17.1.14

CHURCH: THE WORST TRIGGER

I have written before about some of my triggers - those things that cause me to cry, usually uncontrollably, about everything that we've gone through with Lauren. Unfortunately, though I've been able to work through many of those triggers, one of the worst ones is going to church.

It is embarrassing to share that because you would think that after everything church would be a place where I could focus on the future. Instead, it is the worst trigger. It is the worst in two ways: because it is the most consistent and most difficult trigger to control but also because it is the last place that I would expect or want a trigger.

Triggers for me fall into one of two camps.

One type is the flashback trigger. These are the ones where I am transported back to the emergency room or the ICU or the waiting rooms by the ICU. I relive specific moments and they are so vivid and full of excruciating detail. These typically happen when I'm away from Lauren. They happen in the moments when I'm not occupied singing Zoom, Zoom, Zoom for the tenth time in a row, reading a book from memory, having a picnic on the kitchen floor or snuggling on the couch watching a movie. They happen when my brain is unoccupied by the business of my child or when I am unable to see her and be reassured of her health. The flashbacks are something that I know how to work through. I have steps that I use: I find Lauren and look at her, I audibly tell myself to stop, I focus on separating the past from the present and, with these tools, I am able to shut down the trigger.

The second type of trigger I have found more confusing to understand. Let's be honest, Lauren was sick over a year ago now. I should be over it by now. But as much as I wish that was the case, it is not. The second type of triggers that I have cause me to fall into uncontrollable crying. They often leave me exhausted and sometimes sad for a period of time after they occur. However, I have realized that my crying is not usually because I am sad about what happened. It was a few weeks ago that it finally started to make sense. I was reading a blog, Lil Blue Boo, that I started reading shortly before Lauren got sick that helped me realize what I was crying about. The writer of the blog has gone through cancer twice and has been writing through her recovery. She wrote a post that was a synopsis of everything that she's gone through and towards the end she said what turned a light on for me.

"I’m still here. And I’m grateful. And I still cry in the shower at the magnitude of it all. It’s not a sad cry it’s more of a this-is-huge cry." 

That is what these triggers bring up - not sadness or depression (which I was afraid that it might be) but the overwhelming sense of the hugeness of what we have been through. (You can read her full post here.) It was a relief to realize that these triggers and the crying are not a bad thing, but just a response to our past. But here's where it gets tricky. This happens each and every time that I go to church.

I thought that it was just when we go to our church because the pastor of our church was there with us through all of our time with Lauren. He went for coffee with us, sat with us, sat with Lauren and prayed with us. During Lauren's second time in the ICU, when the doctors wouldn't say a single encouraging thing to us (probably because they didn't see anything to be encouraging about), he prayed with us one night when we were at our lowest and we all cried while we prayed and the rawness and pain in that prayer has been seared into my brain. It was in that moment that I felt God move and tell me that He had things in his hands. That was when the song that I have held onto for Lauren "Be Still and Know that I Am God" came into my head and repeated over and over. While that moment led to peace and hope for me, when I hear our pastor pray, I am brought back to that time and the complete lack of power that we had over what happened with Lauren.

So, when we went to a different church this past weekend, I thought it would be easier. Not a chance. It isn't my memories associated with my pastor that makes church a struggle, it is memories attached to God. When Lauren was in the hospital, it was the first time in my life that I actually had to surrender something. And it wasn't just any something, it was the person that I loved more than anyone else in the whole world. A person that I loved more than I ever thought even possible. And I had no power over whether she stayed on the Earth or left me there alone. I had to be still, hand her over to God and know that He was in control. There were times in my lie before where I would hand something over to God but I would still work my butt off to get the outcome that I wanted. There was always an element of control that I maintained. And all of those things that I handed over were stupid in comparison to the life of my little girl. Were things really as bad as I think they were? No, they were actually worse. I lived through much of that time with rose coloured glasses on, thinking that there was no way that Lauren wouldn't survive. But looking at the situation objectively, no word other than "miracle" can describe her being alive and asleep in her crib tonight. She really shouldn't be here. And she definitely should be as healthy as she is. But she is and it is a miracle.

