Crosses to Carry

Raise your hand if you have burdens you bear. It does not matter if those burdens are permanent or temporary, heavy or light, exposed or hidden, or even perhaps you are driving with your eyes closed, trust me, eventually you will crash! Come on, raise those hands, we ALL have our crosses to bear in this life. Some crosses are unchangeable and interminable. Some crosses are an adversity lasting an indeterminate, but limited amount of time. Some crosses are things that ‘happen to us’ causing severe ripple effects throughout our entire lifespan. Some crosses are consequences from conscious or ignorant choices made. Some crosses are life, redefining moments that establish a time marker of before and after where life breaks forever, you are now stumbling through an unfamiliar dense forest, and your life story is instantly getting re-written; life will never be the same.  Now that all of your hands are finally raised, you ALL can put your hands down now.

If we put together an impromptu list of crosses people bear, I imagine it would be a scroll stretching out unfathomable miles and truthfully still would never be all-encompassing.  I have my truly unbelievable ‘stuff’ to me, but I know every single person on the face of this earth has their personal story filled with hardships. I wish I had an anonymous PO Box to receive anonymous stories from willing people about their adversities. I think it would be quite therapeutic and safe to unload a portion of that weight. Whatever your crosses and however you define them, at times the pills seem too hard to swallow. To me I can feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up that steep hill; sometimes I would like to let go of that boulder and just let it steamroller over me. Crosses equal suffering! Suffering equals grief, pain, agony, anguish, despair, temptations, trials, and tribulations. I have had times when I felt like I simply could not tolerate my constant-never-ending-at-times-desperate struggling.  

For me, I did not exactly win the “Wonderful Parenting, Happy Childhood” lottery. Life was MESSED up!!! Nevertheless, I drove through life with my eyes closed. Externally, I gave the appearance of all together, life was a bed of roses – clean, pruned, good job, faithful employee, bills paid, nice clothes, friends, attend church and served, practiced personal spiritual disciplines, warm and cozy tidy meticulous home (all things said in no certain order,) the only external red flashing beacon of light giving off urgent warning signals was my ever-increasing weight. I was over-qualified at surviving, recovering, and denying and onward I raced through my inner obstacle course. On the inside, I was MESSED up! Weedy vines began choking out and killing my roses! Those vines intertwined around everything; they were killer vines invading and smothering my landscape. Yet, I was merrily speeding through life with my eyes closed at a high rate of speed. I did not even realize these vines had suction cupped and attached themselves to every piece of me, until eventually, I crashed. In reality, I was being internally strangulated by choking vines; I was being attacked by rose thorns causing injurious deep scrapes and cuts; I was slowly fading and dying. I carried crosses labeled spiritual, physical, gender, marital, financial, bankruptcy, loss of house, moving, friendships, family, financial, employment, disability, death, mental issues, therapeutic abuse, medical nightmares, insomnia, buried feelings of emptiness, loneliness, resentment, shame, PTSD, etc. – all symptomatic seepage from my internal brokenness.  I was fighting a fierce battle of survival, trust me I had an extreme arsenal of weapons acquired in childhood where I learned how to survive. Eventually, profound despair, exhaustion, and hopelessness turned into a daily crusade of desperately wanting to take my own life. I would sit at work on the third floor, thinking about going down to the vacant first floor restroom and slashing my wrists. I would think about OD’ing on pills. The abyss kept getting deeper and darker the further my mind slipped into searching for an escape hatch.

This is just a mere glimpse at the tip of my iceberg; it is the unseen mass below the surface that truly needed to be worked at chipping away. It takes a whole lot of courage to choose life; it takes a brave soul to look at what lies beneath the surface. It seems the holidays and winter months can capitalize on my weaknesses, even though I have gained many coping skills. I know that I am not alone. There are oh so very many who suffer during this joyous season – sadness, loneliness, estrangement, anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, fatigue, isolating and social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, depression, PTSD, grief, tearfulness, financial constraints, fear, shame, perfectionism, frustration, irritability, fixating on the past, physical ailments, aches, and pains, etc. These too are symptoms of floating icebergs. It takes bold audacity to drill down inside those frozen parts and take a hard long forward look at what is actually causing behavioral and symptomatic manifestations of deeper causes. It is hard work! It is hard to get gut wrenching honest with yourself and begin identifying your junk. And, it is even harder to implement the life-long changes in order to stop the hemorrhaging. There is always a different way to manage carrying our crosses. Now, I am no authority or professional, and quite honestly am still in recovery, but we have been able to cut away some of the vines, remove some of the thorns, I am breathing a little better these days, and definitely I am not suicidal.

