The freedom of healing, part two: Wounds that heal us

Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed.

-- Isaiah 53: 4-5

Healing has been a major theme in my life over the past few years. And the older I get, the more I realize that although some of us certainly have deeper wounds than others, all of us have areas in which we could use healing — whether it be a loss, an illness, a betrayal, a rejection, a poor choice we still regret, or an overly harsh inner critic we can’t seem to silence. Back in September, I wrote a post about how choosing to be healed and actively participating in the process are essential parts of the journey. Today, I’m sharing a personal narrative of how healing can happen in the most unexpected ways once we’ve opened ourselves up to God’s divine treatment plan.

Early last summer, I went to confession for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdowns had begun in March. In order to abide by social distancing protocols, the priest and I had to go outside and stand six feet apart on the church lawn instead of utilizing the cramped confessional. Earlier in my journey as a Catholic, a face-to-face confession would have triggered some major anxiety, but I’ve come to appreciate and even prefer this form of the sacrament more and more. And honestly, after 6+ weeks of being stuck alone in my apartment, I was simply grateful for the in-person company.

Whenever I make a confession, I’m curious to see which sins my confessor will highlight when offering counsel and assigning a penance, and I’m often amazed at priests’ ability to speak directly to what is weighing most heavily on my heart. This time was no different — despite listing my sins in no particular order and maintaining an even tone of voice throughout, the priest honed right in on my inability to fully forgive someone who had deeply hurt me. And because there was no one else in line, he was essentially able to provide me with a mini spiritual direction session (#catholicwin). In order for the Lord to heal me, Father explained, I had to reveal the full depths of the wound to Him. Rather than fast-forwarding to the part where I was able to make peace and move on, I needed to pause and explore why, specifically, this experience hurt so much — how did it make me feel? Betrayed? Used? Forgotten? Ashamed?

Yes and yes, I thought, as my mind replayed one painful memory after another, a highlight reel of all the tiny cuts that together comprised this ugly, gaping wound.

Father also pointed out that we often have trouble forgiving because we think that in doing so, we’re saying that the offense isn’t important anymore or that the wound wasn’t really that severe. However, forgiveness doesn’t mean downplaying the gravity of the situation. Instead, it involves recognizing that holding onto the pain is no longer productive, that it’s hurting us more than it’s hurting anyone else, and that we’re ready to hand it over to the Lord so that we no longer have to carry it ourselves.

I knew he was right, and I wanted so badly to get to that point. But I told him the truth — I just didn’t know how. So he suggested I pray the Litany of Trust, which happens to be one of my favorite prayers, and let God take it from there.

So I did. That, at least, I knew how to do.

Later that summer, I made the 15 ½ hour drive from Texas to Indiana to visit my parents and sisters for a couple of weeks. Normally I would book a flight, but I’ve been leery of flying ever since the pandemic started. So I packed up Little Red (my beloved 2013 Nissan Rogue), downloaded approximately 12 years’ worth of podcasts and playlists (because you never know what mood you might be in!), and hit the road.

After making my way through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and most of Illinois, I decided to stop one last time to fill up my gas tank, eat a snack, and stretch my legs. As I climbed back into the car after my pit stop, I could feel a second wind coming on. It was a beautifully clear evening, with tall summer corn stretching for miles in every direction, and I was less than 2 hours from being able to hug my family tight for the first time in months. So I cranked my roadtrip playlist a little louder and began to sing along.

If this were a movie trailer, you’d probably hear a voiceover from one of the other characters right about now. He or she would say something cliche like, “Sometimes, all it takes is a single moment for your life to change forever.” Because one second, I was flying down country roads without a care in the world, and the next second, I was colliding with another car at roughly 60 miles per hour.

Thanks to that trusty summer corn, neither of us saw the other until it was too late. Time seemed to slow down in the moments just before our vehicles made contact, then speed back up again as a gut-wrenching cacophony of screeching tires, shattering glass, and metal clanging against metal rang through the evening air.

I don’t have any memory of what happened next (and thank God for that), but I am told that after smashing into the first vehicle, Little Red careened into a second vehicle parked at a nearby stop sign, then screeched to a halt a few dozen yards away. What I do remember is coming to a few moments later, my hands in a death grip on the steering wheel, unsure of whether I was dreaming or actually living this nightmare. I was afraid to move, because what if I discovered that I couldn’t move? However, my engine was making some disturbing noises, so it was probably best for me to get out as fast as I could.

