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Archive for the ‘Trauma’ Category

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“As I watched my father’s mistress put her suitcases in his car, an animal rage came over me. I felt I could tear her apart with my hands.” Yagmur, tall and elegant with perfectly styled blond hair, spoke evenly to the audience in the church, but the pain of that childhood memory was evident. “That day I made a decision to hate my father for the rest of my life.”

Yagmur’s mother was also angry, and took out her anger in the form of physical abuse toward her daughter. “As a young girl, I had scars and bruises all over my body from my mother’s beatings. I hated my father for his unfaithfulness. And I hated my mother for her helplessness.”

“Every day my mother told me I was ugly and stupid,” Yagmur continued. “Faith comes through hearing. And I started to believe in what I was hearing.” Escaping to her room and pulling the blankets over her head, Yagmur would dream of being a beautiful princess in a long, sparkling gown. And she would imagine her mother and father smiling at her, proudly. She longed for their love.

Immediately after college, she married a charming and passionate young man, desperate to escape the abuse and pain of her home life. But soon another nightmare began. Her husband began beating her too, accusing her of unfaithfulness, demanding to know why she was a few minutes late coming home from work.

Then one day her husband held a knife to her throat, insisting that she jump out of an eighth-story window. Yagmur clung to his ankles, sobbing and pleading for her life until he let her go.

In desperation, Yagmur fled to the U.S. to start a new life. But when her second husband’s drug abuse got out of control, she found herself becoming more and more hopeless, wanting to end her life. “There is hatred and pain everywhere I go,” she thought in despair. “I can’t escape.”

Eventually Yagmur found a job working for a Christian company. Wanting to impress the boss, she joined the early-morning Bible study at the office. They were reading the story of Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman. Yagmur couldn’t help blurting out, “Why did he forgive her? She was not worthy to be forgiven!”

“None of us are worthy,” a co-worker explained. “But Jesus forgives us because he loves us. Even if that woman had been the only person on the earth, Jesus still would have come to earth for her and died in her place, because he loves her.”

“I was that unworthy woman,” she recalled. All the shame of her childhood, the memories of being called ugly and stupid, the feeling of being worthless, the abuse of her marriages, the abandonment and emptiness and thoughts of suicide – it all culminated one day in a desperate cry in the office restroom. “Help me, God! Have mercy! I need You!” As she dried her eyes and walked to her desk, she wondered if He even heard her.

Before she could even get back to work, Yagmur’s boss called her urgently to his office. “I’ve never done this before,” he explained hesitantly. “But I feel Jesus prompting me strongly that I need to tell you something. He says that He has heard your prayer in the bathroom. He saw you when you were a little girl. He’s been with you all this time. And He loves you and forgives you.”

Yagmur crumpled to the carpet, weeping. “Do you want Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?” Her boss was asking kindly. “YES! YES! YES!” She sobbed. Finally she had found the love she had been searching for.

Eventually Yagmur was able to forgive her father and mother for all the pain they caused her for so many years. And today Yagmur has a ministry of bringing hope and healing to girls and women around the world, through TV programming and radio broadcasts. “You are loved. You are valued. You are beautiful,” she tells them. “God has a plan for your future. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” She knows it is true – she is living proof.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1b (NRSV)

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It’s a simple thing. Something I’ve done thousands of times. But today it takes all my energy to turn the key in the ignition of my car. The first attempt twists my wrapped and splinted wrist in a way that sends shooting pain towards my elbow. I drop the injured hand to my lap and wait a few seconds for the throbbing to subside. Then I awkwardly stretch my left arm across my body and around the steering wheel to turn the key with my left hand. The engine finally roars to life, and I slump back in my seat, relieved. I’m sweating and I haven’t even left the parking lot yet.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime in the last few weeks I must have strained my wrist when lifting heavy trays of food or carrying stacks of dirty dishes at my summer catering job. The little every-day activities – chopping an avocado for guacamole, swiping my card for a Guatemalan brew at my favorite coffee shop – have suddenly become difficult and painful endeavors. And now I’m supposed to wear a splint to keep the wrist still and allow the joints and tendons to recover.

What amazes me is how this little pulled tendon in my wrist has such rippling repercussions. Each time I turn a doorknob or pour a glass of orange juice, my neck and shoulder muscles automatically tense up, my body tilts to shift weight to the left side, and my limbs contort in unnatural positions to avoid unnecessary strain on the “weak link.”

