It’s a Disaster but Everything’s Perfect. I Guess

 

So, two weeks ago today I fell on an icy driveway and broke my ankle. It was classic; my foot started to slip on the ice, hit dry gravel and stopped. I continued my fall, my foot did not. Just like in every other broken ankle story you’ve ever been told, I heard the crunch of breaking bones, screamed and went into shock. There was no safe way to move me and both my oldest son and my husband have their own issues with balance/stability, so an icy pile-up nightmare was a real danger. So there was nothing to do but call an ambulance.

I live outside of town so it took a solid 15-20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. During which time, all I could do is sit there. And try not to think about yet another set of medical bills we can’t afford. (I’ve lost track of how many times the local hospital has sued us.) Definitely try not to think about the implications of being unable to drive and largely immobile for any extended period of time. In a household of 7. Or about how much pain I was going to be in once the shock wore off. I’ve tapped out all my pain tolerance over the last few years.

And as I’m sitting there trying to figure out how to feel and think about all this, I had the strongest sense of God saying to me, “it’s ok. This is exactly where you’re supposed to be. Everything’s perfect and exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” Like the Spirit was pleased that I was sitting in the snow on a hill overlooking the field next to my house on a cold December morning with a broken ankle. I reminded myself that I was in shock. Obviously a broken ankle is pretty incompatible with perfect. But at the same time, I couldn’t seem to muster up any panic, anger or despair over the situation. I felt pretty at peace actually.

The ambulance finally arrived and with some amount of difficulty they got my fat ass into the back. I looked up at the clock above the doors right after they closed them and kind of stared at it, bemused. It was 11:11. I’ve had a weird thing with repeating and sequential numbers going on around me for a while now. It happens so often, in such unexpected ways that it’s become a joke in our family. When I saw that, I kind of laughed and decided that I might as well accept that the universe is in charge and everything’s exactly how it’s supposed to be somehow.

I had surgery on my ankle last Friday to put in a plate and several screws. I don’t know if you know this – but when they screw things into your bones, it hurts. Of course it hurt before surgery too, so it’s been a couple of weeks of pain and pain killers. Neither of which are good for writing. Or moving. Or being nice to stupid people on social media.

Thankfully I am being well cared for, children are still putting on clean, weather appropriate clothing every morning and going to sleep on clean sheets every night. Everyone is being fed. Even if it is an endless stream of dad’s pasta dishes. (I would be perfectly happy to never eat pasta again in my life. It’s just me.) So I have nothing more to complain about. I just wish I had a fast-forward button to skip over the next couple of months.

But I keep coming back to this assurance that everything is exactly how it needs to be, regardless of what it looks like. And I keep thinking that it’s probably a pretty apt analogy for what’s going on in our country right now. I wasn’t nearly as shocked by Trump’s election as everyone else was. I’ve spent too much time around too many different kinds of people not to recognize the power of appealing to people’s most base instincts, peddling ignorance and putting on a good show. I believe that we are all made in God’s own image, but I also know that a lot of people have layered a seriously flawed value system, a stunning lack of self-awareness and a markedly shallow relationship with reality over the top of their true identity. So I was irate at Trump’s win (I still am), but not too shocked.

But the whole time, I’ve also had this sense of peace underneath. Like everything we can see in the material world is about as big a disaster as it can be without tipping over into actual mass violence. But the Spirit keeps saying, “oh, this is perfect. Everything’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” And just like with my ankle, I don’t think there’s any rescue or miracle coming to fix everything; just a long, hard trudge of doing what needs to be done to deal with the situation. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that we have what it takes to walk from here in the middle of disaster to the other side of healing and rehabilitation. We’d rather not have to. We’d rather just carry on without the disruption, the pain and the difficulty. But that’s not an option. So we’ll do what we need to do.

I have often said that keeping faith in my fellow man has been the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. I genuinely like people, but I also hold most of us in low regard. Some days I’m down right misanthropic. People are idiots. And stupid to boot. Yet, I do keep faith. Not because of the greatness of humans, but because I know that the same God who created this body of mine with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct itself created human nature as well. And I trust that God also created human beings with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct ourselves at the spiritual and cultural levels as well. Sure, this capacity hasn’t always gotten the job done, but we do learn. 100 years ago, without surgery, my ankle wouldn’t have healed itself to the point of restoration. We do need to pitch in for best results. It’s a co-operative venture between us and God.

