These Present Sufferings

Sometimes God makes you struggle for a long time before giving you understanding as to why.  Sometimes the understanding never comes and you just have to struggle your whole life without it.  Other times the struggle and the understanding come together.  I like those times.

I have a mixture of both these days.  There are long-sufferings so old I’ve long given up hope of  seeing resolution on this earth, and then there are shorter frustrations that turn around pretty quickly.

Like today, the internet went down at work just as two groups of customers walked in.  “Perfect…just my luck”, I thought.  I made the first set of drinks hoping the internet was just experiencing a glitch and would come back on so I could take their credit card payment.  No such luck.  I took the second set of orders and apologized that it was taking so long.  When I explained that my internet was down, one of the men in the second group said it was okay, that he could pay with cash.  He then offered (or rather insisted) on paying for the first set of customers in cash as well.

This sparked a short conversation about currency, during which a lady walked in and got in line.  She paid for her drink in cash, but then decided to add something else to her order.  The second group of customers had left (the ones who paid for the first group’s order) but the first group was still there.  To pay it forward, they left cash to pay for the lady’s order before they left.  She wasn’t aware of what had happened, so I explained it to her.  She was so touched by the gesture, she left $5 to pay for whoever came in next.  That $5 is now sitting under my register waiting for the next customer who walks in.

As luck would have it, my internet returned right after the whole group left and now I’m standing here wrapping my heart around it all.  My very first thought when the internet went down was “great, of course this would happen to me…”.  But now, not 30 minutes later, at least two people were blessed because of it…something that never would have happened if I was able to take that first payment.

I wish all frustrations in life were so quickly resolved.  But God is also showing me tiny glimpses into the long-sufferings that have plagued my life for, well, all my life.  Least of which being the torments and traumas that have so mangled my inner being.  The evils of this world bother me more than most, I think.  Probably because I have lived my entire life on the losing side of them…a fact I’ve been giving God my what-fors about lately.

Today He showed me something, though.  He gave me a glimpse into the inner-beings of the so-called “winners”.  You know, the ones who always seem to have life work out for them, get what they want, somehow always get others to give them things/serve them, etc.  He showed me inside the ones who don’t have the slightest idea what struggle and suffering really is…and it was not pretty.  In fact, it was so ugly it turned my stomach and changed my mind around from “why me?” to “thank you, Lord.”

He showed me that there is a choice between an easy life with a sick, petrifying soul or a difficult, suffering-filled life with a purified one.  Each soul can either submit to the purification process, which means submitting to suffering, or they can reject it..in which case Satan is right there, dressed like an angel, waving a “This way to the easy life!” sign.  And most people follow that sign…that road is wide, after all.

But given what He showed me, I’m happy choosing the difficult life.  Injustice bothers me more than anything in the world, and that’s not likely to change.  But God showed me something – that those who have it so easy never make it to the mountaintops of God’s presence.  Why?  They never develop the legs for it.  So many people sell their spiritual heritage for ease and for comfort.  They get winded and turn back to their comfy chairs and baby bottles at every inconvenience…how could they ever survive the storm that is our Lord’s presence?  And it is a storm.

So I stand here again and thank God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Why?  Because I know it is producing in me a strength that will one day be able to withstand the all-consuming fire that is our God.  Our perfect, omnipotent, fire of a God.  And on that day I know that I will bow at His feet having accepted the sufferings from his hand (not always gracefully, but accepted nonetheless).  And I’d rather do so as a weather-beaten warrior than a whiney little baby.


So thank you God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Because I know that in you, no suffering is wasted.  Give me grace to trust you more, and more than anything….come.  Lord Jesus, come.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18

 

 

 

 

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They Tell Themselves “She’s Strong”.

 

People are always telling me how strong I am…as though it’s a compliment or something.  But it isn’t…not for me.  Because I never feel strong, and being told I’m strong feels insulting when I am hands down the weakest person I know.  When my life’s story is that I have always been the unwanted, unloved, ignored, insulted, or abandoned one who never even had the guts or strength to breathe without apologizing for taking up someone else’s air.  The one so desperate for a friend that she’d jump at any measure of attention just because it felt like hope that I was worth something.  And that’s all I ever wanted from before I can remember – to just feel and be worth more than someone else’s beating post.  But I never was.  And nobody ever sees that. Why?  Because nobody thinks about the people they perceive as “strong”, even if those people are dying right in front of them.

