Make Room For Feeling

Lately I’ve noticed a lack of elbow room for feelings.  No open spaces left for a feeling to show up.  For if one appears, quick as a flash there’s a fuss, and a shunning.  ‘So and so has it much worse’, my mind tells me.  Along with your lips.  “You could have so much more to worry about”.  “Grow up”, I say to myself.  Round and round my thoughts and your words chase the feelings that arrive, until they find a deep hole in which to dive underground.  And before I know it, they are gone. 

One unexpected day, arrives on scene the drive to stuff my face with food.  The fixation to pull at my hair. The need to buy too much, cook too much, Facebook too much, drive too fast, rage at my kids.  And I wonder, suddenly after months of not needing my horrid coping behaviors, why they have surfaced again.  I wonder why I’m blowing up in situations that normally wouldn’t anger me.  I act in ways that aren’t ‘me’.  And I forget to connect the dots back to the feeling that tried to join the conversation of my life.  I neglected to notice that I would not have it!  I forget I would not care or listen or lovingly respond to the feelings that God put in my body to help me cope with the realities of life.  And so I viciously attempt to stamp out the annoying coping habit I don’t want, and the embarrassing reaction has been caused by denying an inborn healthy coping mechanism called my feelings. 

Feelings help me know if I’m catching fire.  If I’m freezing solid.  They help me know if blood is being cut off from a limb.  Feelings let me know dust has made it’s way onto my eye.  Reminds me when I need sleep.  If my teeth need flossed.  Feelings also allow me to notice when I’m being disrespected.  When I’ve said ‘yes’ too many times.  When I’m being used. 

Feelings are not popular.  The catch-phrase ‘too sensitive’ exists because feeling a thing is deemed as a character flaw.  Allowing myself to notice a feeling and say out loud that I feel sad, fearful, anxious is to agree to being branded as ‘moody, thin skinned, touchy, immature’, you get the idea. 

Life hands us a two edged sward, really.  Expects us not to feel, and also expects us not to react.  Only problem, when I don’t notice my feelings and respectfully address the red flags that feelings wave in my face, when I shove underground these warning signals, the body takes over. No longer my frontal lobe in charge, physical reactivity takes the place of choices.  And who wants that?  I can either decide to take charge of me, or let my reflexive, my reactive self take the place of my choices.   

Not only are reactions caused by ignoring my feelings, at times so are my conditions.  Conditions such as depression and anxiety.  Clients often sign up for treatment to ‘fix’ depression or anxiety.  They don’t realize that it’s an end-stage condition.  Much like diabetes is deemed the problem rather than an end stage condition that points to the myriad of problems ignored before diabetes came into full bloom.  The goal is to address little things that cause the end stage.  And one of the simplest fixes is to stop ignoring and being ashamed of feelings.  Treat feelings for what they are.  Mighty helpers.  They tell us the truth about a situation.  And as we give attention to them and address them, we become stronger. 

I can hear the ‘You are what you think’ critics now.  What about all those feelings that are not accurate?  First rule of thumb.  Feelings are not right or wrong.  There are only wrong actions for dealing with that feeling.  A feeling is neutral.  Decisions about that feeling and the actions taken are not.  Many actions (responses) way over the top are triggers to shame about that feeling.  Once there is no shame for a feeling, it can be rightly and empathetically dealt with.  And the adult me can make the decision for how to respond.  As long as there is shame, the responder is functioning in a fight, flight or freeze state. 

Make way, I say, for feelings. They are the first responders to a healthier me.    

Early Betrayal and Marriage Prayer

Stepping into crust of snow, I walk into the stinging white beside a man keeping pace, together faces pink with low temperatures.  He is alone this day.  His Marriage, like the crunch under our feet, is on especially rough surfaces.  We walk and talk.  A long time I listen.  And then respond.  I tell him about the early stages of betrayal.  The small shifts in attitude before a heart of stone has taken shape.  The betrayal of another – the pull away.  The secret thoughts that say to self “I can do better”, “I shouldn’t have to put up with this crap”.  “She says that to me all the time” he says to me.   “And so do you,” I reply.  The past 35 minutes have been descriptions of all the ways she is no good, and impossible.   He hears me.  The story is the same for all the couples I work with, and for my own life.  Unique scenarios, with the same denigration of love.  The toxic seed of heart that abandons the other while still sitting beside her.  While still holding his hand.  Which is why she says she can’t trust him, says he feels unsafe around her, the loneliness, being invisible, being hated.  The heart feels abandoned, even when words and actions of the other follows the rules.  The heart that betrays the loved one in exchange for love of ‘my rights’.  We talk about how much easier it is to see another’s rot than our own.  That even in marriages looking quite put together, we indulge in betrayal thoughts dozens of times a day. 