In the end, I suspect that Trump’s election will prove to be the societal equivalent of re-breaking an improperly set bone. Right now all we can see is the break with the sharp jagged edge of a bone pushing up against the skin, threatening to break it. But, if those of us who know a broken bone when we see one put one foot in front of the other, fight through the challenges, do what is right and what needs to be done, I think we’ll be OK. Although I still wish that fast-forward button were real. 😉

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Me and That Judging Thing

I’ve written a couple of times about what I call “the hardest, best spiritual discipline I’ve ever tried” – that being not judging. Now, this is not something that came naturally to me, to say the least. I’ve always been pretty tolerant and laid-back, but let’s face it; some people are idiots. Some situations are so ridiculous that you pretty much have to be in a permanently drug-addled state not to look at them and say, “really? WTF is wrong with you people?” There’s a reason that, despite Jesus’ rather point-blank instructions, even the most devoted Christians equivocate when it comes to not judging others.

But, as I explained before, I decided a couple of years ago to treat Jesus’ instruction as a spiritual discipline – something I do out of faithfulness, whether I want to or not, even when I have every reason not to and when it seems pointless. Far from the claims of those who think that not judging is easy, not judging is extraordinarily hard. Most of us can’t even manage it while sitting in traffic.

So it’s been a real struggle to let go of my urge to judge and just be open to learning and loving instead. Often it’s something that I have to turn to God in prayer in order to accomplish. But slowly and surely, God has used my willingness to withhold judgment to teach me about his judgment.

You see, our judgment is easy. It comes automatically and is so obvious that any fool can learn it. Some things are right and some things are wrong. My 5 year old knows it. Our judgment and our ability to point out right and wrong hardly need to be taught, they come so easily to us. As attached as we are to our human judgments, they really are no more useful or impressive than being able to stick out your tongue and spit.

By withholding judgment, I open the door to allowing God to show me how his judgment works. And his judgment is a much more complicated affair than mine, it turns out. As God says to Samuel, “people look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God knows what a heart has been through better than the owner of that heart does. God also knows the role that a person has to play in the grand scheme of things. We do not. God knows both the harm done and the unexpected opportunities created by even the worst actions.

We are told not to judge, it turns out, because we simply are not capable of it. No matter how easy, obvious and even necessary our judgment seems to us. It turns out that the sheer volume of information and complexity that God knows and understands simply boggles the mind. These days, when the urge to judge hits me, I find myself almost afraid. I still have my own opinions and feelings about things, but I no longer have any desire to turn them into declarations about another person that ought to carry any weight beyond the confines of my own skull.

And when God does judge, it is a mighty and a frightful thing. To stand before the one who made the universe and be faced with the reality of both the good and evil of one’s life and being carries with it such weight that I am astounded now that I ever even tried to do it.  The task of judging is so far beyond us and our limited abilities that if we understood just how inadequate we are to the task, we would feel like a person pulled off the street being asked to perform a life saving operation on an infant. Some things are too big even for me.

Except when it comes to this one person . . .

There is one person who I have held as exempt from my little “don’t judge” spiritual discipline. Who I have felt free to judge as good or bad and whose very life story I have been continually passing judgment on with abandon. And further, I have discovered that my ongoing judgment of this person and her life is very deeply entwined with my ongoing struggle to trust God and live fully in the fruits of the Spirit, as is my right and inheritance as a child of God.

It turns out that as much as I have learned by refraining from judging others, it really matters very little because all the while, I have continued to judge myself. I continue to look at my own life and declare it broken and in need of fixing. I am forever taking each event, each action, each need or pain or achievement and putting them on the little scales of my own mind to weigh in order to understand myself and my own life as either good or bad. Damaged beyond repair or a work in process. Irretrievably broken or inspirationally triumphant. And it’s been killing me.

Like a lot of us, I have this tendency to absorb the negative voices around me and other people’s negative judgments of my life. So in order to combat those voices, I developed a habit of creating a counter-narrative that highlights what is good about me and my life. The negative voices say that I am lazy, so I keep track of what I accomplish in order to prove to myself that it’s not true. Someone told me that I am indulgently wasting my life raising my kids rather than having a career, so I have a litany of reasons why simply being mom is enough. Someone told me that my life is a tragic, pitiful waste and, well, I’m still working out my defense against that one. But back and forth it goes. Sometimes the positive view wins for a moment, but it’s a continual battle. It never stops.

Recently I was talking to a friend and I had lapsed into my habitual defense of myself, against myself and my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to prove yourself.” And like truth sometimes does, it got through my defenses and hit me square in the heart. Because something very deep in me does feel like I have to prove myself. Like I do have to mount a defense against the accusations and judgments that come my way and get nurtured in my own head.

