The Third Step Prayer

Content Warning: Anorexia, Specific Weight

 

When I was sixteen, I was at the very lowest point of my anorexia, literally and figuratively. My weight was hovering in the upper 60’s, and I was nearly in liver failure. I had a heart arrhythmia, I was vomiting blood, and I was terribly anemic. I looked like those little gray aliens, all spindly limbs and big head with black holes for eyes. I looked like the walking dead.

My mom had tried outpatient treatment, and it obviously was not working. She needed to do something drastic, which meant sending me to residential treatment. The place that was chosen was called Shades of Hope. You may have heard of this place, as Oprah did a short-lived TV show about it. It’s basically a few cabins in a horrid town outside of Abilene, Texas called Buffalo Gap. I hated this place the minute I arrived. It was based entirely on the Twelve Steps, was incredibly controlling and manipulative, and had some pretty crazy rules about food for a place that was supposedly treating eating disorders.

(Additionally, this is the place that let me get raped by a guy at a hospital in Abilene, but that’s a separate story.)

Don’t get me wrong; I believe the Twelve Steps work. I have seen and continue to see them work miracles in people’s lives. I think they are limited, however, and are better suited for drug and alcohol addiction than they are to eating disorders, which are inherently more complex in nature because one cannot completely remove food from their lives the way one can remove alcohol or drugs.

I remember that before every miserable meal at this place, lovingly referred to by residents as “Shades of Hell,” we recited the Third Step Prayer. I did it so many times in my few short weeks there that it sticks in my brain even today:

God, I offer myself to Thee
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help.

Of Thy Power, Thy love and Thy way of life,
may I do Thy will always.

As I was praying last night, or trying to pray, I found myself stuck. When this happens, I stop trying to talk to God and instead just sit silently with Him for a minute. As I did, this prayer popped into my head. I realized that it was exactly what I wanted to say right now.

As I begin this summer- going to school, working in a new business, working hard in therapy and spiritual direction, continuing to take on more responsibilities at my church- I realized that I need to focus on one thing: praying for discernment so I may try to align my actions with God’s will for me. Because there are my ideas about what I think I want. But when I really dig deep, all that I really want is to please God. So I will go where He wants me to go, whether or not that lines up with my current goals or plans.

So I will be grateful, even for my time at “Shades of Hell,” and I will continue to pray:

God, I offer myself to Thee
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help.

Of Thy Power, Thy love and Thy way of life,
may I do Thy will always.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

Sophie’s Story

Sophie and I  found each other when I was 18 years old, and she was 8 months old.

My sister Cristina’s mom Beth found Sophie wandering in her apartment complex parking lot. She was thinking about keeping her, but the second I met her, I knew we were a perfect match. She was all ears and fluffy tail, and she made this little trilling noise when I petted her. I was smitten. Beth said I could have her, and I was ecstatic.

I had just moved into my first apartment; a crummy, 400 square foot box with zero security. But it was mine. All I had was a fish to keep me company, and that wasn’t going well. I needed Sophie, and she needed me. (Sophie’s full name is Persephone, but Sophie has been her nickname since she was a kitten.)

Sophie quite literally saved my life. There were times when the only reason I woke up, the only reason I didn’t kill myself, was because I needed to take care of her. I cared about her and loved her way more than I loved myself. That kept me here. She knew how to comfort me when I was anxious or having a flashback. Sometimes the presence of her little body in my lap was the only thing that kept me grounded, kept me from completely losing touch with reality.

We moved apartments and then eventually moved back with my mom. I had to go to treatment, and I hated being away from her. I have to say, I wouldn’t have gotten through my twenties without her.

The last eight years that I’ve been in this house with my mom and sister, and Sophie has been living exclusively with me in my room (her choice; she refuses to interact with the other cats) have been wonderful. It’s really Sophie’s world. I just sleep here.

