A Light in the Darkness 

Going to a trained therapist who is a Believer rather than to a Biblical counselor made a dramatic difference for me. A Biblical counselor hasn’t been trained in the medical aspect of trauma. Addressing only the “sinful” aspect of trauma is harmful. Both are needed. I’ve spent most of my life only addressing my “response to the sin against me,” left me stuck in the guilt/repentance cycle. Getting a diagnosis from a therapist helped me address the psychological and physical aspects of my trauma.  

We started with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), talking about my memories. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions caused by verbalizing those memories. It took some time for me to accept that I wasn’t responsible for what happened to the little girl I was at the time. The trauma had left me with a belief that I was a burden, unworthy of being loved. It shaped my view of myself and how I believed others viewed me. I became the typical example of a teenager who had been abused and traumatized as a child – rebellious, promiscuous, suicidal, etc. I believe that if God had not intervened when I was 16 years old I would not be alive today. He really did give life to my soul. I really was a new, different person. My life made a drastic change that has lasted for over 40 years.  

However, no one knew about the brokenness deep inside me. I wasn’t even aware of it most of the time. It only appeared at times that pressure triggered the emotions of my trauma, and I had no control over it. Being taught that we are sinners undeserving of God’s love or mercy fed into my dysfunctional thinking of never being good enough. The environment of approved and disapproved behavior was very familiar to me, so felt comfortable on some level. These things kept me from seeing and addressing the effects of trauma that would play out in my adult life. Pastors and friends were well-meaning and I know they were doing their best to help me but didn’t know how. I believe that was because there was a fear of anything psychological being “secular,” therefore against God.

I began learning to love my self. In order to do that I had to differentiate between “self” as sin nature and “self” as the person God created in His image. That was a novel concept for me. 

Into the Darkness

In  the midst of the questioning that led to my search, I had a life-threatening experience that brought me face-to-face with what I really believed about God. The recovery was the darkest and scariest thing I had ever experienced. It occurred in the deepest, most secluded place of my soul where no person on earth had the ability to reach. I wish I could say that knowing people were praying for me was a comfort or that their words of encouragement were of some help. Unfortunately, they were not. My study of Jesus’ interactions with people became the only source of what I cautiously hoped would be my comfort.

It took a year for me to recover physically, and I was going to need all the strength I had . . . and more. The changes taking place in my heart led to my counseling therapy with Danielle. I was going to learn a little bit more about how “fearfully and wonderfully” we have been made.

One of the first things I learned is that memories are interesting. I’ve always thought they were something intangible, created by my brain but that could only be expressed by words I chose to use. Not so. We have no control over how memories of trauma affect our bodies or express themselves. Much research has been done in the past 25 years on how the brain works in conjunction with the body, creating emotions. I find the research fascinating, but more so when filtered through what God has already said about it. Mental and emotional responses to trauma are not sin but results of biological laws God designed. That shed some light on Matthew 5:17-48 for me. Jesus seems to be teaching that sinful actions begin in the heart. Our outward actions only matter to people if we don’t address them there. We can’t control the anger, lust, marital separation, lack of integrity, retaliation, and lack of love in our hearts. All of those things can reside within us while our actions contradict them. For years I struggled to make them reconcile. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve realized why I can’t.

This is the tension of humanity and Divinity that I wrestle with in the most intimate place of my soul. And it’s where I found the unlimited love, unfathomable mercy, and inconceivable compassion of the God who created me.

An Unexpected Turn

In 2014 a question began haunting the inner place in my mind. What would Jesus do? It had become a familiar phrase in society, and I sensed it being used more often toward others instead of the intended meaning by Charles Sheldon when he wrote In His Steps. I say it haunted me because I was trying to answer it for myself, and I was realizing that I didn’t know what Jesus would do. I had faithfully attended every church service from the age of 16, gone to Bible college, and spent hours reading what educated authors wrote and listening to what popular speakers had to say. I thought I knew what the Bible said about most circumstances. I was finding that I was wrong, so beginning with Matthew’s gospel, I took time looking into Jesus’s encounters with people. I would spend time learning what I could about the encounter – the geography and customs of the place, the status of the person, the context of the encounter (what was Jesus doing before, who was there and why) – and meditating (imagining the scene, the emotions, and the tone of Jesus’s voice.)

As I sought to know Him, the incarnate Eternal God, He kept His promise to reveal what I was seeking. What began to emerge was a kind and gentle man who treated all people with dignity. Not only the poor, the sick, and the sorrowing but also those who stumbled along in their commitment to following him and those who chose not to follow him.

