By Jenn Fossee, Family Life and Children’s Ministries Director at St. Philip’s Church (Pittsburgh, PA)
“Hey, are you okay?”
“I’m fine… really. I’ll be fine.”
How many times have you heard that from someone you care about? Now, let’s reframe the question. Think about how many times you’ve said that to someone in your life. They ask you how you are, and you figure it’s easier to just say the cliché response rather than really open up, be vulnerable, and tell them what’s really going on. You think, they really don’t care that much anyway, and they’re just asking to be polite.
Really? Are you truly fine?
Or is that “fine” really a carefully used word to hide what’s going on inside?
I was that person, the one who had hurt and pain eating me alive but insisted that I was fine. I mean “time heals all things,” right? Eventually, I would get over all the things that were weighing so heavily on me.
Right? Wrong. Unfortunately, I’ve found it to be truer than ever that time cannot heal the pain. I know because I’ve tried it. I bottled up my pain and refused to face it – I kept it in the dark never allowing it to see the light. I refused to talk about it, even with people I knew deeply longed for me to open up to them. I’ve had more of these experiences than I’d like to admit to; but what I’ve realized, and what I share with my daughters now, is that if I had just addressed the pain when it happened, maybe I wouldn’t have continued to let trauma sit in my heart, residing and lying where God’s truth was supposed to be living. Maybe I wouldn’t have made the choices that I did in an effort to cope and subconsciously deal with my pain – only leading to more trauma and more pain.
Now, let me just level with you guys. If you would have met younger Jenn, you would’ve called me “boy crazy.” Not only was I always trying to get their attention, but I also was always shifting my behavior to be exactly what they wanted me to be. You will see that as I open up about my trauma that my behavior affected my relationships and how I chose to live my life.
When I accepted Christ at sixteen and worked on surrendering my life to Him, I did a pretty good job. Well, at least with most things… but ironically, boys and my dating relationships were not something I thought I needed to surrender. As a result, I found myself failing to live my life the way Christ wanted me to in the relationships I pursued.
I remember having a firm belief that was set in my brain and wasn’t changing – there was NO WAY I was going to have an intimate relationship with a guy and “go all the way” or even give myself to him until I was married. That was a boundary I was not willing to cross. As I quickly learned, some of my boyfriend’s weren’t on board with that, and broke up with me after I shared my conviction to save sex until marriage. It hurt me deeply at the time, but I stayed strong in my conviction because I knew that I was honoring God in my decision.
My senior year of high school, I started dating someone who was a Christian. He was a leader at youth group, played in the youth group band, and attended a Christian college. in my mind, he was the total package. He was fun, funny, cute, athletic, kind, and — the best part — followed Jesus. We did our best to honor God in our relationship, but the physical part was still hard. As my emotional attachment to him was increasing, it was only natural that my physical attachment to him wanted to increase, too. We crossed many boundaries, which I now see as toxic, but I felt okay about it at the time, because we were not having sex. We were both confident that we weren’t going to cross that line…
Or so I thought.
Plot twist: He may not have been crossing that boundary with me in our relationship, but he was fine with crossing it with someone else. One day he confessed to me that he chose to cross that boundary and he cheated on me. He slept with another girl while he was away at college. I was crushed. I tried to forgive him, but I realized I couldn’t ever marry a man who chose to betray me that way.
After our breakup, I went off to college and, not only parted from my old high-school life, but also decided maybe living a Christian life wasn’t really for me after all. I didn’t find Christians to surround myself with and chose to walk the path more traveled; A path that took me to places I was never meant to go, a path I was not created for but choose to put myself on regardless.
The pain from the betrayal of my high school love was not going away like I thought it would. It was lingering, and I couldn’t quite get my mind wrapped around it. Plus, I wasn’t seeking Jesus in any of this, so I wasn’t able to see it clearly.
The easiest thing for me to do was numb the pain. I found myself going to parties, drinking too much, and experimenting with drugs. On the outside, I looked like the life of the party. But inside I was just trying to bury the pain and the hurt. Partying worked for a while… but it never dulled the sadness and confusion quite long enough to satisfy me.
I started to cut, not long after that. Self-harm was something I found to be a temporary relief from the emotional pain I couldn’t heal. It didn’t take long for someone to notice and ask me what had happened – and those two little words popped right out of my mouth again.
I was far from fine.
At the end of my freshman year, I left school and moved back home. I didn’t want to be there anymore, thinking it was that college in Virginia that I needed to get away from. So I went home, but I took my pain with me. I wasn’t just dealing with the pain of heartbreak anymore, but I also was dealing with the trauma from conscious decisions I had made that piled on the pain… one layer after another.
I wish I could end here – telling you that this is where my trauma ends. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the end of my story.
I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just set the scene by saying that I was out with friends one night at a bar and met a charming grad-student from Australia. We dated for a couple of weeks and I had gone back to his apartment several times. During our conversations, it eventually came up that I was still a virgin. Subconsciously, thoughts started popping up: why was I saving something until marriage when everyone I knew was fine with just having sex with whoever? Maybe this was what I needed – to finally move on and end this hurt.
