Saturday, March 29, 2014

Honesty and Healing

"Honesty has a way of humbling us.... As I've been honest about the bruised and broken parts of myself, the openness has become a doorway for God's healing." ~ Jonathan Merritt

I read the above quote this morning on someone else's blog and it reminded me of how much I've missed my own. Over the last couple of years, I have become more and more actively engaged with Facebook and less engaged with my blog. I used to write often here about my deep thoughts and emotions. I processed many a struggle here. I blogged about books I was reading and the thoughts and questions those books provoked. I've blogged about health issues (my blog has become a worldwide resource for Morton's Neuroma sufferers and I get dozens of hits on those posts every day). I've shared treatment updates and blogged about my role as caregiver since my husband (in 2007) and mother-in-law (in 2008) were both diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). I've used my blog as a place to pay tribute to people I've loved and express heartache over people I've lost. On a lighter side, I've reviewed restaurants and shared recipes. This blog has been a public journal at times.

I get pretty deep on Facebook (deeper than some are comfortable with there). As recently as a couple of nights ago, my sweet husband shook his head at one of the conversations on my timeline and said, "I just can't believe you guys have this dialog on a public forum." And I explained to him that the conversation he was referring to wasn't exactly public. It was limited to my friends. And then we both laughed. Ahem ... my 880 friends. But, the truth is, I'm more comfortable than ever with revealing myself to others. I'm much more likely to carry self-disclosure to an extreme than to struggle with erecting walls of self-protection. And even though I go into deep waters at times on Facebook, it's just not the same. I miss blogging.

I didn't have the emotional energy to blog while I was writing my last book. Almost all of my reflection and emotional processing went into what is now 250 pages of my heart and soul; a book I'm proud of and so thankful God helped me find the courage to write. I don't know if there will be a third book one day. I didn't know there would be a second until I felt inspired to start writing. And I didn't write either out of a quest for my own healing. I genuinely wanted to help others. But God knew that my writing would propel me to the next level of my own personal growth. And, in retrospect, I clearly see the role writing has played in my overcoming.

Obviously, being open and honest has been cathartic and empowering. But possibly even more important than that, I have faced my worst fears in writing about the pain in my life; the fear of rejection and disapproval. And while overcoming these two fears is an ongoing challenge, I believe I am winning the battle. I am not allowing those fears to paralyze me anymore.

I realized very recently that I have outgrown my previous desperate need to be loved by everyone. Through a private process (inside my own head and heart) of coming to terms with a specific situation, I have discovered (to my own surprise) that I no longer crave love or friendship that is dependent upon my conformity to other people's expectations of me. I haven't stopped loving anybody. I've just stopped needing them to love me back.

I have arrived at this conclusion: If you reject me as I am or because of who I am (including my passion for sharing my heart and convictions), I will still love you, but I can accept your rejection without feeling my heart is being ripped out. Even though a specific struggle has prompted these thoughts, I'm not saying this to any one person in particular. It's an epiphany of self-discovery. It's broad and general. It's about liberation and the breaking of more chains. And it feels amazing. I know God has had me on a path to this place for a long time.

I've very recently had the blessing of some renewed friendships on Facebook. And because the second book is so fresh, there has been fresh reflection on the past and on the experiences that I have written about. A few times, after I have posted something that could be deemed "controversial," I've had the thought hit my mind, "Ah-oh, maybe I shouldn't have shared that.... What if I lose those friends or family members because they disapprove of me all over again?" And each time, I've felt a check. A voice (perhaps the Holy Spirit) has whispered back to me, "Have you come this far only to retreat back into fear?"

My intent is never to hurt people. I believe that friends who know my heart know this about me. And I am so grateful for those friends. If I had to pinpoint one thing about John and his love for me that means the most, it would be that he knows my heart and never judges my motives as malicious or hurtful -- even when I am at my worst. I'm not saying my heart is completely pure or that I don't have stuff in my heart that needs to go. But I don't have malice or bitterness in my heart toward anyone. And the most healing words that have come to me through John over the last decade have been, "I know your heart."

