Opening the Door When God Knocks

My earliest memory is watching myself from above, separated from my body, apart from what was happening to me. I have used that strategy all of my life, breaking away from emotions, disinhabiting my physical being, creating compartments for good and bad and scary as well as events and relationships. Knowing I am broken, knowing I crave restoration means finding the courage to stay present, to be in the moment. I don’t always have the correct affect, I may not smile or cry when everyone else is merely because I don’t experience the same event until much later, in the safety of my solitude. There my emotions run freely, as I reexperience and find a connection. Sadly, because those moments are solitary, I have been described as cold and aloof. Each time either of  those two words have been hurled at me, I have wondered how my true self could be perceived so inaccurately, why are they missing who I am? Yet the sheer number of times they have been applied lend credence to what I have shown to the world.  Today I found a way back in, to me, to relationships, to wholeness.

Children who are sexually abused believe they are dirty, unwanted, unloveable. Unlearning those devastating messages about ourselves is a life long endeavor, at least for me. Connecting my faith, all the promises of God that just don’t seem to apply to me, with the truth of who God is, has seemed an insurmountable hurdle. How can God love me, as defiled as I am? Why didn’t God make it stop? If God doesn’t love me, how can I ever believe in the love of anyone else? At my very core, my broken relationship to God means broken unstable distrusting relationships with those around me. I heard God’s love explained differently today and my world exploded.

As infants we learn what the world means, who we can trust through our earliest relationships. When safety and love and nurturance are reflected to us, we gain strength and courage and explore more of our world. Infants who do not experience this constant consistent love, shut down, minimize the amount of stimulation they allow in, lose the brightness in their eyes as they shutter their expectations. They learn to distrust. God has put us in relationship immediately upon our entrance into this broken world so that we can begin to learn who He is, so that we can have God reflected to us. Our healthiest relationships reflect God, reflect that we are cherished and adored and valued and loved. That is how we learn the nature of God, through relationship. Thus abused children struggle and push and fight against relationships and ultimately distrust God.

My earliest memories of relationship include the deepest violation of my self. I learned that those around me would take without asking, would use me without care for my needs, would offer me to others as a commodity. I learned I am disposable and unworthy of adoration or respect.  I learned to expect those around me to take my body, my heart, my mind and do so with force and with manipulation and with conditions and finally, with judgement. I did not learn to trust God, to believe that He cherishes me. Yet what if God is different, if those relationships have not reflected the true nature of God? I have looked for Him to bust through my emotional walls, to take my soul and let me know He is with me my whole life.  I expected God to violate me as well, to break down my boundaries.

Because I have experienced a quiet God who continues to show who He is all around me, I misinterpreted his patience. Rather than saying I am unworthy, He was surrounding me with His constant, consistent  presence.  I knew Him in the love of my grandson, in the giggles of my children. I knew Him in the flowers and the birds and the praying mantises, yet I never realized He was there for me too.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  Revelation 3:20   With the force of an earthquake, my soul opened up as I realized that God is knocking and waiting for me to invite Him in, that He will never push and hurt and take. He is love. He has been with me all along.

Maybe you already knew this, maybe you are wondering why it took me so long, yet this message has changed my life, I have cried most of the last 24 hours.  God does find me worthy and is waiting for my invitation. The respect I have sought my entire life, that my gifts should be offered and not exploited, God has shown Himself to understand.  His patience in waiting for my invitation, who else but God can wait 53 years to have relationship? I am that worth it to Him, that He has waited. My world is rocked today as I fall into this love relationship, as I shift what I have known as true into the lie category and begin to open the door of my soul to the One who made me.  My far away look, my distractedness today has nothing to do with being aloof, I am busy getting to know my God. I finally joined the party, friends, the one that includes acceptance and joy and the beginnings of self-worth. It truly is Christmas, receiving of the greatest gift ever.

 

When 8 turns into 400

In a world that often says “no” or maybe “not right now” or “I need more information”, when I encounter “yeses” I notice. It stands out. Working with the King Food ministry at my church, I experience those “yeses” as members of the congregation purchase a box of meat and vegetables and snacks to donate to those in our community who are food insecure. Depositing congregant’s checks with the accountant each month as the folks who need the food are identified, I am often in the tension between too much food or too little, that place of needing more families or more boxes. The program is not smooth yet as I strive to streamline processes with too many moving parts on my own. Still, each month I am awed by the donations and see the impact of giving a family a week’s worth of food, knowing their monthly budget has been graciously and beautifully impacted. People say yes to purchasing as well as receiving and the ministry chugs on.

