Love


Why are we so afraid of the pain of others? Does it emphasize or enhance our own pain? Does it make us feel inadequate or ill-equipped to save or heal others? Or does it just make things better, more tidy, when we overlook it?

I was shaken to hear of the rape scene in Downton Abbey’s fourth season and my first thought was to skip over it. Our family recently became acquainted with this show and I really value the integrity and morals highlighted in it, especially when our options of family-friendly viewing have become so limited. To put it mildly, our family is addicted to this show. All five of us love it. What a lovely way in teaching our children about integrity and morals and taking pride and showing honor in our hard work, no matter our social class. Of course, there have been some indiscretions and horrors that we’ve blocked from our eight year old and discussed in detail as a family. But this rape scene was monumental to the storyline of the show and I’ve wrestled with allowing our family to view this together or skip over it and give the “safe” summary. After all, even an adult friend of mine admitted he couldn’t watch rape scenes in movies/tv shows and this scene was no exception. I’ve lived my life the same way: avoiding rape scenes in movies/tv shows. But is that not what was done to me when others learned of my sexual abuse? Is that not the normal response to pain, especially rape: to run and hide? How will my children ever know the world – without experiencing it firsthand (as I so often pray) – if I gloss over the horrible truths about rape and the stigma it has on the victim? Even to this day, the shame and expected silence enveloping victims is appalling. One of the greatest lessons I learned when being trained for victim advocacy with the local police department was in allowing the victims the space to suffer and mourn. To rid them of this, or speed them through this process would be detrimental to the healing that would eventually transpire. The place in which I felt most humbled and honored was when these families would allow me into their suffering – their most anguished, traumatized and painful moments – and I was invited to share in that with them. What a gift.

I decided to preview the rape scene and, hours later, I am still sorting through the many thoughts that rose to the surface. Of course it was triggering but not nearly as much as I had imagined. More so, I was bombarded by the fact that I was adverse to ever watching that scene or in having my children watch it. Do I not allow them to view the pain and struggle and death in this war we wage between good and evil? Why did I so easily fall for the glossed-over stigma? Did I feel my children would be better off if they never witnessed this horror? I know better. Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person” as well as “bodily marks or pains resembling the wounds of the crucified Jesus”. Very interesting. How very different we’d view our salvation without the “stigma”, the suffering and wounds, our Savior took on our behalf.

I recently watched a beautiful video of Eugene Peterson and Bono discussing the Psalms and the necessity in sharing our honesty, even in – ESPECIALLY IN – pain, struggle and despair. I was inspired and filled with hope as Eugene spoke of the Psalms “It’s not smooth. It’s not nice. It’s not pretty. But it’s honest and I think we’re trying for honesty.” Bono added,

“… dishonesty… I find a lot of in Christian art, a lot of dishonesty…” and “Write a song about their bad marriage… write a song about how they’re, you know, pissed off at their government. Because that’s what God wants from you. That truth, ‘The Way, The Truth’. And that truthfulness, ‘Know the truth – the truth will set you free’, it’ll blow things apart. Why I’m suspicious of Christians is because of this lack of realism and I’d love to see more of that. In art and in life and in music.”

In the midst of all of this reckoning, Eugene Peterson’s perspective on the Cross came to mind. The interviewer, David Taylor, asked him, “Is there a way to read the Psalms, through Jesus’ eyes, that helps us understand violence or non-violence?” Eugene answered,

“Well, yeah, the crucifixion. Where there’s violence, there’s got to be some kind of response. And is it more violence or less? I’m glad we have crosses in every room in this house. When I look at those, I don’t think of decoration. I think this is the world we live in and it’s a world with a lot of crosses. And I just would like to spend my life doing something about that: through scripture, through preaching, through friendship. Now my, you know, years are getting shorter and I don’t have many left but I don’t want to escape that – escape the violence.”

Wow. How often have I looked at the cross and glossed over the blood and torn up flesh, looked past the suffering, to see only the glory in the resurrection? Of course, I do not discount that glory. Without that resurrection, there is no redemption. However, without that violence, the truth is, there would not have been a resurrection. Essentially, without violence, there is no redemption. To live my life under the motto of “Forgive and Forget” would be dishonest to the healing that my Savior delivered after that violence against me. To gloss over the suffering of others, would be to discredit the value of Jesus’ comfort and salvation.