I've always longed for someone to know my heart. My heart has been misunderstood and misjudged by so many throughout my life. And because of that I've gone through much of my life feeling like I have to prove myself worthy, earn value in people's lives by pleasing and performing well. But once you get a true taste of love that is selfless and not contingent upon your stellar performance, it changes you. It liberates you. It's God's love. And the more we are able to show this kind of redeeming love to each other, the more empowered we will be to spread the Gospel effectively to unbelievers.

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." ~ John13:35

As Jonathan Merritt writes, (A Thread Called Grace):

In order to release my secrets, I must uncurl my white-knuckled fingers from deep desires:

My desire to be perfect. My desire to be liked. My desire to be in control. My desire to be successful.

Without releasing these desires, shame will keep my secrets locked up and convince me they can never be disclosed. It forces me to forge masks for myself and hide under them. Whether one faces an eating disorder, a marriage failure, insecurities and inadequacies, or just something done that they don't feel free enough to share with others, shame can trap us in the mire of our secrets and steal from us the gift of openness with those we love.

"Shame keeps us from telling our own stories and prevents us from listening to others tell their stories," says Brené Brown. "We silence our voices and keep our secrets out of the fear of disconnection." In the end, shame steals the very thing it promises: meaningful, authentic connections with others. Pursuing a life of honesty means to reveal who I truly am and assert that my story too belongs at the table.

I had the privilege of being interviewed yesterday for an upcoming newspaper article about the next Women's Resource Center fundraiser (Fun and Fur Fashion Show). As I said in that interview and have stated in my book, I am thankful for my journey. I don't regret the past that has shaped me. My life has not always been easy. I've suffered and I've caused suffering. I've been defeated and I've triumphed. I'm humbled by the reality of what my life could have been today and what it is because of God's grace, mercy and redeeming love. 

I shared with the interviewer how I struggled, as I initially wrote Through My Eyes, with the shame-based fear of being thought of as pathetic or weak because I accepted abuse as my lot in life for so long. But today I am honored to attach my face and my story to the fight against domestic abuse and violence. I am not ashamed to identify with other victims or to claim the adversities I have forged through. And I will not retreat into fear or allow my voice to be silenced. 

I will continue to be brave; as brave as God helps me to be, and share my heart openly and honestly. 
Shamelessly.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Amazed at God's Perfect Timing

I'm very excited! And I'm in awe of God's timing!

I do not write to make money. I know there is no financial reward for a self-published author. I write for several reasons. I write to connect with and (hopefully) help others. I write because I love to write. I write because it helps me to process things and grow. I write because I love to share my experiences, what I've learned from my experiences, and I love to touch other people's lives. I love to inspire and give hope. I love to hear that I've played even a tiny role in someone else's healing/recovery. But my motivation has nothing to do with money. Oh sure, we joke about how nice it would be if I wrote a best seller and John could retire forever from the car business. But it's a joke. I assure you, John did not marry me for my money or my potential to earn money. I am a financial liability. He knows I would much prefer to give away every single book than to take a dime from anybody. And he STILL invested money in producing my second book -- even after I didn't make any money* (see disclaimer below) on my first. I am blessed with a wonderfully supportive husband who encourages me to pursue my passion for writing and sharing my journey.

I started working on this book (Through My Eyes) in early summer 2012. Last May I just set it aside for a while. I knew it wasn't finished, but I didn't have time to work on it. We moved. We were out of town a lot. We had company coming over the summer. My son and daughter-in-law adopted a baby girl in July and I wanted to be available to help with my grandchildren. There was no time to work on revising and publishing a book. During that time, God helped me to do a little more growing and healing. He provided opportunities for that growth. And as most people know, opportunities for growth often involve struggle. I had some struggles that wound up being "additions" to the book. They made the book better. I came back to the book a couple of months ago with a renewed zeal. When I put the book aside last May, I wasn't sure I even wanted to go through with publishing it. But now I know it was just a matter of timing.

I did find time, in the last couple of months, to devote to revisions. And just a couple of weeks ago I realized it was done. I was ready to share my story. At that point, I did not even realize how much God was in the timing of finishing this book. You see, our local Women's Resource Center is planning a fundraising event that my husband John was invited to participate in on March 14. It's called Hunks in Heels. I know it sounds kind of goofy, but local businessmen in our area will be putting on high heels to sell tickets and raise funds for victims and witnesses of domestic violence. These victims and witnesses include kids who see (mostly) their moms being abused.

