Hope

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all – oh, how well I remember – the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.”

Lamentations 3:19-27 – The Message

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A dream

Little did I know how quickly the future would come. 

In my last post, I stated positively that I knew there would be more battles to be fought and changes to be made, but no matter what the future held my God would work it for my good….so onward and upward, I declared, into whatever God had for me!  The day after I did my first edit of that post, a new fight began, following only a week of R & R.  Sigh.  But, I have given God permission to do what is necessary to shape me into wholeness, so who am I to complain?  (Even though I did…)

I had a dream.  I was in a house; its outside was exactly like the second home we lived in after my mother returned from her final stint in the mental institution.  Unlike the exterior, the inside was very dissimilar in its physical appearance, although what was there represented well the chaos of our family patterns.  The right side of the interior was like a vertical maze of floors and walls placed at haphazard heights and positions; there was no back wall, so light shone through from back to front.  The left side had no walls, floors or ceilings, as if a bomb had exploded or a natural disaster had swept through and left emptiness in its wake.  The house’s rear section seemed to be completely open to the back yard, but closer examination revealed a clear plastic casing stretching all the way to the back fence, similar to a tall rectangular green house.  Inside this structure there were hanging ropes which were used as zip lines by aliens who were rapidly sliding into the house to attack and annihilate.  My energy and time were given to counter attacks, vaporizing, demolishing and casting out those beings which were bent on destroying me and ending my freedom.  I was in my element, enjoying the fight; periodically I was joined by friends when the battle became too complex and reinforcements were needed.  Like characters in Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger we leaped, swooped, soared, and fought with deep satisfaction and focused strength.

I was a different person outside that environment, as shown by the second half of this dream.  In it, a new neighbor came to our backyard with a battalion of her friends to “help” plant flowers.  She was over bearing, controlling, very effusive and looked remarkably like Kim Kardashian.  (Since I barely know who she is and couldn’t even remember her name, I really don’t know how her image came to be part of this story…dreams are strange entities.)  Her idea of “help” was to do things her way without any consideration for others’ thoughts and desires.  I immediately abandoned my station inside and dashed to intervene.  She was deeply offended by my objections and began to stalk off in a huff, indignantly proclaiming she thought we had an agreement to help each other with our outdoor work.  (Of course, assisting in her yard also meant doing things only as she wished.)  Following and attempting to smooth her ruffled feathers, I entreated her to try to understand that we just had a break down in communication about what it meant to “help each other”.  Somewhat mollified, she and her friends left.

I watched as she crossed the street to her home, and I realized I should have been firm about who I was and what I wanted when we first met.  Doing so would have avoided that conflict and the turmoil tumbling about inside me.  Truthfully, I wouldn’t have wanted such a friend, yet my behavior exhibited the opposite.

Upon waking the next morning, I asked myself and God what the dream meant.  Some questions which ran through my mind were:  Can I perceive truth inside the house but not outside?  Can I exercise discernment for my family of origin but not for myself?  Am I still trapped within my old family structure and have difficulty functioning outside their mode of operation?  Do I lose my ability to discern and be myself outside of their sphere of influence?           

As the day progressed, clarity came with an answer somewhat different from what my enquiries implied but pertained to elements within each.  I have learned confidence and discernment when warring against the forces of evil emanating from within my family of origin, yet I lack those same attributes when life takes me away from that venue.  Allowing myself to be snowballed and steamrolled by external forces, people, and cultures, I don’t express my internal personality or stand firm in who I am or what I believe.  (This is somewhat relative and depends on the situations in which I find myself.)  Thus, I conform in subtle ways and allow myself to be carried along by the culture or personality dominating the moment.  (Not so much compromising standard moral truths, but compromising my very essence.)

Reflection has verified this truth.  Throughout the years, there are many times when I have jeopardized my integrity.  These vary from blatant lies when I was much younger (the words seemed to be powered by forces beyond my control) to more recent, less obvious, but still internally damaging, denials of who I am created to be.