So, the honesty in violence and redemption is the catalyst that points to Jesus. How very different that perspective allows me to view the suffering I’ve endured and the suffering I choose to walk through with others. I’ll end this with a passage that has brought immense peace and strength lately.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. 2 Corinthians 1:2-3 (The Message)

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

– Alexander Pope

There is hope. Light always shines in the darkness. When I say I believe in God, that I follow Jesus, it means there is a Well of abundance — an overflow — of grace and mercy from which I glean. From this Well, there is also forgiveness that the world will never understand as well as kindness and joy that causes others to scoff and share about in gossip hell or to look on me with pathetic / patronizing eyes, as if I’ve been afflicted with The Naiveté.

Three months / ten appointments later, the marital counselor’s therapy is truly taking shape into something beautiful and powerful. I’ve been given glimpses into a marriage and life that Disney could never dream, one that I would never have been able to fathom over a decade ago.

Still, there is struggle. Sometimes it’s ten steps back after three steps forward. Confusion and anger, hot-blooded and cursing, as the selfishness, pride and conditional love bursts forth. Yet… there is perseverance. Endurance. Hope. Love.

Amongst the truth, hope can fly. Amongst the grace, love endures.

To God be the Glory.

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Empathy is a good thing. Empathy is necessary. There’s not enough of empathy in this world. The fighting in the world would probably cease to exist if everyone had empathy. Right?

Well, I have a problem controlling my empathy. Yes, this is a bad problem.

I’ve never known empathy to ever be a problem. As a matter of fact, the world has too much apathy and indignation and self-righteousness. Not enough people care. There’s not enough grace and love and valuing of human life.

Empathy comes very easy to me and I know that that is a miracle in and of itself. In middle and high school, I used to just rage and fight, as I was living from a central force of anger. Now, I find it a little too easy to cry when others are sad and I feel physical joy for others when there is great news. Love and compassion seem effortless as I am drawn to those that are broken-hearted and hurting. I ache for suffering and want desperately to change it and change the way it stomps out humanity. I know that all of the love and joy and empathy that I have is from God and that if left to my own depravity, I would choose to be self-involved and not care about the suffering of people, especially strangers. This empathy-prone nature sounds like such a good thing but I’ve recently learned that I have a problem guarding it.

Like anything meant for good, empathy can also be used as a tool to bring about discord. I had no idea this was happening in my own life until this week.

I’ve done a LOT of soul searching and reforming and relinquishing (to God) in the past few years. This has been the longest and deepest stretch of emotional and spiritual growth that has ever taken place in my life. This change has been painful and rough but it’s been necessary and breath-taking and glorious. For some reason, though, I couldn’t shake the fact that there was still some very deep-rooted issues going on in my life and I was struggling to find the cause. There are countless times that I will walk away from a conversation and feel like the worst person in the world. Feeling as though I just let someone gossip my ear off and talk trash about someone and I never took the high road or shined any light into the conversation. There are times when I’ll walk away from the conversation angry and upset at the person being spoken about even though they never caused me any harm. There has also been times where I’d also share my own negative feelings about (and insecurities with) people so that the conversation isn’t awkward and heavily-sided and uncomfortable. It never fails that as soon as I walk away, I feel horrible. It doesn’t happen with every conversation and I don’t feel this empathy kicking into overdrive every single time someone mentions negativity toward or about another. However, for the times that I would find myself in this situation, I’d feel like a heartless hypocrite. In my core, I know that’s a lie because I don’t know another earthly being that is more in love with humanity than I am. I have forgiven people for trauma they’ve brought on me and resumed friendships (time and time again) despite the fact that they spread gossip and lies about me. I don’t just love the loveable, I love the unloveable as well.

This isn’t a pat-myself-on-the-back blog entry. I’m admitting the fact that I’m not feeling 100% loving and full of grace all of the time and trying to figure out why it seems to tie so closely to when I’m around others. I know that the love I have can’t come from anywhere other than God. I also know that the anger I feel toward someone, after a chat with someone else, is something that I am doing wrong and something that I need to change. This is all to explain that I’ve had some fierce battles going on and I’m learning their point of entry.

Feeling the same anger and hurt that other people feel, without ever having been hurt by the person being talked about, is showing me that I’ve let my empathy get out of control. Now that I know where this dichotomy of feeling loving but not responding so loving (even though I felt that my empathizing was loving) is coming from, I know where to bring about damage control.

With God’s help, I now know that I have to start working on guarding my empathy and using it ONLY for good.

There’s been a stirring in me for quite some time. A restlessness unable to be transcribed. A rerooting of sorts. A split-second glimpse of part of the finished puzzle comprised of pieces of my life, finally fitting together after years of rolling them around in my hands.

I’ve become unsettled and it is good.

Attending the We Event for iEmpathize a few weeks ago, a dam burst within me… I know I have this immense empathy for people. I know I have a deep-rooted passion. I know I want to make a difference in the lives of others. I know that I want my past to stand for something good, for God, and not as it was intended by man. I know that without a college degree I am significantly limited with my ability to have a “legitimate” voice.

