Out of the Blue

Are you ever going through your day feeling fine when, it seems like out of the blue, your mood takes a dive? As if suddenly, the joy has been sucked out of your day. For us ladies, it could be a simple hormone flux. It could be someone greeted your smile with a frown, or hearing something sad on the news. Other than the hormones, it is usually easy to recognize the cause of the cloud hanging over your head.

For those of us with traumatic past experiences, it could have been an emotional trigger. What do I mean by a trigger? A trigger is something that draws out our emotions from a past experience. It could be a song on the radio, a ticking clock, a phrase, or something as ridiculous as the smell of Lipton’s noodle soup. Our brains are amazing. When a memory is created, all of the information of that moment is stored away whether we know it or not. Not just words spoken or physical sensations, but also, the sounds, smells and even lighting. It is actually quite incredible and can be wonderful when connected with a good memory. Unfortunately, when the memory is connected to something traumatic, it can send your emotions whirling.

The first step in overcoming the effects of triggers is to become aware of and understanding your own particular triggers. For me, several of my triggers were always very obvious to me even though I didn’t really understand what was happening. It took me years to be able to be in a room with a ticking clock without getting the tremors and feeling an overwhelming urge to run away. It was completely unsettling. To be clear, they were not excessive tremors. I doubt anyone else noticed. Though, they probably noticed me withdrawal and just felt it was part of my quiet nature.

My initial coping mechanism was to not have any clocks that ticked. That was easy. Unfortunately, when I married, my husband’s grandparents’ house was filled with clocks. I mean walls covered with clocks. In the living room, there were an overwhelming amount of out of sync ticking sounds and gongs. I loved my grandparents-in-law, but being in their house just wore on my nerves. My husband loved the clocks and started to add clocks to our house. I also had a private no Lipton soup rule (private meaning, I never told anyone else). When my daughter was young, she would stay with my mom when she wasn’t feeling well. Mom gave her Lipton’s soup. Of course, after that, whenever my daughter didn’t feel well she would ask for soup. And not just any soup, it had to be Lipton. Sigh. So, I would make her the soup.

A really awesome thing happened over time. My old memories started to be replaced with new memories. When hearing a clock, I was no longer pulled back into my childhood. Instead, I see the smiling faces of my husband and his grandparents. And now, when I smell Lipton’s soup, I remember my daughter as a little girl and the joys of motherhood.

I know there are still some triggers out there that have not been beautifully replaced like the clocks and the soup. However, I realize they are out there. When I feel my mood shift, I try to refocus on reality – to ground myself and not get sucked into darkness. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes the sorrow is overpowering. In these moments, I pray, listen to worship music, and seek out my husband for comfort. It may take a little a while, but Jesus always meets me when I need him.

The Reflection in the Mirror

For too many years, I focused on the negative and broken parts of myself. I bought into all of the lies ever said about me: you are ugly, you are trash, you have no value. And I believed the unspoken voices that I was unloved, unworthy of protection, and that women are just for sex. I hated myself. I hid in corners in social settings. I hid from cameras. I even hid in clothes that were way too big for me. And these were baked in beliefs and reactions, not conscious. It was just who I was. And without even knowing it, I was carrying on my own abuse.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I got a glimpse of my own destructive behaviors. It happened sort of like a two-by-four to the back of the head. Sometimes, we really need to feel it for our wake up calls to move us into action. Each year my church would create a space for spiritual reflection along with a book of readings and questions to help guide you through the process. My favorite spaces were those filled with plants and bubbling fountains. There were others with images of the cross to help us start to grasp what Jesus really did for us. Those were always tough spaces. This particular year, the tough one for me though only contained a chair and a mirror. The guide simply instructed me to look at my reflection, and thank God for creating me. It broke me. I couldn’t bear to look at myself. And I certainly couldn’t thank God for making me. Instead of responding with a grateful heart, I was filled with anger. Why did He create me? The weight of my self-loathing crushed my spirit and brought me to tears.

