The Evolution of a Necklace

This soliloquy is something I wrote over a decade ago and which rings more and more true every year that passes–it is about the undoing of what I knew of faith; in order to find real faith. It seems especially prescient now– as I watch what in many ways was a scary summer for all of us– turn into a fall that holds just as many unknowns. The urge to know as much as I can and help as much as I can is tempered by old lessons from those furious cycles of my past wherein I tried to figure it all out and came up short. Every. Single. Time.

It still seems a bit crazy, selfish, and callous– to be at rest, and even to dare to laugh when the whole world seems to be burning down around us. But then I look back and I remember it’s been this way for a while. And that God already showed me what to do once before in times like this. And when He gave me those revelations– I usually put them down on paper–or into a file in my computer– for later use — if nothing else just to be able to minister again to my own self. Knowing how to be your own minister, especially when you were abused for forty years by a minister–is one of the greatest gifts–and I am thankful God gave it to me.

The Evolution of a Necklace

In bed with Montezuma’s flu,

late in the morning,

when I turned thirty-two—

twisting my head on the pillows

I thought I saw

a tiny container of woven straw.

 

Under the round Caribbean lid,

a bit of turquoise tissue hid—

Dominican blue

Larimar stone

set into a simple silver cross.

 

Its clean lines,

a contrast from the frilly amber

set in golden lacy designs,

had stood out in the lighted glass display

the evening we roamed the street

pretending not to be looking

for my birthday treat.

 

That hazy morning I found it,

head spinning—

tongue tasting bile—

The joy of discovering the hidden gift

made a trip turned miserable—worthwhile.

 

At home it matched every outfit,

from casual and messy to dressy—

the bright color of sky lit up my eyes.

Forget the jewelry in the box,

I thought that necklace the best looking

piece ever formed into a cross.

 

But everything changed as thirty-three

was revealed to me.

 

Many things were found.

 

Others went missing…

 

Perhaps it had stuck itself into a sweater,

fell through a pocket,

or slipped into the washer for a whirl.

I scoured the floor, and every drawer…

It was stolen, I halfway decided,

since so very many had admired it.

 

Days passed, and a few sleepless nights—

I saw that I had been wrong,

and done wrong, while doing the very things

I’d thought were good; and right.

 

I’d always known that the Savior had died for me—

and I had worn His symbol with pride—

rejoiced in what it did to my eyes—

held it up to the light—

like some sort of prize.

 

That cross was a gift given

in a different season.

And was lost, when it was,

for a good reason.

 

In time the sting of its loss went away.

I no longer needed

to put Him into a symbol.

He dwelt in my heart, where He belonged.

 

…sincerity, prosperity, generosity, and charity—

Theology, idolatry, prophecy, and eschatology…

I tried to find a balance in all the Y’s.

Back and forth I went,

As more and more things

to which I used to cling

just up and left my head—

or got kicked out of my heart.

 

Sometime after thirty-four,

I knew there had to be more

than living in the extreme,

seeing ‘Pagan’ in everything,

having to walk so slow,

when you’d rather skip and run…

 

On my knees yielding a wet rag like a sword,

head stuck deep, in the bathroom cupboard

cleaning crannies I hadn’t touched in eons—

I found it inside a bag full of tampons—

an irony which caused a smile,

and a burst of laughter too.

The joy of re-discovering the hidden gift

made a trip suddenly turned miserable—worthwhile.

 

Holding it gingerly in my grasp,

I opened the clasp with dirty scuffed fingers,

stood from creaking knees,

and watched in the mirror

as the cross settled down

above my heart.

 

Returning the bag

to its place on the shelf

I thought to myself—

He’d simply been waiting

for me to see that He doesn’t bless

in ways understood by the world.

Even if made of expensive stone—

a symbol has no worth.

Just as nothing we do, or own, or give,

realize, theorize, or give permission to plagiarize

…means all that much after all.

 

Yet, with Him involved; it can.

 

That second time around,

after finding the gift unexpectedly

under the sink—

I didn’t even pause to think.

 

I slipped it on without hesitation,

fully aware of my humble station—

a past partaker in the debate

over graven images; works done in vain;

and many other truths that can set us free—

or steal our joy.

 

The evolution of the necklace

wasn’t about finding

some deep hidden meaning,

discerning all the rights

from all the wrongs…

it was about laughter, and peace,

Him letting me know He’s

taking great care of me,

and smiling upstairs,

wanting me to smile too

while my heart is repaired.

 

When He put that pretty stone ’round my neck again,

the journey, quite frankly, became much more fun.

Why I dislike blind faith, and how understanding more about Bible prophecy helps me heal from abuse.

My husband and I watched this prophecy update video by JD Farag and I was blown away by the depth and simple truths he expounded upon in God’s word. After it was over I told my husband that this is why I dislike being told I need to ‘trust God with blind faith’ and ‘believe just because God is God’.

Furthermore, if I had to make a choice between ‘just me and my Bible’ versus ‘me and a room full of seemingly loving Christian’s without the Word’– I’ll keep my Bible. Thanks.

To me it is clear that God gave us prophecy so that we could reason our way into a belief in His existence. Rather than relying on the things we were told by parents (who in my case are not to be trusted) or ministers (some well meaning; others not so much) to ‘just trust’ ‘because God is God’ and ‘He Said So’ (which is far too similar to the kind of tactic the abusive people in my life used to keep me quiet, ignorant and compliant).

Before I expound further — I should explain some things. My Christian upbringing was in an outwardly Christian, but inwardly crumbling, home. The verse about ‘whitewashed tombs’ fits my family dynamic well. The protestant church we attended weekly, (which taught me a basic gospel message for which I remain grateful!), was very liberal. They did not touch on the fact that ‘the end was near’ or that ‘Jesus was returning soon’. They stressed blind faith just because ‘God was God’, over biblical inerrancy and the real proof of God’s existence found in the prophecy portions of scripture. Prophecy was only mentioned in the context of Christmas and Easter — and then it was merely part of the weekly readings, not exactly highlights of the sermons.

