Category Archives: Struggle

Hiking, Hills, and Healing (Part 4)

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photography of person on green mountain

(This is Part 4 in a 5 Part series being published this week.  See below for links to the other parts.)

And so I hike – present tense.  I’m hiking still.  I gather what I can along the way to help me, and learn better ways to navigate through the rough spots.  I’m still on the first ridge, but I am farther than that first hill, and farther than that first mountain.

A hiker can start out slow and clumsy and unfit for the task.  She might be easily exhausted and think she can’t go on at first.  But with every step she gains strength, stamina, and experience that help her for the remainder of the journey.  She learns when to push through the fatigue and when to stop and rest.  She learns when to eat and sleep, when to look for landmarks to get her bearings.  She learns the signs that danger is near and how to avoid allowing it to consume her.  But she learns something else, too.  She learns that there are times when the most important thing to do is to simply stop and notice the beauty.

That was something I hadn’t noticed about the mountain range when I first saw it looming large in front of me.  The sheer size of the range was overwhelming and terrifying.  I felt faint and defeated before I’d even put one foot forward on it.  But now that I’ve come to accept that my life – for the foreseeable future anyway – consists of mountain climbing, I’ve been able to view these mountains a little differently.  I can see that there is much more on these peaks than difficulty and trouble – there is also breath-taking splendor if I only have eyes to see.

It slows my pace at times, but there are places where I can see so far and so much that I am astounded by all that a mountain range can reveal.  There are pristine lakes of clear, still, life-giving water where quiet peace is palpable.  There is clarity in the air away from the every-day noise and commotion of ordinary life – a clarity that I didn’t even know I lacked – that makes truth so much easier to see.  And there is a solace in knowing that hiking through this mountain range is producing something in me that couldn’t have been produced in any other way.  There are insights into eternity that I never could have imagined, but I have been humbled and am grateful to have become acquainted with.  I know that these are things which are only able to be witnessed or experienced here – in these mountains of adversity.  They require a perilous journey over treacherous terrain, but they are worth it.  And, the truth is, I realize now, too, that there are chasms and dangerous depths that are more terrifying and deadly than I ever dreamed.  These perilous pits have always existed, but I would never had known that though they seem interesting and are even beautiful at the surface, they contain piles and piles of corpses in their depths.  Their stench isn’t immediately noticeable, but when you get close enough – close enough to be swallowed alive in them – their choking fumes are overwhelming.  I would not have known what they were really like – how bad they really are – had I not been made to climb to these heights.

I must continue to move on, of course, but I do not want to forget all that has been revealed to me here – in the midst of this indescribably difficult pilgrimage.

Photo by mirsad mujanovic on Pexels.com

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5

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Hiking, Hills, and Healing (Part 3)

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mountain under cloudy sky

(This is Part 3 of a 5 part series being published this week.  See below for links to the other parts.)

Instead of seeing the pleasant, rolling valley I had expected to see, what I saw left me shaken to the core.  Instead of patchworks of fields with happy homes and the cheerful promise of safety, stability, and belonging, a vast mountain range stretched before me.  The peaks were far higher than the one I’d just climbed, and far more treacherous.  They went on as far as I could see – there was no end to them.  They were jagged and sharp, steep and menacing. I couldn’t see a single path or road that led through them – just the uneven  route that I’d have to forge for myself.  Every direction I looked, save one, looked the same.  I could return to the crypt, or I could face what seemed impossible.  I wept.  My legs buckled underneath me and I went down.  I was already so weary.  I had barely made it to the top of that mountain – how could I go on?  Despair engulfed me and I had no strength left to be able to take in what was in front of me.

