Hope Speaks: Chrystol’s Unplanned Journey

Courage is contagious. That’s all there is to it. Welcome to Hope Speaks, where once monthly I’m featuring those who also fight hard battles, find hope right there in those seemingly impossible places and then take the brave step to share their story.

Introducing Chrystol, one of the most authentic people I know. This part of her journey reminds me a little of that saying God laughs when we make plans. But instead, I believe God shows up  when we make plans, sometimes bringing us to an entirely different and more scary-beautiful life than we ever expected.

Here is her courageous story.

~Jen

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I’m going to start this post with a statement of truth about who I am. I am Chrystol; I despise making mistakes and have a fear of failure. Planning, goal setting and control tend to be my chosen methods to achieve success. As a teenager and young adult, I didn’t allow myself to relax, be at peace or get too comfortable. There was always a new goal to achieve, a new level to rise to, partially because I was a military brat and moved every few years. I learned that the only thing consistent in life is change, but I had no idea what I was in for as I entered a transition period of my life.

Almost two years after I got married, my husband and I found out I was pregnant…SURPRISE! Well, it wasn’t necessarily PLANNED like everything else in my life, and it took me a few weeks to wrap my mind around the fact this life-changing event occurred without planning. My plan was to be at my new job for a few years before this. I wanted to make the DECISION to have a child, not just have it happen, and I didn’t feel ready. I cried and cried and cried some more. After I cried, I went back to what I knew to do, research and plan. I read all I could about pregnancy and tried to plan out the next nine months. When we went to our first obstetrics appointment for an ultrasound, there was another surprise. TWINS! Interestingly, I handled the news that I was pregnant with twins much better than the news that I was pregnant. I decided I was going to be the best mother EVER! My pregnancy was really special and required much planning (my favorite). The moment I gave birth to my daughters, my life changed forever. And that was only the beginning.

Although the first few months of twin parenthood were a blur, things went pretty smoothly until one of my daughters suffered a severe injury. I know you’re probably thinking, “What happened? What changed?” but this is about my reaction and the effects on my family. I wish things happened differently, and I couldn’t help blaming myself for not trusting my own instincts.

It was completely unexpected and felt like my whole world crumbled around me. How could something happen to MY baby? I had spent so much of life devoting time, energy and love to other people’s children and MY child would be forever changed. I was taught whatever you sow, you will reap, so why did this happen? I have planted good seeds for years and this is what I get in return? It made NO SENSE AT ALL, and it felt like a sick joke. For the first month or so, I prayed I’d wake up, realizing it was all a nightmare. Nope. It was real. I woke up every single day, looked at my daughter and saw the reality. I tried to bargain with God. Eventually, all of the hope I had for her future and mine was gone. All of the faith I had in God was gone, too. It’s amazing how your outlook on life can shift with just one event.

I kept remembering when I gazed into my daughter’s big brown eyes, saying, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” And I failed her…miserably, reminding myself of that every day. No one knew how low I really was, and I suffered from depression for about a year after the incident. There were days I simply didn’t want to wake up and face my life as a failure to my family, but I believed I’d be even more of a failure if I let them know my sadness. I tried my best to give the appearance of good mental health. At the same time, I decided that I could not allow myself to be happy until I knew for certain that my daughter would be happy, despite her physical scar. How could I smile, knowing one day people might point and stare? How could I forgive myself without being sure she would forgive me? How could I simply move on when I felt so much anger and disappointment in myself? I wasn’t only mad at myself; I was so mad at God. How could He allow this? I was taught, “God won’t put more on you than you can handle” and “all things work together for good.” Well, I couldn’t handle what happened and I didn’t see any good coming from it! I was so angry! I was sad. I was disappointed. I was confused. I was lost. I was alone. My heart was broken, and I was hopeless. I didn’t think anyone knew, but that kind of despair cannot stay hidden for long.

