Photograph Copyright 2011 Gena Buskirk-Ford, Gateway PhotoArtistry™
Yesterday was the anniversary of a momentous day in my life. On June 1, 2011, I decided to “unlock” my life into two diverse, but oddly related ways. In one way, I “unlocked” the part of me I had securely kept away from people for most of my life. In another way, I “unlocked” what I had kept myself from because of fearing the unknown. The exhilarating freedom I felt that day was the end of an 8-month journey of choosing to change. Change is rarely easy; changing yourself is almost always wrenching, but I wouldn’t change any one of those 243 days.
I’m a child of divorce, I had a physically absent father, and an emotionally absent stepfather. Though my mother loved my sister and me very much and did her best, I have learned that a father’s love can inherently influence the self-confidence of his children. Consequently, I felt unworthy, unloved and unaccepted. Up until a year ago, I had spent my life trying to find ways to fill those voids without sacrificing my values and my integrity.
At various times in my life, I sought the help of Christian counselors to help me work through the lies I had believed about myself and the fear I invoked on myself as a result of those lies. Each time, I made significant progress toward emotional and spiritual healing. In fact, I had truly felt I had reached as much healing as a person could accomplish on this side of heaven until October 2010.
I had been meeting with Vanessa Snyder, a Christian counselor (http://www.bridgewaycounsel.com), for other reasons when she challenged me one day with one simple question, “Wouldn’t you like to be able to look back on your past and not have the same emotionally charged feelings about them as you do now?” (my paraphrase). I thought she was out of her mind. I quickly shot back that I’ve laid all those issues to rest and there was no reason to drudge them back up again. “There’s nothing more that can be done,” I said emphatically.
In my mind, I had successfully hurdled numerous emotional obstacles that would have led most people to drink, to unhealthy relationships, or to throwing away their faith in God. My faith in God and my persistence to break the pattern of divorce in my family had been my banner of hope and my goal. By this time, I had been married 19 years to a wonderful and faithful, Christian husband, Wendell, and we have two healthy, Christ-following children. I had worked in youth ministry for many years, and God had used me in many miraculous ways and blessed me abundantly.
I had learned to open up more to my husband, to be less defensive, to encourage my children more, to draw even closer to God, to fear less and to be less angry. Though I had not mastered any of these completely, I had come a long way. What did Vanessa see in me that drove her to ask me that question?
Her question nagged at me and when I prayed about it, I realized that God had led her into my life because He wasn’t through healing me. My sister had told me months earlier, “You’ve captured the dragon, but I don’t think you’ve slain it.” I knew she was right, but I was frightened to know what had kept me locked up inside so tightly that I couldn’t even face it myself. After all I had been through, I wasn’t scared of much, but the unknown was frightful. I did not believe it was possible to be healed of whatever chained me until I met Jesus in heaven, but God had other plans and I chose to be obedient.
Over the next eight months, Jesus proved to me how wrong I was about the “impossible.” He used Vanessa’s straightforward yet gracious approach to gently lead me much deeper into my feelings than ever before, to places I didn’t even allow myself to go. Deep, entrenched feelings that only God knew were there and why they were there. He loved me so much that He wanted to reveal them to me because He knew how much I truly desired to be completely healed.
After years of mastering the practice, I had learned how to throw up emotional defenses and blockades to avoid feeling the affects of the pain and hurt from my past. I knew when something triggered a feeling I’d rather leave dormant, I would “turn off” that feeling, that path to a place of dreadful hurt or anxiety. There were times I had to work hard to stay focused in our sessions and Vanessa would encourage and reassure me by saying, “Stay with me. Just stay with me.”
I spent those months fighting myself, fighting those defensive triggers, pushing myself not to give up, trying to believe there was hope I could change, that I wasn’t a “lost cause.”
I would often ask Vanessa to pray with me or for me before our sessions because I knew I would not make it without my Lord Jesus’s help. It had been 46 years of painstaking work to keep all these feelings under wrap. They weren’t going to unfurl nicely like a flag in a gentle breeze. They were going to come flying out like a 4th of July firework if He didn’t control them through Vanessa’s God-given, intuitive guidance, and how they revealed themselves to me.
