Broken to be Free

Broken to be Free

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. What if I have packed away unsavory parts of my life in such airtight containers that I have not allowed the Spirit of the Lord to breathe freedom into the complete story of my life? My life hosts many hideous, unsavory, incredibly broken moments. In my pursuit of freedom from those atrocious moments, I erroneously decided that packing them away into oblivion would release me from their power.

I have lived a compartmentalized life. My childhood has been neatly packed away in an attic, stacked in locked trunks. According to my previously existing belief system, I have seen myself as an adult living an adult life, and my childhood has been of no value to my current existence.

This approach to life has been limited at best, and complete fragmentation at worst. I want to walk in truth regarding my entire existence. I desire integration and light, in all areas of my past, present and future.

I don’t want some chapters of my life hidden away in locked boxes, with the keys long destroyed. This is not real life. As a whole, integrated being, I want to carry a life narrative that is valuable and beneficial, as it informs my present and can benefit the narratives of those surrounding me. I want to allow the Spirit of freedom to breathe truth and light into my airtight boxes that house my unsavory past. In order for that to happen, I need to open them up to the Spirit.

I allowed the fog to obscure my past for a reason. I locked fragments of my life away in trunks in order to protect others and myself.

At least, I thought that protection would be found in hiding. I have discovered, however, that I can’t really hide from the truth. It comes rushing in like a tidal wave when my defenses are down: in the depths of the night, in my deepest REM dreams, in the moments when I am most vulnerable, in glimpses of my child-self in the faces of my beloved children. The fingers of the fog that obscure my past reach into my present to rob me of the life that God has designed for me to live. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I have been so afraid that in the process of breaking open the trunks of my fragmented past, I will break myself forever, beyond repair. I didn’t trust truth to set me free. I thought it would unleash a monster, instead.

I was wrong.

I am starting to tie a rope around my waist, securely fastened in the present, and with the guidance of God and his word, alongside the help of trusted friends, navigate the dense fog of my obscured past.

It has been vital for me to allow God to illuminate the hidden, secret places in the safety of a counselor’s office, or over coffee in my living room with a trusted mentor or friend. This is a delicate process, and there is no obvious time frame. It takes as long as it takes, and sometimes the heart can only handle a tiny step at a time.

I am learning, however, that shining the light bit by bit is not unleashing a monster, but knitting my fragments together. It is allowing me to see my story as a whole, and setting me free to enter into a more abundant, meaningful, comprehensive life.

We don’t need to be afraid of being broken open, because when we finally break open, our spirits can break free. Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

She’s carrying a million heavy burdens silently, wearing a brave mask. Knowing her well, I see past her mask and into her fear. I tell her about my struggle with resistance, brokenness, tears and healing, and I encourage her not to be afraid of breaking open.

She says, “But Megan, what if I break open and can’t be put back together?” And I wonder, what if breaking open and not being able to be put back together is what we all need in order to really be free?

What if in breaking open, we allow the Spirit of the Lord to bring freedom? In being unwilling to break open, we often avoid truth in our lives.

Truth and freedom are intimately connected. Have we built our walls high in order to protect others and ourselves from certain truths that seem to be too much to carry? Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes unintentional, but avoidance of truth places us in bondage.

The truth can be painful. Sometimes, we can only take it in tiny little bites, like with a toddler-sized spoon. Sometimes, we can only handle one bite a week, but we need to be pursuing the truth in our lives.

It can get messy. There are weeks when I let little bits of truth in, and it can feel overwhelming at times. I step into the unknown of the truth and hope that God can handle my shattering heart and broken-open life.

He has yet to show himself to be unreliable with my intimate places.

Yes, being shattered and broken is terrifying. It can look ugly and messy and sometimes interrupts my day, week, month, or year. Sometimes it seems inconvenient and nauseating. I am convinced, however, that this path of brokenness is the path to healing and freedom. In breaking open, I make space for the Spirit of the Lord to invade, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I believe what the Bible says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV

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My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

Please note:  This material may be triggering for some with histories of trauma or abuse. I am more detailed in this piece than I am in most of my pieces.  Please take care of yourself and only read it if you are in a stable place with ample support. 

