Journey with a tattoo

Well guys…I did it!! And I will admit to feeling extremely excited and damn proud of myself. 🙂 I’ve decided to make the finished product public to maybe inspire other women to take this particular healing route. I needed stories of brave women before me to help my decision and am proud to do what I can in return. But I have been on quite a roller coaster.

Finished scar cover tattoo

Finished scar cover tattoo

I shared this post last Wed about my decision to cover my mastectomy scar with a tattoo rather than pursue reconstruction. I just re read it and laughed at how confident and determined my words were. They sounded a lot more put together than I felt. In reality I was fighting an active battle against fears that were slowly chipping away at my resolve. I was leaving for Antwerp Thursday morning with my tattoo appointment at 1 pm on Friday afternoon. And…

I did not have a design I was happy with. Not even close. I had gone through a few iterations with my artist…her making a design…me providing feedback and suggestions for how to improve…her making another design…me providing feedback…repeat. The latest design I received on Wednesday REALLY wasn’t it. I just didn’t love it the way I needed to in order to go through with the tattoo. And I had no clue how to fix it.

My heart caught in my throat and I had a moment of panic. What was I doing? Was I pushing too hard? Maybe it isn’t the right moment to move forward with this tattoo. I like the idea but it is a big/PERMANENT decision. Maybe I need more time? Aack…I’m not ready. There is NO WAY I can do this in 36 hours.

Time was evaporating quickly. My plan was to be on the 10 am train. Was this all a big mistake? I had been thinking about this tattoo and planning it for so long…backing out would be extremely disappointing but maybe in a small way it would be relieving…then I wouldn’t have to risk anything. Not having a design would be a good excuse and I could stay safe. I could stay in the known without venturing out into this uncharted (potentially VERY painful) territory. I would never know how tough I could be but I also wouldn’t face the possibility of stopping part way because I couldn’t take it. Maybe I really wasn’t as tough as I thought I was? My mind was spinning.

OK. Stop. Deep breath. Deep breath again. And again.

What do I know?

I know that by the grace of God I have survived an immensely painful season in my life. Doors have opened for this tattoo, with this specific artist, on this specific day in a way that felt divinely orchestrated. So, if God is in this…I need to trust that it will all come together. And just like the emotional pain, by His grace, I could handle the physical pain.

So I packed for Antwerp…and prepared to meet my friend and catch the train in the morning. I TRUSTED. Even though I couldn’t see how all the pieces would come together…I had faith they would. And I guess, for me, that’s what practical faith is. It’s getting on the train and starting the journey. Believing things will work out even when I had no idea how.

Well…you can see by the finished photo that I eventually reached a design I was happy with. I had a little craft time on the train. 🙂 I brought printouts of the last design I liked (from Tuesday), scissors, glue, my sketch book and pencils. I was prepared to make VERY good use of the 4 hours between Groningen and Antwerp. By the time I got to Amersfoort (2 hours) I had a design I LOVED and would ultimately get. Thank you Jesus!

OK…first hurdle overcome. Next hurdle…convincing myself and my tattoo artist I can actually handle the pain of the process. Gulp.

I know how I looked when I first strolled into Original Sin’s shop for my consultation. I don’t have any tattoos and I had never even been in a tattoo shop before. I don’t know

Tattoo space

Tattoo space

what I was expecting. Yoga studio? Massage parlor? Zen atmosphere. Don’t know. But I’m sure my eyes were wide as I took it all in and tried to play it cool and pretend that my mind wasn’t screaming “What am I doing here?”. It was a bit of a beautiful creative chaos. The space is a big open room with a waiting area immediately when you walk in. Two work desks split the room in the middle and separate the tattooing space from the reception. Designs and drawings were everywhere. Piles on the desk. Pinned to the walls. Taped to mirrors. True to the Original Sin name most of the decor revolved around religious icons. Multiple Jesus statues and pictures on the wall. My artist, Vicky, greets me. She has awesome dread locks with gauged ears, piercings and (obviously) A LOT of tattoos. Her partner was this tough looking guy with a shaved head, spiked collar and a dark black face tattoo that runs down the bridge of his nose and onto his cheek. Again “What am I doing here?” This is so far outside my comfort zone.