The minister in my family, who sexually assaulted me as a child and then harassed me into adulthood, called the church people who got excited about whatever was currently happening in the Middle East: ‘fundies’ ‘bible beaters’ ‘religious nut jobs’.

Oh, he’d be polite to their face, but stabbed their character when they weren’t in earshot. He acted as if he was above that kind of thing — more educated and therefore not prone to ‘conspiracy theories’ about ‘when the seals were gonna open in revelation’.

According to him, and many other ministers that influenced me in my early years: people have been in a tizzy about Jesus’ returning for years- -and he hasn’t yet. So why bother preparing yourself, just live your life and trust God and you will be fine no matter what. Or something like that. All of which never gave me any peace of mind whatsoever. I like facts. Proofs. Things written down that I can dig into and eventually logic out for myself.

Years later when I read the following in Matthew 24: 48-51

But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The Master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I knew why the minister in my family dismissing the idea of Jesus’ imminent return had felt so unsettling to me. Because only a wicked servant would talk like that! To believe in Jesus’ imminent return has always been one of the hallmarks of a Christian convert.

Thankfully it was hard to take the family minister very seriously when he started talking scripturally because usually he was too busy being an abject pervert or a mean spirited gossip to ‘talk shop’ around the table with his family. On those rare occasions when he did, as already stated above– I was left feeling even more uneasy around him than prior. And that’s saying something as I was rarely not on edge around him.

But just as we are promised in Romans 8, what the enemy meant for evil, God redeems for good. One of the main reasons why I came to study, and love, prophecy, is because of the minister in my family’s poor example.

I have written before about how reading the Bible for myself is what helped me own my own abuse, particularly Jesus’ warnings about ministers who are actually wolves dressed up as sheep (those verses continue to give me affirmation that abusive ministers are to be expected — and therefore the shameful things which it seems I ‘participated’ in were not my fault, or my doing, at all). Studying scripture on my own also helped me to see that my family had been spiritually abusive to me — and that their outwardly pious but behind-closed-doors-abusive natures is not what God intended His church to be like at all.

But regular readers are likely bored as I’ve shared all that prior.

I haven’t yet touched on my love for prophecy. And that love grew the more I delved into it and started to (somewhat) understand it — and it is complicated; has taken me years to even begin to wrap my head around it. But I believe it is worth it. I also believe that this modern obsession within the church — where we insist it is somehow ‘more noble’ to ‘blindly trust’ God, than it is to reason and logic and crawl our way through the scriptures looking for solid proofs– is only causing further damage to those of us (me included) who are victims of clergy abuse and spiritual abuse.

It’s time we dug into what it is that makes God so very trustworthy and solid — so UNLIKE an abusive, shape shifting, smoke and mirrors, self-serving and disordered personality who wants you to obey just ‘because he is god of this house, or leader of this church’ and because he ‘said so’.

Through many different authors, over thousands of years, God took care to tell us exactly what was and is going to happen, so that when it happened, (or happens)–we would NOT have to blindly trust Him with doubts in our guts as if he is just some carnival hawker with plush toys, greasy hands, and a rigged game. We can trust Him with our eyes wide open and seeing clearly that He is good, because He keeps His word — every jot and tittle of it, despite how many wicked sorts would twist it and turn it and use it to suit their aims.

The rest of the world? Nope–it is not good, it is in fact-evil. (also part of the prophecies and warnings found in the Word) but Him, yes, He…is good. Prophecy proves His goodness!

 

Lessons from Cinderella

 

I went through a phase, in my Christian walk, of avoiding many secular offerings. These days I still avoid a lot of TV shows and movies (mainly because I find certain genres too triggering). But now my ability to trust God and my desire to understand His heart toward the world, and toward me, is stronger than it was prior. The growth I’ve experienced in my faith has lessened the ‘avoid out of fear’ and turned it more into a ‘everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial’ (1 Corinthians 10:23) standpoint. And so I don’t restrict myself from something that draws me in, yet I will definitely take note of any occult references, secular humanism, and glaringly obviously lack of Jesus in most of what the world puts forth. It is to be expected, so why get upset over it? If I were to do that I’d be upset 24/7 because those things are everywhere.

A few times God has used some bit of dialogue, from a movie or overheard conversation, to hammer home a point that I needed to take to heart. To effectively peel another onion layer in the ongoing recovery from past child abuse. If Elijah could be fed by blackbirds (unclean animals that were to be avoided) then perhaps God’s people of today can also be ‘fed’ life-giving food from an unclean source as well.

And that is good, because one of the side effects of being physically unwell for several years is that I have a lot of what I call ‘couch time’. I prefer reading but there are days when even holding a book in my hands is too much. On those days I watch what I can find on Cable or Netflix. And so: I recently caught an adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella while channel surfing.

I was immediately drawn in.

Cinderella was one of my favorite fairy tales as a young child–one that I pored over again and again. At the time I didn’t realize that my own siblings and extended family members were abusing me, (by preschool age I had already learned to blame myself for that treatment). Which is why the idea of Cinderella being magically rescued out of an abusive home life, in which she was literally trapped, captivated me. It was so close to my own story–though I didn’t fully make that connection until recently.

My own family members gave me several unkind nicknames in my childhood, just like ‘Cinderella’ was the result of a mocking nickname. My bedroom was squalor filled and rodents were very real to me (though I did NOT befriend them). I was put into a caretaker role of the adults around me at a very young age and later when I was nearly an adult, both of my parents ensured their own financial and other securities, at the expense of my own. But just like a fairy tale– just in the nick of time I found a handsome prince and we set out on our own, purposely making our path very different from the lives we knew as children. To quote from another movie (Pretty Woman) — when the prince climbed the tower to rescue the woman, the woman rescued him right back. That’s pretty much the story of my life and marriage. We rescued each other and then wrote our own story with intentionality and love.

