Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 2

After reading Part 1, perhaps you can sense the pressure gauge inside of me very slowly climbing. The 2004 holiday season was finally over, the decorations put away, and the home put back in order, but for some reason I could not get myself put back in order. Yearly, beginning sometime in October, my tender and sensitive spirit always turned downhearted throughout the approaching and during the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. I did not know why. Outwardly, I appeared “Tis the season to be jolly…fa la la la la la la la la.” Inwardly, I could not explain what I felt; now I know it as empty. This year was no exception, other than I noticed a deeper melancholy was hemorrhaging.  I blew it off scurrying as always through the demands, commitments, and festivities thinking, come the solace of January my spirits would settle into a calm, respite, familiar routine place. Surprisingly, I did not regain my composure. The melancholies hung around like a London fog, creating a haze inside. I was having difficulty concentrating at work, struggling to accomplish the high volume of work I took on, lagging behind at home, occasionally missing church, and constantly hearing my inner voice, “What is wrong? Come on, we got this! We’re fine” and praying God would give me the strength each day to manage that days demands. Abnormally, I took a vacation day from work the second Wednesday of January just to catch up at home with cleaning, laundry, ironing, etc. hoping that would resolve my sense of being overwhelmed. Unusual, I fell behind again. I repeated taking another vacation day two weeks later. The turbulence inside of me was creating chaos in my typically highly organized, structured, meticulous world.  I was struggling to maintain my ‘normal.’

About ten to eleven years prior, while working, I came upon a daily radio show broadcast through our local Christian radio station entitled, “Minirth Meier New Life Clinic.” I would have the program streaming for the daily hour at my desk, but only caught snippets being engrossed in work. I picked up that they were psycho something with clinics in Richardson, Texas. I did not give it much credence until one day, I overheard them speaking about being overweight and implications that could suggest a deeper problem, and the faint concept of depression. Hmmm…I chewed on those for a time, but the broadcast was soon terminated and those contemplations slipped into oblivion, so I thought. My second Wednesday in January while home, those Minirth Meier thoughts resurfaced. As I continued noticing lags in my ability to keep up, an inner voice began saying, “Maybe we need to get some help.” At first, I brushed that off as quickly as it came, telling myself, “No, we don’t need help, we just need to try harder! Come on…we got this!” However, as the lagging continued and I could not get on top of everything, the thought switched to, “We definitely need to get some help.”

I had no idea where to turn. I knew of a couple psychology professors’ names from the college I attended, but that was out of the question. I could not ask anyone; I could not show weakness; I could not be vulnerable; I could not let down my guard; I could not risk tainting my image – the stakes were too costly. I had jumped high hurdles my whole life to build a life that I never thought I could have or deserved. When I moved to this city for college, on occasion I would hear people jest about needing to be locked up in a padded cell at the local mental health facility. I wasn’t even sure what that meant; a padded cell? It was years before I learned the actual name of the facility. Whoever said it, I asked what the place was. They chuckled and explained it was for the crazy people. It actually made me rather sad that they were laughing at those people, but even then, it meant nothing to me. I began looking in the yellow pages and came upon a huge ad for that local Christian mental health facility. I figured Christian; surely, this would be the place.  

It takes dogged courage to reach out for help! I had fear assaulting me like golf ball size hail from heaven. The very thought of calling constricted my throat, tightened my chest, and instigated heart palpitations. For about a week, I would pick up the phone to call, giving up before ever dialing the number. Inwardly, I am a strong soul. There is a bravery that rises inside of me that eventually pushes fear and emotions aside to face the giant. Friday, January 28, I quietly slipped away from my desk into an unoccupied office and dialed the number. A voice answered stating, “….Christian Mental Health Facility, this is…, Intake Specialist, how can I help you?” I silently wondered what ‘intake’ meant, but proceeded to explain that I was having some issues and wanted to know if I could set up an appointment. She asked if a LLC would be OK. I had no idea what that meant and said, “I suppose.” She gave me the name of the therapist and scheduled a new patient appointment for February 10, 2005 @ 4 pm. She said she would be sending me paperwork in the mail to complete and asked that I have it ready to turn in when I arrived. Ah…sweet relief…first step taken…NO!!! My mind became a raging forest fire with flames shooting in every conceivable direction second guessing myself, running through every imaginable scenario possible, who is she, will I be able to talk to her, what questions will she ask me, would I like her, what if I don’t like her, would I find the location OK, maybe I shouldn’t do this, what if somebody finds out, etc. My mind split in a million directions and I became engulfed and consumed with nerves! I thought about it every single day.