With trembling hands, I cut the ignition and attempted to devise an exit strategy. This was extra difficult given that my thoughts were as shaken and scattered as the contents of my car, but I did my best to gather them up again. Both of Little Red’s front doors had caved in, so it looked as though I would have to shimmy out the back. As I fumbled over the center console, my whole body now trembling uncontrollably, I heard a woman’s voice call out from a distance.

“Are you okay? M’am, are you okay?”

I did a quick inventory — my heart was pounding, blood was dripping from somewhere yet to be discovered, and I felt like I might throw up, but so far I was able to move all of my limbs. So I yelled back, “Yes, I think so! I’m okay!”

When I finally stumbled out of the car a few minutes later, I was shocked by the scene unfolding around me. People were everywhere. Five or six individuals had climbed out of the other two cars. The residents of the only house within view had rushed outside. And before I could even think to call 911, police cars, firetrucks, and ambulances began to arrive. First responders blocked off the intersection, which was strewn with scraps and parts, and quickly began examining each of us for signs of a serious injury. As an EMT took my pulse, I was certain it must be 1000 beats per minute. I was able to provide my name and date of birth, but when they asked who would be coming to get me, I couldn’t remember the make and model of my mom’s car. It’s white, I said, and then the search engine of my brain produced no more results.

By the grace of God, though, all of us walked away from the wreck relatively unscathed. The blood I had noticed earlier was coming from my left arm, where the skin had been sliced away by the driver’s side airbag. I developed some mild concussion symptoms over the next few days (mainly brain fog and memory loss), along with some pretty serious soreness and exhaustion. But given the circumstances, we were incredibly fortunate. This was the ninth accident at that poorly-marked intersection, and others had fared much worse, with cars rolling into the cornfield or going up in flames. My beloved Little Red had seen her last day, but in her final moments she had saved me. And ultimately, nothing irreplaceable had been lost.

A funny thing happened in the wake of the wreck. It was a horribly unfair event — no one had done anything wrong, and yet because of a simple lack of signage, all parties faced insurance dealings, substantial repair or replacement costs, and the shared trauma of a major accident. Nonetheless, in so many ways, I felt an unexpected peace and lightness. Some of this surely stemmed from my immense gratitude for simply being alive, but it was so much more than that.

Over time, as the abrasion on my arm turned from blood red to black and blue to the pale pink of scar tissue, I thought back to that day in confession, when I had prayed the Litany of Trust and left a seemingly hopeless situation in God’s hands. I am certainly not saying that He caused a 3-car accident in order to help me work through some personal issues. And I’m not saying that the wreck alone was a panacea for all past hurts — healing has taken a lot of prayer, spiritual direction, time, tears, and therapy as well. However, God did allow the accident to happen, and in His goodness, He has used it to help me get to a place where prayer, spiritual direction, time, tears, and therapy hadn’t allowed me to go yet. I finally felt free — unchained from the anger, hurt, and resentment that had previously been holding me captive. The forgiveness that had once felt impossible now seemed within reach. I actually hope my scars never fade completely, because I love carrying such a visible reminder of God’s goodness, mercy, and providence everywhere I go.

This experience has also brought me to the cross, where Christ sustained unimaginable wounds for our sake. As Jesus tells us, “I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). His teachings, although often misconstrued as rules and regulations, actually serve as a roadmap to a life of abundance. His example of forgiveness — even and especially when it’s undeserved — can feel impossible or unfair, but ultimately, casting blame, demanding explanations, and withholding mercy only serve to enslave us and force us to toil under the back-breaking burden of resentment. In the moments just before the wreck, I had seen my life flash before my eyes, and I now realized that it was too short, too sweet, and too precious to spend another second living it this way.

Of course, remnants of the original wound, and of the wreck itself, still rear their ugly head on occasion. I still find that I’m not able to trust others as much as I would like because of the places in which my trust was previously broken. I’m still a little jumpy on the road and get triggered by loud noises that remind me of the accident. But by and large, I have been able to forgive. I have been able to move on. And I have been able to find deep joy where there was once a deep cut. Praise God for the wounds that bring us healing.