He makes every little broken thing beautiful

He makes every little broken thing beautiful

I shoved my rear-end closer to the window as the plane prepared for take-off.  The passenger beside me stretched out to get comfortable. I tried to make myself smaller so that I would not be an inconvenience for the person wedged next to me in these impossibly small airplane seats.  Never mind that I had the right to occupy my entire seat.  In my mind, I had no rights.  The space that I occupied was space that I shouldn’t take up.  As I tried to become smaller so that the person beside of me could expand,  I realized that I held a core belief that was horribly faulty.  I could not change my system of thinking on my own.  It was too deeply embedded.  That plane ride was four years ago, before I became sick.

My belief that I was not allowed to take up space was birthed out of a great deal of trauma and abuse.  When a child is taught that she is evil and at fault for the evils that are committed against her,  she learns that she must try desperately to disappear in order to make the world a better place.  Before I learned the truth of my identity in Christ,  I held white-knuckled to this belief.  I held so closely to it that I tried to rid the world of my very existence.  When this type of reality is drilled into your head early in life, it seems nearly impossible to unlearn.

God has a masterful way of using horrible situations to help us grow in ways that we never thought possible. When I got sick, I started to take up more space.  I’m not talking actual physical space necessarily, but a wheelchair certainly takes up more space in a vehicle.  It is harder to hide when you are ill.  You have many more needs than a healthy person.  Those around you are more aware of you and the risks that come with your presence.  With food restrictions, you make a challenging dinner guest.  Often, your dietary limitations dictate the menu for the evening.  When you are a house guest, you quickly become aware of how high-maintenance you are.  Your special diet, need for rest, wheelchair requirements, and medications are front and center.

As my illness gets more severe, I seem to be ever-expanding.  I can’t disappear into the background like I once did.  In a recent church meeting, at each break,  many individuals turned to check on me: to see how I was feeling, if I needed anything to drink, if I needed to lie down.

I am so appreciative of the care that I receive.  I need it.  And I resist it.  God is using my illness, however, to show me that it is okay to take up space.  He is showing me how wonderfully loved that I am, and that He created me to take up a certain amount of space.  He designed me in such a way to make an impact on people, to leave footprints, to change lives.  I can’t do that without taking up space and owning my space.

So here’s the thing:  In God’s gracious, generous way of making every little broken thing beautiful,  He is transforming my illnesses and disabilities into powerful teachers.  He is using them to show me how incredibly valuable that I am.  He is teaching me that I am worth every square-inch of space that I take up.  He is showing me that I am worth the care that people give me.   Why am I worth it?  Because I am His child.  As a child of God,  I have a right to take up space.  Not only do I have a right to take up space, but my existence is important and cherished.

I do not need to try to shrink myself into a half of a plane seat in order to make someone else more comfortable.  I can lean over and start a conversation with my fellow passenger, and we can enjoy the gift of one another.  I don’t have to dismiss my dietary restrictions in order to make my hostess’s job easier.  I can graciously accept generosity and allow others to love and care for me.

Graciously receiving is a gift to the giver and the receiver.

I have lived a life dominated by the lie that I don’t deserve to take up space, and my illnesses have given me the opportunity to take a step back and realize the value of my existence and the space that I occupy.   God created me.  I wasn’t a mistake.  I am still not a mistake.  I don’t have to apologize for my existence.  I also don’t have to apologize for being ill.  I have always been and will be valuable because I am a daughter of God.

There may be those out there who are reading this and thinking, “Well, no duh, Sherlock. Of course you can take up space.  We all can.”  I am so thankful that you have never had to experience the torture of having to live apologetically, desperately trying to pay penance for your very existence.

For those of you who can relate,  please hear me:  You are valuable.  You are made in the image of God.  You can take up the space that you take up.  You’re worth it because God calls you worthy.

And He is making every little broken thing beautiful.

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?

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.

Death and a prayer

I am at a church caregiver training this weekend, and I feel sorely insufficient for this calling. I hear that God enjoys using all types of people, however, including those who feel like they don’t measure up. So here I am. God used unlikely people in the Bible, right? I think that He is good at that. I’m counting on it. If not, I’m screwed.

The training was going pretty well, as we have covered the basic areas of congregational caregivers, such as prayer, listening, boundaries, visitation, mental health issues, and organization. 

And then we came to a topic that scares me more than anything else: death. I don’t know if it is those few stubborn postpartum hormones still holding on paired with anxiety and my hamster-wheel runaway train thoughts of possible tragedies and losing my children, or if it is the guilt that if my parents died that I would exhale a sigh of relief. It could have to do with the sex games that people played with me when I was a child, seeing how close they could kill me without actually snuffing me out entirely. I imagine that being smashed against the pearly gates and raped would deter anyone from ministering to the dying population in the church. 

During the session, I persevered valiantly for roughly 45 minutes. The tears stayed balance like little champions on my eyelids. I didn’t allow them to spill over. I was also conveniently sitting front and center, so there was no means of a clandestine escape from the workshop. But slowly, I felt those child parts nudge their way to the front of my consciousness and take over ship. My feet carried me out of the workshop, and I quickly found what seemed to be a safe place to hide. I let myself cry and breathe for a while and looked at my feet. I saw bricks….probably a hundred or so, each engraved with memorial words for loved ones who had passed away, elderly, middle-aged, babies with only one date. I sighed. Perfect. I escaped the teaching session on death and dying only to be “rescued” by the memorial garden of this mega-church, with a hundred bricks screaming at me the reality of death. 

