Living with The Tides

When I was 22 years-old, I attended l’Université Paul Valéry in Montpellier, France.  Montpellier is a city in southern France, west of Marseilles, quite near the Mediterranean Sea.  Paul Valéry is one of the oldest universities in Europe.

I spent time with a lovely woman who had an apartment in this very building at the center of the city.

Montpellier is renowned the world over for something else: l’Ecole Supérieure d’Oenologie; in other words, the School of Oenology.  It is considered to be the most prestigious school of oenology in the world.  France’s most celebrated wine families send their children to this school to ensure that the family’s winemaking traditions are learned, and, thus, continued.  Montpellier isn’t a huge city; I met quite a few of these young, blue blooded vintners in the making.  I’m sad to say that they were true to every stereotype–young, snobbish, relatively good-looking, horribly entitled, and xenophobic.  If they would deign to speak to you, then you were sure to be insulted.  I thought it was humorous.  In America, we simply don’t have these sorts of families–one family defined by a profession, generation upon generation upon generation of one craft passing down through the ranks.  Our country is simply too young! France’s oldest wine-producing company,  Château de Goulaine, was founded in 1000 A.D.!  Clearly, my worldview differed from that of these young men.

Thomas was a Californian attending the School of Oenology.  He came from a wine family, too, but he wasn’t a wine snob.  I met him through another American student in Montpellier.  Thomas was in his early 30s.  He was very well-educated, and I could never understand why he was in France.  He was highly employable already.  He was the guy that built the vineyards.  He understood grapes, soil, weather, the fermentation process…everything! He had already built a name for himself in Napa Valley.  For some reason, however, he thought that attending the most prestigious winemaking school in the world would look good on his CV.  He was probably right.

Thomas and I became instant friends.  We didn’t see each other often because our studies were rigorous, and he lived on the opposite side of the city.  He was ten years my senior, and, I think, he found my friends a bit annoying.  They drank too much and talked too loudly.  One night, however, we made a date to have dinner and see a movie– an American movie in English! I’m not a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, but “Pulp Fiction” was music to my ears after being forced to listen to the French language 24/7 for months on end.  Thomas and I went out for pizza and wine after the movie.  It was one of those enchanting evenings when conversation flowed.  Everything was just easy, and there was a real depth and connection.  We laughed together, but there were moments of true intimacy (as in “in-to-me-see”).  It was not romantic in the least.  We really were just friends, but, for whatever reason, all pretenses were dropped.  Authentic communication and connection happened.  I reveled in it because I recognized its evanescence.  Thomas walked me home.  We hugged.  I left France shortly thereafter, and I never saw him again.

This is the way of human interaction, it seems.  I don’t know if everyone yearns for authenticity in their relationships, but, if you do, then I suspect you’ll find that it isn’t a constant.  There seems to be a tidal quality to intimacy (again, think “in-to-me-see”) in the many and varied forms that human relationships take.  There are times when I see my girlfriends, and the conversation is superficial.  We don’t bridge the gap very well between each other.  Other times, we bypass the shallow end of small talk and dive directly into the deep end of “Tell me how you’re really doing.”  Eye contact is easy.  We need that hug, and it’s a pleasure to give.  Other times, we feel guarded and wary–unwilling to “go there” with anyone.  We don’t want anyone seeing into us.  We have our reasons.

Sometimes, an intimate, authentic spark occurs between two strangers in the oddest of places.  It can be a genuine smile.  A short conversation about a book.  A compliment.  An unexpected conversation at a café.  Or, even in virtual conversations through blog comments.  In any case, you’ve met a kindred spirit of sorts, and the pleasure of that brief connection washes over you.  In that moment, you aren’t alone in the world.  You’ve been understood, and you’ve had the chance to extend understanding, too.  It goes both ways.  Along with the pleasure comes the grief because as soon as it begins, it ends.  These moments in time are ephemeral.

They ebb and flow in my own marriage.  My husband has been waiting for the latest video game installment of The Elder Scrolls–Skyrim.

I'm a Skyrim widow.

While he hasn’t been ignoring me per se, he has been heavily preoccupied with this game.  Admittedly, it’s a very cool game.  If I were a gamer, I’d probably be preoccupied, too.  Alas, I am not a gamer.  Let’s just say, since Skyrim has entered our house, he hasn’t touched me in the bedroom–in any way.  We have this tradition.  You might laugh, but it’s kept our marriage on track.  He tucks me in.  He’s a night owl; I am not.  So, whenever I go to bed, he stops what he’s doing, and he tucks me into bed by kissing me goodnight.  It’s our daily check-in.  If something is wrong, if we need to talk, or if we simply need to connect, then this is when we do it.  It’s the final connecting point of the day.  Since I became a Skyrim widow, he has stopped tucking me in.  Marriage is full of opportunities to long for intimacy and connection, isn’t it? It’s also full of lost opportunities.  Sometimes it’s bleak.  Sometimes it’s full and overflowing.

Recognizing the genuine connection when it happens is important because it reminds us that, in part, we were made for it.  It’s also important to recognize them because they are so fleeting.  Thomas was a kindred spirit, and I was able to enjoy his presence in my life albeit for a very short time.  There are other kindred spirits I’ve known for very brief moments, but I’ve enjoyed the time.  I’ve also felt the sadness of their loss, too.  The darkness that follows the bright spark of connection appears darker somehow if only for a while.

I wonder if Moses felt like that after he asked God to pass before him.  It is written in Exodus 33 that God said that he would indeed “let all his goodness pass before him”, but Moses could only see his back.  We are human beings, wired for deep connection, but only allowed to see the back of God.  I do wonder sometimes if that accounts for the tidal nature of human relationships.  We can be such contrary beings, wanting and fearing at the same time.  We reach out, we pull back, just like the tide.  What moon is drawing us in and pulling us out? Over and over again.

I have no profound words of encouragement to offer.  I’m feeling thoughtful and melancholy today.  I’m also grateful.  I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to connect with another person however brief that connection may have been.  I’ve always come away enriched and bettered in some way.  Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I want to be thankful.  While I do, at times, struggle with loneliness and melancholy, I do feel that the only way I can temper that is to glance at the landscape of my life and deliberately give thanks.  I may feel grief over loss, but I also felt joy in those places, too.  We all have journeys to make, and, one way or another, I must learn to sojourn, progressing forward, under the shadow of the back of God.

May your Thanksgiving be blessed, rich, and graced with the Spirit of gratitude, and may your upcoming year take you into territories unknown, full of new adventures, new intimacies, and genuine relationships.

Shalom.

South Dakota and Panties of Shame, Grateful to Be in Neither

I have a dog and two cats.  My dog is an Australian Shepherd otherwise known as an Aussie.  Her breeder gave her to us last April.  Yep, she just gave  us a purebred Aussie–for free.  What’s the catch? Well, you have to know something about Aussies to understand her breeder’s decision.  The Aussie is one of the most intelligent dog breeds and very energetic.  Rally, our Aussie–officially registered as Gold Dust Playin’ To Win at Defiance (it sounds like a thoroughbred’s name, doesn’t it?)–is true to her breed.  She’s extremely smart.  For instance, we have to gate our kitchen off because she knows where all the boxed food is kept such as cookies and crackers and such.  When I’m not looking, she’ll raid the cabinets, open the boxes and eat the contents, leaving nothing behind but empty bags.  She’s also trained in agility, obedience, and tracking.  This dog has had a tremendous amount of energy and training poured into her.  Energetic? Well, have you seen cats get the “crazies”? Their eyes suddenly look maniacal, their ears go back, and they begin to rip around the house for no apparent reason? Imagine a 40-55 pound dog doing that, at midnight.  Aussies are known to get the “crazies” just like felines.

Why was this dog given to us? Apparently, she didn’t play well with others.  Her breeder called her “the fun police”.  She’s a bit bossy particularly with other bitches.  She’s one of those bitches that must be on top–an alpha female.  In her breeder’s pack of Aussies, there was another alpha female that was more dominant than Rally, and Rally and Trivia were fighting all the time.  The time came to place Rally with a family that understood the breed, had no other dogs, and would take good care of her.  The catch? Rally was intact; in breeder speak that means that she wasn’t spayed.  We would need to take care of that.  The other catch? Rally was on a grain-free diet.  Well, I have Celiac Disease so we’re on a grain-free diet, too.  We were the perfect match.  Oh, and we came highly recommended.  That always helps.

I already stated that we have two cats.  Our cats don’t mind dogs.  They are both half-Siamese and are relatively at ease around their canine friends.  Relatively.  Ginger aka Cleophatra, our rather buxom cat, likes dogs.  If the dog is friendly, she’ll rub against it and purr.  Snowbell (I voted to name her Charlotte, but my daughters chose otherwise) feels differently.  She loathes dogs and refuses to give up her territory for a lowly canine.  Thus, a war has been declared and ongoing since the introduction of the Aussie.  Snowbell aka Dragonclaw the Squishable Enforcer plots revenge on Rally on a daily basis.

Caught in the act--Snowbell plots her revenge upon unsuspecting Rally

Aussies have another notable quality–fierce loyalty.  The day we brought her home, she chose me as her shepherd.  Aussies are sheepdogs, hardworking stock dogs, and they require a leader.  This dog decided that her leader would be me, and she sticks to me like velcro.  Everywhere I go, she goes–even the bathroom.  She would sleep on top of me if I permitted it; she is currently sitting on top of my feet.  She could be sound asleep, but if I get up to go anywhere, she is up and following, waiting for a command or a direction.  And, she absolutely hates it when my husband and I hug, kiss, cuddle, or, heaven forbid, make love.  She cries, whines, barks, and growls.  She’s convinced that he’s alpha rolling me, and she’ll have none of it.  I must be protected at all costs.  It might sound endearing, and, in a way, it is.  At times, however, it is annoying.  This dog never leaves me.  I can’t get away from her! I close the door, she sits on the other side.  I have to lock her out of the bathroom.  She stares me down when I’m in the kitchen.  She stares out the window for hours when I’m gone, waiting for my return.  I now know exactly what it means “to be dogged”.

This is a very physical representation of a much less tangible reality that many of us experience.  Many of us are dogged by depression, anxiety, melancholy, pain, disease processes…you name it.  We try to get up and move forward, but we are dogged by it, whatever it might be.  There’s no getting away from it because no matter where you go, there you are.  And, wherever you are, there it is.  How do we achieve a measure of happiness in our lives when we are dogged by the very things that we experience as detractors of our happiness and well-being? This is a question I’ve been asking.  I wish I had an answer.  What I have are experiences.

I have an anxiety disorder, PTSD.  I will always have PTSD.  I accept that.  At this point, I treat it like a condition that goes into remission with recurring exacerbations.   I can go for periods of time and feel quite well, but life is predictable in that there will always be something that will cause me to “flare up”.  I will have a flashback or a panic attack, and I will suffer from these for a while.  I have learned to use these events as an opportunity to pursue deeper healing when they occur.  I don’t like them, but I view them as sign posts pointing to a deeper recovery.  I am currently in the middle of an exacerbation.  Anxiety is dogging me.