I don’t begin to know or pretend to know what cross you are bearing; I don’t know if it is a thorn in the flesh, a death, a divorce, a sick child, someone terminally ill, mental illness, personal injury or illness, addiction, family issues, troubles at work, change in work status, less than favorable custody arrangement, financial decline, foreclosure, change in residence, school, or church, betrayal, loss of trust, loss of safety, violated, crime, imprisonment, a bad hair day, or hell on earth. Here is what I do know. There is ALWAYS hope, there is always something to be thankful for, and there are acts of service we can do for others to switch our focus!!  I do not mean denial; I mean concentrating on good things. Your situation might not change tomorrow, next week, a month, or a year from now, but there is hope and something to find gratitude for in the midst. You may spend a lifetime praying for something that will never be and at times, it makes your heart so painfully sad that you recoil from life for a bit, lick your wounds, and slowly emerge with renewed hope. Press the reset button and do a good deed for someone else. Somehow, find gratitude and bless someone else. You may spend a lifetime battling an addiction – rising and falling, rising and falling, time after time hoping this time will be victory at last. Do not give up hope! Extend grace and mercy to yourself. Stand up, brush yourself off, and try again! You may be carrying a hidden grief so heavy and painful that at times you are drowning and suffocating. Do not let hope slide away. Look around for even a miniscule something to be thankful for and spread a little joy somewhere. Whatever your cross, keep hope alive, find gratitude in the waiting, and grasp that little mustard seed of faith. Miracles happen everyday!

I want to share a writing by someone anonymous to me:

THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

The whole Christmas story is full of miracles. 

I personally find them hard to comprehend. 

It makes no sense. 

How could the infinite eternal God become a baby? 

Not only how, but also why? 

Why would He choose to be born to peasant parents? 

Why would He empty Himself of every advantage of His divine nature? 

Why would He choose to become a servant and become obedient to death?

even death on a cross? 

Why to sinners like us did He do it?

It is because of his all-encompassing love.

I cannot explain it, but I believe it.

I thank God for sending His Son to an imperfect world. 

To a world that celebrates the spirit of consumerism

Where Christmas comes from shopping lists, catalogs, and the almighty credit card.

I pray God delivers us from empty cheer and season’s greetings born of obligation. 

I hope He delivers us from all the social events that supposedly honor Jesus. 

Surely, Christmas is supposed to be more than packages, paper, bows, silver bells, Frosty, Rudolph and all his reindeer friends.

You see the true spirit of Christmas cannot be found in a store window or in a Christmas carol.

Christmas is not giving bigger and better so we can get bigger and better.

You cannot count Christmas by the number of decorations you use.

We cannot even count Christmas by the number of manger scenes and stars we have on the tree. 

In fact, we cannot even count Christmas by the number of verses we memorize. 

I pray God would grant us the true spirit of Christmas:

Generosity of heart and the love, which caused Christ to wrap Himself in the garments of our humanity.

I pray God shows us the true meaning of Christmas and affirms our worth apart from what we have or what we do.

For reasons which only His Holy love can explain, God gave Christ to become one of us and to suffer the consequences of our sin.

This Holiday season as we’re in the middle of singing carols, baking cookies, decorating our homes and opening our gifts

remember to leave room for CHRIST.   

“For unto us was born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Prince of Peace, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father.”

As we celebrate Christ’s entrance into the world, let us try to make our world a little better.