I’m sure there are numerous reasons for this behavior, such as old patterns engrained in my psyche, the human drive for self preservation and everyone’s desire to be accepted and loved.  Most likely my introversion has also played a part in this equation.  But, no matter what the cause, I do not want to continue to relate to the outside world in such a subservient way.  And, I know my God longs for me to be whole, complete and strong, so I may live in the truth of who I am no matter what the circumstance.  That is why He gave me this dream…to show the reason for and to open the door to the next leg of my healing journey.

Changes

I have been jotting down changes I have noticed since praying with my friend.  Here are the lists:

I have been able to forgive my Dad for:

  • Robbing me of my purity and innocence.
  • Making himself my first love.
  • Destroying the opportunity for my husband to be my first love.
  • Destroying my ability to be truly intimate in all ways.
  • Favoring my sister – after forgiving I was led to break my bondage to that family pattern both with my family of origin and with my existing family.
  • Making me dependent on him in very unhealthy ways.
  • Destroying my ability to be myself.
  • Not being a man or father I could respect .
  • Destroying my love for my name – hearing your father longingly murmuring your name from the darkness of his bedroom will do that…
  • Not being the father I needed.
  • Taking away my ability to experience God in the reality and truth of who He is as my Heavenly Father.

Fortunately, over the years God has been in the process of taking that which was intended for evil and working it for good as only He can. (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28-29)  He has been healing me, and I have been growing into understanding and experiencing God and life as my Creator meant it to be.  He has been bringing me out of the darkness created by my earthly father into the light that is my Heavenly Father. (Isaiah 9:2, Ephesians 5:8, Colossians 1:13)

Differences in the daily stuff:

  • Physical therapy has revealed a great difference in my body.  My muscles have become looser, more relaxed, and have responded more quickly to my therapist’s manipulation.
  • The above discovery gave rise to the following question.  Did the back pain I continued to feel following my last therapy session have more to do with our desk chair than abuse (oh, happy thought)?  Since that consideration came to mind, we have bought a new chair and my back, shoulders and arms feel much better!  (Wouldn’t you know that a cheaper chair is better for me physically than a big, fancy, mesh, more expensive chair…which we originally bought for my comfort while working on the computer…go figure…)
  • I am feeling more love for Bmy husband and am relating to him more freely.
  • My attitudes are more upbeat, and I am not as critical towards people and life in general.
  • I am more deeply moved by both joy and sorrow, which to me means I am living more in the now rather than being controlled by the past.
  • Here are a couple of things that occurred which were previously unheard of…one day I stayed in my pajamas until after lunch…I don’t know if I have ever done that…another day I slept so long I ate breakfast at noon. 
  • Writing has come more easily.
  • I am calmer and more joyful and am definitely laughing more.
  • A gear has shifted in my mind or a puzzle piece has fallen into place resulting in my perceiving the physical world in a slightly different way.  Somehow things are a bit clearer, colors brighter and everything appears to be more intensely real.

Now I know there will always be things about me that will need to be changed, and there wil be more battles to be fought (at least until I get to heaven).  Yet, I am so thankful for what my Lord has done now, and no matter what the future brings (figurative biting of the nails), I know He will work it for good in my life, to conform me to the image of His Son.  So, onward and upward…or as the unicorn cried in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, as he sprang forward into the beauty of New Narnia, “Come further up, come further in!”

The next day

I rolled out of bed the morning after praying with my friend, and I stopped in my tracks (or mid-roll might be a better description).  Wait a minute, thought I…that movement happened fairly easily without flinching and stopping and starting due to tight, sore back muscles.  Hmmm…could this be one of the results of yesterday’s healing prayers?  I moved quickly through my morning routine noticing how free my movements were compared to the previous day’s heaviness and inertia.  Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I continued to observe myself, cautiously happy about my renewed energy and drive. 

Still afraid to totally embrace the restoration that God had begun to bring about, I envisioned my heavenly Father before me, His arms wide open in a gesture of acceptance and love.  But, I had a hard time meeting His eyes.  Deeply ingrained inner patterns caused questioning to arise.  Could what had happened be real or was it just another cruel joke, a perverted teasing that delighted in lifting my spirits in hope, but then mercilessly dashing them to the ground?  (a favorite pastime of my dad’s)   Despite great changes in my perception of who God is as my Father, sometimes old residual thought processes still taint my relationship with Him.  (There was a time when I prayed only to Jesus for I could not open myself up to a God called Father.  My relationships with my mom and sister have also tainted my relationships with women…at least I never had a brother to contaminate my relationship with Jesus.)  Oh my God, my heart cried, rid me of this barrier to knowing you!  So far you have brought me, how greatly you have changed my understanding of you…please continue Your work…and, I know He will, for when we pray in His will, we can expect Him to act accordingly with overflowing abundance.

