The mystery of the cross. How can the cross simultaneously represent such contrasts? Shame and grace. Bondage and freedom. Pain and beauty. Death and life. Do we really even know what this means?
Understanding the simultaneous nature of the cross leads to truly living in the freedom provided by the cross.
I have been fascinated with the concept of shame for about 15 years. I love how Brene Brown has brought this issue to light and made it a topic of conversation. Her research has exposed the idea that instead of trying to hide and manage our shame, the courageous acts of vulnerability are what bring healing to our shame and freedom to our lives.
Shame is what we feel when we think “something is wrong with me.” At the cross we realize this is actually true. There is something wrong with us. We are not perfect. We can never be good enough to save ourselves.
The cross is the ultimate answer to healing shame. The courageous act of bringing our shame to the cross allows us to stop hiding. We can finally stop trying to manage something that can never be managed.
When we are honest about our sin and bring our shame to the cross, Jesus exchanges our shame for grace. Then – automatically – we are Enough. There. Arrived. Forgiven. Free. Forever.
It sounds so simple – Jesus died to pay for our sin. His death exchanges our shame for life. We take our sin there and walk away with freedom. So simple – yet so complicated.
It does require humility. It also requires death.
So complicated. This death – the letting go – the loss of our selves – is actually really hard. It’s not that easy for our sin nature to die. We still try to do it ourselves. We hate not being in control. We try to control others so we don’t have to change. We cannot wrap our heads around the freedom of the cross or our identity in Christ, so we constantly go back to trying to save ourselves.
Death always requires a grieving process. I’m often in denial that I need the cross. I desperately try to hide my shame. I try to bargain my way into being able to save myself and not need God. I constantly want to blame others or make excuses for my behavior. I’m angry that I have to die to myself and surrender. I feel depressed that I’m not good enough and can’t achieve the perfection of not needing God.
Yet if I can turn and face my shame – and expose it on the cross, I simultaneously get the freedom and identity of Christ. I am free. I am enough. I have nothing to prove. Nothing to lose. And it’s not a balancing act. It’s all of my shame. For all of his grace.
Back to the contrast. Living in the simultaneous nature of the cross every day. Surrendering shame. Accepting grace. Facing the pain. Knowing it deepens beauty.
It’s a daily thing. The cross was a one time thing in that Jesus did it once and for all. Accepting it is a one time thing. But living it is not – I have to die daily. And it seems that the older I get the death gets deeper.
Yet the life gets brighter. The freedom more expansive. The cross daily transforms my soul. How this is possible it is still a mystery I’ll be forever pondering.
And I will be forever grateful.
This is the hard part. The middle.
When you can’t tell what it’s going to be. How it’s going to turn out. Things haven’t taken shape yet. It’s blurry. Undefined.
The parts aren’t yet connected to the whole piece. You can’t see the big picture. Because it’s not even there yet. It’s going to change a lot before we even get to the final picture.
It’s where I want to quit. It seems too hard. Too overwhelming. I don’t know what to do next. I start in one area and think I’m making progress. Then I step back, and it looks like no progress at all. I don’t know what I’m doing. All of my insecurities and negative messages come up. Why am I even doing this??
It’s so hard to push through. To keep going. This learning to paint as an adult is for the birds!
Then we’re back to the parallels between counseling and art. I have so much hope for my clients when they are in this hard middle place because I know it’s a necessary part of the process. I know this is the only way to the breakthrough. No one gets to skip the middle part.
But the middle part is hard. It feels awful. It’s so frustrating. It’s overwhelming. There are so many things to fix. You think you’re really making progress on one thing. Then you go home and see all the other problems, and it seems like no progress at all.
It’s so hard to stay there when you’re in it. It doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. It seems pointless. Shouldn’t there be a quicker fix? Does this counselor even know what she is doing? Ha! I came here to get these problems solved. Fast. Move on. Not think about them more. Not sit with them in the middle of the process and struggle. Ugh. Hate the middle.
But the middle is so necessary. God could have created an easier healing process. But he didn’t. There’s a purpose for the middle. That’s where change happens. The growth that comes from digging deep. Deeper than you thought you could go.
We have to face the middle. We have to look at our imperfections and stay with them long enough to accept them. Until we start to let go of trying to control everything and see the beauty in the mess.
And while this might not be true of paintings – we can then finally see – that in Christ – our value is the same in the middle as it is in the beautiful finished product.
And now that I think about it… While the areas of light and dark really make a painting, the areas of gray are also a necessary component. If a painting were only light and dark, it would be too much, too intense. The areas of gray, combined with light and shadow, make the piece interesting.