Now here comes the two-by-four. Several days later, my friend at church asked me if I enjoyed the spiritual spaces. I shared my dislike for the mirrored room, and how I couldn’t even look at myself. What I expected from her was an “I get that.” Her reaction caught me totally off guard. “Who are you to insult God’s handiwork? You were made exactly as He intended you to be.” Inside, my emotions swirled from disbelief to anger to reflection. Her words rocked my world. I had never thought of myself as God’s work of art. That He had planned for me to be a certain way. After all, I was no one special, right? But God doesn’t make garbage?

Others may consider my friend’s words to be harsh, but they were exactly what I needed to hear. Her words started me on a new path of seeing myself through God’s eyes. And while life tore the edges of my canvas and slashed scars through me, I was still His masterpiece. And the more time I spend getting to know Jesus through prayer, reading my Bible, and listening to worship music, the more He restores me. He is taking my tattered form and revealing someone beautiful.

Raising Up the Broken

Most people who know me don’t know my story. I may occasionally joke about growing up in the woods, but I like to keep it lighthearted. There is no need in most circumstances to bring such pain into a relationship or give glory to the devil’s handy work. Here in this blog, however, I would like you to be able to see the great things Jesus has done for me. My deepest wish is that others will find hope in my story and that they will continue to persevere, and ultimately, find their own path to healing.

There are great tragedies in my life which left me with sadness and scars. Some of the sadness and the pain of the scars surface from time to time; yet, I do not live there. My life now is filled with blessings. Before, I could not sleep for fear of the nightmares that haunted me. I lived in fear of being found. I was afraid to venture out of my home without my husband or a relative. My heart was filled with anger and distrust, and I hid from people, basically, refusing to socialize. In fact, my dearest friend in the world became so only because she forced me to interact with her. For that, I am very grateful.

Today, I have many friends. My home is filled with love and laughter. I am blessed with a great job where I have the opportunity to help our company and our employees grow. In a business setting, I have the awesome privilege to apply what I have learned about love and empathy to help nurture a work culture of trust. I am involved in business groups in my local community. I am involved in several ministries at my church, and I volunteer in my community. My acquaintances see a person of success and blessings – not the scars I carry. All of this is through the grace of God. Jesus has saved me; and with each day, He makes me more and more whole again.

In the Bible, Jesus has been given many names. To me, these names are promises, and I claim all of them! Jesus is the God of Comfort, our refuge and strength, Wonderful Counselor, Father to the orphan, Prince of Peace, The Potter, the Light of the world, and our Everlasting Father just to name a few. He loves us even when we don’t yet love Him. He is faithful. His mercies are never ending. He is a help in trouble. He comforts us in all our affliction. We need only to reach out to Him; ask Him for help.

“All these pieces
Broken and scattered
In mercy gathered
Mended and whole
Empty handed
But not forsaken
I’ve been set free

You take our failure
You take our weakness
You set Your treasure
In jars of clay
So take this heart, Lord

I’ll be Your vessel
The world to see
Your life in me

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind but now I see

Oh I can see you now
Oh I can see the love in Your eyes
Laying yourself down
Raising up the broken to life”

These words in the song Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace) by Hillsong remind me of how much Jesus has done for me. If you are on the way to healing already, I hope this song helps you see how much God loves you. If you are still in the midst of pain, may this song give you hope. May it give you the courage to reach out to Jesus and see what He can do in your life.

 

That Can’t Be True

Frequently, when I share stories of my childhood, I get the sense that people don’t believe me. Not that they think that I am a pathological liar. They just can’t seem to balance what I am telling them with what they know of the world. Maybe this is all inference on my part, but I don’t think it is. I do have to remind myself that my childhood experience is unbelievable. And while others have crazy stories as well, most people I interact with have the suburban life style perspective with little exposure to what else is out in the world. We are so used to our developments, apartments, and trailer parks. Of course, that is how everyone lives, right? Not so much, especially in areas outside of the United States, dark places on the edge of large urban centers, and hidden in the deep woods of Appalachia. Though even while I lived in Appalachia where people built porches on small RVs just to build it in and add on another porch, even there my teachers didn’t believe how we lived.