Mend a quarrel

Call a friend

Seek out a forgotten friend

Do random acts of kindness

Give compliments, encouragement, and appreciation

Do not be critical of others

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a letter

Send cards of kindness

Share some treasure

Cook dinner together

Bake something and take it to a neighbor

Pay for someone else

Let others go first

Give a soft answer

Say ‘Thank You’

Encourage one another

Be loyal in word and deed

Keep a promise

Listen

Love unconditionally

Apologize if you are wrong

Try to understand and show acceptance

Disregard envy

Be joyful

Express your gratitude

Welcome a stranger

Invite a friend for hot chocolate

Gladden the heart of a child

If you’ve wronged someone, fix it

If you think you’ve wronged someone, fix it

Forgive

Go outdoors and take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of this earth

Make a difference

I am not talking about the other person

I am talking about you; you are the one that can make the difference.

It starts with you.                    

At Christmas, we tend to believe all things are possible.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

Sin can be forgiven.

Broken relationships can be restored.

Hearts can be healed.

Try to make your little corner of the world a better place!

To those who believe:

EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US!

Anonymous

Glad tidings of joy!

Merry Christmas!

Love you, meant it!

There is More Than One Kind of Prison

There is More Than One Kind of Prison

I have never been arrested or confined in a literal prison, bordered by multiple barbed wire fencings, limited by brick walls, enclosed in cells, surrounded by criminals, and observed and inspected 24/7 by guards. The objective of imprisonment is to deter those who would otherwise commit crimes, to ‘pay’ the consequences for committed crimes, to safeguard society, and to be a “house of corrections” for hopeful rehabilitation and education for the prevention of future crimes up on release.

Yet, incarceration takes an altered dimension when it progressively materializes in the mind! My mental captivity, for all intents and purposes, was never intentional. From birth on, I began erecting a wall brick by unseen brick, a wall so tall and so thick that neither I nor anyone else could see over it or breach the stronghold.  In fact, I was ignorant that I had constructed a wall, let alone know when the construction of the wall was completed. Truly, it is an ingenious work of art. It is strong, stable, and resistant. It has weathered the storms quite well. However, here is the real truth and recent revelation – my wall takes an incredible amount of energy to maintain; my wall comes with a titanic price tag. On several occasions, I just wanted to give up — the wall has nearly cost my very life.

The greater question is, “What’s behind my wall?” This wall actually serves to protect me from what is on the other side; this wall serves as pseudo safety and security; this wall serves as a barrier and coping defense. All that is behind my wall is all that holds me hostage.  What is behind my wall? Years and years and years of denied unspoken pain; my trust is behind that wall; my emotions are behind that wall; unforgiveness is behind that wall; emptiness; all the tears I’ve literally never shed; grief, sorrow, and heartache beyond measure; unexpressed fear and sadness; loneliness and isolation; bleeding wounds of abuse, trauma, suffering, neglect, abandonment, silence, cruelty, intrusion of boundaries, indifference, gloomy days after days, conflicting gender identity issues, suffering, disappointments, timidity, and humiliation; loss of childhood; powerlessness; the darkness and melancholy; PTSD; sleepless and restless nights, anxiety and panic; depression; social anxiety; a host of physical ailments; every pound of excess weight and food addiction; feelings of being a disappointment, unacceptable, an embarrassment, inferior, a misfit, left out, being bullied, and overwhelmed; all the pieces of my broken yearning empty heart; all the shattered and devastating losses of hopes and dreams; denial and defeat; regrets; the attempts to reach out for professional help only to have it cause more destruction; anger, resentment, and at times hatred and bitterness toward each person who contributed to my wall and all the debris and trash that lies behind. I have lost myself and my identity in the rubble.

You see, there is more than one kind of prison! My wall and all the ruins that are piled up on the other side limit me. I am paying severe consequences. The wall is my attempt to deter more bricks and wreckage, yet the irony is that the wall is actually creating more. Only by finally receiving quality professional help am I willing to identify and acknowledge the brevity of all of my pieces and brokenness that I have tossed and stored behind my wall. Frankly, the wall has little breaches and it is time for the wall to come down brick by brick; it is time! The light must shine in and expose all that is hidden in the darkness. It is complex and deep. Though I am externally freakishly meticulous, clean, organized, and orderly, behind my wall I am an emotional hoarder. It is time to sift through each component and determine what to keep, what to give back, what to trash, and what to let go. It is time to set the captive free. To be quite honest, I am tired; I have sheer exhaustion and chronic fatigue and no longer have the emotional capability to preserve my wall! It is scary to me, but I am committed to healing.