I talked in Light and Shadow about wanting to stay in the medium range, that I struggle with getting out of my comfort zone into the light or the shadow. However, although I think I want to live in the neutral zone, I often don’t like that either. Can I just live in the light all the time?
Areas of gray are difficult. Unclear. Undefined. Murky. Actually nobody likes gray. No one’s favorite color is gray.
The gray is frustrating. It’s confusing. A lot of anxiety comes up there. We want to know where things are going. What it’s going to look like. What our lives are going to look like. We want to see the finished picture. We get really impatient with the gray.
Especially when we compare ourselves to people we think are in the light.
Seems like we spend a lot of life here – in the gray. Where things aren’t clear. When we’re waiting for an answer. Waiting for something to change. …Or someone to change. Waiting for something to heal – physically or emotionally. Waiting for a breakthrough. Or just waiting for a break.
In fact – a whole lot of life is spent in the gray. It’s actually where life is. The darkness leads us there. The light areas come after the gray. But the gray is where we spend the majority of our time.
And the gray is a necessary part of the process. Our bodies need the areas of gray. We were made to need a slow change process. It would be too overwhelming to change fast. We need a slow progression into and out of the darkness. The gray is actually where change happens.
So instead of fighting the gray, can we learn to accept it? Can we accept that we are just waiting? Just in process? Can we trust that the gray is a necessary part of the whole picture? Can we learn to rest and be content?
Can we begin to see that there is immense beauty in shades of gray?
Life is full of light and shadow
O the joy and O the sorrow
O the sorrow
And yet will He bring
Dark to light
And yet will He bring
Day from night
I’ve always loved the song Shadows, by David Crowder Band. It spoke a lot to me when I was grieving. It was a really dark time for me, and I really identified with just resting in the shadow of the cross. Now as I’m learning to paint, the depth of meaning in this song has intensified.
One of the many hard things for me to learn as an artist has been light and shadow. My paintings often end up in the medium range of color. My art teachers are constantly pushing me to “add more light” and “add more dark.” I can look at the painting and agree with them, but still really struggle to push outside my boundaries of color. My tendency is to stay in the middle, stay in my comfort zone. But if I stay there, the painting ends up being flat.
Light and shadow transform a painting. They create movement, leading the eye around the painting. They create a focal point, guiding to the most important part of the piece. They create depth. And depth is what makes a painting beautiful, real. Artists can make subjects pop off the canvas by increasing the light in that area and putting areas of dark right nearby.
It’s the same with life. Light and shadow create depth in us. Dark areas really highlight the light areas. And the darker the dark areas, the lighter the light areas. The deeper the pain, the higher the joy. After recovering from grief, I have often felt like I am floating as I walk around. I just feel so much lighter. After experiencing a deeper pain than I ever could have imagined, I am experiencing a higher joy than my mind could have ever conceived.
Light and shadow make the scene on the canvas of our lives deep and beautiful. The more depth that is created, the more the light and glory of God can pop out through our lives.
Oh but we so desperately want to keep our lives in the medium zone. We try so hard to grip tightly with control and avoid the darkness. We know it adds beauty to our lives, makes us stronger, etc. But we want to get there by avoiding the pain.
The bad news is life is going to bring pain. The good news is we can rest and grieve in the shadow of the cross. The even better news is – there is so much hope there. There is a purpose for it. A beauty that is not possible without the darkness. A joy unspeakable on the other side of the pain.
When shadows fall on us
We will not fear
We will remember
When darkness falls on us
We will not fear
We will remember
When all seems lost
When we’re thrown and we’re tossed
We remember the cost
We rest in Him
Shadow of the cross
David Crowder Band, Shadows
I think one of the best things about being a girl is showers. I really really LOVE showers. I love: the girl time, going to someone’s house, the details, the invitations, the decorations, the flowers, buying and wrapping the gifts, watching her open the gifts, the fun food, the cake, and even the silly games.
When I was grieving, this obviously became increasingly difficult and then completely overwhelming and nearly impossible for me. Not only was it difficult for the obvious reason that I really wanted a baby – and no matter how much I loved my friends and was so happy for them – it was so hard to celebrate God giving out so many babies and withholding from us. See My Cabbage Patch Kid. I also felt The Ache of Desire so much more intensely at baby showers.
