Beauty Unimagined: Mending and Marriage

I nearly incinerated my finger with a hot glue gun a while back. I was working on a project for my daughter’s wedding and almost welded my finger to the table.

Photo by Colleen Swindoll Thompson

While I soaked one hand in ice, with the other I dusted off the pages of her baby books and began thumbing through them.

One turn of a page and time slowed. Her sassy smile, blonde curls, little round face resting on her soft pillow almost looked through me at that moment.

The button-trimmed page lined with pink presented the illusion that I could keep her life—our lives—from being flawed and damaged. The sun set, my finger cooled, and the visual reminders of days gone by sunk deep into my soul.

Things Fall Apart

There were fewer photos as the years passed. My daughter’s smile changed; eyes that once danced with delight became dull and distant. Her animated enthusiasm turned inward.

Two younger siblings—one with an unbelievable amount of needs, many moves, and the pursuit of perfection obviously took its toll on our lives.

So I did what most do when they believe in illusions; I worked harder at doing the same things with intensified effort.

For no extra charge, here’s a little tip: using more force in the wrong direction will get you further from where you want to be, and, eventually, you will fall apart. I know because we fell apart.

Sometimes falling apart is the best thing that can happen in your life. At first, you’ll hate it, blame God for not holding up His end of the deal (whatever that “deal” was), and feel helpless and hopeless.

Then, you’ll see that you’ve made a “God-sized” mess that only God can scrub clean . . . and you will finally and gratefully let Him handle the clean-up.

Clean-Up in Aisle 5 (A.M.)

God is a great cleaner-upper. I know, because for a while He’s been cleaning up my daughter’s life and mine. It began years ago. The only time of the day I was able to have special time with my daughter was before my son with disabilities woke up—before 6:00 a.m.

She agreed to wake up with me at 5:00 a.m. (which was huge because we are not morning people). I planned NOTHING but to be with her and ask about her.

I didn’t plan a devotional, prayer, Scripture memory, or a Bible study. I planned to listen. Most of the time, we sat by the fireplace and fell back to sleep after about 15 minutes. I kid you not.

To this day, she says that is when God started His renovation work . . .

  • A little talking
  • A lot of listening
  • No fixing
  • Silence
  • Sleeping

And God started polishing.

Photo by Allan Ajifo [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Allan Ajifo [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2014 my daughter was married—almost 22 years to the day after she was born. As I watched her walk down the aisle, I could see that the sparkle in her eyes had returned.

Her wedding veil was lifted by the love of her life . . . almost as gently as God’s light lifts the veil of darkness when we finally give our messy lives to Him.

But we must step down that aisle of . . .

  • Surrender
  • Humility
  • Release
  • Admission of failure
  • Countless apologies
  • Quiet confidence

That what He has started will be fully completed—perfectly crafted by His hands.

Let Me Hear from You

For some of you, this is a wake-up call. For others of you, it’s a reminder that walking with God is not a straight path, perfectly laid out like a picture book page.

Stop chasing illusions and turn over your messy reality to the God who created you, knows you, and is longing to cleanse and beautify your messy life.

What are you waiting for? And if you are in the renovation process, I promise you will be amazed at what God can do. This is my continuing renovation story. What’s yours?

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34 thoughts on “Beauty Unimagined: Mending and Marriage

  1. What a wonderful testament to God bringing us through!! Love hearing it. He is still bringing me through. Cant wait till I can say, with Gods grace we did it!! Thanks for encouraging!!

    • L Allen,
      I’m so glad you found this encouraging. We know God’s ways are not our ways and the transforming process is life long. However, there are periods of significant need…season’s where we must cling to Him, surrender our ways and wills and watch Him unfold His plan. He is never in a hurry, always allows us to decide whether we will follow Him even when it appears we are walking off a cliff. But His character is what got me through and still does. His unchanging nature, perfectly loving, faithful, consistent, and true; everywhere at all times and all powerful…is there any earthly place we can find such resources? So keep clinging, praying, sitting in quiet rest for He will certainly bring you through. I can’t wait to hear what happens. And, if you ever doubt He is there or at work, you can write anytime! I’ve struggled with that often as well. Nothing is shocking or surprising; humanity is a struggling condition and we need one another for help. So I’m here and would love to walk beside you in whatever way you need. May you find Him today, touching your life with His grace and goodness. Great to hear from you!! Colleen