Another old pattern I fought today was beating myself up.  There are many different ways in which I was taught to condemn myself; this one may seem silly…and, in a way it is except for the negative fallout which it inflicted.  Let me explain.  In Continuing on, I posted how the baton of my grandmother’s obsessive compulsive behavior had been passed on to me.  Bucking this expectation has sometimes been an uphill battle, but I have come far in learning how to relax over the past 30 years.  Yet, sometimes the baton still seems to appear in my hand, as it did on this day.  My pattern-breaking activity was to watch a little TV instead of continually working throughout the day (gasp!).  (To reassure you… this isn’t always a struggle now, but it was in the past.)  In my mind, I could hear my father’s voice dripping with disappointment has he expressed his sadness in my not living up to the family legacy.  Trying to pretend his reproach did not exist was not successful (as I need to learn to expect…pretending just doesn’t seem to work), so I accepted the fact of his censure and the inward struggle that arose from it.  But, acknowledging the reality of a situation is a step in the right direction, just as recognizing the truth of a circumstance is half the battle.  And, I can thank my Lord for enabling me to do that.

Two other things I noticed as I went through the day.  One observation came while I was walking the dog.  Seeing our neighbors outside on their patio enjoying the cool morning air, I approached them and shouted out my hello.  Immediately my attention was caught by how much more open my heart felt towards them and how much more free I felt in relating with them…interestingly our relationship has always been one of love and acceptance. The second observation came as I was writing this post.  The day before, I could barely put words on paper (figuratively speaking of course…since all this is done on the computer); on this day my thoughts were flowing.  Up to this point, I generally had edited my writing as soon as I wrote a sentence or paragraph, trying to get everything written as instantly perfect as possible.  (Needless to say, that creates a very slow process.)  Moving forward, I decided to adjust my writing habits.  Henceforth, I would just jot down my thoughts, focusing on the gist of the story and leaving the editing for later.  I do not expect writing to ever come quickly to me, but I do expect this will help relieve the stress of composing the text.

Will all this continue and grow?  I don’t know…but, one thing I do know, when we prayed together, my friend asked the Lord to help me see things differently…my guess is that this is the beginning of His answer.

Praying together

I love my friend.  Playfully poking fun at myself and my situation, I shuffled towards her to give her a hug with my shoulders slumped and head bowed in an exaggerated expression of self-pity.  We empathetically laughed together, each happy to be with someone who understands….understands the need to laugh in the middle of pain, understands the need for hugs and unconditional love, understands the importance of walking with someone through their struggles instead of trying to make their discomfort go away by skirting the core issues.

I so looked forward to getting together with her.  We share similar stories of rape, only under different circumstances, and we both are experiencing God’s healing process.  God has gifted us to each other, and we desire to seek only Him and desire only to have Him work in our lives.  I can be honest with her and she with me.  We know we can’t fix each other, but we both know the God who can.

As always, we shared what had been happening in our lives since last getting together.  (I thank God for her listening ear and her acceptance.)  Then we bowed our heads and praised our God.   I need to clarify…she praised our God, and I listened.  Sometimes, when my heart is heavy and praise is difficult, it is good to let someone else’s words carry my spirit to the Throne of Grace. 

My friend then lifted me to the Lord, and we opened our hearts to the Great Physician for whatever He had for us that day.  As she prayed, she told me the word “purify” was repeating itself over and over again in her mind.  (We verbalize what God reveals as we pray, and He also often speaks to both of us in pictures. That is how we know what each other sees and hears, and that also will explain the exchanges that follow.)  I explained to her that I saw an open wound which had been inflicted on my body by the board (see my previous post The board revealed), and she claimed that only God could heal that injury.  At the same time she also asked God to dissolve the board so it would no longer torture me, and in my mind’s eye I saw it dissipate.  God then sutured the wound, and it too disappeared.  After years of being pressed into a hunched, slightly v-shaped posture I saw my body straightening and gaining health.

