Sunday, September 27, 2015

heartbreak and the example of Christ

My new place of employment has a unofficial tag line. "No drama... no avoidance." Things are dealt with honestly and directly, and any drama is not tolerated.

It's taken me awhile to adjust to this kind of environment. And I suspect it will take me a bit longer to find my footing in this. Hopefully not because I thrive on drama, but because I am just not used to things being dealt with directly and without avoidance.

I don't know anyone who likes confrontation. That would make me question if they understand what confrontation means, or perhaps would make me question their sanity. But there are some people who at least understand that while confrontation is hard and challenging, it's also an opportunity. And it's healthy, certainly more so than the alternative.

There's the phenomenon I learned about it one of my classes in seminary: triangulation. Triangulation is when a third party somehow gets involved in the brokenness between two people. It's such an easy trap to fall into, and I've sadly been party to it myself, as well as had a third person get involved in something (in my life) that had nothing to do with them, in their attempts to repair and deal with an issue. (Obviously, it didn’t end well. It rarely does.) This is just an unhealthy as avoidance, though the heart is usually in the right place. This makes it all the more deceiving.

For the last few weeks I’ve had this song in my head:

There is certainly a double meaning in this song when you listen to the lyrics. These in particular struck me tonight:

You're a lovely magician, and I've fallen under your spell
You discern every moment as one who knows how this will end
It's as if you see through me, as if I'm unknown to myself
Your eye finds the aquifer, the static reserve of my tears
So I need a well to my heart, I trust you to break the ground

When Jesus walked on this earth, he was not free from emotion or heartbreak. He was angry when it was right to be angry. He wept when it was appropriate to weep. His example of dealing with everyday life was done perfectly, and we are given that “template” by the example of his life for how we are to deal with everyday life. He didn’t avoid. He didn’t suppress strong emotion. He spoke when he needed to and was quiet when he needed to be. He confronted, and said and did hard things.

Oh how I fall short of this every single day.

[I need a well to my heart and I trust no one but Jesus to break the ground.]

I need this example of Jesus every single day, because the reality is that I am living in a broken world and I know it wasn’t meant to be this way. And so I lash out when shalom is broken and I rage against the injustice and the unfairness of it all. Then the tears come and I say and do stupid things. Jesus gave me his example, but I fail to heed it. I disregard his restraint and his passion, because I am stubborn and going through my own stuff and somehow I think that supersedes what is actually right, and do instead what I feel is right.

I am the reason his grace exists.

“When we have months of erratic emotions, we can go to him and know that he understands. He knows what the right emotions are and he can guide us and help us, and all the while justifies us... Gives us what we need as we stand before the Father forever, whether we are experiencing emotions appropriate or not. What a comfort that is.” – Derek Webb, audio commentary on “Your Heart Breaks in All the Right Places”

A light on the water, like sounds bouncing off every wall
You give me my heading and guide me through dangers unknown
You weep with the weeping and dance when the music incites
You do it for me and I wish now to do it for you
Like salt in the drops from your eyes, it restores and it preserves

I am so glad that God doesn't see the wreck of the person I am and sees Jesus instead. May I learn to see others this same way. Because when I hurt God over and over again, he still sees Jesus, but I seriously doubt my ability to see Jesus in those who’ve hurt me…who’ve avoided me… who’ve done the triangulation dance.

Jesus’ heart breaks in all the right places. I need this to happen to me, too.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

crisis and transition

Yesterday, someone said this to me:

“The first time we sat down and had a long conversation, shortly after we met, I had a sense of who you were and what you’d been through. Then I called you three weeks later, and you were a completely different person. It was after you’d been with your friends in St. Louis and and were currently with your family in Nebraska. You were a different person because you were in a place where you felt supported and cared for, with people that made you feel loved."

This was new information for me, because I suppose I don’t see what I’ve been through as something that altered who I was, but something I just had to live through and come out on the other side of. All this transition stuff, moving, new job, leaving my old life completely behind… the life stuff, the tasks…  they had overshadowed how my soul has been altered.

I don’t say that last phrase lightly. But it’s true. My soul has been altered. 

There are wounds still fresh. Some scars will start to appear. Make no mistake, I have been emotionally altered forever by this most recent season of my life.