I knew myself well enough to know I needed to be healthier for my family’s sake, and that’s what kept me going. My husband said I should be doing it for myself. I knew he was probably right, but I knew what would motivate me to keep going, and that was my family. I did not want to keep bringing my “baggage” into my family for it to become a “burden” to them.
It was so emotionally painful to face these thoughts and feelings that it sometimes became physically painful, but I knew God was with me. I would beg for Him to reveal Himself to me and help me release the pain and anger I had held so close to my heart for so long. He answered me with Bible verses I had memorized or Christian songs to encourage me and speak to me.
Vanessa challenged me to ask friends for help while I went through my “journey of healing.” She told me that the reason people are drawn to me is because of my willingness to be vulnerable. “Who truly knows you?” she asked. I could count on one hand the people I felt really knew me.
“I protect myself and I keep the best for me,” I replied.
“So you keep the best of yourself away from your husband and your children?” she asked.
“Yes, I guess I do.”
Her reply was something to the effect of, “That’s pretty selfish,” and “Do you think that’s what God wants?” She may have said more, but that’s what I remember. Ouch! Vanessa knew when to be gentle and tender, but she also knew when to be direct and not pull any punches. This was one of those times when her “punch” went straight to my heart. She was right. It was wrong of me to keep the best of myself from the very people who were closest to me.
For someone who was taught by example and was used to handling my feelings privately, it took a lot of courage to open up to people. In faith and obedience to God, I talked to my husband and asked some friends to pray for me and to listen to me when I needed to talk.
Now, I’m closer to my husband than ever before and the ladies I trusted are my closest friends now. I “unlocked” the parts of me I had selfishly hidden away for myself. Part of my identity to be vulnerable to people, even complete strangers, was part of God’s revelation to me of His identity in me.
On June 1, I released all the other fears and all the anger in me that had become my comfortable blanket. Most people didn’t even know they were there because I kept them so neatly hidden under my comfortable blanket of disguise. It was comfortable because it was what I knew. I knew its bends and twists. I could control those around me and fend off those who I wanted to keep at bay and not see what I had hidden. Of course, it wasn’t healthy, but until that day, I didn’t think it was possible to let go of the deep-seated, underlying fear and anger.
For years, I had kept myself from the blessings of who the Lord intended me to be. I thought who I had become was all that was possible, but I finally felt safe enough to “unlock” the gate that kept me from seeing the identity He had chosen for me. I had let Jesus into the darkest places of my life and let Him fill me with love, hope and joy. He never intended the hate, anger and fear that had enveloped me and paralyzed me, but that’s all I believed I was worthy of having. I had been dealt this hand and I had to live with it, and I was willing to settle for Satan’s lies and leftovers.
God wanted more for me. He wanted me to feel the worthiness of being His daughter, the daughter of the King, when my earthly father did not treasure me. He patiently coaxed me into His arms to feel wanted and accepted. He wanted me to feel His love that would never abandon me, never let go of me and never fail me.
I allowed myself to truly embrace the person He had intended me to be. He wanted to use the vulnerability He instilled in me to reach those who needed to hear His “voice.” That’s why I write this blog, take photographs and write my poetry. That’s why I walked out of my counseling session a year ago knowing my photography business would be named Gateway PhotoArtistry™, because I had opened the gateway of my heart to the One who loved me the most.
I knew like I had never known anything before that this was just the beginning of where I believe God was taking me. It’s not because of anything I had done, but because of everything He has done.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” Jesus said, Matthew 11:28 - 30, NASB.
“If you continue in My word, ...you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” Jesus said, John 8:31 - 32, NASB.
© Copyright June 2, 2012, “Change Takes Courage - But the Freedom is Priceless,” by Gena Buskirk-Ford, owner/writer/photographer, Gateway PhotoArtistry™, http://www.gatewayphotoartistry.com.*
*The photograph and the article are the copyright of the photographer and writer, Gena Buskirk-Ford. Please do not copy the photograph or the article unless it is part of this blog post. For permission to use the photograph or article, contact artist at: http://www.gatewayphotoartistry.com/contact.html. Thank you for your cooperation.