The Media Is Selling Fear – Why Do We Keep Buying?

The bedroom door creaked open slowly. I lay in bed, suddenly wide awake yet frozen in place. A whisper-soft footstep made its way across the room and the blood coursed through my head, a drumbeat pounding in my ears. I strained in the dark to see who was there but the black velvet of night obstructed the view. I could sense the presence of another. Fear clawed its way into my mind and wrapped its talons around my fast-beating heart.

Do you like to be scared?

I admit it. I like movies with suspense and some spine-tingling moments. Horror is too much for my taste, but I’m a sucker for nail-biting scenes that make my heart beat like a trip-hammer.

In real life however, fear is not welcome. At least, that’s what I claim. In reality, time and time again, I invite fear in, pull out a chair where it can rest and pour it a cup of tea. I nurture fear’s presence and welcome it like an old and dear friend.

We are sold fear at every turn.

Books, movies and TV shows are geared toward scaring us senseless. Some of you are nodding your head yes with gleeful enthusiasm at the thought of a good fright-fest, while others are shaking your heads with disapproval. You steer clear of anything that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck and have no appetite for fear. Or do you?

Fear creeps into our lives in other, less obvious ways. Social media and mainstream news exploit every real and imagined terror and hook us in, like fish on the line, profiting from our fears.

man in hooded coat looking over his shoulder in fear

I just scrolled through my Facebook feed and in a few minutes I found a list of things we are told to fear – dementia, guns, hurricanes, robbers, dangerous drivers, rising crime rates, failure, trans people, men, sexual assault, clowns, children being injured, war, terrorists, Islam, Sharia law, Hillary Clinton, more clowns, identity theft, the election, political correctness, climate change, more hurricanes

This election cycle has ramped up the fear like never before.

The candidates and the media are peddling it like an ice cream truck peddles Good Humor bars. They ring the bell all day long while we chase story after story, panting and hungry for more.

We’ve been told that not only do we have much to dread, we are foolish or naive if we don’t. Politics are built upon this. They present us with what we should fear, so they alone can provide a solution. Fear, they would lead us to believe, is informative.

In fact, the very opposite is true.

Fear certainly serves a purpose. It’s they way our mind and body signal imminent danger, preparing us for an immediate and real threat. But over the course of time, a steady diet of fear is debilitating.

This article from Psychology Today describes how our bodies respond to fear.

“As soon as you feel fear, the amygdala (a small almond-shaped organ in the center of your brain) sends signals to your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which then has a wide range of effects. The ANS kicks in, and suddenly, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing gets quicker, and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. The blood flows away from the heart and out towards the extremities, preparing the arms and legs for action.

…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on, so thinking about the next best move in a crisis can be a hard thing to do. Some people even experience feelings of time slowing down, tunnel vision, or feeling like what is happening is not real. These dissociative symptoms can make it hard to stay grounded and logical in a dangerous situation. Essentially, the body’s response to fear or stress can be stressful in itself.”

Did you get that? Let me repeat it, in case you missed it the first time. “…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on…”

Yeah, that steady diet of fear, that constant stream of bad news, that endless worry about…everything, it clouds our judgment and hampers logical thought.

I know, I know. There are real threats in this world. But look back at that list I posted earlier. Unless you are currently living in Florida, in the path of a deadly hurricane, most of the threats listed above are not an immediate danger to you and those that you love or else they are things beyond your control. Do some of them require our thoughtful attention and action? Yes. Do they warrant our fear. Probably not.

Maybe you still object. You are clinging to that fear like Linus with his blankie. You are comfortable living in that place. You feel a sense of righteous indignation at the thought of letting it go. So, what does the Bible say about fear? 

Fear of man is a dangerous trap, but to trust in God means safety.” (Proverbs 29:25 TLB)

The Bible does not promise us a life free of pain and tragedy but God promises to be with us in the middle of it all. I love the way Isaiah states it. This is a beautiful promise for those in the path of a hurricane.

“Do not be afraid, because I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I’ll be with you; and through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.

When you walk through fire you won’t be scorched, and the flame won’t set you ablaze.” Is. 43:1-2 ISV

Do we believe the Word of God or do we trust FOX News and The Huffington Post?

God wants us to be sober and mindful – NOT ruled by our fears. When the dust settles, when the hurricanes pass, when the election is over, what example will we leave, as people of faith, to the world around us?

“And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.”” Rom 8:15 TLB

If we are hiding from our own shadows and quaking in the corner at every real and imagined terror, we are unable to administer aid to the wounded and bleeding lying there in the middle of the room.

