Sharing Shadows (part 3)

shadows at dawn

“…at this time.”

Why, after 20 years of writing and six-seven years “hiding,” am I releasing this tenderness?

A succession of prodding illuminated my heart to the truth.  Hoarding.  What an ugly thought!  First, let me say several dear friends over the years continued to ask me about this project.  Dear souls, who believed we have something to share, didn’t give up on us… even in seasons I was most resigned.  Thank you to each of you for your persistent belief and encouragement.  You need to know your accountability emboldened me… even when I didn’t want to be bold anymore.

“To be GRATEFUL for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of the marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whisper a doxology in the darkness.”

-Brennan Manning Ruthless Trust pg. 37

Let’s recap a bit of this past year together.

Late winter 2015:  I joined my husband on a business trip to Berlin.  While we were there, I ventured out some; however, I mainly used it as a writing retreat.

Two points of significance:

1.)  A dear friend in Germany asked me if I had a copy of the book for her…When I looked into her longing, then deeply-disappointed eyes, my excuses cramped up in my throat.   That hit me.  She’s been waiting since 2007 to hold a copy of our story… and I had locked it away with my insecurities.

2.)  A writing retreat… this reminded me of the powerful gift I had been given several years earlier to go on a remote retreat in the Rockies.  On the 15th anniversary of Jamie’s death, I was invited on an all-expense-paid retreat to the very camp where he chose to take his last breath.  My husband and I drive through blinding icy conditions… through the panhandle of Oklahoma … only to arrive at the camp where three and a half feet of snow huddled down several rustic cabins.  We spent a week there.  I wrote nearly 12 hours every day.  I remember the breathless exhilaration as we’d venture out to the dining hall a couple times a day.  I’ve never known such corralled emotion as well as expedited clarity.  And the deer!  They appeared poised and queued outside our window…the snow drifts up to the chests… they’d bound and still… and their stares seemed to endorse my efforts, too.

This camp welcomed me despite the shadow they endured due to Jamie’s decision.  And my dear husband?  His patience that week- astonishing, really.  Not much to do around the camp when another blizzard dropped another foot of snow while we were there.  Such Grace.

Again, how could I keep this offering buried?  Doubts.  Fears.  Pride.  Well, my writer’s hand returned on that brilliant trip to Berlin.  The thoughts- uncontainable.  The energy and clarity – undeniable.  So much so that before I left Germany, I strategized and gave myself some timelines on budding new ideas (natures studies novel with sketch book, etc.).

When we returned home from Berlin, spring turned into summer.  Our eldest son was approaching his senior year of high school.  As his horizon has always beckoned, I easily excused my deadlines as his aspirations were far more important and immediate.  Still writing daily… just lacking focus… and mission.

September 2015:  a band of brazenly bold, beautifully humble ladies gathered in Orlando for IF: Local Leaders Conference 2015.   I am deeply grateful the Lord saw to it that I was among them.  I confess now  I hoped (almost obsessively) to meet Ann Voskamp, but instead the Lord introduced new voices to me like Rebekah Lyon and Angie Smith.    The whole team at IF: executed simple excellence and offered tools to equip and encourage Christ-centered community-building to “disciple a generation.”.

Amanda, Katherine, Melody, Tiffany, Tina, Susie and Nikki… Thank you for spreading Light by sharing yourselves with me in Orlando.  He chose each of you to speak Truth, Life, and stir courage in me… the kind of courage that overcomes discouragements, doubts, and fears.

Among several profoundly encouraging elements, I needed to address something.  My personal take-away… hiding and hoarding is no longer acceptable.  In part 1 of Sharing Shadows, we defined repentance.  A huge part of living hope in the wake of suicide is groping with repentance and forgiveness.  (We may tap into this more later.)

There may have been an acceptable amount of incubating this project needed.  However, long since, I seized control, tied it up tight, and tucked it far away. A turning away is necessary.  A turning away from the hindrances and a turning toward the One Who Lifts our gaze and delights to shine His Glory out of dark spaces.