I mean, I know in my head that I am justified and don’t have to justify myself. I know that I don’t need to defend myself. But I want to. I want to prove that I am good enough. I want to prove that I am worthy. I want to prove that those who stand in judgment of me are wrong. Because I think I can. I think that if I don’t, I might get a technical pass because Jesus died for my sins, but really, we all know that it’s just a technicality. A pretty gloss covering what I’m afraid looks like an ugly reality. I don’t just want a pretty gloss; I want a beautiful reality. And I’m going to figure out a way to prove to myself, if not to anyone else, that me and my life are good enough. I am trying to do for myself what Jesus has already done for me. And unsurprisingly, my way has brought nothing but death to my spirit.

So now God is telling me to lay down my defenses. To stop trying to prove that I and my life are good and worthy enough – even to myself. To accept that even though it’s my own life and my own being, I really don’t have the ability or the right to make such a judgment. I do not know what God knows. I cannot see the full breath or meaning of my life anymore than I can see the full breath and meaning of someone else’s life.

What I am realizing, as I try to let go of my judgment of myself, is that when I am engaging in my back-and-forth accusation and defense of myself, is that I am denying what God has already said about me and my life. By continually judging myself, I am giving power to the lies and accusations the enemy has cast at me, no matter how often I raise a defense and convince myself that I am OK.

That’s why the battle never ends. I am viewing the value and worth of my life as an open question that I am responsible for answering. And it’s just not so. It wasn’t an open question on the day I was born and it’s not an open question today. As has so often been the case with me, I could see this in other people long before it even dawned on me to see it in myself. So now, I hope and pray and trust, that God will help me apply what I have learned from not judging others to myself.

Falling Together

Everyone I know is at least a little worried about me. And I can understand why. I have long moments when I am completely certain that I have lost my mind. I am continually sick and am in pain on a daily basis. I can barely keep up with my minimum standards that I rely on to keep my children from showing up at school looking and smelling like they might have spent the night in a homeless shelter.

At least the money situation’s looking up. My husband was laid off – again. So he’s using the severance package he got to pay the bills while he gets a new business he was asked to be CEO of off the ground. And without the costs of a daily commute, we’re even paying the utility’s down! Yay us!

Anyhow, I suppose I can understand why people are a bit worried about me. But I have the very distinct feeling of having just fallen together. Which really looks an awful lot like falling apart and is at least as scary.

Those of you who have been reading my writing for a while may have noticed an ongoing theme that I touch on from time to time which I believe the technical term for is “abject misery”. Or maybe you were fooled by the occasional off colored joke. I can be pretty good at hiding my true feelings sometimes. But you know, I may have given off a few telltale signs.

Anyhow, the truth is that what is alarming about me and my life right now are the same things that are letting me know that I’m coming together rather than apart. I’m finally safe enough to let go of the last threads of my sanity so that the mess that my life is can finally be redeemed. I’ve never been (or felt) this safe before. I’m finally able let myself fall apart, confident that God has placed people around me that I needed to survive and come out the other side as something other than a crazy bag lady and drug addict.

(Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

(Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

I’m sure that as time goes on, I’ll be able to share more about the process, which I learned a great deal from. But that’s like a book and I’m ready to tap out at about the 400 word mark here. However, I did discover what’s behind my super amazing ability to write with a child on my shoulders. It’s not nearly as amusing as that picture of Olivia sitting on my shoulders, unfortunately. It turns out that along with depression and a history of PTSD, I have a dissociative disorder that dates back to before I could talk.

Which is yet another reason I’m making the people around me nervous. Unlike other mental health problems, dissociative disorders don’t have any genetic basis. They are always the result of trauma and are almost certainly much more widespread than is commonly thought. Many people who have them are completely unaware of the fact that they are having problems.

The most severe type of dissociative disorder is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder. You know – 1 woman, 69 personalities. The very definition of shockingly crazy. Fortunately, I don’t have that. My various personalities all know they aren’t real and are serving in a strictly advisory capacity.

Looking back, I can see that I have a history of overcoming the problem and making it work somehow. Like being able to write with a kid on my shoulders. For me, the biggest problem is the way it affects my memory and attention when I am not in control of it. Like when I have to ask my kids to repeat themselves 4 or 5 times because Mommy can’t focus on what they are saying at all. Or when I send out a post without a title again.

A dissociative disorder is always alarming because of it’s roots in severe trauma and the fact that it’s associated with a lot of negative life outcomes, some of which I have experienced. But mostly, when I learned that I have a dissociative disorder, I felt like I was being given permission to own my cool super power.

Well, that’s what I feel like in between the times when I think I’ve lost my grip on reality and have to go to my husband for reassurances that our children aren’t in any danger of being removed from our care because of me. Which is progress. I spent most of July and August asking him how he can be so sure that none of the kids is laying in bed at night wishing they were dead. Which might alarm some people, I suppose. But it’s just part of the process. It’s an ugly process, but at least now I understand what’s happening.

