I met this remarkable woman several years ago. Kristi Carden and I were both taking our first step out of the boat in the sea of writing at a writers retreat in Todd, NC. She made my heart smile from the very first hug inside that mountain cabin.
Over the years I’ve watched Kristi handle life’s tragedies with courage and grace. I’ve laughed at her shenanigans with her boys, and I’ve been blessed by her love for her husband, Cliff. I believe you will be encouraged by Kristi’s transparency as she struggled for many years to let down her wall that kept others out and allowed her own heart to remain in isolation so she could survive.
Jesus made a difference in this girl’s life. We both pray He will make a difference in yours too.
Welcome to Faith Notes, Kristi!
The wounds of a little girl are always tucked away, like receipts crammed in a purse. They are in there, taking up space, and no benefit. But they are there, with messages carved deep and always at great cost.
Harsh words spoken by a parent, a mocking teacher, abuse, a friend who rejects, accusations, whispers and pointing fingers, betrayal, failure, loss…
My story is one of layers. There are a few big dramatic defining moments where I experienced pain in very profound ways, but the real stuff of my story is more about the stacked up little things that created a thick protective wall around my heart.
By the time I was twenty-three, I was pretty jaded. My most sacred beliefs weren’t about God, but rather myself.
I believed that I was the only one who could protect me.
I believed that if I were truly known, I would be rejected.
I believed that I wasn’t lovable or beautiful or smart or worth having.
I believed that I was too much trouble, too annoying, too loud, too clumsy, too dumb.
I believed that my worth was proportionate to performance.
The resonating message that became the ultimate truth to me was that I should be ashamed, I should hide, I should isolate. Ironically, I am a tried and true extrovert. Externally, I come alive around people and am usually the one telling stories, getting laughs, and entertaining somehow.
Little did anyone know the internal dialog of shame and sorrow that isolated my heart behind the wall. Hiding in plain sight was easy and comfortable.
I was unaware of my distorted reality, because to me, it was reality. Marriage has an unnerving way of revealing the mechanisms we’ve relied on to cope and the lies that have built our fortress. I was completely shocked to have someone in my space that was interested in peering behind the curtain.
He wasn’t satisfied with my surface extroverted mask — he required more of me, and that expectation alone was the beginning of a long journey of tearing down the wall that I had quietly lived behind for many years.
I resented his invasion, honestly.
I felt trapped and violated and exposed when he would work to unearth my heart. I was torn between the logic of his concern and the evidence of his compassion and the “truth” I knew about trusting someone. We got along great when it stayed surface level. I didn’t mind being his friend, roommate, travel companion, and adventure seeker.
But I did mind that he was hurt and felt shut out and wanted more.
I would react with anger and say biting things in the hope that he would back off and be content with the shallow version I offered. He wasn’t content and he didn’t back off, if anything, he pressed harder and dug deeper as he searched for the real me.
I wish I could say that I responded well to this pursuit, but it only escalated my need to sabotage his efforts and the connection he was seeking. A fierce darkness overcame me as he continued to expose my false beliefs. Believing that he was my enemy, I fortified myself even more, and prepared for war.
I could not receive his love, it felt like an attack, because the wounded layers and lying messages convinced me that love and intimacy were dangerous.
So, only nine months into our marriage, we were on a long car trip heading to a friend’s wedding. I was excited because trips are an adventure and it represented escape. I looked to fill my minutes with ways to avoid those internal voices and my bags, figuratively and not, were always packed.
This car ride was long and my husband, looking again for ways to connect, innocently asked how he thought we were doing. My mask slipped so I hurled the words that had been playing on repeat in my mind for months. I said,
“I lied to you at the alter. I don’t love you. I made a mistake, but I guess since we’re Christians we are stuck with each other in a dead marriage.”
He pulled our car to the shoulder of the highway. I wouldn’t look at him and I was keenly aware of the large semi-trucks speeding past us, making our car sway with each gust of wind. I expected his fury, his anger to boil out in rejecting waves.
I expected to get what I deserved: disdain and disgust.
I would be in familiar territory if he lashed out and spewed the realities of who I was back in my face. I was waiting. But he said,
“I am sorry you feel that way. You must be miserable. But, let me tell you something, I didn’t lie at the alter. I do love you and I will continue to love you, if you love me or not. I am not going anywhere and I will wait because I consider you a gift from God. But, you may want to figure out how to love me. You have a choice. “
I wish I could say that angels started singing and all the walls built around my heart crumbled to dust in that moment. No, that didn’t happen, but a crack in the wall was created as my husband chose to attack it with grace.
He demonstrated something supernatural in that moment. With Christ’s help, he was able to see past the caustic words I spoke and recognize the source. The stored up layers of shame were speaking and shooting bullets of protection.
All the lies collided with the Truth and it began the process of deconstruction.
This process was long, so long and exhausting.
Once I recognized the power the lies had on me, I began to earnestly seek freedom. I worked hard and chose to expose myself to others and my husband. It felt so risky and it was because there were times of re-wounding and going backwards a little.
But I dug down deep, determined not to be ruled by tucked away scraps with no value. I surrounded myself with strong safe women who championed my fight and stood along side of me and held me up.
My husband was gentle in the journey; he was patient as I wrestled to crush my real enemy. He pointed me towards Truth consistently so that the voice of God and His wisdom became louder than the shame.
The bulk of this demolition and reconstruction took about ten years, but honestly, the maintenance doesn’t stop until we reach Heaven. I am still bombarded with lies and there are times that I debate their reality with myself.
But, thankfully, the Truth has planted itself deeper and is more powerful than the darkness.
The Lord has transformed my wall from a dark fortress to hide behind into His castle where I feel safe to invite others.
In hindsight, I see how influential the little messages that get written on our hearts are. I am amazed at the power shame has to keep us prisoner.
But Truth, God’s redemptive Truth, is bigger.
He pursues us and pushes us towards freedom, even when we feel suffocated by it. Hiding behind the wall of lies and feeding shame is not life, it is not what we are created for. Our enemy uses our story against us to bolster his attack, he disguises lies as truth. He tells us that we only deserve to stay in that place because shame is very convincing.
My story is still unfolding. Messages are still being sent my way, but I am better equipped to determine what needs to be discarded and what needs to be planted. I am thankful that God has allowed me to shepherd other women on this journey as a counselor. I am thrilled to shed light on the lies and see the bloom of life once Truth is embraced.
Nothing is wasted in our stories.
God’s Truth is always the antidote to shame.
More about Kristi:
Kristi Carden likes to see life as an adventure. She knows that there are always new people to meet, things to do, places to see, and stories to tell. She lives adventurously with her husband and three teenaged boys and is a counselor with her own private practice in Greenville, South Carolina. She is passionate about sharing God’s Hope and Redemption to the broken hearted through spoken and written words.
To learn more about Kristi, please visit her website:
Thank you so much for stopping by. I would love for you to share what’s on your heart in the comments below. Scroll a little farther down and you’ll see where you can leave your comments. Together, we can find the nearness of God in our darkest moments.
Sweet blessings to you,