24 February 2011

PTSD and Me

Last night I was trying desperately to talk a friend from high school out of going into the dark of night to look for something or someone. I pleaded with her that it wasn't safe. My stomach was in a tight knot and my throat muscles were aching with tension. Tears spilled down my face. I had her hand in a death grip and then she vanished. Deep grief spilled out of my soul and into my dream. I was crying out for her children when I woke up. The friend I was dreaming about died several years ago. We had lost touch as is often the case with people leaving high school and going where their adult lives take them. I remember hearing about her passing and wanting to make contact with her children. They have no idea who I am and I really have nothing to offer them except to tell them that she and I had once been friends. She was kind and funny and we shared some confidences. All that is ancient history.

It wasn't an underlying sense of guilt or grief for my high school friend that caused my nightmare. I haven't had more than a passing thought about her since I learned of her death and she died several years before I found out. She is representative of a deeper issue for me. I have been having a continuous stream of nightmares over the last year or so, the last few months I have had nightmares nearly every night. If I were to rely solely on my secular psychology training I would diagnose myself with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a Christian, my faith does not rest in the observations and conclusions of secular psychology. My faith rests in the sovereignty of God, the efficacy of Christ and the sufficiency of the Scriptures. So, why then am I having nightmares and other symptoms that would describe PTSD? It's a fair question. My answer; why wouldn't I?

The lack of suffering is not a mark of being a Christian. The lack of reaction to trauma is not evidence of saving faith. Being a believer in the gospel of Christ doesn't mean we plaster a grin on our faces and feign delight in every event in our lives. That's just silly. It is the presence of hope marks the difference in my suffering. The reaction I have to the nightmares and memories that obstruct my thoughts and dreams is of more importance and consequence than having intrusive thoughts and dreams. The lack of sleep wrecks havoc on me physically and emotionally and while this may make it more difficult to keep my thoughts captive to the truth, it does not exempt me from that command. Where do I find help? How do I respond to others? These are the better questions to ask. The answers hold the difference between having solid faith in Christ versus having faith in your faith or faith in one of the secular psychology systems.

So often we want to escape suffering at any cost. I use the universal we because I am not alone. The quest to live an easier life drives western society. I am not an advocate of suffering and don't recommend lolling about and saturating yourself with it, but there is no need to rush out of it or fleeing it as if suffering itself is evil or is a sin. I don't have all the answers. I don't know where to find the balance between knowing that all things work together for good and my inclination to believe that not all suffering serves some noble purpose. It is what it is. We suffer. It's the price we pay for doing business in this fallen world. Some of us suffer more than others. Some of us bear it better than others. Suffering is the canvas upon which Christ's mercy is displayed or our faith or faithlessness is revealed. It separates the goats and sheep, the men from the boys the wheat from the tares. It polishes gems and crumbles stones. It is not all there is to life but all life will have a measure of suffering. You can run from it but it will catch up with you sooner or later.

If there be a lesson of value for me during this period, it is learning that listening to someone who is overly stressed and/or traumatized is more valuable to them than the constant barrage of verses and platitudes you may be tempted to flood them with. As a counselor I fail that 'quick to hear slow to speak' thing that James warned us about. I don't want to see my friends suffering. I want to reason them out of their grief or worries. Now that I am the one in distress, I resent the 'drive-by' shots of Scripture. It seems more like encouragement by cattle prod than sharing my burden with me. I am deeply grieved to admit I am guilty of such assaults.

I may want to chronicle this journey at another time. For now I only want to acknowledge that Christians suffer mightily, even when they are not persecuted for their faith. We have no idea of the magnitude of events that have shaped those brothers and sisters with whom we worship and break bread. Some of us cannot fathom how hideous the events of our neighbor's lives are while we envy others if their life seems easier than our own. We will lose hope if and when we lose sight of God's sovereignty and Christ's compassionate sacrifice-able to save to the uttermost.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3
1 Guard your steps as you go to the house of God, and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.
2 Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.
3 For the dream comes through much effort, and the voice of a fool through many words.