At any rate, as I mentioned above, I was showing signs of this problem at an age when I could barely talk. Between the ages of 1 and 3, I frequently displayed signs of having withdrawn entirely from my surroundings and sometimes from my main caregiver for extended periods. This is usually considered the worst case scenario for a child who has experienced trauma – that he or she would withdraw so completely that they would come to find their own internal reality much more interesting and engaging than the world around them. (And yes, I know for a fact that some of you just thought, “well, it is!” And you’re right. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to get there. Severe childhood trauma is the wrong way.)

As it turns out, I seem to have withdrawn deep enough to find God in my inner most being. And he led me back out again. Then when I was ready, he lead me back into the abyss so I could take back all those bits and pieces of my heart that got left behind along the way. But I’ve shared about as much as I have time and energy for today.

So yes, I know that I am alarming people. I know that I’ve alarmed some of you readers as I occasionally hear from a few of you expressing concern. And I’m so glad for that. It lets me know that I am seen. That I’m no longer buried so deep that I feel invisible. And it reminds me that there are plenty of people who can respond to someone in pain with compassion. Which can be easy to lose sight of in this world. But I’m still here. And so are you.

And now let’s listen to a pretty song about how it’s all going to be alright. Because it is. And now I know it. Praise God.

If you’re falling together, these are for you, btw:

For When You Can’t Function

Getting By On Manna

How the Dark Night of the Soul Is Like a Juice Cleanse

Can God Do What He Says He Will Do?

You’re So Sensitive!

The Gift of Delayed Grief

Laughing At Inappropriate Things

Now, this may come as a shock to some of my long time readers, but sometimes I make jokes that people thing are inappropriate. Like maybe I throw out an animal sex joke in the middle of a discussion of scripture. Which I don’t think anyone should be offended at; animal sex jokes and scripture go waaaaaay back. But you know, there’s just no pleasing some people.

The thing is that this isn’t a problem that’s confined to my writing. I frequently laugh at things other people don’t think are funny. For example, I was once telling a couple of women the unbelievably hilarious story about my wedding. As I got to the part where my uncle got set on fire, I looked at one of the women and realized that she had started crying. Which both made me feel bad and made me laugh even harder. 

Conversely, I’ve been known to laugh at things people say, thinking they were joking only to discover that they were perfectly serious. And, you may not realize this if you have better social skills than I do, but that’s uncomfortable. Yeah.  Continue reading

Suffer Us Little Children

What parent doesn’t want to be a better parent to their kids?

And what Christian doesn’t desperately wish to be truly humble? (OK, almost no Christian actually wants any such thing, but play along with me here.)

What if I told you that I have the secret to attaining these two highly desirable goals all in one fell swoop? Well, I’d become a viral sensation and finally be discovered and recognized as the spiritual genius I am, of course!

Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Ah. Sorry, sometimes I just need a good laugh. (You may not find me so amusing, but from time to time I crack myself up. It always makes me happy to know that someone thinks I’m funny.)

Anyhow, in all seriousness, somewhere along the line I picked up a spiritual habit that actually does humble me far more than I want to be humbled. And it does make me a better, more compassionate parent. And I will share it with y’all in case any of you are stupid brave enough to want to follow in my footsteps and enjoy the horrible joyous spiritual misery benefits. (I’m feeling really up on life today. Can you tell?)

It goes back to something Jesus said:

“[Jesus] called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, the bible is filled with references to God as father. Which would make us children. But it’s often not a particularly helpful concept because we tend to want God the Father to be a grandiose, super hero version of dad rather than a real dad.

So we think that being dad, God is supposed to protect us from all harm. Which, as anyone who has ever watched Finding Nemo knows, doesn’t actually work in real life. And we want God to be the dad who makes sure his kids have everything they need. Which is no doubt what the father of every child who has ever gone to bed hungry wants as well. We want God to move heaven and earth, changing time and the rules of life itself if that’s what it takes to make things all better. Even though heaven, earth, time and life itself all work the way they do because God made them work that way, presumably for good reasons.

The truth is that we don’t actually want God the Father. We want God the personal body guard/Santa Claus/magician.

In real life, dads do provide and protect, to the best of their ability. But mostly they tell you to stop jumping on the couch. They spin you in circles and tickle you and make fart jokes. They refuse to give into your temper tantrums and tell you to wait your turn and share with your sister. They teach you how life works and strategies for coping with its difficulties. They tell you stories and give advice and keep your secrets.

