Finding Freedom

The cage sat alone on the floor of a dimly lit warehouse. Inside it was a prisoner, knees clasped tight against her chest, eyes downcast and face darkened by despair. A short distance from her feet lay an ornate, black key – large enough to fill her palm, perfectly sculpted to fit the lock.

Pick it up, my heart whispered. I sensed she knew it was there . . . yet she remained motionless.

Sorrow flooded through me, startling me from sleep. I dragged my eyes open, the vivid picture still suspended in my mind. That key was within reach of the captive but she didn’t pick it up. Why?

Many times I’ve been trapped in such a cage, imprisoned by my own dark patterns of thinking. Crippling fear, burning anger or deep discouragement have taken hold of my heart and built walls around my life. Sometimes the gloom around me has seemed so thick I’ve questioned whether the cage even had a door to escape through, let alone a key.

Yet it did – every single time.

ornate black key

(Key image taken from Etsy )

In the early years of my adult life I needed guidance from others to push that key into the lock and turn it. Now the way of escape is so familiar to me, using it has become a daily habit.

In my dream, the key had two projections on its end – two ‘bits’ that would engage with the lock.  Likewise, I’ve learned there are two steps in the escape process. Both are vital to finding freedom. Let me share them with you.

First we need to take an inside look, shifting our gaze from the oppressive strength of the cage walls to the struggle going on in our hearts. We become aware of the destructive mindsets and negative emotions we allow to traipse freely through our soul. Often, as we reflect, a specific memory comes to mind – a key event which first triggered the emotions.

Here’s an example from my life. Many years ago I realised I had an intense fear of being abandoned by my husband. His love for me was obvious so my emotions didn’t make sense. In time, we deduced the anxiety stemmed partly from a forced hospital stay when I was very young. The sorrow and fear I felt when my parents had to leave me and go home (as was done in those days) was a natural reaction for a little girl. However those feelings had remained with me through the years following, causing me to believe that people I loved may not always be there to support me when I needed them.

It was out of kindness that God brought this issue to the surface. His heart is for us to be free. From His lofty vantage point He sees our lives clearly and knows exactly what’s holding us captive. Oh-so-gently, He uncovers the triggers from our past and reveals the choices we made to let them control us. If we’re willing to stand in His light, admit our failings and turn away from those negative thoughts and emotions, He bathes us in grace, washing away the grime of our yesterdays and giving us a new perspective on our future.

That’s how the first bit engages with the lock. Now for the second.

To find complete release, we need to turn our gaze to the people who have caused us pain. Many times – most times – our triggers have come through others. Their words or actions have taken hold of us, distorting the way we see ourselves, the world around us and even God. Sometimes the littlest details can wound us deeply – a tiny phrase, a rejecting tone of voice, a nasty facial expression. The injury may have happened long ago but the emotion connected with it can still feel just as intense as when it first occurred, sometimes even stronger. Those emotions wrap themselves around us like a straitjacket, telling us there is no hope of escape.

But there is.

To engage the second bit on the key we need to confront the pain of the incident and forgive the person. Yes, forgive – no matter what they’ve done. It was easy to forgive my parents for leaving me in the hospital; they had no option. But sometimes the agony of an experience can feel so overwhelming that forgiving seems impossible. That’s when we need to remember the previous step – where we were forgiven our failings.

We choose to forgive others not because they deserve it but because we’ve been forgiven.

It’s confronting to pause and ponder how many times we’ve caused pain for another person, even unintentionally. How many times we’ve excused our own thoughtless words or harsh behaviour because we’re tired or busy or just plain unhappy.

The reality is we all inflict wounds on others – regularly. Think on this – if God, Who is perfect, gave up His precious Son so we could be forgiven, who are we to hold others’ errors against them?

When we hold onto a painful memory, that pain holds onto us, keeping us bound both to the trauma of the experience and to the person. Additionally, if we choose not to forgive, God’s forgiveness is not available to us either. We put ourselves in a position where neither of the bits on our key can engage.

On the other hand, when we choose to let go of the pain by forgiving, we release the person to God and the unhealthy ties are broken.

Forgiving can be very painful. Sometimes we need the support of others to help walk us through the process. Sometimes we need to forgive a person many times over for the same incident as we work through layers of pain. If we lift our eyes to God and remember His mercy to us, He will give us the strength we need to truly let go.

As we do, that key turns in the lock, the cage door flings open and we are set free to fly.

