Humility and mental wellness

art carving close up crown

I read the fourth chapter of The Book of Daniel this morning.

I wondered if King Nebechadenezer had immediately humbled himself before God, as Daniel suggested, if things would have  been different for him. Specifically the dream he had (a prophetic picture of him ‘going mad’ and his kingdom being taken from him) — could that prophetic dream have been avoided?

Well in the end, King N didn’t listen to Daniel and the dream came true. Quite suddenly too. One minute the King is on his palace roof gloating over all he accomplished and the next minute he is out of the palace and out of his mind eating grass and letting his fingernails grow like eagle talons.

After a long time of that King Nebuchadnezzar ‘looked to Heaven’ and ‘his reason was returned to him.’ As was the kingdom and his humility before the one true God.

I have written several times now about a book I am reading, by Patrick Carnes, called The Betrayal Bond. 

He goes into some detail about the role of hubris in forming a trauma bond. An example being a child believing she is special because daddy has ‘chosen only her’ to have a special (abusive) relationship. I could relate very much. I just shared with my therapist that as distrustful as I was of my own family I believed the world ‘out there’ was what I really couldn’t trust.

It is difficult to admit but when I look back at my childhood, no matter what happened in my home, I believed we were better than other people. I’m not sure if that was an unspoken rule thing or just my own sinful nature trying to hide from feelings of shame.

For much of my life I was like a queen, walking the rooftop my ancestors had built, surveying all that was going on and still having the hubris to declare that it was better than anything else on earth.

In light of that delusion I was under, I am actually thankful that my mind broke. There probably wouldn’t have been any other way for me to see the truth of it all.

Gods Kingdom is the only good Kingdom. The things man builds are rife with betrayal, abuse, hubris and all sorts of other madness.

 

God knows everything. But does He WATCH everything?

air aircraft clouds drone

(Trigger warning: The following post includes details of sexual abuse and voyeurism). During grade school, I needed a baby picture for a project. All of us went home and asked our moms. My mom made a long process out of grabbing a Virginia Slim, lifting the window above the kitchen sink, and curling her mouth around the tip. About the time my head was ready to explode in the awkward silence, I heard “What for?” as she lit up. She blew smoke, hard, out of her nose; not even bothering to aim at the window.

“School.”

“I have to make your father his dinner.”

She rarely yelled. She withheld. It was more effective. She could go silent, or use one or two words, for days on end. In hindsight, I see the genius in it. She had a talent and brevity with scary sounding words that put Edgar Allen Poe to shame. All done while exhaling smoke and without expending an ounce of her own emotional energy.

By that point in my life the edge in her, the lack of words, was as familiar to me as the sugary-but-empty-gushing times, the free flow of words that she turned on whenever she was low on ‘fuel.’  It was others who fed her, never the other way around. My childhood was a combination of being stuck by her side filling her needs, or in some corner hiding from her and taking care of myself.

A few days later I was the only one who hadn’t brought back a baby photo. And Mom was still exhaling scary poetry. Luckily I was home alone after school and found my unfinished album perched on top of my older siblings’ baby books, in the back of Mom’s closet. The oldest child’s book was nearly full.

Mine, the youngest, was 1/4 full. On the first page my eyes landed on me and mom in a rocking chair. Mom was scowling, as if she was either annoyed to be photographed, or annoyed to be rocking me. I was wrapped in a blanket so big you couldn’t see my face, and her glasses were glaring stars from the flashbulb. It was a frightening photograph. The other kids would make fun of it; they often made fun of my weird parents.

Thankfully a birth announcement card slipped out from one of the back pages of the album. It was the resale kind that hospitals take before dismissing newborns (maybe they stopped doing that now). Some other kids in my class had already brought their own hospital-created newborn shots. So I grabbed that card out of the book with great relief.

Then I turned the page.

At first my heart swelled to see snapshots of my toddler years. It soon fell. I was naked in the bathtub with my cousin, naked in a chair with a cheesy grin, posing in the kitchen like an underwear model, (except I wasn’t wearing any). There were more naked photographs of my early childhood then there were clothed.

I turned the pages back and forth, confused by all the strange poses, wondering why I couldn’t remember any of it. It wasn’t that long ago.

The final photo in the book gave me some hope. I was wearing clothes and holding the barbie I’d received for my fourth birthday. I still had the doll. But my cousin had destroyed her as she had all the others. After a holiday visit, during which she had played for hours by herself in my playroom, all of my Barbie clothes had disappeared, their long hair had been chopped off, and every last one had pubic hair and nipples drawn on with a magic marker. Seeing how lovely the doll had once been, I felt fresh hatred toward my cousin. I returned the album and ran into my bedroom before anyone caught me snooping.