Point being: my life path mimics that of a fictional Cinderella. It took some time to break the financial bondages that also ensued; but in time they were broken. And like a fairy tale princess- I’ve always wanted pretty things to wear and to fill up my home…and my husband and I both worked very hard to achieve that.

We now have most of the things we wanted. And that can be fun. But: it’s just mammon. It can’t buy you peace of mind or salvation. It also can’t ensure you have good health (sigh). And I’ve learned that even financial success, a lot like health status, is all ‘relative’. Compared to some we are ‘rich’ and compared to others: we have very little. There will never be ‘enough’ to satisfy even the richest amongst us. I have found that it really is better to have a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17). But that doesn’t stop me from wanting the fattened calf with love; regardless. I also would love to see all my health issues reverse…❤️

And so the combination of physical illness and the guilt, unease, and ongoing trauma ramifications from my past sometimes keep me from fully enjoying that fairy tale ‘life’, that fattened calf existence, that one might assume someone like me has — looking in at my current ‘outward appearances’.

Which is why I find it so deliciously ironic that watching a movie about a fairy tale that I really identify with, left me with two very good ‘nuggets’ of wisdom to carry forward. To ease the guilt and the trauma effects. To lighten my load.

(Spoiler alerts follow–stop reading if you want to watch the movie unspoiled!) In the film, when Cinderella first meets the Prince he inquires about her family’s treatment of her. And she responds (paraphrasing and this may be a little bit off!)

“They treat me as well as they are able.”

Woah. What wisdom there. Abusive sorts simply aren’t able to show kindness and love. I know this, but the temptation to blame myself or to make excuses for them remains. In reality, they treated me as well as they were able and for whatever reason — unconditional love was simply not in their ability to give.

I was bracing myself to not like the ending. I was somewhat expecting that the stepsisters and stepmother would be reformed at the end and allowed to live the castle life they so desperately desired–since that has become the expected new ending to old fairy tales–where the bad guys turn out to be good guys, etc.

Instead, the ending was brilliant. And something that I wish the Christian church understood better. Within the church we focus so much on outward appearances and looking the part that we no longer have a clear understanding of the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is too often expected as a kind of proof of forgiveness–with the burden of bearing that proof put on the offended, rather than the offender. But while forgiveness is a scriptural command, no where in Scripture are we told to reconcile to unrepentant and unchanged people. In fact, we are warned against that!

In the closing scenes Cinderella verbally expresses her forgiveness to her stepmother and sisters, right before leaving her childhood home a final time. (I almost did an eye-roll as I knew that one was coming.)

But then the narrator added, “Though she forgave her stepmother and stepsisters, they were banished from the kingdom forever.”

I can’t tell you how much my soul needed the affirmation that forgiveness does not have to equal reconciliation.

Particularly with people who have not changed.

And how is that Working for You?

woman wearing blue top beside table
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

One of the MOST common questions a counselor or therapist will ask, after you share how you are, or are not, coping with a dilemma; is this:

And how is that working for you?

I’ve been to enough counseling that I have picked up this phrase and find I am tempted to use it myself, in my conversations with other people.

And that gives me pause. Because inevitably a little voice in my head is whispering “did you really just say that? Did you really just play therapist with someone instead of just being their friend and listening to them and being ok if they are doing things you wouldn’t do yourself?”

I am someone who overthinks everything, from every possible angle. Thank you: childhood full of trauma. Even if said method of coping is working wonderfully FOR ME; to have it questioned in any sense, even in the most benign way that sentence could be said, causes me to start spinning through ALL of my prior actions in my head. Former confidence that I had (that I was doing the best course of action, or else what needed to be done even though I knew it wasn’t optimal) can quickly give way to thoughts like ‘maybe I am struggling in this area.’ ‘I’m really messed up.’ ‘oh boy, now what am I doing wrong?’

Even though I am often not, and was not, doing anything ‘wrong’ at all. I’d already set proper boundaries. I’d already talked it through with the offender. Sometimes you just run into @$$ hats in life and need to steer another direction around their crap.

I am also aware that when a therapist (or a friend who has picked up vernacular from a therapist) asks the ‘how is it working for you’ question, he or she has already determined that whatever coping mechanism I am using is not the most optimal one, in their thought, and he or she is subversively subtly letting me know that there are other options…without telling me those options because they ‘want me to come into my own conclusions.’ Because I am five, and cannot handle being plainly told about alternative courses of action.

Which is condescending. Suddenly they are my teacher and I am the student. I would think it would be better to keep things on the level — friend to friend instead of ‘counselor to counsel-ee’ and simply state: well, I am glad ___________ is working for you. Sounds like you have it figured out then. Myself, I would probably do it a bit differently.

Or a simple, ‘have you considered doing __________ instead? I was in a similar situation and finally when I did __________ I had some peace about it.’

To which they might answer, Yes! I tried that for years. Now I have to do what I am doing to stay sane… Nod and accept it and then ensue sipping coffee and sharing about your grown children’s antics or the sweater you just found on sale last week.

Keep friendship exchanges to friendship exchanges. Rather than condescension and playing therapist.*

And if I find myself back in therapy (doubtful at this point), or with a friend who has picked up this phrase; and it therefore gets used on me — remember that the use of the phrase is about them, not me. Consider, very briefly, that I may not be doing the optimal thing. If a brief assessment of the behavior in question results in a ‘I am doing just fine here’ — then answer ‘it is working well for me!’ and change the subject. If their question makes me realize that I am not satisfied with how it is working for me, then don’t do a thousand mental gymnastics biting on that hook and trying to figure out a more suitable plan. Simply answer their question with the following question:

What would you recommend that I do in this situation?