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“He has sent me to . . . proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . .” Isaiah 61:1

 “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

blue sky, wispy clouds

Forgiveness is also good for our health! For further reading, see:

www.thriveglobal.com/stories/38631-why-you-should-embrace-the-forgiveness-mindset

Rescued

Tuesday 23rd July, 2013

“Do you think we should go to the hospital?” My husband’s gentle words broke through the haze that clouded my mind.

I dragged my head up and sighed. For hours I’d been lying on the bedroom floor, mostly face down, trying to find a position where my body didn’t hurt so much. It had taken all my strength to pull myself up and vomit into a bowl. The noise had woken Mark and he’d climbed out of bed to come to my side.

I had hoped this sickness – whatever it was – would have settled through the night. Surely after almost two days I should have been improving? Instead the mild nausea of Sunday afternoon had developed into violent retching, diarrhoea, shaking fevers and overwhelming weakness. Tightness under my ribcage on one side made breathing difficult and my head spun.

Mark had already suggested I go to hospital – several times. Each time I’d refused. The thought of spending hours in that condition in a waiting room full of people was unthinkable. This time, though, he was determined. “I think we should pray about it.”

“What time is it?” I breathed.

“Four o’clock.”

“Okay. I’ll try.”

We spent a few moments waiting quietly. Meanwhile, unknown to us, my mum was suddenly awakened in Sydney with a strong urge to pray for me – she already knew I was very unwell.

“So, what did you think?”

With eyes closed, I mumbled, “I just keep getting the word ‘appendix’.” Low in my abdomen a sharp pain throbbed on the right. “Maybe we should just go and get it checked.”

“Okay.”He stood up, slipped his hands under my arms and helped me to my feet. Every movement was agony. Once I was dressed he informed our oldest son what was happening and we shuffled together out to the car. Our breath formed puffs of steam in the icy night air.

When we reached the emergency department, I slumped over the sick bowl, my head resting on my arms. The waiting room was strangely quiet, almost empty. A thought ambled through my mind, Am I just being a drama queen?

“Hello Susan.”

The calm, professional tone of a nurse’s voice broke me out of my musing. I lifted my head a little.

“Your husband explained what’s been happening. Can you sit up so I can take a few vitals?”

I pushed myself up off the bowl and tried to bring my rolling eyes to meet those of the nurse. My hair fell back from my face and she gasped.  “Oh, I think we might just take you straight in.” She scurried away and dashed back with a wheelchair.

As she returned I breathed, “Sorry. I can’t remember your name.” The woman was a regular at our MOPs group – a support programme our church ran for mums of pre-schoolers.

“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” she answered briskly. “Let’s just see if we can get you better.”

She wheeled me into a curtained cubicle then returned to her station at the counter. Two other nurses changed me into a thin hospital gown, hooked me up to a heart monitor and supplied medication to stop the vomiting. Soon after, my bed was wheeled to a large room at the far end of the emergency department. Another four nurses gathered around me, making a team of six, while a doctor drifted in and out. IV trolleys were set up and bags of fluid stacked nearby. The nurses took blood, gave me morphine, inserted a catheter and introduced a drip to each forearm. The doctor threaded a picc line – a long, narrow, five-stranded tube – through one of my major neck veins almost all the way to my heart. I was given an oxygen mask. Large, soft blankets – so many blankets – were brought from the warming cupboard and draped one atop another over my shivering body.

Sepsis clearer

The strange sensation of pain and pressure in my abdomen began to spread up into my lung area. I told the nurses. A couple of them exchanged concerned glances.

A doctor came to my side. “Now Susan, you seem to have some kind of infection but your pathology results won’t come back for a while. We’re going to start you on five different antibiotics to make sure we hit whatever bacteria is at work. Then once we get the test results back we’ll narrow them down to the right one. We’ll also be giving you IV fluids to try to get your blood pressure up.”

“Okay.” I nodded.

“Do you have to use so many antibiotics?” my husband asked. I’d just finished taking a course of tablets for another condition and was run-down because of them.

A nurse’s voice snapped from the other side of the room, “Your wife is in a state of septic shock. If we don’t give her antibiotics she’ll die.”

I heard her words but could barely make sense of them. Die? Really? But I was in hospital – surely that meant I was safe? Lord, I’m in your hands, I prayed.

Hours ticked by while antibiotics and fluids flowed steadily into my bloodstream. The staff hovered, watching closely for any improvement in my vital signs. The bag attached to my catheter remained empty, revealing that my kidneys had failed. Many times I was asked, “What’s your full name? When were you born? Where do you live?”

