When I became pregnant with my son I was faced with many decisions: breast or bottle, home or work, cloth or disposal. One of the decisions dealt with how I planned to manage the pain during labor. Manage the pain? You manage it? I wanted to AVOID it. At all costs. I began to ask mommas, “How did you give birth?” I called my own momma and asked her to tell me my birth story. I even asked my mother-in-law…and the way they treated women in the 60s…SHUDDER. I knew I didn’t want to spend the entire labor screaming in pain, threatening to kill my husband and begging to end my life but I didn’t really want to be knocked out and meet my son under the effects of morphine either. A friend introduced me to the Bradley Method and I became determined to have an easy, natural birth. My obstetrician however, was totally convinced that I’d last an hour into the labor and she’d gladly schedule a c-section. So, once a week I’d drag the husband to the birth class and we, along with 3 other couples, would practice breathing, walking, squatting and managing our pain during labor. One evening she made a strange comment to me about labor. “Labor is not painful.” I looked at her like she’d lost her flipping mind. I was going to produce a 7-8 pound baby through a spot that was no bigger than the tip of a pen and it wouldn’t be PAINFUL? She began to explain that if you work with the labor process, if you lean into the contractions and the waves of intensity that you don’t feel pain. In other words, if you don’t fight the muscles, they won’t hurt. Pain, she told me, was an indicator that something was going wrong and that it meant I needed to move position, start walking, start squatting, get shifted until I was moving with the labor process. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen…I ended up with a traumatic birth and an overzealous obstetrician. Painful doesn’t begin to describe the experience. But I never forgot my instructors words. To lean into the “pain” and find myself working with and not against the labor process.
I was reflecting on things this morning and I was reminded of her words again. Going through a healing journey is much like labor. At first it’s manageable. A little pain, breathe a bit…ok done. Just as I get comfortable…do it again. And again. And again. And then it gets harder. The memories get more intense, feelings deeper, the pain takes the breath away. That’s when I have to decide if I’m going to continue to fight against the process or submit to the hard work of healing. And like I discovered in the birth of my daughter, when I work with the labor process, it easier to manage the pain. The pain is there, it just doesn’t OVERWHELM to the point that I can’t survive. And, as I reflect on how far I’ve come and face the work of healing another layer I realized that the pain taught me many things.
Life on one’s knees is not weakness.
I remember the day I heard her gasp. A sister had been open and honest with us, a rarity in a group of women where perfection was the gospel. She spoke of how she felt she was in a desert place and felt so lonely. My little empathetic heart wept and the broken me inside jumped for joy. YES! Finally, someone is going to tell the awful truth. That some of us live in the desert and we feel lonely and abandoned and can we please just have a soul who cares enough to give us a drink of water? But this sister, she gasped. And then she spoke. And she thought she spoke encouragement, but she spoke judgment and condemnation into the ears of that sister. “I’ve never felt I’ve had to go into the wilderness. How can you have the Holy Ghost and feel that way? I just don’t understand.” To a young mom, struggling with depression, she spoke loud. Saying you were broken, on your knees sometimes face down in the dirt, meant you failed God. You were not living in the power of the Holy Ghost. I knew that sharing my secrets was not safe. So I stayed quiet. But the pain taught me that being on my knees wasn’t a weakness. It just showed me that I needed to desperately approach the hem of the garment of my Savior and be healed. And down there, on my knees, in the dirt, crawling for just a morsel of hope, I found others. Like me. And I learned that sometimes on your knees, in the dirt, is where you can help someone the best. Pain sent me there, love for others keeps me going back.
Hiding hurts more than being vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. To say to a world that is quite critical, “This is me and I’m a broken mess.” appears foolish. At first. I loved to play hide and seek. I hid and they’d find me and we’d laugh and scream and collapse on the ground in giggles. But it didn’t work off the playground. In the real world, I hid. I thought they’d find me. But they didn’t find me. I just stayed hiding, in pain, scared to come out and play. I was alive, but very much not alive. Until I quit hiding, and I came out, and I made a huge mess saying things that made my momma probably question how she raised me and my friends say wow and my husband shake his head. But I was determined to be vulnerable, to be real, honest and raw and to finally, for once in my life, have my voice heard and be KNOWN. And as that process played out and I began to heal, I realized that hiding hurt far more than dealing with people’s reactions to my vulnerability. Yes, being honest with people hurts. But at least I am no longer ALONE, I’m with people. I’m fully awake to life now. The pain of hiding keeps me in the game.
Sometimes saying “I cant” is necessary to be able to say “I can”.
I used to say, “I can’t” all the time. And my father would respond with, “Can’t died in the cornfield ten years ago.” And I’d usually stop and tell him he told me that LAST year…which was technically true, but talking back to the man was usually not wise. When I married the husband I discovered he wasn’t fond of my “I can’t” either. He told me that when people told him he couldn’t, he was determined to show them just how much he could. Me, I basically said, “Ya, you’re right. I can’t…so I won’t even try.” That right there made for a few arguments. I discovered that my propensity to “I can’t” all over the place became my tool to lean into the pain. When I said to Jesus, “I can’t do this anymore.” he said, “I can.” And I leaned into him and he took the pain and he carried it until it became something that I can carry. I can carry the memories and the experiences and the victories and use them to help others. Pain stopped me from doing things but it pushed me to a place where now I can do things.
NO is my very best friend in the whole world.
No is the first word I learned to not say. No, meant you got a spanking. No, meant you were in trouble, No, is not something you EVER say to someone older than you. Not being able to say no, has caused me the most pain in my life. Saying yes, because that’s what I was taught, allowed a boy older than me to change my life. Saying yes, because one must never question someone in authority, let me believe that I caused my father’s behavior. Saying yes, because that’s what you do if a boy likes you, let me compromise my values and have my heart broken. Even when I desperately wanted to say no, I couldn’t and it caused me unnecessary pain. One of the boundaries my psychiatrist taught me, or at least attempted to teach me, was saying no. I’m still horrible at it. And that’s when I need a painful reminder that NO is my very best friend. When I push myself to do things, that I shouldn’t do at the moment I’m doing them, and I override my brain screaming NO, then I deal with pain. And the pain hurts. And sometimes pain is the very best teacher. Next time my brain says, “NO”, I’m going to listen.
Love is scary, at first, but always worth it.
Ultimately pain has taught me to love. Giving birth to three children is painful. I not only have the memories but my belly tells the story in screaming scars. When I am grumbling because I no longer have a swimsuit model stomach I remember my daughter. My youngest daughter walked into the room when I was changing one day. She’s kind of blunt, lacks a filter…but she looked at me and said, “What happened to your stomach?” I looked at her, smiled, and said, “You happened. This is what love looks like.” She retorted. “That’s gross. But I love you.” My journey is painful. I have the scars that tell the story. My husband, my children and my extended family deal with the aftermath and sometimes the continuing presence of pain. But as I think of my children when I look at my stomach, I’m learning to look at my life in the same way. It’s gross. It’s painful. But it gave birth to me. And this journey is not really about me. It’s about my Abba and how much he loves me and how when I’m brave enough to be vulnerable he shows up and finds me. And we fall into the grass laughing with one another. Love is always worth going through the pain to find.
I love how Abba’s taken a broken girl and given her a voice. How he’s taken a dead marriage and revived it. How he’s cleared a path so that my children and grandchildren and great grand-children can walk free of the landmines from my childhood roots. And that he’s given me a heart to love others. To call them from hiding, to be vulnerable, to lean into the pain and find love that changes everything. I love how much he loves me and I’ll be forever grateful that he came seeking me and now I’m found.