healing the trauma of ineffectiveness…


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We went on a mission trip to Mexico. I was maybe 13 and eager to be a part of the selected few who were on the drama team. Weeks prior to the trip we carefully crafted what we hoped would be an accurate representation of the love of Jesus. Something that would transcend language barriers. At the very end my job was to pose with my hand reaching out towards the audience, palm up, hand open.

When we arrived in Mexico we were housed in the sanctuary of a very small church. I got dressed the next morning and put on my watch like I would any other day. It was glittery and gold and we headed out towards a small grouping of cardboard houses. There was a sermon and some singing and we were to close things up with the drama.

I went through the motions like I had done several times before, but that day was different. There was a small child sitting directly in front of me. When I stretched out my hand at the end, his mud riddled fingers reached out to touch my watch. It was as if this was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His dirt smeared face and hungry eyes connected with mine, and that’s when I felt it. The trauma of ineffectiveness. The insignificance of my humanity. The vast gap between myself and those who desperately need. A gap I had never understood before this very moment. I would never be the same.

Fast-forward to the present. I have chosen difficult work. Work with trauma survivors, work with mentally ill, work with the walking wounded, work with countless individuals who are just trying to get through the painful circumstances presented to them that are beyond their control.

As I sat down this morning to do some research about self care for those who do trauma work I came across something fascinating. The idea of trauma mastery: seeking to recreate situations in our work and relationships where we once felt powerless and transform them into a new situation where we feel powerful and in charge. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you don’t recognize you are doing it…and you do it with such gusto and fervor that you burn yourself out.

So I thought to myself, yes, I have endured trauma. Just yesterday I wrote a post about how I was raped. But this trauma (with a great deal of work) has largely been resolved. What I was completely unaware of was a new idea that popped into my head. I am desperately seeking to resolve the trauma of ineffectiveness.

I look back on my life and over and over again – I see ineffectiveness. The times I have tried to help, tried to fix, tried to mend – and I have done good work. Yet, I still see myself as helpless and ineffective.

I wonder how many other people feel that way? How many of us try over and over again to rub the healing salve of our helping profession on our wounds of ineffectiveness. Feelings that likely began far before we chose a helping profession.

And we rub and we rub and we rub…but the salve never satiates.

Why? Probably because 1. we are rubbing the wrong wound 2. we are rubbing it with the wrong thing.

I have never gone back and offered myself healing and compassion for that little girl who wanted to help so desperately, but felt horrendously guilty for not having been more sensitive. I beat her up. I tell her you should have known better. I acknowledged that she did something good, but never reminded her that she could only know what she knows when she knows it. That sometimes she will do things that impact others in a way she never anticipated or wanted, and that this is okay. That these are the moments God uses to teach us and ultimately to grow us. I never did those things. Instead I beat her up for being so stupid.

And I rubbed her with the wrong healing oil. There is no amount of perfection or acts of service in the present that can heal how shameful she felt in the past. The only thing that can heal her is choosing to love her and see her the way Jesus sees her: a servant doing the best she can with lots and lots left to learn.

When we feel ineffective, and our accomplishments never seem like enough, maybe we need to take a moment to pause and take a look deep inside of ourselves.

When is the first time you remember feeling ineffective? What did you tell yourself? What have you continued to tell yourself? What old wound or trauma are you trying to heal by all your hard work and actions? What would God say about this situation? How would He show you love, grace, and compassion? How could you and should you show compassion and even forgiveness towards yourself?

I have replayed that situation in my mind hundreds of times. What would I have done differently? Should I have given him the watch? What would he have done with it if I had? Would someone take it from him? Would he have kept it? Would he have sold it to get food for his family? I will never know. And I can’t go back. But I can remind 13 year old me that she did the best she could with what she knew at the time. I can remind my 34 year old self that even though I have learned a lot since being 13, I still have a long way to go. That it’s okay to rest every now and then. And that when I rest I don’t have to feel guilty. I can enjoy it. That I am as effective as God intends for me to be, right here-right now. And so are you.

And may we all remember that even when we mess up, Jesus is enough. The reason He came is to do these things:

“He has sent me to provide for all those who grieve in Zion, to give them crowns instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of tears of grief, and clothes of praise instead of a spirit of weakness.” Isaiah 61:3a

He’s going to accomplish what He set out to do on this earth whether we do things right-wrong-or in that in between space of good/not good enough. He’s got this. He knows we are human and planned for our inadequacies. Our job is to do the best we can, when we can, with what we can. And that my friend is never ever ineffective.

the colors are just right…


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As I crossed over the river bed, the colors were right. The blazing orangey red of the dirt contrasted perfectly against the happy green of wild spring/summer vegetation. My mind was instantaneously transported back to early June of 1997. 19 years ago when the colors were also just right. Beautiful.

