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.

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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.

On the flip side…

I am doing battle with myself over my last post.  The troubled grandmother of whom I spoke still has a tender place in my heart as my Granny, the woman who took in my sister and me when we had no mother at home to care for us and who raised us to the best of her ability.  That was the same woman who smiled at me and was a consistent foundation when all else was falling apart…the woman who did what she believed was right in the face of daunting odds…the woman who in her 60’s embraced a three month old infant, changed her diapers, washed her clothes and shouldered the responsibility of teaching and training her. ..the woman who, with her husband, decided to add on to their house to accommodate their son and his two daughters when it became apparent their wife and mother was not coming home from the mental hospital any time soon.  That was the Granny I loved.

But, those facts are accompanied by others, such as the effect wrought on her by the dysfunction of her family of origin.  Her obsessive compulsive work ethic and lack of fulfillment was fostered there.  She was the oldest girl of 11 children; in a rare moment of confession she described her situation in this way:  while her mother had babies, she took care of the houe and helped raise her siblings.  When her youngest sister was born, her crib was in my Granny’s room, and Granny raised her; when her ailing grandfather moved to their home, she was the one who cared for him.  Another instance of unusual honesty revealed her unfulfilled desire to become a nurse, implying that her family dynamics kept her from realizing that dream.  She lost a baby girl at birth and never properly grieved her loss… after her husband passed away she never cried….suppressing her feelings was what she was trained to do.  I’m sure these conditions, and many others about which I will never know, shaped and molded her into the woman she was. 

Although her situation may evoke compassion and empathy, it does not erase the fact of her manipulative and controlling nature.  Even though I may somewhat understand that which caused the brokenness within her soul, that does not change the outcomes which resulted from her skewed perceptions and actions.  Even though I may understand the reasons behind her bitterness and the brittle armor she wore, those do not excuse her damaging attitudes and belief system.  No matter what her intentions were, the reality of her actions affected those she loved in very hurtful ways….and vica versa.   Harmful behavior causes injury, no matter how sincere the motivation and intention.  And, when healing is sought, truth must be accepted no matter how much your soul longs to protect the image of those you love.

Add to the pot (already containing Granny’s  internalized, unsettled problems) an alcoholic husband (this is my guess…the silence of the family never allowed discussion), a son who sexually abused his child under her roof, a daughter-in-law who committed herself to a mental institution, and two needy children, and one may begin to understand the cauldron of unresolved issues which boiled under the surface in this place we called home.

What is the result?  Pain and love.  Heart ache and sadness.  Without God, hopelessness; without God, despair; without God, hurts beyond healing.

But there is a God, and He entered my life.  He is the one who defeated hopelessness and despair by coming to this earth, destroying the power of the Prince of this world and bringing light to those walking in darkness. (Isaiah 9:2)  Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 when He stated his purpose as he began His ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19  This is my God who has comforted me in my mourning, provided for me in my grief and has bestowed on me “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 62:2b-3a  This is the God who brings hope out of hopelessness and has the power to make all things beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  This is the God who lifted me out of the slimy pit and set my feet upon a Rock…the rock of Jesus Christ. (Psalm 40:2)

The terror – onward in victory – part 11

The day after being freed from the leech of fear, memories of my dad’s sexual abuse began to come to the forefront of my mind.  These did not come as previous memories had; I was not observing theatrical vignettes from afar, detached from events with little emotion and sense of experience.  This time I was there, the suffering of my two-six year old child, the assault on her senses, the violence …her fear…were all mine.   That is all you need to know, dear reader, except that God protected me through it.  As a muffler protects our ears from the raw explosions of a running car’s engine, so my God absorbed much of the unbridled physical force and suffocating weight of my dad’s unmitigated, self-absorbed, maltreatment of his daughter.

What purpose was served by reliving such horror?  Again, I found the purpose was to forgive.  (Forgiveness seems to be one of the objectives of this tunnel journey.)   Because my experiences were beyond that which I could bear, my battered child coped by disassociating and forgetting…my first eight years were a blank in my mind; what I knew was information given to me by others…people who had their own biases, their own interpretations, their own agendas for the past.  I needed to rediscover my experiences, my reactions and how it all affected me to expose those unknowns from long ago which still controlled my present.  To recognize my own pain and hatred was the only way to reach the point of being able to truly forgive.  .

