if you really knew me…

insecurity

How long have you carried around the lie that says…if they knew me…they wouldn’t love me? 

Or maybe it doesn’t go exactly like that.

Maybe it’s more like…if they knew my past, they would think differently of me. Or if they saw my laundry pile…or if they heard me yell at my kids…or if they knew that I was sexually abused…or if they knew I had a past history of addicition…or if they knew I struggled with depression…

In short…if they really knew me…they would reject me.

I fear most of us have been carrying this weight a very long time. And you know what? Maybe they would? Maybe they would think less of you. Maybe they would think more. Maybe they would wonder how you were able to get to the place you did. Maybe they would condemn you and cast words of judgement and shame. Maybe they would offer you compassion. It’s really a crapshoot because human behavior is often unpredictable.

And so if we can’t control the reactions of others to our truth…what do we do then? Continue to walk around trying to decide which pieces of ourselves others will deem appropriate and act accordingly? Are we doomed into being shape shifters so we never risk rejection?

Maybe…but at what cost? Because the truth is, those of us who constantly bend to the expectations of others and hide what’s really going on inside become the loneliest human beings on the planet.

While we may be skilled at staving off the rejection of others, we are constantly rejecting ourselves.

So what if we kept the same old adage…if you really knew me…and shifted it around…

If you really knew me, you would know unconditional love.

If you really knew me, you would understand that you are always accepted.

If you really knew me, you would know that I am not afraid of your pain.

If you really knew me, you would understand that your past is not to shameful and that redemption already happened on the cross.

If you really knew me, it wouldn’t matter what others say so much because you would look to me for your value.

If you really knew me, you would begin to swallow that all that stuff satan tells you are lies and that you do not have to accept them.

Reality is God made only one of you. Don’t rob people of the all of the amazingness of who you are. Even the ugly broken places. You may never share them directly, and that’s okay, but give all of you space to breath inside your heart. If they really knew you, they would get to see something beautiful.

 

because you need flour to make cake…

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Experiencing success can do weird things to us. We should be happy, but instead we feel this weird sense of imposter syndrome. Like we are playing a game everyone else thinks we are good at, but inside we feel like a fake – a failure – a fraud. We feel guilty for having good things and find ourselves experiencing depression even in the midst of fantastic gain.

It seems those of us who were victimized are particularly vulnerable to these types of feelings. Who told us we deserved success? Certainly not our abuser…and certainly not ourselves. We believed we were dirty, wasted, broken, and should be filled with unending buckets of shame. We should keep our heads down and look at no one – because if anyone looks deep enough into our eyes – they will find out the truth. That we are a dirty fake.

So as God would have it, my child has had this new desire to bake. And it got me thinking about cake. You are probably thinking what in the world does cake have to do with this…but actually it has a lot to do with it. Because here’s the thing…

I have spent most of my life trying to avoid the flour. It’s messy and cumbersome and every time I get it out of the pantry I feel like everything I own, including myself, is covered in a white dusty film.

Can’t you just make the cake without flour?

Yes you can. I have had an excellent flourless chocolate cake. But flourless cake is not the same. Whether you substitute with something else or leave it out all together – you still have something worth eating – but it won’t be the same kind of cake.

And so, thanks to God, my husband and I have built a pretty good lives. We work hard, we help people, and we get things done. I have experienced a great deal of success in many ways. But no matter how hard I try, I haven’t been able to make the damn chocolate cake.

I think it might be because the flour has been sitting in the dark pantry. I get it out and look at it every now and then. But I’ve never once added it to the cake. In fact, adding it has terrified me. As if putting it in will somehow alter the chemistry in such a way that things will never be the same. And guess what? It’s true. The flour WILL change things.

But the flour does not define the cake. We do not put flour in a cake and call it flour. We call it cake because flour is just an ingredient. An essential ingredient…but just an ingredient…that’s all.

What happened to you does not define you. It is not who you are. But if you leave it locked away and never let the shame air out, something will always taste like it’s missing. You may be incredibly successful, but it’s still a flourless cake. Dumping in the flour will make a mess. It may show. You could get your hands dirty and it will probably be uncomfortable. But with time and the right amount of other ingredients – you will have cake. And who doesn’t love cake.