    • Amy,
      Oh how I would love to hear your story. You are exactly right…when we open our hands AND hearts to HIM…it’s a game changer. Having read so many books, studied and have degrees in human development, nothing mattered until I did exactly as you stated. Human knowledge is one thing, God’s work is all together different. I love hearing this and if you ever have time to share, I would love to read how God worked in your life too. What a blessing you are to me today. Thanks so much, Colleen

      • Here is a bit of the story from my blog referring to my healing from the death of my daughter:

        “Jesus was waiting. Waiting for me to turn my eyes from what I had or
        didn’t have here on earth – waiting to transform my wounded heart and

        I thought it strange at the time, but He took me to a desert place. A
        place without visible signs of life. A monochromatic landscape of
        rolling hills of sand and rock with an occasional seemingly bottomless
        abyss. A place without birds or other wildlife, no flowers, trees,
        bushes or grass, no water. Not another human in sight. It was a place
        without pain or fear. In this desolate place, I rested in the love and
        safety of the arms of Jesus. I believe these were encounters with the
        Living God.

        It was here that I was offered the substance of my new self – tossing
        away the facade that remained. A new self, based on a loving, merciful
        God, letting go of my chaotic upbringing and healing the past and the

        I didn’t understand this experience until we visited the Holy Land and I experienced the wilderness as described in the Bible. It was like deja vu. I had been there before in the above experience which repeated itself multiple times as I healed.

        I actually had a hard time hitting publish when I wrote about this. People are so skeptical about how God works in our lives. It makes me cry to read it today. We serve such an awesome God!

        • Oh Dearest Amy,
          I cannot thank you enough for choosing to push “send” on this note. And the anguish you must have felt and do feel at times must be almost unbearable. I too agree that it is here, in these abysmal places of total silence when everything around us appears dead, that God does some of His greatest work. I think most Christians have this upside down…I did until I was in season’s where all seemed hopeless. Truth be told, it was all hopeless without Jesus, my savior, birthing new life…but it was FULLY from HIS hand and heart. How it hurts to let go, to go to the places of death yet live through then at the time. However, you are one beautiful, shining example of what happens when He makes us new. How thankful I am for you, for your perseverance, for your truthfulness and authenticity!!! Thank you for show us the way up is often through the pit of darkness. What clarity and honesty. I plan to keep your words and revisit then when I am in those spots. God has used this note to keep me pressing on in some difficult places now…how thankful I am for you. Please stay in touch! Colleen

        • Amy, as I was looking over our blog page, I ran across your work here and wanted you to know how thankful I am that we have met. What a story, what a message you have to share. May you have a wonderful, Happy New Year’s celebration and may this year bring you peace and contentment in our Lord. Thinking of you today. Colleen

          • Thank you Colleen! I am thankful to have met you too. I love what you share here. It has been quite a gift to me. May your New Year be full of God’s love, mercy and grace!

          • Amy,
            You are so welcome. I hope you had a delightful New Year’s celebration…whether quiet or with many others. May the Lord continue to provide His wisdom and grace to you and your family. Great to hear from you again. Colleen

  2. Colleen,
    What a great post today and a much needed reminder that chasing the illusions of perfection is never attainable. And as I sit here writing this, for me it’s just being misguided. God is the only one that is perfection. Like you mentioned, keep trying to chase that and working harder and hard to try to attain that is all smoke and mirrors. Most importantly it takes away from what we should be focused on which is God. I’m am guilty of this especially during this Christmas season. Although I am focused on the true meaning of Christmas, but also I am running ragged in trying to create the “perfect Hallmark Card” Christmas”. It’s so easy to get lost in all the extra stuff instead of focusing that time and efforts on God. One thing I am going to do is…every time I am interested in looking at something on Pinterest, I’ll just get my Bible out and do a little reading. I hope that will help me stay on the right track.