I watched a child this morning, as if from a train window. A time-traveling train. I had a tour guide and a Faithful Companion along for the ride. As I looked out the window, I saw a little girl:

The sun is getting ready to set, and dusk settles over the little dead-end neighborhood street. She puts down the Barbies and says goodnight to her friends, climbs their basement stairs, and heads out their front door. She didn’t realize that it was so late. Her mother is worried sick, and it is her fault. Darkness encroaches upon her as she marches the quarter mile home, and with a shudder, she sees her mother at the top of the driveway. As the features of her mother’s grief-stricken face come into view, the child feels as if a bowling ball has been dropped into the pit of her stomach. She sprints as fast as her five-year-old legs can carry her to her mother who seems to be overflowing with equal measures of rage and desperation. Her mother reprimands her in the public of her neighborhood community, but the consequences that lurk behind closed doors remain dreadfully looming, as she grovels behind her mother into the “safety” of her house.  The child must pay, and she knows that darkness awaits. Terror grips her heart and her body as they prepare for bath time. She can’t stop crying. Her mother can’t stop crying. “I thought I had lost you,” her mother keeps repeating as she runs the bathwater. The little girl sobs. She has so much power, and she doesn’t want that kind of power. She is just a child. As the bathtub fills up, a switch is flipped in her mother’s brain, and the monster emerges. As her own power vanishes, the child surrenders to the monster. She submits to the punishment as monster-hands hold her head and face under the water. She waits for darkness to enfold her as the monster hands refuse to let up. Lungs burning for air, she succumbs to the need, and water floods her nose and mouth. As the lights fade out, she feels sensations that she assumes accompany the process of dying. The mother-monster of Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde is her daily experience, but she only allows for conscious awareness of the overly attached, doting mother. The darker side lurks in the shadows of her experience, nagging, haunting, chasing her down every dead-end street. She feels the “not-right-ness” of their relationship. She feels the ambivalence that seems to emanate from a mother that she is desperate to please, out of dependence as well as terror. That, however, is the extent of the awareness that she has of the dark places that her mother takes her in her twists of character. Because she doesn’t have a clear picture of her mother’s illness, she assumes that she is evil, broken, and needs to be eliminated.

From the window of my train, I saw the root of self-hate, shame, and fear in that child. I saw her mother behaving like a monster, and as a mother, I despised the abuse. I raged with fury and indignation. I watched Jesus help the child hold her breath as she was being nearly drowned, and I watched Jesus firmly jerk the psychotic mother back into reality, allowing the child a chance to survive. I saw that Jesus loved this child  and wept with her horrific circumstances and loved the mother enough to not abandon her in her destructive illness.

My Faithful Companion sat beside me in the time-traveling train as I looked out the window at five-year-old me and my mother of whom I have so much fear. As He showed me Himself in the scenario, He revealed His power, love, and goodness. As the train came back to the station, and we stepped off into 2016, He said, “My child, I am redeeming you. I never abandoned you. And it is okay that you stepped away from your mother. I have not abandoned her either. You never have to feel like you have to take care of her again. Rest in me. Let me handle her. I love both of you.”

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you walk through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you… (Isaiah 43:1-2, NASB)

Wonderfully Made

Ten years ago, On the evening of my first suicide attempt, I drove home from work to the house that I shared with three other roommates, rehearsing an apology. I had no intention of ending my life at this point; I just felt the need to apologize to one of my roommates for living it poorly. I felt that I had mistreated her, been unkind, and unfairly judged her. I wanted to make it right. Assuming that I was in the wrong, I planned to approach her and beg for her forgiveness. Surely, if I grovelled enough, she would relieve me of my guilt and accept me, the offender, back into relationship.

My schema that informed all of my interactions was this: I am in very nature wrong. I was not meant to exist. I am a mistake and have to pay for my life. I cannot earn my right to exist. The only thing that I can hope to achieve is some form of damage control.  

I have learned that this is the deepest, earliest, most core damaging belief from attachment abuse. It permeates into the heart of a person’s existence. It precedes the lie that I am unlovable (usually established age zero to one), and the lie that the world is not to be trusted (age three). This lie is what programmed me for self-destruction. 

Generally, the vast majority of the population may feel compassion or at least pity on the poor, beaten, grovelling dog. They would at least dismiss the pathetic creature while trying to avoid doing further damage. Others, for whatever reason, find some sort of fulfillment in beating the weak creature. My roommate fit the profile of the less compassionate portion of the population. 

