When Your Reality Seems Unreal

How does an adult child of abusive parents approach life and her perception of reality?  With great agony and skepticism.

She told me that I was a liar.  She taught me that I could not be trusted. She taught me that I was evil.  This schema that drilled into my mind about my perception of reality served them well.   If a child cannot trust her experiences, then she will never disclose the reality that she is living.  She will never trust herself enough to risk the reputation and lives of those that she loves.   If you teach a child self-doubt and extreme loyalty, then you will never risk exposure.  You can get away with anything.  If all that you care about in your narcissism is your own self-preservation, then this strategy is win-win.

But what of the life of that brainwashed child?  How will she grow up? How will she ever come to terms with reality?  She will for the rest of her life question the reality of your behavior.  Oh, but it goes so much farther than this.  The consequences of this self-distrust are catastrophic.  The ripples of this early teaching touch every single experience that touch the life of this manipulated soul.

My life is currently under the influence of medical restrictions.  I am at the mercy of  individuals who are helping and caring my family.   I cannot get a drink without the assistance of someone else.  Over the last two years,  I have been piled with medical diagnoses.  It started with hyperadrenergic Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (HyperPOTS), followed by Interstitial Cystitis. A few months down the road, Gastroparesis surfaced, followed by Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.  I fear that if I allow further testing, the list would get longer.  There are a few extra illnesses that I think have been confirmed, but I am not entirely sure, so for the sake of accuracy, I will not include them in my list.  Any rational person could look at my medical history, or glance at me physically, and conclude that I am very ill.   There is no question about it….and yet….I find myself asking the question “Am I actually sick?” Every.  Single. Day.

How can I question the reality of my illness? The self-doubt undermines every recovery effort, because I question the need for treatment every step of the way.  I ask if I really need my daily infusions, or if they are placebo.  I ask if my PEG tube is absolutely necessary.   I look at my 11 medications that I take daily, in my massive pill organizer, and I wonder if the doctors are just prescribing them to placate me.  I have an epinephrine shot in my medicine cabinet for anaphylactic reactions, and I haven’t bothered to read the instructions, because I am under the assumption that when my throat is closing up, it is probably just anxiety.  I allowed myself to fall asleep last night in the midst of a near anaphylactic reaction without bothering to even ask the question if my situation could be an emergency.  It is only today that I can look at it in retrospect and see that I should have taken more extreme measures.  How can I begin to assess my situation as one that needs to be managed with care and caution? How can I ever begin to validate my bodily experience?

I feel sabotaged.  I feel like someone removed my brain, took out my ability to believe myself, inserted it back in my head, and let me loose, saying “Go on, have fun trying to live your life under the assumption that you are always, without a doubt, a deceptive, manipulative, liar.”

Here’s the catch.  Since childhood, no one has ever echoed the message that my parents drilled into my head.  No one has ever questioned the validity of my word, my experience, or my perception.  People have trusted and believed me.  Even with rare, hard to understand diagnoses that are often questioned,  I have never experienced a doctor communicate implicitly or explicitly that it is “all in my head.”

Upon communicating my doubt to my specialist this week, she responded by stating her credentials, achievements, and specialties, all of which are in my areas of diagnosis.  After asserting her qualifications and skills set, she said, “I absolutely, without a doubt, am entirely confident that you have these illnesses, and that you are incredibly sick.” I responded with a skeptical, “Are you sure?”, to which she responded with a face-palm.

I am desperately trying to navigate this path toward truth and trusting myself.  We all have misperceptions at times, and we all need input from others to help ascertain that we have a firm grasp on reality every once in a while, but it becomes dysfunctional when we doubt, question, and test every perception we have as we walk through our day. It becomes a problem when no matter how much we are reassured by loved ones, professionals, and friends, we still cannot believe ourselves.  I am so tired of this self-doubt.  The consequences of being taught that I could not trust my perception of reality are extensive and crippling.

