Becoming a Tree

Leaves have emerged onto the branches of the giant old tree in my back yard, I must have slept while it happened. Barren all winter waiting for spring, then brilliant red buds lined the wood as it reached across my yard and into the sky. Every year I plan to watch for the moment those promises turn to leaves, to see evidence of hope long buried sprouting into shade for giggling children on the trampoline. I miss out each year, it happens without me. The tree doesn’t need a witness to change, it needs no applause or  pictures to capture the stunning developments. The tree does as God asks, through every season, without complaint, shedding losing growing deep in the soil where no one can see and reaching high into the heavens. The tree allows nails to pierce it’s trunk as planks are applied for little feet to climb, it allows tiny growth to be pulled and plucked by a little boy who grabs hold and explores. The tree is steady in purpose, providing comfort and shelter and the joy of seasons to all who venture near. I can hear God asking me to be this tree.

How does one truly accept all that has come before, all the seasons and the plucking and the piercing? Forgiveness. Ugly horrible painful deep real forgiving of the people who have hurt me because otherwise I remain like a weed, sprouting up each summer in danger of being trampled, being poisoned, carrying my own prickly edges of protection that hurt bare feet and hearts that come too close. Without forgiveness I cannot accept that I am where I am supposed to be, I am who I am supposed to be. What if just one life event were different? What if I were not a childhood sexual abuse survivor? Would my heart really seek out the quiet children others miss? Would I understand the acting out teen who is yearning to tell a secret and deathly afraid to do so? Would I join in the slut shaming movement instead of wondering how this young woman learned to use her body to gain love? Becoming like the tree is to gain that perspective on my life, to forgive all that has come before and embrace the very soil that feeds my roots.

I have abhorred my father for longer now than he was alive, longer than I was with him. My hate has always been justified in the horrific things he did and allowed others to do. But what if I were to see him as damaged also? What if I go back a generation further? He was a child once, he was 6 years old once just as my cherished Plum is now. He was worthy of love and hopes and dreams, did anyone tell him that? What broke in him that he emerged as a hurting adult? That inner little boy must have been devastated at how his life evolved, how he was hurting his own children. That image breaks me, I can relate to that sorrow. I found a connection to my father. I found a way in to forgiveness.  My tree is growing roots.

I have avoided any mention of my exhusband, a chapter of my life best forgotten. Yet my children came from that union, gifts that bear the sweetest fruit and the most painful thorns. Much hasn’t been resolved from that rushed marriage and the even speedier dissolution, so many points where events could have turned right instead of left with only a different choice from him. Still, I know where he came from, I know who he is. Thirty-five years is a long time to be disappointed in someone for not being more, not being stronger. The truth is, it was never about him, it was always about me. He wasn’t enough for me, I chose wrong. I can forgive him for not being the right person because it was the wrong union, like a tiger and a frog marrying, never a chance for success, someone was always going to be destroyed. All fallout from that marriage is ash or glitter, burning bridges or sparkling promises of the future. He still influences the children, yet I am grateful that he gave them to me in the first place. I can offer forgiveness to him for not being strong enough to help me, then or ever, it wasn’t really his calling. I forgive myself for seeking refuge in the union, I know what I was escaping from, I was only looking back, not where I was headed. I brought devastation to us all. My tree is growing stronger.