I also know that my motivations have always been wrong. I’ve wanted to change the world and that proposed change was unknowingly limited or viewed from a skewed perspective. I have always led from a place of pain. Focusing and leading others from the pain of my past, instead of from the endless strength of God. I told God where I’d be used and how I would be able to do so. I told God what difference I would make and in what way the people’s lives would change. I was ignorant and clueless. Living off of remnants of my disillusioned upbringing and trying to share that same disillusionment with others.

In the past year, combined with my continued focus on my past and dealing with it, I also read a significant book, Generous Justice. It kind of washed clean the mud and grit that had been distorting my view in the way I interact and view humanity as a whole. This entire process took me far beyond seeing that, when suffering and broken, human beings had a cap on their value and that it was up to me to help get them through this temporary struggle of life so that they could just eat or just get water or just ______. Just to keep them alive… Then I’d move on to others.

What happens after they receive that next meal or that clean water or those shoes or that jacket? What then? What if the cap, that we put on these lives, was infinite? What if the limits of their existence and worth went far beyond the temporary comforts that I (we) may bring? What if I took part (by God’s grace and help) in helping them truly live and love and find joy and beauty in every day and then empowering them to share that all with everyone around them?

Here’s where I stand in my unsettlement: I want to take people from being a victim (which places the power in the perpetrator) and from being just a survivor (which places the power, and keeps it, within the person that was harmed) to being a warrior of love and empowerment. I feel God steering me to lead women out of the pain of their past (and present) into DOING for good. For God.

Jase and I were talking through all of this and he had a great realization. In cases of sexual abuse, the fallout is usually to clam up / brush it under the rug / detach OR the result is to crumble / completely shred the life that was given you. But I want to know where the freaking warriors are. I want to find the women that can link arms with me and become a front-line toward helping those in need and giving them hope that they can rise up and succeed and make a difference in this world. I want to stand on the shit from my past and make it a strong foundation for doing good in Jesus’ name.

I am also tired of being on this island. With all of the women I’ve know in my life (and keeping the stat of *1 out of every 3 or 4 have been sexually abuse* at the forefront) I’ve only known a few to have been sexually abused. Or only a few have ever shared that with me. That is ridiculous to me.. that this kind of travesty can be so drenched in silence. In this silence, we give so much power and authority to those that have abused and they can continue doing so, while we stand idly / apathetically on the side lines.

So, here I am, ready to be a warrior. To fight. To stop listening to the enemy in his quest to smother me and grind me to a pulp. To stand up against the lies that I am nothing, that I am worthless and to start believing and focusing on God’s Truth. I want to make a difference. I want to serve and to lead and to learn and grow and water and shine. I want to stop hiding in fear and I want to share this light. Part of this recent unsettling is that I want to (finally) learn spanish, fluently, and that I want to (finally) take a mechanic class. I “see” myself opening an auto repair shop. For women, by women. I want to overcome my fear of other countries and lead women toward changing lives around them. I want to start by making a big change in the immediate “world” around me.

Besides my life path change in 1996, 2010 was the most defining year of my life. I’ve learned so much about myself in the last year, things that I never would have believed were true. I learned that I’m judgmental. I learned that I am codependent. I learned that I cared more about trying to control the way people view me, rather than how I was treating my husband and my children. I learned that I cared much more deeply about the opinions of strangers and acquaintances than I did those that truly love me. I painfully learned that there are people that will judge me and dislike me, no matter how much I try to win their praise and adoration. I learned that I don’t need anyone’s praise or adoration. I learned that volunteering, at least at this point in time, in the children’s ministry and youth ministry caused me to be much too distant from my own flesh and blood. I’ve learned that what I do, does not define who I am. I learned that there are lots of people that I considered a friend that actively try to avoid / ignore me, rather than speak truth into my life. I’ve learned that I’m ok without their friendship, without their approval, without their false smile. I’ve learned that I’ve lived most of my life envying the accomplishments of many people. I learned that I froze in that envy, preventing me from pursuing my own dreams and changing my life for the better. I’ve learned that I can find value in my life without feeling like people “need” me. I’ve learned to (finally / really) start taking care of my mental and physical well-being and to keep it consistent.

I’m learning to be more like the moon. Reflecting the sun, rather than trying to be the sun.

It’s a long and difficult road, but I’m also learning how to keep my heart and mind clean because I want it to make a difference in the lives of those that I care about the most.

