Category: Hope

Thanksgiving in a Desperate World

Giving Thanks When Your Heart is Breaking

Today in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving. For so many, this year has been nothing but heartbreak, disappointment, pain, and fear. Many people have chosen not to travel. They have decided not to be with family. Untold numbers are forced to be alone, isolated. Because of the fear of a virus. Numerous states have even decided to attempt to fine or jail those who choose differently. Choosing to embrace life and gather to give thanks anyway.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of fear and life there will be those who are alone and hurting. The holiday season tends to remind us of everything that we have lost. We see commercials, social media, and others tell us that we should all ignore the pain and be happy. Yet they remind us that we have lost loved ones. That we have lost our identities. That we have lost our freedom.

External reminders are nothing, however, compared to what we do to ourselves. Our minds are constantly looking to remind us of the pain. This is its desperate attempt to keep us from feeling that trauma again. We mourn and grieve the life we should have had, the life we were meant to live. And this year, many people will again navigate those emotional, physical, and spiritual reminders of what’s been lost or taken from them. They may also have to navigate the mental game of “well someone else has it worse…” A game that has devastating consequences.

This is a year when we have seen a sharp increase in suicides and additions. One with untold numbers of children and women being battered and abused. A year when it’s hard to even think about trying to find things to be thankful for. It seems that for so many, the demons of despair and fear are taking their toll. After all, you can only be exposed to despair and fear for so long before it starts to eat away at you.

Finding the Way

So how do we step forward today and for every day after that, choosing to turn away from the darkness that threatens to engulf us? We look at truth rather than lies. Choosing to hold onto evidence and hope, rather than give into panic and paranoia. Leaning into God, holding tight to His word. Which will always guide us home.

Truth is not fluid. Evidence is not subjective. These are two things which have absolutes and are irrefutable. It doesn’t matter what others think or believe if they are in contradiction to truth and evidence. This is where you find the hope to keep moving forward. The strength to offer us thanksgiving.

Evidence is only valid in one way. When coming from a source that does not have a vested interest in swaying your mind one way or the other. This kind of evidence is hard to come by this year. Everyone seems to want you to believe only one train of thought. The one that leads to compliance. One that silences the unafraid.

You cannot have a thankful perspective when you are unable to find truth and evidence. If all you hear are words of despair, then thankfulness cannot exist. Choosing to close your eyes to truth will not allow you to experience true thankfulness and life.

Truth

We are conditioned to think that we should be thankful for things as they are. That if we lament or grieve, then we are not “real” Christians. This often coming from people who wouldn’t know Christ if he was right in front of their faces, btw. But if that is true, why is there an ENTIRE chapter of the Bible called Lamentations? Oh and have you ever heard of the Prophet Jeremiah? Yeah, he’s called the weeping prophet for a reason!

No. We are allowed to lament, to grieve. What we are called to do, however, is follow that with thanksgiving. Not for how miserable our circumstances are, but for how good and faithful God is. We are not offering thanks for the pain, but for the promises and truth of who God says we are and who He is. Yes, you can find joy even in sorrow. In fact, you can both cry and laugh at the same times. When you seek to understand what in your world you can even begin to be thankful for this year, realize that you’re not supposed to necessarily be thankful for anything but God.

Those who tell us to thank God we’re alive today because so many people didn’t wake up, or to be thankful that it was ONLY one child we lost because so-and-so lost their whole family, or that your trauma ended long ago and so many people are still suffering so be thankful you’re out of it…yeah, those people have no idea what being thankful means. When you are still grieving the demons and ghosts in your life, sometimes the only thing you can cling to is the truth of God.

The Heartcry of Pain

And if you’re like me, and your traumas’ consequences involve a disconnect and anger with God at times, then you can be thankful that you have a God who can handle your anger and pain. Because I promise you, He can. If you ever doubt whether God can handle your heart cries of pain, then read the Psalms. David was a “man after God’s own heart,” yet the entire book of Psalms is filled with his heart cries. Just don’t stay there. Yes, we can cry out, but like David, we also need to speak out the truth of who God is.