Sophie is not just a cat to me. She has literally saved my life at times. She has comforted me through painful autoimmune flares, PTSD flashbacks, depressive episodes, and manic freakouts. She has never cared whether I’m severely anorexic or if I’m overweight. She’s never cared if I look great or I look like shit. She doesn’t care if I’m crying or I’m laughing or I’m panicking. She’s there. She loves me. In the most simple, unconditional, beautiful way. She just loves me.

So no, she is not just a cat. She’s a best friend. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a child. She’s a reminder to me of God’s unconditional love. She’s a furry therapist.

That’s my Sophie.

So here’s the thing. Lately, she has not been doing well. She was diagnosed with early kidney failure a few months ago. She’s been having some kind of allergic reaction, probably to fleas, which we cannot seem to keep up with. She’s had several serious UTIs as well as cystitis. The vet said today he wants to rule out bladder or kidney cancer. When they start asking “quality of life” questions, that a bad sign. And this isn’t even her regular doctor. No, her regular doctor had to go and have a baby, and is on maternity leave until July. My friend Deede pretty much summed about my feelings about this when I told her that even my veterinarian was pregnant and she replied, “Fuck that bitch.” Only semi-sarcastically. (It just seems that I can’t turn my head without seeing another pregnancy.) And honestly, I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, less-than-hopeful, and like I’m just chasing symptoms, not really getting to the root of the problem. Sophie has been my cat for nearly half my life; I know her. I know her energy. And I feel it waning. I feel like she probably won’t make it through the year. I could be wrong, but that is my strong feeling, knowing her as I do. She does not seem herself; she seems tired. And I want to make sure that I do the right things for her.

So here’s what happens when you’re me, or you’re someone else who has C-PTSD: These possibilities turn into what the experts call “anticipatory grief.”

This means that I automatically think the worst. That means the other day, when I found her sleeping in her litter box, which is a sign of distress in cats, I began bawling uncontrollably, and not for the first time.

I spoke to her about her funeral. I promised her I would hold one, a little memorial service. I told her that I would inter her ashes in the garden at St. Mary’s, because that’s home, and no matter where I move in the future I can always come back and visit. I told her that I loved her like I’d never loved any other cat, and that she was my little soul mate.

Here’s the thing guys: she’s not dying. Not imminently anyway, not that I’m aware of. But this is anticipatory grief. It’s a defense mechanism. If I imagine the worst, and I grieve before the worst happens, then my brain thinks it won’t be so painful when it actually does happen.

I have no idea if that’s true. My feeling is that nothing will cushion the blow of losing Sophie when the time comes. It will be extremely painful, as all losses are. I have always called her my “baby” and I’ve always “mothered” her, but I’ve felt particularly maternal towards her since I found out I can’t have my own children. I know there are people who think that people who treat their cats or dogs like children are morons. Look, I understand the difference between a cat and a baby. I’d never compare myself to a parent of a human, or compare my loss of my cat to the loss of a human child. But for all intents and purposes, Sophie has been a child to me, and I have been her mother. And that may be all the mothering I get to do, so losing Sophie will have a particular sting to it.

I hate to admit this, but there are some times I think, am I just dragging out the inevitable? Should I go ahead and let her cross the rainbow bridge now while she’s in decent shape and not in pain? Does that mean I’m giving up on her? Am I being selfish, trying to end my pain now so it isn’t prolonged?

I hate these thoughts. I don’t want to be having them. I think they come from a fearful, grief-filled mind. I want to be doing everything I can to keep Sophie healthy and alive for as long and she seems happy. To make the right decisions for her, to do right by her as her guardian and mother. But I am scared, tired, and overwhelmed, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Please keep up both in your prayers as we navigate these next few months together.

 

The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
    but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Proverbs 12:10

Day After Mother’s Day: Moving On

Today is easier.

Today I did normal things. Took the cat to the vet. Wrote emails. Went to the pharmacy. Drank a Frappuccino. Today I was a person again, not just an empty womb walking around, which is what I felt like yesterday.