But I summon my courage and start to talk to Vicky about my design. She was open to working with me but was managing my expectations from the very beginning. “You’ve never had a tattoo before. You are asking for a big one in a very painful area. I anticipate it taking around 5 hours and we will probably need to take this in stages.” I had absolutely no idea what it would be like. I just said “we’ll see” and booked my appointment.

When I arrived last Friday she was again trying to split up the design. I’m sure she gets naive first timers all the time who come in and ask for something they think they can handle and then fall apart. I was scared but I was also determined. Her suggestion “Maybe we just do the top now and save the trunk for later”. My response “I would like to get it all done today, if possible. I have no idea what I can handle. I’ve been through pain and like to think I’m pretty tough and I’m definitely very determined…I think I can do it.” She’s still not completely convinced but I think she could see my focus…so she gave in.

She printed out the transfer and placed it on my body. Alright…moment of truth. I laid down on the table and she started with the lower part of the trunk on my ribs. It was like an intense, burning, vibration. It hurt A LOT…but not unbearable. I took a deep breath, said a prayer – Jesus you need to do this – and settled in for the next 4 hours. After 5 minutes Vicky looked at me and said “You didn’t flinch or jump when the machine touched your skin. OK I believe you…you’re tough…you can handle pain…you’ll be fine…we will finish this today” And, by God’s grace, we did 🙂

I walked out of there a little sore…but EXTREMELY proud of myself. I’m so glad I didn’t let the fears keep me from this awesome experience. I love this piece and it means so much more knowing everything I overcame to get it. I’m not going to lie…I feel pretty BAD ASS now.

Well good for you if you made it this far. Sorry it’s so long…there was just a lot to the story. 🙂

Blessings,

Lynnea

Fear of the Pain

I’ve decided that the next few “Storm Survival” posts will center around my experience with healing wounds…both physical and emotional. These difficult seasons often involve wounds. Wounds we have from the past, wounds we have given ourselves, wounds others have given us, wounds from circumstances. This past year I have been on the receiving end of some pretty deep blows which brought me to a very raw place. The type of rawness/hurt that made me want to take my heart, tuck it away in a locked box and throw away the key. It will be safe there. But healing doesn’t happen in the box. Healing happens when we allow the “healing process” that I wrote about on Monday. Which means keeping our hearts exposed and accessible…this can be vulnerable…scary and down right hard. I think the fear of the pain and uncertainty involved is what can keep people from engaging the process and true healing. It is easier/safer to choose the box and protect our hearts from further hurts.

If you follow this blog you will know about my recent physical wound which is teaching me so much about healing. After the accident I knew I would need stitches and my colleague took me to a local general doctor or “Huisarts”. From my experience they don’t actually DO much except act as a gate keeper for the rest of the medical system. Typically, I show up for a 10 minute appointment…they ask me some questions to determine the nature of the problem…and then if they decide it is severe enough they will refer me on to a specialist. I was fully expecting to have the cut evaluated and then be sent to a hospital to have the stitches put in.

WELL after the doctor evaluated the wound, and gave me the “You’re very lucky” speech, he reached for his suture kit to clean it and put the stitches in.Helium pain

WAIT! Hold up…YOU are going to do this? Now?! My brain was racing. I wasn’t quite mentally prepared and nowhere in his kit did I see any anesthetic. YOU are going to put stitches in WITHOUT giving me any pain medicine?! Ummmm. I have had stitches before and they numbed the area so well that I couldn’t feel it for another 6 hours. Now, NOTHING!! Crap, this is going to hurt. This is going to hurt A LOT! Immediately, the fear of the pain gripped me. OK, deep breath…I don’t have much of a choice. Another deep breath and I closed my eyes…it should be over quickly.

And you know what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had built it up in my head. My imagination was so much worse and the FEAR of the unknown and “what could be” ran away with me. It wasn’t nice. And, yes, it hurt but I needed it for healing and apparently I didn’t need anything to numb the pain.

