Looking In From the Outside

It probably would have been nothing to anyone else. Just words, sounds…something somebody else was involved in and had no personal bearing whatsoever.

But not for me.

For me, it was a return to a past I’ve tried hard to put behind me; a return to feelings, thoughts and experiences that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy; a return to thoughts about myself that I have fought tooth and nail to destroy.

And all I did was walk outside my door.

On a recent, hot summer night I walked to my car to go to the grocery store and I’d heard it.

The shouts.

The cries and whimpers.

The undeniable sound of someone being hit and someone else pursuing them

I was paralyzed.

Do I do something for this person I don’t know?

I heard my mind tell me to get involved but my heart to stay away. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just a quick argument and it will end.

And yet, an hour later, when I’d returned from the store, it was still going on

I felt my mind shutting down, trying to create the safe space in which I had lived for so long in preparation for the battle to come to me.

It was probably the wrong decision, but I turned away. I went inside and tried to pretend I hadn’t heard what I did or at least convince myself it was nothing. I told nobody and worked with every ounce of strength in me to pretend that the evening was normal and for all intents and purposes it was.

Except that my whole body shook and I couldn’t sleep that night. I started blankly at the television hoping a silly comedy would take me someplace else. When that didn’t happen, I picked up my book – the one place I could always escape when I was young, but even that failed to help turn off the echoes I my head. No, I couldn’t hear the fight anymore, but that didn’t mean anything. In my mind, I was right back where I had been so many times before.

The next morning brought bright sunshine and no sign of any damage. Anyone else would never have known there had been shouts, screams, and beatings going on and I was able to start moving toward believing it was a one time thing.

But then I came home from work only to be confronted by the same sounds only louder, more aggressive this time. I couldn’t turn away; I couldn’t pretend it was nothing because in that moment, I was the neighbor across the street from my mothers house growing up; I was that person walking along the canal that turned a blind eye to the screams and cries I heard because it wasn’t my business.

I couldn’t do it.

The police were called.

But for me, the drama  wasn’t over.

You see, I have moved back to the neighborhood where a majority of the abuse in my life occurred and while I have been able to move past those things through the years, being confronted by those unforgettable sounds in the same place opened a window to look at those same actions from a new perspective.

I had hoped that, were I to be given a chance to do this in my adulthood, I would have been more successful in seeing things more objectively but, at least on these evenings, this was not the case.

As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, watching the police talk to the couple to decide what needed to be done, I felt connected to the abused person. On the one hand, I could feel the sense of relief knowing she had the opportunity to get away and find someplace safe, But on the other hand, I felt the sense of fear this woman may be feeling about the potential repercussions she would face when they returned to the home, which she most certainly would.

I also felt unsubstantiated fear for myself. Would the abuser know that it was me that put these things in motion? Would he come after me next? I suddenly saw myself walking the way I did in my childhood – head down, eyes seeing only the concrete in hopes that I could make myself as inconspicuous as possible.

Over the course of several days, in many ways I returned to who I was as an abused child. The sense of shame for who I was, the things I have done and have been done to me, and the way those things have undeniably altered who I am was almost unbearable. I felt myself retreating even further, rebuilding walls I had worked so hard to tear down.

The thing is, I know that I am safe. My neighborhood has no power over me and being there has, as I’ve said before, brought some level of healing to old wounds. But being able to see these actions from the outside also opened my eyes to how what these things may have looked like to the neighbors that surrounded me as a child.

Were they equally horrified or did they pretend not to hear?

Did they cry for me or assume it was nothing?

I sincerely hope that they were not as affected as I was – that they were not thrown into a tail spin that affected work, personal relationships and sleep just because they heard violent argument after violent argument.

But I also cannot help but wonder for the millionth time in my life why they didn’t do anything to help. There were no knocks on the door from kind neighbors or police; there were no teachers reaching out to social services nor were there friends’ parents reaching out to offer support or refuge.

And it made me hurt all over again.

To feel alone and worthless.

Now before you go getting all up in arms about the fact that God was there and He is the reason I survived, believe me, I am aware. I know for a fact that He is the reason I have been able to become the woman I am; that I was able to live and not become a lifelong victim and for this I am more grateful than I can express.

But even with this knowledge, I can say for certainty that have no desire to look in from the outside at any more of the experiences that created me. Some things are best left unexamined from that perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

We Have A Choice

0c990678e5433d22f334f4ac921c1e98Wow! That escalated quickly, right?

This election season was so full of hatred and vitriol that was spewed back and forth, it’s no wonder our entire nation seems to be suffering from PTSD in its wake.