Once you understand this, Jesus’ teaching that we must become like little children takes on a whole new flavor. In fact, what I’ve learned is that when God is not responding to me the way I think he should, it’s because he’s dealing with me like a real father. And I’m acting like a real child. Which is hard to see when I think I’m the righteous heroine in distress and God’s supposed to be my father cum super hero/Santa Claus/magician.

For example, this spring, I realized that my ongoing anger at God was very much like when my kids would attempt to bend me to their will by throwing the world’s biggest temper tantrum. And that much of my time in the desert was basically God using my own super easy, super effective parenting trick on me. He was just standing by, waiting out my hurt and anger so we could both start to move forward.

And it makes me appreciate how much God puts up with from me. How rarely he chastises me for my anger and instead offers comfort and understanding. He bends down to my height and listens to my howls of pain and outrage and tells me I’m going to be OK. Then when I won’t be comforted, he withdraws a little to wait until I’m ready.

But he never mocks me. He doesn’t tell me to shut up and show some appreciation for everything he does for me. He never holds the things I say in anger against me. He doesn’t walk away in disgust. He doesn’t yell at me or tell me to pull myself together and grow up. He doesn’t get angry at me for not showing proper respect. He just loves me through it until I figure things out for myself.

Realizing how much pain I am in when I throw my spiritual little kid temper tantrums, forces me to look at my children’s temper tantrums with much more compassion. I can see how ridiculous they are sometimes being. But even when they know they’re being kind of ridiculous, they are in so much pain that they just can’t help themselves.

So I do for them what God does for me. I don’t mock, ridicule or yell at them. I offer comfort and if they won’t take it, I just stand by and wait it out. I understand that as annoying as a temper tantrum throwing little kid is, it’s much worse to be in that much distress.

Right now I’m in a period of waiting. My life is a disaster. Beyond repair, so far as I can tell. Yet I’ve had multiple people who I trust pass on messages telling me that it’s just a matter of time. God has very good plans for me. But he’s working on his own schedule and he’s not going to deviate from it, even though it’s painful for me.

This is very frustrating because every time I get upset and beg God to step in and help me and I get angry about my life, I am forcibly reminded of how my kids pester me when I tell them to wait. How they will come to me multiple times a day demanding to know why it’s not their birthday yet. Or asking, “are you ready yet?” over and over. Or wanting to know when their stomach flu will pass.

Frankly, my kids’ inability to wait irritates me like nothing else. Realizing that I’m in the same boat and that the waiting is unbearably painful both humbles me and gives me new compassion for my kids. I’m not sure I’ve really understood before how much I’m asking from them when I tell them to wait. Which has forced me to be more judicious about when I elevate my priorities over theirs and how long I ask them to wait.

It also makes me more cognizant of the burden of their trust. I cannot ask them to wait patiently if I cannot be trusted to do what I’ve said I will. I’ve learned to make very, very few promises or commitments with my kids. It drives them nuts, but then when I say I will do something, they can have full confidence that it will happen, no matter how long it takes.

I don’t honestly like the idea that my problems, which from a human perspective are not small, are so small in the eyes of God. It makes me feel less than. No one likes to feel less than. Like a lot of us, if you tell me that my problems are childish or my pain is caused by my immaturity, I feel angry and humiliated.

But this reveals a flaw in my thinking; God is not a man who would look on a child’s problems as foolish and inconsequential. The harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. He’s not the sort of parent who demands that his child takes his perspective for their own. He respects our limits and doesn’t treat us with disrespect because we are not as mature, powerful and capable as he is. God asks us to be humble, but never, ever, ever wants us to be humiliated by our status as children.

We’re children. We have children’s problems. What Love knows, that we too often do not, is that children’s problems are real. The fact that we, from our vantage point as adults see them as foolish and unworthy of care or concern comes from our lack as parents. Yes, sometimes our kids frustrate us and sometimes the gap between their distress and the magnitude of the actual problem makes us laugh. But we should never shame them or humiliate them for seeing things from a child’s perspective.

Part of what I have learned from humbling myself enough to see that I really am like a child to God who really is like a father is how much is required of us as parents. We speak of child’s problems as if they are small, foolish things. But as I said, the harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. And too often parents minimize the harm done to their children because they are unwilling to be strong, brave and sacrificial enough to help them.

Think of all the children who are abused by parents who believe they have the right (if not the obligation) to inflict pain on them for their own good, when really the parents are just too immature and out of control to handle the demands of parenting. Or the kids who seek help only to be turned away by adults who are unwilling to risk ruining a reputation or threaten a comfortable family dynamic. Or all the kids who are hurting and in trouble who get met with “tough love” or ignored by adults who want the child to carry all of the burdens placed on them rather than facing their own failures or disrupting long existing ideas about how things are done.

