Trauma


Today marks another milestone along my journey of recovery. The abuse I experienced which resulted in PTSD, trauma, and many years of struggle occurred six years ago today. In some ways it feels like six decades of struggle I have walked through, but in other ways it feels like it just happened.

Each year has held milestones along my journey, but this year more than any other has been the turning point. It has been a year of big steps, significant change and healing, and moving clearly in a new direction.

  • Joined the core leadership team of a church plant, one that really wants to reach the lost and broken
  • Started actively serving with six organizations in my community (most of these organizations sought me out which was an answer to a prayer that the Lord would open doors when he felt I was ready)
  • Began networking with people in my community and all over the nation
  • Helped run a major medical/dental clinic to serve my community
  • Joined with a group addressing human trafficking and hoping to raise awareness in the church about trauma
  • Started a book about what I have learned through my journey
  • Recognized the roots of my issues come from deep shame and started that recovery journey
  • Began openly speaking about and sharing the testimony of the changes Christ has brought into my life this year+
  • Last week I was notified that the pastor from my last church is finally ready to meet and attempt to reconcile

As I move into next year I already know of two major milestones that lie ahead

  • I will be leading a recovery group for abuse and trauma
  • I will be a part of a special program. Through that I hope there are outcomes that raise awareness of trauma and recovery, and teaches that brokenness and “not being okay” are beautiful things.

Tonight I had a chance to share part of my testimony with a friend who didn’t know anything about my past. He listened and personally identified with parts of my journey of trauma and recovery.

As I left, he stopped me and going out of his way to make an impact he looked he straight in the eyes and said, “You are a hero. It is incredible to hear the story and learn more about the depth that exists. You truly are a hero.”

To those of you who are also on this journey of recovery, and who face the daily struggle to recover from abuse, I want to say “You are a hero!” You daily face challenges that others don’t understand. You find courage to keep trying. You stand up for others who face injustice. You take steps forward, even when you don’t want to. Thank you for your courage and strength. You are heroes, and you are making an impact and a difference.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to read Grace is for Sinners by Serena Woods. I say “privilege” because this autobiographical book gives a look into some very difficult aspects of Serena’s life and she presents them with grace, honesty, and humility.

Serena, although being a Christian, made some choices that did not adhere to the standards the Lord has given to us and she is transparent about the choices she made, the effects of her sin, and what the results have been in her life. Serena, while married, became involved with a married man and committed adultry. The results of her moral failures shattered her life, her relationships, and shook her faith to the core. She honestly tells about the questions she asked, the struggles she walked through, and the reactions she received from others.

This book holds some very powerful messages if people are willing to listen. For those who have made choices that led them into sin, Serena talks about coming to terms with those decisions and accepting that although she never thought she was capable of this type of sin it was now her story. For those who have faced rejection, banishment, or judgement from other Christians when they needed love, there is a message of understanding, and some direction for how someone might overcome the pain and the disillusionment. For those who want to provide safe, loving, and redemptive places for those who have been hurt or who want to be restored after sin, this book gives a fantastic glimpse of the pain and suffering someone may go through and the issues they may wrestle through in coming back to faith.

Serena is honest about the struggle she faced to accept her own sin, and to find some message of hope. She knew that she had made mistakes, but longed to set things right and to be restored to faith. The honest and authentic approach to her quest for resources, words of encouragement, and places of truth and hope provide the reader with a heartfelt understanding of her pain and desire to change.

Serena’s answer to her pain, her sin, and her quest for answer led her straight to the Word of God. Scripture became her place of truth, and strength as she looked for answers. That message above all others is the one that I believe we need to hear. She didn’t find the answers in the sinful relationship with the man she became involved with. She didn’t find the answers in the words or support of friends and family. She didn’t find the answers in books, podcasts, journaling, or attending church services. She found her answers, her hope, her path toward righteousness and restoration by turning to God’s word and learning about God in new ways. Her relationship with Him became the most important thing. She now knows that her lack of relationship and understanding of the Lord kept her from recovering, and through growing in her knowledge of God and scripture she now has a firm foundation that drives her life, her recovery, and her quest for hope and purpose. She is now a living testimony that God can redeem lives. She is now a living testimony that Grace is for Sinners, and she is developing a faith that will be immovable. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Serena is a witness to the power of grace and its power to change lives.