It made me think of all the things I can allow FEAR to build up in my head. And how often I think I NEED something I don’t. I am not saying that healing deep emotional wounds is the same as getting stitches. There are things that can and probably will really hurt…but for me the healing on the other side is worth it. And we don’t do it alone. I’m learning to trust more and more that God really is who He says He is. He wants nothing more than to heal our wounds. Honestly, it can sometimes be hard for me to know how to relate to an invisible God ESPECIALLY in a crisis. But He has been faithful over and over. Part of my healing this year has come from learning how to trust Him completely and learning that He really will keep me from going down. He really will! He loves me more than I can imagine and has spent the last year and a half showing me what that looks/feels like. It’s been incredible. And as difficult as this season has been I wouldn’t want to go back. I LIKE the person I am…and THAT is freedom.

It is tough to give REAL practical tips for this that don’t sound cliche but I’ll give it a shot:

  1. Don’t do this alone. Find friends or a community to surround you. If you have some deep pain/heart ache try working with a counselor. We’ve all got wounds and we can’t heal on our own. We need community.
  2. Pray A LOT. He will be faithful to answer just don’t be surprised if it is not how you expect
  3. Read the bible – learn the promises it has for you. My favorite this year:

    Don’t Panic. I’m with you.
    There’s no need for fear for I’m your God.
    I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
    I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

    The poor and homeless are desperate for water,
    their tongues parched and no water to be found.
    But I’M there to be found, I’M there for them,
    and I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
    Isaiah 41:10, 17 (The Message)

Blessings,

Lynnea

 

Surviving on Grace

2 Corinthians 12:9 is a popular verse for Christians and one that I have received comfort from and have been convicted by this year.

” My grace is enough, it’s all you need
My strength comes into its own in your weakness”
2 Corinthians 12:9 (The Message)

It is easy to say but I know that I haven’t always lived my life trusting that God’s grace REALLY is sufficient for me. And what does that even mean? We can limit it to something we only need to cover our sins. I have heard people use this to justify passivity…maybe there is an action you feel called to take but it’s OK “God’s grace” is enough for me so I don’t need to do that. Or, we say his grace is all we need and continue to pursue our own agendas and plans…then when we get to a crisis moment we find a way to solve it or hide it as fast as possible because it is painful and uncomfortable. We really are WEAK and often rather than allowing God’s grace to truly be enough we find a way to avoid the situation. I know I did…until I found myself in a place where I couldn’t avoid or control or escape. It was a strange/scary feeling to look around for my available options and find that I had none except truly landing on God’s grace. It kind of felt like this scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

You know what? Grace really is sufficient…but it is not magic…it requires a real leap of faith by leaving the ground you have been standing on. And it typically means you need to wrestle with God through the hardship until your eyes and trust are fully on him and his purposes. It’s not always fun but it is freeing.

I think we spend a lifetime working out what it means to trust completely in grace but I am going to describe what it meant for me on Monday evening. Nothing glamorous but honest:

“There are a lot of things I would change about my situation if I could. I am not pretending things are fabulous…in general I live with a constant ache in my soul and I have absolutely no idea how things are going to turn out. I have peace, hope and trust but there is a war in my heart every moment of the day about which side is on top. The evenings are the worst. The darkness. The quiet. A TV show has brought some raw/hopeless feelings to the surface and it feels hard to breathe. Who knew that empty space can feel so oppressive? I have chosen to not have any wine this evening which means I feel the full spectrum of emotions. It’s time to get ready for bed. Lord, how do I even move? Honestly, I don’t know how but I move off the couch and head upstairs. I feel tired from not sleeping the night before and weak from being emotionally drained. I hit my knees…I don’t always pray on my knees but I was broken…

Lord, do you see me here? Do you see my pain? The hurt in my heart that I want so badly to be healed? Can you really touch those raw deep places? There is so much I want to change! I hate this! Is your grace REALLY all I need? These are the moments when it is hard to believe because it hurts so much. How do I trust? [something shifts in my spirit] I trust because you have been faithful beyond what I can imagine this year and even though it is hard to trust I believe you will continue. It really hurts but there is no place I can go where you can’t see me…even though sometimes I feel completely alone. I continue to offer you my heart to heal and restore. I don’t want to pull it back and “protect” it due to fear, anger and bitterness…but I also know that I can’t do that on my own. All I can do is keep coming to you asking for your transformation and healing…it is happening…just slowly. Thank you for loving me as much as you do.

