Choose to focus on the Good in Each Day

Have you ever been going about the day to day tasks of your life only to suddenly feel pulled down by a memory? or perhaps an unfulfilled dream? or Something in your day that just didn’t go your way. A thought starts to rise in your heart – becoming ever louder in your mind, and slowly tearing at your soul like a thousand paper cuts.

I experienced the start of such a downward spiral yesterday. I was at the birthday party of a friend who was turning 75. He was surrounded by family and friends. His college freshman grandson wrote and was singing a song to the Grandpa he loved. At that moment a thought crept into my mind saying “these are things you will never experience.” For I am a single, disabled woman in my late 50s, with no family and multiple health problems. The thought almost made me tear up as I began to feel sorry for myself. But I took a deep breath and shook my head ever so slightly “NO!”

“NO I am not going to dwell on such thoughts. I had learned over time that I can choose to focus on the blessings I do have in life.” It was not an easy lesson to take hold of, it took time, but I did finally come to believe the fact that I can choose what I let my mind dwell on. I had a chaplain at college who used to tell me repeatedly that I can choose to focus on what I do have, rather than on what I don’t yet – and yes, may never have. It was a foreign concept that the choice could be mine. And with all sincerity I say, it is making a choice between life and death.

If I focus on what is not part of my life, I spiral down into the depths of depression and self-pity. I have in the past let the pain bring me to consider ending my life. I would at times even make a plan. I would give up on life, myself, and most importantly God. No good ever came from allowing myself to focus on what I think is missing in my life.

However, when I choose to focus on the joy of the moment, on the many good things I do experience in life, such as: dear friends who include me in family holiday celebrations; a Christ focused church that believes in “Living the Truth, Acting in Love”; a safe roof over my head; creative gifts I can use to enrich my life and bless others; and even a couple of friends who share my interests in fun things like watching shows about Bigfoot hunters, playing Catopoly and dominoes and more, I find my heart welling up with tears of joy and laughter. I am greatly blessed by God.

Is my life what I used to believe it needed to be? Is it what I spent years hoping for? No. Am I unhappy about that? No. If I open my eyes to see the good, I see that I am very richly blessed in this life. And I choose to focus on what brings life to my spirit rather than what brings death to my soul. What will you choose to focus on when painful thoughts stir in your heart? Please choose life.

Why Didn’t You Tell Someone?

Once again the news is filled with a debate about the authenticity of women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by a prominent powerful man.  Last year it was a well loved comedian, this year it is a billionaire who is now running for the most powerful political office of our country.  I am not going to debate the moral and political issues here.  I want to speak up for victims/survivors of sexual assault, of which I am also, as once again we hear the charges that “if the assault was true why didn’t she speak up at that time or press charges?”

I know the questions well. When I share my experiences of incestuous abuse by five family members, of being raped at 14 and nearly raped as an adult. I am asked,  ‘Why didn’t you tell someone, or run away from home?  Why (as a child) didn’t you say no?  Did you try to get away?  If the abuse was as bad as you claim why didn’t you leave your family until you were 28 years old?’  For me and many victims the questions feel like piercing indictments skepticism that subtly questions our truthfulness.

As a child I was taught saying “no” was never an option for me. I certainly had no right to say no to the adults in my family – to even look at my mother with any negative expression was to bring down more anger and abuse.  I was told from the age of four or five that I was to obey my older brother at all times and that any complaints I might have would not be listened to.  By the time I was a teenager I had been so programed to accept the sexual abuse, running away from home was not even on the radar of my mind.

When I was gang raped by 5 classmates at the age of 14, I did say no (they weren’t family so I somehow found the power to say no) but it did no good. I was out numbered and thus physically powerless. Why didn’t I tell someone then?  Because as soon as I stood up from the river bank and brushed away the sand, I also brushed the memory from my conscious thoughts, I buried it in my mind.  When it finally rose to the surface I was in my mid twenties. I did tell some people then, one friend was supportive, another didn’t believe I could bury such a trauma so completely, and my family accused me of inciting my attackers and being a willing participant. That night my grandfather tried to get into my bed in the middle of the night (he and my grandmother had separate bedrooms).  I finally found the voice to say “no” to a childhood family abuser, and he did stop and left my room. I then spent the rest of the night sitting up in the bed shaking as I kept watch of the bedroom door in case he tried to return.  Early in the morning my grandmother found me crying in the garage. I told her what had happened and she blamed me, saying I got him worked up by telling them about being rape when a 14 yr. old.

In my late twenties a neighbor in my apartment building that I had spoken with many times in the hall way (never once did I mention my past history of sexual assault) invited me in for a cup of tea. Once seated on his sofa he soon began to force himself upon me.  I had to wrestle my way out of his apartment.  I was so shaken I immediately went to see a female friend down the hall and told her what had just happened.  She blamed me for going into his apartment. I told the management of the HUD subsidized building what happened, and they told me it was my word against his so they would take no action.

My abusers were not powerful by the world’s standards. They had no funds to hire pricey attorneys to bog me down with lawsuits or jeopardize my financial or work situation.  So I understand completely why women often don’t report assaults unless something potentially more terrible is about to happen, like a perpetrator seeking the most powerful office of our country.  Then the fear of not speaking out becomes greater than the fear of being called a liar and having your name and reputation dragged through the mud.

The Shadows of Memories

It will be October in a couple of days.  I am enjoying the change in weather, but there is also a tightness that runs through my body with the month of October that continues until my birthday at the end of January.  This four month block of time ushers in a series of painful anniversary dates of severe abuse as well as birthdays that are reminders of my abusers, and even though several of my abusers have died in the last decade, I can’t keep from thinking of them as their birthday approaches any more than I can forget my own birth date.