I ask “Do you pray together?” This couple attends a Bible study and support group, attends church.  They are believers.  The type who walk the walk.  Christians who want God’s will, who weep at the kindness of the Lord.  And I ask if they pray together.  “No, we don’t,” he says.  “How would we do that?”  And I pause.  No one has ever asked me what marriage prayer looks like.  And as we move ahead a step and then another, I hope my words match the stirring at the core of me.

Then I laugh.  I catch the puzzled look out the corner of my eye.  “I know a lot about what not to do.”  Prayers can’t be used to blast the other person.  “Dear Lord, I pray that you help my husband to not be such an absolute selfish narcissistic jerk”.  The sad eyes wrinkle into a smile.  “A prayer like that will ruin prayer for the two of you.”  I know, from experience.  Doing the opposite works better.  “Lord, I am selfish.  I’m blind to the garbage in me.  I can only mostly see (my spouse’s name) faults clearly, and not my own very well.  I pray that you show me how to love _______ ( put your spouses name here).  Help me see how I hurt (him/her).  Give me clues for making (his/her) life a joyful one.  Life here is short.  Let me be a blessing for the days (he/she) has left.  Let me be a warm place for (him/her) to come to.  Please forgive me for harming this person I love so much.   I’m not good at love, we are so different.  I pray this all in Jesus name, amen.” 

We walk in silence.  He understands.  I encourage him to not use this prayer script, but to pray from his heart with her near him, and plead for God to give him what it takes to love his wife.  Its hard to do when the other person feels like an enemy, but it works. 

The only reason my adored husband and I are still together is because we pray.  We would have strangled each other if we hadn’t continued to pray.  We are just naturally too dysfunctional, selfish and warped to follow simple directions for making changes.  God has had to change us one prayer at a time.  We don’t pray just right all the time, either.  Sometimes we break all the rules for praying, and harm each other in our petitions to God.. .especially me.  But we move back towards each other and God.  It’s our only consistent healing habit that has saved us from ourselves. 

It’s easy to betray.  The heart finds ways to reject the one who knows too much about me. The reason the subject of betrayal belongs with marriage prayer is because betrayal, even at its earliest stage, is the invisible aggressor that destroys love, and prayer is what stitches love back together.  God is the one who kindly reminds us of all the ways we harm the other, and shows us again how to love, even when the other person is unlovable.  Especially when the other person is unlovable.  White underfoot, we move beyond despair toward God love.  To the only thing that stops betrayal and brings us together again.   

Broken Safe Heart

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Beautifully Broken.  A testimony shared in word and book form.  The story of Elisa Morgan, former president of MOPS International.  The telling of a teenage daughter pregnant, the shame of the thing, of the realization that we are all a mess, and this is a truth.  A friend and I ventured from home to attend the “I Am Loved, One Strand” Event featuring Elisa.  An evening of challenge to a church crammed packed with ladies.  Will I hide my brokenness, or will I take the risk and be a mess, for Jesus Sake.  As the evening hours came to a close, half dozen pastors and elders waited up front to offer a prayer for anyone who could use it.  Just as I Am keeping time, verse after verse and out of the hundreds of women attending, no one came forward.  Verses repeated.  Still no one.  Then a couple of the pastors facilitating the event came forward to be prayed for. As if to say “This is how it’s done”. 

We had been dismissed, the church mostly emptied, a few pray-ers still at post when I asked my friend if she wanted to go together for prayer.  Pray for our marriages.  For our kids. For our own personal struggles.  My friend is no ordinary friend.  She is one of those heroes who lives her faith despite depth of pain.  Sunday mornings, despite hostility at doing so, dresses herself and her children and slips off to church alone, shaking inside but holding it together, always holding it together.  The only Christian in her family.  A mentally unstable husband who swings from kind to damaging.  Having to scoop up children and leave her home for days, fly away, until the storm passes.  She is a mother who is doing everything she can to give her kids what they need, her husband what he needs, works full time, is a loving adult daughter of aging parents, a loving friend to me and many others.  All this amidst a blast that comes and goes, sometimes nearly crashed upon the rocks, when once again God comes through, and she holds steady again. 