Let’s refuse the package we are being sold, the one tainted by fear. Instead, let us keep our minds clear and our judgment sound, standing solid on the foundation of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

   so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,

   so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me,

   when my enemies and foes attack me,

   they will stumble and fall. 

Though a mighty army surrounds me,

   my heart will not be afraid.

Even if I am attacked,

   I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—

   the thing I seek most—

is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

   delighting in the Lord’s perfections

   and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come;

   he will hide me in his sanctuary.

   He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high

   above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,

   singing and praising the Lord with music.

Psalms 27:1-6 NLT

 

Interview With My Son Sam – ADD, Aspergers and Surviving School

I’m excited that you popped by today! We have such a treat for you. I promise, you will love it!

May I ask a favor before you listen to the interview?

One of the reasons I did this post is because you asked for it. Several of you wanted to know what it’s like living with or parenting someone with learning differences. I listened and, here it is. So, this is what I want from you. If you could take a few minutes (I promise, it won’t take long) and answer the survey question here, it will help me provide you with content that is informative, encouraging and relevant.

Thanks!

our podcast about Aspergers and ADD with Sam

My son Sam and I sat down earlier this week and recorded a conversation. We talked about ADHD, Super Smash Brothers, Aspergers, teachers, school and some of the challenges of life on The Spectrum.

Do you deal with learning differences?

Are you a teacher or parent struggling to understand your kid’s unique needs? Are you my parents, who never miss a single post?! If you answered yes to any of these questions or you’re just curious to listen in on a conversation between a mom and her 18-year-old son, you will love this podcast.

This conversation is not meant to be a step-by-step guide to living with ADHD. It is absolutely NOT a parenting how-to! We have done some things right and a whole lot of things wrong in that area. I just want to help you understand life from a different point-of-view.

The interview is almost an hour. I promise, you won’t want to miss a minute. There’s a lot of laughter and loads of great information. So, grab a cup of coffee and sit a while (Happy National Coffee Day!), or tune in while you’re washing the dishes or commuting to work.

After you’ve listened to our conversation, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share comments, questions or suggestions for other topics you would like Sam and I to discuss. You can enter your comments below, or on my Facebook page. Thanks again!

 

 

Becoming American Citizens

Today, Steve and I finally did it! We became American citizens.

It’s been a long time coming. I’ve lived in this country for 40 years. Now I’m wondering why we waited so long.

The ceremony today was incredible – simply breathtaking. Under the backdrop of an enormous American flag, the LA Convention Center hall was filled with thousands of people of every color and race, from 140 countries in the world. There were over 4,000 of us in total.

We chatted with the people around us, from El Salvador, Ireland, Germany and Mexico. Everyone of us excited and eager to pledge allegiance to our adopted homeland.

The judge got up and gave a beautiful speech, extolling the virtues of America but also reminding us of the responsibilities we hold as citizens.

American flag, Star Spangled Banner

With hands over our hearts, we pledged our loyalty to our new country, together as one. We arrived as citizens of 140 countries and left as citizens of one.

A children’s choir sang, they played America the Beautiful and we joined together to sing The Star Spangled Banner. Let me tell you, there was hardly a dry eye in the place.

You may think it’s a weird time to become a citizen.

Some people have asked us, why now? After all, we’ve been citizens of Canada all of our lives. Why on earth would we want to become American citizens now? At this time? In this election year?

All I can say is, I feel like I’ve been cheating on America, keeping Canada on the side like a go-to boyfriend in case things don’t work out. I realized I can’t do that anymore and finally decided to make the commitment.

I’ve lived in this country for 40 years. We work and pay our taxes here. We have three children that were born here – our ‘anchor kids’. We even have two American-born grandkids.

Steve and I were in Canada this past summer on vacation and it was wonderful to be there and spend time with friends and family. We both have an abundance of fond memories from our childhoods there. But one thing became clearer than ever. Canada is no longer home. Our hearts and our loyalties belong here.

And so, we’ve taken the plunge, we’ve pledged our allegiance, we’ve signed on the dotted line. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. We’re here.

Steve and Karen at citizenship ceremony

This is our home. This is our country. This is where we belong.

Life With Pain – What I Found

Here’s what I found. Pain is a gift.

It took years to believe this and there are times I still choke on the words, but deep down, I know it’s true. Pain seems like the kind of gift no sane person would desire, but it is a gift nonetheless.

