Category Archives: Healing

A reminder of brokenness — Guest post by Gillian Marchenko (and book giveaway!)

I’m delighted to welcome Gillian Marchenko as a guest blogger today!

Whether your life has been touched by a child with special needs or whether you’re simply struggling to accept the gift of brokenness God has given you, you will be blessed and moved by Gillian’s memoir.

Enter to win a copy of Sun Shine Down, the story of Gillian’s daughter Polly, by doing any of the following, then leaving a comment to let me know what you did:

  1. Like Gillian’s facebook page.
  2. Subscribe to Gillian’s blog.
  3. Like my facebook page.
  4. Subscribe to my blog (click “follow” to the right).
  5. Leave a word of encouragement for Gillian below.
  6. (Less conventional, more helpful) Stop for a second and pray for Gillian and her family as she has three speaking engagements this week, including the National MOPS convention this weekend.

The winner’s name will be randomly drawn and announced tomorrow morning.

Now join me as Gillian remembers the importance of brokenness in her life…


It’s supposed to rain later today.

My left arm aches.

I broke it in two places, two different times in my childhood, and now sometimes when the weather changes it aches, either up near my shoulder or in my wrist; the places it broke.

The aches remind me of those times; the agony and pain, the fear of being in an emergency room as a child, spending the night for the first time in a hospital, getting attention from classmates and extended family, people signing my cast, ‘Get well soon!’. Me trying to itch the inside of my cast with a hanger, not being able to swim for half of a summer because I couldn’t get my arm wet. Being a bit doped up on the medication to ease the hurt.

My broken arm became my whole world. How could it not be when the pain was great, instant, and overwhelming?

At the time there was no way of knowing that the pain wasn’t going to be my new normal.

For all I knew I could be in that kind of fear and pain for the rest of my life.

I went to the hospital and got help. The excruciating pain eventually turned into a dull ache and then only, a flimsy itch.

Life went back to normal. I was found splashing around in the kiddie pool within eight weeks.

But a dull ache returns now and then.

And I am reminded that at times in my life, I’ve been broken.

Recently I went to four parent-teacher conferences for my kids in two different schools.

I was prepared to discuss each kid, I thought. But when I sat down with Polly’s teacher (who has Down syndrome and stars in my recently published memoir, Sun Shine Down), I was surprised to read that she hadn’t met her goals. After a whole year at school Polly still couldn’t figure out classroom procedures. She struggled with transitions every day.

Polly was cute and everyone loved her, but basically she was still just walking around making messes in class.

And the dull ache, the fact that I had a child with a disability started up again.

Polly’s birth shattered me. I teamed up with Jesus and my husband Sergei to put myself back together, but much like that pesky jigsaw puzzle you’ve almost completed, a few pieces were lost in the mix, and now I walk around with empty spaces.

Most of the time the spaces are used for good.

I have more compassion for others.

I understand grace better.

I relate to others through my brokenness.

And sometimes it feels right.

But there are other times when it still breaks my heart that Polly is behind her peers.

I am OK with Down syndrome.

But there will always be days in my life where the rain will come.

And because I’ve been broken, I will ache sometimes.

It doesn’t mean I love my kids less or that I wish my life was different.

It just aches.

And that’s OK, I think.

Gillian Marchenko is an author and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her book, Sun Shine Down, a memoir, published with T. S. Poetry Press in the fall of 2013. She writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection, and adoption. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Gifted for Leadership, Literary Mama, Today’s Christian Woman, MomSense Magazine, Charlottesville Family, EFCA Today, and the Tri-City Record. Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks for the rest of us.

Buy Sun Shine Down on Amazon, Kindle, or Nook

Follow Gillian and her family at, on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest


In over my head: choosing my focus

Some people have serious problems that we rarely hear about; others have less serious issues that are brought to our attention quite frequently.

I’ve spent time pondering this. (Yes. Really.)

I’ve wondered if the Eeyores among us really have more problems than the rest, or if it might have something to do with perspective.

My personal conclusion?

Some people really do have what seems to be an unfair amount of trials heaped upon them.

And I don’t understand that.



If you read my ebook (available for Kindle or Nook) last week, you know that panic and anxiety were a very unwelcome part of my life for a few years and that my focus during those years was crucial in my recovery.