The house I grew up in held other horrors. I couldn’t have escaped them if I tried.

There were stacks of Hustlers, next to the Disney princess books, on my playroom shelf. My uncle, a minister and a frequent over night guest in our home, spied openly on me while I was in the bathroom–from as early as I can recall, right up until college when I left home. I was forced to watch explicit movies with my uncles, and to watch and/or hear about explicit acts. Eventually my cousin and I viewed the Hustlers together, in my playroom, during her visits. Likely the aim of whichever adult(s) placed them there in the first place.

I struggle to think of an adult, or a child, in my family of origin who wasn’t openly perverted.

To this day I still don’t like being watched, and I hate that I still have a lingering primal urge to view explicit things or laugh at dirty jokes. At some point I realized that viewing the intimate actions of others (pornography and explicit movies but also certain people on facebook and some TV shows), listening in on conversations (GOSSIP included), was doing to others exactly what had been to me in my childhood. It. Was. Just. Plain. Wrong.  And eventually something switched in me. I wanted to give other people space and privacy.

Even if they aren’t asking for it.

I am still learning how to derive pleasure just for the sake of pleasure, without it coming at the expense of others. Joy for the sake of joy. Intimacy for the sake of intimacy. I know, from my childhood, that there is a counterfeit. A stand in-for-true-joy, love making– without any love whatsoever, an excited type of temporary pleasure, which comes from viewing other people’s naked states (whatever that might look like) and using that to fuel your own needs — and lately I am aware that there is a type of uninvited ‘nakedness’, and viewing of it, involved with gossip.

Christians sometimes justify airing a confidential or private detail because they say they want others hearing it to be ‘in prayer’ for that person.

I’m learning to put a hand up and say, stop, I don’t want to know that. I don’t want to be in on viewing that. I want to respect that person in their state of nakedness.

And I still don’t enjoy cameras in my face. I could never do reality TV. Back when I didn’t bother to regulate the camera discomfort, there wouldn’t be any photographs of me after a big event or trip; just shots of the kids with my husband. Or there I was with hands, or menu, held over my face. Over the ‘mom’ years I forced myself to be ok with being in photographs, otherwise my adult photo album would be as empty as my baby book. I wanted more than that out of life.

Yet that grind in my gut remains whenever I see someone come at me with a camera. I know, now, how to tell myself: Thank you, Central Nervous System, someone with a camera in your face was a real danger in our past…But, this person is my friend. She just wants to remember our lovely time tonight!

Usually I can relax into a natural smile. Unless the person on the other side is shady. I listen to my gut then and remove myself. Or I insist, ‘Do. Not. Put. That. On. FACEBOOK.’

photographer camera lens person

The real issue which lingers, per everything else that happened to me in my childhood, stems from the perverted care I received by the adults around me. That lack of intimate bonding affected my relationship with my Heavenly Parent (God). Mainly in the area of TRUST. Or lack thereof.

My therapist suggested I journal my thoughts about God being omnipresent, to journal through my thoughts about Him seeing, literally, everything about me. Every private moment. Every private action. Every. Thing. Like reality TV cameras in every single room of my house.

How do I really feel about God being omnipresent?

During that counseling session a disturbing question popped into my head: is God a voyeur?

After all, He does know, and can ‘see’ everything.

I was immediately uncomfortable at the thought, it seemed blasphemous to think it, seems blasphemous all over again as I write it out. I knew the discomfort meant I had to confront the feeling; and the thought.

That was months ago. I journaled some; mostly ‘around’ the question. I edged closer and closer in my head and in my written thoughts.

Then I had a watershed moment that made a distinction between knowing and viewing. It came to me in the form of a rhetorical question and it relieved the disturbing question I couldn’t shake: is God a voyeur?

The question which came to me in response is the very title of this post. And it changed something inside of me.

God knows everything. He is omnipresent. But, what does that mean, exactly??? A few stories came to mind as I pondered God’s character and ability to ‘see’ all.

Ham, Noah’s son, was punished for generations– his entire family tree cursed, after he walked into his father’s tent and gaped at Noah’s drunken, passed out, naked state.* Contrast that with Shem and Japheth, Noah’s other sons, who walked backwards into the tent with a blanket, in order to avoid ‘viewing’ their father in a compromised position. (*Some scholars believe there may be more to Hams’ sinful action in that tent– things that went further than merely viewing Noah without clothes on. I’ll leave you to study that on your own, if so inclined.).