And then take to heart, or completely toss out, whatever they suggest. Because it is safe that way since you have kept the exchange on an even level, adult to adult, instead of submitting to their attempts at schooling you.*

*note to self.

When Kissing is Abuse (A Survivor’s Thoughts on The Purity Movement). Part 2.

(Continued from part one here)….As an adult, coming to terms with my child abuse, I can remember feeling literal pain when talking with sisters in Christ who had upbringings that fell in line with The Purity Movement. They recalled childhoods wherein their fathers sat around the dinner table expounding upon the Bible. The minister in their family would lead worship songs and take them to summer camps (without assaulting them). Their mothers guarded their encounters with other children and adults. They actually threw out, or burned, the questionable toothpaste and the smut books…why hadn’t God put me in one of those homes instead of the one I was in?  That realization hurt. As an abuse survivor: The Purity Movement can sting in so many ways.

I was jealous for what these sisters in Christ had been given. Their caregivers had shut the door on the devil. Mine had invited him in for coffee! In contrast, I felt even more defiled and abandoned–and unsure if I even belonged within Christianity. I also learned that jealousy can be physically painful. It hollows out your chest cavity and burns your guts. I felt weak; exhausted. It wasn’t fun to sit through these stories others shared. But it was necessary to my healing. It also wasn’t fun to finally share my own stories of defilement. But it was necessary to my healing. Because it was my story. I’m more like Tamar from the Bible than I am Laura from Little House on the Prairie. And owning that made for a whole lot of pain; but it also made all the difference too. My own religious double-mindedness was disappearing, the more I owned the truth.

In time those feelings of jealous pain passed and I began to take a hard look at my relationship with Jesus. I wasn’t following Jesus because someone had been sure that I was ‘kept pure’, leaving me determined to ‘stay that way’ by jumping under Jesus’s Umbrella until marriage. No. Furthermore, my sexuality is only one part of what Jesus purified. The Purity Movement runs the risk of making everything about sex, instead of about Jesus. Sex was a frequent topic of discussion in my perverted upbringing, also with a hyper focus on the ‘sexual status’ of young girls. And so if we are ‘truly guarding’ a woman, then shouldn’t her sexual status remain private? Is ‘ensuring virginity’ something God told His people to do? We know they often made it public in the Old Testament but it is unclear if that publicity was a command of God. Because I grew up with religious people hiding their own perversions, who also loved to find out such intimate details about others, (particularly young people)– I question whether showing off a daughter’s purity cloth, or a modern day purity ring, isn’t simply more evidence of the human tendency to get fixated on sex; and particularly the innocent sexual status of young people. It’s a scary thought, to me.

Furthermore, our depravity goes much deeper than sex, it involves greed and pride and a host of other ills too. True purity is about much more than celibacy. It’s about turning from our very nature as fallen humans. And so ultimately: I can’t credit the way I was raised, any certain movement or published book, for my salvation and restoration which covers everything about me: including my sexuality. I can only credit God Himself for it.

Eventually it became clear that few people are walking in sexual freedom, no matter their backgrounds, or marital status–and that those who had been public about private matters often lived to regret it later (as Joshua Harris now seems to be doing). I had to wonder if it was because they’d never believed they had a reason to wrestle with their own purity status? Or if it was because in their own ways, they were also victims of sexualization (which is abuse, too)–except it would be taboo to ever call it that in a Christian setting! Meanwhile, I wrestled openly with mine, and asked God for salvation from my damnation as well as the healing of my broken sexuality and past abuse. I came to believe that eternity, purity and sexual freedom is found through ongoing repentance. Active trust in Jesus, not my own past or present action (or inaction), is what makes me pure.

Therein is the freedom. In admitting your own defeat and declaring “Jesus makes and keeps me pure!” Having said that, I actually have no problem with people attempting to keep their homes pure, for their children’s sake. I would likely do the same, could I redo some things myself in the way I raised my own. But I truly hope I would never ‘broadcast’ the virginity status of any young person (even with their expressed permission — young people are too young to understand the ramifications of that). Nor would I take part in putting a young person on some sort of public faith based platform or pedestal, as few adults have the kind of maturity and groundedness-in-Christ to handle such exposure. Putting young people into the public eye prematurely is rampant in modern Christianity. (Amending this on 8-23-19 to add: I believe every now and again a young person comes along who does have the kind of maturity to be in ministry at a young age. Often that person has been given an inordinate amount of wisdom AND has also endured so many trials that they are more than ready for a spotlight or platform. However, maturity really is necessary to be in that kind of ministry or have that kind of platform. Unfortunately, I also know ‘older people’ in ministry who still lack maturity.)

The idea that we can even ‘stay pure’ in the first place, is another thing that gave me pause, about The Purity Movement (after I peeled through the hurt, anger, jealousy, and outrage over ‘broadcasting the sexual status of young people’). The way I see it, it is impossible to spend any amount of time on earth, single or married, and not have your mind defiled to some degree by your own thought processes.

Jesus said if a man even thinks about a woman in ‘that way’ then he has committed adultery with her in his heart. Which tells me that even the best homes (and marriages) — are still not pure enough for God’s standards — no matter how careful they have been. The antidote isn’t merely avoidance of the devil; it is utter dependence on Jesus.

I am no longer painfully jealous when I hear about other people’s upbringings. I am all the more aware of what Jesus continues to give me. And I cling to that the way only someone who can’t hear the word ‘kiss’ without flinching, would cling.

Wrong as they were about so many things, and implicit as they were in the abuses of a child (me) — my parents behavior, and the actions of a wolf in shepherd’s clothing— was the conduit for me to respond to the Holy Spirit’s offering of Christ’s purity in every way I needed it.

For that I am thankful.

Nevertheless, Shut De Do is a favorite song of mine and I often think of that song when I think of my upbringing. If only someone watching over me had shut the door and kept the devil in the night.