Driving to my first appointment, I felt like I was driving to my own funeral. I was somber, detached, and flat. I could hardly speak a word all day without it catching in my throat. I had an underlying nervous hum inside. When I arrived, there was a front and back receptionist area. The front receptionist area had a sign directing everyone to check in at the back receptionist desk. I checked in barely audible giving my name, handed the receptionist the paperwork, and took a seat in the waiting room. I was vigilant watching everyone, listening to everything, and taking in my surroundings! My inner voice prompted me to take flight and flee like a lone wolf into the dark of night, “It’s not too late!” The hyper-responsible part of me would never concede to such an irresponsible act! There I waited! I watched a woman walk past wearing stilettos, dressed quite fashionably nice, carrying paperwork, appearing to be someone on staff. Minutes later, she returns and calls my name. I am scarcely breathing on the quiet trek to her office with my mind repeating, “What are we doing? What are we doing? Oh my goodness, what are we doing?”  

Upon entering her office, she took a seat at her desk and left me wondering where I was ‘supposed’ to sit. I took a seat in the chair next to the door, quickly scanning her office space. I took it all in, including her. She seemed friendly and genuine, and appeared as if she knew what she was doing. She sat facing me with her legs crossed scribbling notes on a legal pad as I answered her questions. She says, “So, tell me about yourself.” I lost my mind and my voice; I did not know what to say! I muddled through a few current facts. She was pleasant and smiled. We had more exchange of my current life and slowly I calmed down, found my voice, and could audibly speak. We slowly discussed the issues that prompted me to come. I factually shared pretty much all the details from Part 1. She assessed that I was struggling with codependency issues, wrote down the name of a book on a yellow sticky note, handed it to me, and suggested I read it and do the exercises at the end of each chapter. I said, “OK,” she stood up, we exchanged parting words, and I headed to the receptionist desk by myself to check out, praising God and thanking Jesus that was over!

Here is a glimpse of the exchange at the receptionist’s window:

Receptionist:  “So, do you need to schedule another appointment?”

Me:  “I don’t know.”

Receptionist:  “Did she tell you to schedule another appointment?”

Me:  “No.”

Receptionist:  “Do you want to schedule another appointment?”

Me:  “I don’t know. What do you think?”

Receptionist:  “Well, I’m pretty sure you are supposed to have another appointment. When would you like your next appointment?”

Me:  “I don’t know.”

Receptionist:  “Would you like one week, two weeks, or something else?”

Me:  “I don’t know. What is normal?”

Receptionist:  “I’m gonna schedule you for two weeks from now. What time works for you?”

Me:  “Evening if possible.”

Receptionist:  “How about February 24 at 6 pm?”

Me:  Sure

She hands me an appointment card and I leave. I felt as ignorant as believing the world was flat! Was I supposed to know these things? What was I missing? Should I have asked those questions of the therapist? I shouldered all responsibility believing I looked like a fool and should have known something that I did not.

On the way home, I stop in at the local bookstore; I purchase the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Ironically, before my husband and I were married, his therapist, who I spoke with only once for about 30 minutes, recommended I read this same book. At the time, I told him kindly that I was not the one with the problems here; I really did not think I needed to read a book. He smirked, wrote the name of the book down, and handed me a yellow sticky note as well. Not with any anger or malice, I crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash thinking he was pointing his finger at me as if I were the one with the problems. There was nothing wrong with me; I was fine!

To be continued…

Love you, mean it!

Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 1

Ever consider the domino effect where every choice we make represents a domino? Sometimes I imagine my entire life as a series of dominoes falling and colliding and intersecting with a forward push successively creating momentum or lethargy depending on extraneous factors with each topple. Every single day is a series of choices. All of life is a cycle of choices. There are spiritual choices, personal preference choices, obvious choices, random choices, informed choices, uninformed choices, impulsive choices, compromising choices, sacrificial choices, long-term choices, emotional choices, moral choices, physical choices, financial choices, health choices, food choices, charitable choices, educational choices, career choices, transportation choices, relationship choices,  etc. Many choices are seamless, not even recognizing them as choices; they become reflexive behaviors. It is possible that one choice could fit into several of these categories. Every category contains good or bad options, pros and cons, accordingly. At the end of the day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, I believe it is the uninformed, ignorant choices (whatever category) which lead us into the darkest pits and deepest valleys – the choice you revisit in your mind and so wish you could take back; the choice you make in pure inexperience and unfamiliarity; the choice you make innocently fully believing it to be the right choice; the choice you make trusting God for good outcomes – the dominoes that fall on detonation sensors. I believe it is these choices that God uses to bring Him glory; to discipline us; to mold us like clay in His hands; to endure a long and painful process to purge out the dross and impurities like refined precious metals under heat; to lead and direct us to new places and understanding for our good; to discipline us to His highest value rendering wisdom, knowledge, and understanding; and ultimately to help others along their journey. Trust me, until eternity when “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” on this earth I may never fully know God’s purposes and reasons for allowing things to occur, but I now trust Him more.

I would like to share a personal experience, which actually began February 10, 2005 – one ignorant quiet choice to reach out for help, one unsuspecting private phone call to establish a new patient appointment that set off a drastic flash lightning chain reaction of events that haunts me to this day! I actually sometimes ask God, “Why did we have to do it this way?” I pray He will use it for His greater purposes. My first post will be preliminary accounts of happenings prior to this date, which will help give you an understanding of the events preceding my choice. I pray sharing this true story helps someone; gives someone wisdom and insight; and perhaps disrupts potential choices that need clear discernment – maybe that someone is just me! I will share this in parts.

I was in my fifteenth year of marriage still trying to navigate a complex web of marital dynamics stemming from two incredibly shattered people becoming one with all bets against our survival. We were only aware of one atomic bomb of my husbands that spewed debris, soot, and smoke all over us while dating. We spent over a decade of married life weaving in, over, around, and through the wreckage, consequences of choices he had made prior to marriage and on occasion, we still encounter a tiny burning ember that we more skillfully extinguish. After we were married, the rubble and plume of smoke from his explosion engulfed our existence, at times choking the life out of me. During our tumultuous, peculiar dating life, he was in the throngs of a ferocious battle I could not comprehend or understand. I had little clue about the size of the crater this explosion had created, but I did know I was teetering on the edge of a level of crazy I barely survived. I was aware of the framework, but I had no idea of the actual ugly images in the picture. Once I became conscious of a few images, I began piecing more and more together and throughout the ordeal became codependent, making every attempt to rescue him from the clutches of this monster and keep everything a secret. His plume of smoke was so wide, high, and thick that it blinded me to myself. I thought all our problems were because of him. I was normal; I had no problems; I was fine! There was nothing wrong with me. Truly, it is a heavy story of God’s redemption in his life; it is a heavy story of how I lost pieces of myself in the midst of his story. I was well equipped for the mission after years and years of my own buried and repressed life, yet I did not count the cost of my own personal damage until much later. I was an expert at suffering, survival, and denial!