Several weeks ago I wrote a heartfelt and painful post – Life With Pain – What I Lost. It is a lamentation – mourning the things I lost through years of pain. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and take a look, because it’s where this story begins.

That wasn’t an easy post to write but it came from such a raw place that the words poured out of me. This post has proven to be even harder to write. I struggled with these words for weeks. I wrote and rewrote this post but I’m still unable to express how profoundly pain changed me for the good.

If pain is anything at all, it’s complex. I don’t want to sound trite or give you the impression that the things I found came quickly or easily. They did not. So here is my humble attempt – a celebration of the lessons I learned and the beauty I found in pain.

I found trust.

As a mother, my deepest desire was to keep my children safe, provide for their needs, and let them know they were loved. Seizures and pain robbed me of that ability for years and many precious childhood moments are lost to me. But recently, as we began unpacking the pain of those years together, we looked back as a family and recalled an endless catalog of ordinary days, hilarious mishaps, sweet family times and more. Every photograph and memory is a treasure to be mined over and over again.

Sometimes, in our desire to protect our children from all pain and discomfort, we don’t allow them to experience growth essential to character development. I see now that the trials and difficulties we survived as a family drew us closer to each other and challenged my kids to discover God for themselves.

My children can’t live their faith on the coattails of their parents or grandparents. In order for it to be real, their faith must be their own. I need to trust God enough with my children to allow them to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”.

God is developing their faith and their character. I trust Him with that.

I found the Source of strength.

Before the years of pain and illness, I looked strong. A young, healthy, type-A woman, I was organized, disciplined and appeared to be in control of my life. But much of my confidence was bluff and bravado, masking a deep uncertainty about my place in life and my relationship with God.

Pain strips everything down to the core. It removes all the skin and fat and leaves the bare bones of the matter.

In the stripping away, my bravado was removed. My confidence was shaken. I questioned everything I was taught. Everything I believed. But when I hit rock bottom, I found a foundation. I found a sweeter, truer, deeper faith than anything I knew before, and I found that I can’t do it on my strength alone.

I can’t manufacture a feeling of wholeness out of emptiness. I can’t coax ‘good feelings’ out of depression but I can tap into God’s power, knowing that it is in surrender to His perfect will that I find the strength to carry on, in spite of the pain.

 

"The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved pain as an act of total solidarity with all of the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.” Richard Rohr

I found a connection with Christ’s suffering.

The cross was Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of undeserved pain as an act of total solidarity with all of the pain of the world. Reflection on this mystery of love can change your whole life.” Richard Rohr

There aren’t words to describe how Christ’s suffering somehow makes sense of my own. But it’s true. It does. I can’t explain this. It’s a holy mystery.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Is. 53:4)

I found a purpose for the pain.

Pain serves a purpose. It is essential for growth. It clarifies what’s important and leaves us either crushed or strengthened. There was a time I thought it crushed me – a time when I saw no purpose to the pain, no mercy in God’s will and no end in sight. But today I see the work that God is doing in my life and I am thankful for it.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18 NKJV

I found a community of the wounded.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well. “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above the master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer.”  (The Cost of Discipleship)

This is one of the sweetest things I found. Pain opened my eyes to the suffering of others and initiated me into a special tribe – the tribe of the walking wounded.

It has given me a deep empathy for others and brought connection and community with those who, like me, are walking through their pain, struggling with their faith and trying to make sense of it all.

I could go on and tell you about the peace I found, about the clarity I now have and perhaps, another time, I will. I’m still unwrapping the gifts that I received through the darkest times of my life.

Pain may be the gift I never wanted but it is one of the dearest I’ve ever received.

How To Mend What’s Broken When You Don’t Have All The Pieces

Back in the ‘olden days’ when Steve and I got married, it was traditional for brides to choose a fine china pattern. This china was used for special occasions and stored carefully in a cabinet – safe behind closed doors.

Everyday dishes were second hand or a cheap set of stoneware purchased at the local Sears. Like a dutiful young bride, I chose a beautiful Minton pattern. My aunts bought me a handful of place settings and I promptly stacked them in my china cabinet where they languished unused for years.

About a year ago I realized the china was just taking up space. I decided to ‘use it or lose it’. We took out the pretty Minton wedding china and a few antique pieces of Limoges, stacked them together on the kitchen shelf willy-nilly and started using them.

At first, family and friends objected and asked if I had ‘regular’ plates they could use instead. I reassured them that that these were my regular plates and it was okay if a piece broke. Before long, one of the beautiful pieces of wedding china fell to the ground and shattered into pieces. It was beyond mending.

