Friday, September 4, 2015

The Starting Point

Here is the next section of my story. I will be honest and admit that I do not want to bring this story back up to the front of my blog. But Jesus has been clear and consistent; this is what He wants me to do.

Five years ago, I had given up on myself in terms of God. I had come to the conclusion that I had completely and forever ruined any hope that He might use me or that I might obey Him.

Around that time in my life, I remember going for a jog and as I was cresting a slight hill, for some reason, I remembered Jesus and how good He was and as I remembered, His love and presence flooded into me.

I knew Jesus loved me, that He always loved me and that He never left me. I couldn't really keep Him away, but I was like a small child putting her hands over her face and saying, "You can't see me!"

I did this because my understanding of Jesus was all tangled up with legalistic demands and beliefs that I had been raised with. I had tried and tried to untangle these beliefs, but I couldn't. It was all stuck together for me. The weight and entanglement of these deeply held beliefs and my constant failures had combined into a settled resignation.

This settled resignation was compelling enough that, even feeling the love of Jesus, I turned away from Him again. "I'm Yours," I admitted, "and I love You and I will always love You. But I can't let You near because I can't carry the weight. I can't do what You want me to do, and I can't be what You want me to be. I know I am a complete disappointment to You and that I will enter Heaven by cheap grace, but that's all I can manage. When I'm in heaven, I will finally understand and then I can be with You as I know I was meant to be, but as for this life, it's all ruined."

And I closed the door; I turned away from Him. And Jesus let me! His patience was beyond understanding. I had done this to Him repeatedly over the last ten years or so and His patience never ran out on me. Again and again, what I received from Jesus was an overwhelming compassion and intimate understanding of myself, of all that went into the making of me- the terrible and the good.

This built up in me a trust in His goodness that I rarely talked about. I doubted that anyone would believe me and I knew the extent of this grace would be offensive. In no way had I earned Jesus' goodness or His mercy or His presence or His love; I had failed and continued to fail and despite this, His faithfulness and His love never wavered.

This history explains my love for Him. Jesus loved me for years when I gave Him nothing back in return but false starts and failure and rejection and desperate pleas for help, which He answered. His love never wavered. To give Him all myself now in return is my greatest joy. It's why I'm sharing this story as He is asking me to.

What shook me out of my state of resignation was pain. That is where the story begins; when the pain became so great that it was no longer an option to continue with unresolved beliefs about God. I had to know. I had to know what He really expected from me and what it was really like to follow Him- to obey Him and to live for Him.

But first, this.

February 3, 2010

Well, dear readers, I must confess, despite the company of Jenkins the sewing machine, I am just not doing well.

I should be. It's been sunny for four days now, sunny and warm and the grass is showing through, everything smells damp, earthy and when I take the dogs out in the morning, I can hear the liquid, trilling notes of hidden birds.

Keith is settling into his new job and has about finished with being "the new guy" and is enjoying the responsibilities of his position.

I am making the bed, taking long walks, keeping up with the housework, making dinner schedules and shopping lists and bonding with Jenkins the sewing machine.

But I am not getting better. I feel worn down, hollowed out. I feel rusty on the inside. I hate to admit it, but there comes a time when pretense is impossible. Something has overwhelmed my internal system and must be processed through.

At first I thought it must be a new memory of abuse, pushing its fetid way through the layers of my defenses, unsettling everything in its path and needing to be shed. But I don't think so. It could be; I live always with the possibility of that happening.

But I don't think so. I think my failure to get pregnant right away is bring up stuff, so much stuff that I'm clogged.

Should I publicly process through this on my blog? I will, at least in part. But I must warn you, gentle readers all, that this will not be pretty and not well written and possibly not even interesting.

(And as I know most of my readers are friends and family, I want to assure you now that I am fine. I have been through worse in the course of trauma therapy. I'm strong, capable, insightful and resourceful.)