Another atomic bomb that unknowingly flattened me on a level I denied was infertility. At no time while we were dating had we talked about having children. I loved little babies and little kids, but growing up I was not ‘in’ to babysitting, except for a select two. My mother consistently lined up babysitting jobs for me with people I did not know, for weekends, for summers, for evenings. I was ill equipped; I did not know what to do with these children; I had never learned to play, though I had no cognition of that for years and years. At a pre-marital exam, my physician (a great Christian physician whom I respected and loved) brought up contraceptives. He explained everything to me. I was not keen on the idea of taking a pill, but I also knew I/we were not prepared in any way, shape, or form to raise a child in the debris field, soot, and smoke we were currently living within. And always placing myself as the one responsible, I began birth control three months prior to our marriage without a blip on my radar that my husband could have taken measures. We gave no thought to not having children; we were just living life. However, our mothers were not shy in making their desires known. My mother boldly asked deliberately and consistently. His mother would never ask, but instead on multiple visits be crocheting baby booties, baby blankets, and baby jackets with a faint smile on her face as if I were giving birth the next day. We did take note of these things, but again were in agreement, in the wake of everything, it was not time. Around a year and nine months, I no longer wanted to take birth control, we were not totally prepared for children, but heard from friends ‘you are never fully ready.’ We decided I would stop taking the birth control and let nature take its course. Three months later, at another physical, my same doctor brought up having children and pregnancy. I explained to him that I discontinued birth control three months prior. He looks at me quizzically and suggests I get some preliminary infertility testing. It was a world I knew nothing of, but because I am a rule follower, I am present and accounted for at all procedures. Everything is normal. The physician then suggests my husband get checked. Against his every desire, he too follows through with his testing. It is a late summer afternoon. I hear the phone ringing as I am putting the key in to unlock the door. My husband is not home yet. I rush to the phone, “Hello.” It is our physician (kind of a fatherly figure to me) with a solemn tone. He says, “Hello Dee, this is doctor…, are you sitting down.” It all took me back for a minute, as I was not accustomed to him actually calling me; I thought something must have happened to my husband. I sat down and said, “Yes.” He tells me he got my husband’s fertility test results and that we only have a 2% chance of pregnancy. Nonchalantly I say, “OK” as if I had lost a dollar, no big deal. He inquired if I was OK. I said, “Sure, I’m fine.” He hung on the line as if waiting for some reaction of which I had none; I was blank; I was fine. When my husband arrived home, I shared the news with him like telling him the mail had just arrived. It was as if neither of us felt anything, no disappointment, no sadness, nothing. That was it, case closed. This was a loud bomb that I never heard go off, leaving destruction that I never saw for years.

My mother passed away January 20, 1994 from metastasized lung cancer. I never shed a tear – her first cancer diagnosis in December 1987, July 1992 when she phoned to tell me the cancer had returned, first chemo treatment, when she called me at work crying because her hair was falling out, every time she called me on the phone crying, multiple trips rushing 300 miles home; two sleepless weeks at the hospital as she lay dying; at the funeral; or thereafter. This too was an explosion of magnitude proportions leaving debris, smoke, and soot all over my life. I went through the motions managing her treatments, pain, and death as if it were spilled milk. The only residue I carried home was guilt, guilt, and more guilt; consistently wondering if she was OK; hoarding all her belongings for her return; nightmares; and weariness that dredged me like an anchor. But, after being gone for two weeks, I immediately began running forward at a pace that dwarfed the roadrunner. Inwardly, the emptiness and melancholy were escalating, but I was still able to outrun the emotions without recognizing or identifying that was what I was doing. It was my normal; I was fine! I did not know anything about grieving. It was my normal; I was fine! Yet outwardly, I began putting on pound after pound of weight, swelling to an all-time high of 460 pounds. I had no idea food was a coping mechanism that I used my entire life to fill the emptiness within and comfort my painful emotions. You see, psychology, mental illness, depression, anxiety, panic, insomnia, trauma, abuse, PTSD, neglect, abandonment, attachment disorder, etc. were not part of my vocabulary or knowledge. I was not educated in this field. These were my every day normal; nothing was wrong with me! I was independent, successful, and needed no one. I lived under THE mantra, “I’m fine.” Other than the embarrassing morbid obesity, amazingly, I presented an outward level of surpassing normalcy, I had everything together, all was well, I was fine. Inwardly, I had more secrets than a ‘secret keeper’ and I figured out any way possible to keep the secrets a secret from even myself. It is pretty tricky how the mind splinters, divides, and compartmentalizes information removing it from your awareness.

September 5, 1998 my maternal grandmother passed away quietly alone in her home. Another story for another day. We rushed there for the funeral, spent a day helping go through some of her possessions, rushed home with a few mementos in tow, and back to the grind without emotion. It was my normal; I was fine!

