Tag Archive: love


blossom1There’s an old, familiar face lurking in the shadows of my heart, and it doesn’t look as though he’s going away any time soon. Grief. He started out as disappointment and sadness, when the first of our babies passed very early in my womb, leaving What Could Have Been to linger where Hope and Promise and Joy used to be. He stayed a while, but Optimism shushed him, till the second miscarriage happened, then the third, and finally the fourth where he rose up in my heart and flailed and screamed and cursed the earth and the sky and everything in between for all that was promised and stolen from us. His rage would come and go like the wind, rolling dark clouds upon my horizon before the crashing storm of of his despair consumed my every breath. Then he would leave again, and I would wrap my  empty, motherless arms around myself, waiting for the pain to stop and life to move on. Eventually it did. Until that one day when it didn’t.

On April 19th, 2017, my beautiful boy dog, my Hooch, passed from cancer and made his journey across the rainbow bridge. Though we had a few months to prepare ourselves while we gave him medicine and love, fighting against the losing battle of the cancer attacking his lymph nodes, we weren’t ready. I don’t think there would have been any sufficient amount of time to be ready, to be honest. I was blessed with a period of being home, a fortunate place to be for it meant I could lie with him on the floor, wrap him in blankets and spoil him completely, and whisper all the promises of peace which awaited him on the other side of the bridge. Though I couldn’t bear the thought of saying this goodbye, I held onto this one, simple truth – he wouldn’t be alone for he would have our beautiful children to play with while we waited for the day we would all be together again. When he passed in our arms, my heart shattered so completely I thought there would never be a day again where I would breathe without crying.blossom2

How it all began

Hooch came into our lives in 2008, at the approximate age of two years old.

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One of the first pictures of Hooch

I told hubs that if he wanted a dog, he had to go to the shelter and meet the dogs, then pick the dog he wanted me to meet, and I would meet that dog. I warned him – perfectly seriously – that if he introduced me to three dogs and asked me to choose, we would be leaving the shelter with three dogs.

He chose Hooch.

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Hooch after we took him home

Hooch was a skinny, nervous nellie and had been gifted the name Spruce because he was found in December and he didn’t have a name that they knew. We don’t know his origin story, but we fell in love with him immediately. When he bounded over to us with his huge, goofy grin, there was an unmistakable Turner & Hooch moment. And so his name became Hooch.

He was a gentle soul and – if not for his nervous disposition – he would have made a wonderful therapy dog. He could sense when you needed a hug, and he would worm his way onto your lap wherein he would roll over and beg for belly scratches. Whatever you were feeling before melted away into a peace and love. All thanks to this goofy, big chicken, rescue of a dog.

Two years later, we got him a little sister…

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Sonny Valentine

…and they became inseparable.

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Sonny & Hooch

There was much joy and laughter in our lives but, just like everyone’s story, they were punctuated with events which left us wrecked and asking what we could have done differently. Through the housing crash that saw us lose our home – and the little room we longed to turn into our child’s nursery – Hooch was there for us. It was as though he knew what we needed, and in his furry, in-the-moment innocent and loving way, he would gift it to us. He was our grounding when it felt as though nothing else was going the way we wanted.

It’s hard not to rage at God when you are facing unending infertility. Eight years, four losses, and no baby in our arms, the unfairness seemed destined to swallow us whole. Intercut that with our beloved friends effortlessly growing their families with beautiful little humans, and it wasn’t hard to find yourself questioning what you could have done to be punished so mercilessly.

blossom3Yet Hooch continued to gently love on us, even in those darkest moments when we couldn’t love ourselves.

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Bathroom buddy

He would sit by the bathroom sink on “Trash Truck Tuesday” because – though he feared the bathroom for reasons we couldn’t fathom – he feared the monstrous rumbling of the garbage truck more. He saw us as his protectors, as much as he was ours, and we loved him all the more for it.

When he started to get sick, we did everything we could for him. It was hard because we needed to be fair to him even as it meant overriding our heartache that our time as his family was being cut short. The decisions needed to benefit him the most, not prolong his journey through selfishly trying to squeeze out more from him just because we weren’t ready to let him go.

