Forward by Grace

on the days when you feel unBrave, you are not undone, but undoubtedly are carried forward by the determination of grace.

~  Ann Voskamp, 12th January 2017

PTSD seems to jump up at the most unexpected times. Sometimes I don’t know even what sets it off. I struggle. I feel overwhelmed. I get all in a muddle. I get tired. I conclude I am useless and worthless and a waste of space.

God says, “I will not break a bruised reed.” (Matthew 12:20). God says, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” (John 5:8). He knows my brokenness. He knows my uselessness. And He ignores all that, lifts me up and sets me on my feet again. So I go back to the laundry and the dishes and the stuff of mothering and I begin, again, to put one foot in front of the other. Only by grace.

Flashbacks

In 2015 I went through EMDR. It was excruciating, but I saw tremendous improvement in the months that followed. I was told right from the beginning that it was not a cure, as such, that everyone responds differently and that ‘wellness’ occurs at varying degrees.

Lately I have been experiencing flashbacks. They are quite intense, but in a different way to those I endured before EMDR. Often these flashbacks are not related to overt violence or threatening situations. They’re usually about all the ways in which I was manipulated and coerced.

People often don’t realise that coercion is actively abusive, but in many ways it is equally as damaging as the more obvious kinds of abuse, and may in fact be more destructive *because* it is less easily identified. Coercion and manipulation work in such a way as to make the victim feel he or she has no choice. Coercion attempts to make the victim a willing participant. In certain situations this coercion is also known as ‘grooming’.

Sometimes it is as if I experience the situation all over again. It makes me sick. Nausea and a goose-pimply feeling of horror and disgust wash over me. At that point all I can think is: ‘I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.’

But my faith is my rock. As the flashback lessens and common sense drips back in, I tell myself that it is a sin to hate. Hatred eats away at you, making you permanently miserable; no room for love. My God says to lay all my burdens on Him. My Jesus stretched His arms wider than the earth on that cross.

I pray, “Lord, I can’t help feeling that I hate him, but I know you don’t hate him. I give my hatred and I give him over to You. Seventy times seven. To the power seven. And then some. Please keep him away from my family and from anyone else who is vulnerable. Don’t let him hurt anyone else. If you can reach his heart, I pray that you do. You tell me to pray for my enemies so that is what I’m trying to do. I don’t know what else to do but to reach out to you. Seventy times seven. And then some.”

I write because this is my testimony of what faith actually looks like – not pretend faith that avoids the nasty stuff. Life is hard. But God is always good. God is ALWAYS good.

A Mathemagical Puzzle

If the settling-down phenomenon underpins the definition of probability, why is it that the universe tends towards chaos?

You know, as in entropy: a gradual decline into disorder (googled definition). How does ‘settling-down’, i.e. becoming more predictable, become disorder? My dad’s doctorate focused on applying the idea of entropy and increasing disorder to economics (and this was before computers). Maybe I should ask him. But if any of my readers would care to enlighten me I’d be most grateful, bearing in mind my woeful lack of education (I missed a lot of school as a child due to illness). I am currently studying Data Analysis as part of my degree  – this is fairly basic stuff, you understand. I am not really a mathematician, just someone who likes patterns and playing games with numbers.

Is it because the model is only a model and not the real world? But that doesn’t make sense either because if the model doesn’t resemble the real world it’s not much of a model.

I was feeling really anxious this morning and then I settled down to some studying and it again struck me how meditative mathematics can be. For someone who has a head that just ain’t right, mathematics is such a relief. My therapist told me that trauma changes the brain, and repeated trauma actually makes significant changes, possibly (likely) irreversible. So that’s me screwed, although actually EMDR did make an enormous difference.Thank God for medication. I hate days like this. But I’d still like to know the answer, if there are any mathematically-minded folk among my readership.

 

Looking for Love

After a few years… you will know that your deep and insatiable desiring came from God all along, [that] you went on a bit of a detour, looked for love in all the wrong places, and now have found what you really wanted anyway.

~ Richard Rohr, ‘Breathing Under Water’

“Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness, and all these things will come to you as a matter of course.”

Matthew 6:33 (Phillips)

For the Sake of Flicking Strawberries

I used a wheelchair today in the supermarket. Although I used a mobility scooter when we were in the Peaks, this was the first time I have used an actual wheelchair during this phase of illness. The last time was 20 years ago, more or less.

I guess it’s good that they provide them for customers. And it was good to have such a helpful child pushing me round and doing all the physical stuff. What a blessing a helpful child can be! But I didn’t like it – the stares, the comments. Not rude comments, mind you, it’s just that people who might usually ignore you feel obliged to say something, at least I think that’s what is happening. I think they’re wondering why someone who doesn’t look particularly ill or infirm requires a wheelchair. It’s not everyone, of course, just a few perhaps ill-mannered folk who never learned that it’s rude to stare. But even if the vast majority ignore you, it’s the handful who don’t who make it awkward. I felt ashamed of my illness. Ashamed that my 11-year-old daughter is taking on the role, albeit temporarily, of caregiver. That’s my job. And if I don’t have the role of caregiver, what do I have? I really don’t like to be the centre of attention, least of all when I’m feeling low. Which I was, by virtue of needing the bloody wheelchair in the first place. There’s no doubt about it: people look at you differently if you’re in a wheelchair :-/

I felt petty and childish when I asked God, later, when I will get to live my life. Illness has to be one of the loneliest ways to go through life. In my teens I spent a lot of time alone because of this illness and because I missed so much school. I was also depressed and very wary of pretty much everyone, so it was hard to maintain friendships. Then in my twenties, although physically I was healthy, I was deliberately isolated by my controlling, much older and abusive (so-called) husband. It’s one of the things that abusers do. They isolate their victims so that they can maintain the high level of control (and get away with it).