After the five pm service, Deacon Russ came over to me and hugged me. He said, “You just look so sad today. You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, I just wanted to give you a hug and tell you that I see your sadness.”

He doesn’t check social media much.

I got a hug from Beth+ too, and when she pulled back she said to me, “You made it.” I said something along the lines of, “Sort of.”

Once at home, I cooked dinner and made dessert for my own mom. She works the 3 to 11 pm shift as a nurse, so she didn’t get to enjoy it until midnight, but that was ok. It was good to see her smile, give her a gift in an act of service and make her feel loved. She gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for letting me be your mom.” I said, “Genetically, I don’t think I had much choice in the matter.” Because that’s how we are. And she laughed.

Did I choose her, though? Was my soul bound to hers before I was born? Do I have a child somewhere out there whose soul is bound to mine, and I just don’t know it? Or does that only happen to mothers who carry their children inside them?

I will wonder about these things for a long time to come. In the meantime, I will focus on finishing school, on discerning if I am called to the priesthood. I will write emails, drink Frappuccinos, take cats to the vet. I will live a regular life, and maybe someday, when God thinks I’m ready, a child will come into my life.

Or maybe not.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

 

Mother’s Day Missing: Continued

Today was a sort of nightmare.

Being on social media today, especially Facebook, is like being assaulted from every angle. All I want to do is forget and grieve in solitude and peace but today the world has chosen to say to every women who can get pregnant, every woman who can do what I can’t do: congratulations on being everything Sarah wants to be but can’t be! Congratulations on being a mother!

God, help me.

This is all very selfish and self-pitying and irrational. Trust me, I am aware. It’s not a conspiracy theory to make me feel like shit, although that’s how it seems to me right now. I am, as my friend Deede says, “all up in my feelings.” It’s hard not to be.

I decided I needed to go to as much church as possible today. For me, that’s the best place to be when I’m all up in my feelings. I need Jesus and my friends to sort me out. So I went to Adult Christian Formation, where we talked about Why Bad Things Happen To Good People. A timely subject. I could have shared for hours about all the fucked up shit that has happened in my life, but I mostly kept my mouth shut. I only opened it to say that the idea of “bad things happening to good people” is a fallacy in itself. Because to believe in that, you have to believe in the notion of “good people” who deserve good things vs “bad people” who deserve bad things. And as Christians, that is fundamentally against our core belief that God loves everyone equally.  

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5: 44-45 

So during the 10:30 service, I was called away to help with Children’s Chapel. Of course. Actually, it was sweet. A little girl who I had in my Vacation Bible School class last year, who has since been quite attached to me, was there and wanted to hold my hand the whole time. We did prayers and songs and what the kids prayed for was adorable. Everything from a dead dog to “hungry people” to “grandma’s hurt back.”

When we came back from Children’s Chapel it was time for blessings. Rev. Beth called up every woman in the nave to the altar rail to receive a mother’s day blessing, because she said, “If you are a woman, then you are a mother in Christ and you help to raise the children of this church.” When I got up there, I was surrounded by friends, people who know about my grief over my infertility. I began to cry, but tried to hold it back. Then Beth+ gave me a meaningful look, and put her hand over her heart. My friend Mary grabbed my hand. So I lost it, and just cried.

I continued to cry through the Eucharist. Someone behind me handed me kleenex. I felt honored, recognized, and deeply empty at the same time. It was incredibly sweet and incredibly bitter.

I don’t know how to do this.

I will never forget the day that I was told in definite terms that pregnancy and children would not happen for me. It was March 11, 2016. I will never forget lying on a table having a pelvic ultrasound, looking at this giant flat screen on the wall where most women see the progress of their growing fetuses, and seeing black. Seeing my big, empty uterus in HD, with a cyst on my fallopian  tube and another on my ovary, seeing the huge, black, empty space that would stay empty forever. I watched as my ob-gyn moved the wand around to check for more cysts, just staring at the black emptiness. That, as Rev. Beth said, is when the death happened for me.