But that miracle has left me broken. I am a weeping mess when I think about the hugeness of what we've gone through. I still struggle to talk about it without downplaying the seriousness or risk losing all emotional control. And I'm broken when I come in front of God. His power and peace, his unfailing presence and sadness were always there with me. I'm broken because I  know that when I was on my face, He was there with me. He wasn't standing far away or even a few steps away, He was right there on the ground with me. However, in the year that has passed, I am still on the ground. I feel like my legs don't work and, spiritually, I am still on my knees. When I go to church and come before God, I can't think of Him without thinking of the power that I saw and the whispers and words that He spoke to me to get me through that time.

When I go to church, at least one line in every song makes my tears threaten to break the dam. Prayer drops me to my knees before God and the sermon gives me time to focus on those ways that I have experienced God. And all of these things bring me to the point of crying. The Kleenex that is stashed in my purse ends up well used as I try to hold it all back and act like I'm not about to cry... and not just cry a little, but ugly cry. I have tricks, like looking at the lights or forcing a yawn to swallow the tears down. Usually they work, but it is exhausting. I hate that I spend the entire time in church struggling. I end up physically and emotionally wiped.

Yet I'm not sure that I want this to change. Being broken allows me to have a gentleness that I didn't have before. I am a better mom because of what we've gone through. I have patience and a depth of love and appreciation that I wouldn't otherwise have had. I am a more understanding person because I give space for the things that are going on in our lives that we don't always share and struggle with alone. I remember when Lauren was in the ICU, anytime that I wasn't with her, I wanted to scream about what was happening so that everyone knew. But I didn't because that is not socially acceptable behaviour. How often do we hold things in because we are trying to fit into the norms of appropriate behaviour? Yet, when I refuse to cry in church, that is exactly what I am doing. My tears might make others uncomfortable, I definitely don't wear waterproof mascara and I know that my crying would be anything other than pretty. I make my behaviour fit the expected patterns but inside it is absolute turmoil.

I am hard on myself for this. I have allocated myself an amount of time that I think is appropriate to get over all of this and I have definitely passed it. But here I am. Still broken. How much longer will I be like this? I don't know. We've gone through something huge and I think that I need to cut myself some slack. I know that God doesn't mind seeing me broken because He is right there with me even now that the imminent danger has passed. I think that after the soul searching that I've done lately, I've come to the conclusion that I have to go back to the words that He gave to me and be satisfied to be where I am and be still and know that He is God. He doesn't set a time limit for us to get over things. He doesn't abandon us thinking that we've been there long enough. So it is okay for me to stay broken.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. While we have gone through something that I never imagined would happen me, I also know that I am better for it. It isn't better that Lauren has a pacemaker or a scar. It isn't better that I struggle with depression and live in fear of falling back into it. It isn't better that Matt lives with triggers and flashbacks as well. But there are some things that are better, though sometimes they are hard to see or take a long time to develop. We are stronger as a family. We have a depth of understanding that wasn't there before. We care more. If I need to maintain some sort of brokenness to hold onto these gifts, then so be it. I don't really want to go back to the place I was in where I can enter and exit a church unmoved. So I guess, for now, I will exist in this hard place that Sundays bring.

Update: Have I ever mentioned how wonderful my husband is? Well, if by some chance I've overlooked that, Matt is a wonderful, supportive, encouraging and caring husband. We sat down to talk about this issue and we've come up with a plan. We're going to go together to a service and I'm not going to hold back. I will excuse myself when I need to and just let the tears come if they need to. It is so nice to have him on my side and willing to walk with me through all of this, rather than just dealing with it myself. I think that Matt's support is a big part of why we are doing so well as a family. He's just the best.

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