It gets me thinking of that passage in the Bible where Paul is comparing the followers of Jesus to a human body. He explains: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” …If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (I Cor. 12:21, 26, NIV).

Just as the rest of my body can’t ignore my injured wrist and go on with life as usual, so I can’t ignore the hurts of my brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow members of the Body. The book of Hebrews tells us to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:2, NIV).

So how can I help support the “weaker members” of the Body? I can pray for the pastor imprisoned in Iran, as if his chains were around my ankles. I can write to the widowed woman in Vietnam, reminding her that she is not forgotten. And I can put my arms around the tired young mom who sits two rows behind me in church, being a friend and a listening ear when she feels discouraged and alone.

Is there a hurting member of the Body that you can pray for, support, and encourage today? Give away what you’ve received! Share the GOOD NEWS of hope and healing with someone else today – so that the Body can be whole and healthy and working as it should!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“But God has put the body together, …so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
(I Corinthians 12:24-25, NIV)

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My hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. “Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…” I tell myself. Yet my eyes are irresistibly drawn to the drop-off on the right side of the car. I just barely catch a glimpse of the yawning gulf stretching out endlessly in either direction before whipping my head back to the front again. Wiping a sweaty palm on my jeans, I try to take deep breaths.

“This is amazing!” Beth is ecstatic. She peers out the passenger window at the snowy ridges that seem to stretch on forever. “I can’t believe we’re here!”

The whole trip was Beth’s idea. “I have to see the Grand Canyon before I go back home,” she’d said. “And you have to come with me!”

An exchange student from Asia, Beth’s been my language tutor for the past few months. We studied the Gospel of John for our lessons, which sparked many interesting discussions. “I’ve met so many Christians in America,” Beth explained to me once. “And they’re such good people! But I can’t become a Christian. I have to go back to my country soon, and it’s different there.”

Now, driving on the snowy roads of the Grand Canyon National Park, I’m having second thoughts about the whole thing. This is a bad idea, I worry, my heart pounding. What if I hit an icy patch and lose control of the car? The car will skid and swerve and then careen over the edge of that cliff. It will all be over in a matter of minutes. And no one will even see it happen…

“Are you OK?” Concern in her voice, Beth reaches out and touches my arm gently. “You don’t look so good.”

Shaking my head to dispel the disturbing images, I snap back to reality. “Um, I guess I’m a little afraid of heights,” I confess shakily. “I didn’t think I was, but…” My voice trails off.

“What you need is some worship music,” Beth decides, scanning the radio stations until she finds a familiar Chris Tomlin song. “And we should pray. But you keep your eyes open!” She shakes a finger at me teasingly, then gets serious. “God, please help Michelle not to be afraid. Help her to trust You. Amen.”

Amazing. Beth, who says she doesn’t even believe in God, is telling ME to trust Him! I’m convicted and forced to examine my heart. Do I really believe what I say I believe? Do I really trust God to keep me safe in ANY and ALL circumstances? Is He able to calm this pounding fear that’s threatening to paralyze me?

“Just remember, God is with you!” Beth’s voice is earnest. “You don’t have to be afraid. It’s going to be OK.”

As I park the car and turn off the engine, I let out a deep breath and relax my shoulders. Here, at the edge of this cavernous depth, I face my fear head-on. I will NOT be afraid. Fear has no power over me. God is with me. I can trust Him.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” I smile at my friend in the passenger seat. “Let’s go see the Grand Canyon!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 34:4 (NRSV)

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“Trapped. Hopeless. Depressed. That’s how I felt after four intense years of teaching English in an extremely sensitive, highly stressful area in northeast Asia.”

Thirteen pairs of eyes watched me intently as I began my story at this foreign English teachers’ retreat. Seated on metal folding chairs in a semi-circle were American teachers from a large university in Asia. They were all single women, ranging from age twenty-three to fifty-something. Several of these ladies had served in this country for five, ten, fifteen years. I could see the weariness in some of their eyes.

I had only just met these women. And I didn’t know their stories. Yet I felt such a strong connection to them. I wanted to fling my arms around them and say, ‘I know what it’s like! I’ve been there too!’

“Many times over those months and years in Asia, I wondered what on earth God was doing,” I continued. “I couldn’t see the results of all my work and investment in relationships. I struggled with homesickness, cultural barriers, serious conflicts with team members. And I felt so alone.”