The day my heart shattered

When my beautiful boy finally crossed over the rainbow bridge into the loving arms of our children, my world crashed around me. That old friend, Grief, tore through my heart with such ferocity there were too many nights where the physical act of breathing was too much to bear.

Who could have imagined that the loss of my beautiful boy would unleash the pent-up rage and devastation I’d long thought silenced into submission. Losing him was like losing each of our children all over again, only this time I’d got to hold him and love him, and fill my heart and my memories with the very essence of who he was. There were no ultrasounds of our babies, no handprints or footprints to say they had been there inside my womb. There were no photographs or sounds of laughter to fill my dreams. There was only that old, familiar darkness of Grief pouring through my heart as he teased of What Might Have Been. And now he had Hooch.

Grief is brutal. And he is merciless.

I try and take solace in the fact our children get to know our love for them through the love we have for Hooch, and I try and draw comfort in the knowledge that we will all be together again some day, across that rainbow bridge.blossom4

Meanwhile I have their memories etched upon my skin in beautiful tribute tattoos: four blossoms for the four babies who bloomed all too briefly, and Hooch’s paw print forever upon my shoulder.

Though the shadows of grief have blackened much of this last year I look to this anniversary as a defining moment. My heart aches for my beautiful boy, my goofy peacemaker who could skin a tennis ball in the blink of an eye, and whose idea of a kiss was to come right up to your face, then sneeze. He was a darling of a dog, and despite all the heartache we went through trying and failing to grow the human half of our family, he really did know how to soothe the hurting until it became something you merely carried in your pocket. We had eight and a half years where we had the honor of being his family, and I like to think we did him proud.

I miss him every day. And I still find myself crying because the pain of not having him here is insufferably loud.

But I do him a great disservice when I weep for him to be here with us. He only ever wanted us to be happy. He only ever offered comfort and patience, even if we didn’t feel we deserved it. As I said, he would have been a great therapy dog if he weren’t so ridiculously afraid of random things.

So I will try and do better. I will hold onto the memories and the photographs, and the beautiful moments he gave us. I will endeavor to live my life in a way that would make him know his love wasn’t wasted on me.

And when the time comes that I walk across the bridge and see him and our little ones all fully grown and wrapped in the light of Jesus, I know everything that hurt will melt away, the grief will be silenced once and for all, and there will be only Joy.

It will be a beautiful day.

I love you, Hooch. I will always love you.

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My beautiful boy.

💙

 

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Note: there are spoilers here for those who have yet to read the book or see the movie. So proceed with caution.

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Alrighty then, here we go…

It’s been years since I’ve read the book. At the time, it tore through my heart, forcing me to examine my faith, and left me reeling as Mack’s grief reflected back at me something I’d long been trying to avoid. His questions were the same ones I wrestled with, and seeing them in print was shattering.

Like Mack, the Father Heart of God wasn’t a love I could understand. Back then I was a broken young woman who’d grown up in spite of terrible trauma, one that had blackened my soul as I’d bargained my own worth for what I saw was the greater good. Left alone to struggle through the aftermath, and shut inside my own pain lest it bleed out and infect other people, there was no beautiful figure of love and gentleness to walk me into a place of healing. I called it My Story  and it was as raw and as terrible and as gut-wrenching to me as Mack’s grief was to him. I wept so hard through The Shack book that I had to read it twice.

I was very excited to see the movie.

The Shack movie is devastatingly beautiful.

There was a part of me that was already emotionally tense as the opening scenes unfolded, because I knew what was going to happen, and I knew it was going to be a journey in need of Kleenex. I wasn’t wrong. It stays true to the book – not surprising since one of the producers is also one of the co-writers of the book – and it’s not long before we see the broken Mack (played by Sam Worthington) who’s been devastated by his daughter’s death. As the story weaves between what was then and what is now, we relive the flashbacks of the better times, the laughter and sparkling beauty of a family that is warm and tight. We see the days when Mack’s eyes are bright and his smile effortlessly creases his face, and we compare that with the shattered man whose universe has caved in upon itself until he can only see through the knothole of his pain.

