Eleven

Heart Lessons

About 20 years ago, I started noticing an odd pattern. I was seeing 11:11 everywhere; clocks, receipts, license plates, you name it. It kind of freaked me out until I asked some friends about it and they simply asked ‘Well, what does God say about it?’. I didn’t sense anything specific, but over the next decade, I came to know it as a simple nod from God that He was there, and that He was ordering things. It makes sense that He would do that with numbers, as I am a lover of them.

And as my Creator, He knows what might get my attention.

With that context, let’s jump to 2019. It’s late in the year, I’ve sold my home and am crashing with a friend until I determine next steps, and I start sensing that I should visit a church in Mansfield. It’s not entirely random, as the word ‘Mansfield’ had been popping into my mind for a couple of years. Without knowing what it meant or really anything about the city, I’d just jot it down and hope that clarity would come. In a conversation with a friend, she mentioned a new church that she was hoping to start attending, but was disappointed that it was so far away. The location was, you guessed it: Mansfield. Where He drops breadcrumbs, I follow. So, every-other week, when my son was with his father, I’d make the thirty-mile trek to-and-from the high school where this church was meeting. No goosebumps. No providential encounters. I’d drive aimlessly around the town after church, looking for some indication as to why I was here. This went on for several months, screaming fits on the return trip most weeks, until, on one road trip back, I heard ‘You’re moving to Mansfield.’ And so began an Enneagram 1 style frantic planning session to find suitable schools, neighborhoods, look at viability for my newly formed decorating business, ALL the things. And then, in March, everything came to a screeching halt. The world went into a Covid-driven lockdown. Assuming this meant our plans were also pausing, I took a deep breath and laid back. ‘You’re still moving to Mansfield. The weekend after Memorial Day.’ So, we moved. Mid-quarantine, unable to meet neighbors or attend church. With zero clue why we were here, everything in me ached for some sense of understanding. The ONLY thing I had to cling to was knowing I’d heard Him.

Some months later, church reopened and desperate for human interaction and connection to locals, I dove into serving. As we discussed where I might want to serve, the advising pastor asked in what capacity I’d served before and suggested they could definitely use me on the media team. So we began showing up at 5:45am most Sundays to unload the trailer, roll everything into the high school, set it up, serve, and pack everything back up. The drummer, T, befriended my son and enlisted him to help him set up week after week. As I came to know him, he shared that he was in end-stage renal failure, and on the kidney transplant list. A fleeting thought entered my mind. ‘Huh, wonder if that’s why God moved us here?’. A couple more months went by and life changed.

On December 30, 2010, on my son’s 10th birthday, I ended up in the ER. It was the perfect end to a truly terrible night of waiting in the rain for our Uber, after being unable to restart my car at the drive-in. After that hours’ long ordeal and us falling exhausted into our beds, I awoke with stabbing pain like I’d never had before. Cue another Uber ride to the ER, where they determined I had kidney stones. While unpleasant, not terribly surprising, as I’d failed miserably at managing my physical health after my divorce in 2017. I heard God’s sweet voice twice that evening, once in the ER and again at home at 4am. ‘This is not at all what I have for you, Kerri. I have so much planned for you that will not happen if you do not get healthy.’ And so began a year-long journey of getting control of my health.

6 months into that journey, the conversation again resumed with T regarding his need for a kidney transplant. This time, it wasn’t a ‘Huh, I wonder….’ thought. It was ‘Yeah, I’m supposed to do this.’ The odds of being a match were a fraction of a percent, but I just knew. The process started pretty smoothly. I was a viable candidate, then approved as a tissue match, but then further testing revealed some heart abnormalities. Follow-up EKG, more heart abnormalities. First stress test, same result. And while I fumbled over my testing, T became increasingly ill. He was in and out of the hospital with blood toxicity and erratic blood sugar. After telling me that he was tired of this years’ long journey and couldn’t move forward, I went on a very long walk and leaned over the guardrail of the trail, crying uncontrollably, unable to catch my breath. All this and now he’s just going to let himself die? Just like that? At just that moment, a friend called and calmed me with her words. ‘Kerri, you aren’t here for no reason. Go home, and read over your prayer journals. I think you’ll find the answers you need.’ For the next 4 hours, I culled through years of journaling. And, as she suggested, found that God had been speaking to me about this for years, letting me know that I needed to get healthy to save his life.