The reality is I’m not strong, and never have been.  But nobody ever saw that and so I numbed the pain, shut everyone out, pursued abusive relationships, and sold my soul to the devil just because he offered a better looking lie than any reality I had ever known.  I lost myself and the capacity to handle life without completely tuning out or shutting down.  And now it takes every ounce of sanity and strength I have, every single day, just to pretend to be normal for long enough to keep people from asking too many questions.

Strong?  I have never been strong.  And I hate being told that I am because I can’t even hold myself together long enough to get through a day without thinking about how nice it would be to not wake up.  But nobody ever sees that because, quite frankly, they just don’t want to.  So they tell themselves, “she’s strong.”

The Red Pill

“To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and the capacity for evil in human nature.  To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events.  When the events are natural disasters or acts of God, those who bear witness sympathize readily.  But when the events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator.  It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict.  The bystander is forced to take sides.  It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the person stand by and do nothing…the victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman


She’s right.  It’s true.  And if I hadn’t been on the victim side of this coin as many times as I have in my life, I would probably be right in line with the bystanders who successfully pretend it isn’t real.  The problem with suffering yourself is that it opens your eyes wide to the suffering happening all around you.  And once your eyes are open, you really can’t close them again.  It’s kind of like waking up from the Matrix.  You take the red pill and you go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.  The more you see, the more you experience, the more you suffer.  And you can’t go back and take the blue pill.  You can’t reverse the domino effect.  You can’t forget.

Suffering is a difficult subject to address, especially when you throw God into the mix and then try to figure out how it all makes sense.  Believe me when I say I don’t feel qualified to speak to the subject, especially not the God part of it.  I always believed that cursing at God and accusing him of being a horrible, malicious bully was wrong, but in the last few months I’ve made up for lost time. It’s been awhile since he’s gotten anything but rage, accusation, or the cold shoulder from me so needless to say, I probably shouldn’t try and give advice on God right now.

I don’t know a lot, but I know a couple things. I know that suffering is real and that everyone experiences it to different degrees.   I also know that denying or ignoring it are both really bad ideas.  For me, though, suffering has not just been a “season” in my life that I’ve just had to buckle down and endure until it was over.  In order for that to be true, I would’ve needed to experience something other than suffering to compare it to.  Suffering and extreme emotional pain is the very environment into which I was born and the only thing I understood of people and the world until I was 20 years old, which was when I felt a feeling of love for the first time in my life.  It was brief.  Very brief.  But though momentary, I’ll never forget the feeling.  Extreme emotional and psychological pain was set as my “normal” and was internalized as such by the time I was a young girl.

I’m only now able to see my life as being so painful.  At the time, it was just life and I probably would have found it strange not to feel the pain.  Although I was recently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after a recent trauma, there is no doubt that I have suffered with it for much longer than that.  I remember having flashbacks, extreme emotional responses to triggers, panic attacks, etc. since I was young.  Growing up in the family I did forced me to cope with life and chronic emotional pain in some really unhealthy ways.  One of those ways was an eating disorder that almost claimed my life at the age of 20.  I was also diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  I remember dissociating in a severe way after my parents got divorced and having no connection to my emotional or internal state at all.  I remember day dreaming about different ways to end my life because those were the only thoughts that brought relief from the endless emotional torture.  Even though in-patient and out-patient treatment brought physical life back to my body, I remember being forced to endure further trauma without the coping mechanism I had developed, pushing me even further into dissociation and a nearly complete level of emotional numbing.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  And to make it worse, I didn’t even know until recently what was actually happening to me.  At least now I have a name.  Something solid that can be studied and understood…explained.  Before, I was just acting out without a clue.


“War and victims is something the community wants to forget.  A veil of oblivion is drawn over everything painful and unpleasant.  We find the two sides face to face.  On one side the victims who perhaps wish to forget but cannot.  And on the other, all those with strong, often unconscious, motives who very intensely wish to forget and succeed in doing so.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman


Perhaps worse than the trauma, the abuse, and all the resulting effects, is the complete lack of acknowledgement from others.  I’ve had people ignore, deny, and dismiss my experiences just about as much as I’ve had the experiences themselves.  You wouldn’t expect a perpetrator to acknowledge the pain or abuse they inflict, but I think most people would expect others to.  Friends, family (given they aren’t the perpetrators), pastors, community…someone.  But I never had any of that.  Family and friends were usually the perpetrators.  I wasn’t allowed to show pain without incurring more of it, and strangers didn’t know the difference.  Ever since I was a little girl, all of the pain I have experienced has been internalized, shoved down, and locked deep inside my body and mind.  It comes out, but in ways people don’t understand and can’t recognize.  I have body aches, muscle aches, headaches, anxiety so high I can’t concentrate on or remember anything, I dissociate a lot, I isolate, I hide, and I run.  Or I fight.  If I can’t hide or feel trapped, I just start fighting and nobody understands why.  Sometimes they disappear but usually they just reign down insults, accusations, and shame on me…pushing me further and further into myself.

