Music always leads me to prayer.
For a long time, I only prayed in gratitude. Some days it was harder than other days to find the grateful thing, but music often led me to focus my attention on grateful things.
For several months, if not a year, I couldn't listen to much of my original play list. I had lost hope in people and in truth. I didn't remember how to feel grateful for much of that time, and I didn't know how to pray for anything else or in any other way.
I stopped lifting my eyes to heaven.
I found myself listening to Tenth Avenue North's "Worn" on repeat. Near the end of my marriage, I even shared it with my husband who then shared it with his lover. Knowing that you trusted someone with your deepest hurts and the rawness in your heart, and that he then forwarded it to his lover - a lover who had been my own trusted friend and confidant - for analysis and mocking belittlement creates a deep chasm of hurt. I've always said, from the day I found out the truth about my husband and former friend and their perfidy, that their affair is one thing; the intentional and willful effort to destroy me, my mental health, and my relationships is another thing entirely. The latter is not just a moral lapse or error in judgment; it's cruel and evil. No sugar coating, no donning the respectability of a new marriage, no leaving the past behind forgives that kind of behavior.
When I hear the song these days, I am reminded about where I was. I didn't know who I was, I hated my life, and I felt worn. My heart was heavy. Some days the act of breathing was all I could manage. And so I made mistakes. I lost hope. My soul was crushed by the weight of the world. In the end my strength, though immense, wasn't enough. I fell to my knees. I couldn't even lift up my eyes. And so I found a faithful crutch, vodka, to cope with all the aches and the abuses I could no longer handle. Though the first two or three swallows was always a battle (our bodies know better than our minds sometimes, and my body often tried to reject my faithful crutch), once I felt the heat of the alcohol coursing through my body and knew oblivion was coming, I felt pure and almost victorious relief. No matter what was outside my control, putting that alcohol in my body was my choice and I made it with gusto.
I was lucky though. Through the worst of it, I had the best people in my life, people who loved me no matter what I did to try to push them away or how self-destructive I tried to be.
There was Jakob who knew I would find my way back to being his mom, and who stood beside me without fail and without judgment though he violently hated my choices. He didn't discount me for the least of what I did. He saw me as a whole person - talented, energetic, silly... and struggling. He never failed to share with me the longing of his beautiful heart: "Please stop. I love you."
Staci, in the midst of her own celebration of her career and relationship successes, just didn't know how to rescue me, how to force me to see what I was doing and who I was doing it to. I genuinely believed my behavior was only hurting (saving) me and didn't understand why she couldn't just leave me alone. She didn't give up and still hasn't. She's the best cheerleader I could have, and she celebrates my victories and joys.
Iris kept inviting me to do things that would change my life - things I knew I couldn't do when I was married. She wanted me to go to Tres Dias for years, and I resisted. I knew that enlightenment - confronting the horror of my marriage and the abuse I lived both in my home and at my job - would have made it impossible to stay married or stay at my job. She also brought me papers to register for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and then sweetly asked repeatedly if I'd completed the papers and made contact with her friend there. When I finally went to Tres Dias, I found renewal in Christ. I've written before about MATC and the restoration and peace I found there. I left MATC with a beginning relationship with myself: I am learning who I am in Christ.
There were others too. Too many to count, really. My contacts at my job, new friends I made, old friends I revisited. Their love and support overwhelmed me. It still does. As I reenter parts of my "old life" and receive the blessing of love and acceptance from people I willfully pushed out of my life, I am struck with such intense emotion, it makes me shake with horrible deep body tremors. My therapist told me last week that those tremors are the presence of the Holy Spirit and to welcome them. I'll try. But man. It's embarrassing when someone is hugging me and my body starts to tremble. Not everyone recognizes Holy Spirit tremors, after all.
Still, there is one conversation that stands out for me. I was in Texas talking to Dave about the worst of my struggles. He's a strong man,and he's in love with Jesus Christ. He said, "You need to surrender. Do it. I want to hear it." He wouldn't let go or accept a promise that I'd do it later, alone. "No. I want to hear it. Do it."
And there, with his arms wrapped around me and feeling perfect acceptance for whatever I was about to say, I did.
Those moments were horribly uncomfortable for me. I'm a Catholic. We generally use rote prayers when we're in public prayer. Praying out loud for myself is so not my thing. Don't get me wrong. I pray for others. I open meetings and close meetings, and ask for food blessings. But praying for myself and in supplication was wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy outside my comfort zone.
I called out to God in a way I never had. I surrendered my will and my comfort. I asked the Holy Spirit to walk with me. "Lord, I need You. I can't do this myself, my strength isn't enough. Mend my frail and torn heart and bring life to what's dead inside me. Fill me with the Holy Spirit and lead me to a place of forgiveness and grace."
Hardly any of what I said was my own! Lyrics to songs I'd been hearing for years spilled out of my mouth. For the very first time, they weren't words of gratitude, but supplication. Finally! In those moments I found humility and love unending. I trembled, sweated, and cried. But I cried out. And in so doing, I reclaimed the ability to lift my eyes and my heart, Better, I reclaimed my gratitude.
I have seen redemption win and it keeps winning. The struggles end, a heart can mend, a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life, and all that's dead inside can and will be reborn. And somehow the Grace Christ poured out on the Cross flows through it all to touch others.
I won't ever be one of those people who constantly seeks or makes requests of God. God knows what I need and what path I have in front of me. I trust that. I'm back to living a life of gratitude, a life of praise. When I say the words, "Thank God for _______!" I literally mean THANK YOU, GOD! It's not just a saying or a space-filler. It's a prayer of gratitude and part of who I am. But I will also never find myself in a place where I cannot even lift my eyes or hands in supplication again. I need God as a warrior, as a protector, as a father, as a mother, and as a friend. I love the scripture we are using at the next Tres Dias: "He rescued me because He delighted in me" (Psalm 18:19).
He rescued me because He delighted in me. ME!
I heard the song "Sea of Faces: by Kutlass the other night. It won't stop whispering to me in the quiet of these long work days: "I am not just a man, vastly lost in the world, lost in a sea of faces. Your body's the bread, your blood is the wine, because you traded your life for mine. Just one in a million faces."
He delighted in ME!
And you too.