James 1:19
19 {This} you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak {and} slow to anger;

Romans 15:13
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

23 February 2011

Expectations and other Disappointments

My oldest girl is turning 30 in a few days. I don't know where she is or what she would like to do to celebrate. I thought we would be past that stage by now and we're not. There are some expectations I had when I agreed to raise two of my sister's children that have been met and some that have not. I expected it to be very difficult on them to be separated from their other siblings. I would have raised all 5 kids if it had been up to me, but it was not. I knew how that would make them feel disconnected and disposable, because I wasn't raised with any of my siblings either. I always felt left out and unimportant. I knew that they would be confused by the differences in their former lifestyle and the new one I would impose. I worked for law enforcement and went to church each week. That's not something they were exposed to before coming to live with me. I knew that I had not been given shiny examples of loving parenting and would fall short of their true needs for love, patience and acceptance. I knew I was completely out of my element. Still, I didn't expect it to be as difficult as it was. I had unrealistic expectations that because I was agreeing to be their parent for the rest of my life that eventually they would like the idea. I also expected that God would make it easy for us. And while He blessed us in more ways that I can recount to you in this blog, none of the expected easiness has happened. Expecting anything outside of God remaining true to His character is nothing more than premeditated disappointment. I tell people that all the time. You would think I would have that part down.

I remember when I was growing up we all said never trust anyone over 30. My parents had a decade between them but were still part of what we are calling the "Great Generation." I came on the heels of the "Baby Boomers." I remember hearing my grandparents and parents lamenting about the craziness that was occurring in the world. Crazy is an apt description for growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 60s/70s. Oh the stories I could tell.....

For whatever reason I was able to connect the dots at a pretty young age regarding rebellion. My grandfather had a limp for most of his life because of a motorcycle accident he had in the 20s. He lost all his hair except for a ring around the perimeter of his head as a result of the anesthetic, or so I was told. He could scarcely believe the Beatniks and didn't like them any more when they morphed into Hippies. My grandfather had a temper that got the best of him at times. He built his house with his own hands and raised four kids that weren't his; my mom, step-mom and aunties. I wonder if his parents wondered about him when he left Sierra City to make his way in San Francisco? I am sure they weren't pleased with his drinking and wild living. Nor could they have been too pleased about him taking up with a divorced woman who had 4 little ones. He provided for them but didn't marry my grandmother until her last child had left the house. He didn't want to be in the way in case their father ever decided to come back and do the right thing. I admire that.

My young adult years were wild and crazy by the standards of some. I am not proud of all of the things I have done. But somewhere in my childhood from hell, which I won't elaborate on here today, and my rebellious young adult years, God grabbed me up and changed my heart. I know my parents and step-parents worried about me. They also got confused when I did a 180 in my lifestyle....but I know they talked about me and wondered what young people like me had come to. Now here I am feeling sad that I don't know what my oldest has come to.

The trouble with parents and adults through the ages is that we talk about the generation coming up behind us as if we are divorced of having any responsibility for the way they turned out. I have to take some responsibility for not teaching the girls to work hard at relationships because I am not very good at them. I can give you at least 20 legitimate reasons I fail at relationships and one good reason that I shouldn't let that stop me from trying. God didn't create me in a vacuum nor did He tell me I get to live without others. In fact His word is full of directives on how I should relate to others. God commands me to be in relationships.

God's command trumps my preferences. Every time.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.
10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm {alone?}
12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three {strands} is not quickly torn apart.

1 Corinthians 12:18-21
18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now there are many members, but one body.
21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

22 February 2011

Blogger Protection Program

For my 3 regular readers... I am underground and may have to enter the blogger protection program. It has come to light that I know the true identity of Turretin Fan. In fact, we went to different high schools together.

17 February 2011

Shooting Mongo and other Lessons in Theology

I have a love hate relationship with the internet. I love that so many things are a Google search away. I have had access to some of the best literature, best conversations and best teaching courtesy of the World Wide Web. I learn best by listening to conflicting opinion. I don't mind arguments. I respect people who can argue their position without making personal attacks. There are plenty of places to find opinions that differ from mine and I don't mind folks trying to convince me they are right. What I hate is the way so many people use the internet to be mean and spiteful. Internet bullies- people with opinions who lack the intelligence and/or communication skills to articulate their opinions without resorting to what amounts to brute force intimidation tactics; ad hominems, sarcasm or deception. I hate it when I spend time actually reading what these folks have to say. Why oh why do I subject myself to their tantrums and rantings? As if life here isn't difficult enough without willingly opening a portal of grief and allowing trolls to spew their sewage all over the world behind my monitor.

