WELCOME TO THE PITY PARTY!

hello my name isCome on in! Sign the list with your name and your particular angst. The comfort food is over there. You’ll be hearing songs like “Sad Songs” by Elton John, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle”,  Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”. Dolly Parton will sing about Joleen while Kenny Rogers cries about Lucille leaving him – with four hungry children and a crop in the field no less! Don’t hear your favorite? The DJ is taking requests. Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”? Sorry, no. Just…no. So grab a box of tissues and we’ll get this party started!

I’ve never liked the phrase, “Get over it.” I think it’s dismissive and, quite frankly, insensitive. OK, I suppose there are some things you can “get over” – like your McDonald’s fries not being hot enough or having someone take the last doughnut in the break room. Although those can be really disheartening.

But cold fries and an empty doughnut box aren’t the same as losing your job, losing your home, or having a spouse ask for a divorce. Of course, everyone knows that you don’t tell someone who’s suffered losses like that to “get over it,” do they? No.

No, they say kinder things like, “It was God’s will” or “Something better will come along.” Which I believe may seem a smidge more sensitive (especially if you squeeze God into it), but they’re no less dismissive.

silent cryingI think there’s a pretty long list of things we shouldn’t be expected to get over because we need to get through it. The psalm doesn’t say, “Though I take the bridge over the valley of the shadow of death….” It tells us that we can trust in God is as we walk through it.

I have never been much of a hostess because, frankly, it terrifies me to have people in my home. I used to think it was because I thought my housekeeping wasn’t good enough (which it’s not) or that I wouldn’t know what to do with them once they’re actually in my house. I’m beginning to suspect that it was too intimate for me.

For the most part, I’ve kept my home life separate from my life at work or church. Not that people at work or church never knew about my home life. (They wish!) I think I’ve used my home as a sort of dressing room in which I prepare before a performance and in which I can remove the makeup and costume after a performance.

I can tell those of you who don’t know me that I had a painful childhood. I can tell those of you who think you know me that I cried myself to sleep most nights as my mother laughed with my younger brother in her room down the hall, without me. (Yes, I suspect it was unhealthy.) There were nights I laid very still in my bed as I listened to her go down the stairs because her hatred was so palpable that I was prepared for her to return with a knife. I learned to watch for the slightest change in her voice or face to alert me to a change in her mood.

I lived with my own particular brand of unhealthy until the day before my 21st birthday. Now, I’d like to say that I moved in with a friend or another student at college or even a boyfriend, but I didn’t. Until today, the closest I could come to explaining what I did was to say I ran away from home. I took absolutely nothing with me except my purse, my car and the clothes I was wearing; and I didn’t have a plan.

tiredToday, I realize that what I truly did was escape. That was the only way I could have left. Running away would suggest some degree of rebellion or emotion. I was simply tired. Those of you who have been in a similar relationship know what I mean.

The whole thing didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked, and within a year I spent a couple of weeks in the local state hospital. (Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, really. Looking back on it as a mother and a woman who’s worked full-time for a few decades, I’ve often thought it has the trappings of a nice vacation. Your meals are prepared for you, the dishes are washed by someone else, you get to choose who your visitors are, you get your own room, make crafts, watch TV, get pretty good meds, have a captive audience with whom to share what’s on your mind, and meet the most interesting people. Not altogether bad – with the proper perspective.)

But I digress!

I’ve had an unpleasant life that left its mark, but not all marks are bad. For example, five years ago, I had an emergency open-heart surgery. Against most odds, I survived. The scar down the middle of my chest is a reminder to me of all the things I still get to enjoy – my husband, my daughters, warm showers in the morning and a comfortable bed at night and wonderful, compassionate friends.

Our scars show that we survived something. What I survived may not be anything like what you survived. But we all have scars, if not on our body then in our spirit.

strengthI don’t necessarily believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s far too simplistic. In fact, I think there’s much more to it than that, because honestly, what doesn’t kill you can really beat the hell out of you and leave you for dead sometimes.

But this much I know. I’m a damn sight stronger than I think I am. I’ve had the air knocked out of me often enough, and have wanted to quit often enough. I’ve wanted to stay down for the count plenty of times, but I’ve always gotten back up again…eventually. And I didn’t get back up because of any clever motivational sayings like “Fall seven times, get up eight” either. If it were that easy, any one of my therapists would have just handed me a book full of quotes.

No, I’ve gotten back up – slowly, confused, disoriented and exhausted – because that’s what people do when they choose to not take their own life. They get back up, take a shower, brush their hair, put on some clean clothes and  leave the house again to go to work or get groceries.