And, here is what I know to be truth: 

[The Lord says,] “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Isaiah 46:4

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Love you, mean it!

Kindergarten – Near the Beginning

I recently finished reading through my old report cards from grade school. I also spent a few hours sifting through grade school pictures, class pictures, and old family photographs from that timeframe. The experience was like warping back in time, peeking into another world that mostly I would rather not enter. Glimpsing those times reconnects me to places, people, and experiences that I would much rather leave dormant. Peeking in disturbs many unexplored, unexpressed wounds, feelings and emotions that I buried in deep graves; an unrecognizable landscape over-grown by weeds, vegetation, and creeping groundcover that hides those graves. Cleaning the landscape and opening those graves is necessary for me to bring forgiveness, some form of reconciliation, and healing. It is an extremely long, winding, twisting road through that uncharted world, but I trust God will lead the way, hold my right hand, and walk beside me through these craggy places.  

It was the very late 60’s when I began attending grade school; the same grade school, kindergarten through sixth grade. Now, I do not remember the first day of kindergarten, but I know that it was half-days and I was in the morning class because my mother insisted the school place me in the AM class for her convenience and preference. The year I started kindergarten my mother accepted a job with the police department as the school crossing guard. On nice days, each morning we walked to her corner; on rainy or winter days she drove us to the corner in the car. Each day regardless of weather, I would proceed to walk about two more blocks further to the school by myself. I had a rain jacket that helped shield some of the penetration, but winter days bit my legs something fierce. Now my brother was in third grade, but we neither recall walking to school together. I tend toward believing we went our separate ways. Though I have no proof, but given what I do know about my mother, I believe she returned home each morning, once we were at school, to go back to bed. I was dismissed at noon and walked back to her corner. My mother was also an Avon Representative. We spent many an afternoon going door to door peddling her merchandise and chit chatting hours away with the other stay at home moms and elderly women. She was gregarious and acquired quite a flock on her weekly afternoon sales routes. I sat quietly drifting in and out of boredom with an occasional acknowledgement. Around mid-afternoon, we made our way back to her corner. I sat in the car as she stopped traffic to get the school kids across the busy intersection. And, then we drove home.

At that time, all girls wore dresses and all boys, well were boys, except no jeans – and that I know only from looking at the class picture. I have very blonde hair and my mother cuts the front so that I have bangs. I wear a nice red and green plaid dress on picture day; one would think it was Christmas. While I do not look slovenly or displaced, I am a fat child. I am missing my two front teeth. I am placed standing in the back row between four larger boys. Now my mother was an extreme girlie girl — all about fashion, shoes, purses, make-up, perfumes, hair, and much more — encouraged further by her Avon commerce. She held those exact same extreme aspirations for me. At that time, I did not know much difference other than little menacing forced mandates that crept out all over me. In kindergarten, on picture day, I have a white brooch on top of my head. She had this constant compulsion to attempt styling my hair, putting my hair up in all different imaginable ponytails, braids, buns, and twists using rubber bands, barrettes, and baubles as if I were her baby doll detached from pain or discomfort. When I was one year old, she decided to perm my hair. I remember nearly suffocating in terror trying to breathe while fumes slowly devoured my respiration as she is yelling for me to sit still.  In kindergarten, on picture day, she drew up several strands of my long blonde hair, twisted them together over and over on top of my head into a single tail and then pinned that tail to the top of my head with a gaudy white flower brooch. In my eyes, I look remiss, but perhaps that is what mothers disseminate upon their little girls.  