So while nothing pointed to this happening, I was emboldened. It had been written.

He reluctantly decided to continue forward. However, the process still wasn’t smooth from there. Another failed stress test led to a cardiologist referral. Several weeks later, I had the all-clear from cardiology, and in August we received confirmation that I was his approved living donor. But now we had a new hurdle. The transplant hospital was requiring that T get a Covid vaccination to even be considered for surgery. Only a year prior, he’d almost died from Covid. Unaware of his DNR order, his parents ordered doctors to resuscitate him after he coded. So the idea of intentionally injecting the serum into his compromised body was earth-shattering. But what option did he have? His life literally hung in the balance. Given the certainty of death with no surgery, he conceded. As expected, his body reacted horribly and his health continued to decline. But unexpectedly, one October day, the clinic called. It was time to confirm the transplant date.

November 11, 2021.

11/11. A .2% chance of it falling on that date. The minuscule chance that I’d be a match. The move. The church. The ER visit. All the delays and tears. I could palpably feel God smiling.

There it was. Order.

Did absolute order follow that providential 11/11 date? No. The fallout after the euphoric faith-filled high was nothing short of a complete crash landing. I suffered from what I now know is a post-surgical ‘postpartum’ of sorts, and I struggled emotionally. The very real need to secure paying work after I’d put life on pause for several months hit me like a ton of bricks. And relationally, dreams I’d held close began to crumble, and I felt alone, rejected, and completely heartbroken. It was then that He began speaking to me about another bold move.

Why does He do that? Why, when you are at rock bottom, does He ask big things of you? Why was it after my divorce that He began speaking so clearly and asking me to step out and do scary things? Is He that mean? The kind of man who kicks you while you are down? The answer is no. There is no kinder being anywhere. Psalms 34 tells us that He is close to the brokenhearted. There is something tender about those moments with Him, where I truly believe we just hear Him differently. And when are you ever more motivated to trust Him than when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain? When I think of a life of faith, I often think of The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. He is a heavenly being. He is holy. Isaiah 55 tells us that His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. Try as we may, we cannot comprehend Him. Although we strive to become more and more like Him, there is no ‘arriving’ on this side of heaven.

Thy kingdom come. The goal is to encounter heaven, by encountering Him. But this invasion of heaven on earth creates a tension that is uncomfortable for most because we are earthly beings. And just when you find yourself growing the slightest bit comfortable, here comes an increased level of exposure to heavenly things.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Thy will. Not MY will. Again, the tension. Oh, the tension.

Give us this day our daily bread. He has committed to taking care of us today, and we are instructed not to worry about tomorrow. How’s that for turning over control.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The forgiveness of others comes BEFORE the extension of forgiveness. Which wars against every human need to exact justice so that balance is achieved.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. If we have subscribed to the truth of this prayer thus far, that His thinking far exceeds ours, then we do not get to understand every single evil from which He might choose to deliver us. This means trusting that He is leading us towards good, even if we do not understand the loss.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. The glory of every outcome is His. And solely His.

So here I am, just over 10 months post-op. Physically, I’m doing fine. We’ve moved yet again at His urging, on to another adventure into the complete unknown. Emotionally, there is much that was left undone in Mansfield. I took big leaps with my heart and had big hopes that were not realized. Very, very real heartache and many tears. There is so much that I simply do not understand; things that I thought were part of His big plan for me. I don’t know if I got things wrong. I don’t understand why others’ hearts and visions didn’t align with what I thought He’d shown me, and I may never know. Perhaps the promises are yet to be fulfilled and it just wasn’t time. But I have 11/11 to stand on as a miracle. I know that He is my loving Father, and He has good things for me. I know that He can and will heal my broken heart. I will continue searching for Him and the good in all things, and watching as He orders more miracles.