 

 

When Kissing is Abuse (A Survivor’s Thoughts on The Purity Movement). Part 1.

Trigger warning — details about sexual abuse follow. I have enjoyed reading about the fall out from the I Kissed Dating Goodbye author’s change of heart– here’s a synopsis if interested. So much has already been said, from many angles. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain my own feelings. (Or feel free to move along to another post as this  one will get lengthy!) Update: I have so much to say on this topic, I am turning it into two posts!

Joshua Harris’s popular Christian book was something I’d never heard about prior to leaving the protestant faith I was born into. To date, I still have not read his book! Therefore the things I write here should not be taken as reflections of his former work or current change of heart about it.

Nevertheless, posts about Harris and I Kissed Dating Goodbye kept triggering me. I sat with it a while before it hit me. When I was a preschooler, a minister in my extended family started abusive contact in the form of kissing. And so I learned that kissing brings with it a whole lot of guilt and yucky feelings. I still have mixed emotions about kissing. Jesus was betrayed by a kiss. And it seems I was as well. Like Judas, my betrayer was also imbedded within Christian leadership. It’s hard to enjoy something that holds a sting inside of it. The very title of the book, with the word kissing being so closely associated with a Christian movement and leadership; triggered me.

Triggers aren’t the problem. Avoiding pain is the problem. Therefore it’s taken me a while to process through this one and again, apologies for the length on these posts and thanks for anyone who ploughs through it all with me!

When I left protestantism and began exploring other Christian faith traditions — The Purity Movement came onto my radar. I was uncomfortable with it. I was still trying to reconcile what had happened to me — with my own sexual purity stolen by abuse, and the discomfort I still felt from the continued voyeurism, and focus on my body, which I had experienced growing up.

I tried to make sense of what I was feeling. I knew that the way I was raised had been wrong. But I did not feel The Purity Movement was ‘getting it right’ either–and it took me a long while to realize why I felt that way. As a survivor of voyeurism, I saw how The Purity Movement, and book’s like Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye zeroed in on young people’s sex lives (a non existent sex life is still a focus on another’s sex life), forcing teenagers belonging to the movement to inadvertently become ‘public’ with very private information — thereby the adults and others looking on were also, in some ways, participating in voyeuristically viewing teenagers in terms of ‘sex’.

That irritated me.

I was also secretly jealous of the homes that had attempted to keep their children pure, adding yet another layer to the convoluted onion I needed to peel.

The Protestant home I grew up in was outwardly Christian (church attendance, having funerals and weddings ‘in the church’, getting confirmed in the teen years, and sprinkling/baptizing babies). But my immediate family was not ‘hit’ by the Jesus movement, that gained momentum in the 70’s and 80’s; or the homeschooling movement that took off in the 90’s. Though there were some charismatic gospel records that made a rotation on the record player.

The minister in the family practiced a strange mix of religious behaviors with licentiousness. When I first began to take my faith seriously, the ‘trained theologian’ in the living room mocked me openly about being a ‘fundie’, asking why I was ‘getting so weirdly religious lately’. He would talk quite skillfully and sincerely about ‘faith’ when needed, but show a very tawdry side if he knew his audience would actually appreciate a ‘minister who cusses’. He was ‘intellectual and modern’, about faith, often arguing from a near atheistic-sounding viewpoint, (that is when he was willing to talk ‘shop’). Ordinarily he avoided religious discussions, preferring instead to start gossip, or share jokes lifted from raunchy comedians.

His influence left a heavy mark.

…But the truth is, many family members seemed to operate with similar double-mindedness, as the family minister had.

My father was often perverted and displayed some serious lapses in moral judgment. He had another side, though, that would surface at church. And in the sweeping Christian movements of the 70’s through 90’s, we had frequent encounters with people who were participating in all kinds of faith movements and new rules — which left impressions on me, and contributed to my longing for a ‘serious’ faith walk myself. My father sat piously, listening to a visiting minister (not the one who abused me), or a religious relative passing through the area, as if in total agreement. One such visitor even insisted that Proctor & Gamble products had a satanic seal and should therefore be boycotted by all Christians, prompting my dad to dig out some deodorant and toothpaste, as well as a magnifying glass to look them over. The next day at the dinner table he was troubled and asked my mother, ‘Maybe we should stop buying that brand–what if that really is the sign of the devil on our toothpaste?’

Like the rest of the family my mother didn’t watch after my purity, storing her vast collection of explicit romance novels on my bookshelf, and ignoring the other pornography to which I was being exposed. Yet she also had her own type of faith and devotion life too. One which she occasionally shared aloud. So I wasn’t sure what to expect in that moment…and my hopes were kindled a bit. But she just snorted and waved her hand in front of her face in response to dad’s momentary crisis of conscience. Our P&G toothpaste continued without interruption. But I remember spending a lot of time looking at that tiny moon-man symbol, fearfully wondering if that’s why I kept getting cavities.

After toddlerhood, all of the abuse escalated, throughout the family. One abuser was beyond reproach, though, being a minister.

I blamed myself.

(See part two for more).

 

 

When You are Little, You Notice the Little Things.

girl lying on road in front of cart
Photo by Collin Guernsey on Pexels.com

I have a little blog with little traffic. Some times, I can tell when someone has liked a post but hasn’t actually read it; or made a decision to follow me based on actual content. (Since they clearly didn’t read any.)

I know, I know, some existing subscribers like to read posts directly in their emails and when they do that; it won’t generate any traffic…

But when the blogger who just liked several posts, without seeming to have read them, is not a follower and is also the owner of a ‘marketing’ blog… or happens to have just posted about a (fee-based) guest blogger opportunity…I call it click bait. And I presume that little blogs with few likes and few followers are more likely to become targeted by the big blogs who naturally think us little blogs can’t wait to grow up and be big blogs; just like them! And so we will be indebted to their ‘like’ or their ‘follow’ and thereby like and follow them right back, increasing their own following and likes…or maybe we might even buy what they are selling.