I’ve been angry, confused and frustrated a lot lately. There’s plenty to be angry, confused and frustrated about – money, health, a roof that leaks, a car that’s so badly bashed that it probably shouldn’t be driven, yet still takes up room in our driveway. And what I can’t figure out is why? And when does my family get a break?

weakness to godIf what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, my family – and yours – would be a bad-ass team.

You know what I think? I think God uses these trials to bring us closer to him. Do I think He gives us these trials? Sometimes, and I’ll make a case for that another day. But for the most part, I don’t think He has to. There are enough trials as a result of our own poor judgment, from the natural progression of time, from the acts of others or from Satan, that God doesn’t need help.

That doesn’t mean he he’s not interested in taking advantage of the opportunity those trials create. I think God uses those times in our lives for two primary purposes: to invite us to let him tend to our wounds, heal us, comfort us. He wants to be the one to restore us to the person he intended for us to be when he knit us together in our albeit mentally unhealthy, broken mother’s womb. In doing so, he demonstrates his sovereign power to the world.

God doesn’t give us trials because he knows how strong we are. There is no carnival game in Heaven in which we sling a huge hammer and try to ring a bell to test our strength just so God can determine how much crap we get in life. You’re not like the teacher my oldest daughter had who was so good with challenging children that he ended up with six in his class one year.

I am not that strong! I just don’t have anything better to do but to keep getting up every morning and doing my thing. But I’ve wallowed long enough, I think. You know what they say about sitting in a dirty diaper. It might stink, but it’s warm and it’s yours.

surrenderSitting in a dirty diaper is not fitting behavior for anyone, much less a child of God. His word says that it’s in our weakness that his strength is demonstrated. I’m not entirely clear about how that happens, but I think it’s time try to give God my weakness and quit carrying it around like a worn out, tear-stained teddy bear that’s served its purpose.

Your trials  – whatever the source – should serve to allow God to show the world how strong he is. If he allows more than we can carry, it’s so we can ask him to carry it for us, because his yoke is light.

So feel free to linger at the pity party a bit longer if you like. The food is really good and the DJ gets paid no matter how long he’s here! But when you leave, put your nametag in the trash – you know, the one that says “Hello, my name is defeat” and be sure to take one that says “I am a child of the one true King!”

C’mon! It’s time to get moving along!

 

AND STILL I RISE

Getting up can be a much bigger deal than we think, really. Essentially, the physical act of getting up is a matter of defying gravity, isn’t it? When I think of it that way, it seems like a really big deal! We seldom think of it, though, because we do it all day long – we rise from bed, from a chair, from the floor. Toddlers are forever getting back up!

So when do we become conscious of the mechanics of getting up, of rising?

When it gets hard and takes more strength than we think we have – in the way Andra Day sings about in “I’ll Rise Up.”

Age, long hours and illness can make it a physical challenge to get back up. Anxiety, depression, high expectations, loss, and disappointment can make it an emotional challenge.img_4464

But sometimes there is something especially inspirational and profound in getting back up again. Our lives aren’t always as dramatic as a boxer’s, where a win is dependent upon getting up after being knocked down for the count while “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background, but rising can be just as challenging and every bit as vital. And equally powerful

Our story may not be as beautifully worded as Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, but it’s inspiritational just the same. After all, it’s our story!

As I’ve mentioned before, I belong to two different Facebook groups – one for survivors of aortic dissections, which I joined after surviving my own ascending aortic dissection, and one for survivors of CPTSD/PTSD. I’ve been fascinated by how much they overlap. Those in the group dealing with health issues are also dealing with some serious emotional challenges,  and those in the group dealing with emotional issues are also dealing with their share of health issues. What they seem to share most is a sense being alone and feeling quite weary.

So many members of these two groups feel like no one really “gets” their struggle, and they are aware that their recovery, their moving forward, is in fact an individual effort. Others can sympathize, empathize, encourage and support, but the journey of getting back up is ultimately their own.

Still, I know those feelings aren’t unique to these groups. I don’t think any of us have gotten through life without getting knocked down a time or two. Some of us come from a long line of people who have been knocked down and have fought hard to rise up. Some of us have gone through seasons of challenge in spite of every privilege and benefit the world has afforded us. Difficulty is no respecter of wealth, beauty, education, age, gender or ethnicity.

The apostle Peter knew a bit about difficulties, and yet he passed on this promise:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  1 Peter 5:10-11

How could he be so certain of God’s grace? Because he’d experienced it. Jesus still loved him and called him after Peter denied knowing him. Jesus pulled him from the roaring waves the moment Peter cried out for help.