After these difficult days passed and I reached the end of this leg of my journey (which was the place of forgiveness), I awoke the next morning noticeably more relaxed with my arms and legs feeling a bit like cooked spaghetti (al dente, of course…).  Bodily tension has generally been part of my mode for sleep; my arms are tightly curled with my legs and back taut as though anticipating the night’s suffering.  Tension still is with me in the morning; my short, quick anxious breaths give lie to an inner turmoil.  Surprised enjoyment followed that morning’s waking freedom…what luxurious relief for my stressed body!  Light and peace also came to my soul and spirit providing re-creation for my being, a mini vacation from the strain of my internal travels.  Two nights and a day of tranquility undisturbed by stirred memories…two nights and a day of blue skies with no heavy clouds…ah, bliss!  Thank You God for R & R in the battle for healing…thank You for a time of restoration and revitalization.  Thank You God for the pause that refreshes, for bringing me to a bright spacious place before I again enter the dark, narrow valley.  You are so good…all of the time…You are good.

The leech – onward in victory – part 10

My breath was coming in short gasps as I awoke in the middle of the night with a claustrophobic painful presence covering my chest and abdomen.  I cried out to God, and in my mind’s eye I saw a large spade-like tool angled towards my chest, just missing my chin as it slowly moved forward.  Its straight edged blade, honed finer than a knife’s edge, began to wedge itself ever so carefully between me and the unknown thing.  Prying with the precision required for the most delicate of surgeries, it began to free me from my oppressor without inflicting any damage to my fragile skin.  As it was lifted, the form became clear.  Leech-like in appearance, texture and consistency, its main difference from that parasite was its mouth or lack there of.  Instead of an orifice, its entire belly was securely fastened to me, and through osmosis it suctioned out my life and separated me from my God.  It was fear.

After the operation was complete and the leech had been removed, the stifling weight of fear was gone and the physical pain was eased.  Rejoicing in my freedom and praising my Great Physician, I drifted back to sleep.  Little did I know this was just a roadblock removed, a harbinger signaling the next step in my healing journey.   Next, I would be taken to a place so frightening I had hitherto been unable to face its terror.

Darkness to light – onward in victory – part 8

I have often felt like a kid locked out of the candy store of life; hands and face pressed to the glass I longingly gaze through the window at those who are enjoying the treats inside.  The colors are bright and welcoming under the warmly glowing lights, but I am denied access and must always be on the outside.  This feeling comes and goes, but recently it came again in full force bringing with it intense emotional pain.  Grateful for my friendship with a deeply godly woman, I looked forward to meeting with her one evening to see if God would give us insight into the source of my distress.

As we shared our lives with each other, I began to go on and on and on about my sense of exclusion and lack of acceptance in a particular situation I was experiencing.  Perhaps perceiving I was dancing around the heart of the issue, she gently interrupted me by asking, “And, what is your question?”  After a moment’s thought I responded, “How long does one stay in a situation that is painful?  When do you know God is saying it is time to leave?”  (This has nothing to do with my husband or family.)  Her answer was to turn to God in prayer, and we began to worship and seek Him for His wisdom and guidance.

Little did I know my question went far beyond the circumstances of the present, reaching beneath the surface to a time I had not yet faced.  As we prayed, I began to weep.  Weeping grew to deep sobbing, wave upon wave welling up from a lost place inside.  Crying opened the floodgates to a dried riverbed that had been blocked by pain; the torrent of tears carried me deep into my soul to its beginning.  When the anguish gradually subsided, I found myself with inner eyes wide open gazing at one source of a lifetime of rejection…the reality of my young life at my grandmother’s house.

Oh, I already knew about my dad’s sexual abuse (which took place there) and my mother’s mental illness, but I had romanticized growing up with Granny.  Placing her on a pedestal, I believed she was the only one in my family who truly loved and accepted me.  I loved Granny…I loved that she cared for us to the best of her ability, but I needed to come to terms with the fact that her ability didn’t reach very far.  Indeed, she and Grandpa supplied our physical needs when our mother committed herself to the mental hospital, taking in my Dad, my sister and me, giving us food on the table and a roof over our heads.  For that I am thankful.  But, in the realm of emotional needs, she lacked the capacity to give the soul nourishment necessary for my sister and me to thrive and grow.  In fact, each adult in that house had their own agenda and their own enormous personal deficits of unfilled needs and unresolved hurts which blocked all ability to love another person unconditionally.  The truth had at last become clear.  There was never a time in my growing up years when the person I was created to be was accepted.  Everyone tried to shape and mold me into the person they wanted me to be, to satisfy their desires and to comply with their ulterior motives…even my Granny.  (Years ago, God had even brought healing to me from rejection in my mother’s womb.)  As much as I had tried to deny their existence, God knew the facts needed to be uncovered and acknowledged.  By bringing to my consciousness that which I tried to avoid, He answered the question I had asked my friend…He let me know the time was right to emotionally leave the painful situation of being raised in part by my grandmother.  This was the time He wanted to release the chains which continued to hold me captive to my family of origin to enable me to move further into the new life He had given me. 

