Words are the threads

Shame: 1 a : a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety
b : the susceptibility to such emotion
2: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : IGNOMINY
3 a : something that brings censure or reproach; also :something to be regretted : PITY
b : a cause of feeling shame

Shame is a tricky emotion. There is healthy shame, like the shame I felt after a bout of road rage in the past week over the other driver not waiting her turn at the four-way stop. I needed to be ashamed of my reaction to it because it was over the top and ridiculous. But there is also unhealthy shame, shame I shouldn’t own because I was a 13 year old child in the memory I’m struggling to work through.

How we manage shame and the paths it lead us through is important. The path draped in light is always the best, if not the easiest choice. We think that putting things behind us is best…and it is as long as the issue has been dealt with and brought into the light for healing and truth to permeate its cracks and crevices. Instead, we tend to opt to put them behind us, hand hovering over the delete key, desperate to re-write the story, make the facts more palpable, change the ending to a happy one in which we look good. Those are all variations of the same mask, the one that’s comfortable to hide behind, draped in darkness…the same story dressed-up prettier, designed to divert attention and take us further away from the truth, and subsequently ourselves. Wouldn’t it be simpler, even if harder, to be brutally honest, ask for forgiveness, and then, after dealing with what happened in the light, move on?

Forgiveness is equally tricky in my mind these days. I’ve always viewed it as something that I, as a failure on all sides, should seek from others. Now I’m wondering if it’s also not something I need to give to myself. How do you know when you’ve really forgiven? How many times will it be a hard choice to make, with reminders of how desperately you need forgiven, and how graciously it has been extended? Forgive and forget are not natural companions, and anyone who tells you they are has never experienced deep, soul-wrenching hurt and loss. Forgiveness is not only possible but commanded and desirable, but it doesn’t mean the hurt magically disappears or that it never comes up again.

Words are the threads that tie it all together. Actions damage and create a patchwork quilt of our lives, but it’s the words that bind the pieces of the quilt together…words from others certainly, but also the words we say to ourselves in the quiet of the night when no one is listening. It’s the words from my childhood that I struggle with longest and hardest, because words also bind us to one another and ourselves, and those words have the power to heal, complete, excise, sever or maim.

When the protective, stone casing around the heart begins cracking and you allow the light and warmth to encircle it, words are inadequate to describe what happens. Or what happens when you finally really open your eyes, turn off all the devices and try to breathe through the most painful and difficult of spaces. When you stop and pay attention. Would I have dismissed the words from my friend trying to speak truth to my pain? Would I have ignored my body and continued to mistreat it? Would I have been satisfied to walk through my days brandishing self-reliance and independence confined in the castle, or is it prison, created to convince myself I was untouchable and safe?

The cliché “time heals all wounds” is wrong unless that time is spent in the light, allowing it to transform and bring warmth to a dead, stone heart. Stopping to breathe, and pay attention, no matter how painful it may be at times, is leaving its indelible mark, allowing new life into my heart and bringing beautiful and good people into my life. Attention is allowing me to see myself in a new light, and to meet a new version of myself…and it’s certainly not the person I once was.

There is, and should be shame, in my road rage response. But not in what was inflicted on me as a child and teenager…that shame belongs to someone else.

Thirteen years ago…

…I watched my best friend die. She was the one person who knew all that happened because she too had been hurt badly by him. We didn’t always agree or get along, but I would have done anything for her and she would have done anything for me. I realized a few days ago that no one will ever be able to understand the way she did…because she knew, she hurt, and she struggled with the repercussions of the choices he made to hurt as well.

That horrible moment happened at 2:15 in the morning, a little over seven hours ago as I type this.

For years I’ve replayed it in my mind wondering what I could have, should have done differently to change the outcome. I let comments like “you let her die” haunt me and chain me with grief and guilt and self-recriminations. I let my own mind wander into what ifs and if onlys.

It’s accomplished nothing other than allowing one moment, one horrible moment to have a grip on me for thirteen years.

She died instantly all the medical people involved said. My refusal to accept that and my choice to listen to the other comments and accept them as fact have colored the memories and affected my attitude and my choices to this day.

She died instantly. What a gift. She was having a little discomfort before, but not enough to stop her talking to me about Christmas plans and asking me to move ornaments on the tree while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. I still don’t think she realized what was happening. We were talking one minute, and the next she had fallen out of the chair onto the floor, dead.

Maybe it’s the mind that plays the worst tricks on us in those moments. I called the neighbor for help, shook her shoulder and told her I loved her, and then we did CPR for forty-five minutes while we waited for the paramedics. The lips that were purple when I rolled her over were pink again by the time they arrived, and when they put the heart monitor on her I saw the heart beat…but didn’t connect it was there because of the CPR being performed.

And so I drove to the hospital believing all was going to be fine and that she would be home for Christmas…and was crushed when the doctor said she was gone.

Maybe it’s time to look at that night differently. To see that she wasn’t alone when she died, and that she was not in pain or aware of what was getting ready to happen. To see that she loved Christmas, it was a magical, hopeful time of year for her and so when they say her favorite Christmas Carols at the service at the huge church, she would have enjoyed it tremendously. To see that God was there that night, protecting her, caring for her…and doing the same for me even in my ignorance.

In those moments of profound hurting and grief He amazingly and willingly draws close as we welcome Him into our pain, seeking the comfort and sense that only He can bring to horrible situations even if we’re not aware we’re doing it. He never says no. He never says “if you had done _____, I could help you now.” He is present and cares, and waits for us to invite Him in…He waits gently and tenderly, patiently and graciously.