I take comfort in the idea that the Spirit of Truth lives within me, and that I can trust that Spirit to lead me into truth.  This is a promise delivered to us by Jesus.  Sometimes I feel like I am cycling around and around, making no progress at all in my pursuit of self-validation and trust, but I am reminded of how far I have come.  I have sought treatment, allowed doctors to prescribe medications and surgical interventions.  I have surrendered my driver’s license and allowed helpers to come into my home every day to care for my children and for me.  I have recognized the cost that my body pays for doing simple chores and have sacrificed my sense of household duty for meaningful connection and relationship with my children and husband.  I have moments when I trust myself and entrust myself to the care of others because I know that I am weak and need help.  I am not a lost cause.

Where there is life, there is hope, and as long as I am living, I will continue to trust that God can rebuild and restore any and every area of brokenness in my life.  He will continue to do so until my final breath.  And as surely as the Spirit of Truth dwells within my heart,  I will continue to trust Him to re-write the messages of my childhood and to re-wire my brain.

Who is Scared of the Dark?

A five-year-old runs house-to-house around her rural neighborhood in the early days of October just before dusk approaches. The sun is still entirely visible on the horizon, and she is oblivious to the impending darkness that has continued to approach earlier and earlier due to the recent fall equinox. After only five years of living with the shifts in the seasonal patterns, she has not yet come to expect them.  In the days prior, she could play for much longer after dinner with her friends in her neighborhood.  They could play hide-and-seek and race on their bikes for what seemed like an eternity before she was beckoned in for bath time. Still early in the evening, she shudders as she senses the darkness begin to descend upon the evening.  A haze seems to distort her vision, and she realizes that the sun has disappeared when she wasn’t watching. Fear and foreboding flood her little body as she sprints for her home.  She doesn’t even stop to bid her buddies a farewell for the day.  She is too desperate to escape the canopy of darkness that chases her home.  She does not understand this fear of the dark, but only knows the experience of dread, helplessness, and torment that comes with it.

Twenty years later, I still have the echoes of the visceral response that comes with the descending of the darkness on fall and winter evenings.  God has undoubtedly healed, and I am still reminded of my early winter prisons as the temperature drops and the days shorten.

There is this disorder called SAD. How appropriate.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that awakens during autumn and goes dormant with the arrival of spring.  There is a high correlation between decreased moods (depression) and a scarcity of light.  Why is this?  The scientific answer involves decreased levels of melatonin from the sun, serotonin, and circadian rhythm disruptions. SAD, a subtype of depression, involves absence of hope, energy, worth, motivation, concentration, and can even lead to suicide.  SAD is directly related to a loss of light.  Because we are complex biological, psychological, social, and spiritual beings, I believe that it is impossible do divorce this condition from what we know about darkness in the context of Jesus’ relationship with light and darkness.  This does not downplay the physiological and psychological mechanisms involved in the manifestation of mental illness.  It is real.  And we are super-complex.

I’ve been wrestling with this whole issue of darkness as I study Genesis 1:3-5 and 14-19. Is the darkness intrinsically evil?  I could see that in verse 4, it says “God saw that the light was good” (ESV).  It never mentions that God says that the darkness is good, yet in verses 14-19, He created day and night, and he created seasons.  He saw that these were good.  In the midst of this question that lies in the safety of intellectual theological inquiry, I ask a more difficult question:  God, where were you in my darkness, in my nights, and in my suffering?

Much darkness and light that we see mentioned in scripture is symbolic, but there is something about real, legitimate darkness that brings about fear, pain, and agony.  Genesis 1:16 says, “God made two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars” (ESV).  He created lights to “rule” the day and the night.  In this text, I see His promise to me. The darkness may seem incredibly dark.  The night might seem obscure and black.  But His light is there, and it is ruling.  He rules the dark. Always.  He is always sovereign.  Always supreme.  He is the light, and He rules the darkness (literal and figurative).  We are desperate for light.  Our bodies reflect this in incredible ways as we battle physical struggles as the result of lack of natural sunlight and shortened days.  Our spirits, however, do not have to ever be deprived of the light that Christ has to offer.  We can always soak in His rays, even on the bleakest days or the darkest nights.  When we aren’t soaking in H       is rays, tiny pinpricks of His light are enough to exert control over the darkness.