 

thoughts on magic erasers and proverbial spanx…

love without conditions

I went to see a friend today. The kind of friend you go see when you feel like you are coming undone at the seems and don’t want too much of your ugly to leak out. The kind of friend that you hope can tuck your unlovelies back in…kind of like spanx. I wanted her to be my spanx. Or maybe my magic eraser? That would be even better. If she could make my past dissapear – that would be awesome. But she didn’t do it…she didn’t even offer…

Why? Because unlike the way I see myself – she sees my imperfections and the baggage of my past as an essential piece to who I am and who I will continue to become…say what????

As a woman who tries to hide her gigantic perfectionism monster in a closet but can’t seem to keep the door closed, I wanted to smack her…hard.

She spoke truth to my hurting soul but my mind kept shutting her down with thoughts like…don’t let her give you that shit about being perfect just the way you are…or that imperfection is why we need Jesus…or this is part of how you are made and why you are good at what you do. 

The internal battle that rose up inside of me kind of took me by surprise. Every cell in my body screamed louder and louder don’t listen…your past is ugly…it ruined you…you are disgusting and nasty…you will never be good at your job or anything else you try to do…

But something happened…

I decided to chance the fact that she might be right. I didn’t say she was right, but I just needed to wrap my brain around the fact that she might be. Just a tiny bit…so the door could crack…

And it seems walking around the proverbial Wal-Mart of our life endlessly searching for the magic eraser and/or the perfect pair of Spanx is really kind of pointless. Maybe it exists, but I haven’t found it. And the deeper question – if found would I really want to use it?

This morning, I would have said yes. This afternoon, I’m not so sure.

Maybe it’s less about running away from, masking, and hiding and more about radical acceptance and moving into.

Because this body…these circumstances…this life that God has put in front of us is not an accident. Sure some bad things happened and sin played a part in all of that, but if we truly believe God’s Word (that He is making all things new and working all things for good) then bad things are the least of our worries. Icky ugliness is just a chance for God to shine even brighter. Broken pieces are just a step in the overall plan. And all that shit you have spent year after year trying to get rid of and cover up – maybe it’s not as ugly as you once thought. Just maybe…

And that’s all God really needs to work…just a tiny crack in the door…and a shaky hesitant maybe…

 

 

 

 

A wet brown cold paper bag…

 

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When I began working with victims of sexual abuse, I assumed the abuse itself would be the most painful part. The horrendous unthinkable act. That part is difficult for certain, but it’s rarely the worst part. Over and over again, the worst part is verbalized as when a family member didn’t believe…or when they could no longer go to their favorite church because the abuser still attends…or had to put on a fake smile and pretend everything was okay.

It’s the isolation and abandonment. That’s the worst part.

Because things like sexual abuse and other violations of the “normal social contract” have an uncanny ability to isolate. They are difficult to see…uncomfortable…and so we distance. We may look at statistics and think oh that’s sad. Or share an Instagram pic of the latest sexual assault awareness campaign, but when it hits close to home – we look away – and unintentionally perpetuate shame.

And why do we do this? Why do we glance at someone’s pain and instead of helping pick up the pieces, we dismiss and push away? It’s not a new thing…it’s been going on since the beginning of time. Take the story of the Samaritan…

“A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’”

Why didn’t they stop? Two reasons enter my mind. First, it was unappealing to look at. Naked, broken, beaten…a tremendously difficult reality. Second, busyness and inconvenience. They didn’t have time, energy, or resources – and they used that as an excuse. If being uncomfortable doesn’t get to us, feeling inadequate to or too busy with other “good” things will. We assume someone else will do it, and justify by assuming they will do a better job than we could anyways.

But sweet brothers and sisters is this what we are really called to do?

Do we need a church full of believers who are doing the “good” things or do we need individuals who are willing and ready to get their hands dirty? To pull in the woman who was sexually assaulted and is now a known drug addict and prostitute. Or the child who was sexually abused and now sexually acts out on others and has very difficult behaviors. Do we look at them with a passing glance and move on by, or do we choose to put on our Jesus lenses and really see them for the fullness of who they are – refusing to set brokenness aside? Are we willing to give up some of our own resources to help them, or do we tuck them away for our own rainy day?

Because crazy things happen when we choose to see people. The victim who felt like she was alone, naked, and abandoned in a wet brown cold paper bag finally feels like she can breath again. All it takes is someone telling her the reality of what happened to her isn’t too painful or disgusting…and that whatever it takes…she will not be alone in this. It takes the willing samaritan. The one who gives of their own resources without reservation in the name of Jesus. This is what it takes to undo the shame of something like sexual abuse. Individuals who are willing to stop looking, and start seeing.