This actually doesn’t happen all that much anymore, although a few recent likes did give me some pause…but back when I was very little, my earliest ‘fans’ all had very large blog followings of their own, and most of them dropped off liking my posts after it was clear I had become a regular follower of theirs. Coincidence? Or am I just jaded?

Well, jade is a favorite color; so there’s that. Sometimes I wish that WordPress was a tiny bit more like twitter wherein you could clearly see the follower/following ratios. That would make it all far more interesting. All of which has me pondering what exactly Jesus meant by His comment that in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven we must change and become as little children. Are we jaded; and need to return to being trusting children? Do we need to regain our innocence? What is truly meant by this comment  that Jesus made anyway?

Little children are still sinful- innocent as we might like to make them out to be- they aren’t. Little children are not exactly trusting by nature either–babies reach a certain age and are often scared to go into the arms of strangers. But, little children are aware of the little things, far more so than grown ups. They are more honest too. They know that darkness is inherently creepy and light is much better. Little children take in the little things in ways that grown ups tend to brush off or rationalize. They haven’t learned to posture themselves and be fake. They are real. They like what they like and ignore what they do not.

And so it is the little things, when you are little… Like comments! That is where it is at; for me. Show me you actually read my stuff with a thoughtful comment, and then I will be intrigued about you, will inevitably read YOURS and probably will comment back. Though I completely understand why someone would be content with a blog with a little OR large following; without feeling the need to comment back or follow back or ‘like’ back. I’m good with it ALL, really. Except, well, being click bait. It’s fake, for one. Plus, it’s kind of voyeuristic when you think about it. To view a mere title on a new post and then click like or follow simply in order to use something you know nothing about for your own purposes…

YUK.

When I was a child, I definitely noticed the little things. It frequently terrified me, being so hyper-aware. Sometimes that hyper awareness saved me from further abuse, other times I was made to feel even smaller and was abused because of having those natural intuitions and fears. Regardless, the way some men would stare at me when I was wearing a swimsuit was never lost on me. I noticed the way adults in my family talked or laughed like a villain from a movie I shouldn’t have been allowed to watch. And I still shudder at how certain grown ups, and one dentist, carefully gauged my mom’s reactions while winking at me right in front of her.

I decided who was trustworthy, and who was not, by the little things. I didn’t figure out how to guard my time and talents from those who would drain it, though, until I was older. Other than that, though: Not much has changed.

I hope to stay little in as many ways as I can; including blogging.

 

 

 

 

The Germans Have a Word for Everything

Schadenfreude: pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

My son asked me if I had ever heard of Schadenfreude. I said I was sure I’d heard it before but I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. He laughed and said, ‘Oh, you know how the Germans like to come up with a word for everything…”

Indeed. I looked it up online and read it aloud while we chatted on the phone.

I admitted that I have felt schadenfreude. And I love finding a word that describes so accurately something I have felt myself. That recognition moment is the ultimate ‘lightbulb’ going off, combined with a wordie girl finding a new word — it was a blissful moment.

Typically, after feeling schadenfreude, I then regretted feeling it because it seems so very unChristian and I have tried very hard my whole life to look like a good Christian; inside and out. So then I overcompensated for feeling glad about another’s demise by rushing in to help the very person that I was at first secretly glad to see suffering and then later felt bad about feeling good about and eventually that cycled off and I found that I genuinely drummed up some real empathy and love. Time and again, though, — that whole process ended up disastrously.

Being human is messy.

Seeing people reap what they sow is rewarding; sometimes. Other times it calls for keeping a wide path; while the inevitable destruction happens. And with those I truly do love, the family which God let me choose for myself –I find that schadenfreude rarely occurs. When they are in pain; I am in pain.

And so naming things has value. Recognizing your feelings is sometimes all we need to do. We don’t have to act on everything*. (*Note to self).

 

 

 

 

 

PTSD Triggers, Trauma, and Travel: “It Never Goes Away” (& how I am managing that fact.)

beach blue car combi
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

(Trigger warnings throughout this post and I apologize for the length — sometimes writing for ‘me’ gets wordy–and I appreciate any readers who will actually plow through this one).

Juanita Broaddrick has shared about being a rape survivor and when I first owned my own story, I stumbled upon hers and was engrossed in it. (‘allegedly’ Bill Clinton* raped her in 1978– he denied it but I believe her, not him). Anyway,  she wrote that it (the rape) ‘never goes away’. It clicked with me, being both at once depressing and also legitimizing for what I was going through myself. 1978 is a LONG time ago. But in reading hers, and other stories, I began to see that owning your story is so very difficult because once you do — it will never go away again (delusion/denial/dissociation allows it to ‘sort-of’ be gone).

*yet another reason why I am not political anymore — in the last presidential election both sides had way too many ties to rape and/or sexual assault claims.

Traveling triggers my PTSD. Traveling also relieves my triggers and has been one of my favorite ways to deal with things like family drama during holidays, certain seasonal events with bad memories attached to them (for which I prefer being out of town), and my health (which benefits from milder climates). Many of the blogs I follow have shared similar thoughts about travel; so perhaps traveling is a common tool amongst trauma survivors and/or the chronically ill.

First off — as many other blogs have already shared — I am aware that not everyone is on a chronic illness spectrum that allows it, and/or has the kind of extra finances on a regular basis — to include frequent travel in their own box of coping tools. I am trying to be sensitive to that, while also being real and honest in sharing my own story.