God faithfully established His stars to light even those darkest nights for that five-year-old child. That child was hidden under the shadow of His wings. Darkness did not win, and darkness will not win. Light was created with complete dominion over its power. As days shorten and I begin to face reminders of the dark, I will continue to worship the King of light.

 

 

Our Truth-Telling God

I have a unique opportunity this evening.  I am sitting in my husband’s office at the church, pretending to be professional.  The children are in the nursery, my husband is at the satellite campus working on technical issues for Sunday, and I have two hours to myself in a real office just to be an adult. (I am a giddy, excited, child-like adult right now.)  I am currently rocking out to the Mark Swayze band, and my mind is like simmering pot boiling over with ideas for writing.  Where to begin…

This adult time is excellent timing.  There is much to say. God is so incredibly at work, and I haven’t the foggiest idea where to begin.  Jordan (my husband) and I attended a conference last week. We boarded an actual airplane, just the two of us, slept through the night, and had the chance to finally go on our anniversary dinner (only a month late–our eyes were falling out of our faces and we were crying blood on our real anniversary–not an exaggeration, I promise!).

Jordan had to talk me into attending this conference.  I was set on attending one closer to home.  I relented after some cajoling, and I am so incredibly thankful that I did.  I knew it was going to be an awesome conference when we encountered many obstacles as we prepared to leave.  When one is on portable oxygen and has to fly somewhere, the process of flying is complicated.  The portable canisters are charged and pressurized.  They are not allowed on airplanes.  In my head, I picture massive explosions and bodies flying throughout the cabin . I don’t think that really happens, but you never know.  So instead of my normal oxygen canisters, I have to rent a portable oxygen concentrator.  If we were to purchase one, it would be thousands of dollars.  Insurance doesn’t cover these devices (they are considered a luxury, because, well, you know breathing is a luxury). So we had to rent one. Honestly,  I was not surprised that mine decided to malfunction before we boarded our first flight.  Every minute,  the blasted machine would alarm furiously until we shut it down.  Everyone around us would stop and stare.  Who knows what they thought we were harboring as we made our way through the airport.  The problem is that I need oxygen.  Thus, turning it off was not an option.  We finally found a way to outsmart the machine.  May I add that my husband is a genius?  In order to prevent the machine from alarming like it was about to explode, I was forced to push a button to change the flow about every thirty seconds for the entirety of our flights and layovers. Oh, and you can’t just trade it out at another oxygen supply company when you arrive at your destination. No.  That horrid machine has to be returned to the location where you rented it.  Thus, the process of pushing buttons every 30 seconds for six hours was repeated on our way home.  Snag one.

The other snags were somewhat expected.  My throat developed that telltale scratchy feeling that always results in a nasty cold the night before we flew out for the conference.  So began my cold that continues to this day.  Picture this:  Your oxygen is delivered through a tube that goes into your nose.  Your nose is a snotty mess.  You can’t breathe through your nose.  Bad news.  The day that we arrived I also got a stomach bug.  We are talking constant diarrhea.  I had no idea that a body could produce so much crap.  And now I know.  Totally bad for POTS.  It lasted the entirety of the conference.  True to form, however, I pushed through.  I attended all of the sessions, times of worship, and prayer meetings.  I’m not saying this is good.  It is in reality kind of crazy.  But I didn’t really consider staying back at the hotel and sleeping.  Not when I came this far and God obviously had a huge plan for this week, as evidenced by all of the obstacles that were jumping in our way. I was way too curious to stay in bed. Thankfully, He sustained me while I was being psycho.  Hopefully, I didn’t infect too many poor souls while being reckless.