When something breaks, it is forever altered.

When a leg is broken, it may mend and become even stronger than before but it’s never the same. Five, fifteen or even fifty years later, an x-ray will show evidence of the break. That bone is permanently marked.

When a heart is broken, it may mend and become even stronger than before but it’s never the same. It is forever altered, leaving a scar, a memory, a mark.

But what if your heart is so deeply broken that you fear some of the pieces are lost? What if you struggle to rebuild a marriage, like we did, searching for ways to fill the gaps but you come up empty-handed? 

Maybe we aren’t meant to have all the pieces. Perhaps there’s a way to fill those gaps and not only make our hearts whole again, but make them more beautiful than before.

 

mended kintusugi bowl

 

This is a piece of kintsugi. It is created through the Japanese art of repairing ceramics with precious metals, demonstrating that broken things can be made whole. This process of piecing something back together makes an object more beautiful than it was to begin with.

This week, Steve and I celebrate 35 years of marriage. It is miraculous that we’ve made it this far – that we’ve beaten the odds and are still together. It’s miraculous because we are broken people. We inflicted damage, to each other and to our marriage. Through our selfishness and sin, we were broken and left without the pieces needed for repair.

But something beautiful happened. We gathered up those broken pieces, surrendered them to the Artist and in the care of His hands, gaps were filled and brokenness was mended.

 

mended broken bowl with kintusugi

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” – Barbara Bloom

When God mends broken people, he fills the ugly gaps with his grace, demonstrating that through the suffering and the brokenness, we become more beautiful.

What if, instead of hiding our scars, we celebrate them? We can show the handiwork of God in our lives, the places where he has filled in the gaps, replaced the broken pieces and turned our scars into precious gold. If we dare to risk revealing our scars, maybe we can bring hope to others who are broken.

Because, He makes beautiful things out of dust…out of us.

 

Compare One Another’s Burdens

I’ve recently noticed I have a tendency to compare.

A while back I was talking with my daughter when I realized I passed along that tendency. We were comparing our lives to others. It wasn’t a comparison of our looks or clothes. We weren’t talking about how we wished we had awesome vacations like other people.  Nothing fun like that.  We were comparing burdens.  You read that right.  We weren’t bearing one another’s burdens, we were comparing them.

It sounded something like this.  “I heard so-and-so complain the other day about an ingrown toenail. She said ‘this is the WORST PAIN EVER! I can’t walk another step.’ What does she even know about pain?  She should try dislocating her shoulder and tearing a rotator cuff or living with someone in chronic pain.  Has she had a baby without an epidural or watched her husband have a heart attack?  She has no idea what real pain is!”

Okay, so the conversation wasn’t verbatim and most of those things were probably said by me, not my daughter, but you get the gist of it, right?

There’s a hierarchy of pain.  At the bottom of the scale is an ingrown toenail (sucks to be you) or an itchy scalp – unless that itchy scalp is caused by head lice, then you move up the pain scale rapidly!

At the top level of that hierarchy is unrelenting chronic pain, permanent disability or the death of a child. Serious stuff.

You better know where you are in that hierarchy or you will get NO sympathy from me. Yeah, you heard me right, lady in the grocery store who is enraged over the quality of the kale this week.  You are somewhere at the bottom of the hierarchy and need to just zip it!

Appearances can be deceiving though, can’t they?

There are some people who definitely need to put on their big girl panties and stop their whining but how can we know who that is, exactly?  Where’s our x-ray vision that gives us a peek into their hearts or their lives?

I’ve endured days and weeks of unrelenting pain and heartache and have managed just fine only to have a splinter send me into a spiral.

Pain and burdens are like snow on the roof of a house.  

One by one, the flakes fall down, lighter than a feather. They pile up on the roof and become heavy but the roof is strong and holds up fine.  Then there’s that one, final teeny-tiny snowflake that slowly drifts down, down, down…

Black and white

As soon as that snowflake hits the roof, everything caves in.  

It isn’t that the single snowflake is heavy, it’s the accumulation of millions of snowflakes that causes the collapse.

I have no idea what you deal with in your life.  You may think, by reading through some of my blog posts that you have me figured out, but really, you don’t.  I pick and choose what I will share.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.  Most of the bad I keep to myself.  There are things that nobody knows.  Things I only share with my Heavenly Father.

I would imagine it’s the same for you. You share a tiny portion of your life and keep the rest private.