I spent a long time considering the impossible options that presented themselves to me – choiceless choices that promised only pain and suffering.  The way out could only be through that range.  Turning back would be no easy thing either, but it would only lead to utter defeat and with it a lifelong prison sentence.  How could I go back to be shackled to the torturous creatures pouring out of that vault?  Many of them clung to and hounded me as I made my way up the hill and the mountain already.  They were already dead weight threatening to crush me – who would voluntarily let them have more power?  But did I have what it would take to go forward?  There was no end in sight.  Could I make it?  The path that had been difficult to follow up till now was completely gone ahead – how would I know how to go?  The mountain I had just climbed was steep and rugged.  But the ones ahead bore sheer cliffs, bald and barren inclines, and snow caps that promised harsh conditions I knew I wasn’t prepared for.  I didn’t have the right supplies to get me through – I thought I was only going to have to climb a hill when I started out.  I needed better provisions – better shoes, warmer clothing – how could anyone make it through?

Again and again I searched for a third option, but there were only ever two: go back and be sentenced to suffer at the groping hands of my tormentors forever, or go forward on the dangerous journey ahead which offered at least the idea of hope of freedom from them on the other side.  I didn’t want to start the journey through that terrifying mountain range, but who wants to voluntarily climb back down and turn themselves in to face a life imprisoned by their worst memories and fears?  How could that be a better option?  I knew what I had to do.

Mountain ranges are big, but they’re not eternal, right?  They might stretch on for many, many miles, but eventually they would give way to foot hills and pleasant, rolling landscape on the other side, wouldn’t they?  There has to be hope on the other side of all of this, doesn’t there?

Photo by Philip Ackermann on Pexels.com

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

Hiking, Hills, and Healing (Part 2)

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woman standing on brown wooden plank

 

(This is Part 2 in a 5 part series being published this week. See below for links to the other parts.)

When I was little, I used to dream about living in the mountains.  I loved the pictures I’d seen of the Alps and the Rockies, and I delighted in the short trips we’d taken to the Poconos to visit an aunt and uncle who lived there.  I loved coming round a bend to be greeted by a panoramic view of the valleys below where patchwork fields and little houses dotted an idyllic version of life that I so wanted as my own.  I was sure that this is what would await me on the other side of this hill in front of me.

I looked forward to the pleasant vista that would be a reward for all my hard work and a promise of a better way of life.  I began dreaming about what I would do once I got to that beautiful other side.  But as I crested the top of that hill, I realized that I had been wrong about all of this, really wrong.  This was not just any hill – it was a foot hill.  There was a mountain behind that hill – a big one.  The mountain had had been obscured by the hill itself because the hill was all I could see.  When I got high enough on the hill to see what lay beyond it, I was disheartened.  I thought I was getting close to the end of this difficult process.  I was tired and I was disappointed to see that after this initial effort that had seemed to fill up my life and take all the energy I had, there was another, bigger challenge waiting for me.

But what else could be done?  You climb a mountain the same way you climb a hill – right?  You put one foot in front of the other and eventually those faithful steps in the right direction get you somewhere – right?  So, once I had climbed that foot hill and then down again on the other side of it, I started to climb the mountain.  It was harder, steeper, rockier than the hill had been.  The path was barely there and I had to spend cold and lonely nights on those rocks willing myself to move forward to get to the other side.  I kept looking up at the peak that seemed to touch the clouds, longing for the day when I’d reach it and be able to begin my descent and get to the other side.  I even imagined there might be another foot hill on the other side but thought, “it’s ok – what’s one more foot hill after you’ve already climbed a mountain?  It’ll be easy compared to this.”

It took a long time – a really long time – to get to the top of that mountain.  I was exhausted.  I had underestimated the effort it would take – the strength and stamina, the stubborn determination.  I had not considered the deprivation, the loneliness, the cold winds.  But the top did get nearer with each step and that was enough encouragement to keep going.  I kept thinking, “it’s taking longer than I thought, and this is way harder than I imagined it would be, but I am getting closer to the top.  I just need to push through a little further.  I just need to keep going and I’ll get there!”  When I did, I was not exuberant – but I was relieved.  “At last,” I thought, “I’m done the hardest part of this.  I made it through and now I can begin the journey down into safer, easier landscapes.”

