A Changing Voice

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“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
~ C.S. Lewis

I’m not who I was five years ago.

Five years ago. The downward spiral was at breakneck speed. I refused to take communion that day, the first Sunday in February 2014 because I thought I wasn’t a Christian anymore. The biggest lie had settled and rooted in me, rotting my understanding: I had become unsaved. A month later I would do the bidding of the voices in my head and attack my husband. I would sit stunned in a cell in Chester County Prison.

Five years ago I clutched out desperately in what was left… confusion, terror, constant visions of carnage, my own guilt. Mental illness, breakdown. Down, down, down. Yet held in strong, invisible arms. It wouldn’t get to the point of no return. But I didn’t know that yet.

In the process of finally accepting my bi-polar diagnosis and taking medication I began to see I was still in my Daddy God’s arms. I was accepted into the Mental Health Program at Chester County Prison. Moment by moment I began to breathe life in again. I was emerging from death thinking and living, and after five and a half months behind bars, walked out into the sunshine again.

Over the last four years or so since, I was protected like a little baby, snuggled close and rocked, fed, cared for. When the shame of what I’d done knocked me sobbing to the floor, I quickly recovered. I wrote and gave my testimony several times. I felt vibrant and free.

But in these past few months a new paradigm is pushing in. I am being set down on my feet, learning to walk. I’m beginning to feel the pain of growth, the emotionally excruciating process of enduring flash-backs. Instead of trying to push them away and shove in happy thoughts and feelings, I’m being asked to experience the torture. Press in and let it sink down deep. Feel it in a safe place (usually on the floor of my room, crying, worship music playing, a friend — or several friends — praying while I sit alone but not alone). I write and write in my journal, crying till I’m spent.

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I see that like getting an abscess sliced open so it can drain, submitting to God’s work in this makes sense. I don’t like the sting of it, but if that’s part of the process I’ll grit my teeth and say Do it. Even when He tells me I won’t have anaesthesia this time that I’ll experience every stab, pang and spasm as it’s draining out — so be it. I choose to trust You. Do it.

I say Yes to God because as a Christian this is what I signed up for, not to stay in  dysfunction till it kills me from the inside-out. You see, much as I don’t want it to hurt, way down deep I really want to grow. To see what is actually going on inside. Then to move forward from right here as I am. To face what I did five years ago and to finally heal. To build on what has been happening all my life, accelerated these last few years, especially these last few months. The upheaval of what I had inherited in my family line – all this perfectionism, this inferiority/superiority, this I need correction, who are you to correct me?

And I realize I am so new at all of this and I feel so small, so incapable. I want to get better, though. So with shaking hands I hold the flashlight to see into the darkness of my heart. What is there, what is really there?

I’m waiting for revelation. Because as I begin seeing shapes gelling and forming images, how do I interpret them? And I’m so tired, I just want to sleep, to escape but somehow still move forward. Instead I press in. Feel it. Feel it some more. Yield, give in to the work that is where I am right now, the reality of the pain I carry. I can acknowledge there is a cause even as I have no idea the shape of it.

All my life my  modus operandi has been some form of Flail, Flight, Flee. I am learning now how to fight, to stand for myself. To know myself and accept what I see there. I am learning I am a created wonder, also hand-crafted (it’s not just others who are “special and God loves you very much”). I have inherent value and am worthy because I am born of God. This mind I was given (bi-polar and all), this body, this set of life happenings… my years of skillset-making — all have value.

I reach out to Ka’en, my best friend. A part of me resents that she is farther along, but what is that? She is farther along, this is such a treasure. She is showing me where she has been and it looks a bit like where I need to go. So I choose to humble myself. For foolish pride is like banging my own head with the shovel in my hand instead of using it to dig to the deeper life. To find the hidden path and to follow it, I need the light of one who has walked it before me. She shows me and I learn. We need each other, for where I have been is a new path to her, too. This intertwining of lives is what we were made for. Not in a co-dependent way but a divine integration of lives that builds up, strengthens, reaches out and loves as alone we could never do.

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And I see that divine intertwining in my marriage. For this oneness is what we have in Christ, a dim representation but the best there is on this earth. So I choose to press in deeper, to see what can be learned here. In this world of marital disintegration, ours will shine as a beacon. There is hope. But where I am right now I don’t see the how of it. But I choose to submit to the path that will take us there. Whatever it takes.  I am willing.  Lord, I trust You for the next steps. That even now You are working in my husband’s heart, too. That he is feeling the pressure to change, too. That when the time comes he will be ready. That we will both be ready.