Know what I hate most about it? I hate that I want to respond to them. I want to ask them why they think that their hateful words are going to sway my opinion on their position? I want to ask them what part of their behavior is Christlike since they are professing believers. What part of their argument leaves them so insecure that they cannot defend their position without attacking or maligning the character of someone else? I hate that what bubbles up in me resembles what I am loathing in them.

This morning I asked my friends to shoot me if I considered returning to a particular blog. I made a joke about tossing my cookies, dumping my history and begging for "Eternal Sunshine on my Spotless Mind." Yeah, I watch too many movies and too much television. I do want to lose my way to this particular blog. I don't ever want to read it again. I used to be mildly amused at watching the trolls play there. I considered it a bit of an experiment. Instead of an ant farm I watched rational folks try to reason with the unreasonable. Sort of as a pastime. After all, I am a counselor, which makes me an observer of behavior, right? Well, the behavior I need to watch is mine.

It is so easy to get sucked into the foray. Someone says something that is close to your opinion and you want to chime in. Another person says something way out of line and you want to call them on it....the next thing you know you are knee deep in the cesspool and you are slinging sewage with the rest of the trolls.... and someone somewhere is behind a monitor watching with mild amusement not knowing they are only a couple of keystrokes away. Sometimes I wonder if we are not in an episode of the Twilight Zone. My friend, teacher, mentor and all around hero of the faith has said that there is a dehumanizing factor that happens here on the net. People will type things they would not say to someone in person. He's right. I just didn't realize that he was talking about me. Not me in particular, I only mean I am not immune. I see that now.

One of my favorite scenes from arguably the most outrageous movie of my adolescence comes from Blazing Saddles. Alex Karras as Mongo comes into to town riding his Brahma bull. Mongo is a one man destruction derby and the town begs the sheriff to do something. As the sheriff dons his holster to go deal with Mongo, Gene Wilder calmly tells the sheriff "No, no... don't do that. If you shoot him, you'll only make him mad!" Odd as it may sound, that's what I thought of today as my fingers were poised on the keyboard ready to comment on the blog that will not be named.

The Christian life is full of decisions we have to make about when and where to act. Is the rebellious child a prodigal that should be left to eat slop without fur lining the pigpen or a lamb that is lost and needs rescue? Admonish or encourage? Discipline or mercy? Shake the dust from your shoes or keep trudging through the mire hoping to reach someone? I don't pretend to know with certainty how to respond in each situation. I do know that I must avoid sin. If I am entertaining a sinful, sarcastic, comment I need to back away from the keyboard. If I can't read the blog without entertaining sinful, sarcastic thoughts then I need to avoid reading the blog.
God is fully capable of straightening people out without my help. Better I should let Him judge their hearts and the words that spill from them onto their keyboards than for me to willingly become a troll and be judged for mine. I repent.

Psalm 32:1-5
1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!
2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!
3 When I kept silent {about my sin} my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away {as} with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
5 I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.

Ephesians 4:15-16
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all {aspects} into Him, who is the head, {even} Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

10 February 2011

Tone Deafness and Sanctification

If I had to describe my life right now I would say I was a bit like playing Chutes and Ladders or maybe Chutes and Chutes. The higher I climb the farther I slide down. I am being hammered on all sides. I am fragile, but the pounding continues and I am not breaking. I want to. I want to be shattered into a million little pieces instead of receiving the constant taps with the sanctification hammer. The point is not to be shattered but to be bent and molded into a useful shape. That's not how it feels. It feels like I am being destroyed....bit by bit I am disappearing. To be sure, parts of me are disappearing during my sanctification. That's the point of being refined. Getting rid of the dross to purify the gold- leaving more of Him and less of me. As a Christian, why on earth would I have a problem with that? Because at any minute of any given day I value myself more than I value God.

I have fleeting moments when I know that God is the best thing ever and that I am one blessed woman that He deigns to care for me. Those moments usually come as I am being delivered of some distress that was way out of my control. The brief "oh!" face moments when I know that I know...and some miracle of mercy and grace has been plunked at my feet. Shortly after those moments pass, the feeling fades and I am right back to being the most important person and holding the most important opinion in my life. I enjoy singing the "It's all about me!" song.