It seems that Shem and Japheth’s action is the one which represents the character of God.

King David, before he was king, watched King Saul relieve himself in a cave, his men urging him to outright kill him; David snatching a piece of Saul’s cloak instead…but then, later on, David felt guilty for doing so…

If David, a ‘man after God’s own heart’, felt guilty after being so close to Saul while he was relieving himself in a cave, doesn’t that mean He was outside of the character of God in that moment?

Such were the questions, and the Bible stories, in my head as I journaled and pondered God watching me.  I had uncomfortable thoughts. Things like, does God literally watch me, as my uncle watched me, when I use the toilet, or take a shower?

I have a great friend that I swap ‘you-won’t-believe-my-family-stories’ with, who once shared that her Grandpa kept his Bible and stacks of old Guideposts on the back of his toilet. She found it to be a combination of funny and disturbing. We never could answer the question of whether it is a good thing, or grossly perverted, to read the Holy Word, while on the toilet.

Interestingly, Webster’s 1828 print and online dictionary (one of my ‘go to’ word and Bible study tools, linked to above on the word ‘omnipresent’) doesn’t even contain the word voyeur. Seems the need to define voyeurism is a relatively new thing.

air atmosphere blue blue sky

Undoubtedly, God knows everything. Like a Mother’s intuition and love knows about her children thousands of miles away. It is hard to grasp the idea of someone being everywhere at once and NOT also watching all that is taking place. But it wasn’t until I could separate out the difference between knowing, and seeing, that I began to find more peace, and trust, in an omnipresent God.

Furthermore, when we sin, does God view that, or is He simply aware of it? Does He take any pleasure in such things? One definition of a voyeur is a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous. (Again, the voyeuristic action which plagues me now is not the porn exposure of my past. It is: gossip.)

Or does God intentionally NOT watch, does He turn away His eyes, in such moments. After all He already knows everything anyway. Why the need to see certain things, anyway?

In summation, God is no voyeur. To conclude that He is not one, a distinction needed to be made between being all present and all knowing, and purposely and intentionally WATCHING and VIEWING all things. The question I eventually answered my own question with makes that distinction. Therefore, in true Hebrew form, I ended up answering a (disturbing) question with another question.

Q: Is God a voyeur?

A: God knows everything. But does He WATCH everything?

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still & Be Aware

brown book page

Be Still (Psalm 46:10) is a big deal. A relative put it over a door frame, someone posted it near an interstate in Minnesota, a woman at Bible study has Psalm 46:10 for a Bible cover, and I’ve purchased ‘Be Still’ gifts for friends.  It is also a mantra for people in recovery. Indeed, my Christian therapist reminds me often: ‘Be Still’.

Which means I have researched it quite a bit. It’s just what I do. Educating myself is a major way that I cope with an anxious disposition. After all, God did declare, through the prophet Hosea, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge.’ I like to make good and sure that I don’t resemble that observation.

But I digress. In short: I’ve known for a while that Be Still is used in New Age religions. ‘Be Still and know that I am God’ is a mantra to affirm human divinity. I found at least one spiritual guru, in a quick google search, who admits that he prefers using this Bible verse over those found in the (Hindu) Vedas; (paraphrasing him from this link). Chanting this Psalm, as if you are saying it about yourself, affirms that one actually is God*. (*if you believe that; which I do not).

Contrast that with the belief that God alone is God; which is the cornerstone of Biblical Christianity. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the stone that does not break. There are but two choices in Biblical Christianity: be willingly broken, (aka born again), take up your cross and follow Jesus, and live eternally. Or, resist being broken, only to be utterly broken against your will, and die eternally.

Meanwhile the therapized meaning of be still is compelling in our fast paced world: quiet your mind. Focus on your breath. Calm down and submit. Contain your fear and thereby retrain your neural networks to stop firing off stress hormones…the visual might look like this: (I love her sunglasses, btw)

photo of woman riding swing in front of waterfalls

But when reading Psalm 46 in context (reading at least a chapter before and after a single verse can give the context), it talks of devastation.

A visual from this psalm would look a bit like the aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake that was followed up by a world-wide civil war, which God then stepped in and stopped.

abandoned aged architecture black and whiteSome words used are: earth melting, mountains quaking and falling into the heart of the sea, as well as the failing of entire kingdoms/nations. All of that is countered with the steadfast goodness of God, and with God’s permanence on His throne.