As we all know, however, the end of the election did nothing to actually stem the hatred, but rather has given fuel to it. Marches, riots and random beatings are rampant. What is odd – at least to me – is the side that professes to want peace and unity is the side that is promoting and engaging in the violence. This is not only contrary to everything they profess to believe in, but is doing nothing to solve the problem.

The more information I get about the election itself, the more disheartened I am by the entire thing. I am shocked that this outrage exists when only 51% of registered voters actually participated in the election.

I am heartbroken by the level of anger and hatred that is continuing on my Facebook feed by members of the losing party even though their chosen candidate has been nothing but gracious in her concession speeches and posts.

Perhaps most of all, I am saddened by the fact that the information that people are a information-quotes-2majority of people participating in this violent behavior are basing their actions on the things they read on the internet and the sound bites they have been given by the media – an entity that is far from unbiased and fair in it’s depiction of any of the candidates that participated in this election.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the media thrives on fear. They seek out the frightening and horrifying items that happen around us rather than those things that are positive and loving. They incite fear of our neighbors, our leaders, and our country as a whole. I’m sure there are many of you who are shouting at the screen now, angrily saying that the news provides information that we need to know to keep ourselves safe and protected from the horrific world around us. I get it. I’m all for information, but all information must be vetted. We must understand the biases of the given source and do our own research to understand fully what is happening rather than taking the 30-second tidbits of information that are given to us from others.

The problem isn’t that we aren’t intelligent or learned enough to vet the information given to us, but rather that the information given to us is so targeted to enhance our fears that we become paralyzed by fear, unable to do our research because we are afraid of what we will find.

e4c1c4cdbf06a1e74a77ee18e6b48b88The reality is that fear, not hatred, is the opposite of love. Fear drove Adam and Eve to hide from God in the garden of Eden and fear drives us each into hiding from one another because, ironically, hiding makes us feel safer. As I watch the coverage and read about the outcries of those angry about the election results, all I hear are fears of what may come with the new presidency. We don’t actually know what will happen, but are acting out in fear of what could possibly happen – fear of losing healthcare, fear of losing freedoms, fear of losing money, fear of being seen differently or being treated differently because of who we are.

But we have a choice to act differently.

We could – and are called, as members of faith – to choose to act in love instead.

05-22-15-better-together-love-drives-out-the-fear-in-your-relationships_miniChoosing to act in love toward one another doesn’t mean that we think the same way or that the differences we have are wiped clean. It just means that we allow God to direct our actions instead of allowing our human nature to get in the way.

Scripture tells us that love bears ALL things and that we are called to love ALL people. Neither of these statements means that we are to love only those things and people we like and believe in. Anyone can do that. We as members of faith communities – Christian and otherwise  – are called to love even those with whom we significant issue.

Let me give you a “for example.”

Recently, a member of my family moved back to town. He is a person that abused me sexually, verbally, and physically. There are many in my life that told me I should have nothing to do with him; that I should not even be speaking to him let alone have a relationship with him. I get it. I really do. Loving this person is painful and challenging. Spending time with him brings back memories I don’t wish to recall. It would definitely be easier for me to slam that door and nail it shut so I never have to go down that path again, but the thing is that in order to be the person God desires me to be, I don’t really have that option.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are strict boundaries and safety nets that are in place and need to remain. Being loving doesn’t mean I put myself in harm’s way, but if I am to be a truly Godly woman, I am called to love this person and all persons who God places in my path not because of who they are or who I am but because of who GOD is.

information-quotes-2Loving those around us is not a consumer event. It’s not about what each of us gets as a result of the activity. To truly love someone the way God intends us to means that we don’t get the luxury of keeping score or holding back because it feels better or is more convenient. We as people of faith must be willing to stand as witnesses and participants in loving the way God intends us to love because we are the only ones who can show others the way to peace and the way to joy.

The bottom line is this. God is love. Period. Not God is love except….or God is love but….no. God is love. End of sentence.

In this time of uncertainty and change, being God to our hurting world is even more important that it has ever been.

Love must be at the center of all of our actions if we are to move forward. We can’t say, “yeah, but look at what he/she said or did! How can I love them?” That is not love.

Love is being merciful and generous despite what the other person said or did. This is how God is able to love us despite the despicable things we say and do and it is this unconditional love that we are called to show one another.

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Bump in the Night

hide-under-bedThe crash from the apartment upstairs shook my ceiling and bolted me awake, heart thumping and sheet clutched to my chest.

The clock on my bedside table read 2:27 A.M.

I sat in the dark trying to slow my heart and sharpen my ears to listen to new sounds, new indications of what was going on above me. Was there an argument? A break in? My mind immediately went to the worst scenarios and started planning for how to assist.