I experienced a PTSD exacerbation a few years ago about this time.  It was caused by the radiator on the family Mystery Machine leaking.  I went out one chilly November morning to run some errands, and I noticed that green liquid was pooling underneath the vehicle.  My heart sank into my stomach, and I began to panic.  No, no, no, no, no…we were not in a position to pay for a major car repair.  Suddenly, I imagined myself without a vehicle, trapped in the house with four kids, unable to leave.  One car.  No way out.  Days of staying indoors with no options, watching as my husband drove off to work while I was stranded, left behind, alone, with no resources.  Let the panic begin!! I remember lying in my bedroom, under the covers, weeping, unable to breathe, feeling completely out of touch with all rational thought.  I thought I might vomit.  My husband quietly came into the bedroom and tried to reason with me.  He suggested that I might need to find a therapist.  I was offended.  He didn’t understand that I was having a panic attack.  Frankly, I wasn’t in my right mind.  I never am when I’m fighting off feelings of impending death and doom.  What stands out in my memory is that I prayed over and over again, “Please, God, please.  I can’t do without a car.  Please, I’ll be trapped.  Please help us fix this car.  Please…..Please…..Please don’t let anything happen to that car.”

Well, the radiator had to be replaced.  I was without the car for a week, and it cost us a pretty penny.  I recovered, but I was left with this nagging question, “What happened? Why did I freak out, and where was God?” What I have learned  is that feelings of being trapped trigger me.  The feeling of financial tightness which leads to feelings of being without options or having one’s back against the wall, for me, is almost identical to the feelings I had when I was trapped in captivity.  This is actually a very helpful revelation albeit extremely unpleasant.  Now, I can bring something to the therapeutic environment and gain some traction.  In this way, the panic attack has been helpful.  As David Schnarch said–the truth doesn’t always set you free, it just tells you where the fight is.  Indeed.

Where was God when I was sinking to the bottom of the panic pit? What about my car? Our resources? Well, I whined about my situation to my then-therapist who was also a car mechanic.  He was a very interesting therapist.  I did my deepest and best work with this man.  His response: “You say that you asked God to help you with your car, and because you had to replace the radiator you feel that he abandoned you? Hmmm…well, if your radiator hadn’t leaked for you, you would never have known it wasn’t functioning.  You would have lost the whole engine.  A radiator is a whole lot easier not to mention cheaper to replace than an entire engine.  I’d say he helped you out.  He didn’t leave you.”  Instant reframe.  My leaking radiator saved my engine.  Well, shit.

This is the current question on my mind: Where do I need to reframe my circumstances or other aspects of my life or relationships? When we pray for help, we often assume this posture of passivity as if God is deciding whether or not to come through for us.  How many things am I desiring currently in my own life? What is heavy on my own heart? When I’m still, what causes me to sigh? What is causing me pain or distress? All of those things matter to God, too.  In fact, when I say, “God, help.  I need you to intervene for me, on my behalf, and bring change because this cannot stand.  These things can’t continue to go on like this.  Help me.”  Why would he say ‘no’ to that? Those prayers are ‘yes’ prayers.  Oftentimes, however, it feels as if God is uninterested because we are in the throes of immediate pain, and we need immediate anesthetic.  We need intervention–NOW! I’ve been there.  In a way, I’m still there.  What I am discovering is that the ‘yes’ lies in the process.  Not an answer I like, but an answer I am finding to be true.

I compare it to this: What if my daughters came to me and said, “We want to go to Paris!” If I had abundant resources, I would say ‘yes’ to this.  Paris is a wonderful city, full of diversions, educational opportunities, beauty, art, food, and endless fun.  Why would I say ‘no’? The question remaining would be: What is the best way to get there? Yes, we could take the quickest way which would be to fly, but is there a better way? Could the girls benefit by traveling by sea? Traveling by sea will definitely take a long time, but, in the end, would they arrive in Paris better developed, prepared for the next steps of the adventure, if we journey by ship? Either way, the short or long way, there is still a process involved in arriving at the place we want to be.  We simply can’t get around it.  What I have come to realize is that most of my circumstances, be they perceived as positive or negative, are probably designed to move me along to the next place even if it doesn’t feel like it.  If I feel like I’m stagnating or not getting anywhere? Perhaps I’m at a rest area.  Everyone has to refuel.  Perhaps I stopped engaging in the journey and camped out somewhere.  I’ve done that before.

In the end, we can’t get there from here without hitting all the points in between.  I love driving to the Pacific Northwest, but I hate driving through South Dakota.  Truly.  I think I’m driving through South Dakota right now.  It feels endless, flat, boring, and my ass is starting to hurt.  You need great company, fantastic music, and a wonderful sense of humor to make it through South Dakota.  Catch my meaning? The good news is that South Dakota does have boundaries, and the glorious Rocky Mountains aren’t far off once you cross them.

I took this photo somewhere in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. The drive through South Dakota is worth it.

I’m not trying to oversimplify the very complex human experience nor am I implying that God is the author of our suffering.  I don’t believe that he is.  I am trying to flesh out a very gossamer notion that is floating around in my mind.  It’s hard to articulate, but at the center of it lies something encouraging.  This idea that there is a ‘yes’ slowly permeating our lives, that we can ask for help and not be turned away, is bolstering me up.  I understand that it takes time to get from one place to another, and I know all about long journeys.  I’ve driven from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest with four kids and a dog.  Oh yeah, I drove through South Dakota…twice.  I leave you with that notion.  Whatever it is that is dogging you, I believe that there is a ‘yes’ for that.  How that will look in your life? I have no idea.

As for Rally? Well, we haven’t gotten her spayed yet, and I discovered this morning that she’s just come “into season”.  That explains why she’s been so bitchy lately.  Apparently, female dogs get PMS, too.  Who knew? So, tonight, as you lie down in your bed, pondering your day, be thankful, if you’re a woman, that you don’t have to wear Panties of Shame when you come “into season”.  And, if you’re a guy, well, just be thankful that you’re not my husband.  He had to put these Panties of Shame on Rally about an hour ago.  His parting words? “Ugh..gross.  I just got wet ass hair on my hand!”

Rally wearing her Panties of Shame..I tried to make them pretty with the flower

Under the Sycamore Tree

Lightning over Lake Cayuga, Finger Lakes Region, New York

I’ve reviewed some of my older posts, and I’m surprised.  I’ve written more than I realized about my experiences with human trafficking.  I feel a mix of embarrassment, shame, and disappointment with myself.  Part of me accuses, “Would you at least try to think of other things to talk about?! Come on! Get over it already! Nobody wants to hear about you and your abduction for crying out loud.  So, shut up!”  The embarrassed part of me says, “Oh my goodness…it’s no wonder I refuse to tell people I have a blog.  Once they read this they’ll never invite me over again! Talk about a buzz killer!” The part of me that feels disappointed says, “It’s been twenty years.  This is old news.  I thought I’d be over it by now.”  The gentler part of me wants to speak up, too, but Shame is a bully so she often talks over everyone else in my head.  Is that true for you, too?

I recently went back to therapy, but my reasons were altogether different.  This time it isn’t nearly so intense.  It’s actually sort of pleasant.  BT (Beloved Therapist) is one of the most positive and encouraging women I’ve ever met.  Sitting in her presence for 50 minutes is a privilege.  We are similar in that her mother is Jewish (I’m Jewish patrilineally), and she also holds a Christian faith.  Our spiritual filters, if you will, are quite similar; hence, she understands my language which is endlessly helpful.  I’ve written here before that it is essential that we discover and claim powerful truths when reclaiming our identities during our struggles, whatever those struggles might be.  It doesn’t matter what your struggles are.  It could be some kind of loss, depression, a difficult childhood, low self-esteem, an eating disorder, abuse of some kind; because humanity is plagued by seemingly infinite kinds of suffering, I can’t begin to list the types of suffering a person could endure.  Suffice it to say, powerful truths are necessary when overcoming suffering because, somehow, we usually emerge from our struggles believing lies about ourselves, our past, present, and future, our relationships, and God.  A powerful memory, a healing memory, emerged recently while I was talking with BT.  It has served as a reminder to me that there are greater things at work in our lives than those which would only appear to oppose and harm us.

Two weeks after I returned from Florida (the state to which I was taken by my perpetrator), I had to start my first year of college.  Looking back, this was not ideal, but, for reasons I won’t share, I really had no choice.  So, I packed up my stuff and headed to the Finger Lakes region of central New York wherein a tiny women’s college was nestled.  To me, it was heaven.

Wells College, Aurora, NY

It was a tiny haven with only 500 students.  We had tea with our professors.  Lake Cayuga was just across the main drag that ran through the little village of Aurora.  It was the perfect place to land after a terrible event.  The dean of the college became a friend of mine, helping me get the triage care I needed within a week of my arrival since I didn’t get any before.  It became my safe place.  But, something was wrong.  I had shut down my inner life, and that was something I’d never done before.  If you’ve read any of my other posts, then you know that my life before the abduction was bad.  I had terrible parents who made terrible choices, but I still remained hopeful.  After I returned from Florida, something in me felt dead.  And, I was so incredibly angry at God.

I would not describe myself as religious because my belief in God doesn’t feel like religion to me.  I believe that God is real like I believe that my husband is real.  I’ve been like that since I was very small.  I don’t have a “conversion story” that many people who are faithful have.  There is no “before” and “after”.  There is only an “is”.  To me, God has been my constant companion and friend through everything, but I felt betrayed to my very core when I was kidnapped.  I met some Christian girls at Wells, and they invited me to church one Sunday.  I refused to go.  I wouldn’t step foot in a church.  I threw my Bible across the room one night as I yelled, “Fuck you! You left me to die there! Don’t speak to me because I’m NOT talking to YOU! Leave….me….alone!”

A Courage to Heal support group formed at the college, and I thought it might be helpful if I joined it.  It wasn’t.  In the beginning, everyone went around to share their stories, and they were horrible.  Every single one.  One young woman had grown up having an incestuous relationship with her brother.  Another girl had been date raped, and she was now terrified of males in general.  A few other girls had been sexually abused by their fathers.  It went on and on.  I actually felt pretty good about my experience.  Mine only lasted a week.  These girls endured years of abuse at the hands of close family members! What made it all feel rather incestuous, however, is that most of the girls in this group were having sex with each other.  This changed the group dynamic dramatically.  Suffice it to say, the group stopped being supportive once the first break-up occurred.  I decided to quit.

I sang soprano in our choir, and that year we were singing Mozart’s Requiem–how appropriate.  The campus was buzzing because the men’s choir from Worcester, MA would be joining us for the performances, two to be exact.  There would red-blooded men on our campus! Ode to joy!!!  I recall that it was late autumn on the evening of our first performance.  We sang beautifully together although, in contrast, I was beginning to feel heavy and hollow.  I felt emotionally eviscerated somehow as if a black hole were opening up inside me, and I wasn’t going to be able to escape it.  I was surrounded by revelry, flirting, and incandescence, but I only perceived black and white.  The noise became distant, and I wanted to leave my body.  Suddenly, I saw Carol, one of the girls from the support group.  She had been molested by her brother.  I grabbed onto her arm, asking in a pleading tone, “Tell me, Carol.  Please! Does it get any easier? Does it?” She had been flirting with her girlfriend du jour when I grabbed her, but she suddenly went pale, held my gaze, and said, “No.  It will never get any easier.  How you feel now? This is how you will always feel.”  With that, she looked away, pasted on a smile, and began laughing again, but this time I heard the emptiness in it.

Her words sank into me.  Recall what I said about always being hopeful.  I’m also tenacious.  It is one of my best and worst qualities.  In that moment, I refused to believe what she said.  I left the post-Requiem party and headed outside to have a showdown.  God and I had some unfinished business.  I went to Wells’ beloved Sycamore tree to sit beneath it.  It was silent and dark there.  I could no longer hear the sounds of jubilation, the seductive female giggling, or the baritone male voices.  It was just me, the Sycamore, and, I hoped, God.

