A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. Or is it?

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Eager, I ripped open the long, thin box left moments earlier on my front porch, now laid out on my kitchen counter. Advertisement markings on the exterior offered a clear indication of the contents. Impatient to bury my nose in flowers, anticipation of aromatic bliss motivated swift fingers. I imagined vibrant colors bathed in rich, luscious fragrance.  Reaching into the bright green cardboard container I carefully removed twelve of the most stunning crimson long-stem roses I’d ever beheld.  I raised them to my beaming face expecting a glorious scent. I breathed deep. Breathed deep again. Nothing.

Not even a hint of the hoped-for nasal ambrosia. The only thing enveloping my olfactories? Disappointment.

I glanced back at the delivery box. ProFlowers. A thought raced across my mind and passed through my lips: What’s so ‘Pro’ about fragrance-free flowers?

In my mind I contrasted them with the bush growing just outside the back door of our family farm house. Once upon a time, a bare brown six-inch shoot poked out of the ground. For years I watched and marveled as Grandmother, then later Mother, tenderly cared for the burgeoning perennial. Each spring and summer, these devoted gardeners watered, weeded, fertilized, trimmed, and toiled over an emerging mini-shrub until blossoms and buds burst forth. Now the size of our riding lawn tractor, season after season this flowering cluster of roses floods Momma’s yard with the color of sacrifice and fragrance of heaven.

Thoughts and eyes returned to the elegant yet scentless roses in my grasp. I scurried to cut them as directed by a box insert, filled a vase, and arranged them in a captivating configuration to place on my table. At the time I didn’t understand why a tear leaked down my cheek.

Now I get it.

Florist-grown roses are indeed lovely to behold. By the time they arrive, they’re washed free of fertilizer and dirt. Roots stripped. Thorns removed. All in the name of delivering visual delight. The outcome—a skillful disguise of painstaking, messy, yet loving effort involved in growing something truly beautiful. Moreover, mass production robs roses of their fragrance. A considerable part of their intended purpose, stolen. They might as well be plastic. Except they die, never having accomplished what roses were meant for…filling a space with magnificent aroma.

As women, we face tremendous pressure to be the long stem rose rather than part of the bush. Society shrieks at us to not merely stand apart from the cluster but also to look good at all costs. Clean up the fertilizer {you know what I’m intimating here}. Shake off the dirt that soils our souls. Forget our roots, that which causes us to grow and venture deep. Throw away the prickly thorns that protect us from outside threats. Be pretty. And somewhere in the midst of mass-produced efforts to look pleasing to the outside world, we stifle our inner fragrance.

Why do we fight the struggle that makes us beautiful in the first place? What would happen if we exposed all parts of the rose to the world? Even the smelly, messy, prickly, painful parts? What splendid scent would be revealed in us if we acknowledged and embraced our gardening process, however labored or agonizing?

We are beautiful. Not because of something we drape on our body, dangle from our earlobes, smear across our face, or sweat off at the gym. We are beautiful because the Master Gardener devoted Himself to growing something of true loveliness in each of us. We are beautiful not in spite of the growing process but because of it. The ever vigilant Divine Caretaker comes alongside us to plant Truth in our hearts, Truth about our worth and significance. He saturates us with Living Water ever rising up, a spring of hope within us. He trims withered leaves and dark, crusty petals of unhealthy desires to expose radiant velvet, reflecting His Light.  He pulls ugly, smothering weeds, eliminating people and things that prevent us from thriving in His grand and gorgeous garden. He even allows us to be covered in “fertilizer” at times because He knows that without the elements of suffering, pain of loss, sadness of grieving, we bear limitations in how deep our roots stretch and how fragrant we ultimately grow.

The more willingly we cooperate with the Gardener’s tender toiling over us, the more regal the rose. True beauty results from embracing the thorns for the sake of the lavish, sumptuous scent God intended in us.

Will we settle for the scentless long-stem delivered in cardboard, destined to die without ever accomplishing its purpose? Or will we grow into a timeless, resplendent, redolent rose in the Garden of the Mater’s touch?

Three Years…and Counting

Mom & Pops  Three years have raced by since my precious mother and step dad, both widowed for over a decade, took another risk on committed love.  On August 20, 2011, they stood before God, family and friends to vow their lives and love to one another.  They spoke words some consider “old-fashioned”.  Words like “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.” 

The only thing old-fashioned was that these two individuals meant every syllable of the vows they shared.  More than words repeated after a clergy’s utterance, Mom and Pops looked deep into the eyes of their beloved and with conviction blessed by God, they promised to be there for each other come what may.  Their articulated commitment was heartfelt, rich, and real. 

Three years may not seem like much to younger folks.  But to anyone who is counting that’s 1093 sunsets shared side by side.  It’s 3279 meals prayed over together.  Three years is 26,232 hours lived in service to one another.  Endless chores carried out in humility, without grumbling.  Unnumbered “I love you”s and hugs.  Smiles and laughter spent holding hands during walks around the farm at dusk.  Holidays shared with hungry mobs from a large blended family and over 100 birthday cards signed together.  Three years means numerous trips to doctors as Mom continues her battle with bone cancer and Pops his bout with relentless back pain.  Three years of almost weekly shared goodbyes at funerals of life-long friends and loved ones.  Three years of countless prayers and tears over heartbreaks and suffering in our family.  Three years included naturally occurring frustrations when one must adjust to another imperfect human living under the same roof. Disagreements and disappointments, followed by grace and forgiveness because they realize three years is a gift that unfolded one day at a time and tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Much courage is required of people who love.  Karen and Dick Rodriguez are two of the most courageous people I know. Choosing late in life to risk loving so unselfishly and sacrificially, they are my heroes.  They honor their vows every day for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.  In sickness and in health, they love and cherish.  In doing so they honor the family they love so dearly.  More importantly, they honor the God who brought them together to form this beautiful union.