 

The wonder of all wonders

imageGod travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof.

Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety–that is where he wants to be and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wodners, that God loves the lowly….God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the weak and broken. Dieterich Bonhoeffer (God Is In the Manger)

And that God would draw near to the weak, the broken, the unseemly, the unwanted, the lost and rejected means there is hope even for someone like me.

Wounds

I was supposed to write for 31 days in October at my other blog*. I made 24 days.  My focus was reflecting on selections from Vincent’s A Gospel Primer. 24 reflections, not 31.

Sometimes I feel like I’m enveloped in a mist where nothing is quite clear and where it’s almost impossible to find my way.

The flashbacks and subsequent aftereffects have been hard the past week.

My life seems full of change and transitions all of a sudden.

And my deadline looms.

So I stopped when completing the project seemed overwhelming in those moments, and I’m disappointed in myself for doing so. As difficult as the reflections were, they also helped clarify some things for me.

Then Monday I read something on a blog that made me catch my breath and see some hope:

“He wants to reach down into the dark, deep ‘fatherly’ wounds in your heart.”

  • Because I know how much I resist the idea of God as my Father.
  • Because I know how difficult it is to forgive.
  • Because I’m beginning to realize just how wounded my heart is.

I told someone this afternoon that I was stupid back then when I was little because I always wanted to believe it was true…that my dad loved me and just wanted to spend time with me…and ended up being betrayed and hurt every time. Not one time, but over and over. Stupid. He used the word gullible (because he tries very hard to steer me away from the word stupid).

In my rational, logical mind, I realize there’s no comparison between the two. In the dark of the night when the flashbacks and feelings threaten to choke me I doubt.

I push Him away.

My friend said that He’s holding me anyway, and has been, and that if I would just stop fighting and wriggling I would find rest.

I don’t know how to stop.

I wish it were as easy as it sounds.

There are moments of success…dark moments when using His word and rehearsing His gospel that He walks me through them without anything bad happening…moments when His words are louder in my head than my dad’s words.

But there are many more moments of failure…moments when I feel as though I’m suffocating with the weight of everything…moments when my dad’s voice screams “dirty, worthless, bad” relentlessly.

It’s risky to talk about these things. It wasn’t allowed “or else” for all those years. Worse, rejection could (and has) happened. It’s risky as well because in the dark of tonight there will be a battle over whether it was okay to talk or not.

But God already knows everything he did and how much it hurt and continues to hurt, and doesn’t seem to have thrown me out yet. I have to wonder though if He isn’t tired of me struggling and doubting and failing.

*email if you’re interested

Waiting to be gracious

Down this path through PTSD and all its accompanying memories, anxiety attacks, and stark fear, I have had times of conflicting emotions: wanting to give up, frustration with myself, frustration with God, wanting it all to go away or end, and so on.

Simply put, I’m a mess.

Knowing that only frustrates me more. Realizing that I cannot will myself into not being a mess escalates things and my failure to do so spirals me into all sorts of unhealthy behaviors.

Nor am I unaware of how frustrating I must be to those around me these days.

That’s the ugly truth.

Last night was a nightmare…from the time I arrived home from work on.

Bits of memories came together into one horrific one.

And nothing could distract me from it. Nothing. And that wasn’t from lack of effort on my part.

One of the most difficult parts of all this is that I believe God has the power to change my situation. Not erase what’s already happened, but ease the current struggle and pain and anxiety with it  all. I know He has the power. I read about it all the time…Elijah putting his cloak down and the sea parting, Elisha and the woman with the oil, the parting of the Red Sea, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Jesus’s death and resurrection, and so many more.

I know He can yet He keeps me waiting.

Don’t misread…I’m not angry, I just don’t understand. And even though I know I don’t have to understand, and even though I believe He will take care of me, it’s hard in the middle of those moments when it feels like I’m reliving those horrors and their aftermath. Even if I know there’s a reason that’s far more and better than I could possibly comprehend.

This morning I was reading in Isaiah 30 and came across this verse

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,

and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.

For the LORD is a God of justice;

blessed are all those who wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18 ESV)

If you go to the whole chapter you’ll notice I’m not mentioning the stubborn children and rebellious people section although I sadly freely admit both apply. I’ve talked before about my refusal to face and deal with things and I’ve talked before about my preference for things to go my way if at all possible.

The Lord waits to be gracious…and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy”

My initial response to “waits to be gracious” was not very positive because it seemed to me on first reading to confirm my frustration that God is withholding something from me.

Then I watched someone handle a stubborn and defiant child today…with great patience, love and mercy instead of meting out anything punitive to immediately stop it this person hovered close and allowed the child to struggle (loudly I might add) with the choices before him. At one point as he thrashed around he threw himself at her and she immediately closed her arms around him and held him as he rested briefly before plunging back into the futile struggle. As she held him, she stroked his hair and murmured reassuring and loving words…”you can make a good choice, you can do it, I love you and am here with you.” She didn’t force him, but in mercy, waited to be gracious to him.

Isn’t that how it is when I’m impatiently making demands of God? He waits patiently, with tender mercy, for me to exhaust myself and surrender to Him so He can be gracious to me? It’s not that He doesn’t want to…it’s that I’m not ready to accept it choosing instead to struggle for control.

At one point last night in between two particularly bad moments I felt Him so close, enveloping me and trying to reassure me that I thought my heart might burst.  Hope swelled within me at the thought that He is waiting with me, holding me, and murmuring reassurances to me that He is here, even in those darkest of moments, and will not let me go.

Hope that maybe if I can just learn to hold tightly to Him and quietly trust, all will be well again one day.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15 ESV)