Just as important was that I didn’t see the disappointed, exasperated, rebuking man frustrated with the frailty and brokenness of the people he had created and come to redeem that I believed him to be at times. I didn’t sense that he rolled his eyes when his disciples were slow to believe, or that his tone was impatient or demeaning. The accounts of his life that have been left for us don’t include non-verbal communication. For many years I’d believed that Jesus responded to people like we would respond. I found that misrepresentation of who he is made it hard to trust him.

I was seeing him in a new way, and it was changing my relationship with him, which was going to change my life. My path was about to take an unexpected turn. I’m thankful for the naivety of those first few months. Had I known what I would experience on this path, my heart would have fainted, I wouldn’t have continued, and fear would have robbed me of the greatest treasure of heaven and earth.

Hello Again

Six years ago, something within me stopped. There was no desire for anything. It was an emptiness I had never experienced before. My only thought was, “I want to go Home.” There was not one thing or person that was worth continuing to live for here on Earth. I wasn’t suicidal because I had no intention or plan for taking my life. All I could do was lie in bed, alternating between sleeping and asking God to please take me Home. After the second day of this, my cousin/sister Coralee, called to see how I was doing because I had been on her mind. Everything started pouring out in sobs and unintelligible words. When I was finally able to stop, she said she thought this had to do with my childhood. Roland suggested I find some professional help. The Lord led my search to the therapist I needed, Danielle Austin. I was in such a state of despair that first visit, but she wasn’t surprised by any of it. She offered the understanding and compassion I so desperately needed. And so, began my journey of healing. Healing from damage and pain that no one had ever been able to help me address before.

The faith I had learned to practice was a form of separating the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical. I believed that emotions are not to be trusted because they are corrupted by sin. As I learned about how emotions affect the body, I began questioning the “quick and easy” answers that had been enough for the anger, fear, guilt, and shame that I often felt before I entered this “valley of the shadow of death.” My question became, “Why can’t I trust my emotions in the same way I trust my body to tell me when something is right or wrong with me? If I get hit by a car, I expect to have damage to my body that needs to be addressed. Doesn’t it make sense that if I suffer emotional trauma I would feel the emotional damage and need to address it?

The first step in addressing the damage that was done to my soul (my whole self) was to acknowledge it. For many years I believed that my feelings of fear and anger that led to sinful actions was because of a lack of faith or some sin I must unknowingly be hiding in my wicked heart. I lost count of how many times I confessed, repented, and tried to obey. Well-meaning people tried to help, but they didn’t understand about the effects of trauma; that as a child my inner self and my body were repeatedly violated with no resolution. Yes, I was always confident that I had Life in my spirit, but that didn’t automatically heal the damage in my soul any more that it would automatically heal paralysis.

Life from Death

This time of year is the anniversary of death for several young people in our circle of loved ones. This year is a time in history that will be known for many deaths throughout the world. In the midst of it all, we await the birth of our fifth grandchild.

I love when God redeems my pain, my suffering, and my sadness with His love and grace. I feel it especially powerful as we prepare to celebrate the remembrance of our Savior’s resurrection. I can only imagine what His disciples were experiencing the night of His arrest. Not only the twelve, but all the men and women who believed and followed Him. I don’t have to imagine the anguish of learning about the sudden or expected death of someone I loved so dearly. I won’t deny the sadness I’m feeling, nor will I refuse to accept the comfort of God’s love and compassion. I hold both to be equally true in the deepest places of my heart.

Although Jesus told his twelve disciples what was going to happen to Him, they couldn’t understand it until they experienced it. And Jesus was experiencing the same things – the pain of loss, feeling alone, and even fear. The truly amazing thing is that He chose it. He could have removed Himself from it at any time. But in obedience to the Father because of His great love for us, He stayed and experienced the fullness of our pain and suffering.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16

While we must be physically separated with of all the fear, sadness, and pain around us (and maybe even in us), let’s be united by reminding one another that He not only chose to suffer on our behalf but also rose to conquer death, securing our redemption. Let’s not allow the darkness of this time to dim the light of His victory – HE IS RISEN!

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – I Corinthians 15:56

A Divine Paradox

At this time of year, we’re sometimes reminded that when Jesus came to Earth to live among us, people were not hospitable. That implies that people were the hosts. This year I’m seeing it the other way around. God came as the host offering hospitality to us.

According to Genesis 1:26 the earth was created by God for us. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” It belongs to Him, which makes Him the host, not the guest.

