flags and guns and other inanimate objects that have no power to think or act on their own. It is human nature, which is by definition sinful nature and subject to evil influence, that attacks our land and the peoples of this world. Let us remember in whom we trust and remember his promise as quoted above. Let us each search our hearts for any errant ways and ask God to heal this land, beginning with “me”.

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“Freely Given”, a year later. . . .

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It came to my attention (courtesy of Facebook) that one year ago yesterday, July 13, 2014, to be exact, a photo was posted on that social media site. It was a quickly snapped photo of me, while at work on my “real job” as a nurse practitioner, holding the final proof copy of Freely Given, my first novel, self-published with the help of Create Space. It is not my favorite photo of myself–a bad hair day–but it does record a momentous occasion. Because I became, with that event, officially a published author.

Unfortunately, I am more of a writer than a publicist or promoter, and I cannot describe stellar sales for the book. However, I am gratified by the number of people who have shared their unsolicited opinions, verbally or written, that they enjoyed the book and that it was thought provoking.

I do now understand the issue with “platform” as being critical to success as an author. Understanding does not lead to mastery. Understanding does not sell books. And, understanding does not get me off the hook. I have to keep working at it. What will free me from anonymity? Any constructive advice is welcome!

However, those who have read Freely Given are often asking me about the next book in the series, which is titled Colorado’s Choice. The character Colorado is one of my favorites from the first novel, perhaps because he reminds me of my dear husband, who has strong “cowboy” roots. As a teen Donnie “broke” horses to ride in order to earn spending money.  He did a bit of bull riding in local rodeos. In one phase of his life he trained bird dogs professionally, and he once owned and showed a National Champion in the National Bird Hunters Association field trial system. The dog was a pointer named Persimmon Ridge Jake. Donnie has an extraordinary mind, understanding the intricacies of plumbing and electrical construction work, and has been licensed with both Master Plumber and Master Electrician licenses. He designed and built our home after researching “concrete form construction”  in order to protect us from the tornadoes that so frequently strike in Arkansas. He also researched and constructed the ultimate “safe room” in our home. He is a strong, kind, opinionated, loving, and gentle man who will do whatever it takes to help someone in need, who has numerous male friends who often seek his advice, and  who is my best friend.

Many of you have asked about the next story. Just let me say that there is a new woman in town, a woman with a past, a woman in need. A dark side to Four Corners comes to light (no pun intended). Colorado has a secret. Charlotte is struggling to find her way as the single sister of the happily married Preacher Chad. She, too, has a secret, and has developed a propensity to get herself in tight situations. And then, there is the ongoing challenge of opening a domestic abuse shelter right in the middle of Four Corners, where everybody knows everybody else.

How will it all end? We shall see. . . . . . . . . .

                                                                                                                    Kathy Parish headshots 2014 (3 of 6)

I, too, can have a secret!