There is no doubt that our healthcare system and what we actually know about health in general is in real crisis. More and more it is only the wealthy and/or the very smart/highly educated who are able to navigate through their health issues with any real success. I believe sharing our N=1 stories, with the paradox/gift that is the internet, is one tool God is giving us to fight back against some of this oppression. And that motivates me. Another motivator is more selfish. I find great help for ME by writing out my thoughts until they make better sense. And so here goes:

Travel is great; and travel is terrible. There’s nothing like a reset in a different location far from home to clear my mind and my body. But, there’s nothing quite as horrible as being triggered far from home.  You’d much rather be in your safe chair in the living room with the shades closed. Your own bed. Your favorite blanket…equally awful is booking a room that looked great online and turned out to be so run down the stained shower stall triggered events that happened in the squalor filled, imposed poverty, bathrooms of my youth.

ALSO not pleasant.

I hate that I am so ‘high maintenance’. That is NOT me at all. I am a big fan of simple and I believe less is often more. I’d rather simply spend more time with my husband than have him valiantly work long hours to pay for frequent escapes and vacations that meet all of my (many) ‘needs’. But I hate, even more, being reminded of my trapped childhood inside a house without locking doors and window coverings (there was frequent voyeurism) and an environment so utterly devoid of care that it was squalor from the time I could remember to the time I finally said NO to enduring holiday dinners in a filthy kitchen that smelled of cat urine combined with rotting tuna and cabbage. And so we usually travel like we eat: as basic as possible but very well, and constantly considering all my ‘avoids’. And I thank God for blessing us enough to keep doing it.

To have a triggering episode (physical or mental) while away from home can be THE WORST thing ever. And so I end up having less actual vacation time than I feel my body and brain could benefit from because I inevitably blow the entire budget on non-triggering accommodations and foods, alone. My main travel rule is nothing less than ‘3 star’. And my husband can tell you where the cleanest gas station and restroom stops are in cities which are hours away from ours. I’m thankful he remembers these things as I don’t always remember it — even though bad restroom stops are huge triggers for me.

Complex PTSD, for me anyway, is this strange combo of amnesia and photographic memory.

Our last winter vacation included a lot of open air, high balconies. These were very triggering for reasons I couldn’t immediately identify. I worked through it. I eventually saw some root issues I hadn’t seen before–like a lot of trust issues with myself, with strangers and also with people I know (I kept having obsessive thoughts that someone was going to hurtle me off a rooftop–or that I would hurl myself off accidentally or something too). I am still working on my fear of heights and have accepted that me jumping out of an airplane to try and overcome it just isn’t happening. EVER. I do have better insight into what is causing it all, though. But my body, which had been doing fairly well prior, physically tanked on that trip and then really tanked after returning home.

The trip I took this summer, after radically changing my diet, was noticeably different. It involved a lot of driving, stretches of poverty-stricken areas, and a lot of switching of hotel rooms. At one roadside restroom stop (after dark) the only bathroom was located away from the service station in a dimly lit corner of a parking lot. I hesitated but I really had to pee!

When I entered the dirty bathroom a woman, my age but aged far more than me, was just leaving and she was sobbing openly. “Why would someone do this to me? I really need my medicine!?” Someone had just stolen something or other from her handbag. I offered to help her, I asked her what kind of medicine it was (thinking I could maybe give her some of my own stash of Advil and minerals, etc. and then quickly realized it was not a simple over the counter ‘medicine’ she’d had stolen…) but just as my eyes were opening wide and making that connection, she blurted, “oh don’t even worry about it” and with two hurried steps, into some bushes beside the unlit restrooms, she was in utter darkness and I had no idea where she even went. I used the restroom anyway, in anger, squatting over the disgusting toilet and clutching my own purse in my lap and thinking to myself that if some drugged up cad was going to try and accost me, he was in for one hell-of-a-fight before he was gonna take my purse or my dignity.

The old me had returned. The scrappy, brave, don’t push me, tough girl who grew up with scraped knees and a mean left hook. Those haven’t been my thoughts in well over a decade now. I wouldn’t have even considered that bathroom a year ago, and would have insisted my husband accompany me if I had no other choice. Because I’ve been crippled on a very physical and physiological level — by fear and body pain — nearly to the point of defeat.

In the area we recently traveled, most three star properties, which I knew were my limit, were the equivalents of two star and less in other locations. Everywhere I went, memories were surfacing. Weird ‘feels’ were constant. Hairs standing up on the back of my neck every hour or so. I was definitely flaring PTSD-wise. But, strangely, my neck was NOT tight, my muscles were not in knots and I slept fairly well considering. Plus, summer itself is triggering for me as the worst of the abuse episodes happened from extended family members who would take me on trips (to isolate me) or to their homes for extended stays, usually in the summer when I wasn’t in school.  So it is hard to say what exactly the triggers are sometimes — because the way the wind blows through the leaves in the summer can be enough to trigger me.

Yet this last summertime vacation was so triggering based on the locations we traveled through. The change in landscape from where I live, and being brought back to childhood by the sight of a certain kind of plant, a lack of trees, restroom breaks with toilets that didn’t flush (or sobbing women who’d just been mugged), and/or a distinct color of rocks and soil, was jolting.

Yet, I did notice that I wasn’t as jolted as I had been for so long now, either. And I slugged heavy bags, and coolers of food and water, in and out of vehicles and hotel rooms for days, without any upper back pain. I didn’t have dizzy spells or nausea. I slept ok and when I didn’t get enough sleep I could still function the next day. My neck wasn’t killing me the entire time. I only took two Advil, total, in over three thousand miles of travel. The hardest part of the trip was finding decent food as much of what we could find in gas stations and roadside restaurants was on my avoid list. So I just ate a lot of steaks. Crappy ones at that.

And I know that I know, now, that a lot of the physical manifestations of PTSD came from physical toxicity and that can be healed through diet changes. I KNOW this based upon my traveling experiences alone and the differences between last winter’s vacation and this summer’s road trip. Wherein on one I was eating my old diet and the other — a diet which eliminated known toxins.