Yet, He came inconspicuously. “He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a [servant] and was born as a human being. (Philippians 2:7 – New Living Translation) “. . . though He was rich, yet for [our] sake He became poor . . .” (II Corinthians 8:9) We cannot comprehend what He gave up, what He endured living here with us.

And He offered exactly what we needed and only He could give: forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. “. . . having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14) “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right [authority, privilege] to become children of God.” (John 1:12) No human words can express this act of love.

When Jesus entered the world as a helpless baby through the virgin birth, it was a Divine paradox. We are the ones in need. He is the One who gave up His riches and through His destitution offered us the ultimate hospitality – a place in God’s family.

That is good news of great joy! May it be so for you.

Hopelessy Helpless

We have one grandson, so far. Alexandre will be three years old this month and he believes, really believes, that his Pe-pere (French-Canadian name for Grandpa) can fix anything. When one of his toys gets broken, he brings it to Pe-pere with full confidence that he not only can but wants to fix it for him. If Pe-pere is out on the road driving his big Pe-pere truck, then Alexandre puts it on a shelf and waits until he comes back. He doesn’t worry about it. When he sees the broken toy, he remembers that Pe-pere is going to fix it.

Jesus saw a lot of brokenness during His earthly ministry. In John 11 it’s recorded that He received news that His dear friend, Lazarus, was gravely ill. It seems that He would have dropped everything and left to heal His friend, but Jesus knew He needed to stay where He was for two more days. By the time He arrived in Bethany Lazarus had died and been buried. All the people around Him were mourning. His friends were overcome with grief. Even though He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead, He was still affected by the sadness all around Him. Before calling Lazarus from the tomb, He turned to His Father and acknowledged Their union.

Sometimes I see such brokenness in someone I love. In my state of helplessness, I can get overcome with grief. Jesus reminds me that I can bring Him whatever seems unfixable, and like Alexandre, I can leave it with Him in full confidence that He can fix it and cares about my sadness. When it’s hard for me to “leave it on the shelf” and wait for Him to fix it, He understands my temptation to distrust and doesn’t chide me for it. With compassion for my weakness He reminds me that I can believe He hears me. (I Peter 3:12 and I Peter 5:7)

A Compassionate Prescription

I’ve been reading about ADHD and finding the latest research fascinating. Especially what doctors and scientists have been able to learn from brain scans. Physiological differences can be seen in ADHD brains and neurotypical brains. Those differences affect the way people perceive themselves and the world around them. My interest in ADHD isn’t random. It’s personal. Recently someone recognized signs of it in me, so I’m doing some investigating. What I’ve found so far has helped make sense of things in my life. My brain works differently than most people’s brains (4.4% of adults in the US have been diagnosed). It always has, but I’ve worked hard, really hard, to make it work neurotypically (non-ADHD). Sometimes I have so much going on mentally and emotionally that it’s hard to think clearly, remember important information, or focus on what people around me need. Unfortunately, no one can see that, like they can see me sitting in a wheelchair or carrying my arm in a sling. So, assumptions are made on appearances without knowledge. Judgments are communicated, verbally and non-verbally. I become easy prey for the lie of “not good enough,” which leads to feeling embarrassed, a form of shame.

We know there were people who didn’t know who Jesus really was or understand His mission. They made assumptions and judgments based either on their ignorance or their arrogance. Was He tempted to feel shame because of the things said to Him and about Him? According to Hebrews 2:17 I believe He was, and that encourages me. Each time He was questioned, accused, or condemned He responded with confidence in who He was – the beloved Son of God. I don’t have to believe what some people think about me. The truth is that I am holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4) because my life is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3), and I am greatly loved (Ephesians 2:4).

Receiving love and acceptance from Him frees me to love others, so I’ve also been drawn to looking at how Jesus treated people who felt shame. A leper ostracized from society (Matthew 8), a woman with a blood disease (Mark 5), a hated tax collector (Luke 19), and an immoral woman at a well in Samaria (John 4) come to mind. He saw beneath their circumstances and behaviors. He addressed them with compassion. I want to remember that when I’m confronted with people in awkward circumstances or exhibiting uncomfortable behaviors. They’re probably already feeling shame and need my compassion.