Sometimes I try to explain it but it doesn’t make sense to most people.  It’s only ever made sense to the people who have experienced similar things themselves, but there aren’t many of those.  The one hour a week of therapy I get is the only time in my life I don’t feel crazy.  It’s the only time I get to be honest and have someone treat me like I’m a normal human being.  It’s the only time I see or feel compassion from someone else.  The rest of life is just desolate, dark, despairing, and painful beyond all imagination.  It’s full of expectations I couldn’t meet on my best of days, and rejection.  So…much…rejection.  Some days I’m able to flip the switch and make myself go numb.  Other days, I lack the strength and the pain comes seeping into everything I do and say.

I don’t understand why God has made me suffer so much.  I don’t understand why he never gave me support or help to deal with it in better ways.  I can’t pretend to know why he’s sat back and watched as I disintegrate into a shadow of a person without ever stepping in, showing up, or making good on any of those lofty promises you read about in the Bible.  I can’t pretend that I still believe he’s good…not after I’ve spent years begging for help and healing and never getting any more than a turned back.  I can’t pretend like I know anything about anything any more.  But I do know that even though my body and my mind feel like they’re wasting away to death and destruction, my eyes are more open than they’ve ever been.  I see and feel not just mine, but other’s pain in ways I never did or could before.  I see the delusions and denials of the world more than ever before.  And I feel a rage towards it all that I’ve never had before.   If anything is for sure, it’s that I swallowed the red pill, and there’s no turning back.

After We Were Killed

Last night, one of my best friends was raped by a guy she thought she could trust.  The pain…the fear…the confusion…the shock…the anger…the sorrow…I couldn’t tell which was hers and which was mine.

So many similarities…me…a year ago.  The man I trusted and believed was a friend…suddenly became possessed, taking pleasure in the terror that pinned me to my bed.. unable to move.  Too afraid to speak….why didn’t I fight?  My mind told my body to fight, but my mind and body had suddenly disconnected.  It told my mouth to speak, but there was no connection there either.  I remembered that I had already spoken…dozens of times…and yet here I was, still pinned to the bed.  My words didn’t matter anymore…and apparently never did.

My friend was stronger than me.  She spoke out, she made him leave…but not before it was too late.  She called the cops right away.  They told her it was “90% consensual” and they wouldn’t take a rape kit because it “wasn’t violent.”

Anger….rage wells up in my soul….

What part of “NO” is a percentage of consent???  Since WHEN does unwanted penetration come in forms of percentages??  She said NO.  NO IS ALWAYS 100%.  But not only that, she had discussed her boundaries about sex with him multiple times previous to the incident.  He knew.  He KNEW.  He knew exactly what he was doing.

So did my attacker.  And don’t think for a second that just because he didn’t jump out of the bushes with a gun or a knife that it wasn’t an attack.  That’s only for the movies.  This is far more insidious.  These snakes come to us as friends.  They earn our trust.  They tell us they respect us and love us.  They act safe and understanding until we let them close…and as as soon as we realize what’s really happening…it’s over.  They’re in and out before we ever saw it coming.

We are left in wreckage, shock, trauma, confusion, and anguish.  We call the police and they look at us like we’re crazy.  “Why did you wait so long?”  “Why were you in that situation?”  “Why didn’t you fight?”  The answer is…we didn’t know we needed to.  We trusted them.  We believed it when they said they respected us and we had no idea they were coming in for an attack.  We had no idea what was motivating them.  We thought they were friends.  Their intentions didn’t show until it was too late…we were trapped.  We didn’t even know we were being hunted until after we were killed.