Psalm 46:8-10 reads:

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

In other words, God is allowing the earth to natural-disaster-its-self up to the very end of the end. To those nations still clashing and resisting, He offers the following rebuke: “Be still and know that I am God… I will be exalted.”

Jesus used similar language when He told a raging sky and sea: Be Still! (it then became still). His disciples were in the boat with Him. Witnessing His power over creation likely caused them to tremble in new ways as they wondered who He was. Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus soothed His disciples fears of Him as they become more assured of their salvation through Him alone. The source of greatest fear also became its reliever. As John Newton famously wrote in Amazing Grace, ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear; and grace my fears relieved.’ Similarly, scripture tells us that fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Knowing that I am in the boat with Jesus and that He can, by a single word, quiet the storm; it is that which quiets my earthly fears and reworks them into a proper and pure fear of God, and thereby God’s grace can allay those fears very well. Basically: self-absorbed fears are made small and inconsequential in the face of my fear and love of an awesome God. Taking that powerful fear to the very source is then the only thing which can bring true peace and trust in Him.

In summation: I do not believe the phrase Be Still is telling us that we are God. Nor is it urging us to be quiet or to check out of our reality in order that we can have fewer fears, more inner peace, or grow closer to God through silence or immobility. Oh, it is very good to carve out quiet time; Jesus did that often. I’m not saying it is not. And we are to take every thought captive to Christ; so capturing our fear-based thoughts and retraining our damaged neural networks can be a worthy pursuit as well. (I’ve been doing it for several years now).

Rather, I am pointing out that Psalm 46 is far more worshipful than a mere entreaty to take some ‘down time’ for ourselves.

It is a rebuke that God alone is God; and we are not. It is a call to TRUST Him, to worship Him, to quit being afraid of the storm which He can stop with one word. Faith put not in Christ Consciousness or inner divinity**; but in the actual, living, resurrected, ruler of the universe: God/Man = Jesus.

To me entering into worship of Creator God is much more powerful at retraining my self-absorbed brain than simply being still for a few moments so my neural networks can re-fire properly. Which is another reason why I think Psalm 46:10 isn’t actually about me, or my need for quiet time. It’s about Him. Amazing, Powerful, Worthy-of-Worship, Almighty–HIM.

So I hope ‘they’ (whoever they are) keep right on slapping Be Still on interstate signs and t-shirts. Because I like all the reminders that God is God (and I am not).

(Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions and beliefs as of this writing. I reserve the right to change my opinions based upon new information and study.)

**If you seek a deeper Christian perspective, I love the testimony and teachings of Warren B. Smith, a social worker and former New Age follower. To paraphrase him, he was once ‘dressed all in orange telling everyone he was divine’ yet somehow even in that; he became a born-again Christian.

 

 

 

The Mustard Tree (which changed everything).

black and white branches tree high

I was born into a liberal, grace-based protestant environment. I still remember a minister’s explanation of Jesus’ famous mustard tree analogy in a weekly sermon at my childhood church:

“The church started very tiny, the smallest of seeds! And now we have grown worldwide. Just like that tree which Jesus said would hold many birds, we now house many, many people of all nations in our branches. What a glorious thing to have seen the church grow as it has grown to be in our lifetime!”

I felt warm inside. That pastor was always positive and he was one of my favorites. And so I unwittingly held to that interpretation of the mustard-tree-analogy.  Church growth was good. It all counted. Everyone in the church would be saved through the church. And it’s a tall tree = a big deal. I am part of a very big deal…this was my sincere belief about mustard trees until the year 2009.

One summer day I wanted to know what a mustard tree actually looked like. Just wanted to see a photo of it… See, I am a plant person. It is not unusual for me to research plants or to remember their names and other details about them.

landscape nature flowers summer

I was well aware that in Middle America, mustard is viewed as a weed. In my youth it was pervasive in cultivated crop land where thick swaths of yellow blooms stained the fields of still-green wheat.

Google searches told me what I’d already known: mustard is a plant; not a tree. Yet I was surprised by this as I had assumed that in Israel they must have ‘different’ mustard seeds or something, given the famous Bible analogy of a mustard tree. But even there, mustard is more of a plant; not necessarily a tree. Oh, it can grow into a tall-ish woody shrub in the Middle East. I also learned, in my search, that weary tour guides in Israel will sometimes point at another variety of a tree, when western Christians eagerly ask to see an example of the mustard tree which Jesus referenced.