A voice raised and I heard another bang!

My breathing became more shallow to try to make sure my presence wasn’t heard. Silly, of course, since I was one floor down and there no indication anyone was concerned about either disturbing me let alone worried if I heard their activity.

As I closed my eyes and waited, I heard raised voices…

…and then laughter.

All is well. Just some 20-somethings screwing around after a night at the clubs.

And yet, for me, sleep would likely not come for the rest of the night. I was awake with my demons again. Sure, I would likely doze for the next few hours, but my “spidey” senses had been sparked into action.

Now I realize my childhood was not the stuff of horror stories. I wasn’t raised in the inner city, leery of gunshots and drug dealers at every corner. Nor was I beaten so severely I was hospitalized for my injuries or worse yet, forced to live with broken bones to hide the abuse. Compared to that, my life was idyllic, and yet to this day I suffer from PTSD issues stemming from nights like this when the loud bangs led to screaming, throwing of drink tumblers shattered against the wall, glass shards embedded in the wall for years to come and me, cowering in my bedroom praying that the battles outside of my door would stay there.

Sometimes these things ended as quickly as they began. Drunken voices trailed off down the hall as my mother and stepfather made their way to the bedroom to sleep off some of the bourbon from the day. But sometimes the rage came through my door, dragging me from my bed to take care of some forgotten chore or another. Rarer still, but even more frightening,the door would open quietly, softly, the figure of a man – someone my mother trusted and confided in –  would enter to create nightmares in a completely different way.

ptsd-cloudTo this day, despite the years of therapy and work, raised voices make my heart stop in fear. I know in my head that a raised voice doesn’t lead to crisis; that some people just talk loudly out of necessity or habit, but in my heart still resides that irrational place; that basic instinct that has been honed by the fight or flight response over the years and is not convinced the danger has passed. Part of the reason is that despite all of this work, I still managed to marry two me who, in their own ways, helped reinforce those feelings of fear and trepidation. Though I managed to escape the place where my nightmares began, I spent years finding others who would use manipulation, lies and emotional abuse to keep me off balance.

So here I am, a blogger professing faith and confidence in the Lord and in His grace and mercy still haunted by decades-old memories that still have power over me in moments like this. Why is this? Shouldn’t I, as a person of faith, feel secure in the grace, mercy and power of my Lord? Certainly those who don’t believe think that should be the case.

I understand. I have fought this battle for a long time and have heard many atheists angrily shout their belief that the fact that these things happened to me in the first place was absolute proof that there is no god; that a loving god, like the one I profess to believe in, would not allow his children to suffer.

Perhaps they’re right.

But I don’t think so.

As the news blatantly proclaims every moment of every day, nobody is saved from suffering. From the youngest to the oldest of us, the headlines scream the horrible things men and women are able to do to one another out of greed, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or pure evil. But the thing is, God never said that we wouldn’t suffer. Even Jesus, who lived a sinless life and was God had to suffer. He suffered temptation, starvation and dehydration for 40 days in the desert, suffered criticism and anguish throughout his ministry, suffered the loss of friends and family due to illness, injury and abandonment, and then suffered untold fear, pain and physical pain at the end of His life. Jesus came to this earth so that He could experience sufferings from our human perspective in order to give us a true representation that with faith, all suffering could be conquered, not that with faith we would be saved from suffering.

See the difference there?

 

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Faith provides each one of us the ability to call upon the Lord and receive His peace in times of fear and strive.  Even in those dark nights when I am awakened by every day sounds that remind me of not-so-ordinary circumstances, my prayers for peace are answered without question.

Perhaps more significantly, unlike some people that may shame us for our fears and insecurities urging us to “get over it” or “move on”, God doesn’t mock  or shame us for being afraid of the things in our lives that we find challenging. In my life, God doesn’t ignore my cries for peace due to my inability to dismiss those noises for the innocent things that they are. He loves me, understands my fear and walks with me through it.

This, my friends, is just a tiny glimpse into the peace Jesus promised His believers; the peace that passes all understanding.

God doesn’t need to know why we need comfort because He isn’t going to try to explain away our feelings of distress or shame us out of expressing it. Our God readily provides peace to us not only because He already knows what our struggles are, but also because He doesn’t need to know why. We ask and He provides.

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Even more importantly, God also gives us the courage to head into the fearful circumstances of our lives. He is that still small voice in our heads and hearts that tells us that we can move forward despite the seemingly insurmountable odds. He does not promise we will always win because the reality is that we won’t. What He does promise is that when we reach out in faith and ask, He will provide the peace in our heart to acknowledge the fear, the courage and strength of character to try despite the understanding that we may fail, and the ability to reach out in faith when there is no visible rope to grab on to.