Then think of what God did for his hurting children on the cross.

When God asks us to humble ourselves to be little children, he’s not trying to humiliate us. He’s asking us to give him the chance to be the sort of parent that we actually need. To be the parent who is trustworthy and won’t turn away in our time of need. To be the parent who comforts rather than shames us. To be the parent who takes our hurts seriously rather than mocking them. To be the parent who lifts our burdens rather than telling us to buck up under them.

Which all sounds nice, but there’s a great deal at stake here. You see, it’s very hard to parent when you were never parented well yourself. No matter how much you love your children, when your back’s against the wall, your automatic response will come out of your brokeness rather than your love.

Children are vulnerable. It’s easy to hurt them without ever meaning to. And if you are unwilling to humble yourself, to allow God to parent you and show you the way, you may cause harm that can’t be undone in this lifetime. Which is why Jesus ended his words about becoming like little children with a promise and a warning for us:

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

When Muscles Get Damaged

So, yesterday, I started writing about pain. In particular I wrote about the pain fallacy – that is the idea that the more pain you have in your life, the more pain you are capable of dealing with. As I said, in this view, our tolerance for pain is like a muscle which gets strengthened with use. However, we know for a fact that often just the opposite is true. People who have already dealt with a lot of pain are often less able to cope with additional challenges than others. Today I want to go back to that muscle analogy and explain why this is.

Now, the idea that pain tolerance operates like a muscle is actually a pretty good one. Infants are born with basically no pain tolerance. But after 15 years of dealing with bumps, bruises, the odd illness, hunger pang and injury, you often end up with a kid with ridiculously high pain tolerance. He can practically rip half his flesh off in a dirt bike accident and continue goofing around for hours without stopping to tend to his wounds. A kid who was once devastated to be denied another scoop of ice cream works through the loss of a dear pet or even a relative like a champ. Clearly, pain tolerance, like a muscle, does get stronger with time and use. The problem is that not all use is created equal and not all challenges have the same results.

When you life weights, the goal is to create tiny tears in the muscle by forcing it to bear a weight greater than its current capabilities. Your body then creates additional muscle tissue to fill that gap and heal the muscle, thus increasing the strength of the muscle. But anyone who knows anything about building muscle will warn against attempting to lift too much or tax your muscles too heavily, lest you cause damage which is destructive rather than helpful. Continue reading

Take Courage

Courage

I think courage is a terribly underappreciated virtue. There’s a tendency to see courage as something a soldier or a superhero needs to face grave danger, while failing to realize how much courage everyday life requires. You can’t grow as a person or keep a living faith life without ample amounts of courage.

The Greek word for courage is tharseo. Jesus uses it four times. Three times it is when he tells someone he is healing, “take courage”. Healing doesn’t seem at first glance to be a situation which requires courage. Who could be afraid of being healed?

And yet, healing does require courage. It requires having the courage to consider that things might be better than they are. It requires learning to live from health where previously you had survived in misery. It means facing the world in a way which is new, unknown and different. Healing means you will not be the same person after you are healed that you were when you were sick. It means upsetting a lot of apple carts.

Strong’s Greek Dictionary says that tharseo literally means to “radiate warm-hearted confidence”. What does someone trapped in sickness, death and blindness know about being warm hearted and confident, much less radiating it? Jesus was asking the people he healed to do something they had no real experience doing before – radiate warm hearted confidence – be courageous.

Today we may or may not need physical healing, but all of humanity needs spiritual healing. We’ve all been made sick by our wounds, our sins and our fear. Jesus said he came to bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the mourning, set the prisoner free. He is as intent on healing our spirits, just as he healed people physically 2000 years ago.

And he still says, “take courage” to those he would heal. Because it takes courage to look at our wounds, our sins and our fear. It takes courage to be honest with ourselves, each other and God. It takes courage to let go of the life of suffering we are so accustomed to. It takes courage to embrace a new way of being.

So many people are spending their lives fleeing from what they fear will undo them. They are fleeing from failure, from shame, from disappointment, sometimes from reality itself. They cover themselves with accomplishments, money, relationships, distractions in their attempts to avoid facing what they need to be healed of. People who are fleeing from what they need to heal from will lie, cheat, steal, harden their hearts, hurt those closest to them. Anything to avoid looking into the abyss of fear, shame and pain they carry within.

And Jesus says, “take courage.” Healing takes courage. It takes courage to be honest about our failures, our wounds, our sin and fears. It takes courage to give up the tools that kept them at bay. It takes great courage to let go of what we have known and how we have survived up until now. Being healed is not for the faint of heart.