We shouldn’t think, for one moment, that we have a clue why that man is standing on the street corner begging for food, or why that couple’s teenage kids are such hooligans, or why that mother in the grocery store can’t make her kid shut up, or why the house on the corner has paint peeling and weeds growing on their lawn or why that young girl throws herself at every man she sees. Only God knows our past. Only he can see what’s in our hearts.

I love these words in Galatians,

“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.” (Gal 6:2 MSG)

How beautiful is this?  

Restore. Avoid criticism. Stoop down. Share burdens. 

The bottom line is this. Comparison is rarely, if ever, a good thing. It presumes we know more than we do, pits us against each other and ultimately, is a thief of joy. I for one, need to do way less comparing and a whole lot more burden bearing. How about you?

low-beams with quote

(Photo by Jay Mantri)

Why Am I So Lonely? Seven Steps to Friendship

I’m lonely.

I hear this so often from women these days, especially on social media. When I hear this, it tugs at my heart and reminds me of long, dry periods of my life where I felt the same. Times when I was hungry for friendship and meaningful connections with other women but struggled to find it.

I admit it, even now there are times that I feel disconnected and lonely but it is nothing compared to my early years of motherhood when I craved a female connection that I could not seem to find.

Over the years I have learned a thing or two about friendship and while I am certainly no expert on the topic, I long to see all women enjoying the rich benefits that true friends can bring.  

Here is a list of Seven Steps I’ve found that help open the doors to lasting and meaningful friendships.

  1. Be intentional in your quest for friendship.

This is key! If you want friends, make it a priority to find them and carve out time to spend with them. I know how busy you are. I get it. But anything worth having, is worth your time.  So, get off Instagram, forget the housecleaning and call or text a could-be friend. Yes, I just gave you permission to have a dirty  house. You’re welcome.

I know. It’s hard to reach out. You risk rejection. But DO it anyway! You may have to throw the line out several times before you get a bite but you can do hard things!

Join a book club or an art class. Start using that gym membership. Get out there in the world where other women hang out!

 

  1. Lend someone a listening ear or a helping hand.

There was a time when I was so wrapped up in my own head, listening to my own fears and worries, that I didn’t really take the time to listen to those around me. I was so focused on myself and my own troubles that I wouldn’t have noticed a potential friend if she came up to me and hit me over the head!

This step goes hand-in-hand with Step #1. When we are intentional, when we truly listen, we hear other women and the cry of their heart for the same type of meaningful relationships that we crave.  Once we hear it, we can respond with an open hand of friendship instead of a clenched fist of self-pity.

Perhaps there’s someone who needs a lift to work. Maybe you know someone that could use a meal or help painting the baby’s room. An act of kindness is a beautiful friendship starter.

 

  1. Be friendly.

For crying out loud – SMILE! Let people know you want to be friends.  Not in a clingy, stalker-ish way but casually, as you encounter them in your day-to-day life.  Take the time to talk to people you encounter throughout the day.

And puh-leeze do not be that girl.  You know the one.  She’s whiny, complaining, critical, gossipy.  I know we all have our moments but girlfriend, if that is your MO, trust me…  nobody’s got time for that!

 

  1. Look for friends in unexpected places.

Maybe you’re a mom, ‘stuck’ at home with a couple of toddlers.  Maybe you’re a single business woman, devoted to your career or growing a business.  Maybe you’re retired and the kids have left home.

Who says your friends have to match you or be in the same stage of life?  Yes, there is definitely something to be gained by having friends who are walking through the same stuff – there’s a certain camaraderie that brings, but sometimes hanging out with other women with the same issues is an invitation to a pity party. All of that commiserating may leave you feeling depleted instead of filled. 

Some of my most cherished friendships are with young girls and moms. We both contribute to the friendship, just in different ways.

 

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other, gold.

 

  1. Appreciate what you already have.

Ow!  This is something I have definitely neglected to do.  I’ve looked for friends when they’ve been there all along!  Sometimes we’re so busy looking for something that we miss what we already have. It’s easy to take the familiar for granted. Is there someone already in your life who you need to invest time with? Perhaps even someone in your family who you’ve never really cultivated as a friend. Take a look around and be grateful for what you have.

 

  1. Get out of your comfort zone.

Do any of your friends or acquaintances have different beliefs than you?  If not, why not? Do you agree with them on every topic from politics to religion to parenting methods?

This might be the scariest way to find friends but it can be so rewarding! The next time you encounter a woman with a different point of view, consider spicing things up and adding to your circle of friends with someone who will challenge your status quo. Don’t be frightened. That liberal lady or homeschooling parent won’t bite!  (Caveat – if they do, drop ’em like a hot potato!)