    • Vicki,
      Hey friend…so good to hear from you! And…a fellow Pinterest lover which I know, is not helpful when you are trying to refocus! I totally get that. One thought that came to mind is to ask yourself “why is it so important to me to have ‘the perfect Hallmark Card’ Christmas”? I would sit with the Lord and in quietness and just consider what it may be that you are longing for or wishing would be ‘just right’ in such things like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, so on. Honestly, we get so disappointed often because our illusions are impossible to meet…an unharnessed imagination cannot be competed with until we let go of the reins. Sometimes we have disappointments or sorrows yet to be grieved and instead of allowing grief to surface, we remain busy pursuing perfection…and I don’t think it’s a purposed, conscious thing most often. But when we sit in quietness, I’ve learned God often allows stuff to begin to bubble up…a memory here or there, a hurt feeling, a loss or painful experience…something that He wants us to release to Him and heal and then, we find peace. I would love to continue talking about this…I’ve had many experiences like this…always busy about life that I don’t learn how to live life. If you have any time, please connect and let’s talk through some of it…as you feel comfortable. However I can help you run to Him and not a distraction, I would love to walk beside you. Thanks so much for your honesty and vulnerability. You are so dear. Colleen

      • Colleen,
        You are one wise woman !!! Your response has hit home and I’m am having a “light bulb” moment. I am going to spend time with the Lord in thought and reflection because there’s some heart ache, disappointments and losses of family members that I’m sure I have not fully grieved and have dealt with fully. There is definitely a link between that and holidays/special occasions.
        I also fall under the category as you described….always busy about life but doesn’t learn how to live life. Boy I’ve got some work to do on myself. That goodness God is patient and still loves me in spite of myself and imperfections.
        Thanks you again for taking the time to share your thoughts and wisdom. You have definitely given me something to ponder and think about….I like the challenge 🙂

        • Vicki,
          The great news is that you are not by any means alone…in fact, you are ahead of many who chose not to stop and reflect, to grieve, to consider their choices and make changes. How I applaud you for such an incredible and thought provoking reply. How great is it that God moved in your soul in such an immediate and powerful way! I’ve learned when He does, He’s up to healing you and freeing you from whatever may be blocking you for experiencing an intimate relationship with our Lord. I just read this morning on presence…by Richard Rohr, he says: “The last words Jesus spoke to his apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane were “Stay awake”; in fact he says it twice (Matthew 26:39-41). I believe the work of religion is, more than anything else, to keep you awake, alert, alive, conscious. Consciousness comes from a wholehearted surrender to the moment. It’s largely a matter of letting go of our resistance to what the moment offers us.” How incredible is this timing! I’ve also learned through many painful experiences that grief work changes us in such incredible ways. As we let go of what we wished were different or the pain inside, there is made space for humility, mercy, kindness, patience, and acceptance of what is. It is so freeing. I would love to help in any way having done a lot of grief work through counseling and on my own. Whatever the need, I’m here. May the Lord illuminate the eyes of your soul so that this holiday season is like you have never experienced before. Peace and joy be with you my friend. Colleen

          • Colleen,
            Thank you for your kind email. I am very grateful for our e/m exchanges, but boy I wish we could get together for coffee and just talk.:) Reading and reflecting on your blog writings as been helpful and have encouraged me to think about life and issues. I loved what you said about letting go what we wished were different. I am wanting to do that and am willing to do the work. Any books or materials that you recommend reading of the subject?

          • Vicki,
            How much I would love to sit for coffee and chat as to long lost friends! However, I am so very thankful we can connect and appreciate your kind words. Of greater value is your dedication to growth. It is not an easy work, but a freeing and fulfilling one…I’m so excited for you. I have a ton of books and workbooks I’ve read or worked through and would love to send you some ideas. If possible, it may help to know a general theme or themes…such as dealing with loss of a loved one, rejection, betrayal, abuse, parenting, rebellion, abortion, addictions, family system dysfunction like alcoholism or a parent with mental health issues, mental health in general, divorce, parental wounds, forgiveness, resentment…you don’t need to be specific unless you would like to. But if you could narrow the field a little, I will zero in on what would be helpful to the best of my ability. Thanks and I look forward to connecting on this. Having spent years in therapy, more years with friends who have walked me through healing…there is so much life to be lived as God changes us from the inside. What wonderful hope! Many blessings today. Colleen