The events surrounding my journey into prison are so rife with spots of intervention, my God I wanted someone to rescue me. The double life was exhausting, I have never possessed the ability to hide my feelings well, how could everyone miss what was happening? Furthermore, how could I not trust ANYONE? Surrounded by professionals who could have saved me, healed me, believed me, I chose the path of secrets and pain and the ugliest spiral into darkness. I have no need to forgive those who missed my tear-stained face or my anxiety or my bloody panties in the trash can, I am long beyond holding anyone else accountable. It was all me. Can I forgive myself for not screaming? Can I forgive myself for not going to the next person and the next until someone heard me? Deeper still, can I forgive him? He was once a child, like my father, that someone wanted more for. The sickness with which I sought out abusers so I could be the perfect victim is appalling, fuels my marching and protesting and shouted chants. I have to be heard now, I won’t be silent. Is this not what God wanted me to learn? I do not need rescuing, I am my own savior, I am strong enough. Without this experience I would be on a markedly different path, I would certainly not be married to Chef, not be involved in my church, in the deep meaningful relationships with women who have molded me. I would not care about prisoners who are locked away and forgotten, I would not understand to serve a replica prison meal before the showing of the documentary “13th” at church. My soul without these deep broken places would not feel and notice the aches of others, I cannot believe I would care as deeply. I am those lepers, I am those on lists who check boxes and struggle to ever be employed or respected. Can I accept that my brokenness brought me to an alternate wholeness? Only through real forgiveness for what happened on a dirty mattress in a filthy apartment when God cried out with me. Forgiving that moment brings buds of hope, as surely as Jesus shed blood on the cross to give us all new life. Those seconds as I watched the ceiling My God was still with me, waiting for me to realize I was more, I was meant for joy and comfort and purpose. Such a patient God, through the long seasons as I am stripped bare and forget that summer comes and I am His and my body is not for this. He has long forgiven my horrific choice to accept so little from life, to forget to reach up and out. Peaceful gratitude swells within as I offer up my branches now to the God who has shown me I never have to allow anyone to cut into my soul again. Forgiving myself, my rapist and the God I thought did not protect me, my tree grows strong and sturdy.

The ugliest times in my life are the very parts that move me into action, into growth. Those branches that look dead in winter sprout new buds and then leaves, providing shade and comfort for the weary and the rowdy. I rarely can see when I move from bud to full leafy coverage, God moves swiftly. A call, an ask, I am fully vested into areas of ministry before I realize that I have grown and pushed myself deeper into soil and out further into the sky. I am the tree that stays steady through the seasons, planted exactly where I am meant to be. The pains of my past are piercing and purposeful, certainly God did not orchestrate the horrors but will use what I give him to bring beauty and glory to His world. All He asks is that I stay planted right where I am, that I trust that I can bear the seasons, that I watch for the buds to emerge.  Children will giggle around me, birds will nest about me. Life happens in trees, all of life.

I don’t need pictures or applause to document my changing and growth, I don’t need anyone to notice that I have moved into a new season. Trees don’t long to be planted elsewhere, they don’t yearn for the leaves shed last autumn or the one before. God is asking me to be this tree, to be right here, right now, and know that He is with me. My heart wants to be obedient to this ever present God. Still, those leaves that have fallen away… a certain wistfulness and ache remains. Clearly my work as a solid tree of faith is just beginning. This season of renewal in Him brings peace in releasing the weight of the past, a peace in embracing this moment, as I wait for the birds to nest.

The 20% Path Towards Easter

I awoke sweaty, kicking off blankets, seeking cooler air. Groggy from the heat and deep sleep, I struggled to determine the source of my fevered state. A quick check to the left for the heating blanket controls next to my bed revealed I had been tricked again, the dial reading “H,” a setting I haven’t used in ages. Certainly not for an unseasonably warm February night. My little trickster usually reserves this move for the early mornings, his effort to wake me before our internal alarms say we can rise. But 2:00 am, way too early. A slow look right showed not only had Plum messed with my dials, he had infiltrated my bed and was sleeping soundly on my pillow, edging me out of my spot. Something happened during the night to send him into gran’s bed, seeking comfort and protection. How had I slept through this? Once I would have woken at the slightest noise, hearing everything throughout the night. Learning as a child that night time was dangerous and sleep made me vulnerable, I rarely really rested. Now a small child can seemingly climb right over me, get under the covers and scoot me aside and still I slept on. Oddly enough, this is a good thing. It signals a clear sense of safety.