I would be tempted to respond as those tour guides; especially if those asking about it were some combination of earnestly eager and/or innocently naive.

I learned the truth of Jesus’ analogy through some discernment blogs as well as reading for myself, in context, the Bible verses preceding, and following, the mustard tree analogy. (It is always a good idea to let the Bible interpret the Bible, which, in my opinion, it will do for a sincere seeker if you open it up and read it — in context and in entirety — for your…SELF).

In short: most birds of the air, in biblical terms, are not seen as a good thing. Like yeast, or leaven, they represent compromise, evil, and false or idolatrous religious practices.

Hence Jesus’ followers would have known what He meant. Because it would be like telling a modern day American farmer that the Christian church (that was presently forming) will be like planting a kernel of corn in the ground. But instead of a corn plant sprouting up, a tall tree (both supernatural AND unnatural) will come up in its place. This will be shocking to those who saw the kernel go into the ground. The resulting tree will then grow so large that all sorts of unclean and evil things will find shelter within it.

Let’s just ponder all of that for a minute.

A small and pure beginning quickly morphs into something which it was never intended by its nature to become, yet it is allowed to do just that by the one who planted the seed… It then becomes a safe haven for unclean and evil creatures.

Perhaps this is the point where you don’t want to read any further. You prefer my childhood minister’s explanation of the mustard tree analogy. If so, feel free to write this off as the convolutions of a confused, or negative, or jilted woman, (or whatever); and pledge to never return again to my salty little corner of barely-read intellectual property.

I get it.

The truth is a miserable thing to behold sometimes. It can also scare the pants off a person. Sometime later, after it has made you quite miserable, the truth WILL set you free. Jesus assures us of this. But getting to that point is rough. Too much light can blind you; sometimes we have to gradually walk into hard truths.

And so I studied the mustard tree analogy at work during a slow summer afternoon. Troubled. Deeply troubled, seeing another area where my childhood belief system was filled with…crap. My mind going into a downward swirl — like the wastewater in a flushing toilet. Yet a part of me still unwilling to fully believe what I’d discovered. That mustard-tree-analogy minister from my childhood was so…nice. Loving. Kind. He was my all-time favorite of the half dozen who came and went. How could he have been so off-base? In that frame of mind I drove home and found my yard filled with blackbirds.

Hundreds of blackbirds filled the lawn around my garden and landscaping areas. They were also hovering in the air above the house, circling ominously over the driveway. My children were riding their bicycles in the driveway while my husband grilled dinner on the porch. I parked my car and immediately ushered the children inside; on account of the birds swarming everywhere. “Yeah, Mom, we thought all the birds were weird too. They just appeared out of nowhere!

If you think, as I did, that coming home and seeing hundreds of blackbirds hovering near your children, on that particular afternoon was affirmation-from-God that Christians need to be very aware of evil as it is gunning for our children, and that Christians need to be married to the truth or we will be caught up in a tangled branch we cannot escape, then I feel your pain at losing something you once found comforting; but hang in there. Push a bit further and it will all be worth it.

As a result of this, and MANY other truth-filled warnings in the Bible, none of us can say we weren’t warned about the days in which we live. Days of evil-hiding-in-plain-sight. Pedophiles and domestic abusers…getting a free pass in the church. Posing pastors, greedy evangelists, businessmen who attend services regularly for networking purposes, and careless elders all too willing to overlook a little evil.

After my initial shock wore off it began to make sense. It laid the foundation for being able to see (several years later) that I wasn’t the one at fault for the abuse which had happened to me in my childhood.

Was I going to hide, myself, like an unclean bird, behind a facade of religious tradition or was I going to stop hiding under anything but the wing of God Almighty, who promised me nothing, not even the gates of hell, would prevail against His (true) church???

Christians often lament the state of the world. This is almost a noble thing to do–share all the tsk-tsk memes on Facebook and idolize any celebrity or athlete who makes mention of God in an interview. Yet it is seen as sacrilegious to lament the fact that evil can hide easily within a church setting. Which is backwards from how the Bible says we need to do it. The world is and was and always will be the world; and we are told not to pay too much attention to its sinfulness; nor to warn or judge it or worry about it. It is the Christian church, and one another within the church, which we are to examine, exhort, encourage, uplift, rebuke, and hold accountable. Those are all actions of love! Sharing Kirk Cameron memes on social media is not biblically mandated. Exhorting a brother or sister whose soul is in danger IS commanded, and can only be done well if one operates in love.