My reply to this person was, “I am looking forward to being myself again someday.” But I really don’t believe that will truly happen. Just like the white towel soaked in mud for hours can never been fully white and the same again (no matter how much bleach) what happened has changed the lens with which I view the world and myself and ministry from this point on.

Now, I could go on with the rest of this post and write about the importance of owning our stories and how they define who we are, but it’s what we do with our stories that make the true impact. And that would be true. Our past has defined who we are, but it does not determine our action or our future.

But it does alter them, because we have been altered. And I need to process this alteration. 

I spent July doing some intentional healing through different methods. I was glad for rest and probably could’ve used more, because even just today, I was reminded in the smallest of ways about what I came from and suddenly I’m right back there, and my heart starts to pound faster. And if I have to talk about it, the lump in the throat forms and I realize… I’m still working through it. Because it’s still so difficult to speak about it and not cry. So I’m not over it. And I’m angry I’m not over it. Since this is officially a trauma, I suppose it will be awhile before this anger will be gone.

These reminders that flash me back to things are the touchstones of how I’ve been altered. Of my scars. I am not willing to label these painful reminders as being part of my story, because I don’t believe they deserve that. Only the really important people and the really important things deserve that label. But these reminders are part of my crises. My trauma. 

When a person goes through a transition, the crises seem to be more present. More sharp. More raw. So you don’t act and react like yourself. And you can make some bad decisions, you hurt some people, and hurt yourself. These are things you would normally never do, because that isn’t who you are. Because things in your heart are skewed from what they normally are, and so you process information differently. Experience the world differently. Even talk and act differently (as proven by the above conversation I had.) I find this somewhat shocking and unfair. That the core of who you are can be shaken so much by something that it alters you forever.

But of course this is true, because it’s no doubt that all of you have experienced it. Maybe in small ways, maybe big ones. And I know I have before this season of my life. But for some reason this one hurts a little bit more, and I feel altered a little bit more. There are lots of reasons this could be - the nature of what I went through, the context, perhaps even how much the people meant to me that are part of the hurt. It could also be my age, my isolation from family geographically, or, as the conversation above implied, that I was in a place without love and support when it all happened. (To clarify, there was one family who supported me wholeheartedly during my darkest season from April to the present. They provided many things for me, in particular many physical needs, like a place to live and help with moving and packing. But my emotional needs were/are HUGE. I had support. But unfortunately I needed more, and a different kind.)

I’m only now seeing the true damage that was done to my heart because I didn’t have the support I needed. I went a very long time feeling unloved, abandoned, alone, and angry. This led to feeling of martyrdom, despair, and depression. That’s (excuse the crass language) a crap-load to overcome. But I’m working on it. I’m just messing up a lot in the midst of it all. I'm a different person now, doing and saying things that are unlike me. I don't know when some normalcy will return, but it's my prayer that even if it isn't soon that the body count I leave in my wake will be kept to a minimum.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

trauma and grace

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.

It’s recently been acknowledged to me that what I’ve been through in the last few months is an actual trauma. I didn’t go through a terrible event, but rather a series of challenges that added up to a trauma, according to my counselor.

So basically, for me, this just means that I’ve been screwing up a lot lately. It has not been a good time for me to make decisions or deal with the stress of transition and job change and moving. Plus so much more. I mean, let's go down the list. Unpredictable emotions? Check. Flashbacks? Everyday. Strained relationships? Several. Physical symptoms? Quite a bit. Difficulty moving on? Hell yes.

I could use the excuse that this behavior is all about my response to my situation. And there may even be some truth in that. But I also make my choices. It’s important that I own what I have messed up. That I ask for forgiveness where I need and that I work toward reconciliation with those I’ve hurt. My response is all I have control over, and my response must be repairing what’s been broken.

To be honest, I’m just so tired of feeling sad. I’m tired of keeping record of wrongs (clearly my own sin), thinking about how many hours I spent with people listening and supporting them through their hard times and now when things got bad in my life and needed someone they weren’t there for me. This is part of my trauma. It’s no sprained ankle, my counselor said. This is a car crash will multiple broken bones. So to some extent, my choices are at the mercy of my trauma and how my emotions are handling this trauma.

I guess what I’ve found to be most thankful for in this whole process is the grace of Jesus Christ. When I don’t offer grace to myself and others don’t offer grace to me, I always know that Jesus is extending his.  To be honest, it’s all that is getting me through.