I commend Serena for her honest and authentic and transparent presentation of this time in her life. She does an amazing job of sharing the hardships and pain that her own decisions led to, and how difficult it was to return. She also presents us with hope that returning from a place of devastation and rock bottom is possible.

Thank you Serena for the message of hope and the witness of the Lord’s restoration.

It truly was a privilege to hear your story, and to see God at work in your life!

Check out Serena’s blog at http://www.graceisforsinners.com/

May is Mental Health Awareness month.

It begins with Children’s Mental Health week May 1st to May 9th.

Depression is one of the greatest issues of mental health. One in every three people will suffer from it at some point in our lives. It is not a sign of weakness. It is an illness that can be cured. Depression is something that people of all ages, all genders, all races, and all religious may experience. It is not a sign of a weakness, nor is it something that we should be ashamed of. Often it is a sign that someone has been trying to be strong for too long, carrying the load alone for far too long.

Spend some time this month growing in your awareness of mental health this month:
  • Educate yourself and/or others about mental health issues
  • Attend a workshop/seminar/discussion group/support group
  • Assist someone who is working through an issue with their mental health
  • Talk with someone who either has or is working on an issue with their mental health and learn about their story
  • Serve a charity or organization in your community that provides mental health services
  • Encourage others to grow in their awareness of mental health
  • Uplift and support others in their pursuit of good mental health
  • Become an advocate for children, including their mental health
  • Look into what the Bible says about mental health, healthy living, and how powerful God is to change even those who are struggling with depression, trauma, PTSD, and other mental health issues

One of the struggles I have wrestled through during my recovery over the last five years has been the idea of revenge or retaliation. It isn’t something I have come out and shared with others. It isn’t something I feel good about at all! It is that deep dark secret I have tried to hide because it shows me the depth of my heart and how sick it is. I have carried shame and guilt for these feelings. I have felt so despicable for the thoughts, but I have also had to come to terms with the fact that my feelings were real, and if I did not deal with them now they would just show up later in some other form.

What do I mean by revenge in the context of my spiritual abuse and struggle with church leaders?

I have been tempted to want to make them pay for what they did to me. I have wanted to tell others how I have been wronged in a manner that hurt and slandered the leaders.  I have wanted to smash windows, flatten tires, destroy property, slap them in public, or pour a drink over their head. The week I was suicidal I even thought about where I could die so they would find the body and feel the guilt over my death.

First, know that I feel horrible for every thought that went through my heart and mind. The thoughts were wrong! They were sinful! They hurt my relationship with those from my past church and they hurt my relationship with God. I have repented of those thoughts and have worked with God over why I ever even had to experience the thoughts and feelings, because while the world might tell me it is okay to think and feel them, just not to act on them (some would say it is even okay to act on them), I don’t feel that God’s word agrees. Yes I had been traumatized and hurt. Yes there are things others did that I consider wrong, but I did things wrong also. I can’t cast a stone at them knowing the sin and issues in my own life.

I haven’t known what to do with these thoughts and feelings though.

They were strongest at first. I was in so much pain from how I was mistreated that pain was all I could think of. My pain, wanting to give them pain. I knew it was wrong but I still thought it and felt it. I would try to force the feelings to go away. That doesn’t work. I would deny it was there. That doesn’t work. I would try to express it through writing or some other means. That at best was a temporary relief. I would lay awake at night feeling sick because of the thoughts. I would catch myself during the day wishing something bad upon someone.

Ultimately I had to deal with my heart. I had to make a choice to forgive. I had to make a choice to love. Even if they never spoke to me again I had to forgive them for me. My pain was eating me up inside and costing me tremendously. I had to find freedom because I was trapped in pain. I had to let go and surrender my right to get even. I had to surrender every vindictive, vial, cruel, hateful, evil, malicious, angry, painful, unloving thought and feeling.

It was hard! Very, very hard!

Today, I don’t live with the burden of revenge in my heart. I do not feel the hatred, but honestly feel love, compassion, grace, and forgiveness. That doesn’t mean that I don’t experience moments where my heart wants to deceive and betray me again, especially if some new negative aspect arises. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have to fight for forgiveness and love. It is a choice.

