I am so excited to introduce you to a good friend of mine. She has just published her own website sharing how her struggles in life including chronic illness are teaching her to allow her pain to become a pearl. Today I am featuring her on the blog. Come read her story and then Link-up your own legacy story.
Melissa is a truth-seeker and a truth-teller who writes and speaks from life experience, testing and growing in the lab of great joys and deep sorrows. Through it all, she has found a closeness with the Father by both wrestling with Him and being still with Him. That has given her a compassion for others that is palpable.
Understanding that pain and suffering are universal, her mission is to help others bravely face their pain with God until they find Him safe enough to cover it all with His love, strength, and beauty. Whether reading her words or hearing her speak in person, her unique ability to weave story and truth will have you hooked!
Our family’s story is full of great joys. It is also full of deep wounds.
“When I read it this morning, Mom, I didn’t realize how many tears I needed to cry about this day. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to revisit this event.”
My oldest and only son wrote that to me after reading our Family Story page on my website. Ten years after our family’s world came crashing down at dizzying speeds when two of our daughters, his sisters, were in a tragic 4-wheeler accident. He had to hold his baby sister whose face was severely crushed in his merely 16-year-old arms while waiting for an ambulance.
If there is one thing my kids—now all young adults—have heard from me over and over again, if there is but one legacy I long to leave, it is these words:
“If you don’t remember another thing I say your whole life, please remember this. When suffering hits you out of nowhere. Ask Jesus to come and heal your heart!”
Because in this world we will have troubles. But Jesus overcame the world, and we are more than conquerors in Him. (John 16:33, Romans 8:37) The thing is, we are often clueless about what that really looks like, or how it works. When something awful happens that shakes you to your core; when a word cuts you down until you barely remember who you are. Suffering looms long. How do you recover? And what in the world do we do with the things that happened to us as a kid ourselves? Does it even matter?
“Little Melissa” wore the same full-face grin you see in the black and white photo of me effortlessly. Until. Something shifted. A light was extinguished, and a smile was lost. Verbal and emotional abuse and many assaults stole the innocence of my childhood and adolescent years. I felt dirty and unworthy of love. I just knew I was nothing more than a huge disappointment to God, and certain I would be to everyone else if they knew.
My healing began when I came out of hiding. Secrets hidden in darkness lose their power when brought into the light. However, the telling alone does not do the complete work of healing. We need God and others to help us face our pain to decipher the messages of our wounds. There’s a recording of lies that plays on repeat in our minds that were spoken in those vulnerable spaces, making them feel so true. In that space it is easiest to question God, ourselves, and others.
Our real identity gets buried underneath the ashes of many pains; the ones we inflicted upon our self, the ones others inflicted, and the enemy’s cruel infliction of pain upon pain. But, like a prisoner, we can be set free. The prophet Isaiah foretells what Jesus will do for us.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…”Isaiah 61:1-3
The anointed One, Jesus, came to heal us. He is healing me still. It is an intentional interaction between us that I have sought for the past two decades. With His help, I continue to learn how to thrive.
Forgiveness is Key
A couple of years ago, my counselor gave me a forgiveness exercise to work through. It is the kind you don’t rush but approach slowly. I have revisited it many, many times and in different seasons as I work through forgiveness with different persons or groups of people or situations.
The exercise begins by naming the person(s), what they did, and how it made me feel. Then it gives room to process a series of questions, such as: “Am I holding a grudge or have resentments weighing me down? What pain am I holding onto, however recent or distant? What hurts about that situation or moment(s) with that person?” Important statements are addressed, such as, “forgiveness does not mean that they automatically are right, or they get to have the same place in our life.”
Number five on the paper is the one that tripped me up, though. Every. Time. EVERY. TIME. The instruction is to say, “Because I don’t want to carry the weight of this unforgiveness anymore, I am releasing you to God. He knows how to judge completely. I am not in charge of carrying this pain anymore.”
It’s the latter part I couldn’t get past, “I am not in charge of carrying this pain anymore.”
An earth-shattering revelation rose within me.
I had absolutely no clue who I was without pain.
I’d been walking through my own past and the trauma of the girls’ accident with Jesus off and on for years. Facing it with Him became more palatable because He would speak tenderly, expose lies, replace them with Truth, and bring His love in tangible ways as I processed.
But, could I trust Him enough to let go of the pain? What would He do with it?
To throw it away felt diminishing as if the pain didn’t matter. That would not be good because pain was diminished much of my childhood. God would not further impose a wound.
Pain into Beauty?