That day that my curiosity about plants led me to search for a photo of a mustard tree changed everything. A decade later I can openly say that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. And that one of my abusers was my uncle–an ordained, grace-based, protestant minister. I cut all contact with him when I (finally) saw the truth, because the Bible tells me that is what I am supposed to do (have nothing to do with them). But I did not cut all contact with the Christian church, even though it has become exactly what Jesus told us it would become.

Rather, I see it as my calling to be planted in some little, relatively safe and true corner of the overgrown branches; continuously having my own sinful heart purified by God’s light and thereby (hopefully) casting light upon what lurks around me as well.

 

When People Make Fun of Me. (Thoughts on Shame & Justification.)

espresso machine with white mugs

I purchased a bottle of water at a coffee shop while traveling out of state and the barista seemed a little bit cheeky. But I didn’t think too much of it. We all have bad days and I had just asked a few questions that a local would not have asked. I was the only person in line at the time so at least I was not holding up other customers.

When the transaction was over she turned (ridiculously fast) and went behind the walled partition. Perhaps she assumed I had walked back out of the store. Maybe she knew I was still standing right there.  Either way I heard her laughing loudly, about dumb little me. Not regular laughing.

Devil-laughing.

I then heard exactly what she had thought of me, as she related it to her coworkers.

Then I heard them laughing.

Devil-laughing.

It wasn’t pleasant. I slowly walked out of the store and then walked aimlessly around a nearby bookstore trying to sort out my feelings.

It was hard.

But it wasn’t the debilitating, shame filled, knock-me-down-for-days experience it would have been in the past.

Their devil-laughing didn’t remind me of my uncle’s devil-laughing, while tormenting my cousin and I, or my high school classmates devil-laughing while sexually-harassing me in the computer lab.

So that moment in the coffee shop was a first for me. Prior to that any kind of mocking laughter triggered flashbacks. Except I didn’t know they were flashbacks. It was just a tightening of the ever-present-tension. A feeling that I was in extreme danger. A feeling that it would be best if I just disappeared for good. And I spiraled into a rage-filled, self-loathing, tormented creature who had no idea what had just happened to her except that everyone else was surely to blame. So I lashed out at my husband and kids until they also ran off in fear and anger.

I couldn’t even have relayed such an episode to anyone close to me, not until weeks had passed and my cheeks didn’t flare up in fresh, raw memory.

This time was different. I told a friend all about it an hour later. “You’ll never believe what happened to me, it was the worst!”

Right after it happened there was a flash of self-righteous-indignation. Anger. How-dare-she? What-the-…. just happened here?

I consider those responses to be normal human reactions to being mocked. That’s what made me so excited. I was actually having normal human reactions to someone mocking me.

My friend suggested I do like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Buy big shopping bags of bottled water and return to the store, walk in with my nose in the air, and say, “Remember me? You made fun of me yesterday! Big Mistake.” (hold up the heavy shopping bags) “See this–all bottled water in here! Big Mistake!” and turn on my heels and run out. We laughed. I was tempted but I also knew she wasn’t serious.

Justification is just another shade of shame, in my thought. I don’t need to justify myself.

I can still remember each and every moment of my childhood and adult life where I was bullied, taunted or mocked. I know what it is to feel shame, and to feel shamed. Not the helpful kind of shame which leads to repentance. The kind of shame which ties you up and leaves you stuck in mire before God and others.

I have now reframed the biggie episodes of shame. And the others fell away like dominos (as my therapist suggested they might). I walked straight into it and slayed it back to hell where it belonged.

Shame does not have the power it once had to harm me. I knew it would be a choice to feel shame, and it was not a choice I wanted to make and so I simply placed her attempt to shame me right back on that barista’s own head.

With that frame of mind I was able to clearly think it through. God reminded me of all the times I had laughed at a clueless customer behind my own business’ counter. Yikes. Had I caused another to feel shame? Had I also devil-laughed at others?

I was reminded of a couple of scriptures as well.

God responded to the prophet Jeremiah with: If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

As an evangelist, I better get used to being mocked. The thickets by the Jordan are getting closer and closer for me now. Being made fun of is part of the calling. And enduring it well results in a reward.

Meanwhile, Ecclesiastes records the following wisdom: Do not pay attention to every word people say about you or you may overhear your servant (barista???) cursing you.

