Safe Spaces

by Abby Mortenson

*Warning: this could be a triggering post for some who’ve recently experienced loss. Read ahead with caution.*

This is a post I wrote awhile back on another blog of mine and wanted to share it here for you! It’s a bit of my vulnerable story and some things I’ve learned along the way.

Some of you know that I've been on an intentional healing journey over the last year or so. There are many reasons for it, but it all started a little over three years ago. After a 3 year struggle with multiple 'failed' adoptions, my mom died unexpectedly on a January weekend just a few days after her 64th birthday. It completely crushed me. There were days after that I didn't know how to go on. There were weeks of darkness and heart-wrenching grief. There were moments of full-breathing and hope - but they were few-and-far-between for a long while. I did what I could do to survive - to keep living and operating like a person after I felt like the life and joy had been drained out. I owe a lot of gratitude to my husband who walked through this with me, to my community, and to God whose Presence kept me breathing and moving and who kept infusing me with enough courage to keep my heart open. 

Years later, I'm still processing and grieving and healing. And maybe even more intensely now than before because I'm in a place where I can't run to busyness as easily since moving across the country to the forest in Upstate New York. Dan was offered a job that proved to be an opportunity we couldn't pass up. I was so sad to leave our Colorado home - our friends, our family there, our beloved community, our church. There was so much connection and safety there. But there was also so much busyness. Busyness was my cover-up. Busyness was my distraction from a broken spirit. Busyness was the mask I could wear so that I wouldn't become crushed under the weight of my own sadness. 

In the last year living in Colorado, not only did I juggle three different 'part-time' jobs and two businesses (as if that wasn't enough!), we signed up to be foster parents. We went through lots of training, paperwork and preparation and then right away after being 'open', we got two boys under two. Then we said goodbye to them and hello to one 17 month-old boy. We parented him and loved him for five months until he went back to mom. We said goodbye to him and the next week, hello to a little 6 month-old boy. After three months he left, too. 


Grief upon grief with no time to grieve. 

I truly believe that our culture of busyness presses down grief and real feelings so much that many of us are operating on a half-present level. Our hearts can't hold on to these things for too long. Grief, sadness, fear (and all these things we don't like feeling), don't disappear if we ignore them. Even though I don't think I was ignoring my feelings, I do think I was suppressing them with being crazy-busy and not allowing myself to slow down or even stop. 

As Parker Palmer writes, "The divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound. Ignore that call, and we find ourselves trying to numb our pain with an anesthetic of choice, be it substance abuse, overwork, consumerism, or mindless media noise. Such anesthetics are easy to come by in a society that wants to keep us divided and unaware of our pain...

...One of the things society is most deficient in a safe spaces for truth telling about the condition of our souls."



Safe Spaces.

I knew when we were about to move that this would be a huge change. From living downtown in a city, having lots of neighbors and a vibrant community that we were connected to, to living in a dense forest, in a tiny 'town', 25 minutes from the nearest coffee shop (which I frequented often back in CO). I didn't know to the extent that my grief and sadness would resurface with all this time and quiet in my new life here. I didn't know that I needed to be (lovingly) forced to slow down - even stop for awhile. I do know that God intended for this to be a place where I could be intentional about my healing. Where I could stop the chaotic lifestyle of five jobs and foster kids and lots of distraction. It's uncomfortable here. It's challenging. But it's GOOD. 

I know that some may think that I just need to 'move on' and 'focus on the good'. I know some may get tired of the fact that I'm not fully healed and I still struggle (almost daily) about the losses in my life over the last three years. I also know that some need to hear this. Some people need to hear that it's OK to feel how you feel. You don't need to rush it. You don't need to pretend you're alright when you're not. You do need a safe space for truth telling - a space where you can be honest with yourself and others about the current condition of your soul. 

I'm grateful for so many things. In the midst of my grief, I'm grateful God brought us to the forest- a safe place. I'm grateful that my heart is able to keep loving. I'm grateful that my heart was able to open to those four babies with had with us last year after the heartbreaking loss of my mom's sudden death. I'm grateful that I still have the courage to do foster care again. I'm grateful that God sees us, knows us, grieves with us, and has a plan for healing us. I'm grateful for those in my life who allow me to be where I am. I'm grateful for those people who are "safe places" to me. 

One of my hopes in all this, is that I too, can be a safe place for people. I want to create a community (in-person and online) that can be a 'circle of trust' as Palmer writes in his book A Hidden Wholeness. I want to be, as Joyce Rupp writes, someone "who had come through the fire and was pure gold", and who "carries the truth of resurrection in hearts which have been emptied and refilled." There's something deeply healing about being seen, heard, and accepted. 

If this resonates with you in any way, I'd love to know. I'd love to know where you're at. I'd love to know how you're healing (or maybe what barriers you're dealing with). Just send a message. I loved seeing the recent instagram campaign #hereforyou . What a powerful word in a place that often cultivates loneliness. I want to be someone who is here for you. Please know that you're not alone. 

I have some other resources here for you if you want to take a look around. 
5 Min Audio Meditations / Private Sessions / Healing Hearts: Online Workbook

Adding this to the list (with excitement and anticipation!): SHALOM RETREAT

Here's a closing prayer for you from the book Praying Our Goodbyes by Joyce Rupp; 

"God of light, hear my prayer. Listen to me and guide me in this deep darkness which is so predominant in my life...Here I am, hands outstretched. Oh, do not hide the radiance of inner light from me. I fear that I may be overpowered by discouragement or despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign for me to trust in you. Help me to believe that your light is radiant within me. Light of my life, shine brightly and dispel this darkness. Amen" 

May you know that you are worth healing. May you feel a sense of hope as you remember that you were made to flourish and healing is possible. 

Abby Mortenson