But, if my experience is indicative of a larger pattern: I don’t think my PTSD went away. It just isn’t as hard as prior. Which is a gain, but it is still hard.

I do not think the actual PTSD triggers will ever go away– no matter how carefully I watch my diet. Evil is still evil and it is everywhere and in some spots of the world it is definitely more concentrated than others. I am coming to believe that my PTSD is the devil’s toll for living in a world over which he rules. Certain parts where his dark influence is greater than others are those very parts wherein I will be more triggered.

I am accepting that. As a Christian my hope for eternity is in Jesus. In this world, my hope is also in Jesus, who brings light to the dark. Pretty sure that He is telling me my daily bread is going to have to be carefully managed and that that’s going to lift off the heavy yoke that I feel has been over my back and my shoulders for life — since suddenly I can sling a heavy suitcase and not have any neck tension whatsoever. And since I was prepared to fight myself with a potential restroom stalker rather than run and hide under my husband’s cover.

But I’m still gonna insist on staying in three star and above hotels, and I don’t think I’m ever going to drive through certain parts of America ever again, either.

 

 

The Golden Rule Can’t Be About Me.

smiling woman holding black smartphone
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

I have an agnostic, leaning-toward-atheist, friend who believes all you need to do in life is to follow ‘The Golden Rule’. Always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. She asserts that if you do that, you will get back out of life what you put into it. Furthermore, she’s been known to say that if everyone simply followed The Golden Rule, the world would not be the world as we know it (I think she meant ‘bad’ in general. But, IMHO: the world as we know it is increasingly narcissistic– we have become ‘lovers of self’, just as was prophesied by Paul to Timothy).

I agreed with her but added some thoughts of my own too. Since I believe all people are capable of evil, by nature–we need help keeping The Golden Rule. Such help comes in the form of Jesus, specifically His Word (Jesus IS the word!).

By the way, friend, God’s word/AKA Jesus is what gave us The Golden Rule…

And, not surprisingly, she didn’t believe The Golden Rule originated in the Bible. Citing chapter and verse did nothing. I’m not one to argue, I’d rather let the seed do what seeds do (die, or, lie dormant and sprout when least expected– six years later, in a crack that developed on hard cement). My Golden Rule friend is actually basing her life on two Biblical principles, without realizing it. The Golden Rule is one, and the idea that we get back what we give out is number two, i.e. we reap what we sow. (I didn’t even ‘go there’ on that point–seeing how the Golden Rule Bible verse played out!)

Anyway, I believe the key to understanding Mathew 7:12 (the famous ‘golden rule’ precept) lies in Matthew 7:11.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:11 that though we are evil, we still know how to give good things to those we love. How much more, then, does God the Father, (in Whom NO evil resides), KNOW how to give good gifts?

Sadly, I know the sin nature of people, myself included. We are capable of committing evil under the right (wrong?) circumstances. And I’ve also experienced what the devil is capable of as well–so there’s no doubt in my mind that the dark dude would LOVE it–say, for instance, if the recent earthquake in California had resulted in total annihilation instead of the fairly serious damage that was caused (sadly). The fact that this world is still, for the most part, orderly, and that many people enjoy long lives relatively free of major devastations, is one of those ‘good gifts of a righteous God.’ His hand still has sway over this world and is undoubtedly keeping order, IMHO. When that restraint is lifted, I believe it will get very ugly indeed–I just hope I’m not here to witness that!

But back to The Golden Rule. It struck me recently that we, in our selfish nature, have twisted even that genius summation of all the law and prophets. Time and again as I’ve been attempting to heal from PTSD, I have received advice and responses from professionals, friends, and family that have come from a place of ‘their experience’ instead of truly trying to understand, and respect, mine.

All too often, when we are faced with another person’s pain, we respond exactly as we presume we would want to be responded to (with all of our personal quirks, belief systems, dislikes and affinities) instead of listening and then selflessly responding as that person would like us to respond (or outright needs us to respond in truth, whether they want the truth or not).

I think we err in this way because treating others as we would want to be treated seems so noble and good. So… without reproach. So… Golden Rule-y! But if we overlook our own ability to be fallen and sinful (and self-focused), we could cause others more damage than help.

  • You are feeling sick and so I’ll just give you space, because I just want to be left alone when I’m not feeling well. (Perhaps the hurting person wants and/or needs someone to bring breakfast in bed–and then lunch and dinner too!)
  • I don’t like it when people talk bad about my family so I am not going to say anything bad to you about yours. (Perhaps the person recovering from abuse desperately wants to hear someone say her parents/siblings/uncles/grandparents are given over to evil!)
  • I don’t like physical affection so I will listen to you cry about this but I am NOT going to hug you. (Perhaps thats person wants a hug, or someone holding their hand).
  • Prayer makes everything better for me so I am going to stop on this sidewalk and pray right here, right now, over you. (Does the person even want to be prayed over right now, let alone in public?)
  • My minister said forgiveness heals and so you just need to forgive it. (even though David spent chapters of the psalms calling down curses on his enemies in order to purge and deal with his emotions!)

I could go on, and on, but perhaps others can add their own thoughts and examples of ways we respond to hurting people based on our experiences; not theirs.

I suggest we get better about asking.

  • What can I do for you?
  • What do you need right now?
  • Do you want a hug?
  • A prayer?
  • Some space?          

Honor the responses to those questions. Get to know someone who is hurting and treat them as they want to be treated. And please stop telling abuse survivors they just ‘need to forgive’. Most of the time they need to get good and angry before forgiveness can happen.

The Golden Rule is a wonderful precept! Yet it can go really sideways when we start seeing everyone else exactly as we view ourselves. Which leads me back to where I started: humans are becoming increasingly narcissistic. And it’s the ultimate narcissistic foible to forget that we are still…self-focused humans ourselves.

All of which makes me want to close with a word the early church used often:

Maranatha!