Following that, God showed her the next thing He was doing; He was clothing me with a white robe and placing a white mesh shawl on my head, symbols of purification.  As she shared, I was experiencing God’s work within; a whirlwind (God’s Spirit) was inside, cleansing the sickness, the bad and the evil from me.  It spun up my body…purifying me.  (Ironically, my name means “pure one”, although I have never felt pure in my life.)  Realization dawned.  When my father abused me, he covered me and filled me with all his negative attributes, his hatred, anger, impurity, and foulness…smothering me with who he was and prohibiting my own personal growth.  God was cleaning out the evil and replacing it with His goodness, so I could reflect His beauty instead of the warped person that was my father.

The final picture God gave my friend was that of a lush green tree, standing in front of me approximately 20 feet away, covered with healthy red fruit.  Its fruit was being blown towards me, and I was absorbing it into my chest; I was receiving it with arms opened wide and a joyous smile on my face.  Behind the tree stood Jesus, also smiling with joy as His power caused all this goodness to flow.  Together my friend and I voiced the words “fruit of the Spirit”, and she laughed at this simultaneous gift of understanding.  God was filling my heart. 

Let it be known, though, that in the physical realm there was not a smile on my face.  I was weeping, telling God that I had never wanted this, the circumstances of my life, the pain and suffering.  Telling God how I was jealous of those whose young lives had been nurtured by loving parents, whose lives had not been racked with pain.  I asked for forgiveness for not wanting what I was given; then my friend said “but, now you do”.  My spirit rebelled against those words, for I still did not want it.  What could she possibly have meant?  Then she said, “Receive it in faith.”  And, I told God I would by faith receive His gift from this tree, even though I didn’t understand. 

Again, I would like to say that everything immediately was hunky-dory and wonderful, but it was not.  Yes, God was at work in me, but in some ways I was afraid to both accept the work and accept that it was actually happening.  Years of suffering and dashed hopes does that to you.  The Scriptures say, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)  (Having just read that, I now see that the tree we saw together was the tree of life, and its fruit was fulfilling the longing of my heart.  Thank you, Jesus.)  Could this burden that I have been carrying since toddlerhood actually be lifted?  Hoping against hope, and refusing to pretend that life was now absolutely grand, I honestly accepted my doubts and fears (as God would have me do…He knows they are there anyway) but still accepted the work God was doing in me.  And such is spiritual life on this earth.  Trusting in the unseen instead of the seen, hoping for what has not yet come (Hebrews 11:1)….the tug- of-war between our physical experience and that which God has revealed to us in His Word. (Galatians 2:20)

The board revealed

Weeks after the nighttime revelation of which I spoke in my last post, realization dawned that the board was my dad and his presence was still oppressing me.  Deep gut-wrenching anger and hatred towards him began to well up inside me.  But, before delving into those feelings, I would like to explain how my understanding of the plank’s meaning came about.  Here was my train of thought:

I began by wondering if the board was constructed by my child as a shield to ward off the pain of my dad’s sexual abuse and the many other detrimental patterns of my family of origin.  Then, when anger and hatred began to well up inside me, I began to visualize hurting my father…kicking him, beating him, scratching him.  With this understanding of the extreme loathing and animosity I harbored toward him, the question came…could my emotions be the board that was suffocating me and causing so much physical tension and anxiety?  As I turned this over in my mind, I became aware that the board had seemed to come by its own volition; I had nothing to do with its appearance.  While contemplating this thought, a new picture appeared: the plank began forcefully moving against me, and I had nothing to do with its action.  Internally rebelling against facing the truth and not wanting to be placed once again in that frightening room which held my father’s bed, I reluctantly allowed God to help me see that the plank was a representation of my father and his sexual abuse to my small toddler’s body. 

