Sunday, February 19, 2017

My Awakening

I grew up in a bubble.

I didn't think I did. I thought I had when all my friends were busy on the weekend and I felt left out.  I thought I knew how to live and love. I thought I knew what life was about.  I thought I understood success and the model to achieve it.  (EXCEPT...TO ME, part of "success" included having a perfect Husband/Wife/Bio-child family WITH NO REAL WORLD problems.  It hurts me now to even say this out loud.  It makes me sick that even sub-consciously that particular goal or definition of success was hidden underneath everything else I did.) 

Then my husband and I were MOVED by indisputably miraculous events & timings to become foster/adopt parents.

The entire process of becoming licensed seemed to change my life at the time. (I have many posts written but they remain un-posted, as the journey to "get there" at the time was some of the most trying I'd ever faced, including a deep personal conflict of self realization on my path along with the clash of outside opinions or warnings.  I knew I was doing the right thing, and didn't have the words to help anyone else FEEL what I was FEELING.  "Come what may"... & "No matter what"... Doubts from myself and others were expressed, but I knew I couldn't back out.)

Then the kids moved in.  And they brought their trauma with them.  And it rubbed off onto the other 6 family members.

....Trauma is something the vast majority of the people in my "bubble" don't seem to understand...the ones who really know what I'm talking about are the ones who have lived trauma....

There's so much to say, but the most important to say is that at time it's felt like hell. (Except when I prayed and told God that it felt like hell, and He promptly said, "Hell is worse.")

It's flipped my whole world of parenting upside down.

I've never had to work so hard to be a Christian in my entire life.  EVER.  Especially not in a 24/7 sort of way.  And then I realized - I wasn't as Christian as I thought I was!!!!!

My friend Trey posted something on facebook that got me thinking...if I remember correctly, it said something like, "You're not Christian unless you bear a cross."

(Photo credit - Pinterest)

For the first time in my life I'm truly learning what it means to bear a cross, but it's not because of me or anything I've done.  I'm also learning more intensely, how Jesus bears our personal crosses for us, if we'll let Him.

When you're fatigued and depressed and facing the biggest mountains you, your spouse, and your kids have ever faced -- you're in it with them and when their trauma BECOMES YOUR OWN TRAUMA, and you live and breathe it, and all you can do is be in survival mode from moment to moment....  That's usually when someone says to you, "You're doing the greatest thing for these kids."  Or they say, "You're saving them."  I usually stare blankly for a moment as I try to process the shocking words, and internally I have screamed, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!  I'M NOT DOING ANYTHING!!! NOTHING IS WORKING!"  I have also screamed inside, "TRYING TO SAVE THEM IS HELL, AND NO MATTER WHAT I DO, THEY DON'T WANT TO BE SAVED!"  In fact these kids never asked to be saved.  Their "saving" is often a loss to them and a reminder of what they'll never be able to get back - some of the dearest and precious things in their hearts - their bio family, and it doesn't matter how good or bad their bio family was, and it doesn't matter what kind of trauma they experienced there, the loss is so deep inside.

I've had people say, "This is taking a toll on you.  Surely God wouldn't want this to happen to you or to your kids (implying bio kids)."

Well, let me tell you, HE ABSOLUTELY DOES!  I KNOW HE DOES, BECAUSE HE PUT ME HERE!  And you know what?  MAYBE HE WANTS YOU TO DO IT, TOO!  In regards to trauma rubbing off some onto my bio kids, this is so far the hardest thing they've ever done, too, and you know what?  They still have it pretty good. While trauma of any sort (primary or secondary) is nothing to be reveled in or encouraged, I feel that if my bio kids will allow it, they will understand the GIFT they're being given - a gift in their young age to be able to empathize with others in a way that wouldn't have been able to come if I kept them 100% in a bubble.  I know that IF God has a plan for me to do this (which He does as He is the one who put me on this path), THEN He absolutely has a personal plan for them to get through it, too!

Sometimes the adoption world is like the weirdest Twilight Zone experience - often, people will glorify what adoption is, but not many actually know what it actually means to live the life.


Easier said than done.

My cousin Tiffani has FIFTEEN kids...and 11 of them are ADOPTED.  I honest to goodness have no idea how she does it. People would tell her, "You're saving these kids."  And she would say, "Actually they're saving me!" 

She's also the one who recently told me to quit grieving over the "loss" of my "perfect little family", and to drop to my knees and pray multiple times a day.  And I DO (I thought I had been doing it before she told me to, but obviously it was not enough).  Wherever I am standing in the house in my brokenness, when it's too much - in the middle of their screaming fits, I fall to my knees. And I pray.

Even after I took some kids in, I could not understand how on earth Tiffani could say they were saving HER and genuinely mean it....