There’s no easy answer that’ll take your pain away.

– Papa (The Shack)

Grief is complicated. It manifests at the most inopportune times and, when it does, the heart crumbles under the weight of its own anguish. As Mack grieved for his child and wracked himself with guilt over being helpless to prevent it, I felt an empathy roll through my soul and leak tears down my face, because I realized I understood. Though our circumstances were vastly different (and his was, technically, a fictional movie), having had four miscarriages over eight years made me far too capable of relating to the rage and devastation he was feeling. The whole time up to that point, I’d been telling myself I was finally fine with it and had moved on. But I was wrong. I was horrible, furiously wrong. Mack was speaking for me and I was heartbroken for him, and we were both angry beyond words at God.

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As we journey with Mack to the place where it all went wrong, the snow covered shack in the middle of the woods, the scene is wonderfully crafted to be both haunting and lonely. The stillness and the thick snow speak metaphors to the layers of nightmares, anger, and guilt which have stacked themselves upon Mack’s soul, yet we still see the remnants of the tragedy upon the floor. It’s a stark reminder that no amount of snowfall can cover the truth, and I found myself aching with him. Though I’d read the book, and I knew the beautiful journey that was going to come next, there was something hollow in my stomach as I watched his pain explode across the screen, for this is the two sides of grief – the screaming and raging at God and the world that rips out of your being because it’s too huge to contain, and the empty space inside your heart where your hope and promise and tomorrow used to be before it all went wrong. I wept.

Mack: Where were you when I needed you?

Papa: I never left you. I never left Missy.

(The Shack)

Octavia Spencer is wonderful as Papa.

Papa is gentle. Papa is kind and soft even when Mack is angry and withdrawn. Instead of a God figure who is distant and somewhere outside of the story, Papa is right there beside him, not pushing him or preaching to him, but loving him with a purity of heart that your own soul aches to know. A love that lets you be you while nudging you ever so sweetly towards the healing that you so desperately need, that’s a rare love to behold.

The movie reveals to us how our image of a Father God is tainted by the flawed human father we’ve each been given. For those who grew up with a violent father, the idea of a loving Father God is a foreign, troubling concept. It’s one of the reasons Papa appears to Mack in the manifestation of a wonderful woman who is familiar to him. For me, in the film and in the book, this resonated deeply with me because I’d gone through such a trauma as a child and there were no authority figures who stepped in and stepped up to see me through it. As I stumbled into adulthood, there were very few adults who were nurturing to me and, like Mack, there were very few sweet, kind people I’d let through the walls I’d painstakingly built to protect myself.

The film made me realize that the God I picture in my head is a collage of how other people I trust see Him. I don’t fully comprehend a God that is loving to me because I’ve only experienced glimpses here and there, like reflections in a pool or an echo within someone I know. I can count a handful of times God has talked to me directly, the most profound of which was Him saying to me, “I’m not going anywhere.” That statement changed my life, and just over a year later I was living in a new country, with a new husband, a new name, a new family of friends, and a whole new existence outside of the broken child I’d long held as my identity.

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The representation of Jesus (played by Avraham Aviv Alush) is who I imagine the real Jesus to be. He’s confident but not arrogant, at ease yet always vigilant, and with infinite patience and kind humor that makes me want to sit at the dock all day and talk to Him. He’s the friend you need as much as the one you want, and it’s delightful to see the bond forming between them. The film uses beautiful visuals and angles to show Mack’s journey into letting himself trust Jesus, and the trailer itself gives a peak into how much fun that trust leads to.

As we weave our way through Mack’s journey, there are moments when I’m panged with knowing what’s to come and the ache in my heart is almost unbearable. When you have to face the ghosts of your past, whether as an adult looking back on childhood trauma, or as an angry, broken soul raging against your version of God who is cruel and unkind and unfair, there’s a lot of emotional unpacking that needs to take place. This was no less true for Mack, who had to make the choice to forgive the person who hurt him the most, while fighting with his inner self who wanted the person to feel the depths of his pain.