So here’s what happened:

God affirmed me so beautifully.  He told me that He is proud of me.  He revealed to me more fully what I am passionate about:  Prayer, writing, and worship.  He told me that I didn’t have to try so hard.  I don’t have to try to exceed my body’s capacity.  He is using me in the here and now, in my broken body, to expand His kingdom.  He said that I am gifted and He delights in me. He said over and over again that He loves me.  I learned about what He is doing in the global church. Guys, it is MASSIVE.  He is totally at work, like all over the world.  I want to be in on it.   We can be in on it.  In order to be in on His work, we have to start with prayer.  Prayer is the starting point.  Without prayer, the church is dying.   With prayer, like true repentant, travailing, awe-filled, desperate prayer, we have hope for life.   We have to wake ourselves up.

I struggled too.  I have lived a life marked by weakness that is evident to others.  I find myself desperate to prove myself as strong and capable.  I feel chronically less than the other people around me.  It is almost like I have to look up to them from my stooped down position. This position does not lend itself well to symbiotic relationships and friendships.  I so want to feel equal to others.  I want to be able to keep up with them, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, but I have lived a life that has felt stunted and dwarfed.  We knew many people at the conference with whom we attended seminary.  I feared that they would see me this time as they saw me in seminary: limited, pitiful, not friend material.   With 1,600 people attending this conference, I was the only one walking around on oxygen,  clearly underweight, malnourished, sickly.  I got the pity-smiles, lots of sympathetic compliments on my glasses, and curious stares.  NOT WHAT I WANTED.  I wanted to scream, ” I AM TOUGH! I AM DOING AWESOME! DON’T YOU DARE PITY ME.”  People who knew me from seminary lovingly asked me or Jordan what was happening that I had to be on oxygen.  Jordan was excellent at presenting a concise and accurate story about my medical situation.  I, on the other hand, somewhat (ahem, totally) in denial, hemmed and hawed and tripped over my words, trying to minimize the situation and diffuse any concern that might arise from others. (Concern makes me squirmy).  This led to the blockage of real conversations.  I was just so desperate to be normal, for once. Not to be pitiful and weak.

So if you are tracking with me,  here I am, being loved and cheered on by my Lord while simultaneously wrestling with my core identity issues which really trip me up in my interpersonal relationships.  God obviously knows what He’s doing.  As I write this, it is clear that He was telling me exactly what I needed to hear.  I am enough.  I am complete. He is proud of me.  He is at work in me.  He loves me.  I am beautiful to Him.  I, in the mean time, am wrestling these lies that have followed me through the decades that scream that I am worthless, pitiful, and ultimately a black hole in the world.  What contradictions!  I’m pretty positive that God is a truth-teller.  I asked Jordan to fact check the messages that God was giving me.  He said that they are in line with the God he knows and with the Word.  And I got this cool book mark that also says all those things that God was telling me.  So it was legit. The bookmark proves it.

Now I have a responsibility and a gift.  My mission is to be set free from the shame.  I am commissioned to begin to believe these truths about myself as a daughter of God.  He is re-framing my personal narrative and cleaning up my resume.   I asked Him in the shower this morning if I am a mistake, and He said that I am absolutely not a mistake.  He again said how much He loves me.  I am asking Him to show me what it may look like for me to be set free from the self-hate and shame.  He is providing glimpses.  In response to our shower prayer time this morning, God sent two people to tell me today that I look like Jesus.  Yep.  He’s pretty amazing.  And I believe that He is transforming my identity.  This is the healing that He has for me.  The dawn is coming, and the night will soon be over.

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is in your midst. A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. 

Mental Health and the Church

I step into this post cautiously because I do not, in any way, want to rank suffering.  Suffering is suffering, and pain is pain. Each person experiences it in his or her own way, and each person’s experience is valid and real.  Some may experience physical illness as the lowest point of their lives, others may experience the loss of a loved one as the bottom of the pit.  Others may say that betrayal and rejection has been the most agonizing experience.  I am simply here to share my experiences of suffering and God’s presence through those seasons.