Because God doesn’t change. He is the same, regardless of what our lives are like. His promises are good today like they were yesterday. So today when you are feeling alone, afraid, broken, and hurt, when you are trying desperately to find a single moment to be thankful for, remember who God is. Speak out the truth of God’s word and give thanks for the fact that, even when it doesn’t feel like it, God has and will always be by your side. That He will never leave you alone. That God will always remain, even when everything else fades away.

And remember. That truth of who God is, was the whole reason the pilgrims left England and came to what became the United States. They knew who God was, what He promised, and they refused to allow any government to tell them they couldn’t worship and give thanks to the true God who saves.

Flee the Darkness

Trauma creates darkness. We step into our lives full of light. The lifeblood of hope and God flowing through our being. Looking into the future with eyes full of wonder and excitement, we begin to tentatively explore our world. Our senses come alive with the experience of newness, of discovery. Instinctively, we know that life is meant to be beautiful. That it’s meant to be full of light.

However, for many of us, this light and hopeful expectation of life, is quickly snuffed out. When we enter the world, and until we can reasonably take care of ourselves, we are wholly dependent on another human being to sustain our life. We trust that our needs will be met, that we will be safe. Until we’re not. The darkness slowly creeps into our lives or is ushered into it suddenly and with force.

Trauma. Pain. Hurt.

The Darkness Happens to Us, It Is Not Us

Depending on when we first experience the dark evil of this world, we can begin to believe the lie that we are the cause of our suffering. Children, until around age 8, believe that everything that happens to them or their loved ones, is because of them. That they are the cause of theirs and others suffering. What a horrible lie to internalize as a child! Slowly that light and hope begins to fade and the poison of the darkness seeps into our very beings. If we are not given adequate help in overcoming this darkness, we are left in the pain of what happened to us.

It takes many years and intentional healing for most people to overcome this basic, yet profound lie of the enemy. If the initial trauma we survived is compounded by further traumas, the darkness and the lie become ingrained in our cells, down to the DNA. Many times, people choose to decide that they ARE the darkness. They ARE the problem. That it’s easier and safer to embrace this lie then to fight it. We can grow up believing that we are worthless, broken, and that we deserve the bad that happens to us. Making the evil of another person replace our God given identities. Giving up on the life we were created to live.

Expose the Darkness, Don’t Embrace it

Ephesians 5:8-21, states, in paraphrase, that we used to belong to darkness, but now, as believers in Christ, we belong to the light. We are to have nothing to do with the deeds produced by darkness. That everything done in secret, will be exposed by the light. We are called to pay careful attention to how we choose to live our lives. Despite what we have suffered at the hands of others. If we are called to expose the darkness instead of becoming the darkness, then it must be possible to do it!

Many times, when we have embraced the trauma that was done to us, when it becomes our identity, we do anything we can to make that pain go away. Our intuition screams at us that we are not the thing we think we are, but we are beloved children of God. The fight between the identity of a victim or of what was done to you, and who you truly are, causes many to seek out ways to escape the conflict. Trauma survivors choose many ways to escape including addictions and becoming like the person who hurt them.

Life Come With the Light

Friends, this is NOT who we are supposed to be! It’s not how we are supposed to respond to the evil that is done to us! No! We are called and equipped to overcome the darkness and step into the light. Just because you have lived in darkness, either by your own choice to embrace it or due to other’s actions, doesn’t mean you have to stay there.

Jesus did not die for us and rise from the grave so that we could stay in the tombs created for us by trauma!

He has called us out of the darkness, out of the trauma, out of the false identity placed on us by trauma! We are meant to expose those evil men/women and behaviors that continue to perpetrate the darkness against the innocent!