This month was different, this month challenged deeply my abilities and my beliefs. While we usually have several boxes to donate that I need to manage as well as the boxes for individuals within the church, this time a woman at church told me she wanted to order 8 to give away. Initially I was thrilled but then became concerned, could I find enough people, would they come and pick up at our church, where would I store any that did not get a home… basically I began to whine about my big problem of 8 extra boxes.  I was trying to run this ministry alone, without considering that I have only to ask others for help and God would call the ones to rise up. As typically happens, when I whine, my God begins to teach me about focusing on my self instead of Him.

Eight extra boxes, I said. Eight of the biggest box offered, the one that feeds a family of 4 dinner for a week. So much food at 40-60% off the retail price, these boxes are a definite blessing to those who struggle to feed their children. Yet I fretted and moaned and worried. I lost track of the blessing as I focused on the daunting struggle to move food boxes from the delivery truck into our church and get it to a home within the safety time limit. I fretted about it to anyone who listen, I stressed that I didn’t have enough contact with those who needed the food, that I didn’t have a structure in place for them to come get it, rather than relying on my delivery to their homes. Too many moving parts, I whined. Then the delivery was delayed, requiring more communication with each recipient as King Food ministry dealt with a truck shortage as most around the country had been pulled to help with hurricane relief efforts.  The distribution was pushed from Friday evening to Saturday morning at 6, then 8 and then 10 until finally we were told the truck had been in an accident and distribution would not happen. Frustrated, I sent everyone home with the promise of more information as I received it and an inner question about the worth and viability of this ministry. It felt too big for me to manage alone.

Almost as soon as I reached home, I discovered that the accident, just 10 minutes away,  meant the contents of the truck, 500 boxes, were to be trashed.  The Sheriff felt we couldn’t get it to another freezer site within the time limits established by the health department, unless someone acted immediately. My 8 boxes became 500. First a call to Chef who marshaled his resources to get a refrigerated truck and driver to meet me at the crash site, then a call to key church members who sent out a wider plea for assistance all while I rushed with my little Plum in 90 degree heat to persuade the sheriff to allow us to salvage that food. When the refrigerated portion of the truck was reattached and stabilized, the sheriff inspected a box and agreed that we could take the food, given that we had another refrigerated source onsite. A chain was created between the broken truck and the new one, the last person working Tetris magic to stow as much as possible within the smaller space. We salvaged close to 400 boxes. Now my 8 was 400. I needed a home for it all quickly. Chef had the answer again: the huge freezer space at the commissary where he works was provided as a holding area.

I whined about 8 or 9 or 11 boxes this month so I was given 400. I was handed the challenge of a broken box truck with a driver who was injured and not in his home state. I was shown that this ministry is greater than my small role, that many hands are required to do the work of God and that I can coordinate it all if only I reach out to my friends.  The extra 380 boxes went to the local food bank and to a transitional housing facility. Eight found their way through our ministry to the recipients initially identified, yet thousands will now benefit from this very different donation. I am confident that next month when I have only a handful to distribute I will remember that God is the provider, that I am merely a conduit. My role is to get the food to the hungry, not worry or fret or whine about numbers. We can do great things through Christ who strengthens us, even as He turns 8 into 400.

Deeper Breaths as I Inhale Hope

I began smoking again after close to two decades of not on the day of my daughter’s wedding, when my Chef and I along with my brother and sister-in-law were doing a pub crawl to drown our broken hearts at not being invited. I didn’t intend to add that horrible habit back into my list of vices, it just happened as most tumbles off the wagon do, with an offer for one, just to be crazy for the day, to be utterly rebellious, to illustrate just how deeply we devastated we were and maybe to scream at the God we were striving to find, even in our drunkenness. That first cigarette led to another as the day wore on and my sobriety returned. Serenity in the routine, lighting one up, slow deep breaths, as I sat alone, exiled, who wants to sit with a smoker? The habit returned and for a long time, for many many packs of those Kool Blue shorts, I welcomed it as an indicator of my brokenness. Could God find me if I lit this torch in the wilderness, would God seek me out again and bridge the divide between my daughter and I if I was covered in this ash of repentance? I sat alone on my porch day after day, waiting.

The practice of repentance smoking grew with my loneliness and ache. While I didn’t really want to smoke, I didn’t really not want to either. Lost in limbo, unable to garner enough concern to quit, I allowed my routines to become enmeshed with the craving, first thing in the morning with my coffee, after every meal, before bed. Many nights I would rise out of a deep sleep and go outside again, just to smoke and wonder what I could possibly do to change my relationship with Stella as I gazed at the stars she used to identify for me. As I continued to smoke and she didn’t reach out, I accepted the horrid breath and the smoky clothes and the coughing and the harm to my body as penance. I witnessed the disgust in my Chef’s eyes, I listened as he walked away from me, further and further. I accepted my punishment. I imagined scenarios of her returning home and me throwing away the coveted pack of Kool’s, tossing out my lighter. I experienced plenty of alone time to think and imagine as no one wanted to be around me during my puffing sessions, I didn’t want them there either. Fifteen minute retreats into despair spread throughout the day, moments for me to indulge in smoking and sulking.