 

 

Exhaustion, boundaries, and self care…

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So I’ve had some time this weekend to really hash through this thing called self care. Not that I wasn’t previously aware of what it is and why it is important. In fact I have taught a few small workshops on the topic. I’ve preached its benefits from the pulpit to the choir. But as we all know, preaching and practicing are two very different things. And not that I haven’t practiced self care at all…I have. But this weekend its importance came full circle in a way that took me completely off guard.

Flashback to Thursday…I woke up from a restless night sweating, sobbing, and gasping for air. A nightmare blending past with present and my story with other stories took me for a long bumpy ride. The kind of journey you don’t embark on voluntarily. The kind that makes you want to vomit out everything inside of you and just start new. At first I thought – oh my gosh – I went to bed, Satan hit me over the head with a 2×4 shit stick, and I might as well just bury myself in a hole and never try to appear sane again. Then friend after friend reminded me of this thing called secondary traumatic stress. Yes I knew the definition, but don’t know if I had experienced a legit bout until now.

And in case you are one of those people like me who has to experience it before you fully believe it – I assure you – it DOES exist!

So I guess the next important question is what did I/what can we learn?

  1. That knowledge is useless if we don’t apply it.
  2. That Satan is a nasty little bastard who takes our best intentions of self care and smacks them with guilt and shame until we reach the point of exhaustion.

Let’s think about #2 a little. I once heard a person say if Satan can’t make you bad he will make you busy. I suppose it’s true. If he is unsuccessful in squashing our desire to help…he will use that desire to his advantage. Making us feel so guilty and worthless if we don’t give every second – every ounce of our being – that we spin ourselves into exhaustion. So what’s the answer?

Boundaries.

Simple word. Immensely complicated application. Especially if you are predisposed to feelings of guilt, shame, helplessness, a crap ton of empathy that you can’t help but ooze, or a loosely knit sense of self. And I just described every amazing therapist I know – because to be as amazing as they are they have to be close enough to these concepts to feel and move with the way they exist. And yet have these qualities without boundaries…and we will in fact drown…and maybe even take those we love down with us.

So boundaries. Ya. They don’t just happen. They are intentional.

Jesus knows that. He said you can choose me or choose the world. You can be hot or cold. But lukewarm? I’ll spit you out. Boundaries.

But satan says be loose. You can have your cake and eat it too. You can have everything and all of it-  which sounds good until we are fat bloated self ruined cows sitting useless on the side of the road.

Boundaries.

Without them, as Brene Brown says, nothing is sustainable.

So you think satan won’t try and hack into your well planned self care time? You’re wrong. He will get you to bend the rules just a bit here and there in small ways and places until he satisfactorily sits back and watches you break. And the only one that can stop him is you.

A you that listens to God and knows only He is enough. A you that trusts when you are away, God is way better at taking care of his people than you could ever be. A you that says I will be the best I can when I can, but I am useless if I don’t crawl back into the soothing arms of Jesus and get filled up. A you that knows when it’s time to say enough is enough and step away for a break. A you that knows you are not invincible, but leans hard into the one who is.

So self care boundaries. Pray about them. Have them. Use them. And don’t bend them. Then sit back and watch Jesus do His thing. Because maybe in stepping back a bit – you can see His work a bit more clearly.

Valley of dry bones…

imageSo you’ve come to a fork in the road. One path leads to more of the same. The other leads to resistance. One path appears easy. The other looks treacherous and daunting. Your left with this impossible decision. Knowing where you want to go, where you need to go, but do you have the strength? What if you get a little ways down the road and collapse? Who will help you then?

Satan tells you…no one. No one will help you on this path. It’s stupid and ugly. Filled with porous holes of noxious fumes. Surely anyone you invite along will be overwhelmed by the stench of your depravity. You just thought you were jacked up before. What will they think of you now?

So you look longingly down the painful path…knowing there is beauty from ashes at the end – but it seems too far – and what if you get swallowed up and stuck?

Again a sneaky voice says…don’t do it. Keep going the direction you’re going. You are doing fine. The blessing over there exists – but you will never make it. Play it safe. It’s not that bad over here.

But the dry icky bones on the unsafe path have a magnetism about them. Something whispers…dry bones come alive…

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me  and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

As stealthy as Satan can be with his wooing of “normalcy” and ease – his water is stagnant. There is no life. Just more of the same you can’t do this, who do you think you are, and you’ll never be enough. 

