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

 

HELLO, MY NAME IS….

It seems that when you meet someone, there’s a list of facts about yourself that you routinely share – safe things. For example, I like telling people I was born in California, raised in Missouri, spent a few years in Kansas before moving to Minnesota, where I currently live. I suppose I feel there’s a preemptive apology in there somewhere in case I fail to pronounce my O’s like a proper Minnesotan, or if I slip up and ask them what “casserole” they brought instead of calling it a “hot dish.”

I tell them I work at an insurance agency before quickly moving on to a subject that strikes a little less fear into their hearts. After all, who wants to sit and visit with someone who might try to sell you insurance, right? At least I now have a job to discuss. The months I was unemployed were the worst! I was relieved to discover the phrase “community volunteer.” The only danger there was having someone figure out that my husband probably didn’t earn enough to allow me the luxury of being a “community volunteer”. Know what I mean?

In any event, I’ve learned that the longer you know someone, they eventually find out what your favorite foods, books, movies, singers, and sports teams are. You’ll tell them what you really don’t like about some people, what you like about others. For some, it’s the beginning of a great friendship.

Maybe not so much for you, though. Will they ever become acquainted with the person you see in the mirror? The one that even your own family seldom sees? How do you ever introduce that person?

Hello, my name is….

Did you know that today I had a hard time getting out of bed and getting dressed? I just wanted to keep sleeping because that’s where I can avoid the ugly thoughts that won’t stop going through my head. And getting dressed? Let’s face it – you can put lipstick on a pig, but…. Still, I knew I would have to put on a smile when, in all honesty, I want to cry. In fact, that’s why I wear water-proof mascara. I know that at some point, I will go to the ladies room and cry, and I don’t want my mascara to run. And, no, I don’t really have allergies. That’s not why my eyes look puffy sometimes.

Did you know that the reason I don’t welcome you into my home is because I wouldn’t know what to do with you? When I was growing up, we didn’t have company over and other kids weren’t allowed into the house because we never knew what mood Dad might be in. So, I’m sorry, but I can’t bear the thought of you coming in for a visit. Can we meet somewhere else?

Did you know that I’m sorry? I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry if I make you wait or if I say the wrong thing. I’m sorry if I talk too much. I’m sorry if I don’t talk enough. I’m sorry for taking up too much room. I’m sorry for breathing too much air. I’m just…so sorry.

Did you know that I’m afraid you’ll want to be my friend because I don’t quite know how to handle that level of intimacy? I’m afraid you’ll want more from me than I’m able to give. Some people have wanted everything I had until there was nothing left for me. But I’m also afraid you’ll leave me if we do become friends. I’m afraid that you’ll learn what I already know about myself – that I’m a worthless pain. I’m needy and insecure and ugly. I’m unlovable. And I couldn’t bear for you to discover that and reject me.

Do you really have any idea who you’re talking to? Let’s just stick with the name on my name tag, huh? It will be easier that way. I’ll smile. You’ll smile. Then we will both go home none the wiser, OK?

But that’s not OK with God. God designed us for relationship!  As his children, we’re meant to encourage and love each other. In fact, other people may need exactly what you might be hiding. You’d be surprised at who is waiting to get to know you. You might even find someone who’s as scared as you are.

As C S Lewis said:

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

No matter how flawed you might think you are, you’ll be surprised at what can happen if you just give relationships a chance. It may be a learning curve, but with God’s help you can do it. Remember:  “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (NIV). Now, go make a friend!

ONE OF THOSE DAYS

I’m having one of those days today. I didn’t have days like this until I had emergency surgery for an Ascending Aortic Dissection in July of 2013. Which means that I have been having days like this since July of 2013. I don’t like them! In fact, I’m quite tired of them.

Before I write another word, I want to let you know that, yes, I am aware that there are people out there who have it worse. My heart goes out to them and I sympathize with their challenges. I don’t know how they do it. That being said, if you don’t want to attend my pity party today, take your comfort food and go before we play pin the tear on the sad girl. 😀

On the outside, I think I appear to be fine. People say they don’t usually notice the difficulty I have with my speech, although I am aware of the effort it now takes to speak clearly. Many of the people I know now didn’t know me when I did public speaking in high school or even when I did community theater here in New Ulm.  And they can’t appreciate how painful it is to me to work so hard on something that was once so effortless and fun for me. I’ve always said my favorite thing to do was to talk.

When others read my handwriting, they often don’t have my pre-dissection handwriting to compare it to. If they did, they would see a difference between today’s shaky, labored handwriting (which they say they can read) and my prior assertive, fluid handwriting that leaned forward in anticipation for the next word. I was so proud of my signature. It was me. It’s now as ordinary as I am. Today, I have to carefully sign my name as if it were simply any other word.

People might notice the care I take with my steps, but I fear they might also think I’ve been drinking when they see me saunter to the side or lose my balance. I can say with confidence that it is not because I’m drunk. Alcohol is no more responsible for my unsteady gait than it is my slightly poor driving and even worse parking. Those are more a result of my poor judgment of distance.