I have recounted the hours in my head more times than I care to count. The day I was raped. The hot afternoon in that small SUV against the backdrop of orange and green. Somehow I escaped into them, pretending what was happening didn’t really exist. Just the orange and green. That’s all.

Isn’t it funny how our life can be completely shaken, and yet the thing we remember the most is the beauty of God’s creation all around us. It’s a defense mechanism, I know. To dissociate from something incredibly painful and instead connect with something soothing around you. This whole escaping reality tendency has caused me some problems and eventually I had to get real about what happened that day – and cope. But in a way I’m glad it went the way it did. Because today, seeing all the colors just right reminded me that He never changes. He never fails.

When it happened, He was there. In the years days, months, and years following, He was there. He is still here. The colors tell me I made beauty then and I’m still making it now.

And for you sister, circumstances suck sometimes. And they are amazing sometimes. And often we have very little control over what comes our way. But what we do have control over is what we choose to notice. God’s profound consistency in moments of devastation. His beauty from the ashes. His love never failing. He always makes the colors just right. And His sameness encourages us that life may change, but His greatness will always remain.

when the dust settles, but not really…

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Emotions rarely come in single form. I feel like it’s always a combo meal…a 1-2 punch. Sad-mad. Joy-fear. Anxious-excited.

And here I sit in this place I’ve always wanted. Happy-shameful? “You are undeserving” sits on my chest like a swamp thing, making my feels all murky.

Noticing the uncomfortable around me…I ask myself…how could a girl who has messed up this much deserve happy?

Things are far from perfect. A little voice says
maybe you should wait for life to get that way before you feel happy. Maybe you should still feel like a failure. Clearly things are not the way they should be. You should be sad or mad or at least disappointed until they reach the level that other people would say is okay. But I kind of just want to be happy with the way things are. And part of me, the self-compassionate part, thinks this is ok.

I once heard Brene Brown say that the emotion we are most afraid of feeling is joy. I think it’s true. Because the moment I feel joy, I can’t help but think something sad or stupid will come along and kick me in my happy ass. Then I’ll wonder why I let my guard down in the first place?

I know it’s silly to avoid feeling joy out of fear that it will inevitably cause sadness to embark on a one way journey. But I do it. And I think we all do it to some degree.

And then enters self-doubt. Who ever said I was good enough to be a therapist? Whoever decided my pain gets to be mended and she gets to struggle while addiction strangles out her last breath. Why did I get to heal? I certainly don’t deserve it. And why doesn’t she? Of course if have fought – but she has also?

I don’t have answers. Enter confused-peaceful. But I know that God does. There must be purpose and reason for all of this.

And so I sink-swim. Doing the best I can but knowing I mess up and God never expected perfection. When I feel competent at work I will most likely feel like a fish out of water at home, and vice versa.

And I sit tight the best I can in Galatians 5:22-23…

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

reminding myself that it’s okay to feel exactly what I feel. That good things are from God. And even though I can never deserve good things or meet up to a Holy expectation, it’s okay to let the Holy Spirit bring a harvest of love-happy even when life looks sad-bad.

because I’m running the mommy marathon the best I can, but sometimes I don’t feel like I have any feet…

piclabSo it’s Mother’s Day…and I see all these amazing pictures scattered on my social media feed. Beautiful pictures of moms who look like they have it all together and kids who are all cute and tidy. And I’m all over here feeling like the girl who entered a marathon race without any feet. My daughter’s room looks like a bomb went off, I have a fresh pimple that cropped up this morning probably because of stress, and my son left the laundry in the dryer and now it smells like something died.

And I don’t know where my feet go. Sometimes I feel like I have them and I’m trotting down the path just fine, then other times it’s like some tiny neurotic ninja comes along and chops them off saying – you suck at motherhood – just look at all the ways you have jacked your kids up. I keep trying to run on the nubs of inferiority, but sometimes I get tired and just sit down and cry.

I’m not sure, but I don’t think I am the only one who feels this way. Tiny ninja’s probably exist for everyone. And regardless of what your kids own internal battlefield looks like – you probably blame yourself to some degree for their mis-shapen tendencies. I could have…I should have…then they would have……..but could’s should’s and would’s exist in a world of unreasonable expectations. And unreasonable expectations do absolutely nothing but make us feel like sh** for being human. Maybe looking back, you would have made some different decisions. But we are all just doing the best we can with what we have at the time. And isn’t that enough?