And so instead of seeing the dry bones for what they are, you choose to see them for what they could be. You decide it’s best to dance with the one who brung ya this far…knowing what God can do with a few tendons and life giving breath.

And you move.

With a great deal of uncertainty – yes…but you move.

And you praise. Not only for what is but for what is to come.

 

because He fights for the beautiful things…

king

“Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Romans 12″:14-19 MSG

My heart is sad tonight. Every day on the news there are more crimes of hurt and hate. The discord makes a soul weary. And tonight I came across something that hit home on a deeper level…

Many of you know Ryan, my son, is intellectually disabled. Last year he participated in Special Olympics. Although he chose not to participate this year, I hope he will in the future. They are a wonderful organization with amazing volunteers and athletes. So you can understand when there was recent news of Special Olympics swimmers being called “f***ing reartards”  – my heart broke.

Not just because I’m the mom of a intellectually disabled child…or have friends with special needs…but because of how raw and ugly we can be to those who are “different” than us.

“Different” via skin color, religious views, political views, IQ scores, color of hair, choice of career…whatever the difference is…we can be absolutely awful to those who we choose not to get to know, understand, or empathize with.

And it’s a delicate balancing act. Standing up for what we believe in and those we care about – yet responding and stopping what is not okay in a loving and respectful manner.

So my heart hurts…not just for the individuals who were treated like dirt…but for the one who treated them that way. And I wonder if the approach we take could be more centered around education than anger…in this situation and all situations.

We can choose hate about what we don’t understand – on both sides of the fence. Or we can choose to set boundaries using love and education. Knowing it’s up to us to offer these things, but up to them to choose if they accept it and make changes.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not about the size of our army. It’s not about how hard we fight or what weapons we wield. At the end of the day, it’s about knowing the Lord will fight for you – you need only be still. 

Maybe this song says it best…

because we cannot be where faith comes to die…

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I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. James 2:18 MSG

In my mind, I see it like this….

A well networked faith system at the roots, growing up through the thick nourishing soil of Jesus, and blossoming into a full leafy tree of works.

Close your eyes.

Do you see it?

Do you see the tiny fibers stretching far beyond and beneath their comfort zone? Wiggling and pushing as they gather up the splendor of what Jesus-soil has to offer. The Holy soak then delivered into the trunk of the tree. Steadily and stealthily pushing onward yet pressed hard under the soil of righteous obedience. Rising…but glouriously enveloped in Jesus.

Its’ only in obedience that the beauty of what is underneath can meet fruition. As it rises, a magnetic – yet gentle – force pulls it far beyond it’s greatest expectations. The tiny fiber of a root turns into a marvelous tree stretching high into the sky. Now extended high above it’s critics reach.

Can you see it my friend?

This is you.

This is me.

That is what we have the capacity to be.

Oaks of righteousness…planted for the display of his splendor.

But the best of faith rooted intentions often experience a fleshy death at the hand of anxiety.  Fear is where faith comes to die. If faith is confident expectation that God will do what He said He would do, fear is confident hopelessness that God never wanted to do anything good in the first place.

That while you may be able to pray brave prayers from the safety of your bedcovers, God never created you nor will He provide you with what is necessary to go from thought to action.

Fear feels like your feet hitting the floor and almost immediately…peace sucking vengeance seeking demons of the past and the present tie your shoes together and block the way. Instead of moving up into Jesus, our roots start to reach further down into the furrows of our humanity – gathering nothing but information from our past shame and sin. And there we sit…for hours…days…weeks…years sometimes…stagnant.

…having a form of godliness, but denying it’s power…2 Timothy 3:5

Sweet friend this cannot be.

In these times like these we cannot let it be.

The moments of sheltering strength deep beneath the blankets of “someone else will do it” are over. The world doesn’t need a ground full of root systems growing towards the center of depraved humanity. It needs trees that will stand up and stretch out high towards the one true God. Our world needs Christians that aren’t afraid to say the reason I can stand and sustain is because of Jesus. Christians that aren’t afraid to give Him the praise…the honor…and the glory in loud and extravagant ways.

Faith…Jesus…Works…they grow together. They need to be together. They belong together. They are His presence realized in a shallow body of nothing but dirty broken cells and messes.

This is beauty from ashes.

This is redemption.

This is salvation.

This is the love our world craves and so desperately needs.

Swell this earth thick with your favor.