We have so much in common, her and I, and you too, I’m guessing.  Our lives are full and beautiful and messy and painful.  We have the unexpected that tares at us.  Every time the calm comes, on it’s heels is destruction.  Willing again and again to be a mess for Jesus sake, as it would be so much easier to pretend all is well, easier to dust ourselves of the messes that disrupt our hoped for lives, but we’ve decided to refuse to give up.  And there we were, she and I doing the very thing the evening had lauded.  Praying not for the superficial, but for what needed praying for. 

Pastor woman, kind eyes, nice prayers she offers up.  The flowing kind of prayers, until tears flow from depths of those she prayed for.  Immediately friend and I feel the change.  Pastor Woman holds steady cold eyes on the one with tears and steps back.  Starts lecturing.  Shrouded in Christian-ese, she with smile and sneer eyes, she offers up a lecture of indignant setting straight.  Arrogance and irritation.  Distance.  Rejection.  Parental eyes.  As real as if she had said the words, “We don’t do messy here.”  

Shame, it hit hard.  Feeling sick.  Needing to find a hiding place, a bathroom, tears they showered pant-leg beneath the eyes.  And as shame flooded in, I remembered words I had heard hours before in a training I had attended.  Fight, flight and freeze occurs when comfort has not been extended.  Fight, flight, freeze.  The body’s reaction to not trusting.  An unsafe place to be a mess. 

The church is realizing how important authenticity is, and vulnerability.  Elisa Morgan has written “Beautifully Broken”.  Ann Voskamp’s latest book reiterates the same idea in “The Broken Way”.  Brene Brown has written extensively about vulnerability and authenticity, and about becoming a wholehearted person.  And many are speaking out on these issues, including God.  The Holy Bible is packed with raw stories of real people.  And still the church isn’t prepared for what it’s asking for. 

We better not ask for real if we have not done the due diligence of placing front and center only those who have done their own raw and messy work.  If my healthy vulnerability frightens you, as culturally Christian as I am, you won’t at all be comfortable with folks with a criminal record, an abortion never spoken of, same sex attraction shame, cut scars that run deep behind long sleeves, a porn addiction, shoplifting, the pain of life as a stripper, hidden heroine, purging, on the run.  Christian servants are not prepared unless we have intentionally peered into the toxic morass of our own less than lovely lives.  The grace of Jesus administered to shame makes worthy and safe my ears to hear your wound, and your secrets.  Professional pretenders have no place at the front line of the body of Christ.  This interaction was uncomfortable for me, but I’m not harmed.  I’m surrounded by healthy people who give me all the love and support I need.  Someone else might not have what I have.  One considering Christianity.  One who has risk it all to try once again to reach for Jesus.   

Jesus says:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Of course we don’t want pastors and leaders functioning as out-of-control messes.  This pastor offering prayer has either never come face to face with her own lacking, or had experienced the discomfort of letting a judgmental person in on her own disgrace, which is why she reacted the way she did to ours.  How can a pastor be honest with themselves and others when we marginalize them for owning their weaknesses?  Pastors are human beings.  They have a past, a present.  Arrogant Saul was only safe to serve when struck down by Jesus, made blind and dependent, and a mess.  Peter was only safe when he faced the ugliness and rejection of his distancing behavior.  We are only safe when we see who we are, and let God’s Grace pick us up again.  A pastor able to admit and speak about his or her own messiness becomes safe to love another.  And not before. 

I’ve written on this topic more than once, and will continue to write on it.  The front lines call for the real deal.  No pretenders.  Our Christian Culture must stop rewarding leaders and pastors for pretending, and punishing for honesty.  The route from death to life is across a cravat that separates Hateland of Pretend from The Loveland of Known.  From the Hiding, fight, flight and freeze (Adam, where are you?) place to a place of being seen, loved and forgiven.  Christians can’t stand on both grounds. Authenticity is attractive to the hurting who don’t know Jesus, because isn’t this what we all want most of all?  To be known AND loved.  We can’t pretend to be authentic as a way of extending a hand.  The call for authenticity has already been sent out.  Front line Christian’s, time is now to step across.  

Refrigerators and the Presidential Election.

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I’ve decided that this election is all about refrigerators.  Those homely green things that would have run 1000 years had we let them.  Eternal living fridges, faithful cooling machines still cooling our milk and sandwiches, had we, the homeowners, not rejected them for something more chic.  A demand for bells and whistles in exchange for units that would never leak, shoot ice cross the floor, rot through flimsy non-stainless steel exterior walls, taking chunks of pretend metal with it.   Have you been shopping for a fridge, a microwave or dishwasher lately?  I’m guessing in the past 5 years, you have.  My point exactly. There is no good reason an appliance should last less than 50 years or 100.  And now they last, what?!  A grand total of 10 years if we pay a maintenance man to keep fussing with them!! 