The Sycamore Tree at Wells College in winter under which I sat once upon a time...

I sat for a while.  I didn’t know what to say; there was too much to say.  Then, it came down to it.  I thought I might yell out, but the words came out in a teary, choked whisper, “I need your help.  I feel like I’m dying.  Please…come back to me.  Don’t leave me.”  What happened next is not an embellishment nor is it in any way a lie.  It simply is.  Upon the final utterance of my words, the wind began to blow.  In the beginning, it was gentle, but then it became rather fierce.  Suddenly, there was lightning followed by thunder.  And then, I heard it.  A beautiful male tenor voice singing.  It seemed to me that the wind was carrying the voice to me, and I had a strong compulsion to follow it.  It was very dark, and I couldn’t see very well.  I only followed the sound of the song I heard.  The song led me to the single dock that jutted out onto Lake Cayuga.  From the end of the dock I was able to discern a lone male figure standing at the end of the dock.  Singing.  He sang an Italian aria into the night.

The dock at Wells College on Lake Cayuga

I didn’t want to interrupt his song, and he sang so beautifully that I wanted to continue listening, too; so, I quietly sat down at the end of the dock and wept silently.  I don’t know how long he sang, but he eventually stopped, turned, and saw me.  I immediately felt embarrassed, but he smiled.  He approached me, sat down next to me, looked at my face observing my tears, and took my hand in his.  It was then that I saw his face by the light of the moon.  He was beautiful.  He caressed my hand with his thumb as we sat together in silence, but my heart raced.  I didn’t understand what was happening.  Who was this beautiful man with the enchanting voice, and why was he sitting next to me holding my hand? After some time had passed, he finally said, “You know, sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger.  What’s wrong?”  The dam broke.  I started crying again, and I told him everything.  He put his arm around me, wiped the tears from my face, and listened.  He didn’t say a word.  He just looked at me with utter tenderness and let me get it all out–details about the kidnapping that I hadn’t been able to verbalize, how afraid I was all the time, my nightmares, fears that my perp would come back for me again.  Eventually, we walked.  He talked, too, although I can’t recall what he said.  We went back to my room, and he held me for what seemed like hours.  Finally, as we closed our time together, he reached into his pocket to pull out a cassette tape–“I made this tape.  It’s a mix of my favorite songs.  I listen to it when I want to feel better.  It’s yours.”  He kissed me on the cheek and went to whatever room was his for the duration of his stay at our college.  He left the next day with the rest of the men to return to Worcester.  He called me a few times to make sure I was okay, but I never saw him again.

That night under the Sycamore Tree was a turning point for me.  It was the beginning of my healing process.  God showed up.  Actually, I don’t think he ever left me, but when we face such a dramatically powerful struggle we often need a dramatically powerful and triumphant truth to launch us forward.  Whoever that beautiful man was, he was an agent of the Divine that night.  He did everything that God Himself would have done for me, and that restored my hope and reignited the life inside me.  I wasn’t the walking dead any longer.  Sometimes we need the wild wind, the thunder, the lightning, the Italian arias, and the beautiful strangers who minister peace, mercy, and tenderness to us.  That is who God is after all.  That is what overcomes the evil that we face on a daily basis, those inner demons that ride us so hard and mercilessly.  God is here.  He is present.  He is on our side, and he still intervenes into our circumstances, acting on our behalf so that we will overcome in order that we flourish in this life.  That is the powerful truth that was revealed to me that night, and I can return to the Sycamore Tree anytime.  God is always there, and, because he’s infinite and timeless, he’s here, too.

So, to bring this very long post to an end, I declare that there are more powerful truths to be had.  We were not made to be overcome but to overcome, and one way in which we do this is with powerful truths.  For it is indeed the truth that sets us free.

Peace be yours tonight and always.

Rebuilding Our Secret Gardens after Annihaltion

A Secret Garden

I’ve been browsing the blogosphere lately.  There’s some funny shit out there, and I do mean shit.  It’s drivel, but it makes me laugh.  That’s what I’ve been doing for a while now.  Reading shit.  Now that I’ve got an iPad, I have access to mind numbing crap at all times wherever I go.  I can buy it in app form, book form, or just sit in a café with free wifi sipping my full-fat caramel macchiato campfire white chocolate mocha with extra whip while I peruse www.damnyouautocorrect.com.  Aaah…this is the life, right? Access to online crap, 24/7, on demand, wherever I want it, whenever I want it,  guaranteed to suck the creativity and life out of my gray matter and the quality out of my daily life.  It’s my right as an American, damn it!!! Somewhere in the small print of my cable company’s bill I’m pretty sure it says that I have a right to rot my brain.  Better yet, isn’t that in the Bill of Rights? I think it must be a sub-amendment under Freedom of the Press.

I’d like to blame someone for my choices.  How on earth could I waste the hours, eyes dilated, looking at websites about mustachioed women, morbidly obese cats, man boobs, and “you knew your relationship was over when…” scenarios? (I’m not kidding.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve done this.  These websites are real.  To spare you my fate, I will not provide URLs to any of them….particularly the man boobs website.  You aren’t missing anything.)  If I’m painfully honest with myself, then I’ll admit that I’ve been RACEing. (Running, Avoiding, Condoning, Entitlement).  I just made that acronym up on the fly here, but it works.  It defines my actions and state of mind since last November.

I’ll be honest (I’m feeling narcissistic here), I don’t like August.  I was abducted in the month of August.  My captivity and all that it entailed occurred in the month of August.  I also escaped in August.  Oddly, I’ve watched many Augusts come and go, and I was never bothered.  Last August was different.  I had flashbacks, and my PTSD was triggered.  I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped, but I made it.  I returned to the therapeutic setting and set out to do good work.  What I never posted here was that my insurance company decided to change their coverage, and I had to cease all therapy sessions.  It was disastrous for me although I didn’t know it at the time.  I thought to myself, “Hey, you’ve already done years of intense work.  You’ll ride this one out.  You’ll be fine.”  Uh…not so.

When I went to my therapist, I came with some very vivid memories and acute anxiety.  The good part in this is that the memories were “new” in that I always knew certain things happened to me during my captivity.  I just couldn’t remember them “in color” if you will.  Now, I remembered them in Technicolor, and my body was reliving the events, too.  From a therapeutic perspective, this is good.  The time was ripe for healing, but the process was prematurely shut down.  So, everything went “underground” again, but the immense psychic pain associated with these events didn’t leave.  That stayed with me.  Where was I supposed to go from there? My brain had been coping with that pain by compartmentalizing the events associated with it.  Well, against my wishes, my brain annihilated my compartment.  This is one aspect of PTSD.  This is what it looks like to emerge from it.  You come forth holding your pain, your memories, and your body holds it, too.   There must be a safe place to go to relinquish these things, look at them, understand them, and, then, put them away.  Not compartmentalize them.  Put them away.  For good.   My therapeutic process was interrupted by my insurance company so I was never able to relinquish anything.  Let the RACE begin…

The Running comes first.  That’s how it works in my world.  I shut down my inner life.  It’s very much like Francis Hodgson Burnett’s lovely novel The Secret Garden; my inner life is rich, lush and beautiful.  We all have one, too.  You have one.  The things I ponder, the books I read, the places I go, the friendships I maintain…they all fertilize this elaborate landscape cloaking my inner life.  There is, however, a secret garden protected by walls, lock and key.  For many years as a little girl I was the only one who would go there.  This is the place where I mingle and interact with the spirit of God.  As we grow into adults, we allow our lovers there, too–maybe.  This secret oasis inside our inner landscapes is what? Our souls? Our hearts? Our truest identities?

Diana Gabaldon’s hero Jamie Fraser of her Outlander series describes his inner secret space as this:

“It’s…difficult to explain.  It’s…it’s like…I think it’s as though everyone has a small place inside themselves, maybe a private bit that they keep to themselves.  It’s like a little fortress, where the most private part of you lives–maybe it’s your soul, maybe just that bit that makes you yourself and not anyone else…You don’t show that bit of yourself to anyone, usually, unless sometimes to someone that ye love greatly.”

What happens to this secret, almost sacred, space when abuse, trauma, or extraordinary loss happens? Jamie’s character was brutalized and tortured in Gabaldon’s Outlander.  Jamie’s words capture my feelings perfectly:

“Now, it’s like…like my own fortress has been blown up with gunpowder–there’s nothing left of it but ashes and a smoking rooftree, and the little naked thing that lived there once is out in the open, squeaking and whimpering in tears, tryin’ to hide itself under a blade of grass or a bit o’ leaf, but…but not…makin’ m-much of a job of it.”

The gardens are burning.  The walls have been torn down.  The lock was torn from the gates.  There is nowhere left to run to so we run from.

My first instinct is to turn inward, run to my secret garden, the place where I’ve played, rested, pretended, and hidden since I was a girl, but my torturer and captor not only set fire to it, but he also dwells there, waiting for me.  Lurking.  I can’t get away from him.  It feels like there is no safe place anymore.  Not even in my own sacred spaces because what was once sacred has been defiled.  As Jamie goes on to explain:

“He’d hurt me a bit, then stop and love me ’til I began to rouse…and then he’d hurt me fierce and take me in the midst of the hurting…I fought, in my mind…I tried to keep myself from him, to keep my mind apart from my body, but the pain broke through, again and again, past every barrier I could put up.  I tried…God, I tried so hard, but…I know why young Alex MacGregor hanged himself.  I’d do the same, did I not know it to be mortal sin.  If he’s damned me in life, he’ll not do so in heaven…it’s all linked for me now.  I canna think of you, Claire (Jamie’s wife), even of kissing you or touching your hand, without feeling the fear and the pain and the sickness come back.  I lie here feeling that I will die without your touch, but when you touch me, I feel as though I will vomit with shame and loathing of myself.  I canna even see you now without…I want you to leave me…I will love you as long as I live, but I cannot be your husband and longer.  And I will not be less to you.”

The skilled perpetrator weaves his way into our biological memories and our physiology, and even when the trauma is over it isn’t really over for us until we’ve been healed.  If the breaking process was thorough, then oftentimes the borders of personal identity are wiped out.  The pain, shame and self-loathing permeate the entirety of one’s personhood leaving nothing untouched.  And so the victim associates the goodness in life with evil.  A lover’s tender touch is likened to a perpetrator’s grip of domination.  The look of desire passing over a date’s eyes as s/he moves in for a goodnight kiss becomes predatory, and, suddenly, your body tells you it’s time to fight/flee/freeze.  A spirited debate among friends feels like a storm gathering–it’s time to run and hide.  A promotion in your job feels like a curse–something bad is coming because nothing good can last.  We must always be vigilant.  The other shoe is going to drop.  Anytime now.  Anytime.  This was the case with Jamie’s character.  He was “broken in” very well.  His inner fortress was obliterated.  So was mine, but that was the point.  I was supposed to be sold at auction.  Slaves don’t have identities.  They’re property.

So, there I was, my inner life turning to ash–or so I thought, my perpetrator haunting me, and I was going to run away from the perceived threat.  Running.  What else could I do? Every malignant deed and fear were tied to every hope I had.  I want to feel alive! Well, feel the fear first.  No! I want to feel excited again! Well, feel the anxiety that is preventing you from feeling the excitement.  I want to feel like a normal, healthy sexual being! Well, feel the panic first. No! To feel the joy that is present in life you actually have to feel, and that requires feeling everything else.  Oh, God in heaven help me!! I don’t wanna.