          • Colleen,
            I’ll try and pin point some issues. In past years around Thanksgiving and Christmas I have experience important losses, not all at one time, Grandparents, Brother, Aunt, Step Father. So besides the usual holiday prep I guess I do deal with grief and fear more than other times of the year. Maybe it just comes out in a different ways.
            As a child of divorce, I definitely have issues as a result from that; Parent issues & resentment, difficulty to trust, difficult to forgive and resentment stems from that. I believe that is why I put unrealistic expectations and perfectionistic pressure on so many things in my life. I need to continue to “connect the dots” and recognize these tendencies because I don’t want to have my issues to further effect my marriage and being a Mom to our son.
            Thanks again for your email and thought provoking questions.

          • Vicky,
            This is a great list. Let me look up some stuff and get back to you. I promise I won’t ask a ton more question, but here are a few… how old were you when your folks divorced?
            Any remarriages? (You did mention step-father…good experience?) Siblings? (brother was younger or older? And other siblings)
            Where are you in the birth order?
            I am thoroughly honored to be walking along side you in this. I think you will find 2015 to be one of the best years…not always the easiest but very freeing and full of forgiving yourself perhaps and maybe others, letting go of some sorrows, and experiencing more of Jesus love for you than ever before. Thank you for such a wonderful opportunity. Have a blessed Sunday. Colleen

          • Colleen,
            I was six when they divorced, Mom remarried twice. The 2nd was short lived, her 3rd marriage lasted 25 yr. He was a “functioning alcoholic” A decent man even with his drinking issue. My brother was younger and was killed in a motorcycle accident in his early twenties. That accident happened 20 plus yrs ago. I am the eldest and have no other siblings.
            I hope you are right about 2015. I look forward to the possibilities that lie ahead.
            Thanks for your help with all this.
            Blessings to you as well this Sunday.

          • Vicky,
            Perfect timing. I have a long list but will try to shorten it. First, Any kid who goes through divorce has to finally accept what happened wasn’t their fault, didn’t cause it, couldn’t prevent it, and that their hopes for that ‘perfect childhood’ (which we all long for on some level) will not happen. Judith Viorst wrote an excellent book titled “Necessary Losses”…she is brilliant and the wording is psychologically strong…meaning, her PhD in psychology makes it an excellent work on loss but it’s also sometimes difficult to grasp for some who are unfamiliar with psychology in general. That being said, it would be an excellent work for you to go through. Another author who gets much of this is Melody Beattie. Her books on Co-dependency are excellent. She has three I would recommend: “The New Codependent: Help and guidance for todays generation”, “Journey to the Heart” and “The Language of Letting Go” (the last two are daily meditations), and “Choices”. She also wrote “The Grief Club” which is excellent but covers many areas of grief, not just divorce. Beattie is a surviving alcoholic, her son committed suicide, and she is very empathetic and understanding. Some of her works have workbooks with them…I think her book “Co-dependent No More” (written in the early 90’s) has a workbook which is great. Philip Yancy and Paul Brand’s book titled “The Gift of Pain” is excellent, as well as Yancy’s books “Vanishing Grace” which also has a study guide; “The One Question that never goes away…Why” is also excellent. David Stoop wrote as book a while back titled “Forgiving our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves” which has been a often suggested book in dealing with our personal histories. Another author and dear friend of mine, Dave Carder, has written two excellent books on family stuff…”Unlocking Your Family Pattern’s” and “Secerets of your Family Tree”…may or may not have workbooks. Then two of my favorite authors are Henry Cloud and John Townsend who have written TONS of books…several I suggest are “Loving People: How to love and be loved”, “Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust again in Relationships”, “How People Grow”, “Changes that Heal”, and “Boundaries”. Finally, another of my favorite author’s is Max Lucado and his works, “You’ll Get through This” and “God will Use This” are great. When it comes to death, there are some excellent grief books like “I wasn’t ready to say Good-by”. Marilyn Meberg wrote “The Zippered Heart” and several other’s on learning to know and love who we are. Okay, finally, finally…Brene Brown has studied so much about authenticity, one of her books that is my favorite is “The gift of Imperfection”. Vicki, I know I just threw a bunch of titles at you…I’m sorry if you feel overwhelmed. I would suggest looking through Amazon’s lists and reading about the book and maybe the “Look Inside” part and see what your gut says…some may seem good, other’s may not touch you. I also suggest looking at IFL’s store and topical pages. Several topical pages that may touch a need are “Grief and Encouragement”, “Sexual Abuse”, “Christian Living”. Before looking, I would stop and pray. Ask the Lord to direct you to what He want you to read, to find, to look through. There are authors like Henri Nouwen and Dan Allendar who also have good stuff. Just ask the Lord to direct you and make it a goal to pursue healing as He directs. I hope this helps and if you want me to narrow down some of these, let me know. I can’t wait to hear what you choose and the work God is doing in your life. I deeply care and am here anytime. Most sincerely, Colleen
            Colleen Swindoll-Thompson