I lay awake in bed most of the night. Even though I am exhausted I can’t sleep due to my medicine and emotions. A CRAZY spring rain storm passes over my house at about 1 am. It was ridiculously loud. I wasn’t sure if it was hail or rain pounding on the windows but it seemed to feel like the storm in my heart. Tossing and turning…Ugh I need to be up in 5 hours for work. Eventually I must have fallen asleep but I wake up more tired than when I went to bed. Lord, I don’t have the energy or the focus for today and I have a training in statistics…this is where I know I need your grace.

I left my house to head to my carpool. The rain had washed everything clean. The birds were chirping and there was even some blue (ish) sky :-). Spring smells of wet dirt and flowers filled my nose. I took a deep breath and it was as if God spoke back to me “Lynnea, your storm will eventually pass. There will be flowers, new life and springtime. I see you and things are changing even if you can’t see them yet…hang in there.” Me back to God after a deep breath and resetting my spirit “OK, this is not a fun process and I don’t know how I will survive it…but only by your strength every day. I trust in your promises. And you need to help me get through work today…I’m exhausted and you know I hate statistics.” End Story.

I feel like part of my purpose in this season is to break down some of the “Christian-ized” perceptions of how to walk through these difficult spaces with faith and hope. God’s grace IS sufficient. Right now. In the present. Not tomorrow or next week. NOW. It doesn’t mean that things will be magically easy. It means that it is an opportunity for God to transform your heart if you let Him. There is real hope. I believe in a God of redemption who will bring beauty out of the ashes of our broken lives. And I am proclaiming that even before I know what the beauty is in my own life…I’m still standing amongst the dying embers. I trust God’s promise that I will not go down or be burned up. That he is working all things out for my benefit even though I can’t see it yet.

I don’t have a lot of practical tips because grace is God’s arena, but we can make ourselves more available…take some space to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are there emotions I have a hard time facing? Failure, Rejection, Fear, Pain, Boredom, Sadness, Uncertainty, Anxiety
  2. Do I use anything to distract myself or numb these emotions? These examples aren’t all bad in themselves but we can use them to avoid the hard things in life: TV, work, Facebook, alcohol, sex, exercise, kids, relationships
  3. It is in these places where we say with our actions and choices whether Grace is sufficient.  Are you truly trusting and relying on God or yourself? It is always in the difficult places we come face to face with our true hearts. It is easy to proclaim grace is sufficient on Sunday but what about the dark corners of your life? In what areas do you need to take a “leap of faith”?

Here’s to surviving another week,

Lynnea

Allowing space to grieve

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Old_Man_in_Sorrow

Vincent van Gogh – Old Man In Sorrow

Grief. It isn’t pleasant but it is an inevitable part of our life if we choose to invest our heart and care about anything. In general our society does not deal very well with it. We avoid it. We judge it. We numb it. No wonder people choose to harden their hearts and keep them locked away. It is safer that way. Grief hurts. It is a natural response to loss. Losing dreams. Losing people. Losing your reality and adjusting to a new life. And the process of grieving is unique to each person.

I am in a course right now and we just completed a section on grieving. In general we tend to experience/judge emotions based on our family upbringing. If anger or tears weren’t acceptable then you might have a tendency to judge those aspects of your grieving process. For me, I want to hit the fast forward button and get to the healed part. I know the emotions themselves are OK and necessary…I just don’t like being in the midst of them. However, experiencing them, in their natural timing, is the only way through them. Big sigh.

If you are grieving yourself or someone in your life is, it can be difficult to know how to ask people to relate to you…or know what to say. The material I am studying gave permission to share these tips with “family and friends”…maybe sharing them on the blog is a liberal interpretation of that. I hope not because they are useful. I didn’t write them but I don’t feel comfortable revealing the source because it’s too personal.