People wonder why we are fearful.  We get shamed and rejected for being “too guarded” or careful.  We get scoffed at for asking questions or taking precautions.  We are told we will never get married.  Society shames us for not being open, available, willing…and when we are….we are raped.  We are used.  We are played with and then thrown away.  We are raped and told we were supposed to fight…but we’re not stupid.  I wasn’t that stupid.  The man was 6’2″, ex-military, carried weapons, and fought MMA.  I’m 5’2″ and 110 lbs on a fat day and have never had so much as a self-defense class.  I had previous trauma…my instinct was to freeze and pray for it to end as quickly as possible.  The paralysis of fear does not equal consent.  We get told we are bitches when our anger comes out and we are damned either way.  The police don’t believe us and the detectives won’t help us.  Some are good…but others don’t even care.  Some are on the wrong side.

It all just feels so hopeless.  So helpless.  So…much…anger.  It was not just our bodies that were raped.  Those men (if that’s what you can call them) raped our hearts, our minds, our souls, our identity, our femininity, our trust, our vulnerability, our courage, our friendship, our strength, and our personhood.  They took it all and nobody says anything.  It’s against the law for a reason…and yet we are the ones who get questioned while they move onto their next victim.  There is no justice anywhere and the harder we fight for it, the more we are rejected.  We’re just supposed to “lay down and take it?”  But then we are blamed for the crime if we do?

Lord, who will help us.  Who will love us…who will take these chains from us.  Help us, Abba, You are our only hope.

Lord, Please Help Me

a_world_of_fear_by_planarisu-d6e5mxvIt’s been too long since I’ve written, and I feel it in my very bones.  Like they’re decaying.  An emptiness, being both drained and so full of pressure I could explode… all at the same time.

I’m working three jobs for the next week.  I barely have time or energy to think, much less to write.  I’m trying to somehow make my life work, while realizing the more I attempt it, the less it actually works…and the more I fall apart.

I’m exhausted.  I’m frustrated.  I’m alone.  I’m angry.  I’m scared.  Not much else really occurs to me as behind the scenes, my soul decays.

I don’t want my life to be what it’s always been – desperately clutching at survival to the detriment of any form of true life or freedom. Running after mud pies and away from a holiday at sea.  I run because I am not worth it.  I’ve never been worth anything but pain.

And yet, I want to live.  I want to be free.  I want to feel what it’s like to not be broken on the inside.  I know God sees me.  I know He cares.  He has already shown me through so many ways and so many people and I know I don’t deserve it. But trusting it is a different thing.  I’m just coming around to accepting the idea.  Reality will take longer, but I hope not forever.  Lord, please help me.

Sifting Friendship

thanks-for-your-friendship


“A friend loves at all times,

and a brother is born for adversity.”

~Proverbs 17: 17


A funny thing happens when you go through long seasons of suffering.  Some people you think are friends suddenly disappear while others become harsh and cruel every time you’re in pain, as though they need you to fake happiness in order for them to be okay.  A lot of people you lean on for support will either disappear altogether or bite you in return.  Those people both create new wounds and infinitely deepen the original one.  But then, miraculously, some people show up who you never imagined would care at all and love you in ways you don’t expect.

Long seasons of suffering do tend to weed out the people in your life who don’t really care.  It exposes their motivations for being in your life and sometimes those are really selfish.  I’ve learned that in seasons of pain and suffering, true friends will rise to the occasion, stand next to you, and fight for you no matter what, but it isn’t always the ones you expect to do so.  Suffering doesn’t have a lot of upsides, but proving who your friends are (and aren’t) is one of them.

The last few months have brought me more than one surprise as people who called me “friend” suddenly disappeared into thin air or became evasive and unavailable at every turn.  Others who I didn’t think had a reason to care, suddenly stepped in and showed more love than people I thought were closer friends.  The sifting process is still taking me by surprise and forcing me to “let go” of people I believed were friends, and open myself up to people I never would have seen before.

One effect of going through suffering is no longer being able to relate to what now seem such ridiculous and petty “problems.”  Though for legitimate pain or sufferings, my heart is far softer and more compassionate than ever before. But for those whose life feels entirely unjust and unfair simply because they had to wait in line for 30 seconds longer than normal, or didn’t get to see their favorite band play for the 18th time…I have a very distinct reaction of disgust.  Listening to the endless complaints from my own entitled generation has recently become my new definition of hell. But for the broken, for the hurting, and for the hearts that have really been wrecked…those are the people whose companionship I seek.