          • Colleen,
            Thank you so much for your hard work putting that list together. I will definitely do my research on each book and be in prayer on which direction to go. I’ll keep you posted. I’m excited to dive into this.
            Thanks again,

  3. What a beautiful story, Colleen. Isn’t it wonderful how God uses our small efforts to reconcile relationships? I love that two night owls committed to get up early to see one another. Thanks for adding this post to’s Tuesday special needs link up.

  4. Jolene,
    Oh my goodness…what memories and what miraculous work God does when we get ourselves out of the way. To see her now is truly a sign that God fulfills his promises. I am so thankful…and so glad to know there is hope offered for you in this piece as well. I continue to pray! All my love dear friend. Colleen

  5. That knee-jerk reaction to try harder, it’s a killer! I guess some may have a knee-jerk reaction to try harder to do nothing. Perhaps my trouble is less about what I do or don’t do, and more about being thoughtful and intentional rather than a ‘knee-jerk reactor’. Thanks for making me wonder about myself again.

    • Gina,
      Most of us have a ‘let’s get this thing changed quickly’ response when life is more difficult. A knee-jerk reaction is hard to fight. One of the things I do is examine my level of anxiety about the issue. If I desire change but feel a lot of anxiety, I’m usually trying to change things too quickly or in my own will power. We both know those options don’t produce long term change. Instead, you may want to journal about what it is you would like to see changed, ask the Lord to show you how that can be done, and as you pursue change in His timing, there should be a peace about it. Not that it’s easy, but it can be peacefully rewarding. I hope that makes sense. Let’s talk more about whatever your situation is and maybe brainstorm some ideas together if you would like. I so believe in you. Colleen

    • Anthony,
      Thank you so very much. Sorry for the delay in my reply…the newlyweds have moved here for a short stay before moving to their new location. That along with some family illnesses and untimely life surprises I have not been able to say thank you appropriately. May the Lord’s birth and all that surrounds God’s wondrous works warm your heart and soul as well. Merry Christmas my friend. Stay in touch as this new year unfolds. Colleen

    • Lynda,
      Oh my gosh….I’m alive, I promise. Took some time to regather, reflect, and refresh so I’ve not been here as often.
      I’m back and so good to hear from you! Yes, this is one of my favorites too…I sent it to Ashley and told her how much I loved her.
      How are you? It’s delightful to hear from you friend. Colleen

  6. Hello Colleen, You are so special! I love that you have each other. It is a treasure and bond that will stay with both of you forever. “The date”, 5am and I just absolutely teared up with the way you embraced each other in the silence of this hour and fell fast asleep. Mother daughter bond. It is something I may have always longed for, I think my entire life really, the missing link for the longest while of not having this wonderful experience of embrace of mother daughter able to just be together completely vulnerable and open, and to say ok meet you at 5am and embrace each other ,that love is remarkable and speaks volumes to me the woman and mother that you are. Such a special lady truly.
    I think I finally filled my void of not having had shared this mother daughter bond, all through Jesus showing me His incredible love for me,and His bringing me the nurturing loving care through your blog and you Colleen. I truly believe this as true. As God was opening my heart, He needed show me Love and that He loved me and to know this through someone as in you was who was the one he led me to , to know it was safe and ok to be myself here on your blog, and to feel so loved and cared for. I found this nurturing too through my Psychologist who worked with me with a care for me, and really incredible support too. .
    Both you and your daughter are Blessed and I am so very happy that you had this time together, all truly by listening and ‘hearing’, you were able capture and share this chapter of time and that will never leave the heart and soul as one of the most special moments shared,.So it is like a soul inscribed “album” with one very special 5am memory on a harddrive. I remember your daughters wedding by our connection and how you shared the excitement and joy of making the albums,etc. I recall her colors, seafoam and peach! and all the burlap? beautiful post this was to follow tonite..
    THank you for sharing this incredible growth that occurred for each of you, and that shines so of the importance of listening and taking the so very precious time to be flexible to nurture and share what is essential of.mother daughter unconditional love