Eventually I divorced him and later met my dear Frank. Last year I went through EMDR and although it unlocked many barriers that trauma had created, I’m still unwell and probably worse, physically, than a year ago. I turn 40 next year and I am still waiting to be well enough to have a proper job, for the sake of flicking strawberries (tried to come up with something less rude than the usual…)

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A flickable strawberry. From idpinthat.com

Dear God, I know they say life begins at 40 but I never thought anyone meant it literally. I felt like crying earlier, which is progress, because usually I’m so detached I don’t feel much at all, but I still didn’t actually cry. How pathetic – to feel like crying but not even being able to do that.

If I were a twitterer I’d probably create a new hashtag: #effinguseless

Still, the great thing about reading your bible every day is that you can bring to mind appropriate verses. So here are a few words from the Psalms that remind us that struggle is universal, to some degree, and that we’re never alone, however much it feels like it (thank you, God, for Your Word):

These things I remember as I pour out my soul…

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my help and my God.

 From Psalm 42:4,5 (NRSVA)

 

Waiting in the Empty

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Image from idpinthat.com

Marcus Buckingham notes that your strengths are not simply what you’re good at and your weaknesses are not simply what you’re bad at. You will have some activities in your life that you might even be pretty effective at doing, but they drain you… A weakness is any activity that leaves you feeling weaker after you do it. It doesn’t matter how good you are at it, or how much money you make doing it – if doing it drains you of energy, you’d be crazy to build your career around it. 

~ John Ortberg, ‘All the Places to Go’

Right. So I should give up this whole ‘being a mother’ thing? Actually, maybe I should give up the being ill thing. I know I’d love to give up the PTSD thing. That’d be great.

In plain English, what a load of bollocks. The rest of the book has been quite good, though, so maybe Ortberg is going somewhere with it. I’m just rather discouraged today, because I feel like whatever I do as a mother is never enough and this stupid illness prevents me from doing so much. I have one child who has anxiety about the fact that things change (bless his dear, serious, innocent face) and there’s no way I can negotiate that one, other than to repeatedly offer the same reassurance. Such is autism. Another child treats everywhere she goes as a litter bin, and seems to think it’s amusing. She’s a happy-go-lucky little soul, but there are limits to how much go-luckying a mother can take.

Then there’s the other daughter who, in teenage angst, actually walked out of the house yesterday and disappeared for several hours, to the point that I was driving around looking for her and trying not to imagine all the awful scenarios that play out in a mother’s mind. I can’t even tell myself that those sorts of horrible things ‘happen to other people’ because they have already happened to us. There is no magic cloak of protection. When I eventually saw her, she just seemed so small.

So today will be a day of praying, because sometimes sadness is a blessing in disguise. It makes us lean right into Him. And maybe that’s where we’re supposed to be, because God is always good – and that is the message of the gospel. Thank God.

Brought Low

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In the parable of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, having squandered every last penny and lived the reckless high life (crime? exploitation? addiction?) until he had nothing left and no roof over his head, comes home to his father to say sorry and beg for forgiveness. He thinks maybe he can do some kind of low-status, menial labour for his father. Besides, he has nowhere else to go.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, writes: ‘The emphasis of Christ’s story is not on the sinfulness of the son but on the generosity of the father. We ought to re-read this parable periodically if only to catch the delicate nuance of the first meeting between the two. The son had his speech carefully rehearsed… but the old man didn’t let him finish… [the son] doesn’t even have a chance to say to his father “I’m sorry”.

How  many times have we judged those, both inside and outside the Church, as ‘less-than’ or not worthy enough? How many times have we ourselves been brought to the place where we recognise that we are utterly broken, sinful beyond repair? Because it’s only when you’re in the broken state, fully aware of your lowliness, that you can begin to appreciate how great is the love of God. He can’t begin to occupy your soul unless you give it up to Him. It’s not something we can achieve on our own. This I learned at Celebrate Recovery and in some ways I think I will always be learning this truth, but that’s ok.

I like to think of it as a vase, oh so very pretty on the outside – a rare and delicate Ming vase, say, but inside dark and empty. One day the vase is smashed to smithereens*. The Maker carefully glues it back together, paying little attention to the outward appearance, and then sets a lamp inside. Suddenly the jumbled-up pieces and the cracks reveal the bright, glorious light of the Creator. This is grace.

 

*It is of no consequence whether we are brought low because of our own sin and destructive nature, or from the sin and destructive nature of others (for example with abuse), or even from illness. God redeems all and treats all the same – and who are we to say that it should be done differently? As soon as I think I know better, I make myself equal to God. And that’s just daft. No, instead we rejoice because we were lost and now we are found.