Sometime in 2004, another detonation of crushing decibels was released. My family has been riddled with friction, disagreements, narcissism, anger and rage, prolonged silences, passive-aggressive silent punishments, unsettled disputes swept under the rug, cruel actions, gossip and judgments passed down, hurts, wounds, and shredded relationships. I am not pointing the finger at anyone except myself, nor is this the storyline to delve into that world, and nor am I here to break this down for analysis. We are a dysfunctional, fractured people in constant need of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration – that continual atonement! At this particular time, I once again found myself cast out into that world of dark silence with zero contact. I do not know the exact root that caused the seven years of separation, but this time I made a choice that I would no longer go crawling back with my tail between my legs, offering apologies for unknown actions, groveling to regain a standing in their good graces. I stepped away not knowing I was looking down the barrel of seven plus years of silence and separation. It was tragic. It was years of isolated aftershocks. I felt like an orphan. It was like scraping the skin off your knuckle having a constant sting. It was crushing and yet it was an all too familiar place; I was fine. I am just going to leave this here. For me, sharing the story of my family is like having a Viking reach in and rip your heart out with their bare hands.

I was a severe workaholic at work and home, which I learned as a coping mechanism to outrun and deny any ounce of emotion. Though I changed jobs four times of my own choice, I excelled at surpassing standards, cranking out work beyond imagination, and working overtime – often going in a 6 am and working until 6 pm, working a double plus shift at the end of each month from 6 am until 2 am the next morning, or going to work at 7 am on a Friday and not leaving until 3 am Saturday only to go back in after church on Sunday, then back to the regular work week on Monday. At home, I managed ALL affairs, and I do mean ALL. In silence, we fell into these roles. For years I just did anything and everything; if I saw it needed to be done, I did it. I was hyper-vigilant, hyper-responsible, hyper-organized, hyper-meticulous, hyper-clean, hyper-whatever. I lived at a pace unsurpassed by Hermes. That was my normal; there was nothing wrong with me; I was fine! As time progressed, I began to see that I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and my husband was whistling off to work happy as a lark without a care in the world. He was fulfilled. Now I gave the appearance of unbelievable stability, dependability, super employee, church pianist, served in various roles in the church, and happy, yet on the inside, I was empty. My entire life I carried a measure of melancholy that steadily increased like a growing stock market price. We began to have a few tussles, but I had crippling fear that his past would resurface at the scent of conflict or disagreement. I chose to remain silent.

My body was letting me know it was under extreme duress!  May 1985, April 1992, and December 1998 I was in the ER for heart palpitations and chest tightness – all three visits diagnosed as benign. March 2003 I visited my doctor for heart palpitations and chest tightness. He administered a stress test – diagnosed benign. Not one person spoke anything about anxiety. I now find that bizarre. September 1993 through May 1994 my thyroid levels began functioning at 170%. Specialists could do nothing to slow it down except radioactive iodine treatment. There was never a root diagnosis – no goiter, no virus, no cancer – nothing! August 1996 another ER visit for a 104-degree fever with delirium. They thought it to be a kidney infection, but nothing was ever confirmed. May 2000 and July 2004 broke my right foot, twice in different bones. Except for the ER visits, I went through all follow-up appointments, testing and procedures alone, including fertility. No emotions; I did not need anybody; that was my normal; I was fine!

I praise God for His enduring love, grace, mercy, and presence in my life.

To be continued…
Love you, mean it!

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!

Under The Rug

I do not know about you, but I have a lot of “stuff” swept under my rug, not literally, but figuratively. Things I want to ignore, avoid, deny, and conceal. It is peculiar how we think things magically disappear forever if we sweep them under that rug. The irony is this, those hidden “things” might be out of sight, your conscious awareness, but I am here to tell you they are not vanished and gone! I’m talking anger, resentment, conflicts, injustices, grudges, problems, unforgiveness, pain, hurt, secrets we hold as weapons against others, secrets about our pasts, responsibilities, other people’s feelings and problems that we have taken responsibility for, mistakes, fears, sadness, loneliness, guilt, things we don’t want to do, inappropriate or embarrassing behaviors, addictions, and unconfessed secret sins – anything that we want to keep in the darkness; anything we do not want exposed to the light, anything we have not dealt with appropriately, anything we do not want to own or deal with, and anything that holds us in captivity. The things we have under our rugs hold us prisoner, bound by shackles and chains to our current existence! Those things are not dead or departed, they are very much alive and present! In fact, they compound, intensify, and worsen the longer they remain under the rug. Those high, wide, and deep piles under my rugs created grave damage, horrific pain, and frightening levels of exhaustion the longer I remained in ignorance, the more I kept tripping over them, and the harder I fell.