I am scared, honestly. I don’t see the way and all of this is so new. This generational junk busting, this icebreaking ship that is me, that is pushing forward for there is hard (good) work to do.

This I know:
The self-protection has to go.
The fear of exposure has to go.
The clinging to what is familiar at the expense of going forward into the unknown has to go.
The inferiority I mask with judgmentalism, with I’m better than you when inside I’m self-doubting – has to go.
Unteachableness has to go.

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What will fill its place? For we were made to be full of good things. We were made to embody all the Fruit of the Spirit…
Love:
sweet acceptance, openness, desire to draw out the godly in others, in me; gentle guiding, chiding, encouraging to grow, encouraging the God-seed in them.
Joy:
deep-down bubble in the midst of pain, a steady undercurrent of insight – for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  The settled calm of a weaned child with her mother. Smiling up at her Father, open and free.
Peace:
the all-is-well of understanding, placid sister of joy, the undergirding steadiness. Fruit of trust, I know my Dad is over all and in all. I can rest.
Patience:
I can wait, I can stay here as long as needed, for it will all come to fruition. I am settled in who I am so I can be tolerant, accepting of others. A sweet sister fruit of love, for love compels me to come alongside you and walk with you – however long it takes. Love is patient, love is kind.
Kindness:
sweet flow of patience, I see from others’ perspective and love them as they need in the moment. I give, I speak the very deeds and words of Christ, seeing Him in others, overflowing with hope of glory.
Goodness:
gentle purification, this Holy Spirit work scrubs my inner being till I shine with God-glory. A oneness between motive and action for the good I do pours from the good I have become.
Faithfulness:
Godlikeness looks like this. I don’t give up, never give up on others, never give in to the darkness but cling to my Jesus no matter what. I choose to honor Him and others regardless. I am in it forever. Perseverance is its little sister, its partner here. Unshaken.
Gentleness:
Selflessness breeds gentleness. I can treat others with tenderness in         speech and action. Honor treats with a soft hand, whether from a higher or lower station. A way of preferring them above myself, a stepping aside, a way to express love.
Self-control:
Gentleness flows from self-control. My impulses and urges surrendered, my controlling controlled by Holy Spirit, I can release the one in front of me from my desire to emote. It shows me the way I am to go in harnessed power. Meekness looks like this.

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A bellyful of sweet fruit, more and more as I am filled again and again – abundance, enough to share. A treasure trove of sweet water, pure and holy, straight from God’s throne, bubbling in my belly up to eternal life. Bucketsful for me and for the thirsty in my way.

Trials are to be embraced and rejoiced in. Counterintuitive, but isn’t that how this paradox works? So I embrace the pain and I decide, here and now, to let it do its work – all of it – in me.

Never done, there’s always a next level, a higher becoming. For becoming like Christ is becoming like God incarnate, and I am not anywhere near there yet. But where I am now is where I’m supposed to be. No condemnation, no shaming. Jesus took my shame on the cross. How horrible, how beautiful. How loving in excruciating illogical agony. You are love and this is what love looks like.

I seek truth, not to be cocooned in any self-deception, in seeing with human eyes only. Dazzle my eyes with what really is, and I will reel in freedom. Living in divinely-revealed reality is what I need. This is what true Christianity looks like and I want the Voice of Jesus to radiate out of my very being.

So I lay down on the surgeon’s table and close my eyes. I know however much it hurts I’ll emerge more like my Savior. It’s so, so worth it.

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Envy’s Wrestle

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 “Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me.  There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.”
Jesus, as recorded in John 14:1-3

It’s early January and I’m sitting in the room I had envisioned for us, for our family, for our school room. It’s simply furnished, neatly organized, sweetly welcoming. Sun beams through a side window, just enough. Sturdy shelves, busy bulletin board, map of the world, art supplies stacked neatly in a rolling cart. An analog clock quietly ticks on the wall opposite the butterfly chart.

Perfect.

Theirs.

We are in the midst of our 23rd year of marriage, 21st year of parenthood, 17th official year of homeschooling. First born is launched, living happily in Denver, Colorado. Second born is back to classes at Cedarville University, in the cornfields of Ohio. Third born is an active eleventh-grader, busy with studies, social life, and a job at Chick Fil-A. Last born dances through each day, busy avoiding school work, busy doing it anyway.

I shepherd, I guide, I do my domestic duties, provide taxi service, meals, food for meals… general mom stuff. In the comfort of my mother’s house.

Where’s this house? It’s in southeastern Pennsylvania, the house I helped build, the house I lived in from age 11 through marriage at age 26, almost 27. It’s the house I’ve lived in off and on since then, fully on since our third born was about 15 months old. She’s seventeen.