Mark’s presence beside me was calm and constant. He sent out a prayer request in the morning which quickly reached hundreds of people across the nation and beyond. Several friends have since said that the moment they got the message, they understood the intensity of the battle I was in and got straight to warring in prayer.

Six hours passed with no significant change. Various doctors wandered in and out of the room, along with teams of interns, to discuss my case. One supervising doctor told my husband, “It’s good you came in when you did. If you’d left it even one hour longer, it may have been too late.”

Finally, the medical staff resorted to using a very high dose of noradrenalin to bring my blood pressure back to a safe level. A CT scan and laparoscopy followed. My appendix and lower bowel were inflamed but neither had to be removed. A drain was put into my abdomen to remove the large volume of fluid which had built up there and remained in place for the next few days.

Later we were told that I had sepsis, a severe response to an infection which causes inflammation throughout the whole body and attacks the tissues and organs. In about one third of cases, the cause of the infection is unknown. I was one of those cases. Septic shock is the most extreme stage of sepsis and leads to death in fifty percent of cases.

Sepsis walk with drip

I spent the following week in Intensive Care. Collapsed lungs and pneumonia slowed my recovery.  After two days of forced bed-rest and constant oxygen I was allowed to attempt walking with a frame.  It took a few more days before I could move around without support. My whole lower body swelled so much my skin hurt. I wore long pressure stockings and shuffled slowly around the ward, trying to improve circulation. All the toxins which had flooded my system caused ongoing muscle pain and weakness; even the simplest of tasks caused major fatigue.

 

home from hospital

Once I returned home, we were flooded with offers of support. My mum flew down from Sydney followed by one of my sisters to help keep our household running. Dozens of friends provided meals for our family. It felt strange to be so frail. Every little milestone was cause for celebration – sleeping on my side, walking to the mailbox, squatting to get something out of the cupboard and managing to pull myself up again. After three months, I could last a whole day without sleeping in the afternoon. It took nine months before I could manage without a lie down.

Several doctors had tried to tell me how severely ill I’d been but I found it hard to fathom. It was my surgeon who finally opened my eyes at a follow-up appointment a month after the illness. For a fleeting moment he stopped his medical reflections, dropped his professional tone and told me, “I went home that night and said to my wife, ‘We had a mother of four in today and she nearly died.’” My eyes brimmed with tears. I knew I could have died but didn’t realise I’d come so very close.

Today I celebrate five years of ‘bonus life’. There are so many ‘ifs’ in my experience which could have led to a very different result:

If we hadn’t opted to go to hospital. . .

If I hadn’t known the admissions nurse . . .

If emergency had been very busy and there were less people available to help. . .

If the staff had taken longer to form a diagnosis (many people have died from such a delay) . . .

If people hadn’t bothered to pray when they heard I was sick . . .

Yet the God Who reigns over the ‘ifs’ put everything in place to make sure my life was spared. He knew the days on earth He had planned for me and made sure they were not cut short.

The words in Psalm 31:14-15, “My times are in Your hands,” are a tangible reality to me now, a source of clarity and focus. Every day is a gift to be received with thanks and lived to the full. God had a specific purpose in mind when He created me. My greatest desire and joy is to fulfil it.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

 

 

Skinny Girl

I peered through my bedroom window. Morning sunlight shone through the gum trees in golden shafts.  Sheets billowed in the breeze as Mum wrestled them into position on the line. A tall mound of wet washing sat in the basket in front of her.

She’d be out there for a while.

Here was my opportunity.

Heart pounding and muscles tense, I crept down the hall, slowing my steps outside my parents’ bedroom. The bathroom scales were in there – waiting for me.

Tiptoeing into the room, I dragged them out and stepped on to the platform, my breath held tight.

What would they tell me this time?

Every day it was the same. Measure, eat, count calories, exercise, re-measure. This routine had ruled my life for months now.

I’d never meant for it to be this way. My strict diet and exercise plan was supposed to be a fleeting thing – a quick snatch at the slender days of my teens…when men said I was beautiful. It was supposed to transform me from the girl I loathed – unwanted and lonely – to someone attractive. Someone worthy of love.

Months before, my world had changed suddenly. The departure of a loved one had set me reeling, flailing about like a tiny boat tossed in stormy seas. This rigid plan provided an anchor point – a solid structure I could cling to. It was supposed to rescue me – to sculpt my outside and somehow fill up the holes at my core. Instead it became my obsession – my first thought in the morning, my last whisper at night and every heartbeat in between.