Childhood sexual abuse carries into adulthood, alters reality so dramatically that merely sleeping soundly is a huge win. But what other effects have I held onto without really questioning, without deciding to address? What if I did alter that abuse DNA to live more wholly, more fully? The topic came up as I talked with my small group of friends and smugly spouted my stance on pain management, pain levels, pain awareness. Even as I spoke I knew I was sinking into the realm of the absurd, somehow I couldn’t stop myself from trying to defend the indefensible. My ears could hear how wrong I was, my practice and habits bespoke years of training. Maybe I unconsciously wanted to be chided, to be questioned on the validity of my long held beliefs. It worked, I am rethinking.

In order to be a good victim to an adult abuser, you must learn to ignore your own body. You must learn to shutdown warning signs and your learn that pain is a choice, one you cannot afford to experience. You must learn to be quiet, very very quiet. You must learn to escape your body.  In order to be a healthy adult who has survived childhood sexual abuse, much unlearning is required. Years of therapy have gotten me about 80% there I think, on a good day. I have learned to speak up, to protect myself, to stay in my body. But that last bit, really owning my own body and caring for it, I just haven’t conquered. As I explained to my friends, I was a child who would stand outside and wet my pants, completely unaware that my bladder needed emptying. In many ways, I am still that child. Years of ignoring basic needs such as this have led to real medical bladder issues. Years of ignoring body cues to eat that for a time exhibited as anorexia, now look like missed meals and poor food choices.  Lack of awareness about my body makes reporting symptoms to doctors for routine neurological appointments a nightmare. I don’t know, I can’t remember, my standard answers. For most of my adult life this has worked for me, in the sense that I was okay with what I considered my quirks and felt no compulsion to address them.

These last several months with Chef, who has felt real pain and desolation in the stripping of his identity, have called on me to be a better person than I am. There, I said it. Like waking at every creak of the house as it settles during the night, I have old thinking that is disturbing my life now. As I tried to defend my position to my friends, I ultimately decided that maybe I am just a bitch. Wow. Angry ugly labeling to describe my adult self, still it is easier than choosing to address the core. Would I rather remain unkind than own that I am removed from my feelings for good cause? Looking at the source means resurrection of the worst kind, traveling a path that is dark and scary, enough to send the child me into granny’s bed, seeking comfort and protection. But I am the gran, I am the parent, I am the one to provide the comfort to my own broken self. Not trusting that is enough, I stay entrenched in the separation, not realizing that I am no longer hurting me, a pain I don’t feel, but hurting my Chef. I think I have finally reached a point where this is unacceptable. (I suspect Chef will raise his arms in victory at the reading of this.)

I realize that I was once so close to healing, so close to joining my body.  The estrangement with my daughter, a young woman who was guiding me into adulthood as much as I her, left me adrift, afraid. She was my realtime example of brave women who could feel things and do things and laugh out loud. Then she disappeared under the influence of a dangerous narcissistic man who turned her into her own cowering self. We have both shrunken. We have both hidden. We cannot find a way to connect and I stay separate from much of me. But what if God has brought new women along, put some women on my path to guide me back into me? Am I brave enough to accept the challenge to stop being unkind, to shed the label of bitch and finish the last 20% to fully inhabit me? I am convinced that is what God wants. I fill certain that is what Chef would love.

Self-care is just a phrase I speak, words I type, something I have never practiced. I know the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask. Lent is soon to begin and as always, I am giving a great deal of thought to what I will give up. More and more I am realizing I am being called to give up that last 20%. Thus Lent may not look like fasting for me but eating.  Really eating.  Lent may not look like solitude for me, but engaging.  Really engaging.  Giving up chocolate or Coke made the Easter celebration delightful, for sure. Inhabiting all of me may well please God beyond the 40 days.

I may ask for prayers along the way, I may wish I had given my M&M addiction up to the Lord for the season.  I hope to share with you my struggles to keep me honest and on the path. 40 days towards 20%, starting March 1. (I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I may stay a bit aloof for a few more days.)