I sat down with my roommate that evening,  three hours before trying to end my life, and she cut me off before I could even fully ask for her forgiveness. The venom that spewed from her mouth I can see now to be her own self-hate. That evening, I saw her accusations and hateful names as proof that I was unredeemable, a blight on the earth that needed obliteration. I retreated to my room, and decided that I needed to extinguish a fire that was doing irreparable damage to the planet. It seemed like the only choice. It seemed noble. It felt like my responsibility to right the wrong that I had started 24 years prior when I shoved my way inappropriately into the universe. 

At that time, I didn’t have words for this process. I couldn’t entirely conceptualize the belief that drove my actions or identify the source of my fatally flawed thinking.  I only felt that it was my duty to die. I was wrong, of course, but I was convinced that my place on this planet was one that really didn’t belong to me and that I had to give it up before I did more damage. The funny, infuriating, and utterly tragic thing about suicide attempts is that they are labeled selfish. I have no idea how many times I was told how selfish I was being. I was dumbfounded by this statement. In my deepest heart, I believed that I was loving everyone the best way that I could–by removing myself. I was only trying to help.

It took 34 years to come to the place where I could say that my life has value. God did not say “oops” when He made me. He never looked at me and said, “this one is evil.” My parents said that, not my God.  To believe that I am wrong to exist is entirely inconsistent with my theology. This is not a new cognitive realization for me. What is new is the experience of being valuable. 

For me, it took looking into the eyes of my children, bearing my DNA, flawless, beautiful, beloved, so unbelievably beloved. I carried them inside my body for almost ten months each. That body that I thought was too evil to dwell among humans was the body that housed the cherubic cherished humans, so obviously knit together by the hand of the Divine, loving Father God. I can’t be all wrong if they came out of me.

This is truly just the beginning of my re-orientation. I would love to see myself the way God sees me, or at least the way my husband, children, and friends see me. I still wade through self-hate daily. I still wrestle with my grovelling beaten dog syndrome, but even in my worst moments, I cannot be convinced that I am a mistake.  My heart is just softened enough, through scripture, prayer, healing relationships, and motherhood, to the voice of a loving God who whispers that He made me well and cherishes me more that I can even imagine loving my own babies. 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; You formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God–you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration–what a creation!”

Psalm 139:13-14, The Message

Trading darkness for darkness and a trip to the light

Almost a year and a half ago, I closed the door on my parents. I set up the most extreme set of boundaries: no contact whatsoever. I changed my phone number, email, and Facebook. Obviously, they could still make contact if they really wanted. They know where I live. My husband didn’t change his contact information. They haven’t tried, however, and I’m not sure what to make of that. 

I’ve written about this frequently, so this is not new, it’s just fresh at the moment. I truly believe that God called me to make the decision to set boundaries. They were intended to be avenues to further healing in my life–to create a place of safety and security to really explore my areas of woundedness, attachment injuries, and deeper, darker trauma. Those areas did not feel safe to traverse while feeling a sense of obligation to maintain contact with the sources of injury. I was barely treading water. 

The problem with cutting off physical contact, however, especially with primary care givers, is that they haunt you relentlessly. My guards are so strong in my waking hours, but in my sleeping hours, I am at the mercy of the internalized messages and billowing fears.  No one physically rapes me nightly. I am safe, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when the demons of the past meet me in the darkest hours of early morning or the twilight stages of nap times. I don’t feel safe and protected from them, even now.

In addition, I have allowed myself to perpetuate the lie that I must pay astronomical penance for harming my parents by cutting them off.  The payment is something similar to chopping my legs off at the knees. I don’t know that I can articulate this in a way that makes sense because it is purely based on irrational beliefs.  When I sent my parents the “break-up” email, I also had to delete the first twenty years of my life. The lie that mandated this self-imposed consequence goes something like this, “if you hurt your parents’ feelings or injure them, you must pay exponentailly for the rest of your life.” Thus, I cut off everyone from the first twenty years of my life, created a rule that I could never return to my hometown, speak to or see the people I loved (some of whom kept me alive through hell), meet new nieces and nephews, or even think about anything positive from my childhood, adolescence, or teenage years.  It is gone. Compartmentalized. Packed in boxes a buried twenty feet underground. 

This payment is ridiculous. I know this on some level. It also only leads to a spirit of fear and denial, the very spirits that I was trying to counter in my decision to end contact with my parents.  The lies, brainwashing, and shame are evident in my subconscious reaction to this decision.  

