Lack of understanding about trauma and its treatment in my sphere of relationships led to a felt sense of rejection that led to a loneliness for which I wasn’t prepared. Some of those closest to me thought I was being self-centered, a truly unchristian virtue. Others simply stepped away because they didn’t understand. Very few people continued to walk beside me.

I walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” and learned to face horror without fear because the presence of my Shepherd was more real than any trauma I had experienced. (Psalm 23:4) I knew that I was “planted in the house of the Lord (His love); and “[flourished] in the courts of our God (His presence)”. (Psalm 92:13) Seeing I Corinthians 13:4-6 as God’s love for me began to seep into a place deep within me that had been cold and dark for so long. The few who continued to walk with me listened as I shared the frightful, bewildering, and beautiful things that were happening in my soul; held me as I released long-held emotions with sobs I didn’t know I had the capacity for; and prayed for me with a faith that reminds me of the four friends who broke through the roof of a house to get their lame friend to Jesus. They are the ones that witnessed the agonies and the victories. They have seen the amazing love of God in Jesus at work in a person’s life.

As my healing continued I was eager to share my experience with family and friends at church. I was surprised to find a lack of interest or understanding. I was met with questions that I didn’t know how to answer, and my explanations seemed to cause more confusion. There didn’t seem to be an interest in learning about the psychological damage done by trauma or how to help those affected by it. Family became distant. Friends no longer had time for conversation after a church service or to meet for a visit. I felt ostracized because I couldn’t work in the nursery, teach a Bible study, or help organize a women’s event. When I voiced how I was feeling, I was told that I needed to trust the Lord for my emotional needs, not people. The question that began coming to my mind more often was, “If all I need is the Lord, and I don’t need people, then why do I have to stay here? Why can’t I just go Home?” That question became more and more logical in my mind as days spent alone turned into weeks and months. I had the means to end the loneliness and live with the One Whose presence I could only know by faith on Earth. But I had made a promise to Roland that I would not take my own life. As I continued healing, I became more and more lonely.

Sunshine Breaks Through

Unworthiness became the core belief about myself very early in my life. Throughout my Christian life I have been reminded of my unworthiness. “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (Isaiah 51:1) I believed my worth could only come from whatever good I could do, not from the person that I was.

Much research has been done on the effects of nurturing infants and children. It creates the image a child will have of herself, others, and how the world works. That image will determine how she interacts with people for the rest of her life unless something intervenes. Although there are several good books on the subject, I will recommend one of my favorites. What Your Body Knows About God by Robert Moll.

Having not felt loved as a child, it was hard for me to feel loved as an adult. I could intellectually understand that I was loved, but the emotion of feeling loved eluded me. I had little childhood experience from which to draw, but as a mother I could draw from my experience of loving and enjoying my own children. Although the people in my young life didn’t acknowledge my value, God did. Yes, I experienced horrible things. No, it wasn’t right or fair. However, none of that had any bearing on God’s love for me or my true value. That’s why it’s so important to show God’s love to people whether we think they deserve it or not. Every person deserves to be loved.

Learning about and experiencing God’s love for me naturally led to loving myself. That was another uncomfortable feeling. Yet all the things I believed about others had to be true for me as well. The first thing Jesus showed me was the second great commandment – love your neighbor as yourself. I had always “heard” that verse as “love your neighbor instead of yourself.” That little word “as” means “in the same way.” Love your neighbor “in the same way” you love yourself. I believed self-love could only mean selfish indulgence, which is not love at all. I had learned it backwards, so I began loving myself in the same way I loved others.

I was surprised by the guilt I felt by loving myself. I couldn’t enjoy decisions I made for my benefit. These emotions caused me to question why I felt this way. That’s when I learned what I believe to be God’s design for emotions. I have found them to be messengers from my heart, revealing what I truly believe. Just like my physical senses help me interact with the physical world, my emotions help me interact with God and people. I began a routine that I continue to use. I start with my thoughts, “What am I thinking?” That leads to my emotions, “How does that make me feel?” Sometimes it’s hard to get to the root emotion, but it’s worth the effort. If the emotion doesn’t line up with the truth of God’s word, then I ask myself, “What does Jesus say about that? What lie am I believing?” Now I’m confronted with the choice of believing what God says or believing a lie. Whatever I chose will determine how I interact with God and people.

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.

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