With detached arms…

 

least

A sort of detached look on her face. Broken. No one glances beyond the scars.  Perhaps the scars protect her, but I’m pretty sure they protect me. As if what she has been through is too much.

Shards of glass fill her eyes. If someone gets too close, she has the power to push them away with a mere glance or a stare.

“That will teach them,” she thinks. “That will keep him form hurting me again.”

And I sit with her for a while, because too long is more than I can bear.

I sit with her and wonder what it is like to be loved with detached arms. To be handled with “care”. To be raised by a system that has your “best interest” in mind, but never really understood what that was in the first place.

Best interest. 

Best interest of who?

The placing agency? The protective services? The attorneys? The counselors? The parents?

All enter her life to supposedly make it a better place…so why doesn’t this place feel better?

Why does she sit in a stark barren room with nothing on the walls and emptiness in her heart? Why does she sit alone? Is this really best interest? Is this really the better her heart has longed for?

Because this feels cold and dark and incredibly alone.

And if her tiny heart could tell you one thing, this is what I think it would say…

Don’t love me with detached arms, like some sort of mechanical operated system that is in charge of keeping all my ducks in a row. Sometimes my ducks don’t want to line up. Sometimes my impracticality needs to hang out and run free. I desperately need to know that this is okay. 

That what has happened to me isn’t too disgusting or nasty to go unnoticed by your eyes. That you will not let me fall by the waste side.  That you will not throw me away or pretend you don’t notice.

Don’t hold me with broken hands that detach at the wrist and never give way to the heart. Hold me with real hands. Real hands connected to real love.

Love that says I get it.  Love that says you don’t have to hide it away for me. Love that won’t leave me in the dark.

Hands that hold. Real hands. In all my life I have never felt these kinds of hands.

They say they exist. I just really don’t know. And I’m even more terrified that if I find them…someone will snatch them away. Certainly I a not deserving of these types of hands.

So I’ll sit here with my glass eyes glazed a thousand times over so that you can’t see me. And maybe you have real hands. Real hands that aren’t leaving or hurting. And if you do, I’ll think about letting you in.

the connection conduit built for freedom…

set free

So there’s this way of doing therapy with sexually abused children that is so fantastic. It’s called TFCBT. I love it so much because it works. It contains very specific components which are super helpful and research driven…but if you set all that aside, there is this thing I see as the most important. Therapy, whatever kind of therapy it is, offers a conduit for connection…

Why do the kids therapists see love to come back? It’s not because we doing anything magical…it’s because they know there is an open door…

Not only an open door to the things people are comfortable talking about, but an open door to the very most horrific moment in their entire life. We give them the permission they need, and a tool belt filled with skills, so they can walk through that awful moment over and over again, and realize that they are in fact – okay.

Sometimes people ask me, does it make it worse? Does talking about it make it worse? And I get why they ask. Because I too thought it would make it worse. I chose to tuck that awful moment away in the dark recesses of my brain for years out of fear that if anyone saw it – surely they would reject me the same way I rejected that part of myself. But that’s exactly why it NEEDS to be talked about. There is power in visiting one’s most painful place with someone by your side that says I see it, and you my dear are not ugly. In fact you are beautiful..1,000 times over beautiful.

And I wonder if that’s how it works in our relationship with Jesus? We have these deep dark places that we try to conceal from Him. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we cover our broken shame filled spots with fig leaves and hide. We smother the darks spots over and over again afraid that if we open them up, it will make it worse. But sweet sister, Jesus didn’t come to rescue our happy places. He came for the broken, bruised, and abandoned feeling mess of a girl that feels she could never possibly be loved by the King of Kings. And He says: Here I am. Here is the open door. I’ll walk through this with you. And in the process you will know that you have always been okay.

He gives us the tools in His Word and the path through His unending faithfulness and forgiveness. With Him we have not failed. We can come to Him over and over again because He never gets frustrated or tired no matter how long the process takes. He the conduit of our connection to the God who formed us in our mothers womb and knows each and every fiber of our being. We are perfected, adopted, love giving, life living children born of and saved by Grace. We don’t have to do more, be more, have more, or live better to receive what He has already given to us. The price was paid in advance.

So that icky, awful, terrible feeling thing? I know it’s scary to uncover and you worry about disturbing the dust bunnies that live in that old musty closet. Talking about it can feel almost threatening…but God has given you an open door. And He has far more tools than I or any human on this earth could ever offer. He is willing and able to walk through it with you. He already knows it’s there, so let it loose because you deserve so much more than to bear this burden alone.