Here I am now, on the other side of that journey, tempted to think I can let up a little with the focus thing.

But the truth is, the deep darkness of fear that threatened to suck the joy out of life has merely changed to a sea of new issues — distractions, stress, busyness, and sure, a few problems.

There is always something…

…something that wants to steal my focus away from God’s goodness, His life-giving Word, and the joy found in His presence.

God’s whisper about focus found it’s way to my heart once more as I finished a chapter of my memoir this weekend. This chapter fills you in on some of the details preceding my panic attacks:

We celebrated the first day of 2010 with a dive off the shore of Fort Liberty. Our friend and instructor, Nick, had discovered a steep underwater cliff laden with bright corals, sponges, seaweed, and tropical fish. It would be our first group dive; so far, Nick had tutored Jarod and me one-on-one, but now that we were becoming more advanced, he was confident the three of us could dive together.

We swam a couple hundred feet into the little bay before we began our descent. Careful to equalize our ears every few feet, we sank lower and lower into the blue. To our right was a jeweled wall — yellow, blue, and purple fish, pink and orange corals, and delicate sea crabs. Above, below, and in every other direction was the deep blue of the sea. Had I been watching our dive on an Imax screen, I would have leaned forward in awe.


I was awed, but as Nick and my husband pushed forward and downward, my heart and mind rebelled. Detachment, uneasiness, and anxiety pressed harder than the weight of the water. I did my best to shake it off — to focus on the breathtaking beauty around me, to avoid being the wimpy one in the trio, but it was no use. I kicked ahead and tapped Jarod. I pointed my thumb up, feeling like a fool, yet desperate to rise to the land I knew.

Back on top of choppy waves, I apologized for messing up the dive. Jarod encouraged me to try again — I would be fine. But, I knew something weird was going on. I swam back to shore and let the guys finish the dive on their own.

As they dove down once more, I shuddered. I would never go back in.


In a matter of hours, my panic began in earnest. If you read Take Courage, you know the diving wasn’t the problem; it was just one more proverbial straw that helped break my back.

But the darkness that I entered paralleled perfectly with that Fort Liberty dive:

My battle was one of the mind. The underwater cliff of Fort Liberty became my reality; I was surrounded by deep, dark blue — enough to overwhelm and defeat me. Only this time, swimming ashore was not an option. There would be no escape, no chickening out of the test. I had been provided with the appropriate gear; the Spirit of God would be my breathing apparatus. This wasn’t a test to the death — though it felt like it. But it was a test of my focus. I could look at the treasure cove on the one side — mining the truth and beauty of God’s Word, or I could feed my fear with the endless blue on every other side.

Today, I am still tempted to stare into the blue. Like I said, it’s not about fear and panic right now… it’s just about the negative. It’s so easy to be Eeyore. But it’s not harmless and certainly not cute — it’s wrong and deadly.


But I’m reminded…

whatever the depth of all that blue around me, however trivial or heavy it may be,

there is treasure to be found off to the right.

It imparts joy.

It restores the soul.

It renews the mind.

And its beauty is best beheld by those in over their heads.

My new ebook (free PDF this week!) — Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear


Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear is a concise, two-part ebook offering hope to those, who like me, have found themselves in the grip of anxiety, adrenal fatigue, and trauma-related issues.

In the first section I share glimpses of eight drama-filled years in Haiti preceding my own personal crisis and in the second I offer insights for making spiritual, mental, and physical choices of courage.

If you are a blog subscriber, you’ve heard bits and pieces of my story. Download the ebook for the bigger picture!

Find Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear for your Kindle at for $2.99


Sign up for my newsletter and receive the PDF version of Take Courage for free this week!

Send an email to and you will receive the link to download your PDF copy of the ebook!

*If you have not yet subscribed to receive regular blog updates via email, remember to click the “Subscribe” link to the right to do so!

(…But, remember to send me an email at to receive your free PDF!)

There is no easy life… but there is hope.


Have you — like me — ever found yourself thinking “I don’t believe anyone else has it this hard?”

Some days we know we’re being ridiculous, but other days we really wonder. We see organized moms, happy couples; healthy, beautiful, prosperous people. We feel quite alone with our impossible workload, our debt, our anxiety, our marital struggle.

Today I am honored to guest post at The Better Mom!