And maybe it is, and maybe it’s not, and maybe it was never meant to be enough in the first place – and that’s when we must realize we don’t run the race alone.

God knew all the mistakes we were going to make. He knew exactly who He placed inside our womb or even our home, and it was a tiny soul built to withstand the humanity of our motherhood. And so maybe on this Mother’s Day, it doesn’t matter if we have to get through the tough years without any strength left in our legs and Jesus pushing us around on a cart – we will get through this. Because God doesn’t leave mommies lying wounded on the sidelines. He helps us get through this journey with everything we need.

And so I challenge you and challenge myself, to remember that everything you have done right and everything you have done wrong come together in the perfect way to shape you and your child into exactly who God designed each of us to be. The results won’t always be pretty, and they won’t be perfect, and that’s just the way it is for humans who depend on the grace of God through Jesus. But when we cross the finish line it will be a messy God-sized kind of beautiful, and even the darkest moments will make perfect sense.

just STOP swimming…

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This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:16:21

 

The past month or so has felt like a swim in deep waters. Not the enjoyable kind of leisurely swim. More like an awkward mix between flailing about, being tossed by waves, and even trying to ride the tide whenever possible. I’m a pretty good swimmer, but it feels like I’m doing some kind of dysfunctional doggie paddle.

The weird thing is, there’s dry land all around. Accessible, bare, dry land. I look at it, but exhausted, continue to swim.

So this is my awkward analogy of what it’s like living life with circumstances, but having an inborn tendency towards anxiety. There is the dry land of faith in God, and even more dry land created by coping skills I know will work, yet often the anxious water calls my name. And so I don my flippers and swim.

And I know I’m not the only one. There’s a reason God put verse after verse in the Bible about God’s faithfulness, about letting go of worry, about trusting Him for our every need. But we humans tend to swim, even if we don’t have to!

Here’s a thought. What if when Moses parted the Red Sea, and God made space for the people to cross, and they were like: you know dry land is awesome and all – but let’s see if we can swim? Ya, I know the enemy is all up our a**, and God made this clear path to escape, but maybe we should swim?

It sounds crazy and ridiculous. The people chose to take the path God set in front of them, but I wonder how often God parts the waters for us to walk through and we are like: ya – no thanks God – that’s awesome and all – but this sea of worry…I think I’d rather swim for a while. Sounds crazy. But we do it! At least I do it. Every single day I do it!

And as we swim and swim, maybe we have on our goggles, thinking the answers lie deep in the depths of our humanity. Maybe with enough Google power or endless searching the worry will disappear and we will find resolution. We get ourselves so far from shore that sometimes we even pray for a boat. God give me a freaking boat! Because I’m tired! And God is like – sister, I parted the waters. Dry land is right there. You just have to choose to stop worrying and looking for answers and just walk. Faithfully walk.

But it’s hard. I recognize how hard it is. To let go of control and walk on unfamiliar land that likely harbors challenges we are uncertain if we can face. But the thing is, we are never alone. Land or sea, God is faithful. But He wants us to step out of the ocean of worry and realize He’s got this. We can put our feet on the sand and start the long journey towards His promise land. We don’t have to stay stuck in between captivity and freedom. We can walk in His freedom right now – even with all the circumstances that make us want to vomit. He will take care of the ocean of our worries. It’s ok to get out and just walk in faithfulness. He’s got this.

So what if we stopped swimming. Maybe it’s time to head to the shore, dry off the worry with page after page of scripture, and walk on dry land. Not perfect dry land. Not land without challenges. But the land God miraculously created for His people. Equipped with everything we need. I think I’ll stop swimming. Will you?

the other side of humility…

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As a therapist I have to be careful. I can’t internalize my clients successes and I also can’t internalize their failures. The former is pretty easy. I am good at recognizing that another person’s success rarely has anything to do with me and has everything to do with them and God. But that later? Much more difficult to accept.

I remember the verse God placed on my heart last year. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up (James 4:10). It didn’t matter what part of the Bible I was studying, or what book I was reading, God would always bring my heart back to this place. I wasn’t sure why…I mean…I felt like I tried to be humble. I wasn’t perfect at it, but who is? I didn’t take credit for my place in life. I knew it was only by the grace of God that I even maintained the position I was in. But then God shifted my perspective to the other side of humility. A side I was not familiar with at all.

The other side of humility (for me) pairs closely with the fact that I have a limited amount control. Yes I am in control of my own thoughts, actions, and behaviors. But when I internalize another person’s actions, thought processes, behaviors, or even circumstances – I am anything but humble. I see myself as having way more control that God ever intended. He gave us all free will, and that free will not only applies to them, but it also means I am not in charge of anyone else.