Now, I believe we consciously choose to ignore things and brush them right under that rug, but once the situation is under the rug and it is a continuous ‘state of affairs’, I believe we begin a pattern of unconsciously and reflexively tossing any related circumstance on that interrelated pile under that rug, creating a mountain and quite a mess. It becomes an undertow. Those unseen currents below the surface of our rugs are moving in a different direction. They are dragging us backwards all the while we are fighting a losing battling to move forwards. They become weighted burdens that create a constant force of resistance and restrict us. They hold us back; they break us down; they create anxiety, depression, hopelessness, addictions, whatever unhealthy means you choose to cope; they destroy life! Here is the hard truth, it is HARD WORK and takes a lot of energy to clean up!!! It’s about being willing to put yourself under the microscope; it’s about dissecting every part of who you are; it’s about methodically looking at every single piece and part; it’s about being authentic and down in that pile of dirt under the rug all the way to the core open and honest. HARD WORK!

As a living example of what I mean, let me share a little trail of breadcrumbs from my life. Growing up, as a family we did not deal with emotions or feelings; we did not talk about, acknowledge, or give credence to their existence. I became a blank slate. I repressed my emotions and feelings continually. It was nothing intentional; I knew no different; it was my normal. It is not that my feelings and emotions did not exist; in ignorance and led by example, I concealed them under my rug. Repressing them became reflexive; I did not even know I was doing it. Who knew what a repressed feeling or emotion was as a little child. I normalized the environment. I did not know it was abnormal not to cry, not to show anger, not to talk about how I felt, and not to share painful heartaches. I interpreted normal as no outward reaction to anything. However, I became quite adept at monitoring and reading the atmosphere, the actions, and the faces of my family; I became a vigilante, unconsciously annexing my own and everyone else’s feelings and emotions, like extra-sensory perception. I harnessed and retained them all unbeknownst to me. They became a monstrous pile under my rug, which in turn created a riptide undercurrent effect in my life – generating an addiction, crafting destructive behavior patterns, producing mental and physical health issues, and a whole host of other crusades. I must say this, my blank slate of feelings and emotions piled up under my rug are not the total cause and reasons for my issues, but they are a huge piece of the pie. And now, my feelings and emotions can bleed out inappropriately. Though in many respects I still have that reflex to hide my feelings and emotions, I am super tender-hearted as when unhealed skin weeps; I can be reactive; I can be like a triggered pressure cooker to something totally unrelated; I can be a workaholic racing through life at warp speed trying to outrun my amassed pile of feelings and emotions; and at times I devour isolation and quietness to still the screeching chaos inside. Hopefully, you can get a glimpse of this trail of breadcrumbs that leads to the piles under my rug.

So, here’s the question – what’s under your rug? What are you ignoring, avoiding, denying, and concealing? Only you can answer that question. Only you know your story. I suspect, if you are willing to look closer, you can follow your own trail of breadcrumbs to your own piles under your own rugs. About a year ago, I got the absolute best broom in the world to help me clean this all up. It took many, many years and a whole lot of heartache, fear, and frustration, but God in His mercy laid His trail of breadcrumbs to guide me. Now I do not know why He waited so long and I do not know why I had to endure what seems to me wasted years, but I have learned to trust His sovereignty and timing. If that still small voice within is speaking to you, listen and pray. If that still small voice is nudging you and whispering that something is not right, listen and pray. If that still small voice is telling you it is time to move on or to do something different, listen and pray. I am telling you listen and pray. Give yourself permission to say, “No, it doesn’t have to be this way!” You do not have to remain stuck. You do not have to be miserable. You do not have to stay in unhealthy relationships or patterns of coping. You have permission to live and breathe. The breadcrumbs will lead you; give yourself permission to follow them even if it is just baby steps to the piles under your rugs. Even in writing this, it is like continuing to give myself permission.  

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!