And even harder, I grieved the gap widening between other women and me. I really wanted to get away from my pain and just connect with the things I loved about being women, but the conversation at showers usually surrounded babies, pregnancy, delivery, nursing, and diapers. Because that’s what most of the women were experiencing at the time. I do appreciate the times they asked me about my dogs. I tried to throw in anecdotes about nieces and nephews. But mostly – has anyone read any good books lately? didn’t go very far. No one had time to read anymore!
So when I volunteered to host at my house, it was a bit surprising to all of us. Not only does it represent so much emotional healing and redemption of the pain of our story. There are several other physical reasons this was such a big deal!
- I can think! I could plan! I could organize it! When I was grieving, it was so difficult to think. The details became so overwhelming. The emails. I just could not handle all the emails. It was hard to make decisions. The fog and heaviness of grief make it really hard to focus and process information.
- I had the energy to host! Grief is just so exhausting. It is a lot of work. It decreases your normal capacity to function in day-to-day tasks. It also depresses your energy level and makes social interaction more taxing. I was just so tired all the time. I remember several social occasions where I was actually fantasizing about laying down on the floor in the middle of everything because I was just so tired and sad.
- I could shop for supplies! I could go to Wal-Mart! Going to Wal-Mart became extremely overwhelming while I was grieving (even more than just the regular Wal-Mart is always overwhelming) I could become overwhelmed in the parking lot before I even went in. I nearly had a meltdown over traffic or packed aisles several times – and again started fantasizing about ramming other cars or shopping carts. Grief consumes a lot of energy, so minor irritations can often feel really major!
- I could go the extra mile! I could go down the baby aisle! I remember the point when I could no longer go into the baby aisle. It was just too painful. It was probably around the same time that I could no longer handle looking up a registry and tracking things down. Because of my exhaustion, my patience with machines became very limited. (And yes – fantasies about breaking them became involved.) From that point, I just decided gift cards would be better for everyone. This was the first time in a long time that I entered the baby aisle, enjoyed it, and bought an actual gift for a shower!
- I have decorated my house! Before grief I was motivated to clean my house, decorate my house, have people over. As the depression and exhaustion took over during grief, it was very difficult to clean, cook, care…. Even a load of laundry was a big deal. Hosting was out of the question. And as I mentioned in Christmas 2013, color had slowly snuck out of my life. But it’s back! I may have gone a little overboard in decorating my house with my paintings from art class, but color is back in the Henry house! And it is again open to the public! Well the invited public. You still might want to call first.
- I could get up early to get ready and prepare! I even went to the Farmers Market to get flowers. For all the reasons mentioned above, the exhaustion of grief made it really difficult to get up in the morning and face another day. I really enjoyed the beauty and quietness of the early morning that day.
So for all these reasons, this was a really big deal! Another marker of the healing God has brought into my life. Thank you to all of you who were so supportive during my season of grief and the multitude of baby showers. I’m so thankful to be at this new place and that it was so much fun to host!!
When I tell people that I paint these days, they often say “oh that sounds wonderful” – “that must be so relaxing,” “so therapeutic,” “so fun.” I hate breaking it to them, but I just I have to. It does create an awkward moment, but “No – painting is not relaxing for me – not at all.”
Painting is actually really stressful to me! I’m a recovering perfectionist, remember? A messy medium that cannot be perfectly controlled stresses me out! Starting with a blank canvas brings up a lot of anxiety. What if I mess it up? Waste the paint? The time, the money? I can’t breathe!
Then I decide I don’t care, just be free, don’t worry how it turns out. So I get started and it’s fun for a while. Then I get stuck and start to care. I get afraid to make even small changes because I’m afraid I’m going to ruin it. I thought I didn’t care. The good thing about paint is you can always paint over it they say. Turn your mistakes into masterpieces. Well they haven’t seen my mistakes. Ahhh! It’s crazy making!
The process of making art brings up all my issues! My shame – putting myself out there – on canvas. And others can see it! Aah! See the process. See me. See that I’m not perfect. And that I can’t even figure out how to be perfect. Then I get angry. When I get embarrassed, I get angry. A few times during art class, I had to go to the bathroom to cry! I know! This is so comical! (But I’ve been told I’m not the only one that has cried during art class.)
Here’s where we realize that art actually is therapeutic. NOT in the retail therapy kind of way. Not in the aromatherapy kind of way. In the actual – therapy is hard kind of way. Real therapy is hard, is a process, takes a lot of work.
Therapy is about change. And sometimes even trying to make small changes seems very scary. It’s amazing how my art instructor can give me a suggestion, which I then can see and totally agree with. But then I walk away, and even with great intentions, I can only make a very small change. Amazing how hard it is to get outside of my comfort zone. Amazing the parallel for change in life.