I am not utterly and completely delusional. I know there are many who are smarter and better able to grasp and synthesize information. I read their books and listen to them speak. I admire them but ultimately it's me who will give weight to what they are trying to teach me. I will form an opinion on whether they are right or wrong and decide what if anything to do with their information once I have it. This is why God must beat me with His sanctification hammer; to prove to me that I am not, in fact, in control. I am not perfectly in tune to His will; to right and wrong nor to good and evil. In fact, I am tone deaf.

Back when my hands used to work I played guitar. I even took classes. I remember one time sitting down before class to tune my guitar. It was a small class of rank beginners and each time we met the instructor would grab each of our guitars one at a time and strum them once. He'd quickly manipulate the tuning pegs, strum them once again and hand them back with a declaration that they were in tune. Arriving early to class one night, I worked and worked on tuning my guitar. If you have never tuned a guitar, there is a whole process you go through that involves plucking two strings at once. You want to hear even tone. One note- the same note. When out of tune the two strings will make a sound that fluctuates or waivers. It took a while but I got them all nice and clear, one strong, unwavering tone. One note when both strings were plucked. I waited, happy with myself, for the instructor to come to me, Finally it was my turn. He picked up my guitar. He strummed once and much to my delight he said, "Class, listen up for a second. He strummed again and said, "Hear that?" I sat trying to look humble. "This is a perfect example of a guitar that is in tune to itself..... but is way, WAY out of concert tuning." As if my humiliation weren't complete, he walked over to a piano, struck a note, plucked a single string and said "Whoa! Hear the difference? Way, way off."

Concert tuning? What the heck!?! I was too ignorant to know or realize that there was a standard to begin with and that unless I knew the standard, the beginning note, I could tune all I want to no avail. I was too ignorant to know the difference. I figured tuning the guitar in relation to whatever sound the first string made when plucked would be enough. The instructor had to work harder to tune my guitar than he did for anyone else.

Unfortunately I've spent the majority of my life being in tune with myself. I like the sounds I make; the opinions I form; the things I value. I hate it when the Master Musician picks me up and adjusts my strings; when He refines me. I hate the hammering and stretching. I resent the changes necessary to bring me into concert tune. As much as I like myself even I can tell when tuned properly... I make a more pleasing and beautiful sound... even if it's just for a moment.

Romans 8:3-8
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God {did:} sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and {as an offering} for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able {to do so}
8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

03 February 2011

Altered by Sanctification

I have lost my identity. I was Rosemarie the Opinionated. Rosemarie the Certain. I have been known as Rosemarie do the Right Thing and told I had an uncanny ability to discern what the right thing was. I have become someone else. My opinions are muddled. My way is unsure. The real question I have to answer is whether my identity has been stolen from me or have I given it away? Is who I am being altered by sanctification and I am feeling the growing pains of the woman I am becoming? Have I been seeing through a glass dimly? Have I been blown off course?

Lately, I have that horrible feeling of unrest that comes from unspoken sorrow. I am reaping the sour fruit of unspoken words. Somewhere deep in my soul there's a kettle full of self-pity and disappointment simmering over a fire fueled by the bitterness of missed opportunity and realizing my insignificance. Can someone explain to me, like I am a two year old, how a Christian can be bought with so high a price as Jesus paid to redeem His own, and yet come to grips with how insignificant they are in the larger scheme of things.

I know the pat answer. I know that my significance comes from Christ and being in Him. I exist because of Him. I exist to worship and glorify Him. Is that to be played out on a sterile field? I think I was meant for more- to do more. Is that pride talking smack to my already overinflated ego or deep calling unto deep? Keep going I love you. Keep obliterating me, I love You too. Is that the tune I am dancing to? When I asked You to make me a good counselor, was I signing up for every crisis known to mankind? Is this dark abyss where I'll find the legend to a treasure map, the route of sanctification? Certification to guide others out? All of the above?

I need a new song, Lord. Rescue me from myself.

Psalm 143:10-11
10 Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God; let Thy good Spirit lead me on level ground.
11 For the sake of Thy name, O LORD, revive me. In Thy righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.

Hebrews 13:20-21
20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, {even} Jesus our Lord,
21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom {be} the glory forever and ever. Amen.