Once again I forgave.  Once again I took another step further into freedom.  Once again God had used the pain of the present to unlock the suffering of the past for His purpose of wholeness and healing in my life.  Thank you Lord that your ways are higher than my ways (Isaiah 55:9) and that in Your wisdom You have brought out into the light that which I longed to hide in darkness.  Thank You that You listened to my groanings and transformed your answer into so much more than I could have asked.  Thank You that Your word is true and we can believe it when it says, “Then you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

The tree – onward in victory – part 7

In A fern fiddlehead – onward in victory – part 6, I mentioned an image of “a tree growing outward from between my shoulder blades” and I would explain its meaning in another post.  This is the other post, and now I will attempt to interpret.

That tree was pride…thriving above with a tangle of roots reaching into my psyche beneath.  Those roots had penetrated and attached themselves to my being, anchoring pride firmly, sucking my life from me to provide nutrients to the robust parasite they supported.  Increasing the crushing weight of this growth were gargoyle like beings perched in its branches.  These were characteristics, attitudes and actions which find their home in and are embraced by pride:  arrogance, conceit, superiority, disdain, anger, jealousy and covetousness, to name a few.

Let me qualify. There are different ways to define the word pride.  We tell someone we are proud of them which means we are pleased with their acheivements or with who they are.  That is a positive conotation.  But, on the negative side, Dictionary.com says pride is a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.  This is the type of pride of which I am writing.  The kind that points always to self: self-importance, self-aggrandization, self-absorption, self-glorification.  The kind that builds up at others expense.  The kind that dulls one’s sensitivity to God and people and inflates egos, until gradually and sometimes subtly we become the center of our existence.  The kind only God can reveal, because we are too prideful to admit to its presence.

What were the seeds of this growth?  I was born focused on myself (just as we all are): wanting my own way and believing that everything revolved around me (picture a baby or a child who has not learned to share…).  Our culture strokes this inborn sense of self-gratification by exalting us and telling us we deserve everything and by lifting up selfish people and urging us to be like them.  My pride also stemmed from my family of origin.  (It is amazing how prideful deeply dysfunctional people can be.  To cite a couple examples…once, after making a mistake, I made the comment that nobody was perfect.  My grandmother (on my dad’s side) responded by exclaiming, “Who says?” (What an astounding implication!).  Also, in private conversations, my mom and dad would viciously attack those to whom they felt superior or scorn situations they felt were beneath them.)  Another source of my pride was abuse.  Strange as this may sound, abuse can have a perverse way of creating a twisted sense of importance in the abused while at the same time demoralizing and stripping that person of all positive sense of worth and value.  Negative attention teaches importance for the wrong reasons and turns the abused inward and self-ward; devaluing destruction leaves a vacuum that is often filled with the bile of cruel bitterness and condescension toward others.

Ah, me!  “Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)  Because Jesus has broken the power of sin and pride in my life, I am able to confess, repent and be freed.  Because Jesus has broken the power of evil for those who believe, in His name I can break bondage and rebuke the patterns of the past.  Jesus has wedged a giant crowbar called the cross under this tree of pride’s bole; each step of obedience has levered it upwards, causing the roots to loosen and the weight of its growth to be lifted.  The resulting upheaval and shaking has caused some of the creatures roosting in the tree’s crown to flee; it is, thankfully, no longer a comfortable place for them to rest (although some are more tenacious and continue to grip the branches with their claw like talons; loosening them will require more effort).

I rejoice in all God has done, but this process is not complete.  Even though I know the poison of pride will be lurking waiting to pounce as long as I live on this earth, it is possible that this particular out cropping will be completely uprooted.  But whatever transpires, whatever God’s time frame happens to be, I know that He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” will carry His good work “on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Ephesians 3:20, Philippians 1:6)  In Him I can trust; in Him I can hope.  When my eyes are opened to my weakness and I recognize my fallen humanity, I know I can trust my omnipotent God to be powerful and strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9)