healing the trauma of ineffectiveness…


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…


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…


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…



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?