Every day I choose to love, I choose to forgive, I choose to hope for reconciliation.

The reconciliation likely will never come as the elders have cut me off from any further contact with the pastor, and this week they were supposed to finally present the charges against me  (that should have been given eight months ago), but that didn’t happen. However, because I have chosen love and because I have hope in Christ and the Gospel I have hope that some day their hearts will be drawn to the Lord and they will forgive.

Revenge …. retaliation … hatred … pain … … … I have given them up and am trying to live with my eyes on the Lord.

Have you heart of personality and temperament tests and the corresponding profiles? There are a variety of them in existence, but one of the best known is the Myers-Briggs assessment.

This test is based on research that started with Carl Jung. He theorized that every individual had a psychological type that formed the base of their personality. That type is comprised of four components and each of these had two sides to the component. Introversion and Extroversion, Intuition and Sensation, Feeling and Thinking, and Perceiving and Judging. Although there are only two sides to each component things are assessed on a continuum that is split down the middle. In other words two people might both fall on the continuum on the 50% side of being extroverted, but one person might be 56% extroverted while another person might score at 89%.

Jung defined eight personality types. Here are links to some descriptions of them and a link to descriptions of the various profiles.

  • ISTJ – The Duty Fulfillers
  • ESTJ – The Guardians
  • ISFJ – The Nurturers
  • ESFJ – The Caregivers
  • ISTP – The Mechanics
  • ESTP – The Doers
  • ESFP – The Performers
  • ISFP – The Artists
  • ENTJ – The Executives
  • INTJ – The Scientists
  • ENTP – The Visionaries
  • INTP – The Thinkers
  • ENFJ – The Givers
  • INFJ – The Protectors
  • ENFP – The Inspirers
  • INFP – The Idealists

Knowing and understanding something about your personality, your temperament, and your relational styles can help you understand and put conflict, trauma, and struggle into perspective. It can show you things about yourself that might help you understand why others responded to you in certain ways, or why you are thinking and feeling in the ways you are.

For example, I am an INFJ. This is the least common personality type. Therefore 99% of people are not like me in personality, and in a gathering of 100 people there is only one that is similar to me, however they might be scoring different on the continuum and still falling in the same four areas. INFJs are very sensitive to conflict. That is a key to me in  processing the struggles I have had in the two churches where I had problems because the situations started with some conflict that I didn’t know how to work through but I was stressed and troubled just because of the presence of conflict. INFJs are highly intuitive and therefore trust their own instincts above all else. After I was abused five years ago I completely doubted my instincts. This left me in a place of conflict within myself that hit me at the deepest levels and as INFJs are not common I had trouble finding another others who could understand or help me through the process.

Personality types are not the end all of understanding ourselves. The Bible does not directly speak about them, and they are based on humanitarian theories and beliefs. As such, I advise looking at them with discernment and caution, but also with eyes and a heart to see and learn something new. This tool can help you understand yourself, others, and relationships in new and insightful ways.

Have any of you seen others ways that tools like personality tests can help in the recovery process from trauma, abuse, and spiritual conflict?

In 2004 when I was spiritually abused I started having nightmares. Until that point in my life I had only had a few nights in my lifetime where I experienced this and I started having nightmares almost every night. It was a very disturbing piece of evidence in my life of the trauma I had experienced and I didn’t know how to respond to it and to make it go away.

A few months ago after the struggles at my last church some similar nightmares started to resurface. Thankfully this time my heart and life were in a very different place and I was able to lay the issue before God and trusted him to lead me to a solution. About that time I happened to see Beth Moore doing an interview on TV. In that interview she spoke of how she went through a time in her life where she realized she wanted to have God’s word on her heart and to always be rejoicing in and worshipping him. She began to learn how to always have a song on her heart so that even when she awoke in the middle of the night her heart and mind would turn to God and celebrate his goodness. Through that interview I took on a new idea to train my heart and mind to always be thinking of and at rest with God’s word. When I am upset, stressed, emotionally struggling, or feeling depressed…when I don’t think I will sleep well I take ahold of my small bible that fits within my hand and I hold it to my heart until I fall asleep. Throughout the night if I awaken the Bible is there to remind me to trust God because he is in charge and watching over me. This simple act has had profound impact on my rest and overall peace. I know that I can place myself under God’s protection and rest in his care.

