Being Made Whole

Abuse says a lot about a person. In some cases the abuser is crying out for help. In others, the abuser is attempting to make someone else cry in order to project the pain in their hearts onto someone else.

I went to school for a ton of different things (veterinary technician, English teacher, pre-med., film production, and theater acting, just to name a few) but I never went to school for psychology, so I can’t give you the exact explanation of what abuse says about an abuser.

I can however, tell you some of the things that abuse says to the abused.

Abuse says you’re worthless.

Abuse says you’re weak.

Abuse says you should be filled with shame for the part you have played within a certain situation.

Abuse says you deserve everything that has come your way.

Abuse says you are flawed.

Abuse says you are unlovable.

Abuse says you should keep your mouth shut.

Abuse says that the abuse will only get worse if you speak up.

Abuse says you’re the only one that feels this way.

For years I have foolishly listened to the things that my abuser(s) and abuse have spoken into my life.

But recently things have begun to change. Roughly a month ago, I felt God open the door for restoration and healing of some of the worst abuse in my past; abuse so dark and deep seeded that I had never told anyone about it. So when the opportunity for healing first came, my answer was a no brainer.

I said, “Oh hell no.” and slammed the door to healing shut, right in God’s face.

But true to His loving nature, the door swung back open less than a week later– A door which I promptly slammed shut once again… Only to have it swing back open yet again a few days after that…

Annoyed, it became fairly obvious to me that I was going to have to deal with my past.

For the first time in my life, I confided in a good friend about the abuse that riddled my past. For weeks I sobbed and screamed and was absolutely miserable as I worked to lay my pain and brokenness at the feet of Jesus.

Why are you making me walk back into this?! Why now?! Can’t we do this at a less stressful or more opportune time when I’m not trying to balance grad school, teaching, and having a social life? What the heck God!

What. The. Heck!

For the first time in years I was hit by wave after wave of depression and anxiety attacks, sometimes so vicious that I literally had to give myself a pep-talk just to get my tush out of bed in the morning or get out of my car and walk into work. Part of me was dying to talk about everything, but another part of me continued to listen to the voice lingering in the back of my head:

“Don’t say anything. No one will understand.”

And this is the state that I found myself in at the beginning of my students’ spring break leadership retreat– a trip that I was chaperoning.

In the days before the retreat, I began to second guess whether or not I should even go on the trip. After all, how was I supposed to lead a group of teenagers closer to God when I couldn’t even talk to God without spontaneously combusting? But against my better judgement, last Friday one of my co-workers and I packed two vehicles full of students and snow gear, and headed to Yampa, Colorado for a weekend away.

Fish&CrossRanch

On our first evening of the retreat, our students were all given the opportunities to tell their stories– the good, the bad, and the ugly of what had landed them at the Street School and how their lives had changed since becoming a Bulldog. After hours and hours of listening, laughing, and crying together, we called it a night and retired to our respective rooms.

As I was sitting on my bed reading, one of my girls came in, plopped down on my bed, and asked if we could talk. There, in a room 150 miles away from our homes and comfort zones, we exchanged pieces of our stories that had been shared with only a select few– stories of hope, pain, and the beautiful redemption of God. And in a way that only God can do, a piece of my heart was healed that night– the piece that had long been kept isolated by the fear of my past.

The next evening after dinner and group Bible Study, I felt a pull on my heart to share my story– the very same story that I have kept under wraps for over a decade. As all of my students were going to bed, I called an “emergency girly meeting” and all of my girls congregated in my room. In possibly the most clumsy and panicked way, everything I had been holding in for weeks came pouring out. At the end of my bizarre spew of words and tears, I looked up to see all of my girls staring at me with wide eyes.

Terrified, I tried to adjourn our meeting. Telling them that I didn’t know why I felt like God was telling me to say all that, but I was just trying to be obedient… and yeah… that they could all go back to their rooms if they wanted… or that they could stay and talk… or hangout… or whatever…

As I sat there and rambled, I expected them all to hop up and walk out, but no one moved. I tried yet again to adjourn the meeting, stumbling over even more awkward words.

Still nothing.

Slowly, after a few more moments of awkward silence that made me want to crawl out of my own uncomfortable skin, variations of the phrase “me too” were echoed throughout the room and the stories that had been shared the night before were expanded upon. Stories that we had all held in for years, out of fear of judgement or misunderstanding, became common ground and “No one will understand” became “I understand and I promise to walk beside you through this.”