I urged John to accept this invitation. He knows how important this cause is to me and why. I spent 27 years in an abusive marriage and was the victim of violent rage on many occasions, as well as almost continual emotional and verbal abuse. I have a soft spot for a lot of charitable organizations, but I relate most strongly and intimately with this one. I also convinced a good friend, Doug Lilly, to participate in this event as well. And he has no idea how much it means to me that he said yes. If he reads my book, he will understand why.

But back to God's timing...

It just so happens (and I do not believe in coincidence) that the timing of my book release (on healing from domestic abuse) and the planning of this event are coinciding. And today it occurred to me that I could use my book to help generate contributions by offering the book as a free gift to anyone who donated to the Women's Resource Center. My first thought was to make this offer to the first ten people who brought me a check for $25. And my next thought was, No...Extend this offer to everyone who wants to make a $25 donation. (God knows I don't care about the money. The only reason I let anyone pay me for the book is because I hate for John to take a loss on his investment in my writing. LOL.)

If all the time, effort and money I've spent can result in donations to an organization that helps other victims of abuse, that is even better than recovering our investment. It's an investment in lives and in the kingdom of heaven!

I love it when I see God's plan unfolding in my life. I have always believed John and I were brought to this area for a spiritual reason. Not just to sell Hondas. We have talked about it so many times. God brought us here to help advance His kingdom in this area. We didn't know what that would entail when we came. But I believe I'm seeing one of my God-ordained purposes here.

For every $25 donation to the Women's Resource Center I receive, I am giving away a book. I don't know how many donations this offer will result in. But I received my first $25 check tonight while having dinner at Bunkers. And I was so excited. More excited than if I had "sold" a book. Nothing would be more rewarding to me or make me happier than to give away boxes of books as a personal thank you for donations to this cause. And my sweet husband is completely on board.

Please help me help our local shelter. I hope I have so many people take me up on this offer that I have to spend hundreds of dollars printing books. If you are not local and have already sent me a check for a signed book, I intend to donate a portion of those proceeds as well after shipping costs.

Please know that I appreciate every reader. The only way I could be disappointed in the book's release is if nobody even cared to read it. I hope that if you know me (and especially if you love me), you will want to read my story. Not just to understand my journey, but, more importantly, because I believe it could help you understand and help someone else.

I haven't blogged much since moving to West Virginia. I've been too busy and preoccupied with other things. I have almost forgotten that I have a blog. But tonight I couldn't wait to share my excitement with all of you.

*I had to come back and add this. I did go "in the black" on Breaking the Chains. I did not lose money. But once I went "in the black," I stopped letting anybody pay me for a book because I really liked giving them away. The only time I accepted payment was when a friend absolutely refused to let me give it to them for nothing. If I had accepted payment for every book that is out there, I would have made a little money on the endeavor. But it was never about money and it still isn't. I will always enjoy giving books away more than selling them. John feels a little differently, but I think that's because this writing thing is my mission; not necessarily his.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

THROUGH MY EYES: Overcoming the Emotional Injury of an Abusive Relationship

It's done.

I have uploaded the Kindle file to Amazon and approved the physical proof copy. My book has been released and should be listed with online retailers soon. The Kindle book should be available for download by tonight. And I will post a link when the soft cover version is "live" on amazon.com.

As a self-published author, my book won't be on bookshelves. However, it can be ordered at any bookstore. It's available "print on demand" from Ingram/Lightning Source Publishing.

This has been quite a process. And now I'm looking forward to sharing another part of my journey with readers. I'm also looking forward to hearing from readers. Please don't hesitate to share your feedback with me.

I greatly appreciate those readers who have taken the time to review my first book on amazon.com. And I hope to see some reviews of my second book popping up as time goes by. You have no idea how much the feedback means to an unknown, self-published author such as myself. I don't have a publisher or literary agent promoting my work. And I don't have a clue how to promote my own work. Furthermore, I'm uncomfortable with self-promotion. So I simply write, publish and share through social media. Other than that, I'm hoping you'll tell someone about the book if you find it helpful. My greatest aspiration with both of my books is to encourage and inspire my readers. I would love to sell a lot of books. Every writer has a dream of having a book take off. And I'm no different. But that desire is secondary to the reward of knowing I've helped someone or made someone else feel less alone in their struggles.