“First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:26

Confidence is a tricky thing. If you have too much, you’re arrogant and annoying and if you don’t have enough, you’re self-deprecating and annoying. The line in-between is thin and tough to find but I think I’m beginning to recognize it. I’ve wanted to swing as far away from arrogance, as possible, but it has left me constantly beating myself up and never being “good enough.” My *lip service* has always been that I’m good, just as I am, and people should be happy with that. I should be happy with that. But my counter-actions and feelings were a LOT stronger than those words. In everything I do; as a mom, a wife, a friend, a mentor, a daughter, a sister, and a singer, it’s never been good enough for me. Conversations could have improved, time spent with a teenager or my children or my husband could have been increased, singing a certain part could have been different and better, my house could look nicer. I was never happy with my end results. The more self-deprecating I was, the more withdrawn I became and the more off-key (vocally/emotionally/spiritually) I was. In everything I did and with everything I was, I was discontent and it’s a very depressing state of mind.

In the last several weeks, though, I’ve realized that this state of mind existed because I was placing my worth on my own unrealistic expectations. By doing that, I wasn’t allowing God to just *be* in/with/through me.

It’s a tough path to stay on but I’ve got a bounce back in my step and my shoulders are settling back a little more firmly and my head is lifting a lot higher. I’m feeling a new and strange sense of confidence that I’ve never had before and it’s exhilarating. I’m learning to tell the difference between confidence and arrogance and it’s such a freeing place to be. I’m learning how to give everything my all and then give it over to God and not dwell on it. No matter the outcome.

I’m not naive but I have a feeling that the episodes of beating myself up will slowly disappear, because I’ve already seen and felt a difference in the last few weeks.

So, there it is, I’m a change in progress and I’m gonna try and stop being so pathetic. 🙂

Written on 5/17/2010:

The last few months have been a blur. Busy, busy, busy. I’ve been in a really good mental and spiritual place and have even started getting into a routine to get into physical shape. Finally. My genes have allowed me to be lazy. I’m tall and (for the most part) slim and that has made it really easy for me to splurge with junk food and become nearly non-active. I’ve realized that it’s also contributed to my mental state and fatigue as well. Duh. 🙂 So, I’m starting slow with walking for 45-60 minutes, several times a week, and merging a couple of minutes of running in there. My goal is to be able to run (at least!) a half marathon one day. Writing that out made my stomach drop because I can barely run two blocks without feeling like I’m dying/hyperventilating.

Now, when I say I’ve been in a really good mental/spiritual place lately, it doesn’t mean that every day has been amazing and perfect. It means that my outlook on life; my comfortability with who I am and where I am in life, has been steadily accelerating to a healthy and positive place.

I got back, yesterday, from a weekend trip to the mountains, with other women from my church. In anxiety and fear, I almost decided not to go. Being at a church event, a “retreat” with 400 women that I don’t know, doesn’t necessarily cause me to jump for joy. I always feel transported back to junior high at these type of events. Consumed with feelings of inadequacy, awkwardness and embarrassment. Thankfully, God is placing people in my life that care enough about me to take my “no” and shove it back in my face. With love, of course. 🙂

I learned two things on this weekend trip. One, what people say about me is NOT a reflection of who I am, it’s a reflection of who THEY are. I needed to hear that SO bad. I am, and always have been, a people-pleaser. To the point that I am never “good enough” because I am always striving for the perfection in other’s eyes. The second thing that I learned is that an ipod, Truth through music, my voice, a snowstorm and a snow-covered valley at the top of a mountain can be more redeeming for a soul than anything I’ve ever imagined.

Written on 5/10/2010:

Jase, the kids and I had a perfect day yesterday, for Mother’s Day. We left our house around 1030am, to go on an extended walk, and returned 6 hours later! There were so many laughs and admirations for nature (and for each other) as we ventured to the park and enjoyed snacks, ate lunch at a nauseatingly-hot fast food establishment, and laughed/got freaked out by different animal parts/sea creatures in an asian market before stumbling on some delicious candy. We got the kids to try new things with mocha coconut Boba Tea (a favorite of mine and Jase’s) and found LOTS of books to borrow from the library. The two mile walk back home was rewarded with a strawberry shortcake dinner and reading two chapters of our new library book, The Secret Garden. Really it was a perfect day. The kids would complain every now and then as they got tired or overwhelmed with carrying their stack of books back home, from the library but I might just claim yesterday as my favorite Mother’s Day ever. The weather was even great. Sunny and cooled off by a gracious breeze. The day was so beautiful.