The social workers who drove me home one day after school didn’t believe me either. And they couldn’t imagine that anyone had to walk two miles to get to a bus stop. And who could blame them. Haven’t we all heard the old story “I had to walk uphill two miles in the snow – both ways!” Well, there was definitely an uphill, but it was only on the way home.

These ladies were escorting me home because I had fallen in the creek on my way to the bus. By the time I had finished my walk and the bus showed up, my shoes and jeans were frozen. I remember a feeling of fear as the bus driver had me sit on the floor in front of the heater to try to get my feet warm. So the social workers were taking me home to confirm my story.  They probably thought I decided to play in the creek on my way to school. Really??? Truth was, the creek crossed the lane I lived on seven times. The further the lane extended beyond our property the wider it became. The final crossing was wide enough that it had a small foot bridge (a board stretched from one bank to the other). Unfortunately during a rain storm, the board washed away. I must have been the only one to use it so no one either noticed or cared to replace it. I never considered mentioning it. With a running start, I could jump it so all was well except that morning. That morning was on the tail end of a storm and all the crossings were wider. I ran and jumped but didn’t make it.

The social workers had a small sedan to bring me home. I was just thankful for a ride and someone to talk to. Unfortunately, but not surprising, we had to leave their car at a neighbor’s house about 3/4 of a mile from where I lived because their car couldn’t manage the ruts in the road. And there was no way they would be able to cross our portion of the creek where the bank in the road rose about 12 inches into a steep climb. Most vehicles couldn’t get to our place. They hadn’t counted on that. So they had great pleasure gasping up the hill on the final stretch – navigating my off road walking path which could have easily been mistaken for a deer trail. I knew they were already a bit shocked by the reality of my situation. Then we came to the clearing with my home. “This is where you live?!?” They were staring right at it and still didn’t believe.

Why share all of this? I want to ask that we all consider that our sense of normal and reality isn’t necessarily the same as other people. And we shouldn’t immediately assume someone is lying because what they are saying doesn’t fit into our view of the world. With all of my experiences, I am very sensitive to a lack of integrity and lying. I don’t want people to assume I am lying or to be lied to. I don’t want written off just because doctors have no clue how to help me. And I would love if, as friends, we could be real with each other. Life is hard enough as it is. And through honesty and taking down our masks, we could possibly help each other walk through the challenges life hands us.

Great Sadness

Someone who has never experienced great sorrow cannot relate to those of us who have. And just because other people may not understand does not make us less of a person or some sort of freak. I frequently feel like some sort of freak when I am overwhelmed by sadness. But the Holy Spirit, thankfully, meets me there and reminds me that I am his special creation. That He made me as I am for a specific purpose. And even though the world has wounded me, His love is unending and unchanging.

If you have never experienced deep sadness, you may think that we are being over dramatic, that we are weak or attention seeking. Speaking from my own experience, I do not chose to be sad. There is usually a trigger of some sort to bring on my sadness. And my reaction can be at varying degrees. Sometimes, I can quickly pull through by listening to an uplifting song or spending time with my family or a friend. Other times, the sadness can be overwhelming, outside of my ability to influence and it can linger for days. And, we are not weak. Many of us who struggle with this kind of sadness have been to hell and back. The fact that we can perform normally in society is a testament to the internal battles we are winning. For me, the Holy Spirit is a great source of strength to continue battling.