I am so thankful for all the support and encouragement I've received throughout the writing process of both books. I'm also grateful to my husband John for not only encouraging me to write, but for being willing to invest financially in my passion for books; the ones I read and especially the ones I write. I couldn't do this without him.

I now begin the process of hoping to break even. But I already know, from previous experience, that I'm going to feel like I've won the lottery every time I hear from a reader who found inspiration or hope in my story.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why am I excited about a new church plant in Nashville?

Here are two podcasts (at the bottom of this post) that will answer that question.

These two podcasts were recorded from a recent meeting at Church of the Redeemer to explain the new Anglican church they are planting. My son, Danny Bryant, will be the senior pastor of this church. And it will be located in the East Brentwood/Nolensville area. Even the area has particular significance for the vision of the church.

I am not Anglican. But I enjoy visiting Redeemer and I love hearing my son preach. I'm thankful for podcasts because they enable me to listen from many miles away in West Virginia. If you are a friend of mine or Danny's, or if you are just someone who reads my blog and may be interested in the church plant, I invite you to listen to these podcasts. (They are not terribly long.)

If you know me or have read my book, you know my spiritual background. When Danny first started attending an Anglican church, it pushed some of my "baggage buttons." Then he became an assistant pastor and an Anglican Priest there. He is referred to as Pastor, Reverend and sometimes Father Danny. And, I must confess, I will never refer to him as Father Danny. ;-) But I'm much more comfortable with Anglicanism than I ever imagined I would be. I once thought of liturgical worship as emotionless ritual. After many worship services at Redeemer, I don't think that anymore. I now recognize and deeply respect the reverence and emotion that liturgical worshipers experience in their services. I love Church of the Redeemer and the people in that church. It's a loving, committed community.

Another thing I love about Redeemer and Thomas McKenzie (the senior pastor) is this conviction that churches should not compete for people. Thomas and the Redeemer community are so supportive of this church plant and members of Redeemer are encouraged to pray about God's leading in their lives and follow the call if God prompts them to be a part of the new church plant (which will mean leaving Redeemer as a regular attender). There's no sense of loyalty or betrayal involved in this decision. It isn't about loyalty to a particular location or pastor. It's about God and being a part of the kingdom as a whole. I loved when Thomas said that we have all of eternity to enjoy friendship and community. It's obvious that it comes from his heart when he encourages people to consider where God wants them; whether it's Redeemer or St. Mary's. For anyone who knows my background, I think it's obvious why I would find this so refreshing. I grew up in a place very different. We were expected to ask permission from our pastor to even VISIT any other church. Even within our own exclusive group.

When Danny first told me the name of the church plant, I was conflicted. I liked Redeemer better. But after hearing him talk about the reasons for calling it St. Mary of Bethany's, I have grown to love the name. In his podcast, he goes into detail about his vision for this congregation, the reasons for the name, his desire for Anglican and Pentecostal (with a small p) worship, and other aspirations he has for the church. Thomas explained the vision and conviction for church planting as opposed to "building bigger barns" for larger and larger individual congregations. I don't think there's anything wrong with huge churches. I was very happy in one and experienced a lot of spiritual growth there. We were fed and I did have a smaller community within the larger community to participate in and enjoy a closer connection. But I do love this vision and I do see the need for smaller communities. More than anything, though, I love the lack of competition and the lack of marketing involved in this vision. It has sometimes bothered me to see churches market themselves to a community as if a church is a commodity for consumers.

Well, I need to publish this and get ready to attend my own home church. But I wanted to make this available to friends and anyone else who may be interested in listening. I think you'll understand better why I'm excited and look forward to visiting and watching this new church grow. I'm thankful for the way God has worked in my son's life. It is so rewarding as a mom to be able to witness God's plan for Danny as it continues to unfold.

Vision Part I: Why are we planting another church? (Thomas McKenzie)

Vision Part II: The Vision for St. Mary of Bethany's Church (Danny Bryant)






Monday, December 16, 2013

Merry Christmas!