I love the fact that so many of my friends have disparate opinions. Sometimes our differences can encourage healthy debate but more often than not, we find we have more in common than we originally thought.

 

  1. Pray for friendship.

If your spirit has been wounded by someone you once considered a friend (oh my, how that hurts!)

If you have been friendly and open, appreciative and willing, but still feel friendless.

If you are terrified of taking that first step and being rejected.

If you just don’t know where to begin.

Pray.  

Ask your heavenly Father to heal those broken places, give you the courage to take the next step and find those friends you so desperately need.

And, if you’re in the neighborhood and looking for someone to share a coffee and conversation (and perhaps, a slice of cake), give me a call!

Life With Pain – Grief and Lament

Earlier this week I wrote a post about my life with pain – a lamentation for what I lost. Today, I planned on posting a follow-up with “What I Found”. But I can’t go there yet.

The response to my lament was overwhelming. So many of you, like me, have an unmet need to grieve. We have been raised in a culture that doesn’t know how to lament. I would argue that, in the church, we have treated grief and pain as evidence of a lack of faith or, even worse, evidence of sin. What a lie.

Lament isn’t pretty.

It brings to mind wailing widows clothed in black and blotchy, red eyes and runny noses. It brings to mind a man, bloodied and beaten, hanging on a cross.

The image of the suffering Christ on the cross was always associated with the Catholic church, in my mind. Growing up in the Evangelical community, we were encouraged not to focus on the bleeding Christ but on the empty cross, the risen Christ, the empty tomb.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 11.53.24 PM

We miss something when we jump past Christ’s suffering to resurrection day.

We miss the true depth of Christ’s humanity. We miss the fact that he knew pain like us. He was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. He cried, bled, suffered and mourned, just like us.

There is sweet comfort in the crucified Christ, in the fellowship of his sufferings, in knowing he “keeps track of all our sorrows. He collects all our tears in a bottle. He has recorded each one in his book.” (Psalm 56:8)

So, let’s stay in this place of lament a little longer, pause in this sweet holy space where we acknowledge our pain and our fears and present them to the One who bore them all.

Today, my dear friend, I grieve with you.

I grieve for your pain and suffering. I lament for your loss, for what death has taken from you. I weep for the marriage that has ended, for the betrayal of trust, for the child who has wandered away, for the dream that remains unfulfilled.

If this speaks to your heart, please take time to name and acknowledge your lament and present it to your heavenly Father. He can handle your anger, your questions and your pain. Be still. Feel His presence. Tell Him your story.

And, when you feel overcome with doubt and fear, stubbornly cling to what remains of your faith. You will find Him there.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Psalm22:1-5

 

Life With Pain – What I Lost

Pain and suffering leave a deep scar.

Even if there’s no outward evidence of the damage, pain leaves a mark on the psyche and the spirit that is permanent. Lately, I’ve been running a mental finger over that scar, reminding myself that I didn’t imagine it all. It wasn’t just a bad dream. Like a tongue seeking out the hole of a missing tooth, I can’t resist exploring that area over and over again.

I want to write a story, a story about how God sustained me, how my faith was strengthened, how I’m better for having suffered, but I’m stuck. Looking back at the endless years of seizures and pain, depression and drugs, I feel so much grief. At times I’ve become frantic, trying to make sense of it all and trying to figure out why all of this happened to me in the first place.

Somehow, I need to come to peace with the fact that I may never know why but I finally realized that I won’t find peace until I acknowledge the grief – until I lament.

So…this is my lamentation. This is what I lost.

I lost memories. I lost time.

Pain robbed me in so many ways. Suffering cheated me out of so many things. It didn’t just cheat me, it cheated the people I love.

A single event or moment in time will stand out and I can easily recall the sounds, smells, and emotions of that time, but the bigger picture of my past is baffling to me. The harder I try to make sense of it all, the more frustrated I become. There are huge gaps and holes, years that are just a fog.

I was forty years old when I lost my license and much of my life to seizures. Sam was 3, Rachel was 5, Ashley was 18. As a grown woman with three children, I became dependent on my parents, my family and my friends. I couldn’t drive my kids to church, couldn’t get to the grocery store on my own. My sense of self disappeared along with my self-confidence.

I have pored over old diaries, medical bills and calendars, to cobble together the timeline of my life. It’s helped jog my memory but there are still gaps of time I can’t account for.