And it’s frustrating to have poor short-term memory when I’m accustomed to being able to juggle several different thoughts. Now, I have a hard time keeping a single thought in my head until I get it out. I often feel like I did when I was a kid and had to repeat “milk, eggs, bread” all the way to the grocery store so I wouldn’t forget what my mom had sent me after.

Anyone watching me type today would never imagine that I had excelled at that, too. I did. When I was in my late 20’s, I won 1st and 2nd places in national competition for Business Professionals of America in Information Processing. Today, I have to constantly correct myself in spite of how slow I go.

Since I was on heart-lung bypass for nearly eight hours to repair my aorta and save my life, everything seems to take more concentration and deliberation. It’s exasperating to have to carefully do simple things that I used to do with ease.

And on days like this, I feel a little broken and frustrated. I’ve prayed for healing, but I think God has his own idea of how I’m going to be healed. See, before my dissection, I was always in a hurry and usually managed to get myself in over my head with work and responsibilities.

I seldom took the time to relax, and I didn’t relax I assumed anyone (especially my family) who wasn’t doing something was lazy. I took it upon myself to feel burdened and offended by their lack of busyness.

I can’t hurry anymore. I can’t talk fast or write fast or type fast without the words coming out unintelligibly. I can’t walk fast without tripping or tiring myself. I don’t care to drive anywhere and prefer to leave the errands to my husband.

Here’s what I’m finding out as I find slowing down a necessity: A lot of the things I thought had to be done by me can actually be done by someone else. A lot of the things I thought had to be said, don’t need to be said by me. Most of the thoughts in my head really don’t need to be shared at all. And even if I get there slowly, I will eventually get there. All in all, the work gets done somehow.

Sure, my pride has taken a big hit in the last 4 1/2 years. I’ve prayed for healing. The body isn’t healing that well, but if God wanted to heal me of busyness, pride and arrogance…I think it’s starting to work. What God has done is to force me into relationship with others in a way that is much deeper and more vulnerable.

And if I wasn’t sure that God is working on my, he confirmed it just now. As I looked for an image to go with this post, I found on Pinterest the two graphics I’ve used in this post without having to do a search. My God has a sense of humor!

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HE’S AFTER YOUR HEART

hes after your heart

I saw this on Pinterest, and it absolutely captivated me. From as early as I had an interest in the opposite sex, if any boy or man had said to me, “I’m after your heart.” I would have melted and sighed, “Okay….” (Unless he was wielding a knife with a maniacal look in his eyes, of course. That would have been scary, you know? Just sayin’.)

Just know that I’m no expert on scripture, and I’d never read Hosea until last night. And even then, I can’t claim to have studied it, but I’m excited to share what I learned about God’s nature in loving his people when I looked at this book.

The book starts out with God’s conversation with Hosea about the punishment Israel is about to receive for being sinful and unrepentant. He’s using the prophet as a visual aid for the poor state of the Israel’s relationship with himself. But we don’t get far in the narration before we see the sheer depth and breadth of God’s love. We see how he longs for reconciliation; he’s willing to forgive and waiting to see the hearts of his people turned back to him.

But before they can be reconciled to him, the people will be punished for their faithlessness and wicked choices. Blood will be spilled, the land will be dried up and the people will be defenseless in battle. He even goes so far as to declare that he is no longer the Israelites’ “I AM”. Still, the time will come when God’s word will not return void. He called the people of Israel his people, and they will be restored as such.

“Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God. (Hosea 1:10)

So if reconciliation is on the horizon, why would he punish them? They had been unfaithful to him. They forgot their God, the one who delivered them from slavery, saw them through the wilderness and took them to their promised land. You can hear the sorrow in his heart when he says:

“I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rigs and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot,”  declares the Lord. (v. 13)

The good news is that we have a loving and forgiving God who is always willing to take us back after we’ve repented. The words he uses are filled with gentleness and compassion. He says:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:12 – 14) “In that day,” declares the Lord“you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ (v. 16)

Such love and wooing is in these words! Wouldn’t we all much rather have a “husband” who loves us, protects us, and desires us than a “master”? Although both a master and a husband will see to our needs for food, clothing and shelter, there is so much more commitment and mercy in being a spouse than a slave. Slaves can be bought and sold. Spouses are meant to be kept for life and cherished.

What’s more, he speaks of himself as a loving parent.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.  I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11:3 – 4)

Further, he goes on to affirm his holiness. While he loves us as a husband might and tends to us as a parent might, God is still holy above all else.

I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. (Hosea 11:9)

Not only will the Lord love us again, he will restore us.

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces but he will heal us;
he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” (Hosea 6:1)

So that’s it? Some harsh punishment and we’re good with God because he loves us so much? Not quite. Our part is to repent and return to him. It takes action on our part. We must see the Lord for who he is – holy and sovereign. There is none equal to him, no substitute for him, and we have to live with that as our truth!