It's been a great year for us here in West Virginia. I am amazed at how God has blessed us with so many wonderful new friends (who quickly felt like old friends), a new church home, a new business and a team of valued employees.

We added a beautiful baby granddaughter (Madeline Grace) to our family this year. She is so precious and adored. And I feel so blessed to have a fourth grandchild added to the three munchkins we already had (Andrew, Joshua and Pax).


We moved from our condo into a house and have spent the last six months making it our home.

John's health is good and that is not something I ever take for granted. I am also healthy.

It's taken me a little longer to feel ready to publish than I expected, but I've finally put the finishing touches on my second book. I hope to have it in print (and ebook) some time in January. I put the book aside for a number of months beginning last spring, and when I came back to it, I realized I had grown in a lot of areas. I'm thankful I didn't publish it prematurely. I am also thankful to Mending the Soul Ministries for reviewing that first version of my work. My reviewer threw some lights on for me in the area of toxic shame and as a direct result of her input, I was able to overcome a few more of my "chains." The book is better because of her insight into my wounds. It's also better simply because I allowed myself time to benefit from the catharsis of writing it all down. I didn't realize it at the time, but when my writing was so fresh I hadn't completed the cathartic part of my journey. I can now read what I've written without tears and, more importantly, without feeling any embarrassment or shame.

I have already shared this on Facebook, but finally got around to loading it on YouTube. I never made commercials with John in Tennessee, but I've really enjoyed doing this since we've moved here. I am married to such a genuine, funny guy. Anyone who knows him will tell you that he is exactly the same in person as he is in his commercials. He has a heart of gold. He's fun. And the dude can sing...

 

I wish all of you reading my blog a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful for Memories of Mom

On November 20, 1986 my mom was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at the age of 48. I was 27. It was a very hard Thanksgiving; one I will never forget. It was also the beginning of one of the hardest years I've ever lived through. 

I wasn't able to enjoy Thanksgiving for quite a few years after that. It just wasn't the same without Mom. She was one of those mothers who did it all with grace and (what seemed to me like) ease. You just walked in and sat down to an amazing spread of food, which was always on the table at precisely the time she said it would be (china, stemware, crystal serving dishes and all). 

I'm still amazed by that. I can do all the cooking. But it's served far more casually, and pulling it all together at the end is still a challenge for me even after doing it many times. I usually have a window of time rather than a specific time dinner will be served. And I don't set a beautiful table. I serve some of the meal straight from the stove, buffet style (fewer dishes to wash). Formality has never been something I've valued. ;) But I enjoyed all the holidays my mom put so much effort into and I've carried on a few of her traditions. Romance Cookies are still a Christmastime favorite and always will be. 

At 54, I have a much deeper appreciation for all my mother's strengths; some I was not even aware of when I began my motherless years at the age of 28. I also have a deeper understanding of some of the traits I once viewed as her weaknesses. One of the hardest things about losing her so young is that she only got to meet her first three grandsons and none of her granddaughters. Oh, how proud she would be of all of them! And how she would have spoiled all of them the way she did Danny, Jared and Justin. She would also now have six great grandchildren to spoil. She was an amazing grandmother. My role model. 

Even though I will always miss her and think of her so much during the holidays most of all, the holidays are no longer hard for me. It's not that time has healed my heart of losing her. I will always wish she was here. But you learn how to go on and focus on all you do have, trusting God not only for the blessings He gives but those He takes away. At this Thanksgiving, I am thankful I had a mom who loved me for all the years I had her. I'm thankful for everything I learned from her. And of the many traits I inherited from her, the one I'm most thankful for is a grateful outlook on life. I will never forget her facing such a premature death with a heart full of gratitude for the blessed life she had had up to that point. In that way, I have always wanted to be just like her.

Mom, I miss you. I love you. And you will always be a big part of who I am. I know now that you loved me more than I ever comprehended. Our different personalities sometimes got in the way of the closeness we both really wanted. And we did not have the gift of time to grow into a mature adult relationship as mother and daughter. But I'm appreciating you now. And one day I will get to tell you face to face. Until then, I will carry you with me in my heart and in my memories.