Just writing this makes my eyes sting with tears. Because, in those huge gaps of time, my three amazing kids were living their lives, without a ‘fully present’ mother. I can’t retrieve those years, those sweet childhood moments. This causes me no small amount of pain and anguish. I’ve tried, time and again, to surrender what I can’t pull back, to trust that God was by their side when I was not, to believe that their dad and grandparents and all the other well-meaning and generous adults in their lives, did the best that they could to make sure Ashley and Rachel and Sam were cared for and loved, but it still hurts. I weep for what we lost – for what they lost.

I don’t want to revisit the pain and admit how much all of this must have affected my children but I long to move beyond this, to redeem the pain in some small way.

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I lost my self.

Because, to my mind’s eye, my scars are so obvious, the change in me so dramatic, it is disconcerting when I meet someone who only knows the new me, the after-pain-changed-me me. What is even more confounding is when someone, who I’ve known since ‘before’, treats me as though I haven’t changed.

Can’t they see that I’m completely altered by the experiences I’ve been through? Surely they see it tattooed on my arm or written on my forehead. How on earth can they miss it?!

In the years since my recovery, I’ve regained my sense of self but I’m not the same as before. I lost the old me.

I lost my faith.

At my lowest moments, God was lost to me.

All my life, I felt His presence. I didn’t always want to feel it, because that presence was, at times, convicting me, pricking my conscience and challenging me. But it was there. He was there.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”

In my three-o’clock-in-the-mornings, God was silent. There was a gaping void where His presence had once been. That void beckoned me in the dark hours of night and sometimes even during the day. I grieved the loss of His presence as I grieved the loss of my health. My depression was a pit that I climbed into. I could smell the musty earth and feel the cool gravel between my fingertips. That dark cavern became comfortable and it was harder and harder to draw me out.

I lost all hope.

This shouldn’t be over-spiritualized. There were physiological factors involved. I was clinically depressed. Pain and heavy medications dramatically altered my brain chemistry.

At one of my lowest points, my dad came by to visit. The timeline of this isn’t clear. But I remember him coming into my darkened bedroom and sitting by my bed. I was in the fetal position and barely responded to his presence. I can’t imagine how that broke my father’s heart, seeing his girl in such physical pain and mental anguish. He stroked my hair and sang softly. After singing for a few minutes, he started praying and I began sobbing.

“He’s abandoned me, dad!” I cried out.

“I can’t pray anymore. I can’t read my Bible. I have nothing left. I’ve failed God.”

He passed me a tissue and waited for my sobbing to subside.

“Karen, you don’t have to pray. Let me pray. Let it go.”

It is a terrible and terrifying thing to lose faith. For someone who was raised from birth to believe, to ‘trust and obey’, it felt like a betrayal of not just my faith but my family, my history, my childhood. Everything that had been firm and certain, was now sinking sand. There was nowhere for me to gain a foothold.

That’s when I rediscovered Job, Jeremiah’s Lamentations and the Psalms of David. I’d read them many times before, but in my previous life, I focused on the Psalms of praise and the Psalms of comfort. Now, I found comfort in the grief of Job and the Psalms of anguish. I felt a kinship with David in his moments of darkest despair. I read his words and wept as I cried out to God.

“Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
    our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
    rescue us because of your unfailing love.”

These are things I lost. Maybe tomorrow I will recall the things I found.

Guest Post – A Wonderful World (A Response to Terror)

I had something else prepared for today but, once again, the world is rocked by terror. The people of France are dealing with the aftermath of yet another horrific terror attack. Last night, as thousands celebrated Bastille Day in the beautiful seaside town of Nice, men with hate-filled hearts drove a truck through the crowd, shooting and running over innocent people. 

My friend Patricia DeWit, lives in France and just returned from a relaxing holiday in the very spot where this attack took place. Eight months earlier, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place near their home in Paris. Pat wrote the following article in response to those attacks. Unfortunately, these words ring true for her and the people of France yet again.

 

 

Terror attack in Nice France

In childhood I truly feared …

Frankenstein coming up the stairs

A werewolf under my bed

A tornado flinging our house into the air

A house fire in the night

War, atomic bombs and nowhere to hide

The Rapture, being left behind

Armageddon

My parents getting divorced, or worse, being killed in an accident

Getting head lice

 

In adulthood I truly fear …

Getting into a horrible car accident

Losing a child

Kidnappers

Losing my husband

Losing my parents or siblings

Getting fat

Getting murdered in the forest

My children getting head lice

 

They say that except for the fear of falling and the fear of snakes, all other fears are learned. In the past year I have seen something. It taught me to be afraid.