Here’s to hoping that if you, like me, have demons that go bump in the night, you, too, have the faith to reach out for peace and courage.

A Different Type of Independence

635954034872811688592040105_heart-rate-monitorI was 10 years old the first time someone saved my life.

My parents had recently divorced, my brother was no longer living with my mom and I and when he visited, the encounters were filled with anger and drunkenness from my mother’s side and anger and fear from my brother and my side (at least, I assume he was at least a little bit scared, but maybe I have projected that onto him all these years since).

My mom and I had moved to a new house where I was the new kid in school. I was awkward and shy, didn’t know anyone and had no idea how to fit in.

I needed an escape.

The small round tablets tasted sweet on my tongue as I swallowed handful after handful, waiting for the ache in my heart to disappear.

Like many young people who attempt suicide, death wasn’t really a concept I fully grasped and therefore not really what I wanted. I just wanted the soul-sucking ache in my heart to stop for just a little while.

I awoke under huge, glaring lights with what appeared to be dozens of people surrounding me, but it was likely only 3 or 4. I had overdosed and had fallen into a coma. I was in the hospital having undergone stomach pumping and a spinal tap. I was pelted with questions from every direction.

Why did I take the pills?

Had my brother made me take them?

What were they?

Where did I get them?

I did my best to answer all of the questions but trying to put my brokenness into words at the ripe old age of 10 was more than I knew how to do. I yearned for someone to see past the action itself and try to understand the aching of my heart; to see me and try to help.

Two people did.

Or maybe it was just one but he dragged his partner along.

I wish I remembered their names, but it, along with many other tidbits of my life has fallen away. But I do know that they were the drivers of the ambulance that carried me from one hospital to another (and suffered a kick to the groin in thanks for giving me a spinal tap). lifebuzz-8f27ab3a564f399b93978d77f25fef10-limit_2000

They came to visit me several times while I recovered in the hospital and somehow with their presence in my room, I felt they understood and my heart broke when they came to say their last goodbye.

I was 15 when I was saved once again.

I had been at rehearsal for a play – my first.

We had worked endlessly to perfect a dance number for the opening of Carnival and I was finally dropped off at home around midnight.

I recall clearly that the person who dropped me off told me she didn’t want to leave me at my house; that something was wrong. It was no secret that things at my house were often sketchy, but this was different. The entire look of the house was dark, foreboding.

I got out of the car telling my friend she could leave. Whatever was going to happen needed to happen.

Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure that my answer would have been the same.

The normal drunkenness which typically met me when I returned brought with it more violence this night than it ever had before. Had the chair I sat in not broken, I likely would not have survived the events that transpired.

Two days later, after telling my high school boyfriend of the terrible events, he and a dozen or so of his closest friends piled into 6 cars to drive me to my mother’s house and move me out.

To say I was terrified would be an understatement of tremendous proportion. I knew the potential violence that awaited me and warned every person that offered to help. I gave them strict orders to run if I said to and to not look back.

They got me out.

The move and the days that followed were so tremendously traumatic, I honestly do not know if I ever thanked the people who I believe helped to save my life that night.

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I was 39 the last time I was saved.

My marriage had ended and, as I’ve said before, I had nothing. A very loving and generous couple from the church with which I sang offered me their pool house to live in while I got my feet on the ground. Their kindness was a salve to my wounded heart and mind. I know that I was likely not the best tenant they had ever had and I am certain that I have never fully expressed my thanks in way that would let them know how truly grateful I am for their assistance.

All of these people – those that I knew and those I didn’t – sacrificially gave me something that nobody else could offer.

They gave me independence.

Independence from fear, from abuse, from homelessness and starvation.

Each and every one of them has a piece of my heart that will never be replaced by another. They were all physical representations of God’s love for me at those specific times and there is no way I can ever possibly repay them, so instead I choose to take this moment to express my gratitude.

Thank you for your sacrifices – monetary and otherwis – which you freely gave with no expectation of return.

For those known and unknown,thank you for believing I was worth saving and for working so hard to do so. Because you believed in me, I was able to believe a little bit as well.

Most of all, thank you for hearing that voice of God inside your hearts and heeding it so I could grow to become the person I am today. I realize I am far from “finished”, but your gifts were and continue to be blessings I carry forward with every opportunity.

I pray that as we enter into this celebration of the liberty of our country each of you know that I would gladly light up the sky with fireworks if it would give you a glimpse into my overflowing heart. Since I cannot do that, please think of me when you see those beautiful sparks fly and know that each and every one of them represents just a piece of the gratitude that I have for each of you.

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