The death of all my hopes and dreams. The death of my identity as a hopeful future mother. The death of my ability to give life through my body. Part of me truly died when my ob-gyn told me my chances of ever being able to carry a pregnancy without me or the baby dying were less than 1%. It’s not just about the cysts (PCOS), thought that’s a big part of it. It’s my bipolar medications, my autoimmune diseases, and scarring from years of rape and sexual abuse. The combination of those factors makes it nearly impossible.

I am not meant to be a mother by natural means.

Maybe I am meant to be an adoptive or foster mother. Maybe God has a child out there that isn’t even born yet, and I am destined to be his or her parent. Maybe I am meant to rescue a child from a situation like the one I grew up in, and because I went through that, I will be specially equipped to help that child. I don’t know.

All I know is that right now, the loss still hurts. It’s been one year and three months, and it still, still, hurts. I sometimes feel silly or stupid for continuing to grieve for so long. A part of me is like, you should be over this by now. C’mon, stop it already. Another part of me says that this will take as long as it takes, and I have to just follow where the grief goes.

I hate that.

That’s the way grief works though. The more you try to suppress it, the more it comes rushing up to make you pay attention. You can ignore it, but it won’t go anywhere. Grief will wait. It will sit there, kick back and relax until you deal with it. So you might as well deal with it.

I am trying.

 

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the LordDo not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    He is called the God of all the earth...
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

Isaiah 54: 1, 4-5, 7-8

Forgiveness: Defining and Deciding

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Incest

When victims of violence, particularly sexual violence, are on their healing journeys, the topic of forgiveness often comes up– and it can be a very touchy subject.

Forgiveness means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, it means the total absolution of any wrongdoing on the part of the person who hurt them. For some, it goes so far as reconciliation with one’s assailant. For some, it has absolutely nothing to do with the other person, and it’s solely focused on the victim; forgiveness simply means letting go of the guilt, shame, pain and other feelings associated with the trauma. For some forgiveness simply means moving on. I know a lot of people who have been told, to their detriment, that they cannot “move past” their trauma until they “forgive.” Most of these comments come from people of a religious persuasion. Don’t get me wrong, I am a woman of deep faith and forgiveness has been part of my healing journey. However, I do not believe that it needs to be part of everyone’s journey, or that it is necessary in order for someone to heal and move past their trauma. Deciding whether or not to approach forgiveness is a very personal choice, and no one should be forced into it based on other people’s beliefs.

For me, forgiveness was definitely a spiritual process, and one that had nothing really to do with my father or other perpetrators. It had everything to do with me and my own healing. And I never really made a conscious decision to approach this; it honestly felt more like God led me down this path and I had to try to keep up.

It began with praying. I began praying for my father, for the man that raped me when I was sixteen, for all the people who had hurt me. I wasn’t ready to pray for anything good for them, so I started out praying for one thing only: that I would be their last victim. That they would never hurt anyone else.

It was a start.

After a while I was able to pray that their hearts would be turned to Christ and they would repent of their actions. I prayed that Jesus would forgive them (because I wouldn’t.)

Things really began to shift in June of 2016. When the shootings occurred in that Orlando nightclub, my priest Beth+ preached an incredible sermon. She said that it’s easy for us to be Christ-like towards the victims of mass shootings like this. It’s easy for us to be Christ-like to the families. It is not easy to be Christ-like, to love as we love ourselves, the perpetrators of these mass shootings. But what if, at some point in their lives, someone had been Christ-like towards them? Someone had loved them, helped them, supported them, taught them, the way Christ did? Would these events have occurred then?

As Beth+ was asking these questions, I found myself sobbing in the pew. At first I didn’t know why I was crying and then I realized: I was feeling empathy. Empathy for my perpetrators. For my father. For the man who raped me. For all of them. Because somewhere in their lives, they had been broken. They had been lost. Somewhere in their lives, they became gripped by sin and death. How horrible a life they must have led, to have ended up people that would commit such evil acts. How much pain they must be in.