Resource link

https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/brain-imaging-spect-scans-amen/?src=embed_link

Driving in Traffic

Don’t let anyone else drive your truck. For a truck driver that means don’t be pressured by four-wheelers. That’s trucking lingo for any vehicle with four wheels, no matter what size it is. What does that pressure look like? Drivers who cut in front of them, try to cut in front of them, throw up their hands (or make obscene gestures) when passing, or just blow their horn at them. Truck drivers already know they take up a lot of room on the road, take longer to get up to speed or slow down, and make everyone wait while they maneuver a turn. Many of them don’t like that kind of attention, but they’re doing the best they can to get us the stuff we want in the time we’ve become accustomed to having it. Oh, I know there are jerks out there. We called them “super truckers.” Not because we thought they were super drivers, but because they thought they were. Speeding, tailgating, and recklessly switching lanes are some of our qualifications for being considered a super trucker. I’m not referring to any of them in this post.

Did Jesus know what pressure felt like? I imagine the expectations of the multitudes felt like pressure, and the Pharisees were always questioning and accusing Him. Perhaps pressure also came from family and friends. The request from His mother at the wedding in Cana in John 2:3, the taunting of His brothers in John 7:6, the pleading of Mary and Martha in John 11:3, and even His disciples were impatient about the kingdom in Luke 19:11 and Acts 1:6. How did He respond? It seems that He had a confidence that refused to allow Him to be dissuaded from what He was doing. I believe that confidence came from spending time with His Father, learning what the Father wanted Him to do. Nothing was more important to Him, so no one could pressure Him into doing anything else.

Jesus told Philip in John 14:9 that if he had seen Him, then he had seen the Father. Jesus has given us access to the Father! I, too, can have confidence in knowing I’m doing what He wants me to do when I spend time with Him, listening to Him. Ah, but it will cost me time, something demanded by the multitude of things to do, places to go, and people to see. Yes, I’m pressured by “have to,” “should,” and “expected.” This is a hurried culture we live in with calls of urgency coming from many directions, but we don’t have to be conformed to it (Romans 12:2) by giving in to the pressure of traditional standards or people’s expectations. We can drive our own trucks; the life God has given us. I hope you spend time with the Father today and every day, so that no one else can drive your truck.

A Garden Invitation

It’s been a hard week, trying to keep pace with responsibilities and expectations while voices of criticism and condemnation whisper in the background. It has wearied me beyond my capacity of will power. Trying to believe the familiar verses I quote to myself only adds to the load of failure I’m carrying. I don’t always know where the help will come from, but I always know that my friend, Jesus, will provide what I need. Yesterday it came from a mentor I visit with once a month, a precious long-time friend. As we were parting, she shared Psalm 27:8 with me from the New Living Translation. “My heart has heard you say, Come and talk with me. And my heart responds, Lord, I am coming.” This morning I spent time studying and meditating on that verse and found it to be the help I needed. Here are some excerpts of what Alexander MacLaren had to say about the passage in his Expositions of Holy Scripture:

Our restlessness, our yearnings, our movings about as aliens in the midst of things seen and visible, all these bid us turn to Him in whom alone our capacities can be satisfied, and the hunger of our souls appeased. . . . In the face of Jesus Christ, ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God’ beams out upon us, as it never shone on this Psalmist of old. The voice that he heard calling him was less penetrating and less laden with love than the voice that calls us. They sound to us from the cradle and the cross, and they are wafted down to us from the throne. God’s merciful invitation to us poor men never has taken, nor will, nor can, take a sweeter and more attractive form than in Christ’s version of it: ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’                                                                                           

I envision Him sitting on a bench where warmth and light emanate from Him over a beautiful garden. I stand in the shadows surrounded by the chill of darkness. He looks at me and pats the place next to Him, an invitation to come sit with Him. I walk quickly to be close to Him. The light of His love begins to warm that chilly place in my heart. He asks about the burden I’m holding, and the light of His truth begins to reveal the deception that I wasn’t even aware had crept in. I tell Him about it, and He offers to take it. My hesitation comes from I’m believing I’m responsible for and capable of taking care of it, which is a lie. The truth is that everything I feel responsible for and worry about is in the capable hands of His control. What I choose to believe will determine what I do with the burden. If I continue to believe the lie, I cannot have the rest He offers. If I change my thinking and believe the truth that He has spoken, He replaces the burden with rest.

Again, I refer to Alexander MacLaren, “there is only one tract of human experience in which the promise is always and absolutely fulfilled: Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find.” What am I seeking? What are you seeking? The lies of self-sufficiency, misplaced responsibility, and assumed expectation will always be calling to us. May our hearts, minds, souls, and strength be turned toward Jesus, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:3) No other person or thing can deliver on the promise of rest we seek, no matter how much we believe it can. And that’s the truth!