So prayerfully, gently, and cautiously, I am beginning to step out past the caution tape in my life. I am going to pursue contact with those whom I love and miss. I will lay down this spirit of fear and allow the Spirit to cloak me with an identity that says “loved, accepted, forgiven.”  This is not as black- and-white as I once thought. I could explore the possibility to visiting my brother, his wife, and newborn son without terror of the consequences. The monsters hold no power anymore. It is time to step into the healing that was God’s intention a year and a half ago. I don’t have to pay penance for trying to protect myself and my family. We have a right to safety, and I have greater responsibility than ever before. 

Please pray that I can continue down this path of complete healing without unnecessary casualties and sacrifices at the altar of lies.  I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I envision the breaking of the chains of fear through deeper love.

Reflections on a Year of Boundaries

It has been almost a year since I cut off contact with my parents. It has been a ravaging and soul-restoring year. I remember the prayer retreat last March that propelled me into a two-week march toward liberation and the beginning of breaking their 32-year stronghold. 

It has also been about a year since my health began to rapidly decline. It’s hard to discern if the separation and progression of my illness were related, but I don’t know if I could have handled the deep vulnerability of becoming so sick while being in relationship with my mother. My illness would have served as an open invitation for her to uproot and plant herself in my town, and quite possibly my home. I would have had to erect extreme protective walls around myself and my children just to have to peace of mind to rest at night. Myself in the sick role would have re established mother-daughter dynamics that I never in a million years want to relive.

Oh, how I was spared from so much mental and emotional anguish. If I get really downright honest, I think that I managed to dodge the bullet that might have sent me straight to looney-town.

God in His mercy knew, a year ago, that I needed safety and distance from the dangerous people in my life because I was about to enter an extremely vulnerable season. He knew what He was doing. When He made it clear that it was time to cut the ties, he knew that those ties were about to strangle me, even though I could not see around the corner.

It has been a treacherous year. But I have lived it in a place of freedom and sincerity that I was unable to experience before. Sickness is so terrifyingly vulnerable, and it is so easy to find oneself in a place of potential exploitation. Praise the Lord that those who were geared to exploit me were finally out of the picture.  

I am safe, and I am free to be vulnerable and have needs. I am surrounded by people love me and want what is best for me. I am so beyond blessed and thankful.

When Canaan isn’t Quite Enough

When Canaan isn’t Quite Enough

I am starting a study on Gideon by the brilliant Priscilla Shirer. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, digging into the book of Judges. I mean, really, who gets super pumped to read about Israel and the judges of the Old Testament? Not me. God, however, made it very clear that this was the study for our mom’s group to delve into this fall. One day into it, I have a crystal clear answer as to why this is the study for me right now.

I just have one word: WOW.

Here’s the deal with Israel: God called them to Canaan, the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. He orchestrated miracle after miracle getting them to their destination. They made it, after a heck of a long time and some crazy awesome unforgettable works of God. Joshua followed God, leading Israel in conquests that landed them smack in the middle of paradise. There was no possible way that Israel did this on her own. In Deuteronomy 7, God commands his people not to make treaties, marry, or connect in any way with the former inhabitants of Canaan. God says to destroy all of the former altars and worship practices of the former people groups because they know this to be truth: “God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon (Deut. 7:10)”. But they didn’t remember what God did to get them to the promised land. Or possibly, they remembered but didn’t trust God to finish His work.

Their weaponry was not nearly as advanced as the nations that already inhabited Canaan. They were able to fight in the hill-country, but they felt that they could never go against those iron chariots on the plains of the flat lands. God had brought them to Canaan. That was awesome. Good enough, right. Why upset the balance that was already established, however delicately? Why not acknowledge that their “favor from God” might run out? Surely the miracles could only last so long. (They may have not been thinking this, but I certainly might have had these cognitions.) So they set up camp alongside the people that God had called them to obliterate because, let’s face it, they were afraid. They forgot what God had done, or at least they didn’t want to risk the chance of not receiving the next promised miracles only to perish after coming so far.

I get it. Oh my gosh, I get it. I have come so far. I wandered way too long after being in bondage for my own 400 years in my own Egypt. God brought me to my Canaan, my land flowing with milk and honey.   He performed miracle after miracle in order to get me here, to the safety and abundance of this paradise.   And He called me to demolish all of the strongholds. But I don’t know whether I forget His miracles, or if I don’t trust Him to continue performing the miraculous, or if I doubt His call, but I strive to maintain this tenuous balance here in my own paradise. I am just like the Israelites. I am terrified to lose what I have gained, so I set up negotiations with the enemies. I guess that I really do forget that the God who got me this far is the same God who calls me into deeper freedom.