And there, in the basement of the Fish and Cross Ranch, through tears, laughter, and stories God began to heal the hearts of five of His beautiful, beloved daughters.

Abuse tells us to keep our mouths shut– that our stories aren’t important, that no one will understand. But this weekend through the grace of God I learned that is the exact opposite of the truth.

How beautiful is it that He has blessed us with community, so that we never have to walk through life silent or alone?

Through Him, all things are made whole.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

~Psalm 147:3

What drowning is

Picture 5

I absolutely adore Denver and its little, big city feel. Not even an hour from the mountains, it is the perfect place for nature and city life to collide. One of my favorite places on earth is in the heart of downtown Denver at the Platte Riverbed right in front of REI. Every summer since my early teen years, I have made this little section of downtown my sanctuary.

In the midst of one of the busiest strips of downtown the water rushes over the rocks, forming tiny pools which are perfect to sit in waist deep and read. With my toes in the gritty city sand, my shoulders in the sun, and my eyes fixed on the faux-skyscrapers downtown, I am at peace.

A few years ago, I invested in a hybrid (road & mountain capable) bike and would ride the 13.1 miles from my apartment in Aurora to the riverbed at least once a week, if not everyday. Biking quickly became my escape from the busyness and chaos of working and being in college full time. When I was flying down the Cherry Creek Trail with the wind rushing over my body, I was independent, I was stress-free, I was finally able to breathe.

At the end of my ride, I would chain up my bike, slip off my backpack and shoes, grab a book from my bag, and slide my lower body into the river. And there I would sit, for hours at a time. Occasionally, if it was a warm day and there were a ton of people at the river, I would precariously cross a portion of the river to the island dividing the river in two, and I would lay there, drinking in the sunshine and cool breeze.

But one July day in 2011, my independence and over confidence got the best of me. As I proudly made my way across the slimy, moss covered rocks under the rushing water, I lost my footing and went down into the river, which promptly sucked me down stream.

Suddenly, all of my knowledge of swimming from years of swim team was gone. As I went gushing down the river and through the rapids. I flailed and flipped, hitting my head, arms, and ankle on the rocks. I couldn’t orient myself in the water and gasped for air when I thought that I had managed to force my head above water, only to realize that I had just breathed in a mouthful of dirty river water and sand. I’m going to die in this river. It’s just that simple. I’m doing to die, all because I didn’t want to sit next to those bratty kids… I thought as I attempted to grab onto the solids objects I was slamming into. But each time, my fingers lost their grip and I tumbled on.

After what seemed like years, but what I’m sure was less than a moment or so, I managed to get my head above water and threw myself toward the sand bar that drags out from the tiny island I had been delicately trying to reach only seconds before.

The book I had clutched in my hand and the sunglasses that had previously been perched on my nose were both gone and as I knelt in the sand, spitting water and God-knows-what out of my mouth, my heartbeat slowed down and eventually I realized I was going to be okay. After another few moments, I was able to turn around and swim across a less choppy part of the river, back to the side where my bike and other belongings were awaiting me.

I didn’t get back in the river that day. I was far too embarrassed. Instead, I slid my feet back into my Toms, put my helmet on, and got out of there as quickly as possible, riding the 13.1 miles home covered in cuts, watered down blood streaks, and moss-stains.

I don’t think that I went back to the river the next day. In fact, now that I think about it, it might have been nearly a week before I had the confidence to bike back to my sanctuary and give my daily routine another try. After all, I loved it far too much to stay away for long.

~

I write this, not simply to reiterate a pathetic near death experience, or to show what a chronic over-exaggerator my brain can be when faced with an emergency situation, although this story would serve both purposes.

Instead, I write this to say that this is what healing from trauma feels like. Trauma feels like you’re drowning in your own life. You slam into things that you would typically be able to gently grasp onto and every unplanned flip and flail leaves you feeling bruised and raw.

And healing? Healing feels like every time you think you have found the surface, you breathe in sand and water instead of the air that you so desperately need… at least the first few times.

For those of you who have never experienced trauma, I hope you never do. But for those of you who know what it feels like to drown in your own life and circumstances, you know what it feels like to think that you are fine one moment, then slip and fall, and fall, and fall, and think that you will never make it back to dry land.

But eventually, you will break through to clean air and take a deep breath of mountain air instead river water and sludge. Eventually, you will be able to stand up and swim back through the thing that nearly killed you. Eventually you will be able to get on your metaphorical bike and experience freedom again.