“Yet time after time I felt the Father gently ask me, ‘Is it enough that I have asked you to come and you have obeyed? Even if you never understand? Even if you never see any results? Can you trust Me?’ ”

“Over and over again I had to surrender to Him, not knowing or understanding it all, but trusting that He would somehow, someday use it for good.”

I smiled. “You know, God didn’t have to show me why I experienced some of the hard things I went through.” I had to fumble for a tissue in my pocket before I could go on. “But here I am today, standing before all of you, sharing my story. And I feel He’s giving me just a tiny glimpse of His bigger purpose.”

At the end of the three-day retreat, one young woman came up to me with a broad smile. “I love how much you cry,” she said. “Thank you for being so real and vulnerable in sharing your story. It gives me permission to cry too.”

The author of Corinthians says that “…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort… comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Cor 1:3-4, NIV).

If through my tears I can encourage one woman that she is not alone, if I can remind her that God has a purpose in HER pain, if I can give her hope that she, too, can find help in her time of need, then it’s all worth it. Because HE is worth it.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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1094501_life_preserver“I’m not gonna make it.” I was so very tired. It would be so easy to just give up and submit to the waves that were trying to submerge me. “I just can’t keep going anymore.”

Half-wading, half-swimming, my mom and my brother Stephen and I had made our way through the clear, shallow waters of the secluded bay that afternoon, anxious to test out our snorkeling gear. Brilliant yellow and blue fish darted in and out among the rocks, so close we could have touched them! Visiting my parents here in Costa Rica was a refreshing change from my busy life as an English teacher in East Asia, and the week was going by far too quickly.

When I finally decided to swim back to the shore, my legs and arms were already starting to ache. All that snorkeling around the rocks had worn me out more than I realized. I swam underwater for a few minutes, then decided to stand up and take a break.

My feet didn’t touch the bottom.

Looking back to where my mom and brother were still snorkeling, I realized we had drifted down the coast with the current. “I guess it’s a bit deeper at this spot. When I’d swum out here, it had been shallow the whole way!”

Swimming on my back this time, I aimed for the beach once more. But every time I turned my head to look, it seemed no closer than before. And when I tried to stand after a few minutes, there was nothing but water beneath me. This time my head went under and I got a mouthful of salty seawater. Coughing and sputtering, I looked toward the distant beach where my dad was reading in the shade of a tree. I waved my arm frantically to get his attention. He cheerfully waved back.

“He has no idea I’m in trouble,” I thought in desperation, struggling to keep my head above water. I’d never been a strong swimmer, and now I felt so desperately weary.

“No one would even see me go under,” I realized. My mom and brother still hadn’t noticed my distress, and we were the only ones on this isolated stretch of beach. “I’m going to drown right here within sight of my dad on the shore.”

I don’t know how, but somehow I made it to the shore that terrifying afternoon in Costa Rica. My dad later told me that when I was swimming on my back, I was actually going in circles. No wonder the shore never seemed to get any closer. When I finally crawled onto the sand, gasping for breath, I couldn’t believe how close I had been to giving up.

Hopeless. Helpless. Desperate. I’ve been there before. Sometimes life just seems to be one pounding wave after another of pain and disappointment and loss. And I feel like I’m drowning in it all.

But God doesn’t leave me there. When I have nothing left, not even the strength to yell for help, I look to Him in desperation. And even if He doesn’t pluck me out of the circumstances I’m in, He gives me the strength and the grace to make it through the rough waters.

How about you? Are you stuck in destructive cycles of conflict and harmful relationships? Are you in danger of drowning under waves of disappointment? Do the depths of pain in your life seem endless? You are never without hope. Help is on the way. He won’t let you drown.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“…He pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!”
Psalm 18:16-19 (The Message).

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“I will go, I will go, I will go, Lord send me…” Sixteen thousand passionate college students sing in unison, arms outstretched. Individual faces are highlighted by the sweeping spotlights – some streaked with tears, some exuberant in worship, some quiet and reflective. As I stand in the midst of the massive crowd at the Urbana 2012 student missions conference, I’m struggling with an internal battle. Something inside me is holding me back.

“I’ve been here before, Lord,” I remind Him, as if He needs reminding. “And I remember what happened last time. I don’t think I’m ready to go there again.”

At Urbana 2000 I was a passionate and idealistic college student, ready to change the world. On the last day of the conference, I knelt down by my seat and told the Lord I was willing to go wherever He sent me. Within days after I returned home from Urbana 2000, I received an invitation to teach at a summer English camp in Shanghai, China. And that was the beginning of a new direction in my life. After graduate school I moved to East Asia for four years, where I taught English, learned some Mandarin, and made wonderful friends.