First, there is the line of thinking that God is punishing me for my earlier sins. I have been a bad girl, headstrong, disobedient and willful. I have gone my own way and now He is withholding children. He is holding them out at arm's length, tantalizing; the one thing that I cannot take on my own. I can't control getting pregnant, and so He is keeping it from me to pay me back from all the times when I took what I shouldn't have.

But this assumes the character of to be God vengeful, remembering past sins and waiting in the wings to punish them when the time is ripe for punishment. I did grow up with this god, the god of indelible memory.

This is not the God I have learned to know, however. The God that followed me down every single path, every single emotional meat grinder that I threw myself into, He is of an entirely different makeup. He is tenacious as well- but in His love. He is infinitely creative and His mercies are new every morning, no matter how grimy the night. There are no dead ends with Him, nothing can thwart the creative power of His redemption.

No, if there is punishment being dealt out, it is most certainly of self-origin. Yes, that settles down nicely into the inner bull's eye. I am lacerating myself. No doubt I believe I should be punished, because the basic assumption of any sexually abused child is that they have been unspeakably bad and what has or is happening to them is their own fault, and if they could only be better, it would stop and they would be safe. That was what I tried to do. I tried and tried to be good and pure and acceptable, but it never worked. It never kept me safe.

No matter how many years of productive therapy I have been through, whenever something bad happens to me, this is my first thought- I am an inherently worthless and bad person, and I deserve this. It's all my fault. And the shame that rises up from this internal dialogue is so thick that I can't see through it and that is what is driving me underwater lately.

It's times like these when I hate, with a great and tearing rage, what happened to me. I wish to shred everything, the whole system that failed, that let me fall down into the filth, the hadalpelagec zone of hell, the very bottom of human experience where the darkness is complete and the pressure crushes all the life out, where the decaying bits fall and make a silt so deep things disappear into it. (Who's been watching shows on the Science channel about the ocean? Me.)

Why can't I be perfect, whole? Blithely going through my life with solid foundation, surrounded and upheld by all kinds of internal and external supports, things I would take for granted because I couldn't imagine a life without them.

Instead of this twisted fear and shame, I'd be happy! Glowingly pregnant! A whole circle of chirping friends to give me a pink and blue baby shower with chocolate poopy diapers and crepe paper. I would be blissfully unaware of the depths, the horror and the strength, the desecration and the good.

I would never need to know how strong I could be. I would never need to know how to consciously choose life over bitterness. There would be no shards inside, razor sharp pieces of memory left behind to trouble each phase of life. To resist, constantly, the choice to live a life of the victim, caught in self-pity like a fly in honey, static and stuffed with a heavy, cloying sorrow.

Well, here's the thing; life is full of suffering, whether we admit it out or not. And who cares about how other people get to live their life, I have mine. And I get to choose to live it with courage; I get to choose the bright and shining steel strength. I can choose to look down into the abyss, to stare endlessly down into it or to look up and acknowledge the sky. It's that simple.

And right now, I am having a great deal of trouble thinking about not being able to get pregnant. This is how I face motherhood- I must first walk through infertility and through my past. This is what comes up for me. It doesn't make me a weak person, it doesn't make me some strange, twisted version of a woman. It's the off shoot of a crime that took my own integrity, so that I have to build it back. I can choose to live the injury out again, and remain in the ruins long after the destruction occurred, or I can face it, acknowledge it, and choose something else.

I hate that I have to do it all over again, I hate that it's infecting this part of my life. But it is, of course it is, how could it not? They both have roots way down in deep in what it means to be a woman. Having faced all this, will in the end, I have faith, make me a better mother, more self aware and prepared for all the transitions, the emotional chaos that comes up for every mother.

But I'm going to have to tell myself this over and over again for a while.

February 13, 2010

This month I didn't get my period at all. At about the tenth, I decided that I had better take a pregnancy test, since naturally I thought that I was pregnant. I wasn't. After all that, I wasn't.