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw at the top of that mountain.  Nothing.

Photo by Kilian M on Pexels.com

Click here for Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Hiking, Hills, and Healing (Part 1)

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Hiking, Hills, and Healing

(This is Part 1 in a 5 Part series being published this week.  See below for links to the other parts.)

When I was a child, I lived in a hilly area.  There were also many train lines crisscrossing the towns and boroughs and as a result, there were lots of roads that went through stone or concrete tunnels underneath the tracks.  On one such tunnel wall, an “artist” left a message that even the adults in the area found amusing.  It stated simply, “Humpty Dumpty was pushed.”

I’ve thought of that statement a few times over the past few years, because when I was confronted with the need to finally face a life time of trauma, I did not do so as an eager volunteer. I was pushed.

For decades I had managed well enough by setting all of “that” aside, working harder and harder to push through the demands of life, and building an iron-bar reinforced concrete cavern for any painful memories or experiences to be locked tightly into.  I kept it far beneath the surface so that no one could ever know.  I was able to even forget the torturous tenants were there sometimes, but the inhabitants of that vault never did.  And while I had unconsciously added rooms and extra storage areas over the years to accommodate more and more “stuff” that needed to be hidden away in that crypt, eventually it became so overcrowded that no amount of energy or willpower was enough to keep the lids or doors shut tight.

Trauma will only be encased for so long

Trauma will only be encased for so long.  Though I tried valiantly to live as though none of it was true, eventually even iron reinforcements rust and concrete mausoleums crumble.  My tightly locked dungeon that housed all the ugly started to break down and refused to accommodate one more thing.  It didn’t take much at that point for the locks to fail, the doors to be forced open, and for all hell to break loose.  When it did, I was forced (pushed) to make some decisions about how to proceed with my life.

My options were few and none of them good.  The first option was that I could unpack all of this stench that had been encased in the box – cleaning out one disgusting inmate’s remains at a time.  The promises made with this option were “this will change you – you’ll always walk with a limp – but you’ll be ‘healed,’” whatever that was supposed to mean.  The second, and final, option was that I could proceed without any specific interventions to clean out or clean up the evil personified pouring out of the cavernous coffin.  But the promises made with this option included only one truth – that I would be sentenced to living with the exhumed inhabitants of that terrible chamber controlling me like a puppet on a string for the rest of my life.

I “chose” to try to clean up the mess, but it didn’t really seem like a choice.  It seemed like an injustice – because it was.  I hadn’t created the demons that inhabited those spaces, and I wasn’t responsible for all they had done.  But they were here.  This was, like it or not, an injustice that had to be borne, and so finally, I said “yes” to it.  But reluctantly, and after a lot of thinking.  In fact, my “yes” was more like a shove off a wall.  I had no idea what I was saying yes to – no idea at all.

I often use the mountains as an analogy for the process I had to embark upon – this process called “trauma healing”. At first I thought I had a big hill in front of me. Very big, in fact, but climbable. So, being the hard worker I had learned to become, I tackled it the way I tackled everything – I set my resolve and started climbing. It didn’t matter that I didn’t really know what I was doing or why I was even climbing – there was a hill in front of me and that meant one thing:  Climb.  After some time and no small effort, I was close enough to the top of that hill to begin to look for the view I was sure would greet me on the other side.

(Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Click here for Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Who do you say that I am?

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When walking alongside the suffering – the traumatized, the abused, the vulnerable – know that though they might never utter the words to you, they are inwardly pleading with you to answer the question:

 

Who Do You Say That I Am?

I have been called many things by many people – but you, who do you say that I am?

You have invited me into your space, quieted your voice to come closer to my voiceless pain – but who do you say that I am?

You have asked me to trust, and so I try – through sideways and straight-on glances I watch to see if I might.