Please join me there to read the rest of this post. You’re just a click away:

There is no easy life… but there is hope.

Who am I?

I heard you say, “I’m not sure who I am anymore,” and I understood.

Crises and even natural changes did that to me too. It may happen again.

Sometimes who I am requires very little analysis.

But there are also times when everything seems to hang on the answer.


In my childhood search for self, I took my cues from those around me.

The adults in my life told me I had potential: I was bright. I had talent. I was responsible. For better and for worse, I measured myself by their standards.

Who I was — who I might become — was exciting.

As a wife and mom of five, doing ministry in a sun-scorched land, my duties often swallowed my identity.

I was the one who made the meals, wiped up spills, changed the diapers, woke to feed babies. I rode a four-wheeler, I started the generator, I shopped the open market,

I fed hungry people. I nurtured, I loved, I served, sometimes forgetting that I was not the “living water” or “bread of life.”

Who I was exhausted me.

When our Red Sea parted, and God’s dry path led us to the States, I faced a new crisis.

I was no longer a missionary; a server; a giver. Rather, I was broken. I was displaced, disoriented, and fragile. I didn’t recognize myself.

Who I was plunged me into fear and confusion.

Today, I am grateful; still on the journey, sometimes overwhelmed, but trusting and growing.

I am a recipient of unmerited favor. I see God’s work, inside and out. Sometimes my callings seem too big; other times too small.

But the truth is, who I am has never changed.

Ever since I trusted Him thirty-one years ago, who I was… was His child.
From that point on, God has not measured me. He already knows I fall short.

My strivings, my abilities, my reputation, my “goodness” could never be enough; could never define me.

While I forget… while I measure myself by other’s perceptions, my roles, my output, the fact remains — that’s not who I am.

I am found in Him.


Who am I?

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow.
A wave tossed in the ocean.
A vapor in the wind.
Still You hear me when I’m calling.
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling.
And You’ve told me who I am.
I am Yours.

from Who Am I by Casting Crowns

Reaching out of our inner circle: 4 things we can do to comfort the hurting in our extended community


As I write this, we are all grieving the loss of life brought about by recent tornadoes.

In only a few days or weeks, there will likely be yet another heart-wrenching headline.

Our broken world, our temporary home, is full of tragedy.

We need only glance up from our busy lives for a second to spot someone who is hurting profoundly.

When we are relationally close to the one hurting, we most often find ourselves plunged into the valley along with them.

We may not know exactly what to do or say, but we are forced to face the pain head-on — acknowledge the situation and fumble our way along, trying to be the best friend we possibly can.

But what about the times we’re peripheral to the sorrow?

When we’re acquainted with the hurting individual,

but are unsure how involved they want us to be in their pain?

Or when their sad story is all we know of them so far?

Do we speak of it?

Or do we allow the “white elephant in the room” to swallow any words of encouragement… any words at all?

broken window

I’ve asked six friends to share more of their thoughts with us (as a sequel to “Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know).

Their journeys through pain allowed them to experience both the awkwardness and the blessings of suffering in their respective communities.

From them we’ve already gained insights for our inner-circle.

So, what would they say to us as we relate to the hurting in our extended community?

1. Acknowledge the issue.

Even in our pain, we know how uncomfortable the situation is. If we were in your position, we’d be at a loss for words as well.

But even more awkward than saying something is saying nothing.

“I’m so sorry” is music to our ears.

You don’t have to address the issue every time you see us, but the use of this simple phrase in one of our early interactions will put us at ease in your presence in the days ahead.

We don’t expect eloquence or profundity… just a sincere word of kindness.

2. Reach out in some small way.

Practical help will almost never fail to bless us: food, a gift card, or free childcare go a long way.

Notes of encouragement, the words “I’m praying for you,” a hug, or comforting Scriptures impact us more than you can imagine.

We see that you care when you offer to help, take us to coffee, or listen.

    Even if we do not take you up on your offer,

we will always value your gesture.

3. Think carefully before you speak to us or about us.

Be gentle, patient, kind, considerate.

Put yourself in our shoes.

Consider our privacy as you speak to others or use social media.

Be mindful of what we’ve gone through — don’t ask us to deliver a meal to a new mother if we’ve just lost a baby; don’t invite us to a watch a romantic comedy if we’ve just separated from a spouse.