To be helpful, those dealing with a grieving individual should…

  1. Normalize what they are going through.
  2. Not throw Scripture band-aids at the grieving individual (even with good intentions)
  3. Refrain from telling the person that they know exactly how they feel.
  4. Let them talk about it if they want to, while being respectful if they don’t.
  5. Keep from making assumptions about anything
  6. Encourage them that one day their pain will be manageable – And it REALLY will be
  7. Give them hope for better days, but be realistic about the time frame. (The first year is difficult the second may be a bit easier)
  8. Continue to support them over time without expectations.
  9. Call and leave messages without expecting to hear from the hurting one.

Basically, give them freedom and space to be authentic with their feelings without griefjudgement. Because grief can come from SO many different places. It can be having something irreplaceable destroyed or stolen. A miscarriage. Your security in your home or health might have been taken. Loss of a cherished pet. The key is being honest with the feelings and allowing them to pass through you because experiencing them is the only way to move beyond them. If you don’t…then they will continue to influence your life in negative ways. I go back to this post I wrote about the hidden beauty of pain. I truly think that we need to allow ourselves the space to experience the hard emotions in order to experience the positive. Otherwise we just get numb. And personally I would rather experience pain/joy than nothing.

So here are a few practical tips:

  1. Again I am going to come back to the journaling – write it out. If you tend to judge your feelings ask yourself why? Do you think you should be feeling something different than you are? Do you think you should be over it by now?
  2. Read “A grief observed” by CS Lewis if you need to normalize the pain you are experiencing
  3. Scale back on commitments if necessary. Give yourself some space but be aware if the space is turning into isolation and depression. You might need a professional to help you sort through your feelings. That is not weakness but courage to face the real issues head on and recognizing that you can’t do it alone.
  4. Know that there is hope. I am still in the midst of the storm but I feel the tide shifting. Things are hard but not as hard as they used to be. There is a small part of me starting to believe everyone who told me “I wont always feel like this”.

Here’s to surviving another week,

Lynnea

//

The hidden beauty of pain

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

I have heard a lot of painful stories in the past week and as much as I want people I love to not be hurting…there is nothing I can do to take it away. So I just sit with them in spirit.

I have no evidence or academic understanding for what I’m about to say, it is purely observational, so please take it for what it’s worth. But after walking through this past year I am convinced that the depth we allow our hearts to plunge into the pain and sorrow of life we have the same depth and capacity to experience joy. Meaning if you really face the full force of the emotions as they are swirling around you…no escaping…no numbing…maybe curling up in the fetal position and praying for the day that life does not hurt this much…but standing face into the wind waiting for the storm to subside. Eventually it will and when the storm does calm and the sun does rise you will have the capacity to experience joy to the same depth you felt the pain. Your emotional bandwidth increases (Just in case you forgot I’m an engineer. 🙂 )

But this is the place where people can make a mis step. Facing and experiencing the pain is scary and it hurts…both physical and emotional. Most people don’t like it and would rather avoid it…this is the birthplace of addictions and unhealthy ways of coping. Because if you choose to numb the pain I am convinced you also numb the joy…and then ultimately just become numb. Your emotional bandwidth decreases.

I have a bit of a visual picture for this. Imagine standing alone in a field. Just you amongst the grass. There are no trees for protection. It is flat. A storm kicks up. It’s wicked. Crazy winds. Rain blowing sideways. And you fight with all your might to keep from being blown away. You aren’t sure how long it will last or whether you can keep up the fight…but somehow you manage. You dig deep and eventually…eventually the wind calms and the rain stops. You aren’t fighting as hard to keep upright and slowly the sun begins to rise. It’s the most beautiful sight not only because of the rays between the clouds and the rainbow of colors but because you know how bad it could be. Man, are you excited to be in the sun!! You close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it warm your face…soaking it in.

Now imagine you are back at the beginning of this little story…alone in the field. But this time when the storm kicks up you build a shelter to protect you from the wind and the rain. It makes it a lot easier to live through the storm without being blasted and soaked…you don’t have to fight as hard to survive. But when you’re in the shelter you can’t tell when the storm calms and the sun is rising. You wont see the beauty after the storm…you are just stuck with the 4 blank walls inside. Sure, you weathered the storm alright but you just traded that for the sunrise and warming rays on your face.

I, for one, would rather face my storms to then feel the sun on my face.

These are just my Wednesday evening musings. Take them for what they are worth. 🙂

Blessings,

Lynnea