Avoiding.  Once you’re Running, Avoiding is easy.  Avoid prayer.  Avoid stillness.  Keep moving.  Stay busy.  Oh, just avoid God altogether.  I’ve done that before.  Avoid contemplation.  That requires asking questions like, “How are you feeling today?”   Avoid all things inspirational and beautiful because that will lead to contemplation.  Contemplation leads to questions.  Questions lead to deeper ponderings, probing and pain.  Start reading inane books and websites (man boobs, anyone?), and only watch movies that dudes between the years of 18 to 30 would like.  This should provide adequate emotional anesthesia to get you through the day.  Soon, however, you’ll find yourself unable to think an original thought, and if you’re in any sort of business requiring creativity you’ll find this very inconvenient.  You’ll also find yourself primed for addiction.

Condoning.  Once I was well into Avoiding cultivating any sort of authentic inner life, I could condone just about anything.  I mean, hell, I’m making these choices to make myself feel better or, more accurately, feel nothing, right? I have neglected my foundational relationship with God.  I have now neglected my intellectual pursuits.  I have neglected my values at large.  All in the name of self-medication.  Why? Hmmm….here’s the short list:

  • I’m pissed off that I was abducted, held captive, and tortured in the first place! It sucks.
  • I don’t want to ride the therapy merry-go-round anymore.
  • I was never able to press charges against my perpetrator, and I’m just now coming to terms with that.  Where’s the justice?
  • My mother played a huge role in my abduction, and I’m profoundly angry about it.
  • I feel robbed of two decades of health and well-being because of my abduction, and I want that time back.
  • I want to feel “normal”, and I don’t.
  • I want to be “done” with this.

Entitlement has made its way into my life.  I’m in pain, I’ve suffered, so I can do what I want even if it’s self-destructive and selfish.  Well, that’s not the way it works.  I suppose I can make poor choices, but I’m going to have a mess to clean up once I wake up to reality.   I’m not entitled to make poor choices just because I’ve suffered.  PTSD, C+PTSD, Fibromyalgia, migraines, my daughter’s autism, my mother’s Borderline Personality Disorder, my neighbor’s racism, the weather, you name it…I am responsible for my own choices AND my own suffering even if I am not the source of it.

I found myself saying the other day, “God, I just want to FEEL again!!! And, I’m so weary of only feeling pain.” Aye, there’s the rub.  When I stop RACEing and turn and face it all, I’m desperately afraid that I’ll fall to pieces.  When I finally stand still, I cry.  Immense grief comes to the surface.  I didn’t sow this pain into my life, and yet here I am reaping it.  I’ve been reaping it for 19 years.  It’s August again, and I’m reaping the seeds of grief, pain, fear and anger once again.  I suppose the good part is that I’m in a different field, right? The view is different.  The crop is different.

There is more good news for me, too, if I stop, look inward, and look at the One who is running next to me.  My secret garden isn’t on fire anymore.  It isn’t covered in ash.  The walls aren’t in ruins either.  They are actually rebuilt, and their foundations are new and deep.  Those four years of therapy, prayer, and abiding with God were purposeful.  As Jamie says later to Clare:  “Ye know the fortress I told ye of, the one inside me?…Well, I’ve a lean-to built, at least.  And a roof to keep out the rain.”  And, the man who took me all those years ago is gone.  He’s a ghost who still haunts me, but he’s gone.  He doesn’t really live inside my sacred space.  That is a lie.

So, what now? Well, RACEing isn’t really a good option.  It’s hurting me.  The pain that I’m currently avoiding has the potential to be productive.  The pain I’m causing by RACEing is in no way beneficial.  It’s time to grieve again.  I’ve said it before–grieving applies value to the loss and the self.  When I grieve, I say that what I lost had value, and I also declare that I have value.  That’s productive.  Proper grieving puts meaning to our suffering, and that puts a different spin on PTSD.  It is essential to put meaning to our suffering so that we will have traction to move forward–out of the suffering.

For, we must all know this, there is so much more in this world than pain, fear, torture and suffering.  Jamie Fraser’s story does not end in Outlander, but Gabaldon’s Outlander does end with hope, “And the world was all around us, new with possibility.”  That’s what I want.  A new world,  A new day.  Ripe with possibilities.  Alive with hope.

Borderlines, Sociopaths, PTSD, and Peace

Stop Saying ‘Peace’ When There Is None

It’s been one helluva week so I’m just going to “let go” for a moment.  I figure I can do that since it’s my blog after all.

I wish my mother would disappear over the event horizon of a black hole, hence, permanent deletion from the universe at large.  There.  I said it.  I am hopeful that permanent, universal deletion–annihilation really– is painless.  Sort of like blowing out a candle.  Poof! Gone.

Obviously, I am not going to get my wish, and it’s better that I don’t for some very obvious and not so obvious reasons.  Here’s the skinny: my mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  This particular flavor of personality disorder is rather malignant.  It’s akin to malignant narcissism.  My father had Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Essentially, he was a sociopath.  No remorse, guilt, empathy, or emotion.  And, he loved to inflict pain.  That’s when he smiled.  They were an interesting pair to say the least.  I’ll admit this: dealing with my father has been much easier than dealing with my mother.

They each had stories to tell me about cats, and each of their tales opens a small window on their psyches.  My father lived in a part of the country that didn’t have ordinances regarding feral or loose animals.  So, he would leave food out for stray cats.  After a few weeks, a small pride of stray and feral cats would be living on his property at his invitation.  This would annoy him.  So, he would go to his gun safe, load up one of his long range rifles, open up a few cans of tuna, leave the tempting bait out for his prey, and wait.  Once the pride was engrossed in their fishy repast, he would begin his game of “Kill the Kitties”.  One by one, as the cats devoured the tuna in utter distraction, he picked them off until none remained.  He narrated this story to me over the phone, laughing the entire time, as if it were a joke.  Sickened, I told him he should stop leaving out food for stray animals.  His response? “Now, where’s the fun in that?”

My mother’s story isn’t much better.  When she was a girl, she was given a kitten.  She loved this kitten.  She played with it everyday.  Sometimes she wanted to feel close to her kitten in a special way; so, she would strangle it.  She would strangle it until it was almost dead, and then she would release it.  It would cling to her, sucking in air, grasping at life.  This was the feeling she craved–being clung to.  This was when she would hold it close.  This was her extra special way of finding closeness with her beloved pet.  She would do this often.

Both of these stories define the personality disorder of the people behind them.  My father enjoyed planning, stalking, and killing.  He enjoyed manipulation and power as sociopaths do.  The “I hate you, don’t leave me” worldview of the BPD comes through clearly in how my mother treated her kitten.  This defines how I was raised.  I was never physically strangled, but I was emotionally, spiritually, and verbally assaulted regularly.  Unfortunately, she did physically harm other family members–severely at times.

So…fast forward.  My father isn’t in the picture anymore, and my mother has been ignoring me for five years…until two weeks ago.  When I was slogging through the muck and mire of psychotherapy, I thought I might want a relationship with my mother.  I all but begged her to find a therapist and engage in her own process of healing and recovery.  I am a compassionate person, and I do recognize that she, too, has suffered profoundly.  She refused.  I felt enormous rejection, and I grieved.  In my eyes, the relationship was dying.  I treated it as such.  I also realized how bent I truly was in that relationship.  My mother raised a victim.  I only existed to meet her needs.  I was not a separate individual capable of thinking unique thoughts.  I didn’t even have my own identity.  As one website explains:

Narcissism is quite pronounced in the borderline personality. They really see themselves as the center of everything and have a very distorted view of their importance to others. It is important to recognize when relating to a borderline that you don’t really exist. When they see you they see a fuzzy image that is filled in with projections from their own unconscious. If you do not realize this you will feel very crazy with them. In fact, most children growing up in the family of a borderline parent have a deep abiding belief that they themselves are the one that is crazy, not the parent.

This past year has actually been a relief.  Her absence has given me a margin of personal freedom that I didn’t realize I wanted because I never knew it existed.  But, when I heard her voice on the phone, my inner adult began to shrink.  All that personal freedom and empowerment I desperately fought to gain disappeared.  I was six years-old again, sitting on the other side of her bedroom door while she screamed that her life would be over if I ever left her.  What could she possibly want after all this time?!

She wanted to be friends.  “I want to come visit!” Oh hell, no.  Over my dead body.  That’s what my inner voice said, but I couldn’t get air to move over my vocal chords.  Damn it! I just froze.  Thank you ever so, C+PTSD!

There’s an interesting website, www.sociopathicstyle.com, that defines the “traits of a victim” as:

  • A belief that if you love enough the person will change
  • A belief that if you love enough the relationship will succeed
  • Difficulty establishing and maintaining boundaries
  • Not being able to say no
  • Being easily influenced by others
  • Wanting to be rescued from your life situation
  • Wanting to rescue others from their distress
  • Being over (sic) nurturing particularly when not asked
  • Feelings of shame and self doubt
  • Low self esteem
  • A lack of memories about childhood or periods of adulthood
  • Shyness
  • Difficulty communicating
  • A lack of self confidence
  • Wanting to please
  • A lack of motivation from within and being motivated by what others want

I’ve italicized my own traits in relation to my mother.  She groomed me from Day 1 to comply with her every whim, self-perceived need, desire, and demand, and until the day I married I didn’t know that I had any other choice but to comply.  She punished me horribly on my wedding day for “abandoning” her, too.  She punished me for having children.  She punished me for going to college.  Every milestone that represented a transition into adulthood represented abandonment to her, and I was punished for it.  I didn’t understand it at the time, but her choosing to ignore my request for a relationship was the best thing she could have done.  Experiencing daily life with her absence has allowed me to experience a different life.  I had no idea…

Her first phone call caught me off guard, and I played the victim stupendously.  It’s been my role of a lifetime after all.  I sucked at saying ‘no’, she bulldozed through all those boundaries I worked so hard to put in place like they were made of rice paper, she talked over me.  She played me like a fucking Stradivarius.  She seethed a little.  Her inner witch made an appearance, and I got scared.  She put me in my place.  Aah….it was just like old times.  Only I haven’t played her victim in five years, and my body didn’t respond well.  I endured a seven-day migraine and some PTSD flashbacks.  It was great.  Mind you, I did manage to tell her that I wouldn’t have a relationship with her until she was in therapy, and we had to be speaking to each other on a regular basis (someone save me from myself!).

The migraine and panic attacks should have clued me in– I wasn’t doing well.  Oh, and that cheerful, good-natured voice in my head that I’ve come to recognize as Divine asked, “When will you do what you want when it comes to your mother?” What I want? That was the first time that thought had ever entered my head.  I realized that I have spent my entire life doing only what she wanted.  Even in therapy.  The truth is, I don’t want to have a relationship with my mother.  Ever.  She needs therapy.  She needs a diagnosis.  She needs DBT/CBT to treat her BPD, and she needs ongoing treatment for her depression and her own PTSD.  But, for the love of innocent kittens, I am not responsible for her happiness and well-being, and isn’t that a revelation! No matter what I say or do, I will always be the bad guy because I won’t be meeting her needs, and that’s the only reason I exist in her mind–to meet her needs.  There is a part of my heart and mind that cries out in great relief at this truth.  There is another part of me that cries out in great pain because I know that my mother is in terrible psychic pain because of me even though I am making the right choice.  It still hurts.