All of those feelings came to surface at my daughters’ first birthday party. I tried my best to appear to be in a celebratory mood, but the truth was I felt like a boiling pot of water that was too full. It took one word from the wrong person, and I bubbled over. I had never lost my temper like that! I really don’t remember everything I said and did, but I am sure I’ve never reacted in that way before. When I ran to the bathroom to compose myself, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman looking back. I came out and gazed into the shocked eyes of those around me, knowing they had witnessed how broken I was. I hated I had allowed them to see my pain. I also knew I could no longer live with the weight of the emotions I was trying to hide but I had no idea what to do with them.

The next weekend, my husband and I attended a new members’ class at our church. We were asked if there was anything keeping us from a closer relationship with God and were told to write it down on a card. I struggled with whether or not to tell the truth or just give a good church answer. I heard, “Just write it, Chrystol.” And I did. “I’m angry at myself and at God….” When the leader of the group asked if anyone wanted to share, before I knew it, my hand shot in the air. That was the first time I openly shared my true, raw feelings. I couldn’t believe I was telling a room full of strangers how I felt, but I’m so glad I did. Those strangers gathered around me, praying for me. I wept as they literally surrounded me with love and petitioned God to heal my heart and mind. I will not lie and say everything was perfect after that prayer because it wasn’t. But after that experience, I had hope that my life would be happy again and that my daughter would be just fine.

In the months and years following that moment at church, God has shown me that the life I’d hoped for is still possible. My daughter is thriving. She embraces her imperfection, and is so confident. I am doing things I never thought I would, taking risks I would not have taken. I am getting closer to fulfilling my purpose. I now know that dark moments, setbacks, and failures don’t need to be avoided. They don’t have to break us. There’s beauty in the struggle. I accept what was, embrace what is and have hope for what will be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good plan. But now I also embrace a God plan.

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Read more about Chrystol here on her blog, Chronicles of Womanhood.

Wilson-Payne Chrystol 7707120224 CD_Deal

 

 

 

5 Thoughts on Forgiveness (Minus Forgetting)

What are you holding onto? You know, that nagging thing you or someone else said or did yesterday, ten years ago or even when you were a kid? You might not wake up thinking about it, but it crosses your mind at least once a week. You spend more time mulling over it than you’d like to admit. Yes, that thing that has its grip on you so tight it hurts all over again when you’ve had a stressful day or are feeling less than stellar.

I grew up thinking forgive required forget and said those difficult, confusing words,

I forgive you,

but soon felt like a failure when I thought about [insert the same old/ new issue here]. And now as an adult, playing certain offenses over in my mind like rewinding scenes in a movie brings back angry, hurt feelings. My body knows this and tells the world I am not fine by sending red, hot splotches up my neck and face. As a little girl, I learned to act as if all was okay, denying my true feelings and stuffing them deep down so no one could see (and I didn’t recognize them). So many years later after getting married, those long gone emotions gushed to the surface and exploded. I had to save my relationship and find a way to heal.

I am far from an expert on this, but I have learned some things after reading book after book. Some books didn’t help, some preached forgetting (and I tossed them as soon as I could), but some made the uncomfortable subject seem do-able.

5 things about forgiveness I wish I knew as a kid:

spiralstairs1. Forgiveness is a process. Saying “I forgive you” aloud (to the person or yourself) is just the beginning. It takes work. Writing it down, telling others about it, even speaking it aloud if you’re the only person around reaffirms your decision to begin the process to forgive.

peeledbark
A tree shed its bark…oddly beautiful.

2. Forgiveness is a continual peeling of something unnecessary that hold us down. It reminds me of a a snake, shedding its skin or a tree, leaving a peeled off pile of bark on the ground each year. We might have to forgive that same offense again (and another time or 10) when we feel all those old emotions.

3. Forgiveness does not excuse the offense, deny it or even necessarily forget it. Instead it’s freedom for the forgiver from that video stuck on rewind and a heavy load of anger and bitterness.

4. Sometimes forgiveness might involve telling that person who hurt you, but it can come in writing as well. I might be wrong, but I don’t believe it requires reconciliation. Oh, I have struggled with this (I’ll blame the silly forgetting idea). I had to learn boundaries are necessary and healthy.