UNTIL I got to a place where I was so broken, so frustrated with everything, so lost on how to even parent because NOTHING I'VE EVER DONE WITH MY OTHER KIDS WORKS WITH THEM.  It wasn't until I'd experienced Secondary Trauma myself and could see more clearly what happens to people when they have trauma that I could start understanding.   

My friend Jeff (a dear friend who has experienced Primary Trauma in hard ways) said to me, "You're not saving them.  You're just giving them a different path. And it looks like they're providing YOU therapy."

Then he very compassionately offered advice to help our family get through the trauma - mostly encouragement to let go of the negativity & suggestions on how to do that, and he also gave us lots of reminders to take it one day at a time. "Time has a way of healing all wounds," he says.  He would know.

So anyway, here I am today.  Four months into our life change.  And I have a message:

My mind and heart are awakened in ways I've never experienced before!

I never ever want to return to the person I used to be.

I believe I was an inherently good person with good intentions before, but the ignorance of that person I used to be was making me sick.  

Literally. Sick and full of intense disdain...

First my disdain was directed at others within my bubble who couldn't possibly understand trauma or trauma parenting for what it is.  But I woke up this week and I found the root of this disdain - it was disdain for myself in my former state...from many years ago when I had a circle of many friends who were experiencing very difficult struggles.  They desperately needed someone to understand them, but no matter how much or how deeply I cared about them I couldn't help in anyway whatsoever, because I was so much in the bubble of a perfect life that I could not relate to them, empathize or sympathize appropriately, or even offer any advice or help to pull them out of the hell they were experiencing.  It still hurts my heart to think about those times -- it makes my heart hurt that my ignorance kept me from helping anyone else find true healing.

But the Lord is good, and in my own recent phase of hurting, He sent me people who knew personally what I was facing and who knew how to overcome it. He sent me people who could help me in the same ways I so desperately wished I could have been able to be there for them when they were suffering.  How sweet (and cruel) life experiences can be.  Both depression and joy can be painful in a way.

I have been waking up to painful truth.  Ugly truth.  Sometimes truth that is so ugly I cannot bear it.  But somehow the TRUTH is setting me free.  And I am finding ways to move beyond it, to accept it, to forgive myself, and to let go, and I am finding it in my heart to be grateful.  I love being grateful!

I am learning how to live one day at a time.  I am finding peace in the struggle.  Real and internal peace that is pulling me out of a deep depression and back into the light of day.  But the difference is that this time in the light of day I'm not so ignorant (not that I know everything, and even what I've now experienced sort of could be described as "seeing through a glass darkly").  But I have walked so far into this path that I can finally say I CANNOT ever be the same. And that in itself makes me SO HAPPY!

It's not just that I don't WANT to be the same as that person I used to be, but I literally am so far into this life changing experience that I now CANNOT ever be that person I used to be.  It feels so good to know that I will never go back there...if I do regress at all, at least I know it can never be completely...and that gives me hope in the future and my ability to do this.  I can do this. I CAN do what I've been asked to do, and I know that each member in my family can, too.

I can say that I have finally been born again.  In a way I've never been born before.

It's a true awakening or enlightening -- it's still happening and I'm still learning.

What would you do if I told you that a person who doesn't necessarily believe in God (at least in the way that everyone tends to define God) is the one who showed me or explained to me rather, what it means to truly repent of your sins, pray and meditate out loud, forgive yourself (accept grace), and be able to move forward in faith and wholeness by meeting God in a personal way?  This is what I've been seeking for a long time.


Maybe don't be so surprised about all of that.  I am not surprised about it in the least any more, because I believe that the Lord is calling all of His children home, and that He knows how to speak to us individually and with purpose no matter who we are and where we've been.  He knows how to help us find healing when we need it the most, and His love and power can surpass all of our understanding.  When He heals us, it motivates us to do good and be the best versions of our selves that we can possibly be.

As I've been pondering more in depth how the Lord lives and how He loves me I have come to know Him in a closer way.

I finally feel free.

I finally feel awake.

I finally feel alive again.

I'm waking up happy.  That's something that literally hasn't happened to me for over a year.

And because I know and feel in a whole new way, I KNOW that the same kind of healing can come to my spouse & kids no matter what we face together in life, and I know it's a type of healing that can happen to anyone who is open to it.

I am achieving happiness and inner peace in a way I have never found before, but the trick is that it hasn't come by trying to achieve - it has come by complete surrender to God in my brokenness, and the honest acceptance of ugly truths that have been within myself (not just one sin, but MANY, including the sins of clinging on to embarassments, self-hate, deeply personal inner judgement, and holding on to the shame & regret of things that I need to repair) and because of this process, a new bi-product of gratitude is opening up within my mind and soul.   It literally feels good all over.