Those who have not lived through severe, almost daily abuse for their entire childhood rarely understand how major anniversary dates related to the abuse or the abuser can trouble a survivor even decades later.  Often friends and others think and sometimes say aloud that we should “get over it already”, “let go of the past”, “put it behind you”, “forgive and forget.”  But it is not so simple.  I (and most other survivors) don’t choose to be overwhelmed with memories or depression and anxiety from past experiences.   Denial doesn’t help – it was years of denial that left us so psychologically and spiritually lost for a large part of our lives. And while I have come a long way in healing this pain, I also admit I have a long way to go.  Life is better than it has ever been, but I am still broken in some places psychologically and physically.  To those who can’t understand that, or just won’t accept that as truth but prefer to see it as an excuse, I am sorry for your issues.

Many survivors are doing the best they can.  Yet, with the onset of October I feel the anxiety and sadness stirring in the pit of my stomach, invading my dreams, stealing my energy. It makes me a little emotional at times, it keeps me home a little more often for both physical and emotional struggles.  My prayer is that my friends (and the friends of anyone who deals with PTSD issues from childhood or assault trauma – or from the trauma of war, like many of our returning veterans deal with) will be understanding, patient and perhaps a few will even reach out and share a cup of tea or watch a movie with me. Or maybe they will send an encouraging note, give me a hug at church, let me know I am in their prayers.  I hope the Church of Christ Jesus will take even a few moments of time to encourage and help those who are struggling feel included in the body of Christ, even if they look okay on the outside.

As a survivor with PTSD, knowing I am not alone (and I am not speaking of just physical alone-ness) but that I have friends and am part of the family of Christ – not just in theory, but in real life, is a powerful act of love friends and a church family can gift to survivors.

To those who will have ears and hearts to hear this message, Thank You and may God bless your kindness and love.

Now Available on Kindle

It is finally here, my book Surrounded by Evil Saved by God has been out in paperback since February of this year, but it is now available in electronic format at Amazon for $4.99

Please check it out. The book has gotten some very good reviews (but can always use some more if you have read it and are willing to write a review for me). Thank you everyone.book cover

God and Restoration

Yesterday my Pastor finished a series of sermons on the book of Job.  Over that last several months he preached about suffering, and the additional pain heaped upon the person by the faulty beliefs of misguided friends.  Every survivor of abuse knows suffering. I understand the pain of suffering.  I have also experienced the wounds of hearing adult friends who, like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, try to explain their own fears about suffering and the goodness of God, by proclaiming that I had somehow caused my own childhood suffering by being more sinful than those who had happy childhoods.  Those are experiences I understand in Job.

Yet, in the story of Job we learn that God restored Job’s wealth and gave him more children.  Of course as my pastor pointed out, that doesn’t remove the scars inflicted by the loss of his adult children, but it can help the healing process.  Stories and promises of restoration has always been a difficult concept for me to understand and identify with in Scripture. When I read such accounts in Scripture the first thought that comes to my mind is “what can be restored to an adult who as a child had nothing?”  A child who had no love, no power, no joy, no wealth?  From conversations with others, I know I am not alone in these questions and the deep sadness it brings. What I have come to realize is that the answers to my questions require I reframe the idea of restoration.

Yes, even from conception I did not have the joy of a family that loved me. Yet God brought and continues to bring restoration to my life. I didn’t get to experience any of the ways I dreamed of knowing love, I didn’t enjoy the love of an adopted family, or of a husband and children of my own. But I did have the love of God even from my mother’s womb.  That love, which is the most important of all, was stolen from me by the lies and fears my family violently instilled in me. Lies that unfortunately were further fertilized by some “Job’s Comforters” that I encountered early in my Christian walk.

Yet, I understand now about restoration. In my adult years I have been given eyes to see just how God has mercifully restored my knowledge and awareness of His love for me.  God has also restored a level of mental/emotional wholeness that several doctors and psychiatrists never believed was possible for me.  It wasn’t a quick or easy restoration.  And I still struggle at times with the effects of the scars I carry, both physical and psychological, but I am worshipful and grateful  for the restoration God has graciously given me..

As my pastor pointed out in his closing sermon on Job, we can not dictate to God how or even if He restores to us what suffering has taken from us. And even in restoration, God does not remove the scars left in our souls.  But considering the joy of God drawing near to His broken little ones, I count it all joy. Would I enjoy the same depth of dependency and intimacy with God had I not suffered so deeply? I sincerely doubt it. Oh I trust I would still be a believer and love God, but the mercy of suffering is that God draws close to you and you are quick to cling to God.

So if you are struggling with grief over what God has not restored to you, I want to share a word of wisdom a Chaplin once shared with me, “Don’t miss out on what you do have because you are solely focused on what you don’t yet have.”  And whether certain desires happen in this world or not, we do know that we will experience full joy and restoration with God in Christ when we see Him Face to face. There is nothing in this life that comes even close to the fullness of joy we will experience then.

Keep Me Whole Lord

(a Post Integration Poem)

Habits and Echoes

I still talk to them at times

Sometimes I think I hear their voices

Is it my imagination

Perhaps just wishful longing

Or is it something more ?

I don’t know Lord

I don’t know.

Are they simply phantom thoughts

Still rattling through my mind

Am I just hearing echoes

Or have I fooled myself into believing

They are all gone?

I’m afraid Lord

I’m afraid.

I don’t want to need them anymore

I don’t want to depend on them instead of you

Yet I don’t like the loneliness Lord –

It is so quiet inside Jesus

So quiet inside.

Lead me down your paths God

Help me to move forward,

I must not, choose not to go back

So please

Keep me whole Lord

Keep me whole.