And so I hope to return to the coffee shop someday. With no ill-will, with enough money for a tip in my pocket and a smile on my face and good natured-ness in my heart. I hope to look that barista in the eye as I buy another bottle of water and thank her and bless her; somehow.

And it will not be a cheeky thank you.

I will mean it.

If my doing so heaps burning coals upon her head, that is between her and God.

I will say thank you because she helped me turn a very big corner.

And I happen to really like the street I am on right now.

 

Inner Vows (and why I am renouncing them in my recovery).

close up of padlocks on railing against sky

Here are some examples of what an inner vow might look/sound like:

I will not let myself get hurt again.

I will not let someone catch me with my guard down again.

I will protect myself better next time.

I won’t find myself in that compromising position again.

You really can’t trust anybody!

When I first heard about breaking inner vows in therapy, I was confused. I also questioned if such a thing made any real difference. I mean even scripture says to guard your own heart, right??? I thought that’s what I was doing when telling myself to be on better guard next time…

Then I randomly came across the subject of vows and pledges on a Jewish blog. Once a year on Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year), ceremonies include renouncing all the vows and pledges which were made the prior year, including both intentional, and unintentional ones. Indeed, not making hasty vows, not swearing by God or anything in heaven or on earth, letting your yes be a yes and your no be a no — is clearly affirmed by Jesus Christ Himself! Without getting into a huge theology discussion here (feel free to do your own study–it’s a fascinating subject!), there is very real power in words. Particularly if we phrase them as promises, declarations, and/or oaths.

Therefore I began to see what my therapist was getting at. I noticed just how many intentional, and also unintentional, inner vows I had made over my lifetime. I was shocked. And I still ‘go there’ quickly as a defensive response.

In short: I couldn’t control what had happened to me in childhood and I still have very little real control over other’s actions toward me. In an effort to regain a sense of control I made oaths to protect myself. In so doing I also cursed and bound up my ability to receive and give love in relationship with others. Like putting a lock on my heart and tossing the key. The curse needed to be reversed by the one who made it (me), if I was to experience a fullness of heart and come out from the ‘numbing’ effects of abuse and anxiety disorder. I think I’ve been doing that, now. Plus I’m learning, and trying to put into practice, passively accepting hard things — without numbing out again, or, to use scriptural terms: hardening my heart in response.

I thought all of the above examples of inner vows, and more too numerous to write down. I even said many of these aloud in conversations with others. The issue being that even the quiet unspoken pledges I had made held very real power in my mind and heart. They shaped my relational behaviors. I know better now. But actually living life without making such statements and declarations is an ongoing process. Which is why I was so intrigued by the Jewish practice of erasing all the intentional and unintentional vows each new year!

Part of renouncing is sitting down and doing just that–admitting and renouncing the oath you once made to yourself. The other part is not relying on a simple statement you repeat once a year but actually working out a vow-free life; in real life–for me that means making myself vulnerable (easing into it–starting slow and letting trust build naturally), finding friends and loved ones who have already proven themselves to be ‘safe’ with a small amount and opening up more and more. It also means recognizing those who are not safe spaces and guarding my self around them; without needing to make an actual vow because I am fully trusting myself and God in that process.

It is a practice and a process to give and receive trust. To know who is trustworthy and to not feel guilty about moving around those who have proven they are not.

Inner vows were binding me in so many ways. I’d give trust away too easily to all the wrong people and places (Social Media is generally not a safe place to share the depths of one’s heart, for instance) and then knee-jerk hole up all over again with a fresh litany of pledges and oaths to do avoid this or that in the future.

Anyone else pondered this subject of making declarations and inner vows?

Please feel free to share any other examples of inner vows and ways to break them.

 

Dealing with a case of incest (Wisdom gained: #1)

brown wooden church bench near white painted wall

I’m not sure how it is for others, when they recover memories of past abuse. For me: it wasn’t like I had forgotten I’d been molested and sexually assaulted in my childhood.

The traumas were categorized in my brain as things which were so troubling that I wasn’t going to think of them again. I believe the experts term that kind of thing: Denial.

It was how I survived.

As an adult I kept steering around that dark hole where the memories were stored. Smells and words and movie clips and songs pulled me closer to it anyway. Truth is powerful. It wanted air.  “For there is nothing hidden that will not be made known.”

I’d always been nervous about everything. But as I got older the anxiety became worse and worse. In time, I knew that I knew that I knew that I had been molested by several family members. There were too many memories. Too many ‘games’ I had played with adults that were inappropriate.