You have spent hours to help me find words, to listen – to help me bring order to the chaos in my mind.

You speak slowly, calmly, truthfully.  You have waited for what must often seem an impossibly long time for me to try to explain.

You have offered tissues and silence in the face of deep grief.  But who do you say that I am?

Your project?  Your case?  Your ten o’clock?

Your subject?  Your burden?  Your alphabet soup disordered mess?

You refer to us – the others and me – as “they.”  With distanced compassion that reminds us that we are not like you, and you are emphatically not us.

I tell you I am inherently bad – ruined, disgusting, filthy.  You say “not true” but you do not see any good.

I tell you I am trash – and you say, “no, not you” but you stand above holding tight and close your sheltered life so it cannot be soiled by mine.

I confide in you that I hate myself – and you say, “that needs to change,” but you keep a safe distance so that my pain won’t contaminate you – because you hate it, too.

You see me through a glass darkly – the filter of trauma has obscured your view.

I am a human being – hurting and raw, to be sure – but I am more like you than you want to believe, and you – you are more like me than you are willing to admit.

Your great life is a gift I did not receive but that was not because of me – or you.

I have qualities I keep trying to show you, but they are hidden from your view because you only look at one thing – the damage I must cope with.

You say I lack stability, skills, and understanding.  You are the expert of my lacking, and because I am desperate for filling, I submit and absorb your limited estimations.  I lack so many, many things.

But perhaps you lack something, too?  Perhaps you, too, are weak, and frail, and needy.  Perhaps my slowness might reveal your impatience, intolerance, haste.  Perhaps, because you’ve seen it all before you no longer see it all clearly.  Maybe, in fact, you’ve misjudged, short-changed, and dismissed the hurting human before you.

I can teach you, too, you know – a great many things – but you won’t stop to listen – not to me.  You think I am only beggarly, not rich enough to share.

Yes, I am a wounded soul.  My body has been broken by those who should have been good – my heart, and mind, too.  I am scared and weary, distrustful and confused.  I need a great deal.

But do you see that I am also a loving parent, a friend, a teacher?  Do you know I’ve shown great capacity and strength in terrible times and have helped many others find their way?

Have you learned that I am kind and gentle?  Compassionate, patient, and loving despite the murky filth they tried to steep me in?  Can you tell that I possess resources and creativity that even you could be impressed with?

I am someone you might like to know – apart from the damage – but you don’t see me as an equal, an ally, and certainly never a peer or a friend.

I am a person, but you seem to only see a problem.

I’ve been called many things by many people.  But you – who do you say that I am?

(Photo by wendel moretti on Pexels.com)

To Be Blessed

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IMG_2452Sometimes… you just have to share the encouragement in your life…

Last night my 2 youngest kids (ages 18 and 20) came into my home office around 1030pm. I was writing and they were totally interrupting, but I learned a long time ago to lay everything aside when your young-adult kids want to talk.

They were just chatty, silly even. They just wanted to be with me, which I love. They’ve both struggled a LOT this year, so this sweet, normal slice of life was good to see. My son (the 20 year old – who was about 7 in the photo above) was playing his guitar, asking me to listen to some new things he was working on. This is a particular gift to him, because this has always been a particular irritant to the abuser in his life – he hated when my son would just mess around on the piano or guitar, especially if it interrupted his tv watching…

I taught my son the first few things he needed to learn on the guitar, but he has far surpassed my abilities. He knows, however, that I love to listen and learn from his ‘working stuff out’. So he will often say, “hey, Mom – listen to this…” and play some bit that he’s finally mastered. Last night, he showed me a complex fingering and strumming combination he figured out. It was a sweet moment.  I said, “look at the amazing skill God has worked into your hands!”

Then I looked down at my own – tired, wrinkly, worn. I let the regret that had been building during a rough day slip out and said, “I used to have nice hands, but like so much else they’ve just been used up.” My son stopped playing and, in all seriousness said, “Mom – your hands are beautiful. I LOVE your hands!”