I can say that in a very real and personal way I am finally accepting the grace of Jesus Christ and I am learning how to forgive myself and literally LET GO.  I'm putting things in the Lord's hands in a way I've never done before.  

I can tell you that the Lord has personally healed me.

This is my Awakening!

It's still fresh, so there is a part in my heart and soul that is terrified I will lose these feelings of happiness and peace.  So if you're a praying person, please pray for me that I can always know my Savior and His love in this beautiful way that helps me be FREE.  If you haven't found this for yourself, start praying that you will find it, too, and don't ever stop seeking UNTIL YOU KNOW you've found it!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Blanket Statements with the Atonement

(These thoughts were written a few days before the "My Awakening" post, after a deep discussion on the topic of trauma and healing through Christ.  I was also writing these thoughts a bit in frustration, and I am not an expert exactly on all of what trauma means, but I do know that at times it feels like an impossible venture for people with trauma to find healing, and it is true that some of them have so much trauma it can't be healed in this life, and those are terrible situations.  But I do believe that healing is possible for everyone through Jesus Christ, and that it can even come in this life for most, but my purpose in this post was to get out all the thoughts on my mind and it helped my own walls and misconceptions about mental illness change.  I really believe that people who struggle with mental health are working so very extremely hard, just to stay sane and function.  I also feel  that the more they need is compassion, and the less they need is extra stress and judgement on how they need to deal with themselves.  Be there for them - let them know they can do it - have faith in the Lord and His timing, and take it one day at a time.)


The Atonement is not exactly like a magic wand (well actually, it could be argued that it is, one of my 4 year old's says that it is, and I can absolutely see that argument).  What I'm trying to say, though, is that I used to be one of the "instant" and "quick" believers in The-Atonement-Can-Fix-Anything Group of people.  And you know what?  There is some truth to that, all depending on the WAY you're looking to apply the Atonement.  There are MOMENTS where the relief comes instantly in prayer and the peace can stay for a while...all depending on the circumstances.

But for the most part, and especially considering some of the experiences we've faced as a family over the last couple of years, I am now MORE on my nine-year-old son's side with His view of the Atonement.  He bore his testimony last week:

"I know that Jesus can do ANYTHING for long as it's necessary."

Everyone in the congregation smiled at his honest little 9-year-old wisdom, but there's no getting around the truth of what he said.

The "so-long-as-it's-necessary" part of his testimony just happens to be the harsh reality of the phrase, "Thy WILL be DONE."  It happens to be one of the reasons Christians are left having "fear and trembling" before the Lord in any given circumstance.  The Lord CAN fix it, but will He see fit to do so in this moment or is He going to let you learn a lot of lessons along a grueling ride?

That's actually the part of religion that I believe most atheists have an issue with.  It seems to me that most people could believe in a God who is loving and kind, but not in a God who would knowingly allow terrible things to happen to good people.  "That would be an interesting person and not one I would follow," is what an atheist friend told me.  I've pondered his statement and the way I see it is that really there IS a "God of Heaven", and a "God of Earth".  The God of Heaven is the one we want to follow, and the God of the Earth right now is the one who wreaks havoc...he's the one who makes this earthly experience feel hellish, and he's the one who tempts us.  Someday Jesus Christ is going to come and take his rightful place as the God of this Earth and he's going to heal everyone and everything, but in the mean time, Satan is the one who is guiding everyone astray, and inspiring criminals to keep criminal-ing.  So it's my opinion that even atheists agree with Christians if you look at it from that perspective.  Satan is a creep, and there's no way I would actually want to follow Him - He's absolutely an interesting person to take pleasure in the sufferings of all the people who come to earth, and I certainly don't want to follow that god either.

But then the juxtoposition is this - and another reason atheists would probably still have an issue with the God of Heaven - why would you want to follow a God who would let you go down to earth and be subjected to the creepy/jerky God - why wouldn't he intervene if He could?

That's where the faith really has to come in, because God - the REAL GOD - the Rightful God did intervene, and He's saving us from the terrible things of this world, but the problem is that HE DOESN'T GRANT INSTANT HEALING FOR EVERYONE OR EVERY PROBLEM RIGHT NOW, so that's what tries faith - because sometimes living in a cruel world leaves a life-long mark on you that you have to deal with.

So anyway, let's talk now about sexual abuse.