5. For me, forgiveness requires talking to God and then laying all the mess out on the table. When I choose words I think he likes, I feel like I’m pretending. When I say it like I honestly feel it (Dear God, this sucks and I hate that this is so hard. I’m afraid of how I’ll feel and what this means. I’m not sure I can do it, etc), it’s altogether different. I feel heard, understood and finally out of hiding.

IrelandnarniadoorForgiveness brings peace where there was ongoing turmoil. Rather than constant anger and stress that can bring on health issues and plain, old unhappiness, it opens the door to receive peace and joy. Who wouldn’t want that?

Want to read more about this? Check out Getting Rid of the Gorilla for true stories of people like you and me, who  found freedom by dealing with that thing.

 

A Birthday Surprise

I didn't make this graphic and don't know who did. In the words of a friend, "I love/ hate it."
I didn’t make this graphic and don’t know who to attribute it to (the teacher in me would add an apostrophe) ; however, I agree with a friend who said, “I love/ hate it.”

I’m not sure what I had in mind exactly for the future; I guess more time at the same jobs we’ve loved for years. It was out of my hands, though, as much of life is. Next year, my work will look a little different than it does now.

When we make life decisions, we have to live with them, but sometimes it’s even more difficult when life makes a huge turn, having zero to do with our choices. We are left a little lost and bewildered, wondering something along the lines of…

What did I do to deserve this? (And for me…during my birthday week?)

But after the shock lessens, it ends up having more to do with what we actually do with what happens to us. When things are out of our control, it can feel terribly lonely. Fear creeps in, and there are more questions than answers. Hope? Well, it feels impossibly far away. Trusting God has a plan, roller coaster-like as it may be, brings me some peace even when what’s happening makes zero sense. I’m learning when I feel worried and anxious about exactly what next year will look like, I have to say out loud, “Okay, God, I know you got this.” I am not an expert at it, but I’m finding more and more, um, opportunities to practice it. Hearing myself helps me believe it when time stops at the top of the roller coaster. It’s there, when my eyes are closed, and I’m edging closer to the next breath-stealing, hurtling ride into the unknown.

So, at first, this change felt like a deep, dark question, but it has become instead a big, bright possibility. I don’t know how it all will work; I have no idea. But, I realized something else as peace replaced my initial fear. Somewhere deep down, I have longed for time to pursue some other things but expected that would only happen at retirement (in a million years). Don’t get me wrong; I love my job as it is now, but here it is, this surprising gift placed in my open hands.

 

Why the New Blog Name?

This blog began as A Little More Than I Was.  Now it has grown into Hope Walks In, simply because I write about the messy adventures of life and finding hope in the dark spaces (If you haven’t read this month, click here. It’s the same blog with a new name, and this year I’m focusing on Hope and Healing: Little by Little). 

Always, the unknown exists, bringing times of joy, heartbreak and everything in between. Life does that, over and over — laughter and fun, followed by tough stuff that sneaks in when we least expect it. Each time, we can sink as the waves crash down or learn to swim–asking for help and hope along the way.

Hope walks in all types of ways:
a whisper
earth-shaking like booming thunder
a hint of yellow light or red sky
a line in a song or a poem
a stranger’s words
a prayer
a hug from a loved one
a place you’d least expect  (like on the bumper sticker stuck on the car that cut you off)
the stories of others

While hope doesn’t air lift us from our troubles and place us on a lush island, free of sickness, war, poverty and daily challenges, it helps us to believe this uncomfortable-growing-stretching-sometimes-devastating space may not last forever. Maybe we’re not alone. Maybe there’s more to life than what we see at this moment. Maybe there’s something to learn.

Life happens in all its mystery, full of adventure, sadness and beauty. We find we’re a little more bruised up from life’s challenges, yet somehow wiser, stronger and braver than we knew we could be.

When we let go and search, begging, trusting God and even waiting for it to show up, hope walks right in the door.

Where else do you find hope?