As people have approached me in sympathy, compassion, and pity for my physical suffering over the past few years, primarily the past couple months,  I have felt a rainbow of emotions.  I have parts all over the place clambering about with different responses to the compassion and care of others.  Some say, “This is what I deserve. If you knew how terrible I am, you wouldn’t feel sorry for me.”  Others say, ” Oh, thank you. Please sit with me and hold me while I cry.”  Others say, “What are you talking about?  I’m not really sick.  This is all going to wash over soon when the doctors realize that all of these numbers and tests are wrong.  I’ll be fully functioning again before you know it.”  Still others say, “Do you have any idea where I’ve been during my 34 years?  This suffering doesn’t even seem like suffering compared to the torture and pain that the first 29 years of my life held.  Please don’t feel sorry for me.  My life is glorious.”

While some of these parts are legitimate voices coming from different broken pieces of me, I believe that some of them are a little bit more grounded in truth and healing.   I’ve addressed several of these parts in previous posts, but there is one that has popped up more frequently over the past week.  It also seems appropriate for this day when we open up awareness to suicide and suicide prevention.

In public, I do not respond to the sympathy of others with statements like, “oh, this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through in the past.  Living through severe physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse, 20 years of anorexia, major depression, anxiety, and three suicide attempts really took the cake. Being on portable oxygen, needing a wheelchair to get around, and getting infusions twice weekly while still not really knowing the cause of my life-threatening symptoms is kind of like paradise compared to what I’ve lived through.”  For some reason, that doesn’t feel appropriate.  But it is tempting sometimes.

This is an aside from this particular post: As I have reflected on my last post about God’s healing,  I have explored my resistance to praying for physical healing.  I believe that indeed through my suffering, God has shown me a deeper, more intimate form of prayer than I have experienced before.  I believe that while it is important to pray for physical healing, it is easy to miss the more soul-level healing that God longs to perform in us.  I see Him working that soul-healing in my life every day.  I also think that I have some issues of worthiness of healing. I struggle to believe that my physical body is worthy of wholeness and healing.  This belief is based in my trauma-brain and messages that I learned through the years. I am having to sort out what are messages from God about healing of mind, spirit, and body, and what messages are lies imparted by the enemy through the voices, actions, and inactions of primary caregivers in my life.  This gets tricky, because they are tangled up like a mess of necklace chains that have been shaken around in a jewelry box for way too long.   There are some really valuable pieces of jewelry knotted in the mess, so I can’t just toss it all out.  Please bear with me as I painstakingly untangle my mess of necklace-chain beliefs.

What I really want to communicate in this post is that emotional, mental, and spiritual agony is real, and it is terrible.  Those who suffer with these difficult issues desperately need community, support, unrelenting love, and pursuance, whether they act like they want it or not.   I needed it.  I needed people, and I didn’t have them.  My issues terrified people.  There were no easy answers or easy fixes.  There was no fool-proof medication or one specialist who could take my case and find a cure.  It was so easy to blame me, the one with the mental illnesses, severe trauma, and brain on fire.  I was so desperately incapable of helping myself, but I was considered untouchable.  That was a disastrous recipe.  My unspeakable trauma was the blackest darkness of my first 15 years, and my suicide attempts housed the blackest darkness of my second 15 years.  There is no possible way that words can capture the darkness of suicide, and there is no possible way to explain the impact that surviving three suicide attempts has on your heart and mind.  I needed community, love, and support.  I was utterly unable to care for myself.  I found massive amounts of judgment and condemnation.  No one knew what to do with me as a suicidal person.  So they stayed at arms length and hurled accusations.

“You are so selfish.”

“You let everyone down.”

“We can never trust you again.”

“You must not be a real Christian.”

This was the bottom of the pit.  I. failed. everyone.  Or so I thought.

Being physically ill is rough.  There are days that I think I might die.  Sometimes this is a legitimate thought.  There are days that I have to squint really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and even then, I just have to imagine it being there.  But I am surrounded by love.  I am so well cared-for (when I allow people to care for me).  God is bringing me higher up and deeper in.  This is not a black pit.  Too many people are bringing light into it.  Somehow, my soul has been awakened to the comfort that God is bringing into my pain.