A few moments of careful thought can spare us all a lot of discomfort.

4. Pray for us.


Prayer extends hope like nothing else.

When you sincerely, fervently intercede on our behalf, our trembling faith grows.

As we suffer, we can’t help but wonder if God still sees and cares; but when we know another is also on their knees, we are strengthened.

We are reminded that “…the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)

A final thought…

As I spoke with these women, they (and I) were surprised at the details they remembered;

both the agonizing awkwardness of people who never said a word regarding the darkness they were in — who thought it was “none of their business”…

and then in contrast, the life-giving support of those who promised to pray or offered “a word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).

As ill-equipped or uneasy as we may feel, we are each capable of blessing the hurting person along our path today.

If we will allow the Holy Spirit to move us out of our comfort zone for moment, there’s no telling how He may choose to bless someone through us.

Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know


I’ve experienced both.
There was a season of fear, confusion, hurt, and danger. My friends were out of reach, and I felt parched.

Years later, in the midst of new trials, friends were there, pouring life into my thirsty spirit. They were the hands and feet of Christ, bringing healing and sanity.

The apostle Paul has been there too:
“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn — fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7a).

Because our world is so horribly broken, we have all heard pain in a friend’s voice:

“He’s leaving me.”

“It’s cancer.”

“I lost the baby.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s an addiction.”

What do we say when our friend’s world is crumbling?

When we can’t fathom their pain?

It’s hard to enter in. We feel inadequate. The awkwardness immobilizes us.

But, we are the Body of Christ. Our friends need us to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but also “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

I’ve walked through a few shadowy valleys, but some of my friends have been in places I can only imagine.

As I dialogued with six women about their seasons of darkness,

I gleaned eight insights on “friendship in the valley” from their comments.

Here’s what they want you to know…

1) Your emotional involvement makes all the difference.
We need a good listener more than anything. We know you have many other important things to do, but when you put them on hold to hear us out, we notice and are deeply grateful.

We are touched by the tears you shed with us; the way you feel and live the pain along with us.

We appreciate your sensitivity to what we need at a particular moment — your prayer for wisdom before you open your mouth to speak.

We want to talk about our troubles with you, but we also want you to feel free to talk about other things.

While judgmental and self-righteous words kill our spirits, we do welcome loving biblical counsel.


2) We will never forget the ways you help us.
Years after our crisis, we will remember that you helped us pack our bags, that you cleaned our house, that you cared for our kids, that you put away the baby clothes, that you helped us get out of bed.

We may resist your efforts to help at first, but we need you to be persistent.

3) Comparisons usually aren’t helpful.
It can be good for us to remember that we are not the only ones in the world suffering, but please be careful of unequal comparisons. A spouse who is perpetually sloppy is not the same thing as a spouse who is morally unfaithful. A child with the stomach flu is not on the same level as a child suffering the effects of chemo. Think twice before saying, “I know how you feel.”

4) We appreciate confidentiality.
We understand that you need the freedom to talk openly with your spouse, but beyond that, we hope you understand that our stories are private. If you want to share details with others, please check with us first. We need to be able to trust you.

5) We desperately need your prayers.
We want to be told that you’re praying for us, and we need that to be true. In our darkest moments, we long to know that someone is lifting us up before Heaven’s throne.

6) We are not “normal” right now.
We are grateful for “no-strings-attached” friendship. We’re not in a position to reciprocate every thoughtful thing you do for us. You may wonder why we forget to return calls, send thank you notes, or ask questions about your life. Sometimes we just can’t think straight and are in dire need of patience and grace.

7) It can be hard to ask for help.
Most of the time, we feel awkward asking you to give even more of yourself. We realize you have your own life and can’t always be there, but we appreciate every offer of help — each time you reach out.

8) We are learning that our hope is in the Lord.
As much as we love and appreciate you, we have to learn that you cannot be God. You have limitations.  At times, we may lean heavily on you, but we both need to learn that you can’t meet our every need. We are in the process of learning that His grace is sufficient.


For another fascinating perspective on the healing that community brings, check out Mary DeMuth’s recent blog:

***Is there anything you would add to this list of insights? What have your friends done that have held you up during your stormy season? Please leave a comment below.

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