Having her in my life triggers me.  That’s where I’m at.  My brain is, well, a bit fragile when it comes to my mother.  That list of victim traits? Yep.  That’s me.  I was an easy target for the dude who decided to abduct me precisely because both my parents raised me to be their victim.  If you’re one person’s victim, sooner or later, you’re going to be someone else’s.  Twenty-three years of victimization don’t vanish and leave the neural networks in good shape.  C+PTSD may be permanent, and having my mother in my life is only going to reinforce those neural connections.

So, guess what? I actually told her ‘no’ when she called the second time.  There would be no relationship.  I refused to reconcile, and if we ever did, it would be directed by a therapist.  For me, that’s a huge accomplishment.  Granted, my entire body was shaking when I hung up the phone, but I said it.

What’s the bright side? I discovered that I was in denial regarding my own abilities, if you will.  I can’t have my mother in my life.  It’s too triggering.  I still experience her as the “all-powerful perpetrator” which is common to victims of abuse, and she still scares the hell out of me.  Well, shit.  I’ve got some work to do there.

But…I chose my own well-being over my mother’s which, I must say, is a victory.  I have never been able to do that before.  I daresay, I formed a new neural pathway, and I’m stoked about it.

Christine Lawson wrote the book Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable and Volatile Relationship.  She states:

 “Sometimes adult children feel so frustrated or endangered in the presence of their [Borderline] mothers that they choose not to have contact at all. No one has the right to pass judgment on such situations. Every human being has the right to protect his or her own life. In some cases, it is in the best interest of both mother and child to disengage completely.”

Whether or not a person chooses to walk away from an abusive relationship is not the point here, the point is that we have the right to do so in order to preserve and protect ourselves and, in many cases, the lives of our loved ones.

I was raised in a religious environment, and, for many people of faith regardless of that faith, this doesn’t always seem like an option.  In Christian circles, I’ve been judged harshly for my decisions to take care of myself.  In Jewish circles, I’ve raised a few eyebrows as well.  My Jewish grandmother just wanted me to forget the past.  Sometimes the past devours the present leaving you with no future.  This is what I bring to the table in this case:  Romans 12:18 found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with all people.”  A brain in a triggered PTSD episode is the opposite of peace.  As far as it depends on me, I can’t live peaceably with my mother because peace is not her goal.  Getting her own needs met at the expense of all others is her primary goal.  Jeremiah 6:14 of the Tanakh or Old Testament says it well: “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.”  How many of us have lived in that environment?–“Everything is fine.  You’re fine.  Get over it.  There is no problem.  You see a problem? Then, you are the problem.”  Human nature does not change.

I won’t do it.  I won’t say there is peace when there is none.  Choosing to stop saying ‘Peace’ when there is none may be one of the first steps out of being someone’s victim.  It was for me where my father was concerned.  It will be again when it comes to fortifying and maintaining my boundaries with my mother.

I must say, I want to say ‘Peace’ because there is peace to be had and enjoyed.  Right now.  Right here.

Standing at the Crossroads

I’ve been a bad blogger.  No blogger should go four months without writing a post, but that’s what I’ve done.  Anyone who truly knows me can confirm that I didn’t run out of things to say.  I sort of “hit the wall” in my life, and I wasn’t sure what was worth saying anymore.  Sometimes certain thoughts and ideas need to be thrown out rather than shared.

Writing in any form, be it a journal, blog, poetry, or novel, helps the writer develop a voice.  What sort of voice have I developed in this blog? I don’t know, but I think the din of my own life got to be so loud that I just craved some silence in my own head.

It’s been a hard year.  I think everyone can say that about every year.  Life is hard.  It’s a struggle.  I want to throw in the towel sometimes.  Is it worth it? Why bother? You give your utmost, and it still isn’t enough.  You feel eroded on the inside. stretched too thin, but there is no one behind you to catch you if you fall, so you have to keep going.  Everyone around you wants something from you, an idea, some sort of help, clean underwear, a meal, but where do you go when you need help?  It isn’t easy being a woman, a mother, a wife, or a friend.  As hard as you try to do the right thing, sometimes the right thing will be the wrong thing to everyone else, but you.  And, in the end, no matter how hard you try to make it right, the right decision still feels like the wrong one.

So, I dropped off the face of the blogosphere for a few months.  And, I left the country.  My plane left America around 9 PM on April 26 and touched down in London eight hours later.  I started worrying about this trip across the pond back in November 2010.  I was going alone, and I was leaving my husband to look after the house, two cats, two fish, a dog, and four children, one of whom has autism.  There are movies with this very plot–“Cheaper by the Dozen”, for instance.  Sturdy, capable housewife of 14 years gets a life and leaves for two weeks (I was gone for ten days) leaving the hopelessly bumbling, idiotic dad to manage the household, pets, and children in her absence.  Mayhem, injuries, and hilarity ensue.

Visions of disaster haunted me.  Would the house be condemned upon my return? Would the children be feral? Would they eat Cheetos, hot dogs, and Vienna sausages from the can the entire time? How would my little Aspie (my daughter on the autism spectrum) do in my absence? She’s the youngest of my girls, and she’s very attached to me.  What about our finances? What about the laundry? What about the girls’ asthma? What about…what about…what about…? And, what about me?

I used to live abroad so traveling internationally wasn’t new to me, but I was traveling to England for a friend’s wedding.  I was to be the matron of honor.  If the devil was in the details, then the devil was up my ass with his pitchfork.  There was the issue of the bridesmaid’s dress, the color, and the style, all of which I had to choose without the presence of the bride, and I had to do it in a month’s time.  The color actually had to match a very specific color which limited the choices significantly, and the dress had to be chosen in a matter of weeks which limited options as well because I had to buy it off the rack.  I am 6′ tall.  Another limiting factor in style.  I had to have the dress altered, there were undergarments to buy, the passport to renew, luggage to borrow, meals to plan and prepare for my own family, and it just kept coming in waves.  The manicure-pedicure to have done before I left, the shoes to find to match the dress, the pashmina wrap to find and order online because the dress was strapless, and I needed to be relatively modest as this was going to be an Anglican service in a 600 year-old church in England.  Propriety matters.  Wasn’t this supposed to be a pleasure?

In the middle of preparing to leave, I was embroiled in an elementary school drama regarding a member of the administration.  Around sixty parents appeared before the school board to “testify” about their experiences with this administrator, and I was one of them.  The meeting was televised.  The local media was present.  My face was photographed and put in the the papers.  My name was used improperly.  In the end, it appeared to some people that I was the ringleader of a coup in the school against this administrator which was not the case.  The idea is laughable.  People, however, are wont to believe what they will.  The day before I was scheduled to depart, the school district called and asked if I would meet with them and their attorneys to discuss my experiences with this administrator.  I thought my head was going to explode.

The day I was scheduled to depart for England, I didn’t even want to go.  All I was hearing from my soon-to-be married friend via email was how stressed she was, and I was drowning in anxiety and overwhelming stress in my own life.  I was having chronic migraines, and I wasn’t sleeping.  My children were crying all the time because I was “leaving them”.  I felt guilty.  Who was I to try to do this?

My husband shoved me out the door, drove me to the airport, kissed me passionately, and told me to go and have a good time.  As I walked away from our minivan, all I could hear was my four daughters loudly weeping.  I looked back and saw my husband’s sweet face, trying to reassure me that he would take care of everything.  I cried a little, tried to push down the pangs of guilt that were gnawing at me, and then I heard my stylist’s voice in my head.  I had to get my hair trimmed and the color touched up before this trip, and Vicki took me by my shoulders, looked me in my eyes, and sternly told me, “You are going on an adventure for the first time in 15 years.  For 15 years you’ve been a mother and wife.  You’ve been something to someone else, but you haven’t been your own person.  Well, you are going to go be your own person for ten whole days! So, go be YOU, and go enjoy it.”

So…I did.

I spent ten glorious days in county Devon.  I was picked up from Heathrow by one of the kindest women I’ve ever met.  A complete stranger to me at the time, but no longer.  The weather was spectacular.  We drove five hours from London to Devon in southwest England.  I stayed in a 500 year-old farmhouse on what I can only describe as an estate of sorts.  My beloved friend was delightful and generous, and her fiancé was full of wit, good humor, and an abundant willingness to show me everything in the area.  His entire family can only be described as utterly kind and hospitable.  I was steeped in generosity, hospitality and kindnesses of every sort.  The landscape overwhelmed my senses.  The first thing I noticed was the scent–a combination of sweet grasses, wisteria, jasmine, rose and honeysuckle.  This Devonian springtime scent didn’t come and go.  It was constant.  The wood pigeons cooed, the spring lambs were young and new, bleating in the fields, the bluebells were in full bloom, saturating the countryside in deep blue, and many species of wildflower bloomed in the hedges in the lanes.  It was like walking in Eden.  I spent a good deal of time outdoors.  There was no ugliness, no lack of beauty, no lack of inspiration, no lack of goodness in that place.  The gardens of Dartington were groomed and well-tended.

Dartington Gardens
The Gardens in Dartington, Devon

The gardens of Cockington were a bit less formal.  They were allowed to grow more wildly.

Cockington Gardens
The Gardens at Cockington, Devon

The country lanes were verdant, lush and rich with that Devonian springtime scent.  It was almost timeless as it seemed that one could be in any century in that setting.  The wood pigeons have been cooing for centuries.  The bluebells have been blooming year after year.  The Devonians have been treading these same country lanes for generations.

Country Lane near Brixham, Devon
Country lane near Brixham, Devon

My idyllic, temporary home in Devon for ten days…

Devonian Farmhouse
Devonian Farmhouse

I drowned in heavenly cups of milky, sweet tea for days.  I drank Pimm’s on the lawn of Buckland-Tout-Saints.  I tossed back two pints of Crabbie’s ginger beer surrounded by medieval suits of armor at Churston Court, an 11th century manor house.  I even went worm charming! I visited wonderful villages, saw beautiful places, and, hopefully, made some lasting friendships.

And, of course, there was the incredibly beautiful wedding–my reason for being there in the first place.  It was everything a bride could ever hope or dream for.  Devon, one of the most lush and beautiful settings on our planet…A 600 year-old village church for the ceremony…A grand entrance by Rolls-Royce….A beautiful and meaningful ceremony….A Devonian cream tea in the church for the village and wedding guests after the ceremony…photos in Dartington gardens where the groom proposed while the guests enjoyed the landscape….

Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

Dartington Gardens in our Wellies

As I experienced wave upon wave of kindess, goodness, pleasure, and rest, a thought began to kindle in my mind.  What if my general expectations for life are too low? My expectations for this trip were very low, and I was given a “sensory overload smackdown” of all things good.  Even though I managed to embarrass myself on several occasions, I still walked away with nothing but good memories and funny stories.  What if my trip to Devon exemplifies God’s heart for me? What if I need to raise my expectations?