A few days ago I came across this story from Beth in her study A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place. The lesson for the day was on the Bread of the Presence that was placed on the altar in the tabernacle. It reminded me of the way God has taught me that he covers me and keeps me safe under his care.

“My father was in the battalion that broke open the gates and announced freedom to prisoners in Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp. The emaciated prisoners kissed the soldiers’ feet and repeatedly cried out their thanksgiving. In that moment the soldiers were forever changed. The liberation, however, posed an immediate problem: the children. Either they had been separated from their parents, or their parents were dead. Either way, they had nowhere to go. An army hospital was set up at once to care for them, where they were bathed, fed, and warmed. However, it was not enough. Every night brought horrifying nightmares, making rest impossible for the children and the personnel. Finally, one man lined up the children one night at bedtime, gathered loaves from the kitchen, and tore off a piece of bread for each child. The children curled up in their beds, nestled the bread against their breasts, and slept with the angels.”

Know that you are safe under the protection of God. He cares about you and if you suffer from nightmares may you find a place of safety, peace, rest, and hope in him!

Have you reached a point where you desire to stop thinking about your past story? Have you struggled to stop thinking about it, resolve it, and get it out of your head? Have you reached a point of acceptance that your story is your story with all the good, bad, and even the unresolved parts?

Here are some steps you might think and work through to take a new step forward.

1. Disconnect from your story – How do you identify with your story? Do you think it defines you, or is it just one aspect of who you are that can be seen from different perspectives? If you think the abuse/trauma/situation you went through or find yourself in is ‘who you are’ then you are giving it control. You are making it the source of direction, power, and focus in your life. Can you adjust your attitude and viewpoint so that you can regain control and perspective keeping any “victim” through patterns at bay?

Some of us like our stories, they give us something to connect with and identify with. For some of us the story gives us a history, uniqueness, distinction, and it can actually become a point that feeds our ego, or gives us a level of control both in situations and even over other people. Only you can decide if you are ready to disconnect from your story and take the next step.

2. Decide if you want to be free – Sometimes sub-consciously we are choosing not to disconnect from our problems and our past, after-all, they are our story. You have to decide whether you want to be free.  Do you want your ongoing mind activity, mixed up feelings, stress, sleeplessness, depression, etc. to end, or you are holding on to it because it is giving you an ego boost, a level of control, or an excuse to stay set in our ways.

Take time to connect deep inside to your core thoughts and feelings. Be honest with yourself and find out if you really are at a point to move on, both forgetting and forgiving. Until you are ready you will not be able to be free. Your problems may be giving you something to do in life, or they may be keeping you from pushing for something different. Are you allowing them to hold you back, or are you choosing to believe your story can actually enable and empower you to be used for something greater?

3. Let go – When we are ready to let go we reach a point of resolve in our heart and our mind to no longer let our story, other people, or circumstances control and dictate our lives. It isn’t just about reaching a point of letting go and being left with empty hands, but it also is reaching a point of taking hold of a new future, a new direction, and a different ongoing story.  Letting go is about leaving what was and embracing to move forward to what will become. It is the first major step in creating a new and different story.

4. Accept your story and your current life – Acceptance means you no longer resist the situation (either the past or the present/current). It doesn’t mean you don’t try to grow, change, and learn from it, but you stop fighting, denying, and avoiding what has already happened and you don’t blame or manipulate the situation. Accepting allows us to let those things that occupy our minds and battle within our souls come to a rest. You won’t have to battle yourself, others, or your past any longer, because instead you allow the memories, thoughts, feelings, and facts to become real, have a place to fit in the painting and fabric of your life, and as they blend in and become part of the bigger picture they lose their prominence as something that stands out, becoming blurred and incorporated into a large and beautiful piece of art.

No matter your faith stance or religious beliefs these steps can help you move past the power and control of your past so you no longer walk with a victim mindset and live in powerlessness. I personally believe that if you incorporate Christ into each of these steps allowing him to have control, to provide freedom, to be what you grab onto when you let go, and give you the strength and surrender to accept your story and life …. Well then you will see a new life, a life that is truly different and transformed. No matter how you walk that journey I hope and pray your life will grow better and you will find beauty, promise, hope, and transformation for a hope-filled and incredible future.

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