Is there something you are running away from? Something you have lacked the courage to face? Some wound, some failure in your past, some secret you carry and hide? Take courage, friend.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” ~ Jesus, John 16:33

I pray today to you, Papa God who loves us, that you would make us men and women of courage and strength.

I pray that your perfect love would cast out our every fear.

I pray that we would move courageously into the healing you offer us.

I pray that you would grant us courage as free men and women, radiating warm-hearted confidence so that we can face, with you and the grace you offer, every monster, every secret, every wound, every lie and every harmful thing which has kept us in sickness and bondage.

I pray that we would know in our heart of hearts that we have been utterly released from any condemnation and shame. That no matter how frightening the sin or suffering we carry, that we would have full confidence that with your love and grace, it is already over come for us.

I pray that you would grant us the courage we need to step out of darkness and sin, sickness and blindness, death and fear and into the full light of your love.

May we move forward this day and always with hearts full of courage as we enter into the full healing which is your hearts desire for us.

Amen and amen.

Ego and Pride, Compassion and Healing

wrong onceOver the last couple of weeks, I have found myself thinking about pride and the ego. There are no end of spiritual teachers who are falling all over themselves to tell us how awful pride and ego are. How they are the root of suffering. How they separate us from God and set us up for a fall. That we can’t live freely and fully until they are driven from our psyche or at least neutralized.

All of that is true, I suppose. But every time I read something about how awful our ego and pride are, I find that it just doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t find it helpful at all, frankly. Which is why I have been thinking and meditating on it recently. What are other people seeing that I am not?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason that all the railing against ego and pride doesn’t resonate is because it’s lacking in compassion towards poor, frightened, misguided ego and pride. Ego and pride aren’t our enemies to be fought and resisted, it seems to me. Rather they are parts of ourselves which are doing their best to survive in a world where we are lost, confused and frightened.

I first became aware of the power of pride and ego in my teens. I’ve always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. But I had started to recognize that it was unreasonably painful to be wrong. It was actually hard to grow and learn new things because doing so meant facing my imperfections and errors. For some reason, the idea that I was wrong was often unbearably painful.

I realized that this was, first of all, ridiculous. The expectation that I would know everything and not need to grow and be right in all my thoughts and opinions at 16 was absurd. Logically, I could see how dumb this gut level reaction to things which challenged me was.

The other issue was that even at that age, it was my plan to continue learning and growing until the day I died. I seriously would say, even back in high school, that I looked forward to aging because I was excited to see what I would know and learn by then. (I’ve always been weird, yes.) Having to deal with this internal resistance and pain every step of the way was going to be a real problem.

As I thought about the problem, I realized that there was something really deep in me which felt it wasn’t OK to be wrong. That my worth as a human being was dependant on having it all together. I realized that there was a part of my psyche which was afraid that I was always in danger of being exposed as damaged, wrong, unworthy and therefor unlovable. It was this part of me which found the experience of changing or being wrong an intolerably painful threat.

I saw that pride was, for all its bluster and bravado simply the tool that the broken part of me threw up in an attempt to protect itself. It was strong, yes. But brittle. It didn’t like being challenged and did its best to remain invisible. The trick, I realized was to get it to relax. To let the broken part of me know that it was OK. If I am wrong, that’s OK. It’s not a threat.

“There’s no harm in considering a new idea,” I would tell it. “Let’s just ask ‘what if?’ and see what it would look like. Maybe we’ll even like it better than what we’re working with right now.”

In time, my pride became less forceful. My ego started to feel more comfortable and confident. It didn’t feel like it needed to be protecting itself and me all the time. Rather than fighting pride and ego, I began eagerly looking for signs that they were having a hard time. When ego and pride get prickly, that means there was something just itching to be healed or some false belief just dying to be soothed away.

Many people speak of dying to pride and ego. But I really prefer to view it as healing pride and ego. And yes, it does often feel like dying. Healing often does.

Sometimes ego and pride still cause problems for me. I have a persistent problem recognizing when I need to just acknowledge someone else’s feelings rather than arguing that they shouldn’t feel them, for example. I know that I don’t have as much joy in my life as God intends because my pride tells me the things meant to bring me joy aren’t important or impressive enough.

I hope that one day I’ll be healed and whole enough that ego and pride will just relax and melt into the rest of me. But in the meantime, they don’t frighten me. Sure they represent sin. But Jesus died for all that. I don’t need to deny their existence in order to look good – to myself or others. I refuse to blame them for all my suffering or think that they are an enemy to be vanquished. They’re just a sign that I’m still in the process of being redeemed. And a tool to be used to that end.