So why am I stuck in a rut again today? Why have I been feeling like this for months? I don’t want to put away that last load of clothes or clear the piles of paper off of the kitchen counter. I don’t want to vacuum up the floor or clean the toilets. I wonder about what I’m doing in life and where I’m spending my time and whether or not the things that consume my mind and my time are worth it.  Jase and I watched a movie last night. The movie was a live-taping of a comedian and really funny, I was even cry-laughing at some points, but I almost threw up when the sexual jokes started. I hate that I’m affected, negatively, by that. I hate that it affects the way I feel about myself, my body, and my trust in Jase. I hate that I can’t just laugh those things off or at least overlook them, unaffected.

Life, at the moment, is beautiful and tragic. It’s exhilarating, yet, in stasis.

I feel like I’m constantly switching from joyful and satisfied with life, to depressed and feeling as if my life has no purpose, no meaning. I feel worthless and unable to do anything right. At the moment, I question the time I spend mentoring teenagers and with one of the things that seems to sustain me: singing. I wonder if the passion and love I have for people means anything, does anything, helps at all. I’m having severe issues with trusting people and their words of affirmation and love. I’m severely dissatisfied with my health and my physical shape.

People have really been affecting me, negatively, lately. I sang, at church, a couple of weekends ago and I’m having a hard time letting go of some looks and smirks that seemed to be directed at me.

I’ve been doubting a lot of things lately… the love people have for me, the positive qualities I thought I once had, the difference that I make…

I’m fighting. Fighting back hard.

Days like yesterday continue to sustain me. However, these ruts/attacks, though few and far-between, are tough.

My last blog entry had me looking forward to helping out with the Downtown Rescue Mission again. Well, fear got in the way of that and I never went back. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.

I was preparing to help my friend that night and, on a whim, I decided to reread the story of my childhood/teenage years, my testimony. I wrote it out, years ago, but some sort of curiosity took over and I read it, just hours before I was supposed to leave. That was a major mistake and it sent me into a downward spiral. Reading about being in numerous, frightening positions and being taken advantage of many times, made me feel stupid for preparing to put myself in a situation where, once again, I’d be in a room where the men to women ratio and the drug-free to on-drugs ratio was desperately uneven. Reading about those bad times and feeling like they had all happened yesterday, caused me to completely freeze up. I tried to fight off the fear but it only intensified. I tried to rationalize and it only retaliated, stronger and more convincing.

I was terrified and it enflamed me. I was crushed. I felt defeated. I felt like I was taking two steps backward from the healing and recovery that I felt I had just gone through.

Two weeks prior, I felt on top of the world with conquering a fear and feeling like I would never look back or take a step back and here I was, trembling with the possibility that I was about to make the stupidest decision to go help people. This fear got my mind racing at the endless possibility of having anxiety take over, preventing me from doing just about everything. Where would it stop? What would trigger this fear? How many situations will I put myself in, in the future, and then realize that I feel vulnerable and trapped and want out? It was in this moment of sheer terror that I was grateful (and pissed off that I was grateful) that I never went to Afghanistan. I can’t imagine having this fear and anxiety overtake me as I’m halfway across the world from everything that makes me feel safe.

This situation also got me learning much more about myself. I’m learning that I have boundaries. I can’t stand knowing that I have them but this has to be some sort of positive step in realizing this about myself. It’s caused me to figure out what frightened me about going back to the Rescue Mission and what situations, in the future, might cause this fear to rise.

I feel as though there’s a fine line with knowing too much about people and not knowing enough. I know that people can be cruel and that sometimes a certain type of person is more prone to cruelty than others. Obviously I can’t see their heart, so I discriminate toward the people that remind me of those that have harmed me. The lack of knowledge about people can easily be replaced by fear while having knowledge about people can instill fear as well. How do I combat this? It seems like a neverending cycle… At various points in my life this fear will cause me to freeze and hide, tremble and cower. What I’m learning is that the antonym of my fear is faith and hope. I can have all the love in the world but, in fear, that love is worthless. Without faith and hope, I would continually sit in my house and ponder the end of everything good.

While learning the boundaries of my emotional well-being, I’m also discovering what it takes to push past those boundaries. I’m learning what I’m prepared to conquer and what may still take time to overcome. There may be things in my life that I will never be able to do because fear is gripping so tight. There may be things I never would have dreamed to prevail over and I may effortlessly triumph. For now, I’m grateful to be learning more about what I can and can’t handle and I’m grateful to learn more about what faith in God actually means.

I’ve been treading water, keeping my head above drowning, for my entire life. Specifically, desperately, in the last year. I’m just now realizing that I’ve done nothing to bring me closer to shore, to where I want to be. I’ve completely worn myself out, staying in the same place. In faith, in action, I must press on. Beyond the boundary.

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