There was a time when reliability was more important than appearance.  When a person’s ‘name’ or company name was protected by solid workmanship.  Refrigerators are but one way our world cares more about the ‘cool’ factor, more about making an impression, taking up a place of position in the kitchen then it does function.  Let’s see, there is the lovely expensive blouse perchance at Nordstrom’s, a blouse I can’t do without.  One wash later, limp and faded, it should be tossed, but still takes up space because, after all, it use to be so lovely.  No conscience about the choice of fabric.  No name to uphold.  Books with a catchy title by a well known author, and inside the book, 7 ways to do such and such, a nice format and lacking anything of creativity and depth.  The can opener that looks the part and can’t do the job after a couple months.  An fine looking brand new all wheel drive in my favorite color, and along with the name, an expectation that the head on the engine has to be reworked routinely.  Seriously?!

We complain bitterly about the election this year, and about the lack of good choices in whom to vote for, but our options match who we have become.  T.V., radio, movies, music, books, art, the news, housing architecture, we have thrown out beauty, form, substance and have replaced it with a shell, one that appears to have some of the elements of something that once was.  What seems to be most important to us now is not goodness, but persons who act like they belong on a reality show.  We love the angry, loud, crass, shallow, dishonest, we idolize bullies, we devalue human life, both the old and young, people different from ourselves, we crave brazen show-off’s and have no respect for the quiet spirit of a green fridge.  The person that has few frills, no scandals, does their job, holds respect for those they answer to, (we are all under someone whether we scrub toilets, play football or serve ‘we the people’), does not see themselves as ‘the living end’, a person who uses power granted to them with humility, and uses it toward the achievement of peace, with the maturity to use force as a last resort.   

I can’t march over and change up the election process this year, grab a couple brats by the scruff of the neck and put them in time out awhile, bringing in two kind hearted, honest candidates.  But I can ask myself, what am I doing to perpetuate power and flashy?  What about me likes to hear a radio money man lip off at an ‘idiot’?  Likes to see wrongdoers put in their place in a disrespectful way?  What if we all move through our homes and cars, our entertainment, our faith, our parenting styles, through our lives and take to tossing everything lacking substance?  This election season will come and go.  We might forget what we’ve done to cause what happens this November.  The regrets on death bed are mostly about love.  Life is too short to be about power games and show.  What if the rest of my life I became the best green fridge I can be, and support all green fridges around me?  That’s what I’ll do.  This November I’m going green.

Real Prayer

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This prayer to God was written by a beautiful survivor of the most hideous of abuse.  It’s a real prayer to God.  I’m posting this with her permission as I think we all need to challenge preconceived ideas about what a proper prayer looks like, and assumptions about people unable to imagine a loving God.  The God I worship wept.  He welcomes honesty. Even of the rawest form.  Thank you Trinity for allowing me to share your letter.

 

I so long for a Father figure,

someone to gently love me without abuse,

without conditions, without fear of judgment.

You, God are suppose to be my ultimate Father,

on one side, I still so desperately long for your affections, your love,

and at times I see glimpses of that in the children you’ve place in my life,

through other people,

through the promises in your Word.

But lately there is this other side,

this darkness within me that rages at you

and doesn’t understand how you have a plan for my life,

or that you care about the broken hearted.

A part of me that see you no differently than I view my abuser,

as a monster,

because only a monster would allow children to be abused,

would allow my own parents to crave drugs so bad that selling me,

their youngest child,

was like selling a used shirt at a yard sale,

something you don’t think twice about.

And then you create me to need love and attention,

the very things that got me hurt in the first place!

Why would I come running to you?!!

You didn’t protect me,

you sure as hell didn’t stop the bastards that used me like trash for years.

If you want me to truly trust you God,

you’ve got to break the wall down,

because it’s high and thick and not coming down without some serious work on your part.

I’m tired of praying to what seems like thin air,

only to battle the demons within me so much more.

You say you’re a healer and you heal the broken hearted.

Where’s the healing???

When does it come?

When do I get release from the monsters of mental illness?

The hell and torture of PTSD?

The little Trinity needs her Abba Father,

but the adult me wants to never let you close to her.

I need some answers, God

if we are going to work together to heal little Trinity.