You may wonder what I could possibly be battling. The wounds of my past, unfortunately, provide a platform for the devil to attack me. He loves to whisper the old lies of my past. Everyone has these voices. Maybe it was kids at school, or a cousin, or even a parent. Things like, “your stupid,” “your ugly,” “you’ll never amount to anything.” Some people even have voices from past church experiences where they live with constant guilt and feel like they can never live up to what they are supposed to be. (This lie really gets me fired up. Jesus loves us right where we are and gives us grace. It is a gift, not earned.) My personal lies are demoralizing telling me I have no value even unworthy of love. The lies can attack my very existence. The devil uses these lies to keep us from being who we are meant to be. Lies to keep us from healing, growing, and meeting our dreams. Lies that can even keep us from getting out of bed. Or lies to keep us isolated from the people we love. And the sadder we become, the more the lies sound like truth.

But why do I call it a deep sadness? Because it is a sadness that goes to your very soul. In 1 Samuel, there are verses showing how Saul’s son, Jonathan, loved David so much that his soul was connected to David (18:1 and 20:17). Think about that for a moment. An emotion or experience that goes to the depths of your soul. It may be hard to imagine especially in a world that is so focused on the surface. This kind of connection is sometimes seen in elderly couples. They have spent so much of life together and shared such a love that when one spouse dies the other spouse dies shortly after. This phenomenon is common enough that it even has a name, broken heart syndrome.

Yes, there are situations that can positively or negatively impact our souls. That is the kind of wound I am referring to. We can have experiences that damage are very being: betrayal, rejection and abuse by those who are supposed to love us. Imagine if your parents sold you into slavery. Imagine if they did it just to get drugs or alcohol. While our body is magnificently able to heal broken skin or even bones, only God can heal soul wounds. And God’s timing for healing is almost always different than what we would want. Yet, He knows what is best for us, and we gain more from the slower process, and sometimes, so do the people around us. Even though Jesus has done so much already to heal me and give me strength, there are still so many triggers in my life that I imagine I will struggle with this until I go home to Him. Maybe, God leaves some old scars in me so that I can have empathy and provide encouragement to others.

If you are like me and struggle with sadness, I encourage you to find someone you can trust to reach out to when you are sad. I also encourage you to reach out to Jesus. Ask Him to help you. If you mean it, He will respond to you. If you feel unloved, alone and do not know Jesus, please try finding a church where you can begin learning God’s love story for you that is within His bible. If you do know Jesus, go to His word when you are sad. The Psalms are filled with people crying out to God who find their way to peace through Him. And look for the verses that remind you of how much He loves us. There is so much in Ephesians, John, 1 John, Romans – really, through-out the Bible.

If you still don’t understand people’s sadness, that is ok. But please don’t trivialize their sadness or mock them. Instead, extend to them your love and patience.

Thanks for reading.

Don’t Lose Hope

This year a young friend of mine took his own life.  He did so because he was so grieved and overwhelmed by mistakes from his past and pain from his childhood.  It breaks my heart that someone so young should have so much pain and no hope.  Having experienced a similar hopelessness as a child, I understand what he was going through and his choice.  I just wish I could have shared with him that there was hope for him and that healing and relief from his pain and past was possible.

No one is too far gone to be saved.  At one time, I thought I was unable to be saved – that I would always have to live with pain and a broken soul.  One verse that really gave me hope is in Isaiah.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV

If God can make rivers in a desert, surely He can restore life in me as well.  I do not have to be a slave to my past or continue to live in the pain of my past.  Look!  He is making me a new creation.  The more I believed this and trusted Him to restore me; the more healing and peace I found.  Today, I am not the same person I was 30 years ago, and I am truly blessed.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All of this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them”  2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV

You are never too far gone.  You are loved more than you can possibly even understand.  And there is always hope if you are willing to reach out to Jesus.

Tender Heart

I learned early on that I could shut myself down physically and emotionally. I could build up a wall that separated me from what was happening to me outwardly and to any possible response within myself. By shutting down, I could hide from some of the abuse while it happened. Sort of. It enabled me to “protect” myself from the horrible things that were happening to me. And I could hide my despair in a heart of stone. All emotions could be locked away, and I would feel nothing.