Since I first read The Shack, I took that journey and it wasn’t easy. The innocent child broken by trauma had evolved into an adult who struggled with anxieties so crippling it kept me anchored into the past, forever defined and controlled by a sequence of events I couldn’t change. Walking through it was the hardest thing I had to do because there would never be an acknowledgement from the perpetrator of the pain, something Mack has to realize too. At first they feel like words that would sooner suffocate you than leave your lips, for a part of you knows that if you let go, everything you’ve known up to that point will change. Perhaps it’s a fear of the unknown, perhaps it’s a fear that the God we think doesn’t love us enough to nurture and protect us will in fact magically absolve the perpetrator of every wrongdoing beause we said we were fine. The forgiveness I learned (‘forgive and forget’) was not the one I walked through, and neither was it like that for Mack. It was raw, and honest, and gut-wrenching, and powerful.

Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive.

– Papa (The Shack book)

As Mack walked through his forgiveness of the perpetrator, preparing himself to complete the last part of his journey, he’s repeating “I forgive you, I forgive you,” each step of the way, and I’m not the only one weeping with him. It’s a powerful, beautiful, sensitively crafted moment that speaks truth to what it’s like to forgive someone you’ve only ever wished harm upon. It’s a process, and you have to go there over and over until you get to that point where you feel Papa with you in it, and it’s memory no longer has the power to consume your soul.

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Mack has to close the chapter on the horror which befell Missy with some powerful, tearful moments that make your heart swell because they’re so elegantly and carefully crafted. You feel his pain, yet among all the beauty of the garden there’s a sense of release, of taking something that was dark and tragic and terrible, and transforming it into something that is lovely and whole and wondrous.

It’s more beautiful than my own journey which was far less graceful, and layers more complex, but it’s what I hope mine turns into eventually. For there’s a peacefulness that comes from understanding this garden; this jumbled chaos of wondrous plants is a representation of Mack himself. The hole they dug in the midst was to transform the pain of  his grief into fresh new growth, fed by the tears that had been lovingly collected by the Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). It was a symbol, to me, that our tears aren’t wasted. They don’t fall into the darkness to be forgotten, but are seen, heard, and acknowledged by Papa.

As Mack returned home, and we see the pieces of his life fall back into place, we also see the transformation of his daughter, Kate (played by Megan Charpentier), who’d been carrying her own horrible guilt over the tragedy. It’s a testament to the power of forgiveness, and it’s a wonderful representation of God’s love that isn’t preachy or overly scriptural, but is raw and real and personal, the way Papa’s love is supposed to be.

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The Shack movie, much like the book, left me asking myself so many questions about how I saw God. He really is a collage of all these other representations and testimonies I’ve been given by those I love, but the movie poked a hole right through my own grief to show me I’m filtering Him through the knothole of my own pain.

Going through the miscarriages was brutal for we never made it across the six week mark so there wasn’t even a sonogram or the memory of a heartbeat to cling to as the depths of our pain began to drown us.  Through it all we had nobody to share it with, so we plodded on until we were spent, and then we buried it inside and pretended we were fine. Someone said, “it’s probably for the best,” with well-meaning, but it just stabbed at the unfairness of our failure, but the most brutal heartbreak came from someone I once looked up to who made it clear to me how disappointed they were in me for not making it happen.

Then The Shack came along with its big emotional stick and poked it right in the heart of that pain.

 

 

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The movie showed me that the God I see in my mind is not the one of love, but one still being filtered through the lens of My Story. The little child abandoned to the trauma of my childhood is still inside me, shaping the view of this father figure into something more human and mean than the gentle, sweet Papa that He wants us to know.

That’s painful, because it calls for a lot of introspection and soul-searching, and I know it’s not going to be easy. But that’s how we grow.

In conclusion:

The Shack movie is beautiful, heart wrenching, sweet, loving, humbling, and will make you cry.

xo

 

Live in the lower case

Everyone has something that defines them. Whether it is something heroic, or a challenge they’ve overcome, or a spectacular failure they vow never to repeat, we all have something. It’s the yard stick we measure all else against, but sometimes it’s a pain we fiercely hold onto lest we forget its lessons and find ourself knee deep in the very thing we’ve spent our whole lives running from.