And I didn’t know what in the hell to do with that.

I was terribly confused by this feeling of empathy. Normally, I would have gone to Katie+, the priest I had been seeing for pastoral counseling on and off for the past two years. However, she had just left for a new parish, and I was kind of feeling at loose ends. God works, though, because a priest from our sister church came to visit St. Mary’s in Katie’s+ absence. And just a few weeks later, when these feelings arose, I called on him.

Now, why did I call on a virtual stranger to help me with this? Um…good question. I still have very little information on that. All I know is that I felt God nudging me. So I heeded that, and tried not to wonder about it too much.

Going to him turned out to be an excellent decision. Through a few months of counseling with him I managed to do a huge amount of spiritual work, not just around my father, but around my grief over my infertility and my trauma in general. I accepted things that I had never accepted before, certain memories I had kept secret, even from myself; shoved into a back corner, unacknowledged, deemed unnecessary to my narrative. What I discovered is that it’s those unacknowledged things that end up controlling the narrative until you give them exposure, and dispel the shame.

As for the forgiveness part, what I had to do was really develop not only empathy, but compassion. First, compassion for myself. For myself as a child, as a teenager, for everything I endured and everything I did to survive what I endured. I completely forgave myself for everything I did to survive, everyone I hurt or lied to during my eating disorders, my self-harm, my drug abuse. I recognized the fact that those things wouldn’t have even existed had it not been for the trauma. I take responsibility for my actions, but I refuse to blame myself for developing those conditions.

Then, I developed compassion for my perpetrators, especially my father. I had to find the reasons why he did what he did. I’ll never understand (who can?) but I can gain enough insight to feel compassion. My father was also abused as a child. He was sexually abused by his mother, and physically and verbally abused by his father. He had mental illnesses, clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder (aka sociopathy), and substance abuse. (Please note: none of these things are excuses for his behavior, and it is highly unusual for victims of sexual abuse to become perpetrators themselves, or for people with mental illness to become violent.) Even his own history of abuse and mental illness did not explain to me what he did though. Because I can’t quite explain it, but what I saw in his eyes when his face was above mine and he was sexually assaulting me, his own daughter, was evil. Just evil.

I don’t really believe in Satan, as in the cloven-hooved personification of evil who lives in hell, etc. But I do believe in evil as an entity itself, because I have seen it. I saw it in my father: in his dead soulless eyes, in his voice as he growled unrepeatably cruel and disgusting words in my ear, as he did unspeakably violent and dehumanizing things to my little girl body. I experienced evil in a way that no one should ever experience it, up close and extremely personal. And I carried with me a fear I didn’t even know until the priest I was working with said it out loud to me: that this evil was somehow inherent to him, and because I was his daughter, it was somehow inherent in me too.

What I eventually discovered as invited God into these traumas is that, unlike I had previously thought, He was always there, protecting me. Not in the ways I imagined, but He was there. He protected my mind and my spirit. He kept me sane and kept my soul from being touched by the evil inches away from me. He sheltered those parts of me until I was out from under that tyranny, and it was safe for them to come out again.

I also eventually discovered something else, that was maybe the most important thing in the whole process: that I had to stop mythologizing my father. I had always called him things like monster, viper, etc. But he wasn’t. He was simply a man. A human being, weakened by abuse, illness, and a lack of any spiritual beliefs or morality or conscience, which left him vulnerable to the evil entity that took over. When I saw him like that– as a  weak, pathetic person overcome by evil– I had compassion. I had compassion for the little boy that was abused, and the man who suffered from mental illness, who had no one to teach him about God or bring him to Christ. And when that happened, all my shame, guilt, and anger fell away.

When this happened, my priest said something revolutionary to me: “You now know that this evil was not inherent to your father. So it’s not inherent to you. So now you can stop hating and fearing yourself for being your father’s daughter.”

Whoa.

He also told me this: “You faced down a demon as a child. One who looked you in the eye and told you you were unlovable, unworthy even to live. And you survived and grew into a place where you know you are loved and worthy. That makes you a total badass.”