Someone told me He would turn my pain into something beautiful, from ashes to beauty. While that gave me hope, I still couldn’t let go. Weeks turned to months of wrestling with God over the fifth portion of that forgiveness exercise. Until one day, out on my porch, He reminded me of a few key things other mentors and my counselor had said to me at various points:
- the truth that I am seen, and my heart matters
- that I am brave, braver than I realize because I face my pain
- that stepping into deeper waters for more healing is both a willful and brave act
After this, I let out a guttural cry to God from the depth of my long-aching soul,
“I am bound, and I want to be free! I am bound by pain and hurt, and I want to be free!!”
It was then God tenderly spoke these words,
Bravely face your pain with Me until it becomes a pearl.
It was like waking from a deep sleep, groggy yet aware something significant is happening. Happening deep within me. A word powerful enough to wake the dead. Yet, the awakening came slowly. First, a vague memory I once learned surfaced: pearls form because something gets in that hurts the oyster or mollusk. Secondly, the fact I love pearls intrigued me; a love so increasing over the years that I started buying a new color of pearl stud earrings for my three daughters and myself every Christmas. Truly, this God-breathed analogy carried significance and weight to it.
Learning About Pearls
Through my research the past couple of years, more richness and depth illuminated the connection of a pearl to our pain, and what God desires to do with it all.
In short, a pearl is a foreign substance covered by layers of nacre; an uninvited parasite invades a tender, sacred space where a mollusk’s vital organs lay vulnerable. Yes, this means the irritant that caused the pain in the first place is still there inside that pearl, now surrounded by a strong, resilient, protective coating.
For us as humans, there are pains that we can shake off, and then there are pains that wound us to our core. Self-inflicted, uninvited actions or words, or even inactions, death, accident/harm/injury, crime, or other significant losses that work their parasitic ways into our hearts and mind. There are many gruesome things we have seen that we cannot unsee. Many things have been done to us that we cannot undo. Our own battles with parasitic sin have added to the shame. They cannot be expelled by our own efforts alone.
My prayer that first day upon receiving the pearl analogy became,
“Let Christ in me be the nacre that comes between me and the irritants and pains until a pearl forms.”
I know making time for solitude with God, especially to face your pains feels too hard. Too scary. Impossible even. But there is a God who is strong enough to cover it all. He is bent on your healing. He is the soothing nacre ready to stand between all that has hurt you, even where you’ve hurt yourself.
I am finding pain and joy coexist. No matter how many times deferred hope made my heart sick, hope keeps rising despite it. Because Jesus.
It is from the pages of my story and our family’s story that I write. Ultimately, God is the Author and Hero. The Word that guides my words, I impart to you. I would love for you to join me. It would be an honor to get to know you more over on my website at melissagpickens.com. There, I also go more in-depth with the beauty of the pearl analogy.
Getting My Life Back
My son continued with these words in response to the Family Story page the other day:
“Mom, you have shed your blood, sweat, and tears to chase after the Truth over the last 10 years. You have fought so hard for your own healing. You have let Jesus into the most painful parts of your life to receive that healing. And you have gotten your life back.
Yes, I know there is plenty more to fight for.
This journey that you have been on is still taking its toll on you and your body. It has not been easy, and it has not gotten easier. But it is worth it. And it is rewarding, as you know. The fruits of your labor have been blooming for some time now, and it is so life-giving because of the Breath of Life that flows through it.”
This is the legacy I pray to leave for my children and grandchildren, and their children’s children. To a thousand generations. When we bravely face our disappointments and pain with God until it becomes a pearl, we free the next generation to reach for their own healing and wholeness. It is a journey worth taking and a legacy worth leaving.
She’s a two-time She Speaks graduate with Proverbs 31 Ministries, a BookCamp member with Chad R. Allen (editor and writer coach), and the Co-founder and Women’s Director of Rally Point Ministries. She has spoken at various retreats, conferences, and events. She has publications with the Church of the Nazarene Women’s Ministries and writes weekly for her website MelissaGPickens.com.
Melissa lives in Georgia with her husband, Andy. They have four fun-loving young adult children, born five and a half years apart, and twin grandbabies. You’ll often find her on the upstairs back porch with a decaf latte and some sweet treat she whipped up from scratch the night before on a whim. Learn more about Melissa here. Follow Melissa on social media.
Thank you Melissa for your openness and willingness to share the pain that becomes a pearl. What a beautiful story for us all. I encourage our readers to go to Melissa’s website and subscribe to receive her writings. You will be blessed.
AND NOW, IT’S YOUR TURN!
Link-up to the Legacy Link-up. Share a post about how you are leaving a legacy.