Written by Trinity

Billboard Hiding

Sitting on a bench alongside my friend in a sundown park, people, they are everywhere and we watch.  Watch the milling about, the comings and goings.  A group of boys silently step out of the overgrowth, walking slower than boys going any place at all, more silent than any collection of guys together on any August evening. And without a billboard announcing drug sales and drug use, 7 boys let the entire park in on what they’d been up to.  Hiding. 

I know this hiding.  Our kids start young.  Round eyes watch through soft blond lashes, little arms tight behind back.  I peek round the little hider.  Melted blobs of green, yellow, orange, red.  Warmed M&M’s concealed behind brown smudged lips and chubby fists.  It’s hard not to laugh just a little.  It’s cute at 3.  Not so cute thereafter. 

What if boys and girls of all ages came right out and stated:

“I use drugs and sell it to my friends.”

“I sneak your credit card number and use it intermittently so you won’t notice”

“I prefer porn to people”

“I cheat on my taxes”

“I live in more of a house than I can afford so you will think I’m important”

Honest, and still not helpful enough.  I’m thinking it’s not the lie that feels so worth hiding.  It’s the action.  And why, with all the variety of ways to think about life, with a wide range of taste in popsicle flavors do people choose to hide and lie about certain behaviors rather than just say “I’m grape, you’re strawberry”?  Maybe lying is used for avoiding trouble.  The law doesn’t support kids snorting coke in bushes.  Doesn’t support streakers.  The baby doesn’t want M&M’s taken away. 

And still, at times we hide because we don’t like and don’t approve of the way WE act, and don’t want anyone who isn’t doing what we are doing to see us act the way we act. 

Shame is a thing of the eyes.

It’s eyes catching the action of another person’s shame.  Eyes seeing bottle downed.  Eyes watching as item is lifted.  Eyes that make pretese hiding so ridicules.  We think no one can see our pretense, and then we parade it out for all.  Never knowing.

What do I hate about my own actions?  What do I think I hide from you – that indecent piece of me I’d rather die than let you see?  The hiding I do is a waste.  I’m not hidden.  I’m announced.  The knowledge of good and evil.  The garden gift we all share.  To see the shame of another, no matter how much we try to conceal. 

Let my eyes be used for loving, no matter another’s shame I see.  Let my own eyes notice my own shame – with purpose in mind.  Let me allow kind eyes to peer into who I am, those healing eyes of knowing and loving anyway.

  

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.  Genesis 3:7

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  Mark 10:21.

Authenticity for Jesus

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I’ve been writing my story.  Everyone has one, you know.  You have a story, too.  It’s one of the tools we’ve been given to overcome darkness in our sad world. John the Apostle explains:

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.  Revelation 12: 11

Their testimony.  Not the testimony of another.  Their own.  … loved not their lives until the death… I have thought about how in our attempt to love our lives, we tell a testimony that is clean cut, white collared, admirable.  A crafted and carved story fit to share.  Modifying the real thing.  Omitting parts.  Changing reality to better fit what should have been, rather than what was.  Real life stories are messy.  Taking history of patients in emergency room 19 years I learned to quickly separate lies being told me from the raw truth.  Lies flow nicely.  Fit together in perfect symmetry.  Life story never does. 

It’s convoluted. 

Embarrassing. 

Shameful. 

Complicated. 

Too good to be true.

And too bad.

We fib an attractive life story into shape.  Who wants to be that single tree downed and rotten clear through amidst a forest of strong and admirable types?  Not me, not you.  And so we pretend.  Hold our heads high and omit what has been, and what is.  We won’t call it lying.  We say we’re not complainers.  Justify that we don’t need to tell something that will make another look bad.  We call it looking on the bright side.  Truth is, nobody has a squeaky clean story.  We are all harmed and wounded by this hard thing called living.  We add to the harm by pretending we didn’t live the pain we did.    

Partly what makes evil so evil is how beautiful it presents itself on the outside.   

The shiny red apple. 

It’s the symbol we use to embody the fall. 

Craving what is beautiful

– ignoring the death in it’s meat. 

Healing calls to truth.  Calls for something rather awkward for this face-saving self.  We hide and tell what isn’t in an attempt to love a life that never was, rather than share the testimony of a messy life lived to the glory of God.  Becoming a truth teller requires not loving my life.  Doing so for the benefit of one who might relate and grasp onto a Jesus that heals real messes.  It requires giving up my pretense for Jesus sake.

Let my desire for beauty

Reach for beautiful Jesus

He who looks more beautiful still

In the reflection of my trash heap story

What He has done for me

Means less

When I cover up my trashy story

Pretending my life has really been

The daisy covered meadow

Tis a choice, really

I choose my messy testimony

For Jesus Sake