The balance that I am striving to maintain is only an illusion, and He is not the author of that balance. I am healthier than I have ever been before. I have a wonderful husband, beautiful children, sweet friends, and an unfolding calling. I teeter, however, on what appears to me to be the precipice of disaster. If I venture too deeply into trauma work or begin to acknowledge the true brokenness and pain of my past, I might careen into a deep depression that could destroy everything and everyone that I love. If I relax too much on food and actually entirely trust my treatment team with my meal plan, my body might become unbearably uncomfortable and uninhabitable for me, and I might never be able to go out in public or bear the burden of my physicality for the rest of my life.   If I really start writing and singing and putting myself out there, I might face rejection, or worse yet, hurting someone in my past who has the ability to knock me entirely off of my rocker and send me to some psych hospital, unable to care for the children whom are now entrusted to my care. But this is all based in fear, and it is not in line with God’s promise to me or with His calling.

The consequences for Israel’s compromise included divided and incomplete worship, because they were also worshipping the idols of the other nations, and also military and physical vulnerability because they remained a fragile nation. This was not God’s best for them. They were certainly better off than they were in Egypt, but they were nowhere near the place where God had called them. They stopped short because of fear and complacency. At this juncture, I have stopped short as well. My consequences are similar to Israel’s. My worship is divided and ambivalent because I have been unwilling to confront the very literal demons of my past. In my unwillingness to face the ritual abuse of a deeply spiritual nature, I harbor a deep distrust for all things Christian and spiritual. This is obviously problematic if God is calling me to Christian ministry. In addition, I am physically vulnerable because I am unwilling to trust God to carry me to fullness in healing from the eating disorder. You cannot maintain rigid rules around food and weight and fully recover from an eating disorder, even if your current weight falls within the acceptable range.

I have allowed myself to disregard the miracles that God gracefully and mercifully has performed to carry me to the promised land. They are very real. He dried the sea for the Israelites to cross over on dry land. He carried me safely through multiple suicide attempts. He sent manna from heaven when the Israelites where starving in the wilderness. He planted life within my dead womb, dried up from years of anorexia, and He gave me two beautiful, healthy children. He has more and greater miracles to birth out of my life through His divine Spirit, and I will cooperate in surrendering the strongholds so that my “good enough” Canaan can become complete and total abundance.

Mindfulness on Mother’s Day

Today held quite a bit of potential. Nightmares about my own mother offered themselves as today’s prelude. I rose from the nightmares to meet the needs of my own sweet babies at 7 AM. Mother’s Day, for me, is a bit of a paradox. On one side of the coin, there is picture of a narcissistic and atrociously abusive mother who performed unspeakable evils. On the other side of the coin, there is a lovely picture of me and my precious treasures of children. Mother’s day is simultaneously a reminder of the most destructive force in my life and also the most restorative, healing relationships that I have with my own children. This is quite the mind bender, like the day where two crazy opposite universes collide. Today, one universe clearly overcame the other in their collision.

My sensitive husband asked me tonight how today went for me, knowing the power that it holds. I thought for a minute and told him that I chose to keep the coin flipped to the side of love. I chose not to flip the coin over today. I know that this isn’t always possible. Sometimes the past hits me like a freight train traveling 300 miles per hour, but today, somehow, God gave me the gift of amnesia of the pain of “mother.” I maintained connection only with my own role as mother. I reveled in gratitude and joy as my 7 month-old babbled and giggled and pinched my cheeks. I snapped like 300 photos of my almost two-year-old making silly faces at the top of her little slide. I savored every second with my beautiful children and felt the harmony of our lives as we played together. Motherhood has been my redemption. I longed and dreamed and prayed for these angels, but could have never fathomed how wonderful they have turned out to be.

God’s gift to me this Mother’s Day was blissful awareness of only the present moment. He allowed me to be with my children and my beloved without the lingering sorrow of the searing pain from my past. I consider this a gift because it certainly does not happen every day. Some days are clouded by grief, and sometimes, that’s how we heal. But today, I needed light and joy, and my God who gives great gifts knows what I need.

I am infinitely thankful for a Mother’s Day that has been centered on my babies and my love for them. I am blessed beyond reason.