My husband recently returned from Onsite’s Living Centered Program. Onsite specializes in therapeutic and personal growth workshops. I’ve received a fair bit of counseling in our years together. And although Michael has wanted to confront some issues in his life for a long time, he hasn’t until now. This workshop, that requires a week spent in Nashville, is like compressing a year of counseling into a week.

Can you say emotionally draining?

He came home energized and exhausted both. I would describe our marriage as good and overall healthy. We have conquered some ferocious giants through our 20 years. The funny thing is, there are still giants in the land. They aren’t quite as large or quite as loud, but they are subtle and invasive.

Michael wasn’t going to address our marriage at Onsite, but his own soul and identity. It was effective. He gained so much. I can’t tell his story in whole but will give a glimpse.

His experience was a war of grisly proportions. A wrestling match with shame and a surrender of tears and grief. Loss for his unmet desires in our marriage. Grief over his experiences as a child. And much more.

When Michael got home, my heart’s truest desire was to hold his experience with care, nurture and strength. But instead, my own fears dominated and I started donning my armor. Not to attack, but to defend my own frightened heart. I wore a helmet of accusation. I wore a breastplate of terror. I put on a belt of autonomy. On my feet, were running shoes, for I was sure my heart was not safe enough here.

Needless to say, I did not meet him well. And truthfully, he did not meet me well either. He longed for connection and intimacy, but braced himself for shame. His self-protection included barbed words, patronization and accusation.

And so instead of warring together against the enemy of our souls, we fought each other. I have not been in such pain for a long time.

I wrote in my journal that I wanted “out of my skin and out of this world” because the pain was too large to withstand. Our interactions were toxic.

I remember thinking, how could we go from “mostly okay” to guns-drawn toxic?

In the early years of our marriage we had a season I was not sure we would survive. This felt familiar and yet at the same time so foreign. In my mind, I was canceling our upcoming trip to Colorado and leading worship for church next week. I wasn’t sure we would make it through this. I am not a lightweight in enduring struggle. But this pain was so close it felt it would drown me.

I asked others to pray. I prayed. Michael prayed. It lasted for 5 days.
Short? Maybe to some. Not to us.

I was praying for a rescue. It was what we needed.

And we were rescued. Somehow, I honestly don’t know how really, other than some miraculous change in the atmosphere of our home, we were each able to get to a placeof bravery to air our true feelings in tears and vulnerability. We were warrior-hearted with our listening skills. We were able to deeply apologize for the ways we have injured each other.

This journey is just starting. It will have winding foot-worn trails, bush-whacking through dark and moist underbrush, and meadows of bright and healing sunlight. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared of what it will require.

But I am telling the truth when I say that any road that leads to intimacy, wholeheartedness, and truth is worth slaying giants and experiencing crawl-out-of-your skin pain. Some of the pain is actually wrapped up in forgiveness which sounds so strange. Forgiveness is supposed to bring freedom, right? It is. Yet to get to the freedom, we must pass through the pain so they are indeed wrapped up and tangled together.

There is an African Proverb that says, “The ax forgets, the tree remembers.” And it’s true. The times we lacerate the heart of another are remembered and cause festering that will poison the soul if not brought to the air to heal.

I have to forgive Michael for not being the hero I longed for, but the one who cuts me.

He has to forgive me for not being the beauty who is full of love and nurture, but the one who slices him.

I have to forgive myself for being one who causes pain to the one I love most, instead of bringing healing.

Michael has to forgive himself for being a man who pierced me in all my already abused places.

It’s a heavy forgiveness that has to come from the deep core of who we each are.

And it costs us. It costs greatly.

Yet, in the moments of connection and true forgiveness, I am overwhelmed by the exquisite bounty of our love.

This man carries an expansive and pure heart that I deeply love, in its glory and imperfection.

Our pain doesn’t define us, but it is calling us to move toward more intimacy. I love Brene’ Browns words, “When we numb the darkness, we numb the light.” We are choosing to embrace our pain, inhabit forgiveness, and are expectant that the light will stun us with its brilliant flares.

May love continue to propel us all to healing and anchor us to the One who names us “Loved.”

Jill Dyernbsp
Jill Dyer is a writer who lives and plays in Central Oregon with her lion-hearted husband and four loved children.