Our bodies are pysiologically created to have particular brain mechanisms and responses.  Trauma and abuse actually REWIRES the neuorpathways in your brain.  Trauma and abuse really can RUIN you. It really can ruin someone's life, and it really can ruin their whole life.  Trauma and abuse CAN be overcome, through therapy and consistency.  Relying on the Atonement for Spiritual health is ESSENTIAL in overcoming it, but you can't just say, "Oh, well, that's what the Atonement is for," and completely invalidate everything that the victim has been through, and everything that they go through every single day of their life.  I also feel that their anxiety and depression cannot entirely be left up to them and how much they did or didn't handle their trial correctly, but that message gets sent a lot to people who struggle with trauma.  So they can kindly say - it's terrible having to deal with this kind of "brain damage" caused to me at the hands of another, but thank you very much for passing judgement. I also know that their flashbacks and trauma triggers have nothing to do with themselves and how well they have handled their trauma or how they have not dealt with it appropriately.  Let me say that again - THEIR TRAUMA TRIGGERS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM.  You cannot make a blanket statement like, "Oh, well if they would have just done X, then they would have been strong enough, and you cannot say that , "Well, since they did Y, then that's on their head."

 But maybe the whole world needs to look at these issues in a different light.

I'm not saying that victims have no accountability in finding a way to function and heal so they can move on - they have got to find it within themselves to find new habits to overcome their triggers so they can have a functional life.  And absolutely they have got to find it within themselves to forgive, but you also cannot expect them to forgive instantly, because you don't know what damage has been done to their body by the trauma they've been through.  Maybe they can find it in their heart to forgive, but then the next day someone in the mall walks past them wearing the same scent as their perpetrator, and guess what?  Their mind has been triggered, and they are back to the trauma - they are unsafe again, they feel the shame that they didn't cause, they feel bad, they feel scared, they are back in that moment, because that's how our brains were made to function.  And so then they have to find it in their heart AGAIN to forgive, because it's like their suffering all just happened anew!  Maybe this is what the Lord was talking about in forgiving someone seventy times seven - because when you've been traumatized, what they did to you happens in your brain THAT MANY TIMES, and it's hard, and it's wrong, because their moment of selfishness has ruined your life or at least what your life used to be, and that had nothing to do with you.  The fact that your mind takes you there again also means there's nothing wrong with you - your body was made that way, and it TOTALLY STINKS.

When compared to the general population, we know a person who has downsydrome has some "issues" that will never be overcome in this life.  Does that have anything to do with how strong that person is or isn't?  Does that have anything to do with the Atonement - well yes, the Atonement and Jesus' sacrifice can technically fix downsyndrome, but their healing from downsyndrome in this lifetime has nothing to do with if the individual believes enough or not - the Atonement will actually never fix their Downsyndrome until the Resurrection.

Mental illness needs to be understood with the same non-judgment.

I know that the Atonement can heal trauma and mental illness, but not always completely in this life.

I know that Christ is still the answer, but individuals who have trauma to overcome cannot just call on the name of Jesus and be saved instantly - they have to call on His name daily, sometimes hourly, and on bad days, they have to pray for help every MINUTE, because He can ease the pain, but it comes back.  The reason it comes back has nothing to do with the Atonement, it has everything to do with the physiology of the brain.  And most times praying won't fix it - years of therapy, sometimes medication, and TIME can help victims overcome.

When Christ comes, I really do feel like the Atonement will feel like a magic wand, but for where we are here and now, the Atonement takes a lot of time, and it's not fair to anyone to just say, "Oh, well, that's what the Atonement is for" in a way, and with a tone that passes a type of judgement on the victim that just makes them feel more worthless and more like crap because of things that they literally cannot control - such as flashbacks and trauma triggers and even damage that has happened inside their brain.

So maybe this is where atheists "GET" something that maybe a large part of the Christian world doesn't seem to understand - there are a lot of things (it would appear) that Christ doesn't actually "FIX" (at least not immediately).  This is something that tries the faith of many Christians across the world. There is no immediate magic wand for victims of abuse.  That's the true, hard-cold-truth of the tragedy.  And then to see the Christian world pass judgement on each other in heartless ways invalidating the tragedy of what's actually happened to that person's body and mind makes belief in a God who is supposed to "fix" everything to be something they can't actually believe in.

Honestly, I don't blame them.

I used to make blanket statements about the Atonement and the way it heals people in a really ignorant fashion, and the ignorance of that person I used to be is something that I literally cannot stand.  It makes me sick in a way.  I'm grateful I didn't have childhood trauma - I'm extremely fortunate, but people who have not been through trauma need to also open their minds, pull up their sleeves, stop passing judgement, and get to work in a way that helps them understand what life is really about.

Life is not about having your perfect family life with only your biological children who have no problems.  There are a lot of problems in the world.

Life is also not about fixing problems immediately and having a quick fix solution to every problem.  Some things simply just take time because that is how our bodies are made.

Hopefully I can be a more compassionate or understanding voice in the Christian world when I proclaim my beliefs in the WAYS the Savior can heal us.