Then he got up, came over to where I was at my desk, took both of my hands in his and with a rare glimpse into the tenderness of his young-man heart, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Mom – these hands have taught me so much. They’ve taught me all the good things I know. These are the most beautiful hands I’ll ever know. They’re not used up – they’re just showing how much you’ve loved us and given to all of us. They’re beautiful Mom, don’t ever think otherwise.”

It was tender and sweet and so encouraging. It was a moment to savor and store up in the treasure of good memories we are trying to build together. It was especially beautiful because it was spontaneous and so heart-felt.

All three of us reveled – and shared – in the sincere encouragement that was given.  That’s a wonderful thing about encouragement, isn’t it?  It’s contagious.

His heart-felt blessing to his Mama opened the door, too, for the conversation to shift to both of them sharing deep hurts they are working through, but also deep thoughts they are wrestling with God over. It was profoundly moving to sit there with these two young souls whose suffering is shaping them, too. This journey is being used by God to shape my kids’ stories, too. I was blessed by what my kids shared with me last night, and as I reflected on what they’d said, I realized that they will be able to bless others in due time with what they are learning and becoming because of all of this. It can be brutal to watch your kids struggle. But moments like these show that much can be happening beneath the surface.

These hands have worked hard to bless my family – and I don’t regret a moment of that. My son rose up last night to tell me how I have blessed him through that loving service, but in doing so, he blessed more than he will know for a long, long time. I suspect, however, that in genuinely blessing me, he went away blessed as well. That’s how blessings go, isn’t it?  They multiply.

Enough with the #MeToo stuff already

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jilbert-ebrahimi-33575Enough with the #MeToo stuff already, right?

It’s not going away, is it?  Every week more men are being confronted and exposed by angry women.  Enough already, right?

Christian women are among those reporting, too, however, we, the church, are very uncomfortable with angry people.  We want things quickly tied up into neat theological packages.  We think that because we can read from the “angry” parts in our Bibles to the bits that talk about settled trust in God’s righteous dealings with wrongs in the space of (maybe) ten minutes or so, that our anger, grief, or pain should be dealt with in about the same amount of time.  Sometimes we’ll give it a week or two, but that’s about our limit.  We know that’s silly, but still, we recoil when we hear someone express how the crimes of those in power have impacted their lives and made them angry.  So enough with the angry women and all the tiresome dredging up of old wounds.  Just move on, right?

Beloved church, it’s time to wake up.

John 13:35 says that people will know we follow Jesus because of our great love for one another.  But the very, very sad truth is that a woman can call a Domestic Violence hotline and get more care and compassion than she can from far too many churches if she tells someone there she has been victimized.  They believe her story – we want her to prove it.  They listen to her halting, disjointed words that are almost impossible for her to get out – we get frustrated because she doesn’t make sense.  They ask questions that help her think – we don’t say anything because we don’t know what to say.  They offer real and material assistance to help her get safe and get out of the destructive relationship – we debate whether or not she should go.  They follow up with her to make sure she is stable and safe, they offer counseling, and make sure her children are ok, too.  We… usually don’t.

We have no excuse.  We are wrong to ignore this – painfully, willfully, persistently wrong.  We can no longer claim ignorance.  #MeToo won’t let us – neither will the statistics that reveal the church has the same problem the rest of society has.

When the #MeToo movement hit social media I wondered what the response in the church would be.  To my great disappointment, it has been largely a continued silence or a collective whine about how angry all these women are.  (Individuals are crying out for justice, but churches are not.)  There was even an article touted by people I respect called #MeToo, But God, which was a call to neatly (and quickly) tie up the package of pain that these women bear into tidy theological boxes that make us feel more comfortable but actually increase the pain of the already wounded.