The next phase in this process took me down a curious route.  I tried to imagine singing (which is something that is difficult for me to do, even though I have been developing my voice for many years), and I couldn’t.  I imagined trying to do anything that I loved, and the same thing happened.  (While writing this, I am realizing my father’s abuse destroyed my ability to be myself…I will dig into that in another post.)  Following those musings, an image came to my mind of what I was like when I was with people…I embraced the board, and it was absorbed into my body, which meant I was frantically trying to pretend to be someone other than the pain filled person I was…someone I perceived they would love.   Then I pictured the way I functioned when by myself, and I saw my arms crossed in front of me pushing with all my might against the weight, holding the plank about 8 inches from my body.  This turned my thoughts toward the constant tension and discomfort in my lower back, shoulders, neck and arms.  I have always guessed many of my physical problems were connected to my dad’s abuse, and these images confirmed that belief.  The stress of my child’s past was still reflected in the way I carried my adult frame.

Why was the board distinctly plywood ?  That question continued to niggle in the recesses of my brain as these reflections unfolded.  It seemed odd that such a seemingly unimportant detail was so clearly significant.  As I scrolled down the computer screen searching for images to illustrate this post, the pictures to which I deeply responded were those in which beautiful light wood veneer covered the plywood layers beneath.  Thinking the appearance of the board should reflect the ugliness of my dad’s deeds, I rejected them and continued my search. Yet, I was unable to settle on one; the representations I chose never seemed entirely appropriate.  Viewing photos again which portrayed the original concept of a board with a pleasing appearance provided the catalyst needed for the puzzle pieces to fall into place in my mind.  The beautiful veneer depicted the decorative covering my father presented to the world; the layers beneath were the unmasked realities of his life. 

Where will this path of awareness lead?  Ultimately its destination will be healing, but the immediate outcome of these realizations did not bring relief from the oppression and pain which continued to weigh heavily upon me.  I got up from the kitchen table where my head had been resting on my arms during this process, and began to again slog through the day.   Meeting a friend that afternoon to share our lives with each other and to seek God in prayer provided a thin ray of light in an otherwise gloomy day.  In the past, God had chosen to work in us during those times together, relieving burdens and bringing healing; perhaps that would be His course of action today.  Tentatively hopeful, I headed to her house.

The board

One final nighttime revelation woke me following the one I described in Continuing on….  This picture came to me as I rose to the surface of sleep: I saw a plywood board slowly moving over my prone position, starting above my head and traveling down my chest to cover my heart and lungs.  Even though it was pressing hard against me, scraping my skin with its sharp edge, I braced myself against the pain, accepted it and absorbed the suffering into my being.  There the board remained, claustrophobically suffocating me with its size and weight, cutting off the wide open spaces of life giving oxygen which previously existed before its appearance and causing my breath to become shallow and forced as I labored to inhale and exhale.  Wondering if this plank represented my child’s defense mechanism against the constant distress, both within and without, in which she lived, I sank back into slumber.

That happened weeks ago, and its implication and meaning have still not become clear.  I have turned it over and over again in my mind and sought answers in prayer, yet God’s timing has not yet come for release and healing.  Last week I felt I could bear the stress and pressure no longer, for even during the daytime my lungs continued to rise and fall in a slight, short breaths and the stiffness and discomfort in my neck and shoulders relentlessly continued.  Some relief came when I realized that I had been taught to live life by pretending, to act and believe in ways inconsistent with the truth of my family’s extreme dysfunction, and that this deep seated pattern continued to affect me today.  As I tried to translate this realization into the functional reality of my life, I saw the board beginning to move upward, and though the distance it moved was small, there was a welcome alleviation of oppression in my lower chest and such a sense of freedom and relaxation beginning to unfold that I begged God to remove it all the way…preferably at that moment!  In my mind I frantically sought other ways in which I could release this truth in my life, thinking that I perhaps could make happen what God was waiting to do.  But, the plywood refused to move further, and the next day it returned to its original position. 

Then I was reminded that the board’s removal would not happen because of my attempts to convince God to move quickly or because of my efforts to lift it when God has said “not yet”.  That would be God’s job, and it would have to be done in His timing.  Experience has taught me He has good reasons for the pace of His healing process, and even though I may rebelliously balk at His seemingly inexplicable slowness, I will reluctantly admit His final outcome is always better than I can imagine….and His one-step-at-a-time pace is necessary to achieve the final product of full release and freedom.

So I wait.