I call mine, My Story.

It was a long time ago now, but My Story begins when I was ten years old. I was sexually abused by someone with authority over me. He raped me once, and I remember staring at the corner of the doorframe as the world crushed against my chest and my legs, while I willed my mind to imagine what it would feel like to be a tiny bug crawling up the doorframe. There was no option to scream or cry for I’d been manipulated into making a deal – one that I carried the weight of for years to come – where I would do whatever was asked of me if it meant my siblings would remain unharmed and oblivious. Despite the breaking of my character, and the theft of my innocence, I learned a long time later that he’d actually kept his word.

My parents suspected. The abuse went on for many months until one day I said that I didn’t want this person’s authority over me any more. They respected my wishes, but they never asked for details and, for years after, I never told them. When I finally broke my silence, at an age where I was old enough not to be removed from my home, things in my life began to fall apart.

There was a lot of guilt and shame when people suddenly learned My Story. There was the close friendship of our families to deal with. There was the deafening silence from those who knew the truth but didn’t want to get involved. Then there was the chipping away at my story and my soul with words like “if that’s what really happened”, or being expected to get over it without structure or support. Amidst it all, it was hard to consider myself a victim of his abuse for I’d helped write the rules: trading me for them. Unprotected and alone, I struggled through My Story now loose inside our community, but with my trauma being a private anguish nobody wanted to help me through.

I look back on My Story, and I’m desperately sad for the child-me that went through all of that with nobody there to defend nor protect them. I’m angry at the family who let the perpetrator do these things, and at those who revealed I wasn’t the only person whose childhood was stolen by this terrible person. I’m angry for the friendship between our families that went on through the years until long after I was married and living in America, in spite of My Story. But mostly I grieve for thinking that God, Himself had left me in the midst of it to fend for myself.

Last week was a powerful one for me. I learned that I don’t have to carry the weight of My Story with me everywhere, all the time, by myself. My beloved church family and I were at our regular bible study, and testimony was being shared of how God had brought different people through the horror of Their Story, and transformed them into people of grace and forgiveness, and hope.

It was hard for me to process though, for hearing other people’s pain from being abused hurts those parts of me that want to take their pain away, but knows it isn’t possible while my own is out of control. The tsunami of guilt and grief overwhelmed me and I had to leave the room lest I unravel completely and let the ugly stain that is My Story wash into the room and ruin everything.

Unbeknown to me, my beautiful church family heard a little of My Story, and were – at that moment – praying for me. I found a peace and a courage growing inside me to be able to walk back into the room and sit among them, puffy eyes and all.

God filled me with such warmth and gentleness that I didn’t feel the pain of My Story weighing me down. I even got to share my gratitude for this beautiful family He has given me, and acknowledge that I’m not alone.

I know it’s going to be a long journey before I can unpack it all and leave My Story at the feet of Jesus. But that’s okay. This week I got to take the straps off my shoulder and see that I’m closer than I think. It’s also dawning on me that I’m not alone at all, but the enemy wants me to think I am. An army of God’s warriors surround me, in flesh and in spirit.

Now here is why I’m sharing this with you. I know what it’s like to allow yourself to be defined by your story. My Story is a part of me but it’s not the whole sum of who I am. It’s a small piece of an intricate puzzle that is me, and it’s not the only – or even the first – thing people see when they look at me. When I smother it into silence, it grows in power until the darkness of My Story is like a deafening roar determined to destroy everything it touches. But here’s the funny thing. My Story is a liar. It’s a little part of me that those who love me can already see, yet they love me anyway. The only one who was truly afraid of My Story was me.

But no more.

When I shared this on Facebook, a friend said to me, “Live in the lower case.” What a great motto to adopt, don’t you think?

My name is Annie Bergin, and I survived rape and sexual abuse. It’s my story (lower case), but it’s only a small part of who I am. I’m a fighter. I’m a warrior. And I have an army.

Merry Christmas

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