And it doesn’t mean I can’t offer help, skills, suggestions, and always a safe place to be heard and understood. It doesn’t mean I don’t do everything in my power to have as much specialized knowledge as possible on how certain things affect certain people or the biology of how the brain works. Of course I embrace and use these things. But at the end of the day, I have to know the outcome never has and never will rest with me. God has power to do far more than I could ever imagine – or possibly choose to do nothing at all. He always knows best.

When I accept this as truth I am free to give my all — released from pressure and anxiety. I am lifted up beyond the outcome and free to just be me. He asks us to be humble not just because it’s a “good” way to be but because it helps us function in the fullness of His grace each and every day. Humility is a blessing as we begin to realize He is the ultimate author.

you deserve the chance to make a mistake…

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Middle school boys do weird stuff. Like really weird. Over the past 2 years I have gotten phone calls involving bananas, trees, bathroom incidents, middle finger mishaps, and verbage I never knew existed! Looking back I can totally laugh, but in the moment it’s tough to see my kid make mistakes.

If I could encapsulate him in a bubble and keep him from missing the mark – ever – I think I probably would. Well…maybe…

There is also this part of me that says – he deserves the chance to make mistakes – no matter how funky-weird those mistakes are!

And I wonder if Jesus feels the same way. If it’s hard for Him to watch us fall…but letting us because He knows the fall is what we need to heal and grow stronger. Because when you think about it, freedom (including the freedom to totally f*** things up) is a really cool thing. Apart from freedom, none of us would be who we are.

And you and I sit here as adults – no one telling us what to do – and sometimes we get it right. Other times – many other times – we get it wrong.

But here’s the truth sweet friend. You deserve the chance to make a mistake.

With mistakes can come tremendous growth, especially if we practice self-compassion (the ability to say ya, I jacked it up, but I will learn and move on).

You deserve the chance to make a mistake because you are human and it’s what humans do. If we never messed up there would be no need for Jesus. And Jesus didn’t die so we could sit around wallowing in our woes – telling ourselves what a ding-dong we are. He died so we can say, that was weird – I made a mistake – what have I learned? – and God please help me do better next time. 

And sometimes we will do better next time, and sometimes our flesh will fight hard, and we won’t. But we just keep going. Trying. Repenting. Caring for ourselves and those we love. And allowing God to mend the wounds. Because you sweet sister deserve the chance to make a mistake. And you deserve to do it without bashing yourself with your internal baseball bat afterwards. You deserve to make a mistake and you deserve forgiveness, grace, and compassion.

So get up, and try again. Help your kids do the same. They are watching you. And the more grace you give yourself – the more they will learn to do the same. You got this. And even when you don’t – well that’s just part of being human – and you are gonna be okay.

 

Some thoughts on depression…

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It’s a place no one wants to be. Sobbing uncontrollably on the floor. Knowing I couldn’t do it myself, but begging God to make it stop or just let me die. The feeling of the carpet on my knees. I even remember watching classic anti-depressant commercials saying “depression hurts” and thinking – no shit! I felt so violated.

It’s almost like – in fact it’s exactly like – trauma. Depression took me to the ground over and over again. I begged for it to stop.  I said no as loud as my breathy cries would let me. But the sadness would not go away. It felt like my sense of self was violated in a way I could never get back. Stained, raped, and ruined.

And I know this description may sound extreme, or dramatic, but that’s exactly what depression is. A scrappy relentless animal. It fights hard and doesn’t give up. And even when we think we have it beat, it comes back for round two, three, four, or more… It’s been several years since I’ve faced depression of this magnitude, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

So what if we tell ourselves not to be depressed? To watch out for sadness and beat it off with a womping stick before it gets too close. To guard our happy with thankfulness, kindness, servitude, and even busyness. It works sometimes. But what happens when it doesn’t? When the sad creeper comes and camps out in your brain despite your best efforts to keep his nasty at bay. If you are like me you feel defeated, alone, confused, not good enough, and violated all over again.

So what does work? If we can’t beat it off or busy ourselves out of it, what helps us in the moments when sadness seems like too much? I’ll tell you what works for me. And it sounds silly and oversimplified…but it works.

Drop the rope.

Drop the rope and stop fighting it.

It’s often the fear that depression will get TOO bad that takes us from sad to miserable. We borrow trouble from past experience and drag it willingly into the present and future. But here’s the thing. It doesn’t fit there. So instead of kicking into full fledged panic when we feel sad what if we just learned to accept it for what it is. Not making it bigger or smaller. Not tugging it closer or smacking at it in attempts to make it go away. Just letting it be what it is.