So my advice is this: if you’ve been convinced that ego and pride are a threat, an enemy and the source of your suffering, please reconsider. Might it not be that ego and pride are just as much the result of your suffering as the cause? That they are as deserving of compassion as anything in human existence? And that when you befriend rather than fight them, they can be valuable tools and allies in your quest to be conformed to the image of Christ in you? It’s been my experience anyways.

Let’s Stop With the Glue Already!

In Trotter family lore, the years of 2010-2012 will go down as the time of the great breaking. Because everything we owned broke. In a relatively short period of time we had a TV, a VCR, three DVD players, two cars, 4 kitchen chairs, our refrigerator, dishwasher, dryer, washing machine, nearly all of our plates and glasses, a kindle, two laptops, a business and what little was left of our financial stability break. (I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things.) It got so bad that one day I went to take a drink of my coffee and the handle of the coffee mug I was using broke off in my hand. Seriously. We just started laughing about it after a while.

It was also the period when my marriage broke and my husband and I separated for about 7 months. So, lots of breaking.

When events pile up like that, it’s often not a coincidence. There’s a reason for it. (For the record, our house was only 7 years old and one of the laptops was just over a year old. This wasn’t simply a matter of things just getting worn out and breaking.) While we were separated my husband actually prayed about why everything we owned was breaking. He came back to me with what he believed he had been told. The reason things were breaking, he said, was because he had been the glue holding our material world together. When he left (or at least checked out), there was no glue left to keep everything from breaking.

When he told me that, almost without thinking, I blurted out, “but I don’t want broken shit that needs glue to keep it from falling apart!”

Now, glue has its uses. If nothing else, it can be a stop-gap to hold broken things together for a while longer. But it’s not a permanent solution. Things are always weaker at the spot where the glue is holding it together. And it can’t do anything to keep the next break in a different spot from happening. Duct tape may hold the world together, but eventually, broken things need replacing.

It seems to me that humanity has been depending on glue to hold everything together for a long time. We’re broken and our world is broken, so we just keep gobbing on the glue. We want money so it can hold everything together for us. We fight wars and each other, thinking that will preserve us. We lie and cut corners to cover the gaps between what is and what we need it to be. We lose our tempers, use intimidation and control others to keep them from tearing our world apart. We seek pleasure and comfort to fill in the breaks in our souls. We hold grudges and see others as enemies to shore up the weak spots where previous breaks have occurred. And we pass on the glue from generation to generation.

When God tells us to do something – not worry about money, not judge, love freely, give up our lives – we say “that’s nice” and go right on playing with our paste. Continue reading

The Gift of Delayed Grief

My early twenties weren’t exactly a stellar time. Within a short period of time I was raped twice. I found out I was pregnant shortly after I decided to take Jesus’ words that it’s better to enter the kingdom maimed and had broken up with then boyfriend. The people around me didn’t exactly rise to the occasion. One woman I told about one of the sexual assaults told every-freaking-body. A man she told became so belligerent towards me that I had to interrupt his screaming rant to let him know that if he laid a hand on me, I would call the police and have him hauled away. One of my dearest friends died after a life-long struggle with a rare blood disorder.

I had been studying to become a high school English teacher, but would now need help so I could complete my student teaching in order for that to happen. Instead, I was sent out into the world without so much as a chair to sit in or a bed to sleep on. I became homeless and wound up in a homeless shelter/half-way house for single mothers. My roommate was an orphan who stole a ridiculous amount of money from me. The other women there were children of drug addicts, forced out by violent step-fathers, recovering from addictions themselves, etc.

Some of the people around me felt free to demand that I go into hiding and then place my child for adoption so my siblings, relatives and community wouldn’t know of my shame. (The idea that perhaps a person who has already had their right to self-direction grossly violated shouldn’t be told what to do with her own baby didn’t register, of course. And no, this wasn’t the ’50s. It was the mid-90s)

After I had my son and decided to follow God’s leading and raise him myself, family and friends refused to have anything to do with me. Some went so far as to tell me directly that I wasn’t welcome to come around anymore – particularly if my son was with me. I did manage to eventually finish my degree, but what sort of work to pursue with a degree in Literature and Communications still eludes me. I was poor, alone and directionless beyond knowing that I needed to care for my son.

There were a few brighter spots. My then 16 year old sister was supportive and actually happy about her new nephew. A local church held the only baby shower I had until a couple of my husband’s friends’ wives threw a spectacularly under-attended shower for me when I was pregnant with my 5th child. So, at least I had a stroller when my son was born. Continue reading