After two and a half years though, I knew the punishment phase of my grieving had to stop. Just as laying in bed and letting the world continue without me hadn’t brought her back, no amount of nicotine would either. Finally, embracing my health for me, I chose to stop. I am edgy and twitchy and wishing for my vice and yet I am freer. I see the sad woman sitting alone, and I don’t want to be that sad anymore. I see how smoking was a slow suicide, a jumper on the edge of the bridge, begging someone to stop them, give them a reason to live. I recognize I have reasons other than my children, yet being their mom was my core identity. That portion sliced away left me too empty, the space filled up only with deep inhalations of smoke and then each slowed release of my devastation into the air, polluting my body and my surroundings, creating synchronicity.

Still I quit, the latest act of acceptance that I have no impact on this child ever walking across the bridge I have built. Filling my days with all those 15 minute retreats left me shamed and isolated, filling that spare time now is daunting. Attempting to break the habit of missing her, of wondering what I haven’t done that might work, imagining scenarios of her car in front of the house every time I turn the corner, dreaming of running into her at the store, always always  seeking her face, I now have to take deep breaths and recognize that I cannot break that addiction. My craving for relationships to be rebuilt, to be rejoined with those who have walked away, I cannot kick this one. No big cosmic reward for avoiding the gas station, not picking up the spare pack this time, not searching the trash for a butt and feeling that momentary aliveness, even as it escaped my lungs, no now I am left with truth as any addict finds, that my problems are still my problems, just without the high to carry me through.

My Plum was ecstatic, the few friends that I have told grew tearful and celebrated with me. Still, I seek something to fill the void, to remind me to take those deep breaths and release my toxins. If smoking was the symbol of the cancer within my relationship, how will anyone know I am in pieces still, that I have not closed this chapter even as I crumpled the last box of cigarettes and tossed them away, that the tumor still resides within my heart? Each burnt offering I lit and consumed, the incense of filth I blew around my altar to a God who is not taking my calls, has blocked me on social media, is too busy with hurricanes to check His voicemail, the ashtray and lighter, my addiction paraphernalia evidence of past sins and secret desperate wishes for a Savior.  I no longer attend the church of self punishment, I don’t tithe my pack a day as the offering plate of an overflowing ashtray sits waiting on the table, but what should I worship now? I gave  up smoking and still no Stella.

I know that my friends and pastors would tell me that God is near, that Jesus is walking this horrible time with me and mostly I know it is true. Maybe I all the way know but I think most days now I don’t want to search for God, I want a miracle. I am out of offerings and apologies, I grow cold and old and wasted as I wait to be rediscovered as worthy by those who have snubbed me out of their worlds like each cigarettes I smoked down to the filter, looking at it with a mix of surprise and disgust that I had allowed that habit to form. My patience has diminished with my lung capacity, I no longer wait in faith, I don’t walk with the assurance of one who is supported by a loving God. I gave God an ultimatum I think, bring her back or I slowly commit suicide. I blinked, I gave in, God doesn’t pay up on debts I create. So God and my daughter stay silent and I have extra time now to not be smoking and alone and still I wait for a sign that I made the right choice.

I quit smoking. I shed a bit more shame and stopped polluting me. Yet even as I discard all evidence of these toxic 2 and a half years, I know that healing will take longer. Damaged bodies and broken spirits must be handled with care, to minimize suffering and reduce further devastation. My soul is seeking a response from my Creator. Maybe once the smoke clears, I will see Him again, will notice that He cries along with me and aches at my brokenness, that He sits in anger at a child who refuses to forgive, who accepts grace but offers none.  I want to see that God but more, I just want Him to save us both from this hell. I believe He can do it, just as I finally trusted that I could get through the day without smoking. I did it, I quit smoking, a stumble of faith. Now I want to hear Him say I chose wisely, to embrace life over death.  I want my daughter to call, text, email, walk over the bridge and give up her addiction to righteousness.  My offer of grace remains, without limits or scorecards. Alone still on the porch, I wait.

And notice the leaves begin to tumble to the earth. And crickets singing as the night disappears. And remember that hope as tiny as the hummingbird that flits around the last blooms of summer still resides within me.

Loosening the Grip on My Wagon of Woes

During the past couple of months while my mind has healed, I will admit to you now that I have engaged in a battle, one made all the more preposterous with my sluggish wits and dwindling energy, like a slow motion wrestling match only on my side.  Still, I have chosen this time either because I have so few other distractions or this time has chosen me because of an unstoppable God who is pursuing me in spite of me, to wrangle with my faith, to note the distance between God and I and to lament my emptiness to the cosmos, with fervor and fever.