I’m not saying depression doesn’t hurt. We all know that it does. What I’m saying is that we don’t have to make it go away or never struggle with it again to live life. Depression can ebb and flow and you can keep on going. It may be a part of you but it doesn’t have to define you.

And where does Jesus fit in all of this? Right smack dab in the middle. He came to heal the lame and set the captive free, but He did not come to squash and extinguish all of our negative emotions. Jesus wept. Jesus got angry. Jesus felt. And He allows us to feel too. He gives us freedom to experience, hurt, learn, grow. To find joy in the MIDST of sadness. Joy that knows who God is even when we feel violated on the floor. Joy that says God is good and I accept this pain knowing it likely has purpose. That with God, pain is and will be okay.

Depression is tough. But so are you. You don’t have to be violated. You can welcome it for what it is, and at the same time know Gods got this. Soon enough, you will rejoice.

where you came from is not where you have been…

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“You aren’t ever going back there. I don’t care how low you sink. It’s a physical impossibility.”

~ words spoken straight to my soul by a sweet friend

I know you feel lost and alone. At times it hurts way too deep. You wonder what you can do to feel better or how to make it through today…much less tomorrow. You feel tired, overwhelmed, and wonder how to keep doing this thing that you do. Everything in you wants to fight, but the energy is waning, and the water seems so deep.

It hurts. But you will not drown.

And I get it. You have a story. We all do. But where you have come from is not where you have been. Where you have come from may be poverty, loss, abandonment, grief, abuse, neglect, hate, and really tough tremendous pain.

But look at where you have been…

You can’t go back to the past. It’s a physical impossibility. But where you have been will never leave you. Where you have been is transformed. Where you have been is saved. Where you have been is redeemed. Where you have been is made new. 

So that deep dark space that you remember so vividly, the moment the world stopped spinning and you don’t know how you took the next breath…it’s over. It lives in the past. There will be new moments. Circumstances that leave you ruptured on the floor. But you are not who you were. And you will get through this.

Lift your head sweet friend. There is no you that you should be. You are exactly who God says you are. You are who He always wanted you to be. Nothing you do can make him love you more and nothing you do, or have done, can make him love you less. He loves you with the fullness of perfect love right now and always. Love never fails.

 

attached arms…

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I’ve had a trash truck on my mind for days. Sounds strange, I know. I was sitting in the drive-thru waiting to get my London Fog, when across the alley roared the ruckus.

I observed (because what else does one do when sitting in the drive thru) as it approached with forklift-ish disconnected arms. The operator tried to make contact with the small slots in the side of the dumpster, but he missed. He backed up and approached again, and missed. At this point I began to laugh. He backed up again, and yep, missed again. And then finally the mechanical arms made contact with the slots, the truck precariously lifted waste into it’s bin, and then returned the dumpster to the ground.

So why has this odd yet ordinary occurrence rummaged in my mind for days? I guess it’s a God thing, because I normally don’t contemplate garbage trucks. But I just couldn’t escape this thought…

loving with disconnected arms…

Perhaps it was the sweet children I visited with the day before who were deeply grieving a loss I could never understand. Children seeking unconditional love from a system that cannot provide.

Maybe it’s the way I see myself loving others. Always reaching towards this or that. Wanting to provide even the tiniest bit of relief so those I care for can breath just a little bit easier. But like the truck…I approach a burdensome load, and more often than I would like to admit, I miss.

Maybe it’s the way I feel loved. People caring for me. Loving me with all they have. Loving me as unconditionally as is possible for a human to love. Yet there’s always a small sense of detachment.

And when I step back and think about it, we all love with less than adequate/accurate arms.

We are like the awkward garbage truck, seeking to make contact. Trying to fit our arms into the small windows of opportunity where we could actually connect with the fullness of a heart. Yet we miss…again and again. Our approach is often sloppy and even if we do make contact we rarely have stamina to sustain the lift. Not for lack of effort, but simply because we only have so much horsepower to give.

But Jesus is different. He connects each and every time.

In the places we feel hopelessly alone, He has already noticed. He doesn’t miss a thing. His arms are not cold and mechanical. They aren’t operated by anything less than perfection. His embrace is warm and loving. Directly connected. Ever present. All sustaining.

If we do anything for others, anything at all, perhaps our biggest job is to stop trying to approach and empty their garbage. Instead we could lead them to the one who says I am okay with your garbage just as it is. The one who says you and your baggage are well with me, and when you feel safe enough, we will pick it up together and let it go. With real arms. Whole arms. Attached to an unconditionally loving heart.

 

“There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor. The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.” Deuteronomy 33:26-27a