This seems like a fairly marvelous survival mechanism; however, it came with a huge cost. Consider turning yourself off like a switch so you feel nothing, Nothing. That is no pain, no sorrow, no joy, not love. Nothing. If it is an emotion of any kind, it is buried deep within you. You truly become stone on the inside. I was thankful for this ability to shutdown while I was being abused. Unfortunately, it became how I lived even after I escaped the abusive situation.

This trick also effects memory. If you can remember, the memories can be clouded and almost as if you were more of an observer of a scene. Again, this can seem like a good thing when who wants to remember the bad stuff? Unfortunately, even though the memory is shadowed, it is still there. As long as we keep these bad memories locked within us, they tear at us emotionally and spiritually. And this inward tearing can eventually grow into physical issues.

By exposing our painful memories with someone we can trust, we start to shed light on the destructive memories, face them, let them go and find freedom. I found that I was afraid to face my memories. Having all that was buried inside of me bubbling up to the surface was overwhelming. I, instead, would recoil and continue hiding in my heart of stone not realizing I had become a slave to my own pain. It wasn’t until I met Jesus that I was able to move past my fear. He held me close as I faced my demons, and then He took them from me. He asked me to trust Him and to hand Him my pain, And through this process of facing my pain and handing it over, I have found healing and peace. This was a long process as it is not once and done. Each memory that surfaces requires these same steps; however, it does get easier as your trust for Jesus grows each time you feel His peace. Face it, share it, give it to Jesus, and live free of it.

It was difficult for me to start the journey of stepping out of my heart of stone, because I thought I was safe there. With every stressful situation, I would retreat within myself. In fact, I didn’t even know I was doing it. Hiding within myself had become a reflex. Jesus opened my eyes to my destructive pattern and started showing me what I was missing hidden in my fortress of despair. I was unable to love or grieve. Years ago, I traded my heart of stone for a heart of flesh. And now, I can love with all that I am. And I can truly live. I even welcome the tears of grief and allow myself to feel the love I had for the person and honor their memory. And Jesus, the God of Comfort, always meets me in those moments creating a bitter sweetness.

Having given up so much with my heart of stone, I refuse to hold back my tears now. I would much rather allow others to see my emotions instead of holding myself prisoner in a dark cell. I choose a tender heart. If you are concerned about exposing yourself to risk and are hesitant to move out of your own internal cell, consider all that you are losing. Don’t lose another moment to love and be loved.

Well Meaning Advice

Once while I was still mourning the loss of my family, my caregiver told me that I was fortunate that my dad was a criminal instead of my parents being divorced.  Their point was, if my parents were divorced, I would still love my father so it would hurt more.

Before going further into this, first let me explain what I mean by “still mourning the loss of my family.”  My dad had been taken to prison which was absolutely appropriate, and I am thankful for that.  In fact, his sentence should have been much longer.  For my safety, I was sent to stay with relatives hundreds of miles away from my mom.  This was before the time of text messages and FaceTime, and our correspondence was very limited.  While the adults in my life believed they were doing what was best for me, it was the absolute worst time for me to be separated from my mom.  After years of trauma and forcing pain and emotions deep inside of me, so many things were surfacing within me – far too much for a young person to navigate alone.  But I was alone.

“At least, you don’t love your father.”

Family was designed from the very beginning to be a father, a mother and children.  The family was meant to be a place of love and safety.  And with this design, all of us are born with an internal need for both parents.  Everyone longs for a healthy relationship with both their dad and their mom.  Anyone who says otherwise is stifling some deep pain from the loss of a parent relationship – they are in denial.  I also longed for a healthy family; instead, I had a psychopath for a father.  Worse, I had a father who did not love me because love does not do what he did to me.

In divorce, the loss of relationship is typically between the parents and does not destroy the possibility of relationship between a parent and the children.  Of course, pride and anger can make this a lot harder, but there is still hope.  And there is still pain, but love is not completely destroyed.  It is true that I did not love my father.  To this day, the thought of him fills me with fear and nausea.  That does not mean that I do not acutely feel the loss of what our relationship was meant to be.