Don’t fill the space.

Heart Lessons

Priscilla Shirer refers to it as ‘margin.’ As a less experienced writer, I’ll refer to it as its simpler term; space. Who wouldn’t want that? Time to rest. Mental and physical capacity to manage the unexpected. The glorious freedom to tackle that pile of ‘stuff’ and get going on those ‘things.’ Meditation. I didn’t want that. Me. When I am on, I’m on. Productivity, efficiency, excellence. When I’m off, I’m tuned out. Trash tv, a glass of wine, copious sleep. But where’s the in-between? That time when you ponder things, or make the tough phone call? Yeah, no. Hard pass. But let’s talk about what these last two years have been for me.

I didn’t know I was tired. But after sequential years of losing my father, my husband leaving, and subsequent single motherhood, I hit a wall. And it wasn’t until I was forced into an extended medical leave that I realized just how tired. There were months for which I honestly couldn’t account. I had never been one to equate busyness to productivity. The opposite, actually. A calendar with overlapping obligations was not something to which I aspired. I was very intentional about resting, but I had not made space for healing. My attempts to maintain normalcy for myself in my work life, and for my son in our home life left me with ZERO bandwidth for anything else. So as I floated in my pool on that leave of absence, the dreaded space began to set in. Thoughts of necessary change were percolating. My mind was not consumed with conference calls and meetings and soccer practice. It was just me, and my newfound BFF (you may know him as Jesus).

I’ve elaborated on my leaving my corporate job, joining a nonprofit for no pay, selling my house, moving in with a friend, starting a new business, and moving to a new town in another post. Those changes were most definitely prompted in those moments of space; whether through intentional meditation or more casual conversations in the car. I have learned how to better manage allowing for those sweet times.

What I’m coming to understand only now, several years since this portion of my journey began, is that I have to be okay leaving the space completely empty, for as long as it needs to remain.

So the process is actually two-fold. In the first step, there’s the room you make in your life to allow these thoughtful moments to happen. In the second phase you are left with the fallout of those revelations. So in my case, I found myself without a paying job after 20 years in corporate America. Now what? Or I sold my house and felt uneasy about buying another, so I crashed with a friend. Now what? Or, more recently, I accepted that I needed to stop getting in the way of what God wanted to do in my son’s heart, so I had to let him fully feel all of the pain that I’d been mitigating for 4 years. Now what?

I’m inclined, as I believe are so many of you, to fill the cavernous space with something. Anything. Progress. Therapy. Work. Friends. Planning. Oh, the glorious fragrance of a well-charted plan. In isolation, all of these things are good. But we don’t live lives separate and apart from our actions. If you are filling the void with something of your own making, no matter how good, you are bypassing the ONLY one who knows what lies ahead, and how to get you there. I’ve written before about good versus best, and yes, that applies here as well.

But what I’m really talking about is leaving the desolation alone after He clears the debris.

Don’t try to add landscaping or call in a backhoe to put in a pool. That may well be what He wants for you, but you have to let Him draw up the plans; not you. Logically, any mom would want to protect their kiddo from hurt anywhere, anytime she could. But that may not be what truly shapes him into the man he was created to be. And even when the plans seem to be in full-force, there still needs to be DAILY space made to continue the conversation. What if the business He had me start is not going the direction at all that I’d imagined it would? Just this week, I found myself making small daily plans that would seem perfectly logical for anyone else running a similar business. I paused, checked the plans with the General Contractor, and it was a no-go. What now?