My disconnect with God travels back over 50 years if I tell more truth, deep within where a little girl resides, a child who experienced evil at the hands of many and didn’t see the hands of God saving her from any of it. This child like many others who live with early trauma grew up  wondering about the character of the God she hears of each Sunday,. Why doesn’t He love her, what must she do to become worthy? It was and somewhat still is contradictory to believe in God’s love and power and experience childhood sexual abuse. Soul snatchers, these predators who violated not only my body but also forever my ability to feel safe and free, unguarded and natural, welcoming of attention and affection, able to express love outside of tasks performed in a kitchen.

Resting on a borrowed faith that has carried me for most of my adult life, I see and know God as an incredible Creator who loves the ones I love, who has brought forth miracles and intervention for those very people my soul aches for in prayer. Yet, my list of personal needs, such a short little request, surely with a snap of the Holy fingers, I too could be shown the direct love of this God I have followed. Alas, not yet, wait more, “Be still and know even longer that you are not God and come to know who I am really.” I whisper, “Hogwash.” I rant no, not this time, now, right now, I have waited my whole life for you to protect me and my body and now my very heart. But I am not God, I cannot snap my fingers and have it be so. Worn out from another wrestling match, I retire to the couch, head aching and cheeks wet from angry fearful tears. Doesn’t God know this is a test, an opportunity for Him to show that I am loved as well? Doesn’t God know that He owes me, I already sacrificed my body on the cross as a child as the men took turns and He was away, while He left me to cry out alone? Bitter tears travel familiar paths, drip drip drip on my blanket, my space on the couch molding to my body, eyes averted from the window where I might catch sight of birds and butterflies and joy.

I have witnessed others at church proclaim their “God is with me” moments in the midst of great darkness, I gaze upon my void after each hurt and disappointment. Layer upon layer create the pile I drag behind in my memory wagon, never entrusting another fully with the wounds, unable to leave them unattended, my evidence that I am God’s step-child, not fully in the family.  My pastor spoke of leaving the wilderness, transitioning into freedom, what it costs us to do so. This cart I drag? That is my refusal to be set free, my choice to return to bondage where vegetables I slaved for are preferred to the manna that appears daily. What sweet memories I once carried along in my battered wagon, recollections that are now rot like fresh strawberries left on the counter uneaten, mold spreading across the fruit to destroy what was once delicious delightful. No, hurts and disappointments and aches and pains are not meant to be trotted about with such dedication, I have forgotten that others see not my sweet stories and happiness but the oozing dripping ugliness of what was meant to be left behind when I was freed. But I haven’t accepted freedom, I merely lost the chains. A bag lady who dies on the streets covered in filth clutching her worthless treasures while a bank filled with her wealth awaits, I see my reality is distorted by the aches of my soul. In order for her to enter the bank, she would have to leave her cart outside, to trust someone enough with her treasures of old cans and dirty clothes and a torn sleeping bag. We know she has so much more waiting for her, if only she can let go of the junk, we know it is junk, her treasures, and she can buy all new, if she would just let go. Can any of us let go of our junk filled wagons that we drag along where ever we travel, out hurts from childhood,  expectations deeply embedded from a parent, bullying we suffered or participated in, shame and vulnerability, pain-tinged memories that require a hand always reaching back as we hold onto our cart.

Wrestling, wrangling and ranting during my slowwitted season, my inability to respond quickly with arguments, with corresponding evidence, with proof of His lack of care for me, God has stepped in to seize the advantage. This unstoppable God? I saw only the places He was not fulfilling my wishes, I missed how He was speaking in whispers I couldn’t hear like the ringtones the under 30 crowd use because the rest of us can no longer catch that sound, or sending subliminal messages that flash before me and then are masked again so quickly I couldn’t help but miss, yet still I ranted at God “Where are You?” I forgot about the sunflowers and the sun and the flowers and the seeds and the ways in which I see my Creator surrounding me, lifting me, chasing me, awaiting me.

I am a study in God’s patience, evidence of a tender loving Creator who perseveres. This wrestling while my mind is slowed forces me to not quip my way out, emotions find more release, I am stuck seeking a God who surely wishes for me to finally accept freedom and just come home. As a mother who’s heart is broken over the same desire, I think I know that pain. As our praise team sang the words the “Ocean” by Joel Houston / Matt Crocker / Salomon Ligthelm, I felt pulled in by the Holy Spirit, a faith space that was mine, not borrowed from anyone else. A space of tenderness filled with light and grace, with my name inscribed right along with all the others, a message that I am good enough and I am worthy, that I am being drawn away from my wagon into the Promised land of freedom. Just let go and come home.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior (Oceans)

Friends, what are you pulling along with you that no longer looks like a treasure but has become a burden? I’m working on loosening my grip, will you consider doing the same? We are not meant to be slaves begging for our bondage again. What is ahead of us that we could be reaching for if our hands hearts minds were not occupied with our wagons of woes? Let us together call upon His name, for He does know ours.