My fear of my father destroyed other family relationships as well.  For my eighteenth birthday, I asked to visit my grandmother, my father’s mom.  We spent a few hours with her and an aunt.  That is the only contact I had with that entire side of my family since my father was taken to prison.  When I graduated from high school, they were not invited.  When I joined the military, I did not tell my grandmother.  In fact, I was grateful to be stationed elsewhere and didn’t share with them where I was – harder to find me that way.  When I married, I only sent my grandmother a picture and did not tell her my new name.  When she died, I was unable to attend her service.  I lost her, and I loved her deeply.  I also lost aunts, uncles, cousins and even siblings.

To the one who made that comment so many years ago, you have no idea.

While it is important to understand our losses and the pain they have caused, it is more important to heal and move beyond the losses.  It is healing for me to let out the pain and frustration that has been buried so deep within me for so long through writing.  I hope that it encourages you to do the same.  We can’t leave it buried within us.  We must release it and take that next step.

 

Losing – (C) 2012 Provident Label Group LLC, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment

Me too

It is great that people are taking a stand to speak up against sexual abuse. I hope that it actually does raise awareness of this horrible issue so that we can eliminate its destruction.

Did you know that the effects of childhood sexual abuse extend past the timeframe of abuse? In fact, they can linger for decades or even a lifetime. The effects can be psychological disorders such as depression, suicidal tendencies or suicide, multiple personality disorders and more. Abuse can also cause physical health issues like heart, lung and liver disease, chronic headaches, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.

All forms of abuse can lead to these long-term health and psychological issues, not just sexual abuse. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website provides access to information related to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) studies. ACEs include childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; witnessing domestic violence; growing up with household substance abuse, mental illness in the home, parental divorce, and/or an incarcerated household member. The more ACEs experienced by an individual increases their likelihood for lasting long-term impact.

While I am not counted in the studies above, my experience would add support to their numbers. My ACEs score is a 7 out of 10. I have suffered from depression and chronic headaches since I was a teenager. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in my thirties and still deal with these symptoms daily. My perpetrator has no idea how much suffering he created.

Don’t believe the lies

One of my greatest struggles in life has been overcoming lies.  Family passes lies on to us, society spreads lies as truth, the whispers in our heads push lies, and frequently, we give the lies to ourselves.

Over the years, I have faced many lies.  Some of them come out of the abuse I experienced.  Others, I feel, are straight from the devil who comes to “steal, kill, and destroy.”  If we believe the lies, we become less than we are meant to be.  If we believe the lies, we will move away from our destiny and full potential.  We begin living the lies as truth, and the devil laughs at his win.

Some of the lies I have experienced…

  • ”You have no value.”
  • ”You are unloved.”
  • ”You are damaged goods.”
  • ”No one will ever love you.”
  • ”You don’t deserve anything good.”
  • ”You are too far gone for healing or to be saved.”
  • ”You will not amount to anything.”

It can be easy to believe these lies especially if your home lacks love.  Unfortunately, these lies can grow into even more destructive lies.  Eventually, “you have no value” turns to “you might as well be dead” or “no one would care if you were dead.”

Please know, all of these are absolute lies.  Everyone has value.  You have value.  Sometimes we are born into families that don’t understand love or cannot love.  That is on them.  That is their need for healing.  You have value and a purpose.  You are loved!

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   John 3:16-17 ESV

If you don’t believe Jesus loves you or that it is too cliche, try asking Him.  If you wonder where he has been, please remember that He frequently works through people.  Is there someone in your life who has been trying to reach out to you?  Maybe a grandmother that puts Bible verses in your birthday cards.  Or an aunt who invites you to Sunday School.  Or a neighbor who invites you to church events.  Maybe you have been too sad to see them?  Please don’t give up.  You are worth the fight.