When Home Is Within: a Wild in the Hollow Guest Post from Mandy Mianecki
In the latest offering to the Wild in the Hollow Guest Post Series, Mandy Mianecki writes something brave for us. I am a fighter, but on a few pivotal occasions I’ve been frozen as well. I wonder if you’ll identify. At least one in five of us will identify with Mandy if the stats are correct.
It’s an honor and a real encouragement to have her story here. Please welcome her!
The mid-June sun shone down amidst clear skies. Lilies, stephanotis, and roses, all snow white, mingled with ivy in the cascade of my bridal bouquet. Five bridesmaids surrounded me, arrayed in butter-yellow chiffon. They clutched bursts of lilac and fuchsia alstroemeria, lemon-yellow roses, and fire-orange lilies the size of ripe grapefruit—exactly as I’d pictured it.
The day flowed flawlessly. Guests ooh-ed, ah-ed, and congratulated. Vows, hugs, songs, prayers, and toasts punctuated the day. Both sets of parents contributed generously. In many ways, it was a dream day.
And yet for much of it, I felt frozen. I’d blame it on an introvert’s nightmare of being the center of attention, but it was more than that. I subconsciously questioned: What do I say to all these people? What am I supposed to be doing? How do I act? Who am I supposed to be today? What is expected of me?
Though the day was scripted—what I’d wear, when I walk down the aisle of my childhood church, the words of my vows, who was in photos, special dances at the reception—there was an overwhelming sense of not knowing who I was in the midst of it.
They say fight, flight, or freeze…and I froze. To cope, I froze. While going through the motions of the whole outwardly beautiful day, internally, I braced myself against waves of fear and anxiety.
It was not a new mechanism for me
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The fluffy recliner was a worn, maroon fixture in his living room. The footrest flipped up, and the spot was coveted—a prime TV-watching location. Parked there, my eyes glued to ABC’s TGIF line-up on channel 7, my eleven year-old self was happy, innocent.
Until he entered the room, a supposed protector. He approached the fluffy recliner, leaned down, and with one brief touch, triggered the freeze response that would grip me far into my adult life.
What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? It became my refrain from that moment, my automatic thought.
That touch, the ones that followed, and the aftermath on confrontation shrunk my world. Shredded my self-worth. Safety vanished, leaving a terrifying world in which I was never good enough.
Perfectionism and people-pleasing drowned my pain and stifled my identity. As a child, approval by teachers, coaches, parents, and authorities became the measure of my worthiness. When I succeeded in their eyes, I was worthy. When I got cut from the softball team, failed to make student council, or got a B or C on an assignment, well I just wasn’t cutting it. I was simply deficient and needed to try harder.
There was one right way to do things. To be okay, I needed to execute that one way. As an adult, that mindset led me straight into legalism. A + B + C = salvation. Follow the church’s teachings, and gain God’s favor and eternal life.
Still, I begged God for confidence. For success. For the ability to forgive my abuser. When none came, I resigned myself to this being my “normal.”
Freezing kept the pain out, but it blocked joy too: joy from compliments, friendship, adventure, my wedding day.
~ ~ ~
The day my world shifted remains etched in my memory. I pedaled leisurely on the stationary bike at Snap Fitness, engrossed in Joyce Meyer’s memoir, Beauty for Ashes. In it, she tells her own story of abuse, forgiveness, and healing. It shocked me to learn that a person could thrive after being abused, that actual healing and subsequent joy exist. That brokenness is not a life sentence of being shackled to a dark history.
But I didn’t see how I’d ever get there.
I’d already taken the concrete steps of severing my relationship with my unrepentant abuser. I’d actually mustered some courage to look into my woundedness with counselors to see what was really there.
Those were necessary and helpful steps, but the heaviness of shattered self-worth and gripping anxiety lingered.
They lingered until I opened my heart to some voices outside the legalistic ones I had allowed to box me in. There’d been no room for messy, and I was surely a mess.
Gentle whispers of truth came through writers and their communities. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts led me to Renee Swopes’ A Confident Heart, which led me to (in)courage and Holley Gerth’s You’re Already Amazing, which led me to my tribe.
I became a freedom writer. In creating a blog, each new post released toxicity from my spirit, and that’s when I heard it: I can’t earn God’s love or my salvation.
God loves me no matter what. Right now. Just as I am. Madly.
My abusers actions had convinced me I was worthless. Person after person in the aftermath of the abuse unknowingly communicated that it was too difficult to stand up for me. I internalized that as my not being worth it, my being too much to handle. But, in a moment of prayer free from legalism, I distinctly understood it:
Jesus stood up for me. Not in a syrupy-sweet, Jesus-is-your-best-friend, spiritual Band-Aid sort of way. He pressed it into my spirit. Jesus didn’t run from Gethsemane when He wanted out. He took my pain, blow by blow, to the cross. He redeemed each wound I endured through the years.
That understanding was like laying a new foundation, brick by brick, filling me with grace, and empowering me to press on.
The Christian blogging community modeled these ideas for me. They reached out in tender care to a heart so broken, I couldn’t discern who I was or what voices to listen to. Online conversations turned into phone conversations, which turned into meetings in person though conferences, retreats, and good old fashioned coffee dates.
This was Jesus with skin on—people who saw me when I couldn’t see myself. They walked with me in the midst of my mess with no judgment or condemnation. They listened to the hard words of my story without flinching or running way. They stayed. They loved me. That love—the love of Jesus through them—initiated the unfurling of more layers of healing.
In the new journey of finding my voice, telling my story, loving myself, and reaching out to others in pain, I discovered that home is embracing the person God created me to be and resting secure in His love.
~ ~ ~
Mandy Mianecki is a wife and mom of four. She is passionate about encouraging others in their healing journeys from brokenness into wholeness, in uncovering their unique kind of God-breathed brilliance, and in living in the freedom won by Christ. A God-sized dreamer, art maker, lover of all things turquoise, and Nutella-eater, Mandy also runs an essential oil business, blogs at mandymianecki.com, and is a contributing writer for God-sized Dreams. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Photo credit: photosteve101 via Flickr
Thursday Evening // I’m re-reading @amberchaines’s #WildintheHollow this week in preparation for @sethhaines’s #ComingCleanBook, releasing next week. These two are a couple of my favorite writers on the internet. Their words draw me to Jesus and push me to write better all at the same time, and their stories whisper again and again that there is so much beauty, even in the hard places. Do yourself a favor and read these books. You won’t be sorry.
“Pushing the envelope in a breathtaking and marvelous way, she brings to the surface that which often remains unspoken in church communities. Amber writes of very real experiences that cause very real pain that occur in the lives of countless very real Jesus followers” (from Catherine Arnsperger’s Amazon review of Wild in the Hollow.)
“Nobody writes like Amber C. Haines. I’m telling you–even the acknowledgements contain nuggets I want to never forget. She writes beautifully and vividly and honestly” (from RMMcDowell’s Barnes & Noble review of Wild in the Hollow.)
It’s not my favorite thing in the world to share lovely things said about Wild in the Hollow, but I do believe our stories are worth sharing. I want to encourage you to do your art well and to share your story with honesty. Thank you for supporting me, Mandy, and others like us whose stories can be windows into real pain and into the very real goodness of God.