It’s the house where my mom still lives and fills with her stuff, her personality. This place we called “Mom’s Dream House” while we were building it — her castle since 1980.

Where’s my house? Oh, yeah. That. We bought a serious fixer-upper back when fourth born (a.k.a. the Boy) was a baby, back in 2005. Built in 1906, the left side of a duplex, it turned out to be unlivable and remains so, at least for now. In the interim between buying it and now, my husband joined and left the Army National Guard, my Dad had a devastating stroke, and the kids grew up, almost all the way up, in my parents’ house.

Dad died in 2013, I had a mental breakdown a few months later that rocked our family and landed me in jail for a few months. The children struggled through that year, and we slowly rebuilt our lives, growing closer than ever. The House (the unlivable one) collected our stuff, a storage facility with a mortgage.

Over the years I watched my friends buy houses, build their families, settle in to happy life mowing their own yards, tending their own gardens, puttering in their own kitchens.

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That last one really got me. Still gets me. I’ve always been a kitchen person. Our first apartment, a carriage house over a three-car garage, was my sweet little haven for two years. Its huge open-floor plan had a spacious kitchen, my domain. No children allowed there and severe post-partum depression following first born’s birth landed us at my parents’ for almost a year. When I was well enough we moved into a two-bedroom apartment, where we lived happily enough, which we filled to overflow with three kids.

Then we couldn’t afford our rising rent. We moved back in with my parents in 2003 and have been there ever since. 15 years.

15 years. I say it out loud and it feels strange in my mouth, a sourness spreading through my belly. 15 years of wanting what I’m sitting in now, this sunny sprawling house in quiet suburbia, my niece across from me drawing in her sweet little school room.

Envy has been my wrestling partner for a decade and a half. But there’s something about being in an 8’x15′ cell for a few months, owning nothing. There’s something about coming out of there to a spacious place where I could cook again and wear colorful clothes, even if it was my mom’s house.  My perspective shifted considerably in prison. Stuff doesn’t have the hold over me it once did, and I’ve found contentment everywhere I go.

But I still want a house I can live in. I want a place of my own. We are planning to whip the old house into some shape, moving out what no longer serves, making it livable — if not for us, for someone else, some other family to make their own dreams in.

And I know that someday I’ll have a place of my own, a home I’ll never have to leave. It’s promised by my Jesus, who always keeps His promises. He knows I want one here, that often I want it immediately if not sooner. When the wrestling match starts up, unseen hands squeezing my gut from the inside-out, I draw close. I call a friend to pray for me and with me, so I can make space for what I don’t want to stuff inside anymore. I crawl on Dad’s lap and cry for a while, letting the feelings wash over and through me. I grieve what I don’t have and may never have.  I accept what is and ask for wisdom for the next step.

The wrestle is not as strong as it once was, nor as frequent. But it’s still there. It must be faced and felt — then entrusted into the care of the God who, when all is said and done, is my home.

The wrestle threatens to pin me down, and sometimes it does. But the strength inside is stronger and together the Lord and I disarm envy. I look into my Daddy God’s eyes and find all I need, a shelter for my soul. My heart’s true home.

“Home could be the Pennsylvania turnpike, or Indiana’s early morning dew; High up in the the hills of California — home is just another word for you.”
~ Billy Joel, “You’re My Home”

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Take Back the Day Part 2: I’m Struggling Today

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Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
~ Psalm 42:11

Today’s blog, coupled with Monday’s, should at least lend credence to my bi-polar diagnosis. Let’s be real, shall we? I’m not going to sugar-coat this day. My experience of this day is that it’s creating negative atmospheric pressure. In the common vernacular — it sucks. Today I am struggling with a variety of things, and no solution is presenting itself yet. I think you understand.

Today (Tuesday) began meteorologically the same as yesterday, though the temperature is climbing a bit. Same rain, rain, rain, same dullness to the day. Same, yet so different.

Today I awoke already exhausted. My mood stabilizer medication, the stuff I take at bedtime, sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of making me… restless. I’m asleep but I’m struggling with all manner of situations, some real, most an exaggerated version of whatever I was thinking about as I went to sleep. Last night I was thinking of a dance I need to learn for the play I’m in, which opens next week. So all night long I’m thinking: I need to rehearse, I need to get it down… which morphed into trying to teach a whole group of people a dance I didn’t even know myself. Added to this the irrational feature of a cast member hitting on me, which I know wouldn’t happen in real life. But as I dream in Technicolor 4-D imagery, it was certainly real to me.