There were pornographic magazines stacked up on my playroom shelves, next to the Disney books. I looked at them and felt such shame for looking. The shame lasted long into adulthood. As I got older I slowwwly started to realize that, contrary to what I had needed to believe to survive childhood, the early exposure to porn had not been my own doing.

Each time I had such realizations, I handled it by doing the Christian-eze thing. I took blame upon myself. Except I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I believed if I just forgave the family members involved in those troubling memories, that it would make everything go away. I thought I could hand it all over to God and it would dissipate magically. I didn’t break contact with, nor confront, any past abusers. I hosted gatherings. I smiled in photos. I acted like it was all good. I didn’t let the anger and indignation have air. It had to steal oxygen (usually from my own lungs) whenever it could.

I acted out to the wrong people. My BHH says I was ‘off’ for weeks after being around members of my family; lashing out at him with my frustration and buried anger.

Then one day, just like that: the memory of the worst assault shifted into the proper category of my brain. I could finally admit it.

I was assaulted by an uncle who was like a father to me, a man who passed it off as something accidental. An ordained protestant minister who then continued to pretend he’d been nothing but good to me. All the gifts and attention had not been because he was showing loving kindness to a sickly, awkward girl. He had always been a man intent on grooming a young girl in order to abuse her without getting caught.

Once I could own that: I cried strange hot tears that I hadn’t known prior. I immediately realized that all the other stuff, too, the stuff that I’d believed I’d forgiven and made go away–all that other junk also belonged in the category of ‘abuse.’ I saw that it was systemic; that there was some sort of blight or plague on my family of origin; a plague which had caught me up and nearly killed me too.

So, I did what any creature does when it’s been attacked. I curled up in my ‘hole’ and shook it off. Even though the attacks had been years prior: my body was finally allowed to know it had been attacked. It was as if the traumas had just happened. My body shook, off and on, for about a year.

Well, maybe two years. It came in waves. It’s been a while, now, since I’ve had to run home in order to have a private shaking episode.

The shaking was a release of craven fear. Shock. Horror. And the need to sit and shake was so uncontrollably powerful that my teeth would rattle in my mouth and my legs bounced up and down.

Grief and anger came later. Reading books by trauma researchers like Peter Levine (who says shaking is a necessary response we need to allow in order to remove traumatic energy from the body), Gabor Mate, and Bessel Van Der Kolk came later too.

In the beginning, I followed my instincts. And they told me to shake. Shake. Shake. Shake it off.

So. I shook.

I also sought counseling. I broke contact with past abusers. And, since I love the Word, I opened the Bible to see what it had to say about sexual abuse, incest, and rape.

It says plenty. Reading about it helped me deal with all the anger which was rising up; after all that shaking had started to pass.

1 Corinthians 5:1-13 New International Version (NIV)

Dealing With a Case of Incest

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

I know that adding this entire excerpt makes my post so long many won’t read this far down. But I wanted to add this in its entirety as it says everything one needs to know about dealing with the perpetrators of sexual abuse.

Incest and sexual abuse first needs to be called out into the open, into the light. Then, for the sake of all involved, we need to separate from the evil doers. Turning the person over ‘to satan’ is actually an act of love. Tough love. It may be the only thing that causes them to turn around at that point.

Reading the passages above affirms that I need to remain separated from family members (who still claim that nothing was amiss in my childhood).

The line: And you are proud! seems especially prescient to my own ‘case of incest’ within the church-leading family I grew up within. That’s why I bolded it.

I have studied what the Apostle Paul might have meant by this assertion of the Corinthians’ pride. On the one hand, the church in Corinth may have been too proud to openly admit that one of their congregants was sexually deviant. It would have given them a black eye in the face of other church fellowships.

This kind of pride sure seems to be the case today, when many fellowships try to hide or cover up or give hush money to cases of incest and abuse that occur in their own folds.

On the other hand, the church in Corinth may have been proud of their own tolerance. Proud of how much they were willing to put up with sin in their midst, because it proved they were relying on the grace of God to save them, not their own righteous works. Therefore they were ‘proud’ of their status as forgiving, accepting, people who would include open sinners into their fold.

Either way, the instruction to overcoming that ‘pride’ is clear: separate. Avoid. Don’t tolerate such things. For your sake as well as the sake of the perpetrator.

It took me years to do it, and it’s still extremely hard. But I see the wisdom in it; now.