About fifteen minutes later on the couch the tears spilled over and I sat watching the Barefoot Contessa and feeling all the savor of life gone. I don't exaggerate. I wanted nothing more than to sink forever into the embrace of the couch, limpid, mildewed.

Then I was deeply ashamed of myself. The grief, and the shame of what I felt to be the disproportionate nature of the grief, lived side by side in me for about twenty four hours. My internal conversations at the time were acutely miserable.

I frequently hold myself to a rigid moral standard and allow myself almost no mercy. It pairs nicely with this internal image I had as a teenager; of myself on a cliff, clinging desperately to the rock wall of Godly behavior as if my life depended on it, while below me the safety net of God's grace waited. But I felt it would be weak to let myself fall into it, it would grace, that degradation of God's salvation, the use of it purely out of sloth or selfishness. Only weak people fell back into that net, I fully believed, and I didn't want to be weak. I wanted to please God. So I forced myself to go on clinging, hoping this would gain me God's favor, that He would be pleased with my independent suffering for His sake- "Look! Look how much I don't need You! Look how much I suffer because I refuse to need You! I can do this all by myself just for You, even though I'm dying here on this cliff. You must be so proud me!"

This is a very old way of thinking; I no longer believe God's grace is a safety net, I think of it more as the very air I breathe. But from time to time the past grips me and I have to remind myself to let my aching fingers loose and fall back. He's always so pleased to find me in His arms.

March 10, 2010

I had a huge breakthrough internally last week.

Abuse is much more about power than it is about gratification of perverse sexual urges. It’s about the power to crush and to dominate, to own and to use. I thought I had walked out from under that, and mostly I had. But there was one piece remaining.

I can't express the kind of courage it takes to look straight at the thing that has been denied for so long. The body and soul repress memories because the person suffering abuse knows that acknowledging what happened will cause horrible, crippling damage. Repressing memories is a last ditch survival strategy.

As a very young child, I couldn’t understand what was happening, especially as the man abusing me was supposed to be good and godly and my relative and he had all the power. He was a prayer warrior! A family man! A deacon of the church! He said he loved me! How could he be all this and also be doing these things to me?

As a very young child, I literally couldn’t think about it. The abuse happened over years. I didn’t have a way to think about it, so out of self-protection, I never thought about it and buried the memories as deeply and completely as I possibly could. Therefore, releasing them or even going anywhere near them can feel truly life threatening.

But experience taught me that once released into the light, the thing loses its power. That's what therapy does. It takes the person back to the moment  of abuse, and they relive it, but without completely losing the present understanding. They learn to reframe that moment in the light of who they are now.

And that's what I had to do with this buried belief. I had to release it from the oppressive dark. In doing so, initially I released a flood of shame, horror and guilt; all those feelings that are intimately associated with being sexual used. But again I have had experience with that, and was eventually able to allow those emotions to pass right through, to not hold on to them and above all, to not fall into the trap of giving them any powers of self-definition.

(I did not share this on the original blog, but at the moment when I first confronted this long buried memory, the feelings that came up with it were so intensely awful and raw that I felt certain I was going to go down under them, and so I cried out to Jesus to help me and immediately He did.

What Jesus did was show me a coin- I saw this coin in my mind, and He said to me, render unto Caesar what is Caesars, and unto God what is God's. Immediately I knew Jesus was saying to me that everything coming up did not belong to me. It came from my abuse and was not mine and did not define me- I would render all that to the abuse. My true self was created by God and in His image and was good and true and lasting because I was His daughter.

Because Jesus did this, I was able to gain my footing again and continue to process the pain and to heal from it.)

All through this, I experienced the most incredible healing. Afterward, a great rush of warm, strong maternal feeling welled up in me, so sweetly and naturally and until then, unknown to me.

This is an organic process, so the healing grows each day but that moment was a major turning point for me. It is a triumph of the power of life over death, over evil, over damage. It makes me think of this verse:

"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."

-John 10:10