I began to awaken before dawn, awake enough to realize the fight was on to solve the multi-dimensional dream problem while simultaneously fighting to set it aside and slide into a satisfying, restful sleep. I finally gave up and dragged out of bed, awake enough to pour a cup of coffee, but not enough to carry on a polite conversation with my Mom (or anyone else — please, please, go away, I can’t adult yet!). Awake enough to taste in my coffee that the half-gallon of half-and-half I bought yesterday was already a bit off (seriously? the expiration date is DECEMBER 11th). Sheesh.

Pondering all of this and the fact that my truck’s dashboard was beginning to sparkle,  warning lights one-by-one popping up as I drove home from play practice last night. And the fact that arriving home I rolled to a stop, a dead battery shutting off those lights in one fatal blink.

Thus began today. On top of that, while nursing my off-coffee, I peered inside to see my emotions: a dark, roiling mess. Now this isn’t unusual for me. I have bi-polar disorder, so my insides often don’t know which way to go on a given morning. I often have to spend the first part of every day sorting them into piles and dealing with them on a bit-by-bit basis. Today, though, it felt like too much. Added to that, a dear friend pointed out that my many vehicle frustrations likely stem from unresolved relationship issues with my husband. And I need to shake the sand off my ostrich head and face them. And there’s more, so many unresolved, amorphous issues pressed down by busyness, popping up like submerged beach balls.

So what did I do with this lovely mash-up? Yep, I grabbed my mug, trudged back upstairs, plopped on the bed, pressed my little owl plushie to my chest and cried. I curled up in Daddy God’s lap and just turned on the tear faucet full-blast, ugly crying, emptying out.

And I decided to (wo)man my laptop, following up my happy Monday Pollyanna-ish blog with this very real, raw, sucky day blog. Because some days are like that. Today I just want to scream, all the possible negatives sticking to me like the black blobs on Mr. Incredible.

mr incredible black blobs

I don’t want to face any of the stuff of this day. I want to curl up in a blanket fort, but I don’t want to bother building it. I want to hide in a Netflix binge-fest. I want to self-medicate and push it all away.  I wish I could push it all away forever. To somehow live as a perpetually carefree four year-old, nothing on my mind but my dolls and my funny made-up stories, my toys and yummy snacks.

But I know that even with a necessary break I’ll have to face all the stuff. All of it. What can I do to face it in a healthy way? Jesus, how did you face all your crap-hitting-the-fan days?

All at once I see You in a darkened grove, just You alone among the olive trees, just You crying out your heart with our Daddy. I see You shaking Your fist at the destroyed, toxic chaos Adam and Eve unleashed on Your perfect world, the horror and futility of it all. I see you raw and real, crying out, saying, ” Father if You don’t do something about this, if You don’t help, if You don’t go back out into that mess with me, I will fall apart! I can’t do this — I just can’t!”

And I see gentle hands stretch from the clouds, light beams spiking through, illuminating dark spaces. I see our Dad reach down and scoop You up. Scoop me up. I see Him, face intent, his eyes knowing it all, empathy a cloud around us — such tender love! I hear deep, soothing tones, “My child, I know. I see you, I see your pain. I see your slumped shoulders, your eyes misty, forlorn. I see discouragement radiate from you. Ah, my child You know something? I never meant for you to do any of this alone. It IS too much for you to face. Lean into me, let go, drop into Me. You are enough for all of this because of one thing:

I am enough, little one. I AM enough. And I live in you. You never go anywhere, face anything, without Me.”

And I feel hope trickle in. I don’t have to have all the answers right now.  But I know His record. I remember sitting hopeless  four and a half years ago in a prison cell, my charges screaming death, hopelessness, futility to me. I remember light spears spiking all around me, showing me what I could only see with eyes bigger than mine. Showing me that somehow I had to hang on, that if it would get better it had to be God’s intervention. Nothing more, nothing less. In a moment I see the ribbon of my life, spots caught in flashes of Him coming through for me, again and again.

I still feel trembly confusion today, tears so close to the surface, unnamed, as-yet unknown pain turbulent in my belly. But I turn my chin up, look into my sweet Father’s face, Lion of Judah arrayed in light and love, all-sufficient, all-love. I know beyond knowledge He really is enough. And I take the next breath, do the next thing. It will work out. I know deep below all the chaos, the Truth, my Jesus, holds me close. He is my shield, my wisdom, my It’s gonna be ok.

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And in my tears I find I’m smiling, if only a little. On days like this, when the best case scenario is slogging through, I remember I have strong hip boots, I have sunlight on my face, a light-pierced cloud above my head, while the cold rain still pours all around.

It’s gonna be all right. It really is. Deep down I know it’s true. And it’s okay if my emotions take a while to get there.