After my daughter’s autism diagnosis, I think I started giving up.  Dealing with a Borderline mother, an autistic child, C+PTSD, and, you know, just living seems hard.  It’s easy to just lower and lower and lower the bar for what you really expect from your life until you’re back to surviving it.  Are you happy? No, not really.  Is anyone? Are you where you want to be? No.  Is anyone? Is my marriage what I want it to be? Uuuuummmmmm…..What do I want from my life? Hmmmmmmmm…..Am I fulfilled? What does that mean? Am I where I thought I would be at this age? :::maniacal laughter::: What about your dreams? :::crazed, maniacal laughter::: What about intimacy? :::headdesk::::

Yeah…these are the questions that I heard when I was in Devon, and my heart started to ache because it started to thaw.  I could write a f*cking novel in one post about what I thought about when I was there.  What I did begin to realize was this: I have lowered my expectations to the point where they don’t even exist anymore, and that isn’t acceptable.  Also, my view of God needs to continue to shift and evolve.  All the “good” Christians say that “God is good”.  You know what I experienced in Devon? God is not good.  That statement implies a measured quantity.  I experienced abundant pleasure, kindness, and some kind of otherworldly glory that I can only say was spiritual in nature during those ten days.  It wasn’t measured or reined in by a boundary.  It overflowed.  It was bountiful.  That is the nature of God’s goodness and kindness.  That must meet up with my low expectations and change me.  That was one of the things, I believe, God wanted to reveal to me when I was in England.  And, of course, I think I was there to enjoy myself and my friend, too.  Life is to be enjoyed to the fullest.  And, I have to re-learn how to do that.

How can an abundantly, infinitely, and endlessly good and kind God weave His way into my life and change it as it is today? I have no idea.  It feels like a clash of ideas sometimes, but I’ll tell you this.  I didn’t have one migraine during my ten day stay in Devon.  I haven’t gone ten days without a migraine in five years.  And, I stayed up until 3 AM every morning, drank tea, coffee, and alcohol daily.  Anything is possible.

What has become painfully clear to me is that I have buried my heart underneath a lifetime of disappointments, setbacks, traumas, pain, and the realities of the grinding and mundane aspects of daily life.  That, however, is not who I have ever been.  I have always been the hopeful lover of romance.  The girl who watched “Room with a View” one hundred times.  The girl who memorized every word of dialogue from “The Princess Bride”.  For whatever reason, years of abuse and trauma did not kill the longing for romance, adventure, true and lasting intimacy, and meaning that I’ve always carried.  And, much to my dismay, my heart sprang to life in the Devonian landscape.  I reveled in it.  I let it have a voice again, and I don’t want to ignore her and her desires anymore.

How much would it hurt to bury it again? How much would it hurt to listen to what it has to say? What if I raised my expectations for my life? What if I stopped letting past trauma and pain define my present and future? What if I dared to hope or, dare I say it, desire again? What if….what if….what if…? What about you? What if…?

A Cockington garden path
A Devonian Crossroad...

Mighty Men and Parking Spaces

I had an interesting experience today.  I’ll be honest.  It started out as annoying and became interesting later.  To bring you up to speed, I have a very nasty, chest cold.  I also had a migraine at 4:30 AM this morning.  So, taking my daughter to her orthodontist appointment at the university which is nowhere near conveniently located was, I think, rather appropriate for a Monday morning.  We also had more snow yesterday which meant that I had to dig out the car which put us 10 minutes behind schedule.  Why did I choose to wear sneakers instead of shoes designed for walking in 3 feet of snow? Oh, I guess it’s because I like having cold, wet feet.  I blame the migraine medicine for that colossally stupid choice.  I also failed to dress in layers choosing to wear only a T-shirt under my autumn coat (Honestly, I can’t speak for myself at this point.  It’s the snowiest month in this state, and I’m wearing my autumn coat?!)  After stepping in two puddles (soaked sneakers now), digging the car out of the snow (the jeans are wet, too), we were on our way to the orthodontists’ offices at our state’s beloved mega-versity.  The traffic was fierce, my cough matched it, my daughter was happily playing her new Nintendo game, and I swear someone flipped me off.  Nonetheless, she was going to have her little behind in that chair on time! I dropped her off in front of the building, she dashed for the doors, and I turned towards the parking ramp–the only parking ramp in sight, the one we always park in–and it was FULL.  WHAT?! It’s never been full before.  Ever.  Suddenly, I panicked.  Why would I panic over such a minor thing as parking? This particular university is one of the largest campuses in these United States.  It’s monstrous, and finding parking is…well…a bitch.  There I was, driving around on the verge of tears, not in my right mind because of my migraine medication, sneezing and coughing, swearing and praying at the same time with very cold feet.  I did manage to find an open ramp, but I paid dearly for my poor choices in under and outwear.  I looked like a crazed harpy stomping through the streets of the university, shivering, coughing, and muttering, making my way to the huge tower wherein my daughter’s teeth were being aligned.

You’ve covered annoying, you’re saying.  Where’s the interesting part? I recently went to a conference.  There was only one speaker, and the only thing this guy spoke about was the favor of God.  Some people would never, ever want to attend that conference.  Some people might.  One thing this guy said was that favor was about a lot more than finding a good parking spot.  That particular thought was going through my head this morning as I was trudging through the byways of the university campus.  I’ve gone without great parking before.  It’s not a big deal.  I’m not a whiner, but this morning was different.  I’m sick.  I don’t get chest colds very often, but when I do I get very ill.  I almost died 8 years ago from influenza or something like it.  I was one of those people, one of the 1%, who end up in the ICU hooked up to all sorts of ghastly machinery.  So, now I have what one might call “reactive airways”.  When I get a respiratory illness, I get very, very ill.  On top of that, I had a migraine.  And, due to my own stupid lack of foresight, I didn’t dress for the weather! I assumed I wouldn’t have to spend any time outdoors.  I would say that I didn’t feel very “favored” this morning.  I felt cold, sick, wet, and grumpy, and, dammit, I couldn’t find parking.

Let me digress to make my point (I promise, I’ll make it).  In Judges 6 in the Old Testament, there is a guy named Gideon living his life like the rest of his fellow Jews.  The Israelites are having trouble with another tribe, the Midianites.  They are essentially in bondage to them.  One day God shows up and speaks to Gideon.  He says, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of fearless courage.”  Gideon’s response is humorous to me because it is so human.  He says, “Really? If God is with us, then why are we doing so badly?! Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all the stories about what happened with Moses, but God has left us because we are in bondage to the Midianites.” (It is interesting to note that Gideon is pretty certain that God isn’t present because things are going badly.  How often do I draw the same conclusion?)  God’s response is equally humorous–“Nonsense! Go in your mightiness! Go and save Israel! I’ll be with you.  I’m sending you to do this.” Gideon now begins to argue–“No.  My family is the poorest, and I’m the shortest and weakest in my entire household.”  Basically, he’s a loser.  God humors him by telling him once again that he can’t lose if God himself is going with him.  Once again, Gideon shows his humanity.  “Can I have a sign? I think I really need to know that it’s God I’m talking to.  I’m not so sure about this favor thing, and I need some concrete evidence that this is really God.”  Gideon gets his sign (actually, he asks for more than one, and God gives him those, too), and he does go on to defeat the Midianites.

Why is this important? When God came to Gideon, he interacted with him as a “mighty man of fearless courage”.  Did Gideon see himself as that?  No, he most certainly did not, but that does not change how God sees and interacts with him.  Often we approach God from a place of insecurity and inadequacy, but God does not speak to our insecurities and inadequacies.  He speaks to our true identities.  Since we are completely reconciled, we are, in God’s eyes, whole and complete.  This means that every interaction that you have on a daily basis with God is about moving you from your own perception of yourself to God’s view of who you already are in his sight.  Taking it one step further, who you are in the heavenly places.  God is beyond time so he can see who you are becoming; therefore, he interacts with you today as if you are already the whole and complete person that he sees in the future.  This is why he called Gideon “mighty man of fearless courage” because that is the man that Gideon would be.  That is the man that God already saw.  That is what it means to be favored by God.  It isn’t earned.  It just is.

What does Gideon have to do with us? Well, I write a lot about coming into wholeness after abuse.  Sexual abuse ravages our self-image leaving behind self-loathing, disempowerment, and a splintered identity.  What would change in us if we knew that we were, in fact, beautiful, valuable, whole people at this very moment? As Graham Cooke said at the conference, “You are a whole person struggling with______” not a “Struggling person trying to get whole.”  That is how we are seen by God–whole, priceless, lovely, beautiful, clean.  And, every interaction that he has with us is intended to move us closer to who we really are be that in healing a wound, restoring our self-image, restoring our proper view of God, helping us to forgive, helping us to receive forgiveness, lifting our burdens, reconciling us to our families if that’s possible, you name it.

We often misunderstand God, however, because he is speaking to our true identities, and we are speaking to him from a place of lack, insecurity, and inadequacy.  This is what happened to me today.  I marched into the orthodontists’ offices.  I was so cold.  My cough was bad.  My head hurt, and I was exhausted.  It was a 2 hour appointment.  When I spoke to the receptionist behind the counter about the full parking ramp, she replied, “Well, that was unnecessary.  Didn’t you notice the sign that said “Reserved”? If you have an appointment here, then you always have a parking spot in the reserved parking spaces.  I’m sorry you went through that.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I had a RESERVED parking space? I didn’t need to drive around crying and swearing? I didn’t need to trudge through the cold and snow in wet sneakers? My daughter and I walked back to the other parking ramp.  In retrospect, it didn’t seem so far, but I wouldn’t get a discounted parking rate at this ramp.  It was going to cost a lot more for sure.  As we drove towards the ramp exit, we noticed that the gate was lifted, and the parking attendant was absent.  They were on a break, and we didn’t have to pay a cent.  Huh.  Free parking.

I am still learning what it means to stay in my true identity rather than how I feel about myself.  I am always amazed at how quickly I can work myself into a lather over something.  Somedays I feel pretty good about myself.  Hey, I washed, folded, and put all the laundry away while cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and developing that story concept with my co-writer.  I am freakin’ awesome! Somedays I feel like a complete failure in every sense of the word.  I yelled at the kids, forgot to pay a bill, glared at my husband, and I’m still nursing that one bad habit.  You know, that bad one that makes you feel really ashamed.  The one that would get you kicked out of every organization representative of all that is good, decent, and virtuous in our society.  I am freakin’ awful! But, that isn’t who we really are at all.  Our identities are not based in how we or anyone else feels about us; they are based in what God says about us. To me, that is freakin’ fantastic!!! The favor of God may not have much to do with finding a great parking space, but, hey, I’ve got to start somewhere.

“You will be called by a new name, A name given by the Lord himself. You will be like a beautiful crown for the Lord.”  Isaiah 62

The Truth about Rose-Colored Glasses

I’ve been asking myself a question–why do some people recover and learn to thrive in life while others remain stuck? I’m certain that there are many highly trained people who could give me good answers, but I do wonder if the foundation of those answers will have something to do with truth.  The people whom I’ve met who are doing well in their lives value the truth.

These men and women aren’t in ideal situations.  Is anyone? Some of them are struggling in their marriages.  Some of them are unemployed and facing financial crises.  There are family issues, issues with sexuality, issues with past abuse and trauma.  The obstacles facing these people cover the spectrum of troubles anyone might meet in life.  These people, however, are managing to grow and find some kind of traction to move forward in spite of their circumstances and inner pain, or perhaps I ought to say with their circumstances and inner pain.  Why? What do these people have in common?

In talking to these people, I have noticed that they all place a high value on leaving behind self-pity.  When I was working with a life coach he had one thing to say about self-pity–set aside 30 minutes to feel sorry for yourself when something dreadful happens to you.  Find out if pitying yourself will lead you on to a more productive emotion.  If it doesn’t, then shut it down.  Self-pity was useful to me because it allowed me to access deeper emotions like grief.  I was able to cry freely when I allowed myself to feel self-pity, even lament.  Self-pity can be an entry point to a deeper emotional experience–a touchpoint with something sacred even– which can be a point of healing, but one should never choose to camp out there.  Self-pity by itself is only a doorway.  If one chooses to remain immersed in it, more toxic emotions like despair, worthlessness, hopelessness, self-loathing, envy, and covetousness are sure to follow.  The possibility of a point of healing or communing with how one experiences God potentially vanishes.