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. (Hosea 12:6)

That’s our call to action. Jesus made this even easier for us through his sacrificial death. We no longer have to make sacrifices to restore our relationship with the Lord. God doesn’t want sacrifices. He wants your heart!

YOU’RE AN OVERCOMER!

I belong to a Facebook page for people who have been through some degree of post-traumatic stress. I joined because there are still elements of my growing up that still adversely affect my self-image and my relationships with others today, long after the “threat” is gone. I wanted to be part of a group that would help validate what I’d been through. I wanted to see how others dealt with their struggles. To be honest, I was expecting to see stories worse than mine. Unfortunately they’re out there. Some of the group members have been through far more horrifying things than I have. I was one of the more fortunate dysfunctional adults. I was raised by a mentally unhealthy mother and a step-father who was probably as afraid of her as my brother and I were and did nothing to stop her.

Living with a mentally ill parent can distort the way you see the world and yourself. It alters how you trust yourself and others. Learning a healthy perspective of the world and yourself can be a challenge. Sometimes it can take years of dipping your toe in the pool of “normalcy” before you decide to even get into the water. (Imagine trying to get in the pool when you’re terrified of drowning.) This can be especially true if you’ve lived in an isolated abusive or destructive home. And most likely that how your home was – isolated. When you grow up thinking your isolated life is normal, you have to learn what “normal” is. Now, I know…what’s normal? Let’s refer to it as “healthy” instead. After all, there are a lot of “normal” people out there who aren’t especially “healthy”, right?

There will be no navel-gazing today. Someday, we can talk about the past, but not today. Today, we look to the future with hope. I want to just put this quote in front of you to think about.

“Instead of being ashamed of what you’ve been through, be proud of what you’ve overcome.”  Dr. Phil

I know…it’s a quote from Dr. Phil. And before you try to engage me in a debate over his qualifications or practices, just let me say that this is simply a stand-alone quote that I think is valuable to ponder, regardless of its source. Can we agree on that? Good.

Now, if you want a word from a greater authority, we can look at Romans 8:34-39.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life –  is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Through the sacrificial death of Christ, we no longer need to be ashamed of the pain, discouragement and fear we went through before we committed our life to Christ. Because of God’s great love for us, we are more than conquerors; we are victorious and free to start anew!

So don’t dwell on your past pain (or failures). Don’t continue to live in shame. Rejoice that God has a good plan for your life. And what he has declared will not return void. If he declares that you have a good life ahead of you – and he has – so it will be. It may not always be easy, but it will be good. And remember, you may have been through a lot, but you’ve survived. Now, through the power of a risen Christ, you can not only survive; you can thrive! Be the overcomer Christ died for you to be.

VALIDATION

When you’ve been hurt, I believe there are two you need: validation and permission. Validation tells you that, yes, something painful has happened to you or you’ve struggled with something that’s taken a lot from you. Permission allows you to move forward when you don’t believe you have the right to.

Today I want to talk about validation. I lived in silence for years about my home life, mostly because I wasn’t aware that it was different from anyone else’s. I lived with a mentally unhealthy mother who was emotionally and verbally abusive, often withholding attention as a means of punishment, and punishment was unpredictable and came on a whim. I never knew when to expect it, so I anticipated it constantly.

Even after I learned that this was not normal parenting behavior, it didn’t make me feel any better. And for the longest time, I thought I wanted pity. It took me a few years to realize that pity wasn’t very satisfying and not especially forthcoming when no one knew what I’d gone through. Through years of therapy, I felt sorry for myself when what I was really looking for was acknowledgement that what I’d gone through was, indeed, abnormal and that it was painful. I needed validation so I could start healing.

As I said, though, validation is hard to come by when no one knows what needs to be validated. So often, we don’t talk about the pain of our past (or present, even) because we don’t want to appear pathetic or vulnerable. No one who has felt weak wants to appear weak. We want to appear fearless and seamless when we may very likely be very broken. We keep our pain in the dark, hidden.

But here’s the thing: There is no healing as long as our pain is hidden. Ephesians 5:13-14 tell us “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. I believe this is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” As long as our pain and any shame that goes along with it are kept in the dark, they’re in Satan’s domain. He can continue to use them to destroy our relationships and self-image.

But if we shine the light of Christ on what is hidden, we can be healed of that pain and shame. We can heal our relationships. Best of all, we can have a self-image that reflects who we really are – children of God. And how incredible would it be to see yourself as the child of God, rather than the child of a parent who hurt you? Ultimately, we have been made in God’s image. What a lovely, beautiful image that is!

So whether you endured years of unspeakable abuse or someone simply hurt your feelings today, don’t be ashamed or afraid to shine the light of Christ on your pain. It wasn’t your fault, and the one who hurt you can’t heal you the way God can. Let God dispel the darkness that Satan delights in. Let the Lord do a good work in you today and begin living the life he wants for you – a life that glorifies him.