My heroes, like Joni and Ravi, offered their deepest pains to the Lord, and He alone has multiplied might and tenderness in their mission.   Too many hearts are hurting.   Too many minds are ignorant or confused …denying the transforming touch of the Gospel.   And I’ve been wallowing too long…hoping to shroud my weaknesses… hoping He chose to use my cuter, more creative side to shine His Glory.  Yet, He intends to illuminate Himself by displaying unmistakable divine strength in His people who are impeccably weak apart from Him.

Autumn 2015:  our personal lives pulsed with ever-increasing demands…from the eldest competing for scholarships, our middle son playing high school basketball for the first time, and our daughter dancing four days a week…honestly,  again, wavering became a temptation.  This time I hunkered down to a season of prayer and reviewing tucked away journal entries.  And quickly clarity came.  Testify.  The Shadow Project must be first release.   My offering.

Targeting January 18, 2016 would give me time to close out fall semester obligations.  Even as our family traveled north for Christmas, the Lord continued to sift and surface areas of angst I needed to let go.  I do not feel the need to publically expose all areas; however, one I know I need to share is envy of working moms and homemaking moms who send their children to traditional school settings.  So many times in my wrestling, I’ve grumbled how intensely heavy my workload is partly because I’ve looked around too much.

Practically, through this I’m developing a keener sense of where I’ve been wasteful.  More importantly, the whisper “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ declares the Lord.” softens and strengthens my resolve to be attentive to His answers as I pray,
“Please, Father, establish the work of my hands.” 

January 2016:  Our eldest son wrote a blog post,” New Year, New Heights”  that bravely inspired me… His college graduate mom who invested over a decade of full time voluntary educational facilitating teared up and paused.  He may have been expressing his senior goals, but I connected with his call… higher still.  His clarity helped me see how many circular reasons I ride and fashion into edible excuses. No more.

The truth is Light thrives when darkness doesn’t have a right to dominate.  I may want to barter and deal with the Lord for a “five year-pain free plan”, and then I agree to follow.  I don’t want to feel out of control.  I’m still not a fan of my own tears that appear without permission.  Yet, I know myself well-enough that I’d be much more apt to attempt to spotlighting myself instead of shrinking to Him Who’s Shine is Hope’s Eternal Embrace.

I wish I could say this process was an easy, super smooth one.  My family can tell you the day I entered several of the initial pieces into the blog template – darkness snarled and pressed in in palatable ways.  Again, I nearly cowered to fears.  A few family members proofed a few pieces before we went live.  In fact, on January 18th, I decided to put off  making the blog “live” for one more day.  However, I neglected to tell my family.

My cousin-in-law broke my hiding by being the first to share on Facebook… and also helped me be brave as our first round of responses actually came in from military families affected by combat deaths as well as suicide.

Ya know, angst-agitating emotions fuel fears.  Fears dim hope.  But, pearls of pain strung together bond souls.  And together ~ we’re Living Hope.

The next two weeks… totally surreal.  Suddenly, shadows are lifting around the world.  As one by one, we surface and share.  Yes, suicide wreaks and wrestles lives.  But, Hope Lives.  Living is not blind to difficulty, wounds, or even death.  Rather, we’re more-than-ever compelled with a keen, Carpe Diem awareness to love and comfort.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

While this blog series chronicles much of how our experience (mine in particular) intersects some painfully confusing places.   We’re invited into a contagion of comfort.  Comfort infused by experiencing Living Hope is in the Person of Jesus Christ.  We may wrestle, but we trust in He Who is “the victor of the dark domain” and yield to His Spirit to be the Power that comforts and loves beyond our human limits.

But, we don’t stop there… we join Habakkuk’s Prayer (3:17-19):

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls;

yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in the God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.” 

My heart breaks for the mourning and hurting among us.  Yet, we help each other look around and see the pulsing joys … beyond regrets, ice storms, hiding… we find freedom in confession… like the deer in the snow, we catch our breath, praise Him even in the hard-ness…and bound higher still.  The beauty?  We may wrestle still.  Some days more than others, but “…at this time” we now know we are not alone.

Let’s keep meeting together in this Shadows Presence space… encouraging each other in this contagion of comforting.  Have you noticed how vulnerability gives voices to connectivity?

Living Hope ~

Heidi L. Paulec