Another thing these people share is something I’ll call “the mirror view”.  When something isn’t working in their lives, they look in the mirror, not at everyone else in their lives.  These folks understand that they themselves are responsible for their own well-being and happiness–no one else.  This is a very hard truth to internalize.  After three years of intense psychotherapy, I closed out my work with life coaching.  There were things in my life that weren’t working very well for me.  At the end of all my sessions the issues that needed attention always came back to me.  If I didn’t like them, I needed to change.  If I wasn’t happy, I needed to change.  If I was overcompensating for lacks in my own family, I needed to change–not my family.  The main issue behind all my unhappiness was, well, me.  I am responsible for my own well-being and happiness.  Me.  Not my mother.  Not my husband.  Not my children.  Not my community.  Me.  And, if I couldn’t ask for what I needed or wanted, then I needed to change.  If the trajectory of my life was ever going to change, I was going to have to change because I was the starting point.  It was shocking, but it was true.  Realizing and internalizing that truth was very difficult for me, but I would have been permanently stuck if I hadn’t.

Lastly, these people don’t do denial…ever.  If there is a problem in their lives, they tackle it.  Granted, there is something to be said for putting problems in a certain order.  Sometimes there are so many problems that certain issues must be put on the back burner to simmer for a while so that the more important problems can be solved right away.  That is very different from running away from glaring deficiencies in a life that will eventually bring destruction.  One of my lifelong friends put it like this; she said, “I want to know the truth about my part in [this] even if it brings me to my knees, even if it breaks me, because it will never be solved or healed until I know what is true and what isn’t.”  That sums it up, doesn’t it? There is no running away there.  There is a complete willingness to be accountable for behavior and choices no matter what.  That is what it means to desire truth in all things.  We want to know what we are doing that isn’t healthy, and we are willing to be held accountable for it.  We want to know where our relationships aren’t working, and where they are.  We want to know where we are stagnating, and where we are growing.  We want to know how our inner life is looking.  Is our thought life healing or hurting us? If we have a faith practice, is it healthy? How is our relationship with God? What do we believe God thinks about us? What’s our self-view look like? Is it accurate, or is it shame-based? There are so many aspects of life where truth is needed.  Truth in life is a priority if we are to continue to grow regardless of our circumstances.  This is a major factor in whether or not a person is successful in a true and lasting recovery.  They are asking these kinds of questions, and they are committed to answering them.  The issue here is where are we going for our truths? Are they reliable and balanced?

This is what I am currently seeing in the lives of people who are gaining ground in a life that is thriving.  They have these things in common:

  • Self-pity is only a door to greater healing.  It’s not a camp site.
  • When life isn’t working and pain and unhappiness are the theme of life, look in the mirror but banish shame.
  • Leave denial behind for good and embrace a lifestyle of truth and accountability.

It feels a little “hard core” and insensitive, but attaining spiritual, emotional, and intellectual maturity while experiencing a true recovery marked by healing with the ability to know authentic intimacy with others and God (if spirituality is a practice in your life) is not easy.  There is opposition in life, and if that’s your vision for life, then we have to correct our vision.  I want to see every step with clarity.  Sometimes the truth hurts to the point that I do feel like I might break, but what are the options? Denial? Where does that lead? What I can say with utmost certainty is that if you choose denial, then you will never have the life for which you were created.  And, we were created for freedom, intimacy, joy, peace, meaningful work, and deep and meaningful relationships that bring fulfillment and purpose to our lives.  None of that is possible with the distortion that rose-colored glasses lend to our vision.

Hard Sayings and Love Songs

One lost sheep
A lost lamb

I went to my mailbox a few days ago and discovered a post-Christmas package.  I love getting letters and packages so I tore open the padded envelope and found that one of my cousins had given me a book.  It must be said that I have an interesting family.  I don’t maintain any relationships on my father’s side of the family largely because I’ve never met anyone from his line aside from his mother.  I do, however, know many people on my mother’s side of the family.  Firstly, my mother was adopted as an infant so I am not related by blood to anyone in her family.  While my grandparents loved both my mother and me as if we were born of their own bodies, there are times I have experienced a distinct feeling of “otherness” while spending time with members of my mother’s extended family.  There is a feeling of being invited but not included that permeates every social interaction, and I’ve never been able to overcome it.  I have, however, begun to wonder if this is just part of the human experience rather than a particular familial experience.  I digress.

My cousin (or second cousin once removed?) sent me a book.  She is a missionary in Latin America.  My husband and I have been supporting her family’s work there for years.  They do medical missions, help get sex workers off the streets and reintegrated into society, teach at a school, and the like.  I love her, her husband, and her kids, but we are not of the same mind.  This doesn’t bother me.  We live in a big world with many opinions, many worldviews, and even shared opinions will have nuanced differences.  But this book…

Part of my mother’s family is in publishing–Christian publishing to be specific.  They are successful and wealthy.  There is namedropping–“So, I just went golfing with…” followed up with a famous Christian fiction writer’s name.  There is good cheer and good intentions.  Hugs and compliments piled on.  Christianese is spoken with ease and fluency in their company.  It is an Ivory Tower.  I don’t wish to deprive them of their experience of Christianity or Christian fellowship, but it simply isn’t mine.  Underneath the toothy smiles and pats on the back, there is exclusion and judgment–an unwillingness to stop telling the private jokes and stories that the newcomers don’t understand as well as an assumption that their Jesus looks like mine.  I digress again.

The book my cousin sent me is Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from The American Dream by David Platt.  Great title, right? James Truslow Adams, an American writer and historian, coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book Epic of America when he wrote that his American dream was:

that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

In other words, Adams’ American dream was not necessarily about possessions but about opportunity for all people regardless of their station in life.  This is a foreign and absurd idea to societies structured by a caste or class system such as Europe, particularly a century or more ago, where one is born into title and class.  In those societies, if one is born into a lower class, then one has no opportunity to change one’s status regardless of talent, intellectual powers, or giftedness.  In America, it might be, ideally, possible to achieve almost anything with hard work regardless of your starting point, or, as Adams puts it, “to attain to the fullest stature of which [you] are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what [you] are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”  It is necessary to say, however, that there are people in this country who will never have the opportunity to rise above their station regardless of their efforts due to socio-economic factors and injustices of all sorts more specifically race, gender, or sexual orientation.  Hard work is valuable, but in many cases it isn’t enough.  Opportunity is a blessing that often passes by deserving people.  What is remarkable about Adams’ American dream is that he was able to actualize such a notion in 1931.  The idea that a person’s destiny is not predetermined by their surname, bloodline, race, gender, or rank in society is uniquely American as is the idea that one can fail and begin again.  One cannot abandon this concept entirely because, I believe, there is something valuable in Adams’ dream.  It’s why people from all over the world continue to cross our borders.

As definitions go, I don’t have a problem with the original definition of the American Dream.  So, to use slang, what is up with this book, and why did it irk me? Let me give you a quote, one of Platt’s primary theses: “He (Jesus) was simply and boldly making it clear from the start that if you follow him, you abandon everything–your needs, your desires, even your family.” (p. 10) Pretty provocative, right? I actually put the book down and started crying after I read that sentence.  I cried because that statement represents what was fed to me by people in church leadership for the first 20 years of my life, and here I was reading it again.  It hit a nerve.  I’m not interested in Platt’s opinion though.  I want the truth.  What is God’s opinion? Is Platt’s declaration true? His book is a New York Times bestseller.

Platt based that statement on what has come to be called the “hard sayings” of Jesus in Luke 9.  I spent the better part of a day poring over Luke 9, reading commentary, examining the cultural context, and looking at the original Greek.  I think that Platt’s interpretation of Luke 9 is wrong, and I’ll tell you why.  If something is true, then it’s true all the time.  God is not capricious, changing His mind from one moment to the next.  If I were to take an orphaned and abused child into my home, nurture her physically by giving her the best food and clothing, the warmest blankets, the safest environment, nurture her intellectually by providing her with the best books and schooling, nurture her emotionally by providing her with healthy modeling, love, support, and competent and loving therapists, and nurture her spiritually by sharing my faith in a loving and consistent manner, revealing to her the nature and character of God through my own actions, through the beauty of nature, the feasts and holy days that we celebrate, and the telling of the stories of our ancestors on whose behalf God intervened for their benefit, in hopes that she would grow to become an independent woman who could enter the world restored and capable of contributing, rooted in the knowledge that she is loved, cherished, accepted, and truly understood, then what would happen if I were to then tell her that her needs, desires, and family don’t really matter should she choose a relationship with God in the person of Jesus? This thesis flies in the face of how Jesus described himself and his ministry.  Jesus himself described his purpose and ministry in Luke 4 when he said: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.”  Another translation says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because I am marked out by him to give good news to the poor; he has sent me to make well those who are broken-hearted; to say that the prisoners will be let go, and the blind will see, and to make the wounded free from their chains.”  If God then is concerned about the needs and desires of his people in this case, then he will always be concerned.  It will always be a priority.  This is why I don’t like this book.  It takes the relationship out of our faith, and without our relationship with God it’s all just “trying harder”.  It’s all just empty religion.

Now, Platt does make some important points, and I won’t throw it all away.  Adams’ definition of the American dream is good from one perspective, but if we as a nation are only interested in pursuing our own individual rise to success and prosperity through the ranks at the expense of others, then we have a huge problem.  The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are our brother’s keeper.  The wealthy have a responsibility to look after the poor and vulnerable.  We should not look away from those who are suffering.  You may think that you can do nothing, but you can.  That is one of Platt’s points, and it’s a good one.  He vilifies the rich and relies too heavily on a few biblical accounts which I think he misinterprets.  He is far too black and white in his exegesis and misses the Jewish cultural context to the point of being almost supercessionistic from which he draws his biblical accounts.  He is, however, heartbroken and full of compassion for the extraordinary amount of human suffering which he has seen, and he is calling for American Christians at large to make some fundamental changes so that the very wealthy American church can make an impact.  For this alone, I commend him and share his heart.  If you want to read a very detailed review of David Platt’s book which I found very helpful in my emotional state, you can find it here.

I don’t know why members of my family give me books.  Whenever I see them, I come home with books.  I don’t namedrop, speak Christianese, say “Bless you in it” all the time, and I swear from time to time.  They must think that I need more “ministry” or something because I don’t fit their mold of what a Christian looks like (most likely because I’m Jewish), and I’m not comfortable riding the elevator up to the top of that Ivory Tower.  I don’t like the view or the height.  Books like these do serve a purpose, I’ve decided.  They help me refine what I really believe because they challenge me, and I welcome the challenge.  I believe more than ever in a deeply personal God who is VERY concerned about my desires, needs, and family.  Alas, I struggled terribly after I read this book because it was so hard-hitting and, frankly, triggering.