Peter is telling us that, yes, we will suffer. But! By the grace of God, we can rise up…again and again and again.LBG2015Thrill-of-hope-01.jpg

But even before that, Jesus had been born Emmanuel, God with us. That was God’s descent. And how glorious His rising was! In His descent, the weary – like you and me – were given hope. In his rising, we were redeemed. It is by His grace and the strength it affords us that we can always rise again. God has plans for you, fighter. You may be down, but don’t you dare stay down!

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JESUS WEPT…TOO

01abaa8689658eaf373af1ec9b42b72cI was listening to MercyMe’s “Even If”, which gives voice to those times when we suspect that God may not be especially interested in helping us out of whatever trial we’re going through. We know He can. We believe that He is able. He just doesn’t seem willing.

This has always been a challenge for me to process. My example of grace and a willingness to help was not especially positive. Here’s an example: Several years ago, my car caught fire around 2:00 am. First, my step-father woke me up to tell me my car was on fire. When I asked him if he’d called the fire department, he said, “I thought you’d want to do that.” (The man didn’t have enough ambition to even register on the passivity scale!)

Over the next week, my mother was quite emphatic that the car needed to get off the street because it was an eyesore and she was worried about what the neighbors would think – which was ironic because it was likely one of the neighbors who set it on fire in the first place, such was the neighborhood. One day, she told me that one of the men I’d contacted had called to say he was actually interested in taking the eyesore off my hands. My delight was short-lived, however, when she refused to give me his phone number so I could call him to make arrangements. (Don’t ask…my brain is still locked up over that one!)

So, you can imagine how I felt about God when I thought he wasn’t willing to put an end to a bad situation or to give me hope when I felt there was none. I knew He could and believed He was able. The only conclusion for me was, naturally, that God didn’t want to help me. And that put a wedge between us, which left me feeling unlovable, which wasn’t fair to God.

I know better now, as I’ve been a parent for 26 years. If I tell one of my daughters “no”, I have sound, loving reasons.

Still, I think there are plenty of times when we say, as in the song, “it is well” with my soul, but with a hint of disappointment and even resentment in our voice. A sort of “Gee, thanks for nothin’, God.” Because it’s not really as well with my soul as I let on!

A little over five years ago, I survived an emergency eight-hour open-heart surgery to save my life from an ascending aortic dissection. My mind and body haven’t been the same since, and no one really knows why, which means no one knows how to “fix” me. Of all the issues I’ve had, chronic pain has been the most life-changing for me. I hurt most of the time, and it’s completely altered the way I do anything outside the house. So for five years, I’ve been at a loss as to why God left me so very different than I was before the surgery. As grateful as I am that I survived, the condition I’m in frustrates me!

In Pain and Providence, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote: “God uses chronic pain and a146a1b41e18c40cad6493ade0abef21 (1)weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependency on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.” Don’t doubt for a moment that I’d prefer to come to the same end without the chronic pain! But she’s right.

Paul came to the same conclusion when he wrote: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it (the thorn in his side) away from 69628e65940954f9ad4d517b8ca2d026me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NIV)

Here’s the thing, though: I forget that at all times, God loves me and wants what’s best for me. I have to remember and be confident that I am the way I am – and not the way I want to be – because God wants me this way right now. I mistakenly assume that because I don’t like it, it’s “wrong” or “bad” or, worse, “punishment.”

The key, I’m learning, is to get on board with God’s new game plan for me. The best thing I can do is to trust that God loves me and will give me the grace and strength to get through whatever situation He chooses to leave me in. It would help if I could resist the temptation to label my situation as “good” or “bad”. And it would serve me well to to just roll with it and be open to God’s guidance. It’s that surrender, that acquiescence, that God wants.

It’s important for us to remember that Jesus understands this anxiety and frustration f6769b615b03aefe414a06588ec985d5that we often have with a situation we’d like to change. He wept when he felt deep compassion for those who loved Lazarus and had buried him. It pained him to know that it had been necessary for Him to allow for that grief in order that He demonstrate His power by bringing him back to life. And certainly, he cried desperately for God to find another way to redeem humanity that would be so much less painful than crucifixion on the cross and bearing the weight of so many sins. But we know that God did not permit that cup to pass from Him.

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God knows and Jesus understands. It’s up to us to trust, accept and allow God to use us for His kingdom the way He chooses to.