If, through the process of healing and growth, you have found yourself in that in-between place that feels like an abyss, understand that He is the pro at restoring the years you feel have been lost. Don’t try to construct a spaceship to get you back to earth as quickly as possible. Most of us are ill-equipped to man, much less assemble, that ship. He IS working all things together for good, even if you cannot see or fathom it. Leave space for the space.

It was only a candle.

Heart Lessons

And some sugar scrub, and candy, and nail decals, and a sweet note; a thoughtful token left by a generous gift-giver. What followed the unwrapping was unexpected and unpleasant, to say the least. Tears. Many, many, ugly, snotty tears. I was not prepared for the torrent of emotions that were unleashed.

Since I’ve learned to emote, which, in full transparency, has only happened in the last 4 years or so, I’ve come to master what I think is the most important step towards healthy emotional processing; when I am surprised by my emotional response, I ask God ‘where the hell did that come from?’. Those are my words. Verbatim. Sometimes I hear an audible chuckle in response. But usually, I hear ‘sweet girl, ……’ followed by a very short, but usually profound, explanation. This evening, while the tears continued wetting the edge of my t-shirt and the adult libation drained from my beverage glass, three words knocked the wind out of me.

‘You felt noticed.’

No. What? I am noticed! I have friends and family who love me and I am not alone. I just sat in the confusion of it all for a while. Who knows how long. And slowly it sank in. This was just a simple act of kindness for no reason whatsoever. It wasn’t in response to my having done or said anything. It was frivolous and touched on my femininity, which, as a single mom, doesn’t happen often; ever really. And it countered a lie that played on loop for several years after my husband left me.

‘You are discarded and invisible.’

And there it was. For all of my counseling sessions, recovery programs, study of scripture, and time with God, that blasphemous untruth had taken root and settled nicely into my subconscious. I thought it had been dealt with. But sometimes, it takes the antithesis to shine a proverbial light on the fallacy that corrupts the substance of who we are. Proverbs 18 says it best; ‘The tongue has the power of life and death.’ I’d said the words ‘discarded’ and ‘invisible’ enough times that something had died. No amount of positive thinking will undo death. Only time at the feet of my Father will do that; allowing Him to woo me in the way that only He can.

In one fell swoop, He can deconstruct the scaffolding that holds the twisted thinking in its rightful place in your heart.

Let Him. He will leave no trace of the demolition. Try as you may to pull the blueprints back out to remind everyone that you were designed to live a life constructed by pain and suffering, He will counter with a canvas of dreams and promises too beautiful to imagine. But you have to willingly trade one for the other. He will not forcefully remove it.

The human mind is astonishing. My adopted son had a very traumatic start to life, and in my elementary understanding of how the mind and body protects itself, I’ve come to appreciate why there are times that he cannot believe my kind words, or accept my loving touch. To him, love wasn’t always safe. That candle sent a message that opposed what I’d come to believe about myself, and my body responded. Were it not for some understanding of what I needed to do to correct that belief, and a Savior who gladly guided me to the healing I needed, my life would continue on, subscribing to lies. Healthy love might feel uncomfortable and unsafe to me. I might be wary of well-intentioned gifts. I may even begin to behave in a way that warranted attention to counter the belief that I wasn’t noticed, however dysfunctional the attention might be. Knowing myself, I would likely shrink into oblivion, staying safe in the shadows and avoiding love altogether. But I am choosing the riskier, lesser known (to me) route. I am allowing my Father to paint a picture of who I am, and what my future holds.

What has been your candle? What has incited emotional outbursts that were disconcerting? What part(s) of your life are constructed based on lies that you believed? I do want to make sure that you hear my heart on this loud and clear. Trauma inflicted on you at the hands of another is NOT okay. You may have been simply surviving, and there is no shame in that.

But you were not meant to live a life at the mercy of your trauma.

When you are ready, ask this question: Where the hell did that come from? You might need a professional to guide you through the process of unearthing these truths. But if any part of you is unsettled by any of my account and you know that there is something out of alignment, start asking questions. And get ready to turn over the blueprints.