    • Sand,
      So good to hear from you. I am so deeply sorry to read of your lonely years as a child. I am forever honored and thankful that the Lord led you to the blog and you are feeling loved, filled up with care, more centered and whole. I believe God brings people into our lives who fill some holes left from our childhood. What gifts of mercy and grace these people are! I’ve had a couple of people in my life who have done this for my wounds, and to know from this place, I have shared in mending your sorrows is a joy beyond description. May God be honored in this process always. I will tell you there were years of heartache for my daughter. We were not always close, I needed to make some major changes as a mother. Through counseling and mentoring, God’s hand on our lives, change happened slowly. I tell you that because it’s important to know the full story, not just the happy ending. We’ve had some very open, honest, hard talks which required me to listen to her soul and change to meet her needs. Parents must listen to their kids of any age if they want to know them well. I’ve read much on parenting to learn; made so many mistakes along the way. And, I still do. One thing I’ve always said is “I’m not a mind reader….if I’ve hurt you or am hurting you in any way, PLEASE tell me, tell me what you need and I promise I will work to change. It’s not always pretty but it’s honest and open, vulnerable and safe. Parents must make a safe place for their kids to express themselves; without safety and a secure bond, it’s too hard for them to be open. Please know how much you are loved; I care deeply for you Sand. You have come so far, so much pain yet so much growth in you. It’s a miracle to watch your beautiful soul unfold and live in the light and abundant life with Christ overflowing out of you. Thank you for always being so affirming, so thoughtful, so caring.
      How is the home stuff coming along? The attorney, mold and home, your mother and sister…life keeps moving but I think you have made such progress and grown in strength that you are up to face these things. You are handling them so well, I’m so thoroughly proud of you. Much love, Colleen

  7. I wish it wasn’t too late. My daughter is 20. She’s decided she doesn’t know if she believes in God anymore. She says she’s not an atheist, but doesn’t see convincing evidence either way. All I can do now is lift her to God and pray she returns. 🙁

    • Sharon,
      I can hear sadness and perhaps disappointment in your voice. I’m so sorry for the struggle you’re in. While your daughter wrestles with faith issues, you’re struggle to let her choose what she believes is one of a parent’s most difficult experiences. And sometimes it doesn’t happen just once. However, if I may be a voice of hope, I am familiar with the feelings you may have. My kids went through some very, very difficult faith/belief seasons. I have gone through some HUGE faith questions and doubts due to things the Lord has allowed in my life. Over time, through counseling, enduring pain, and learning a lot, I’ve found our faith isn’t really “ours” without some questions or doubts. We can raise kids and do all the “right” stuff, but all people make a personal choice about Christ and following Him. Otherwise, it’s the “faith of their family” or “heritage”, but not a faith planted deeply into their own soul. Some of the great thinkers and very Biblically devout share enormous challenges and doubts about their belief in Jesus Christ. C. S. Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, Lee Strobel, and many more were doubting and seeking before ever making a choice to believe in Christ. And, every family will have individuals in different places. We can’t “force” what other’s choose to believe just because that’s been our choice-as hard as that is at times. I found that when I gave space, grace, and listened to what was being doubted or wrestled with, the person kept an open mind. As a parent, I had to bite my tongue a lot; but later learned my quietness and living what I believed made more of an impact that anything I said.
      So Sharon, there is hope…I am going to pray that you will be filled with enormous hope and peace as your daughter struggles through this season. I would love to hear how you are doing-it’s impossible to endure it alone. Thank you for letting me know how I can pray for you and walk with you through this. In His Abundant Grace, Colleen