“The truth is, in this world it’s a 100 percent guarantee that we will suffer. But at the same time, Jesus Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us, encourage us, comfort us, grace us with strength and perseverance, and yes, even restore joy in our lives. Your Savior is 100 percent certain to be with you through every challenge.” 

― Joni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty

LET’S BE HONEST

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I’m beginning to think that whoever came up with the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was never required to put that confidence to the test. In fact, I’d be willing to bet they knew the guy who first said, “Buck up, little camper!”

Don’t get me wrong. I know adversity can lead to great strength. The Bible is full of examples of that – Paul, Job, Joseph. Tough lives created tough guys. And historically, some of our greatest entrepreneurs, leaders and athletes have risen from the ashes of adversity. I’m confident that each of us have that same potential. I know we each have that opportunity.

However, I also believe that life can really kick you in the butt and wear you down to nothing first. But the nice thing about being that low is that there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Very few successful people are transparent about the times they were down for the count; the moments right before they started to get back up.

One of my favorite quotes about being knocked down is from J. K. Rowling:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

As I’ve mentioned before here and there, I belong to two wonderful Facebook groups. One is for survivors of C/PTSD and the other is for survivors of Aortic Dissections. More and more, the line between the two – one emotional and psychological, the other primarily physical – is beginning to blur for me.

I have one friend who survived necrotizing faciitis (flesh-eating disease) and another who survived a staph infection that was so rare his doctor told the intern to not even bother taking notes on it because they’d probably never see it again. When I gave birth to my first daughter at 28 weeks gestation, weighing one-and-a-half pounds, measuring 13 inches, I stayed at a Ronald McDonald House, where families were staying to be close to their very sick children. Some knew their child was going to die. Others were hoping their child would live. Watch the news and you’ll witness people losing everything they have to natural disasters.

And…?

And I’ve come to the conclusion that there are whole lot of us out here who have been through “stuff”!

And I’m noticing some common denominators:

We’re dealing with something that happened to us. Most fiction is about man vs. man or man vs. nature. Sometimes, what happens is a result of our own sequence of choices, although for the sake of this post I’m not going to address that.

We didn’t ask for it to happen to us. So whether you’ve faced the possibility that you’ll lose your life to cancer or had a fender bender with a rotten driver; whether you’ve lost a child or lost your job; spent most of your life under the dehumanizing  abuse of a  parent or been treated as “less than” because of your size, your gender or the amount of pigmentation in your skin, no one asked if you’d be OK with it. And yet, like the family whose home and all their belongings have been destroyed by a tornado, it’s left to you to clear the debris.

We think we’re alone. Either shame or misinformation has isolated us into thinking no one would understand. And you’d be partially right. If you’ve been raped, not even another rape victim can understand how you translated and processed your own violation. If your spouse tells you they think you’re unlovable, no one else has the same life as you to enable them to truly empathize with your sense of unlovability. (It’s a word now.)

And, finally, we aren’t handed manuals or PowerPoint presentations to tell us what to do next. You, my friend, are on your own. Your friends, family and therapists can support you, but ultimately the true work is up to you.

Now there are plenty of scriptures to address everything I just said, and a few sermons that could be preached about challenges. And, yes, I will insist that God loves us and will never leave us or forsake us. I know that I can cast all my care on Him because He loves me. I believe He will make a way when there seems to be no way. And I am confident that he is able “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) However, since this post is already around 1,000 words long, I’ll save these for other posts.

Today, the thing I want you to understand is this: None of us are the only ones and we are not c553a748a7656e370d73d8dab054b6f0alone! I may not have gone through what my friend Jeff endured, but I’ve had my own “stuff”. You may not have had a mother who punished you by not acknowledging your existence for 2-3 days like I did, but I know you’ve had your own “stuff”. Can we agree on that much? Can we be compassionate and patient with each other without judging who’s had the worst “stuff”?

So if someone tells you that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” don’t feel bad if you think it’s hot air. Don’t let those words shame you into thinking you should be doing better than you are doing. We may become strong from our trials, but I don’t believe that God is sitting on a heavenly throne passing out painful things and saying, “Yeah, give it to him. He can take it.” I think those statements, while being well meaning, actually invalidate your pain.

When I started this blog, I wanted to share things that would give others a sort of permission to embrace their own challenges and pain, as well as to provide some encouragement and validation. I’ve come to believe that one of the things people need to move on or move through their struggle is to have someone look at you and say, “I see you! What you went through was rough. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. But it can be better than this.”

It’s time we shared our stories.5734bd36c0aa8d7f59f5d6e7cc395e25