It isn’t easy, but I’m realizing that I’d rather have one true friend (or none at all) than a million fake, shallow, or entitled ones.  I’d rather live in solitude and silence than have to listen to the insufferable commentary of people who think they have all the answers, or whose every minor discomfort is viewed as “suffering”.  I think what I’ve learned the most over the last year is to stop assuming who my friends are and to always be open to change.  It doesn’t seem to take much the relationships in my life to completely rearrange, so it’s best not to grow too attached to where they currently stand.

Despite the ever-shifting sands of friendships, I do have a constant and steady friend in Jesus.  Thick or thin, high or low, rain or shine – He is and has always been my rock in every storm.  He is the one in whom I seek comfort, counsel, guidance, and restoration.


“But they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  

~Isaiah 40:31


Lord, give me strength.  Bring to me the broken ones in need of your comfort and love and give me the wisdom and courage to love them well.  Amen.

The Vacant Expression Of A Crushed Spirit

I had a strange experience the other day while spending some quality outdoor time with a friend.  We were enjoying a beautiful day and snapping some photographs when my friend looked at me and asked with concern,”are you okay?  You aren’t smiling in any of these pictures, are you upset?”

At first I was a little confused, as I was neither upset nor tired.  My only feelings in the moment were happiness, contentment, and excitement.  Outdoors on a gorgeous day is one of my happiest places to be, after all.  But when I looked down at the camera, I could see it – an unconvincing attempt of a smile, with lips stretched horizontally across the face but not quite up at the ends into a real grin.  It was a look I’ve seen a million times, except not in my own reflection.  This was my mother’s smile, the exact same one she always had in photos – the one that always made me wonder why she even bothered smiling at all.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I felt when looking at my mother’s smile on my own face.  Mostly shock, mixed with some sadness and disappointment.  I mean, I know the reason why I wore the look and I wonder if, at least in part, it’s the same reason she did.  Despite some significant differences between my mother and I, what we have in common are lives defined by emotional and psychological abuse.   I was abused by her and my father, she was abused by her parents, and so on down the line.  And even though our responses to such abuses were very different, the damage done to us was the same and it was that same look of brokenness that I saw staring back at me in that photo.  There is something hauntingly familiar in the vacant expression of a crushed spirit.

The unfortunate but true reality is that my mother is an angry and spiteful woman who would rather stab you in the chest than show you an ounce of concern.  She even frequently bragged that she never felt mercy for anyone – a truth she demonstrated on a daily basis.  I, on the other hand, feel everyone’s pain as if it were my own and frequently, though not intentionally, end up hurting myself while trying to help them.  Though I was equally horrified at the sight of her smile on my face, I also felt a pang of empathy for the woman who bore me.  Which isn’t to say I excuse her.  She really is, if you can imagine it, more like an untamed lion infected with rabies than a human being.  You can pity it and even feel compassion for it’s condition, but no matter how safe it may seem while asleep, it will kill you the moment you’re within reach.  My mother is the exact same sort and you can only feel anything resembling compassion for her while at a very…very safe distance.  Otherwise, you’re only thoughts are of survival…or death.

But even so, that half-hearted smile looked the same on both our faces and there’s really no ignoring the brokenness behind them.  From a distance, I do feel sympathy for the rabid lion who daily ripped my soul to shreds – not because I excuse her, but because I know well the pain that drove her to such a reprehensible state.  Do I think she’s responsible for how she treated me?  Yes.  It was her choice to let the pain turn into a narcissistic hatred.  And it is still her choice to continue in such hatred and vile darkness without even the desire to change.  She has chosen her lot.  Do I care to ever be near her again?  No.  Cohabitation with the rabid lion would be safer.  But my heart is still sad that she chose not to overcome the evil done to her, and is instead a willing conduit for it.  I cannot help her or save her, but from a distance, I do indeed pity her.

I am reminded that she and I were both infected with the same deadly poison.  And I am reminded that I have the choice whether or not to allow darkness to consume me or to choose light.  The reality of that makes me fearfully fall on my face before God.  Begging for mercy, for help, for healing, and to ask that I be spared from the fate that every single person in my family has met.

Lord, please keep the darkness away.  If I must bear continual pain, then keep me in the brokenness until you overcome it with love.  Do not let me turn to hatred and darkness for comfort.  Let the fires of my heart burn with love, justice, truth, and mercy.  Let me only hate that which is evil.  Lead me always into your light and goodness.  Amen.