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.

woman crying, pain

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.

arms up surrender

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.

sliced fruits on tray

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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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Suffering: Next-Level Training?

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Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. ~ Romans 8:17

I hesitate to even broach the subject. It’s not exactly party fodder, or even the usual banter of close friends.

“Hey, what’s up? How’re you doing?  Yeah, I’ve been suffering quite a bit lately, and… Wait, where are you going?”

This being a blog post, and my not being a Theologian (or an -ogian of any sort whatsoever), I am not planning to go too long or deep into this. At least not yet. But a quick plunge, given recent events, is in order.

So here goes.

Ka’en and I were finally out on Saturday, celebrating our near-twinness. We were both born in August, but my birth came two years and 13 days before hers. The last couple of years we’ve tried to have a birthday celebration close to our birthdays, at least in August. But this August was insane, September was even crazier, and finally we settled on October 27 as our Daylong Birthday Bash. She planned the first part of the day (a secret to me), I planned the second part of the day (a secret to her), and in the middle we’d have lunch at a local Indian restaurant.

So after Ladies’ Self-Defense class, off we went for Part 1, which I discovered was a mani-pedi (my first ever). It was lovely. Then off to the Indian restaurant for the best curry I’d had in forever. Throughout the meal, Ka’en was grimacing, clutching her right side, and breathing heavily. Hmmm… after watching this for a bit I began to make alternate plans. We finished lunch, paid, and I began striding out to the truck. Glancing behind me I saw Ka’en, barely able to walk, which clinched it. Into the truck and off to Plan B:  Christiana Hospital.

Into the E.R., much heavy breathing and side-clutching, brief stint in the waiting room, pulled out for vitals check (elevated blood pressure, temp and oxygen normal), placed in a side room, the usual waiting, etc., Percocet and a stint in the hallway, off to another room, waiting for doctors. Meanwhile the pain was getting worse, steadily, a clenching agonizing squeezing. Hours passed. Ka’en furrowing her brow, heavy breathing, more side clutching. Various tests:  EKG, imaging… and I’m carrying her stuff and mine from place to place, while medical personnel try to figure what’s up with all this pain.

And I’m listening to Father God, aka Dad. How should I pray? Mostly my prayers were inarticulate: heartache for my friend, sad thoughts, feeling at a loss. How can I help? I asked for a pillow, let the nurse know even the morphine wasn’t helping, tried to get Ka’en to smile but not laugh.

Then the weirdest thought entered my mind. Maybe this suffering was part of her training. Ummmm…what?? I knew it wasn’t from me. I was mama bear/ fiercely protective best friend; I wanted to make the pain yelp away, its tail between its legs. But the thought persisted, and I remembered the show I once saw about the Army’s version of Navy SEALS, guys who were already in Special Forces, who wanted to go to the next level and become Combat Divers. Preparing for that level required a lot of suffering, hard training for their bodies but especially their minds. Many dropped out along the way. But the ones who endured to the end achieved what few in the world could.

I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t want people to suffer. What kind of parent would do that to their kids?” I have prayed for healing, remembering Isaiah’s “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Verses abound in all four Gospels about Jesus curing everyone who came to Him for healing. And I believe in healing. My own progressive lung condition –which presented as emphysema — was healed in 2010. But what about suffering?  Does suffering (mental, physical, emotional) serve a purpose in maturing believers? I believe it does.

Didn’t Jesus’ followers suffer? Don’t His people suffer in various parts of the world today? Why? Oh, this topic has filled hundreds of books, each hundreds of pages long. How can a blog hope to even touch on this?

So I will offer a tiny taste of what I’ve learned:

Suffering produces perseverance and grit. Seeing Ka’en set her jaw and breathe through the pain without losing it, seeing her for the first time ever not experience a panic attack in excruciating pain — the worst she had ever experienced — was incredible. She simply asked for help and looked to Jesus for strength. Sure the medical community helped but they never diagnosed her problem. After several hours the pain ebbed and they sent her home.

Suffering narrows our focus to the only One who, ultimately, can do anything to help. Two years ago I experienced the worst pain of my life. Ever-increasing sciatica, till my body was in white-hot pain. Waiting for my mom to come back from taking the kids to school I was finally able to scream it all out, knowing I wouldn’t freak the kids out, and do you know what I said? JESUS CHRIST IS LORD OF MY LIFE, HE IS LORD OF MY DEATH! HE IS LORD OF THIS RIGHT HERE, JESUS I PRAISE YOU! The words just wailed out of me. Then the most amazing thing happened.

I suddenly saw Jesus beside me, bloody on the cross, barely able to breathe. I was hanging next to Him, on my own cross. He smiled understanding through His tears and the blood and I saw in His wide-open white-hot pain-filled eyes: compassion, a deep knowing. And in that moment I shared in His suffering. I felt love surge through me as never before, His love pouring into me as a gift. A gift I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It was an honor to be there, to be in this pain with Him.

My mom returned and I couldn’t walk without a crutch. Every step shot screaming through my whole body. The whole ER visit was a kind of blur till the concentrated Motrin injection started to kick in. I asked Jesus How did you do it? How did you transcend the pain on the cross and actually pray for your accusers, your enemies, the horde that put you there? And He didn’t tell me — He gave me the answer. I suddenly had a love that shut out the pain. Yes the pain was still there, but suddenly all I cared about were the other people in that place, the others scared in the ER, not knowing what would happen next. All I cared about was praying for them. And I shared in the love, through my pain — transcending my pain — with the Jesus who suffered more than any of us.

Holding Ka’en’s hand in the ER on Saturday as she hurt beyond my ability to help,  I was once again in a place of immense, intense honor.

I stroked her head, roaring into the dark. I beheld the glory of our God, blazing through her eyes. And the Lion of Judah roared above us both, His purpose in this beyond us. I suspect someday it will be revealed. For He never allows His children to suffer without reason. And this training, while excruciating, will produce whatever He had in mind as we submit to it — and to Him.

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