I write this also, as a much needed reminder to myself that as I tumble through this slimy, cruddy season of healing that some day, I will be okay. And not because I am an incredibly adept swimmer or some super human who is great at dealing with trauma, emotion, and panic attacks (ha!), but because I serve a God who will never let me drown in life. He is ever present and perpetually filling my lungs back up with His Spirit of fresh air when I am choking.

Someday I will be okay. Today may not be that day, but I know deep in my soul that some day, I will be back on my bike in the sunshine and mountain air.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.'”

(Isaiah 43:1-2)

I think…

I think too much.

Sometimes I think that my overthinking comes from living alone and having nearly twelve beautiful hours of silence to process my chaotic life between the times when I get home from work and the time that I walk out the door the next day.

Sometimes I think back to my childhood and realize that I’ve always been a deep thinker. While my social butterflies of sisters would be off gallivanting about the neighborhood, I would usually be doing something nerdy like looking at rocks in the backyard and thinking out loud about what minerals or fossils they might contain. (Let me tell you, talking to yourself out loud about rocks is not a great way to win friends at the age of 7…or 8…or 9.)

Then sometimes, I think about the way that I process arguments and conversations after they happen. I can’t help but think: What could have gone better? What would have happened if that one little thing had gone differently?

And at the end of all of my thinking about thinking, I realize that I am once again, indeed thinking.

My thinking is a problem, really. (Although, I would personally rather be an over-thinker than an under-thinker if I had to choose. But moving on before I make any more snarky remarks…)

My problem doesn’t necessarily come from the fact that I sometimes think out loud, leading me to talk to myself (or my dog), but from the fact that when I start rehashing my life, I’m usually not talking to God. In fact, I usually am taking my eyes completely off of God. I’m essentially saying,

God, I don’t like how that ended. If You could please put Your Sovereign Knowledge and the good that You’re trying to work here on hold for a minute so that we can tend to my selfish needs, that would be great.”

I will literally dissect and analyze a troubling conversation to death before I offer it up to God, and usually by that time, I have internalized the conversation on a deep level. I understand that sometimes internalizing conversations is beneficial to us as humans and as Christians, especially if the conversations were encouraging or full of wisdom that we need to hear.

However, mulling conversations over and over can easily become detrimental to our walks with God if we aren’t careful with what we are over thinking.

My most recent example of this?

My mother and I don’t have a great relationship, and unfortunately we haven’t for a rather long time. For the majority of the last three years, we haven’t spoken to each other, but just last month she got back in contact with me. For the first few days, I felt like I had a normal relationship with my mom. We caught up on what my siblings were up to, her recent divorce, the happenings of her sunflower farm and ranch, and the like, but unfortunately that quickly fell away and the patterns of verbal abuse that I had grown up with began to return.

Some days when she would call and drill into me, I would turn the other cheek, pretend that her stabbing words didn’t bother me, and give her an excuse as to why I had to hang up. Other days I would blow up at her, serving her insults right back. But no matter how the conversations ended, I always mentally replayed and analyzed them, yet very rarely did I pray for guidance or wisdom.

Last weekend, after absorbing several weeks of verbal assaults I finally blocked her number and tried to go back about my life.

But by then, the conversations and lies were already written on my heart.

Had I simply run to God after every conversation and confrontation and let Him heal my brokenness, I know that I wouldn’t have been so deeply wounded by my mother’s words or the words that came out of my own mouth. But instead, I had replayed them and let them take root in my heart. Slowly her words became my words:

“You’re never going to go anywhere.”

“You’re worthless.”

“You were a mistake.”

“You’re just like your father.”

And because I had started believing these lies, I couldn’t hear the truths that God was speaking into my life at that same time:

“You’ve been accepted into this graduate program because I’m taking you somewhere.”

“You are worth my Son’s life.”

“I created you for a reason.”

“You were created in My image to become more like your Father.”

I don’t think that over thinking is a disease that you can magically be cured of, and I’m honestly still not sure that I would want to be cured of it if this was a possibility. However, I do know that I need to remember where my healing and love comes from, and that is not from my own heart or mind, but from my God.

I am not doing anything productive by metaphorically beating my head against a wall, but God, the author of the Universe (and my own weird brain) would be able to do something with my situation, if only I would offer it up to Him instead.

What is God trying to tell you right now? Can you hear Him? Or are you thinking over your plans and actions instead of offering them up to Him?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

~Philippians 4:6-7