This is part of the reason the enemy wants us to stay locked in the darkness he created in our lives. If we do not step out of the trauma and into the light of Christ, we won’t speak against the evil happening in our world. When we are so stuck in the hurt caused by what we never asked for nor deserve, we can’t speak the truth. Step out of your darkness today. What happened to you, is not your fault. However, choosing to embrace the darkness and live in that darkness rather than a life that is full and whole, is your fault. The battle to fight back the darkness is hard. But it’s a battle that we’ve already won in Jesus.

Be the one that speaks light into the dark. Expose the deeds and persons who are intentionally hurting innocents. Do not let anyone force your silence when you shine that spotlight. Make it harder for the dark to hide. Save your own and someone else’s life! Be the voice for those who don’t have one yet. Speak up. Speak out.

The Heart’s Cry

Releasing Yourself From the Burden of Silence

We Have Permission to Lose Control

Lamentations 2:19 tells us to “Arise, cry out in the night…pour out our hearts like water before the presence of the Lord.”

We are literally told to cry out in anguish, to scream and shout as if an intruder is invading our camp in the night. There is such power and truth in those moments of raw pain and anger. Releasing all the barriers we’ve put up to keep those emotions hidden, releases us. Yet we resist. We allow society, religion, and others around us, to tell us how to handle our grief and suffering, instead of seeking God’s truth.

How many of us have been told that we can’t be angry with God? That we can’t scream and question and yell at the one who created us? That we should be content and have joy in our suffering, every time? Often the scripture that talks about the clay challenging the potter is a favorite quote. I’ve repeatedly been told, or it’s been insinuated, that my anger, my grief, my pain, is wrong. That expressing grief and hurt like I do is too much. That if I just “gain perspective” about my suffering I will be able to just move on. In reality, the deepest pain that we can endure, the brokenness that shatters our soul, can’t be kept silent without causing us harm.

The people who say these things, often, do not mean to hurt us. People who are regurgitating what they’ve been told or are genuinely afraid of their own extreme emotions, are rarely trying to hurt us. When someone is afraid of dealing with their own pain, they tend to shame those who aren’t and attempt to shut down others’ expressions of pain as well. These are people we love, or that we look to for guidance and help. Reaching out for help and being are shut down and shamed for our pain stops the grieving process that sets us free!

No, we are not meant to hold in and silence our pain. The Bible literally gives us permission to come before God in anguish. With screams and hurt that can only be verbalized in groans. We have God’s permission to come before Him no matter where we are in our mind, body, soul, and spirit. So why would anyone else’s opinions on this matter? If God says come, shouldn’t we come? Ask yourself if you are free to cry out to God. If not, ask yourself why.

Why Should I Stay Silent When All I Want Is to Scream?

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been hurt beyond my ability to “handle it,” it’s almost as if the pain takes on a life of its own. Being still and quiet is not the way my mind, body, and soul express pain. I was created to be animated, passionate, and unwavering in how I pursue my life. In my pain and suffering, that doesn’t change. The idea that I am required to go against my nature, to violate the way God created me to express myself, is actually an invitation into sin. When we go against who we are meant to be, we are saying God made a mistake, and we “shouldn’t” be this way. And usually, if I’ve gone silent, it’s not a good thing for anyone, especially if you’re the one who has caused the pain…

Why, if we are supposed to be silent in our pain, does God tell us that “when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit cries out in groans that we cannot understand?” If the Holy Spirit cries out in groans, I’m pretty sure that we should be able to do the same thing. We are, after all, made in the image of the Triune God. The Bible is full of examples of individuals (Jeremiah the weeping prophet and King David anyone?), including Christ Himself, pouring out their tears before the altar of God’s throne.

Beyond that, why would anyone demand that we not express our pain and hurt before God? We are supposed to bring our anxieties, cares, and hurts before the loving God who is the only One who will ever truly know us. Relationships require us to interact with God, it’s one of the reasons we exist in the first place. How will we ever allow God to meet our needs and bring us comfort and peace beyond our ability, if we never release all the hurt and pain that is creating the walls around our heart? As believers, we have to begin questioning the intention and scriptural validity of what we are being told to do. We have the Holy Spirit for a reason. Part of the reason is so that we can hear that “still small voice” telling us something isn’t in line with God.