Little by little, I shrivelled under its demands. The faith and passion of earlier years ran dry as losing weight became my sole focus. All that mattered now was the numbers – the calories I ate, the distance I walked, the weight on the scales.

joggers-weights

scales-44-9

When the numbers were good, relief came – though only for a little while. Happiness was a fleeting visitor. Whatever fragment I shaved off my frame, it was never enough. There was always further to go – more weight to lose, more flaws to fix.

I thought attaining my ideal size would give me confidence. But when I reached that point, my deepest fears were realised. I still felt the same – empty and unlovable.

My appearance wasn’t the problem.

I was.

I was the flawed one, ugly inside, smeared with failure and shame. No diet, however strict, could erase the grime of my past.

Still, I tried. Maybe if I pushed further, tried harder, then I’d feel better.

my-face-21st

My body began to protest but I ignored its cries. Fluttering heart, skin turning yellow, strength declining – what were they but whining complaints from one already rejected?

What would it matter – really – if my tormented life came to an end?

Friends and acquaintances frowned and tut-tutted, sending me scurrying like a cornered mouse. They didn’t understand – had no idea what I felt. Fearful and angry, I retreated into my own narrow world – a tunnel with room only for me.

The way ahead was dim and my eyes strained to see. Where was the light?

Didn’t tunnels always have light at the end?

Reality crashed down on me like a heavy weight. There was no light, no way out. I’d built this world around myself and now I was trapped inside it.

————————————————————————–

Life became a sombre march, one foot plodding in front of the other. Every day was the same routine, a desperate cycle of striving that only took me deeper, lower.

Through the blackness, a clear voice beckoned. You need to give this up.

My Father God – the one I’d hidden from – was speaking to me.

His words were soft, yet urgent. Give it up. Turn around. Let go.

He was right, I knew. This tunnel led to death, as sure as the darkness.

But He was asking the impossible. I couldn’t let go. Not ever.

If I did, I’d drown.

————————————————————————–

Friends were watching, talking, praying. Urged on from above, one group approached me. “You can’t stay in there. It’s dark. And dangerous.”

Angered by their comments and terrified of judgement, I withdrew further.

They followed me.

“We want to help you. Please. This isn’t who you are. Take our hand. We’ll walk with you out of this – for as long as it takes.”

Cracks rippled across my determined facade and a tiny light began to glimmer, drawing me towards it. These women stretched their arms wide, embracing me just as I was. Slowly, gently they helped me pull down the walls I’d built around myself. Professional help was arranged and paid for. When fear tried to overwhelm, they offered peace and held me steady. All the while they enveloped me in prayer.

Their kindness gave me courage to face my inner turmoil.

————————————————————————–

Slowly, gently, I was led through the process of healing. The lies which had entangled my heart were removed, strand by strand, and replaced with life-giving truth.

My worth wasn’t in my size.

Nor was it in the attention of males.

I had worth simply because I’d been created. I didn’t need to fit an image or achieve great things to be loved. I already was loved, cherished by the One who’d formed me as a unique reflection of Himself. He was the source of my value.

Pure, heavenly light shone on my greatest wounds and deepest shame – exposing infection and offering forgiveness. God’s abundant love poured over me like a waterfall, washing me clean, filling up all my empty places. This love was pure and perfect, strong enough to set me free from my past and launch me into a future full of promise.

Where despair had dwelt expectancy began to bloom. I turned my back on the tunnel’s ruins as one year came to a close and a fresh new season unfurled. The path stretching out before me was bathed in warm sunlight.

I launched out, my hand firmly grasped by my Father.

With Him beside me, I knew everything would be alright.

And it was.

 

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:2

“(Jesus said,) ‘Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’” John 8:32

 

A note to my readers:

Do you relate to my story? If you’re struggling as I did, please consider talking about it with a person you trust. Letting someone in was my first step towards recovery – so terrifying but so worth it.

You may find professional help is needed. Psychologists and counsellors have the experience to help you deal with the issues behind your struggle. Getting help is not a sign of failure. It’s a proactive step towards freedom and a better life.

Can I also encourage you to get to know God, your Maker? He is the One who knows you better than anyone. There’s not a moment of your life when He hasn’t loved you. All His plans for you, even through the hardest of times, are good. Below are a few verses you may like to read.

Matthew 11:28

Psalm 139:13-14a

Zephaniah 3:17

Jeremiah 29:11,13-14a

Isaiah 1:18

John 8:36

The process of healing can be both painful and exciting. Beyond it is a life too good to miss.