But I didn’t know some of the challenges I was signing up for. Missing engagements and weddings. Not being there for the births of my friends’ kids, or being able to watch them grow up. Unable to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I was surprised at how hard-hit I was at times by loneliness, isolation, and the waves of homesickness that hit me at unexpected times. The long hours of teaching English, the cultural and language barriers with teammates, the conflicts with roommates, and the constant turnover of coworkers over four years left me physically and emotionally dry. Eventually I reached a point of burnout and had to return to the US.

It was probably the lowest point in my life. I felt like a failure. I was depressed. I cried whenever anyone asked me about my time in Asia. And I definitely did NOT want to ever go back. But through the ministry of Fresh Start and other godly counseling and prayer, the Lord began to heal the hurts in my heart and show me how He wanted to use it for good.

And now, 12 years after I first attended the conference as a college student, I’m at Urbana again. As I listen to the thousands of students singing “I will go, I will go,” I feel jaded and cynical.

“…To the world, to the lost, to the poor and hungry…”

“They have no idea what they’re in for,” I laugh to myself. “I KNOW how hard it is. I know the loneliness, and the frustration, and feeling like you wanna quit and go home every day…” I can’t fake it anymore. I sit down and cover my face with my hands to hide the tears.

“What are you so afraid of?” I feel the question more than hear it. No audible voice, but I know God is talking to me. “God, I don’t think I can go through all that again. The loneliness, the depression…”

“Don’t remember the former things…” a snippet of a verse pops into my head. “…I am going to do a new thing.” A new thing. I exhale slowly and rub my face. A new thing. What amazing words. It doesn’t have to be like it was before. I learned from those experiences. I’m thankful for how God used that time in my life. But it doesn’t have to be the same. He’s going to do a new thing.

“…Take everything I am, I’m clay within Your hands…”

“God, I want to trust You,” I pray silently. “Even if I go through times of loneliness or discouragement, I know You will be with me. Help me not to fear. I know You are working all things for Your good. I choose to believe that You’re doing a new thing IN me!”

The cloud of fear slowly dissipates. I know there will still be hard times ahead. But like Peter, I take the step of faith out of the boat. Raising my arms I stand and sing with the crowd, “…I will go, I will go, send me!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

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“That will never work,” Hanna declared decisively. Before her husband Jeremy could even finish the explanation of his newest dream for their business, practical Hanna proceeded to expound upon why it was a foolish plan.

“Could you just listen to my idea?” Jeremy pleaded, looking crushed. “But I know it won’t work,” she said simply. “You always have crazy plans, and you don’t think about the potential problems. That’s what I’m here for.”

Sharp-tongued and critical, Hanna was constantly berating her husband, squelching his excitement with her “realism.” Where Jeremy was all enthusiasm and passion, Hanna seemed to be all prickles and spines.

But below the surface of Hanna’s “porcupine personality” were deep hurts. Rejected by her mother for not being as pretty as her sister, she’d always felt unwanted, unloved, and not valued. It was hard for her to believe that anyone could really care about her. The pain of childhood wounds that had never healed caused her to bristle when anyone got too close, unknowingly sabotaging her relationships.

Hanna came to mind this weekend as I chatted with a woman who calls herself a “Cat Whisperer.” She’s a volunteer “foster parent” for abandoned and traumatized animals from the SPCA. Many of the cats who come to her are aggressive, hissing and clawing when she brings them food or tries to pet them.

“I have to ask myself, ‘Why did this cat scratch me? Is it scared? Does it feel threatened?” the “Cat Whisperer” explained. “Then I have to get down on his level and show him that I’m not going to hurt him.” Eventually she builds trust with the skittish felines, overcoming their fear through gentle persistence.

In the case of my friend Hanna, the persistent love and affirmation of friends began to break down the walls of defense around her heart. She was finally able to identify those deep childhood wounds, and to forgive those who had hurt her. The prickles and spines began to fade away, and a softer side was revealed – more of the true Hanna, gentle and loving and compassionate.

Are you a “porcupine person”? Have past wounds made you prickly and spiny? Like those traumatized and abandoned cats, do you claw and scratch people who get too close? Stop and think about why you are responding this way, and ask the Lord to help you identify those wounds that need to be healed. He’s a true “Heart Whisperer” and He’s whispering His love to you right now!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”
Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)

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