I actually like school and learning. I like my kindergarten teacher enough, but I really like the teacher aid and could not wait to see her each day – my second strong inclination toward an older female in a leadership role. One day we are all on the floor doing an art project. The art project is to cut out even size strips of construction paper in red & white, white stars, and a blue square. Once this is complete, we are to glue the pieces onto a rectangular piece of construction paper to make an American flag. I follow instructions implicitly, but operate in my own little world. I am sitting on a section of the floor alone, quietly cutting, and pasting. To my surprise, the teacher’s aide kneels down on the floor and whispers in my ear, “Don’t tell anyone, but yours looks the nicest.”  I absorb her words like soft butter on warm toast and never forget! She blew a little much needed wind into my sails that day. Those kind words have stayed in my heart for a lifetime. Only by God’s grace, those words were not strangled out by all the weeds, vegetation, and creeping ground cover or better yet buried in a grave. When I look at her in the picture now, I wonder what her name was and what happened to her.

Now, I am a good student – cooperative, obedient, kind, but quiet, kept to myself, and worked alone.  It only takes a few small visible differences for kids to notice and exploit others, beginning at a very young age. When I was born, the right side of my right leg was a reddish purple tone. From a very young age, my mother comments regularly on this discoloration, so I am not ignorant to its existence. She says the doctor told her it was a “birthmark.”  It is my whole goal to keep my entire leg covered at all times lest anyone else recognize my eyesore. My mother thinks it the correct practice prescribed by social convention to make sure I wear a dress to church and school on every occasion.  During this nocuous period, I always choose to wear knee-hi socks. I rationalize the dresses come down to my knees and the socks rise up to my knees, thus covering the mass majority of my purple red leg so that absolutely no one will know of my “birthmark.” In my small mind and world, it was working out quite well. It seems that absolutely no one knows of my unnatural monstrosity except my mother (perhaps my dad, but if he knows, he never says a word.) I arrive home one day after school to discover laying out on my bed are brand new, lace-edged, white bobby socks,  socks that only rise to just above the ankle, edged with delightful frilly lace! My mother is quite proud of her purchase and announces that I will be wearing them to school. I on the other hand am mortified!  Immediately, with underlying terror that my leg will be exposed, I tell her I cannot wear those socks to school. Just the thought of the possibility that anyone will notice my leg produces an anxious energy within. The thought of kids gazing upon my “defect” and making fun of me creates grave fear. But, my protests fall on deaf ears and she insists that I will be wearing those socks. I quietly put them in the drawer believing those socks will never see the light of day again. The next morning while dressing for school, as every other morning, my mother barges into my bedroom, asks where the socks are and tells me to get them out, I will be wearing those socks to school that day, to put them on, and she does not want to hear another word about it. Did she stay awake the entire night waiting for morning to delight in my suffering? I begin begging and pleading with her not to make me wear them. But the more I grovel the more entrenched she becomes and I know the battle is lost. My leg becomes the spectacle sideshow of the day. The kids begin teasing me about my discolored leg. It is not enough that visually I am the largest child, but now I am visually the largest child with an abnormal leg. I swallow the pain of ridicule and mentally try to ignore the teasing. On that unspecified date, the conscious, cold war of clothing and gender identity begins; episodic implosions over clothing, shoes, hair, etc.; mushroom clouds of humiliation; and a deep, tiny tributary of blood courses through my veins desiring to be a boy.

As I said, I was fat. I had not developed any affinity or aptitude towards physical activity or sports. On nice days, the class would go out on the playground for gym. I remember one particular activity. Frequently, the teacher would have us sit Indian style (the absurdity of girls in dresses sitting Indian style on asphalt perplexes me) in a circle on the pavement and play Duck, Duck, Goose. Someone was picked to begin, “It.” It walks around the circle, tapping each player on the head, saying “duck” each time until they decide to tap someone and say goose. That person becomes the goose and runs after It, trying to tag It before It can take the goose’s seat. If It successfully reaches the goose’s seat without being tagged, the goose is the new It. If the goose tags It, then the goose keeps his spot in the circle and It must continue to be It for another turn. The kids quickly learn that the fat girl is not quick enough to get up from the Indian style sitting position and chase down It. My mind worked overtime trying to figure out how to overcome my inabilities. I think I got stronger, but was never able to tag It! I became an easy target to harass. I slowly saunter and drag my sorry self out to the playground each time it is announced we are playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Inevitably, I am the Goose round after laughter after round after laughter and on it would go. I am on the fringe beginnings of persecution and purgatory that will last for years.

Love you, mean it!