The church is great at caring for the physically ill (at least my church is). But, friends, do we know who is looking into the abyss of ending it all?  Do we know who is up all hours of the night, dancing on the edge of sanity because of severe anxiety or OCD?  Do we know which mamas are facing postpartum mental health issues alone because they are too embarrassed to share the thoughts that are going through their sleep-deprived, hormone-imbalanced brains?  Are we even making eye contact with those who teeter on the edge of psychotic episodes on Sunday mornings?  Are we too afraid of them because we can’t fully understand what they are facing?  They don’t understand it either, and they desperately need community, love, fellowship, and flashlights in their pits.  I needed all of those things.

Some people are caring for those suffering from mental and emotional issues like champions.  They make it their mission to shine light into their darkness, and they often even climb into the darkness, huddle next to those suffering alone, and offer their humanity, which, ironically, is where we see so much of the Divine.  I pray that we can jump on board.  Celebrate Recovery is incredible.  Support groups for sufferers and family members are great.  Please, please, lets not add to their shame and self-hate and isolation.   I am thankful for where I am, and in retrospect, I am thankful for what I have been through.  As a voice from the other side who has been through quite a bit of suffering,  I just want to advocate for those suffering from mental illness, and in particular, those who struggle with suicidal thoughts or actions. Unless you have been there, it is difficult to imagine the torment, and what do we need more than people to show us the face of God when we can’t catch a glimpse of His face on our own?

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.

The Music Teacher

You were the music teacher at a private, Christian, upper-class school.  I am sure that you weren’t on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect in your students.  You met the rush of children ages five through thirteen with grace, enthusiasm, compassion, and a love that cannot be forced.  You were nurturing and committed to your students. You kindled the sparks of talent and love for music and birthed flames that grew into wildfires in the children that you cared for so gracefully.  You probably weren’t too concerned for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and which children were unsafe in their homes.  You were focused on breaking through the exteriors and hitting that chord in each heart that the Spirit created for music.

I don’t know if you ever think of that girl from the mid-nineties, the one with frizzy hair, unable to look you in the eye.  She was slightly overweight, but in her appraisal, she was obese.  She was the one who just didn’t fit in with many of the other kids, but she kept her head down and didn’t try too hard to be known.  Being known carried with it its own set of risks. I wonder if you noticed that she was the first to show up and that she lingered extra long, waiting to be the last to leave your once-a-week music class, hoping for one last encouraging smile.  Or if you caught a glimmer of the deep, desperate longing in her eyes as she silently pleaded with you to rescue her.  Or if you saw the deep shadow of shame that fell over her as she warred within herself over the need for connection and the belief that she was not allowed to reach out to adults.

I wonder what you thought when you, in the midst of packing up your bag at the end of the day, found that same frizzy-haired, awkward eleven-year-old girl shuffling into your always-open door for no apparent reason. You probably had better things to do and places to be.  You were incredibly busy. Did you read between the lines at all?  Did you hear the words that were unspoken?  That her home was unsafe, that she prayed every night that Jesus would make you her mom, and then repent for praying such a horrendous prayer that dishonored her own mother?  Did you know that the love that you showed this girl in that one hour a week plus some after-school chats was about the extent of the love that she knew in the entirety of her life? Did you know that you were her life-line?  That without you, she might have just drowned in the stormy sea of her tortured existence?

Did you know that you were Jesus to this girl?  Did you know that you saved this little girl’s life?  She may have seemed inconvenient or difficult to love.  But you cherished her in a way that she had never before been cherished.  You saw her when she thought that she really wanted to be invisible.  You were a nurturer when those who were supposed to nurture were in the business of torture.

It has been 22 years since you entered that private school to teach music, and it has been that long since this lonely broken girl showed up in your classroom.  There is so much that you don’t know about her.  But you didn’t have to know it.  You were the heart of Jesus for her, and she cannot and will not ever forget you.

 

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.