What is Really Happening When Silence is Demanded

Forcing someone to stay silent when their physical body cannot hold in the sounds of pain, is a form of torture and control. It’s what predators do to their victims…force them to stay silent. If we look at the way pain and suffering is handled within this society and within the churches, we see this same systematic silencing of victims, especially women and children. Women and children who take a chance to go to church leadership, law enforcement, or anyone who is in a position to help them, are often left shamed and re-victimized. And men are rarely allowed to experience suffering beyond expressions of anger. No wonder our society is full of suffering and pain! Imagine what would happen if everyone was able to feel what they need to feel without shame?

When you are not allowed to speak about and confess your pain and hurt, when you are forced to stay silent, the pain of that makes whatever you are going through exponentially worse. While not everyone tries to silence you out of a desire to hurt you, the end purpose is always to control you. To change what you need, to match what they want or believe. All the more why we should allow ourselves permission to come before the throne of God and be as loud as needed to release the pain inside us.

God did not create us to remain silent in our pain. There are numerous examples in scripture where Holy men and women, the disciples, and Jesus Himself, cry out in anguish over what is happening. When we learn that Jesus is in such anguish over what He has to do that He is literally sweating blood, how can anyone tell us that we can’t feel the same intense pain? Christ was called a “man of sorrows” for a reason. While He did not STAY crying out in pain and suffering, He absolutely grieved when it was needed to cleanse and refocus. He regularly withdrew to pray and commune with God. It is ridiculous to believe that Jesus did not include cries of His heart in his communion with His Father.

Freedom Comes When We Honor That Part of Us Hurting and Needing Release

Often times we get stuck in a cycle of grieving because we don’t allow ourselves to grieve as we need to. We look to the advice of others because we do not believe what we know we need to do. Many times, we are so afraid that if we open the door to truly pour out every ounce of anguish and bitterness in our soul, we will stay there. When in truth, refusing to release the pain you are feeling, internalizing it and silencing your heart’s cry, is the thing that keeps you where you don’t want to be. Repeating lessons and pain in different areas of your life, is God’s call to you to fully open yourself up to Him. God is calling to you from the depths of your pain and hurt, waiting for you to turn to Him and let Him comfort and redeem your pain.

Jesus is the Great Comforter and our Healer. He redeems what has been taken from our lives in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But we have to let Him in so that He can move in our lives. Trying to control your pain, to “stay strong” or comparing your suffering to others, prevents God from being able to move. God will never force Himself or His will upon us. He offers what He has promised, and we get to choose to let Him in.

If you are in physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as a result of trauma and the things of this broken world, why are you holding on to it? Instead of begging God to change whatever it is or getting angry when He doesn’t do want you want Him to, why not try a true heart cry? Give yourself permission to say whatever you need to, in whatever way you want, to the God who sees you. Give God everything that hurts then be still and let Him fill you and comfort you!

Some of the biggest turning points in my own healing have come from these gut-wrenching, guttural cries from the depths of my wounded heart. God is waiting for you to let Him in. Cry out to Him today, and release the “control” you have created to not feel the pain. When you pour yourself out before God, I promise you He won’t let you stay there, and He will fill you up in ways you never knew you needed.

Safety, Hope, and the Onsite Foundation

What does hope look like? What does it mean to feel safe for the first time in your life? How can these things create an environment where you can truly begin to heal from the traumas that have shaped the landscape of your life?

An Unforseen Opportunity

At the beginning of March, I had a unique and unparalleled opportunity to attend a workshop addressing the trauma of being a mass shooting survivor. This was an opportunity I never had after surviving the Columbine Massacre in 1999. Another survivor spoke to me about the program, and I will admit, my first instinct was to see how I could help. I am a trauma specialist after all, it made sense for me to want to come alongside a program specifically aimed at mass shooting survivors. I inquired into coming on board with the program and then thought nothing more about it.