Happy Three Year Anniversary, Mom and Pops, with much love from your kids and grand kids! 

Am I Enough? Rejection and PTSD

In a departure from my usual format, I have asked for & received permission from a friend married to a Wounded Warrior with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to repost a note she shared with some of her friends.  The remainder of this post is dedicated to responding to her pain.  I applaud this dear young woman for her bravery in being willing to share her deep heartache with others.  Her desire is to help others who are dealing with their own confusion and rejection from the man they love.

“I have been silent on here 4 a long time but now I just need to share. My husband came to me last week out of the blue and told me when he retires he is leaving me and going back to his hometown to live and I am not invited to come. I have been trying to rationalize this in my head but my heart is just smashed all to pieces… I can’t make sense of it… I practically begged him to not leave me and told him I would do anything I needed to, to change. I have a back injury that has left me on crutches for the last two months. I have gained about 40+ pounds due to medications and not being able to do much. I even asked him if it was because of that and he says no he just doesn’t want to be around people including me….wow did that feel like a punch in the gut….I am just totally heartbroken and can’t seem to stop crying…I am trying to figure out where I failed him.” ~name withheld

Sweet friend, 

First let me say I HURT for you.  Rejection can be brutally painful.  It tears at our self-image & shatters our confidence.  It always leaves us questioning, insecure, full of doubts about our “enoughness”.  Rejection, especially from someone we love, can cripple us even more than a bad back or other physical ailment. We limp through our days heartbroken, wondering what we could have done differently.  Even today I understand rejection more than I wish I did and have cried more tears because of it than I am comfortable admitting.  

Someone told me year ago that “rejection is God’s Protection”. It certainly didn’t feel that way at the time.  I felt cheated by God in those moments for not “fixing” the situation so I could be happy with the man I loved. It took years before I realized what God had, indeed, protected me from.  In my current struggles, I thank Him for His sovereignty knowing in the heat of my circumstances I can trust Him even when I don’t understand.  I’ve learned to trust God with those who reject me and I pray for their own healing as well as mine. 

Having said all that, May I speak to you as someone who suffered gross violence and lived with my own PTSD as a result of it?  In my PTSD I abandoned ALL my friends, my family and a man who loved more than I’d ever been loved in my life.  Seclusion was, for me at the time, a matter of life and death.  I couldn’t explain it to anyone and I knew they wouldn’t understand if I tried.  I moved in with my rape crisis counselor but I wouldn’t even let her speak to me.  Thankfully, she understood what I didn’t and she gave me plenty of space.  I couldn’t even bear to make eye contact with anyone, feeling like they could see into my soul how wounded and messed up I was and if they pitied me it would destroy me.  I needed to pretend that I was in control even as I struggled to make it moment by moment on my own.  The more anyone tried to get close to me the meaner I became.  I hated myself even more for being heartless with people but felt I would die if I didn’t somehow regain control over my life.  Eventually God led me through extensive counseling, healing and recovery.  I still walk with a bit of an emotional limp but God restored my heart to be able to trust and love again, to even risk rejection from someone new.   

What you need to know is that this rejection is not about you…not about how thin, or pretty, or healthy or loving you are.  Not about how clean you keep the house, how quiet you keep the children, how delicious you prepare the meals, how steamy you are in the bedroom.  You could be all those things and still not reach your husband because the truth is, this has NOTHING to do with you.  Your husband is in a battle for his mind and for his very life…even greater than the battle that raged while he served in the Middle East. He imagines and feels a threat against his soul that if he doesn’t guard against, it will take his life.

Not all combat vets {or others} with PTSD will physically leave.  Most will just check out emotionally, withdraw to a separate space or melt into the sofa watching tv, oblivious to their surroundings.  They may spend countless hours with buddies who understand without a word.  They may bury themselves in work or projects. They may seem normal for a few days, maybe even let you feel close to them but when it gets to be too much, they suddenly “disappear” again.  Life becomes an endless roller coaster.  Sadly, I understand both sides of this because I’ve lived them both.    

I am living proof that there is always Hope for recovery from PTSD.  I would be the last person to tell you to give up on your husband.  However, unless and until your husband is willing to seek counseling and commit to healing in that process, there is almost nothing you can do for him.  The more you push, the more he will reject you.  The more desperate you act, the more determined he will be to flee. The more you cry, the more heartless he may become.  I wish it wasn’t true but I think many who live with someone traumatized by violence will attest to similar experiences.  

Remember I said “there is Almost nothing” you can do…You can pray.  You can respect his space.  You can refuse to view His conduct as Your fault.  And you can become really good at forgiving as God stretches you to love deeper, unconditionally.  Most importantly you can take care of yourself.  It’s what the “Hope for the Home Front” retreat was all about, remember?  In the end if your husband leaves you permanently or simply checks out over & over, you must believe that you did your best and you must not feel guilty for taking care of your heart first.

Our goal at “Hope for the Home Front” is to embrace women who are living with the agony of rejection and the crazy-making of the back & forth, ups & downs.  We don’t spout empty platitudes or offer you 50 cent solutions for million dollar problems.  We simply understand what you deal with every day because we have been there, are still there.  We are here to walk this journey with you…even as you limp along.  We want to listen to you, cry with you, rejoice in little things with you and love you.  The saddest words I read are “I haven’t spoken up for a long time…” because I know the heartache and loneliness that comes from carrying these burdens alone.  Please know, you are Enough, you are Loved, and most especially, you are Never Alone.  

Any woman needing to connect with others who love a man with PTSD and/or TBI, please feel free to write to us at:  http://www.whenwarcomeshomeretreats.com/index.cfm/PageID/1601/index.html