Yesterday, I was feeling alone, questioning, and struggling.  My daughters are struggling, friends are struggling.  A friend of a friend died this week of renal cancer, and she left behind a husband and two small children.  I wonder what this man’s evening is like, sleeping alone in his bed where his wife used to be, tucking in his two little ones without her.  The shooting in Arizona is on my heart.  A little girl died.  One of my daughters is about the same age as that little girl.  A family is grieving and shocked.  There is an empty chair at their table.  There is an empty bed.  An empty car seat.  My mother called me a few weeks ago, and I haven’t spoken to her since 2009.  I go to bed at night thinking of these things, and it overwhelms me.  The grief.  So, I sat in my office yesterday listening to my daughter share her pain with me, silently praying.  There were no words really.  Just feelings.  I feel unseen, unnoticed, alone, and grieved.  And, I see an email come into my inbox from someone I haven’t seen in six years.  We used to go to the same church.  We used to be in the same small group.  This is the email:

This song has been going through my mind all day.  I haven’t thought of it for some time.  And you keep coming to mind, too.  I know how much you loved this song.

Anyways – since this song and you have been in my head today – I thought that maybe you needed a little blessing with it again.

The song he sent me was written by a songwriter whom I never met.  As the story goes, he woke up one morning, and the song was just there playing in his head over and over again.  The song is about the love of God the Father for you, for me, as individuals.  It’s a love song really, and I’ve posted it below.  God does indeed care about our needs, desires, and families, and I know that God used this long lost friend to tell me what I so need to hear.  Yes, the world is falling apart.  AIDS orphans in Africa, refugees, the Middle East peace process, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saber rattling in Iran, cancer, unspeakable poverty, the crushing financial crisis in Ireland, Greece, and other small European countries, our own country’s recession, human trafficking, not to mention every other possible form of human pain, but restoration starts with you and me.  If you don’t know how loved and valuable you are, how precious you are, how worthwhile you are,  or that God would leave the entire flock and pursue the one lost sheep, you or me, then how can you love your neighbor? How will you be effective in a world overwhelmed with death, disease, pain, and brokenness if your own brokenness, woundedness, and pain isn’t first tended to and healed? And, if you haven’t received the immense love of God, how could you ever love him back?

The Father Loves You

Don’t you know the Father loves you . . .

Don’t you know how much He cares . . .

Don’t you know He’s thinking of you . . .

Don’t you know He sees you there.

He sees right into every part of you . . .

He sees right in the very heart of you . . .

He loves you like no other could . . .

He loves you like no other would.

Don’t you know the Father loves you . . .

Don’t you know how much He cares (He really cares) . . .

Don’t you know He’s thinking of you . . .

Don’t you know He sees you there.

He knows the pain the hurt that you’ve been through . . .

He came to love you and to rescue you . . .

He loves you like no other could . . .

He loves you like no other would.

He sees right into every part of you . . .

He sees right in the very heart of you . . .

He loves you like no other could . . .

He loves you like no other would.

No one loves you like He loves you . . .

Yes, no one loves you like He loves you . . .

No one loves you like He loves you – He really loves you . . .

No one loves you like He loves you.

He’s holding your heart, He’s holding your heart . . .

And He won’t let you go, no He won’t let you go.

Outer Limits and Beyond

I have something a bit controversial to discuss in order that I might make my point so buckle up if you are easily offended or sensitive.  I came across a ministry founded by Robert and Susan Irwin called Become One Flesh.  They have a website–becomeoneflesh.com, and they offer e-books relating to all manner of topics relating to sexual intimacy in the context of marriage.  I have found their website and e-books quite informative and helpful, and I recommend them wholeheartedly.  They are not squeamish in the least about the body, sexuality, and how men and women relate sexually.  It’s rather refreshing particularly since they are Christians.  Mr. Irwin recently wrote a book about the male “G-spot”.  Apparently, he received many requests for more information from both husbands and wives who are looking to experience greater intimacy and pleasure in their marriages, and they specifically asked for information related to prostate stimulation.   Upon the publication of this book, Mr. Irwin received phone calls from various Evangelical pastors who stated that they could not endorse this particular book because it was offensive or even “gay” or “homosexual” because prostate stimulation does involve anal penetration.  Mind you, it would be a wife who would be sexually stimulating and pleasuring her husband, not a gay lover, but that did not matter.  I subscribe to Mr. Irwin’s emails, and this is what he said:

“It’s Robert Irwin of BecomeOneFlesh.com.  And I wanted to apologize for something.  Yesterday, I sent you an email introducing the “Pre Launch” of my newest book, Ultimate Male Pleasure, and I may have been a tiny bit too direct in part of the email.  In the  P.S. I said:  “This is the book that has already gotten me into “hot water” with some of the supposed “authorities” on what’s okay and not relative (sic) to Christian sexual activity. You have been warned. Although this book has the power to rock your sexual life like nothing else not everyone will be “okay” with its subject matter. So, please don’t send me any emails about how shocked you are by this book. Like all of my other resources, if I wasn’t 100% positive that everything in the book was powerful, effective AND morally “okay,” I wouldn’t have written the book in the first place.”

That may have been a bit “strong”.  I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone.  It could have been worded differently. But, it was written while I was still upset about a phone conversation I had just had with a certain “Christian authority” that had been trying to convince me to not (sic) release Ultimate Male Pleasure.  I should have cooled off a bit before finishing the email.  That said, here’s what he was telling me (basically), “Look, although we both agree that there is nothing in Scripture that would keep Christian husbands from exploring their ‘Male G Spot,’ you still shouldn’t release this book…Other “authorities” will NEVER support you, publicly.  And, why bother? Most couples don’t really care about exploring ‘the outer limits’ of sexuality within their marriage.  They just want you to tell them that they don’t need to feel guilty about having normal, ‘average’ sex…”

Geesh…I was pretty upset even though I know he was mostly just stating “the facts.”  I’ve already received some “heat” from other supposed “authorities” because they feel they must “tow the party line” (i.e. Although male prostate stimulation is, technically, the only way to achieve the highest levels of male sexual pleasure, it is just TOO DIFFICULT to deal with all of the  ASSUMPTIONS that many people make about it being somehow “wrong” or “gay.” ).  And, frankly, even with my beloved subscribers, only a small  percentage are truly committed to exploring the outer limits of what is possible in their marriage bed.  But, you know what? None of that matters! None of it! Why? Because I have a mission. A mission to “do my job” to the best of my ability.  And,  “my job” is to tell you EVERYTHING that could possibly make your married sex life better.  And, I have only managed to achieve that mission, to any level, so far, by being HONEST with you.  Frankly, I don’t get how “Christian authorities” justify telling “half-truths” about  Christian sex.  I just can’t do it.  So, as you know, I went ahead and released Ultimate Male Pleasure, because I’ve received thousands of requests from husbands and wives to expand on those parts of our resources that (briefly) dealt with this subject.  know “the facts” about what Scripture says on the matter.  I’ve prayed about it and feel that it was the right thing to do.  And, I am tired of “holding back” when men and women ask me for the “ultimate” secrets to male pleasure and I avoid this subject just because it’s “easier” to not (sic) deal with the surrounding ASSUMPTIONS.  So although I DO apologize to those that felt my “P.S.” was a little too “strong”I am proud of Ultimate Male Pleasure and, now, will direct readers to it when they want “the whole story” on male sexual pleasure and it WILL remain in our library.”

The point of my post is not to discuss male prostate stimulation.  I want to discuss the attitude that Mr. Irwin faced before he released his book, Ultimate Male Pleasure.  This attitude is pervasive, and you will find it everywhere particularly among Christians.  It’s a curious phenomenon because it’s really the last place it belongs.  I’ll give you a few examples that are less uncomfortable.  When I was 19 years-old, I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder, but as is often the case with seizure disorders, witnessing and documenting seizures can be tricky.  So, I was admitted to a prestigious hospital with a well-known “epilepsy center” in New York City.  There was nothing prestigious about the week-long experience.  It was like a chapter out of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest with deceptive psychiatrists and creepy neurologists.  At the end of my stay, one of the mustachioed psychiatrists looked me in the eye and said, “You are a pretty girl.  That ought to be enough for you.”  Yes, yes, atta girl! Go out into the world, and be pretty.  Settle for the hand you’ve been dealt, and desire nothing more.  Mediocrity.  Pain.  Desolation.  Sickness.  If that’s your lot in life, it’s not a lot, but it’s your life!

Years later after the birth of one of my daughters, I couldn’t lose 18 pounds of baby weight.  I was out with a friend one evening lamenting my situation, feeling oafish and fat, longing to wear my “normal” clothes rather than “stretchy” pants.  Oh, the drama of a post-partum woman struggling to lose weight.  It’s hard.  My friend who happened to be stunningly gorgeous (I always felt like she should wear a T-Shirt that said, “I’m with Frumpy the Hausfrau” when we went out together) looked me in the eye, and said, “Maybe you ought to just accept the fact that your body is going to look like this now.  Maybe you’re never going to lose that weight.”  I was shocked.  Was she serious? I was going to look like a deflated puffer fish for the rest of my life? I was supposed to settle for my new “look”? Once again, this should be enough for me.  Get used to it.  The self-consciousness.  The feelings of otherness.  The unfamiliar body looking back at me in the mirror.  Feeling completely unattractive to my husband not to mention the disappearance of my libido.  Just settle into it.

Over the past few weeks, months, and years, I have been told that my quest for wholeness and healing in all its forms is unrealistic.  The people who are implying this the most are people who claim to be followers of Jesus.  I’m not picking on the Christians, but I do want to make a point.  Of all the people on the planet who ought to have the most hope, the most joy, the most winsome good cheer, and the least judgment and dread, it really ought to be us–followers and lovers of Jesus.  He promises redemption and restoration, and He didn’t say that we had to wait until Heaven to experience it.  He said that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1).  Do you know what that means? Imagine a place and a state of being where every promise and intention that God, who is the source of all love and everything that is good, ever made, declared, and created came to pass.  This means complete healing, wholeness, restoration, reconciliation, and eradication of death in all its forms.  When Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand, He was declaring that there was divine power to bring forth that kingdom into our world and our lives.  That, my friends, is exceedingly good news! So, why would any of us tell another person to settle for anything less than that?

I do realize that there is a “not yet” quality to the nature of the Kingdom of God.  We are experiencing a foretaste of the banquet that is to come, but why should we not feast on the appetizers of God’s character–His goodness, His kindness, His mercy, His grace, His power to heal and restore, His love and His forgiveness? Why settle for crumbs when there are great, heaping spoonfuls to be savored?

I am telling you that the attitude of the pastor that told Mr. Irwin to withhold the release of his book is harmful to all people because it is contrary to the very nature and character of God.  Do you honestly believe that God gave us sex so that we could experience it in all its…”average-ness”? We have not been called to settle for suffering or mediocrity.  We have not been called to settle for just being pretty or overweight or lonely or afraid or isolated or traumatized or desolate or desperate or grieved or empty or dissatisfied.  If there are “outer limits” to be enjoyed in the marriage bed, then I know that there are “outer limits” to be explored in our lives.  Your healing and wholeness in every area of your life is not an option.  It is a right.  Be it a quest to overcome past abuse and enjoy mind-blowing and erotic sex with your spouse or a desire to lose weight and be healthy or a desire to overcome social anxiety or a desire to reach a previously unattainable goal or fulfill a dream, do not settle for your “lot in life”  because someone once said you should particularly if they said so in God’s name.  Pursue the life for which you were created because you are made in the image of a God who is infinitely good, loving and powerful, and because your pursuit of wholeness is honorable and courageous not to mention adventurous and exciting.  It might be fraught with pain and uncertainty, but all grand adventures are.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten–the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm–my great army that I sent among you.”  Joel 2:25