So why would you take up a hobby that makes you cry and act crazy? Good question. And actually the real reason is – it’s just something I felt God calling me to do. To take the risk. To face these issues. To keep going back. To face my anxiety. To work on the character trait of perseverance. To keep exposing and therefore facing my shame.
To let others see I’m not perfect. To let myself see I’m not perfect. To be ok with not being perfect! And learn to appreciate the beauty in the process. To learn that beauty is not perfection.
Beauty is in the crazy. Beauty is in the mess. Beauty is in the real. Beauty is in the vulnerable. And that actually is wonderful.
Carrie A. Henry after Alfred Sisley’s Flowers and Fruit 1911-1912
Yes – it’s wonderful that I paint – but no – it’s not relaxing! Maybe some day. It’s definitely getting better. I haven’t cried in the bathroom during art class in a long time! Although I did dramatically announce some trouble breathing last week!!
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
I really thought I was fine. I hadn’t made any exceptional plans to avoid Mother’s Day this year. I truly don’t have a desire to have children anymore. Why would Mother’s Day bother me now? I really hadn’t thought much about it besides “What should we do for our sweet moms?” I was completely blindsided by the grief. I really couldn’t figure it out or explain it this year. I finally had to accept that it was just grief.
It was mild. No one else would have known besides me. And then Patrick. On Monday the week before Mother’s Day I just felt cranky. It increased throughout the week. I was confused and frustrated by it and kept blaming it on hormones. On Thursday a sweet friend sent me a beautiful article called “Spiritual Mothering: Every Woman’s Calling,” by Alice von Hildebrand. She says, “Motherhood is not only biological maternity. It is spiritual maternity.” It was really encouraging and validating. I do feel like a mother. I do see the ways I mother others every single day. I have felt so healed for such a long time.
But also on Thursday, the irritability was increasing, and I was becoming difficult to deal with at home. I was restless, indecisive, getting frustrated with others for not meeting my needs, and feeling very confused about my mood and irritability. Friday night it was escalating. I really struggled with feeling discontent, changed my mind several times about what I wanted to do that evening, couldn’t figure out what would help. By Saturday morning I felt foggy, the restlessness increased, and the crying started.
And I finally realized it was about Mother’s Day. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know why it was about Mother’s Day. All I knew is that it just was. And that it was just grief. A dear therapist friend later said, “Sometimes I think the body remembers important dates to validate the loss.” Yes. I agree.
So I started trying to give myself permission to grieve, reminding myself that it was just grief, using the coping skills in my toolbox – journaling, Bible reading, prayer, talking about it, taking a walk, going boutique shopping with a special friend. I even decided to go to a film at the Bentonville Film Festival by myself, not something I would usually do – (but actually thoroughly enjoyed for future reference!)
Oh but the familiar battle of grief was there – trying to cope, but nothing satisfies. Trying to get away from it, but it stays there. Trying to think, but the fog takes over.
Trying to reassure yourself, but the battle ensues – the battle of the accusing messages that accompany grief – “You’re being really selfish.” “Why can’t you just focus on your own mom and blessing her?” “Why can’t you just be thankful for what God has done in your life?” “Why can’t you just get it together?” “Aren’t we over this by now?” “Are you ever going to be able to handle Mother’s Day?” “Mother’s Day is just like any other day of the year.” “You definitely can’t go to church and cry – people will think you’re focusing on yourself, not happy for other mothers, that you still want a baby.”
And of course, the overall feeling of shame. I think I really want the pride of – “Oh – I’m good now, over that, totally in control of myself now. Why would you even think this day would be hard for me? HaHa!” I don’t want to be writing about this. I want to be writing about the beauty of how all women are mothers and how much progress I’ve made. Oh the pride.
By Sunday morning, I was a total wreck and completely exhausted. Eventually my wonderful husband got me out and took my mom and I out for a nice lunch. By Sunday evening, I was feeling much better. I was really tired, but I knew that the battle was over. And in a strange way, I was thankful for the crash course reminder on the emotions and process of grief.
Because while sometimes it’s just grief. It’s not just grief. God created the grief process. It matters. It validates our losses. They matter. I still think it’s wonderful to have a day set aside to celebrate the beauty of motherhood. But anytime something is beautiful, there will be loss and brokenness around it. That’s the gospel. And it is deeply beautiful.
So I accepted that it was just grief. And I just grieved. And I’m extremely thankful it lasted only 6 days this time instead of 6 years.
“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”