Funny how the things we avoid tend to assert themselves even stronger. The phrase “what we resist, persists” is very fitting. Being someone who has consistently avoided many things surrounding the Columbine Massacre even to this day, the idea of opening up that wound again was not appealing. I’ve always done the work, but also held a lot at arms length. I did not “want to go there” so many times that I convinced myself that I didn’t need to.

When my friend got back to me about joining the foundation, they were excited about the opportunity I presented, but everyone they work with has to go through the program first. If I wanted to help, I needed to travel this healing path myself.

What I Didn’t Know

Into the Unknown

When I said yes to the process of attending the program, I had no idea what I was really saying yes to. I did all the research I could on the Onsite Foundation and the Triumph over Tragedy Program (TOT) offered. The part of the program that appealed to me the most was the idea of having 7 glorious days of uninterrupted me time. Healing from whatever God brought me to. The fact that the setting for the program in Cumberland Furnace, TN, a 250 acre property that is beyond idyllic and serene, didn’t hurt either.

It was the second day of the program that I begin to feel the strong, visceral resistance to the work. I did not want to experience the pain. The crux of the program is somatic experiencing. Your body knows how to heal itself, but we get in the way. In order to heal from the pain, you have to grieve what happened. It’s not possible to break free from the past if you are unwilling to experience the strong emotions and responses associated with your traumas.

Apparently, I also developed a strong inclination and ability to not really feel what trauma had done in my mind and body. This was the cause of my strong resistance to the work. But I had chosen to embrace this opportunity no matter what God asked me to do.

Taking a deep breath and choosing to dive into the unknown, I experienced something I’ve never experienced before. Safety, a sense of truly being safe in a place and with the people in my group. We became a family. Bonded by tragedy, strengthened by the process of being known and seen, and not judged or devalued.

A sense of safety, being fully known and seen, created the exact environment needed for healing. Experiencing that I can feel the emotions and not die or get stuck in them, opened up the door to healing I didn’t know I had shut.

Reconnecting Me To Me

Our minds and bodies are intricately intertwined. Trauma breaks that connection between our mind and body. Our mind or our body is loudly screaming at us that something is not right, but we don’t always get that message the right way. The tendency to seek out medical help for physiological symptoms such as digestive issues, chronic pain, autoimmune, and other physiological concerns, is a consequence of this disconnection.

Your body will always remember what your mind forgets.

Our signals get crossed, and we don’t relate the onset of these physiological symptoms with a traumatic event. The rational mind can’t make sense of what the body is feeling because it is stuck in a memory loop of our trauma. A loop driven by the primal, unthinking, part of the brain.

Your mind will always be working to try to resolve your stuck trauma. It will cause you to remember in whatever way it can so that you can heal. Many times this is what triggers panic, anxiety, irrational fear, paranoia, and vivid nightmares. A key indicator of unhealed trauma is whether you still respond strongly to the events or memories of them.

This disconnect between mind and body is the focus of somatic experiencing. The goal being to reconnect us to ourselves. When we are connected, we can heal. If we are dissociated from ourselves, we stay stuck in trauma. We live in the past, in the present.

Goals

Onsite is the first program of its kind and it is incredibly unique and effective. Through the somatic experiencing process, the incredible knowledge of the group leaders and educators, I left with a new perspective on my trauma.

The goal at Onsite is NOT complete and total healing. The expectation of complete healing in a week would cause immense shame and further trauma because no one would get there. The goal is a 1-2 degree change. The illustration of a pilot is helpful. If a pilot shifted his course by 1-2 degrees he’d end up in a completely different and unexpected place.

So it is with us. 1-2 degrees of change will alter the trajectory of our lives.

Changing course

Being able to embrace the knowledge I already had as the truth for myself as well as everyone else, set me free to experience change. Realizing that the parts of me that I was so determined to eradicate are not my enemy and meant to protect me, let me see my pain for what it is.