I think that a part of our problematic response is that things like #MeToo lump all manner of sexual misconduct into one complaint.  We publicly agree that all sexual misconduct is wrong, but we privately acquiesce to some of it.  Sexual innuendo in the office doesn’t really seem that bad to some.  “Harmless” touching doesn’t seem like something to really get that upset about – women have been dealing with that sort of thing for millennia, right?  Well, I would argue that is part of the problem.  But even if you think those sorts of claims can hardly be categorized as “sexual harassment” please be careful of your blanket responses to the “lumped together” complaints, too.  Many of the #MeToo participants have been attacked, abused, and treated as worthless garbage by those who exercised positions of power or authority over them or were supposed to love and care for them.  They have been traumatized and typing six characters on a social media post is the closest they’ve ever come to telling anyone.

These are your family

Beloved church, we cannot continue to have so callous a disregard for the broken and the suffering in our midst.  We must learn what we need to know in order to come alongside the hurting in a way that actually offers comfort and care.  These women are our sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends.  They are sitting in the pew next to you.  They are teaching your children, holding your infants, and helping you love Jesus.  They are your family.

I agree that the only hope in all of this is God’s redemptive work, but I also know the desperate struggle of wrestling with the dual realities of the abuse of power and God.  The agonizing wrestling that seeks to reconcile a good God knowing about the abuse and him doing nothing to intervene is not as simple as adding ‘but God’ to the end of ‘me, too.’  Think about how difficult it is to get to the place where you might be able to say, “I was molested, but God,” or, “he raped me, but God”… Try to fill in the rest of that sentence  “… had a perfect plan for my life that included violence that radically changed everything and distorted all that I believed before”??  While this might be true, I hope you can see that it is an intensely difficult truth to grapple with – one that requires a great deal of wrestling with God over a long period of time.

Adding, ‘but God’ will make you, the listener to the story feel much better. But it won’t help the woman in your church fighting for faith.

Grieve with those who grieve without insisting they say things in a way that helps you feel more comfortable with their pain. If you can do that, you may indeed comfort them and eventually have the standing in their lives to help them discover the ways they can include the, ‘but God’ parts – when they’re ready to do so. Taking them there because that’s what you want to hear is neither comforting nor helpful. You end up being like Job’s friends and have the potential to add more pain and do significant damage to an already wounded person.

Let them be angry if they are angry – you probably would be struggling with anger, too.  But don’t stop there – ask them if they would be willing to tell their story, then listen way more than you speak.  The story may come out in bits and pieces, it might not seem to make much sense, it may be fuzzy and unclear (kind of like the #MeToo narrative) – listen anyway, and don’t draw conclusions about where you think she ought to be. Just be there and listen, and try to imagine the gravity of what she is telling you.  She has witnessed evil incarnate and that is no small thing. Please be gentle.

Redemption will be revealed, but not by you

There is redemption to be revealed in every one of these stories, but the victim needs to uncover it.  But listening (or not) will reveal something about us, too.  Standing with someone in pain is also painful. None of us wants to stand there for very long without relief.  Your presence in their pain communicates a great deal.  Do not underestimate this.  But ignoring it communicates something, too.  It communicates that their grief does not matter to us, that their painful wrestling with God is not significant, and that what we value most is theological accuracy and not the human being wrestling with it. I have been blessed by a few faithful comforters along the way.  But I have encountered far too many who have lacked the strength and courage it takes to walk alongside suffering well.

This coming Sunday is Right to Life Sunday.  It is about the dignity and value of each life.  It is not essentially about life vs death, but it is about the inherent value and worth of each human being made in the image of God.  Sexual trauma shatters that image for each victim.  We see ourselves as worthless, invisible, and discarded.  And part of that message comes from being silenced into obscurity.  You can help restore it if you simply listen and seek to understand.

Jesus showed us how when he entered into the grief of, and wept with, Mary and Martha over the death of their brother, Lazarus.  He went to them, and he wept with them, knowing full well that the very next thing he was going to do was show them, ‘but God’…