I asked God for a little favor. I’ve done that a lot lately. I just asked for him to show me that He cares and that I’m worth something to Him. Just then, a young pastor came and sat next to me. This church is so large that they have a pastor of prayer. Her sole job is to build and equip the prayer ministry of the church.  And I hoped that her presence was the answer to my prayer.

We started to chat, and I fumbled around, trying to communicate in as few words as possible the source of my extreme angst. This is a game that I often play with people. My belief is that surely I am a waste of peoples’ time, so I better see how few words I can use to communicate so that they can go on their merry way, liberated from my tedious presence. So I played my 25 words or less game, but this young pastor actually seemed to care. Better yet, she trusted me in that moment enough to share a vulnerable and honest part of herself as well.  She’s scared of death too. She and her husband are both pastors, and on Easter, they each had to do a funeral. Hers was for a baby born at 22 weeks gestation. On Easter Day. Then, she and her husband watched The Fault in Our Stars together that night and wept in each other’s arms, terrified of death. And they are pastors. She spoke to me of her anxiety and her own hamster wheel, her struggle of not knowing sometimes how to stop the wheel, and her difficulty in communicating it to her husband. Like we were friends. She just trusted me. 

And you know what? That’s what I needed. I needed a friend.

Not a pastor. Not a counselor. But a companion.  He cares. God cares. I’m still scared of death on so many levels. But so is Katherine, my friend.  And it is pretty clear that I am worth something to God.

Waves

I prayed that you were just a nightmare.
Played over and over.
Week after week,
Month after month,
Year after year.

I thought everyone was scared of waves,
Of dark, pounding water,
To the point that they
Wanted to throw themselves off of a bridge
To get away.

Till worship turned sour,
And wave after wave of love
Whirled the nightmares just enough,
I caught a glimpse of the reality
They reflected.

The moonless beach,
The scraping shells,
The kicking and sputtering, burning lungs,
The stark terror of peering over the cliff,
Watching the bubbles swirl into oblivion.
The fear and the longing.
The let go and hold on.

Surely it can’t be,
Just delusional musings
Of the sleep-deprived neurotic.
Just another clip to add to the fragments.
And they sit, rotten, stagnant,
Poisoning life today.

Never will I be the same again,
Never will it be resolved.
A life littered with snapshots,
Revolting, unfathomable, inhuman,
With no where to land,
So they flit like flies in the blank spaces.
And I wait, ears buzzing,
Terrified of, longing for
The real story.

The “Break-Up”

Can there be a “call” to break up with your parents?  Yes, I am an adult woman living many hundreds of miles away from my parents, but they run my life.  I have a sense of indebtedness towards them.  They are my parents, for crying out loud, and what if I am totally wrong and off base about my entire childhood?  Do I just cut them off?  

But relationship with them is killing me.  It is draining me of my lifeblood, just as they did when I was little.  Somehow, they still are in control.  That phone call.  The name that pops up on my phone and sends my world spinning.  That first birthday of our baby that they just have to fly out for, and I have to feign excitement.  Why would I let them ruin a time of joyous celebration?  MY child. Not theirs.  They already ruined their own child. 

But how?  How do you cut it off?  How in this great big world can I possibly say to my parents that my relationship with them is harming me and my family and that I need more space?  Not just a little breathing room, but I don’t want to ever hear from you again. 

My entire life has revolved around caring for my parents.  My sole purpose was to make sure that they were always emotionally stable.  I protected them from everything, especially from myself.  Now, once again,  I am the greatest threat to them.  I hold this time bomb, and one day soon, I am going to have to bite the bullet and call it quits.  I will hurl the bomb at them and watch them explode into a million pieces.  And my world will shatter.  As they crumble, so will I.  Because, we all know, that they hold the key to my demise. 

What is the “godly” thing to do?  I am either all about my present family or all about my parents.  I either protect my husband and children or protect my parents. Can I do both?  Can I protect everyone?  Can I guard everyone’s feelings and make a decision that will not hurt anyone?  My primary role is to protect and care for my children.  Their safety and well-being is paramount in the hierarchy of important things in my life.  Honoring and loving my husband is my other primary role.  I am a “daughter” of sorts, but that is not my primary role anymore.  I am no longer a secret-guarder.  I am no longer the one who has to keep my mother from committing suicide or my father from attacking my mother.  I am no longer the one who has to endure the consequences of my parents’ choices.  Thus, it seems to me that the “godly” thing is to cut my parents off. 

But here is the other rub: Can I emotionally handle the consequences of this break up?  Will I unravel?  Will I splinter into the thousand pieces that I constantly labor to hold together? Will the stress of all of this release crazy amounts of cortisol into my unborn child?  Or is it the opposite?  Will the trauma that comes up with every conversation with my parents drive me to complete madness?  Will the long term stress of trying to live a double life wreak havoc on the well-being of my family?  What is more damaging? 

So here I stand, in limbo, in the in-between, in this half-in, half-out, undecided, cowardly place.  I will probably remain here for a while.