Terrorism.

Terrorism came like a hardball through the window and rolled to a stop at our café, La Belle Équipe. When terror hits your city, you can’t just hide beneath your bed.

If we slept at all on November 13, 2015, we woke up feeling the aches and pains of survival. We got our coffee as usual but cut our feet on the shards, leaving a bloodied footprint on the cobblestone streets.

I felt small, like sitting where my feet didn’t reach the floor. We called on God and angels and doctors. Each siren’s wail was another raw prayer. With each flatline in an emergency room, someone’s walls collapsed.

When terror comes to your street, for a while you don’t care about any of the places on the map except one dot that says “you are here.” Surviving is painful because it is underlined in the red ink of someone who didn’t.

After terror we wait for tomorrow because they say that time heals all wounds.

So tomorrow comes. Then another. And another. Slowly you don’t feel quite as afraid, not so jumpy. But nonetheless, that day is a sticker on my suitcase that won’t let me forget “I was there when …”

How am I?

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have answered, “Not fine, thanks.”

Anyways, “fine” is a word that lies.

If you were asking now, I’d have to say I’ve gotten used to a new way. Take today, for example. On my way home, I stopped on the bridge behind Notre Dame, sat on the curb along with many others, and listened to some live musicians. While the guy was singing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” six fully armed soldiers walked in front of me, with the barrel of their weapons inches from my face.

I know. You want me to be fine, to be filled with faith. And victory. And give God the glory.

I know. You want heroic, or at least missionic-sized fearlessness. (You might remember that I have told you never to see me as a hero for I knew moments like this would come, moments when I’d be unheroic and afraid.)

I have faith. I can imagine a wonderful world again. ONLY I must feel all the feelings first.

After all, isn’t the comfort of God only as great or as deep as our suffering and weakness?

Isn’t His protection felt more acutely in our vulnerability? I admit my weakness and own my vulnerability. I lay my life down for you to witness what happens when God does what only God can do.

Which brings me to The Gospel According to Bob Thiele. He wrote the song that Louis Armstrong made famous in 1967—“What a Wonderful World.” That is quite a hymn; a declaration of faith if ever there was one. You see, at the time the song was written, it wasn’t a wonderful world at all. It was released during the Vietnam War, after the Six-Day War, and it was only six months before Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. See what I mean? Not much of a wonderful world.

Was Bob Thiele blind? Naive? A Pollyanna?

I think he had an ability to shift his focus. He started looking for other things. And he found them. He found the beauty on the top shelf, in the things that war and racism could not touch … a baby’s cry, people greeting one another, a rainbow, and the colour of the sky.

So simple.

So victorious.

And then it comes. That moment when you shift focus, and you can imagine (have faith for) a different outcome, and your emotions begin to turn around. First Faith. Then Hope. Then …

You knew it was coming.

Love.

After terror, love makes you a bit hyperactive when it comes to seeing and appreciating little things. After terror, you see mundane things in a brand-new way.

Everything is made new?

Nope.

Circumstances are different?

Nope.

Everything is the same as before, but we make a crucial decision to process things differently.

So this past Sunday I walked to church. I took the long way, through the market, along La Seine, and then crossed the city to the other side. I heard an avocado vendor shouting, “Un euro pour deux.” Two gals dressed as 1950s pin-up girls flirted with their eyebrows as they sang “Clementine.” Children’s chubby fingers sneaked bread samples while parents pretended to scold. I saw grandparents pushing strollers whose handles were heavy with bags of fresh produce and scraggly teddy bears. The man at the crêpe wagon taught his daughter how to make coffee and kept referring to her tenderly as “mon amour.” The bells of Notre Dame rang out much longer than usual, announcing a new “man and wife.”

Is it too much of a stretch to consider all of it as a sacrifice of praise, a collective and very flesh-wrapped sighing of relief in the ears of God? I like to think that for God (who told us He collects human tears), a quickened heartbeat is a standing ovation. In my expression of faith, every time people think to themselves, It’s a wonderful world, terror is defeated and God gets glory. In the midst of this fear and terrorism, the presence of God, the gospel, is the answer and our hope. That is why God has called us here—to show that with God, it can truly be a wonderful world.

(This article originally appeared in the Testimony Magazine. Reprinted with permission from the author.)

Patricia DeWit and her husband, Peter, are PAOC global workers in France. Learn more at https://paoc.org/donate/PeterDeWit.