Moving Forward

After this week, I came home to shut-down and shelter in place orders. I was thrust from a safe, healing environment, into toxic chaos and lack of control. The transition was extremely hard, and I am still learning and recovering from the abrupt change. Because of the work I did at Onsite, I am able to navigate this chaos in a very different way.

I am stronger. I am healthier. I am still on that healing journey.

The process began that week, and I am continuing it now. Healing from trauma is complicated, messy, hard, painful, and takes time. Instant, magic pills, do not exist. Trauma does not simply go away. Your body and mind will always try to force you to stop ignoring the trauma and heal.

Embrace the bad with the good. Realize that you are interacting with the world through the lens of your trauma response. Believe that you can heal. Then take the next step forward on your journey to freedom.

More

This morning as I was doing my quiet time and reflecting on this week’s sermon, I realized that I want more. I want more than the daily cycle of fear, disappointment, confusion, praying for change and healing. The never ending battle between my heart and my reality. I need more. God tells us that Jesus came to this world so we can live an abundant life. That is not only when we reach glory! God wants us to be free and have abundant life NOW!

The quest for abundant life is one that we all travel for most of our lives. That desire for things to just be ok. Wanting the downpour of life to stop or to at least be able to grab an umbrella and not get drenched. Reflecting on why life seems so hard all the time, I am beginning to understand that it’s not life, but how I respond to life that creates the perception of how hard it is. God tells us that in this world, this fallen and broken world, we WILL have trouble. God never tells us that once we place our faith in Him that life will be easy. The exact opposite, actually. The more we pursue God, the more the enemy will try and destroy us.

We should not be surprised when hard things in life, trouble, pain, heartbreak, illness, etc. come into our lives. But what does that mean for us? I’m in a season in life where everything is hard. It seems that I can never catch a break with the hard, the painful, the scary, the disappointing parts of this life. I was reflecting on the passage in 1 Kings 3:5-15, the passage where Solomon, as King, is visited by the Lord. In this passage, God asks Solomon what he wants more than anything. Solomon could have asked God for anything his fleshly heart desired, but instead, he asks God for wisdom.

Wisdom. I’ve read this passage numerous times, and this is the first time it really struck me that Solomon, who was the wisest, richest, and most highly regarded King, asked for wisdom. Most of us know that wisdom is the ability to make correct, sound decisions and judgments, but what if the wisdom from God is more than that? What really struck me is that with wisdom, life doesn’t change, but our ability to make sound, righteous, and Godly decisions about how we respond to the things in our lives, does.

We will never be able to change the way our lives come at us. We pray and invite God into our lives, we pray for protection, and God always shows up in that. However, because we live in a sinful, fallen world, we will never escape the consequences of others or our own destructive choices, completely. With that knowledge and my own life experiences of trauma and pain, I decided to start asking God for wisdom.

As much as I would like God to keep me from any more pain and hardship in my life, I know that’s not realistic. So I would like the wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions within the storms of life. When the tsunami waves of pain and fear come crashing into my world, I want the wisdom to know what to do in those moments. When I pursue wisdom, when I invite the Holy Spirit into every moment of my life, I will be able to protect myself and my family from many of the traumas we aren’t meant to go through. More than that though, I will be able to navigate the aftermath of whatever we do experience and begin responding differently.

When I respond to what this life brings with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t make the pain go away, but it lets me see things from an eternal perspective instead of a temporary, human perspective. More than anything else, I want the wisdom to know how to navigate life, and how to lead others the same way.

I wrote this in response to my reflections this week:

More than riches
More than fame
More than success

I want wisdom
A discerning heart
To make the right choice
Between right and wrong

More than love
More than restoration
More than healing

I want wisdom
A discerning heart
To choose correctly
Between right and wrong

I want a discerning mind
A heart that can know
Which way to move

A heart of wisdom
Free from fear and doubt

Give me the heart and mind of
Solomon, who served You
Who led your people home

More than anything I want wisdom

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