In the midst of the heat of the moment, I suddenly realized I really didn’t want to give myself away – I stopped my boyfriend at the time, said no, and tried to get up from the bed… but he looked at me and told me it would be fine. What I thought was mine to give was taken from me instead.
“Are you okay?”, he said.
“Oh yeah… I’m fine.”
I was further from fine than I’d ever been.
It took years for me to even talk about being date-raped, to acknowledge that it happened to me and to open up about blaming myself for allowing it to happen in the first place. Again, I buried the pain, and the cycle started all over again.
I was accepted to a new college in Colorado and moved there, taking all my baggage with me. More parties, more broken relationships, more dangerous choices, and more giving myself away, hoping to find happiness and healing.
Blinded by the darkness of my sin and shame, I continued down the same path I chose years ago, not stopping for a moment to think — maybe this is not the way, maybe there is another path I should be taking, one that’s not so burdensome and hard. But I just kept going.
This behavior carried with me and, fast forward a few years later, I met “the one.” He didn’t seem to mind all of my baggage; in fact, he had a lot of his own that we didn’t quite unpack before we got married, either. Plus, he kept me going. He was all about the party, the fun, the next good time… and I was totally on board. Even in the middle of the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the breakups and the makeups, we got married – and NOW, I really could say that I was “fine.” I mean, I was living the dream.
That is, until that picture came crashing down. Six years into our marriage, two beautiful girls later, I found myself collapsed, completely destroyed, emotionally broken beyond recognition on my bathroom floor. Finding out that my husband was having an affair with a friend of mine… it was enough to break every single crack from the years of pain that had never been healed wide open.
It was in that place, on that bathroom floor, with tears streaming down my face, in between the overwhelming soulful sobs, that I called out to Jesus, and He met me there. This is where my journey back to fine, back to peace, back to healed, began.
I don’t tell you my story to scare you. I don’t tell it to gain your sympathy. I tell you my story to highlight what I wish I could have done it differently; I tell you to share the wisdom that I’ve learned in the healing process, and to offer hope for someone who is mirroring my decisions.
So often we refuse to bring our pain into the light because we’re afraid of actually facing it, dealing with it, or admitting to it. So, instead we bury it. We pile things on top of it, and we run as fast as we can, thinking eventually that it will heal with time or with distance. In all reality, it’s like breaking your leg and not going to the doctor, because you’re sure in time it will heal. There’s a lapse in this thinking though; your body will heal, eventually, it just won’t heal properly. It won’t heal the way it should, so you can go back to walking normally or even running again.
After a broken bone is treated, new bone tissue begins to form and connect the broken pieces. When a broken bone fails to heal it is called a “nonunion.” A “delayed union” is when a fracture takes longer than usual to heal.
Our pain from a traumatic event is very similar to this. When we incur a trauma in our lives, one that causes excruciating pain, it causes a break in us, one that, without the proper healing, will affect how we live our life, how we see ourselves, and how we see others. Trauma deeply affects our perception of the world, and more importantly, trauma affects our perception of God. Trauma creates a sort of nonunion, or a disconnection, with us and with our relationships. We aren’t able to connect the way we did before, because something in us has changed – something is broken and needs to be healed.
The only one who had the power to heal that pain, that trauma, that brokenness, was the one who created me… Jesus. When I laid it all down at His feet, when I said I can’t go on and asked Him to come into my mess and save me from the pain that surrounded me, the healing began. Instantaneously. That doesn’t mean it was easy… just like a physical injury, I had to do the hard work in order to heal. I had to listen to my doctor (God) and follow His instructions. The healing process took time, and that’s something I want you to hear. Your brokenness, your compounded trauma, didn’t come overnight… many times, it’s from years of built up rejection, hurt, actions, and words that need to be replaced by the Holy Spirit in order to be made new. That sort of hard but holy work takes time.
My days of saying “I’m fine” may be behind me, but I’m reminded daily that in every situation, every opportunity, and every relationship, I have a choice…. the choice of doing it on my own or doing it with Christ. In choosing Christ, I know that in the good times and in the bad. I have a Savior who has set a path before me to walk not alone but with Him by my side.
And, today, that’s how I’m able to say the words “I’m fine” and truly mean them.
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
John 14:27 New Living Translation (NLT)
Jenn Fossee is a powerhouse of a woman. Her passion for kids and Christ is hard to miss as she oversees the children’s ministry at her church, St. Philip’s, in Moon Township, PA right outside of Pittsburgh. Jenn’s passionate about helping families to connect through community, mentoring teenagers and doing life with them, and there’s never a day you won’t see her smile (I’m serious… meet her and then tell me you don’t agree). Jenn is the mom to two daughters – Lexi and Maddie – whom she loves more than anything in the entire world. I asked Jenn to share her story about trauma in her own life because I’ve gotten a first-hand look (as she’s one of my mentor’s and best friends!) at her healing journey as she’s gotten to know God’s heart for her more and more. Her story is beautiful because she’s given everything to Him. I hope it encourages and spurs you on to seek healing, no matter where you’re at, because that’s exactly what our friendship has done for me! Follow her on Instagram to keep up with everything she’s doing + get to know her!