He said a lot of cool stuff.

When my priest and I ended our time in counseling, I wrote down all of the terrible things I wanted to give to God, as well as all of the things I wanted for my future, on magician’s flash paper, and burned them on the Paschal candle in the nave. Then he anointed me for healing.

I can’t say that I have never struggled since then, because I still do. What I will say is that going through the process of finding empathy, compassion, and ultimately what my personal definition of forgiveness is for my father (end everyone else, though I didn’t focus on my process with them) was a giant step in my healing and finding peace and acceptance with what happened. And I will also say that it changed the tenor of my struggle; when my PTSD does flare up, it feels less chaotic, less out-of-control frightening than it used to. Maybe because I know that no matter what, I am anchored in God, in hope. I have a peace that passes understanding in Christ Jesus and all things are possible through Him who gives me strength. So though I struggle, I am held.

This is the story of my process, and my process only. I hope it is helpful to someone in explaining how a victim might end up forgiving, because there have been some that have said to me that they can’t understand how I could. This is how. Maybe it will show other victims that it’s possible. I just want every victim to approach the idea of forgiveness carefully and thoughtfully, and with support. Because it may be helpful, or it may not be. It’s totally up to you.

 

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Luke 6:27, 36-37

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

Joy Comes in the Mourning

Content Warning: Rape

Today was a holy day. I went to ACF (Adult Christian Formation, aka “Sunday School for Grownups”) and the discussion was incredible. The fact that our church (and our Church) deliberately takes time to wrestle with questions of faith such as, “Why did Jesus have to die?” is so wonderful to me. When we question faith in community we become seekers instead of heretics, people on journey to understanding. Rev. Beth preached a beautiful sermon about a life of abundance in Christ. I got to experience that abundance in community with this amazing group of women just afterwards at the Daughters of the King luncheon. I adore being surrounded by these women, doing what Anne Lamott says are two of the most holy activities: overeating together and creating art. After that, I had to spend some time studying chemistry, but at least I got to do it in my favorite Starbucks with my sister. And after my memory and my laptop gave out, we sat in the sun and read for awhile, just enjoying the day.

It really was a beautiful day.

Which is why it was so difficult to be having intrusive trauma-related thoughts and images flashing through my head at random times. Which is why it’s hard to feel the old impulses to self-harm, and not act on them. Which is why it’s so, so hard to explain to people how I can have such a wonderful day, and still come home exhausted and wanting to cry.

Because inside I’ve been fighting a battle that you’ll never see, and I don’t ever talk about. I could be in the middle of singing a hymn when the image of semen in my hair comes back to mind, and I feel sick. Things like that, they happen at the worst and weirdest times. Mostly, I just shake my head, shove the image away, and get on with things. But let me tell you, that takes a tremendous amount of energy. And I end up with this feeling like I need to cry, and I literally can’t. It’s strange, this duality.

The joy I experience in my day is real and lasting and I truly appreciate every second of it. But feeling joy does not negate struggle, and I do still struggle. Right now, in particular, with my C-PTSD. At another time it will be something else, but today, this is what it is. And I just want people to know how possible it is- and how common it is- for people to look totally “OK” and still be struggling on the inside.

Part of the grief I’ve gone through is accepting that the traumas I experienced carry a lifetime of echoing consequences. I have to accept the fact that there may be no “full recovery” or “complete healing” from what was done to me. I can only pray for that, and I do. I also have to grieve for the loss of what one might deem a “normal” life. A “normal” childhood. The ability to go through a day without flashing back to suffocating under a body that’s on top of you, raping you.

I grieve normalcy. I grieve health. At times, I grieve sanity.

While I do though, God has given me plenty of other things: joy, grace, sacred beauty, hope, resurrection, creation, prayer, and so, so much love.

Today was a holy day.

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5

Introduction

This blog is simply a place for me to expound on topics that are too long for Facebook posts, and maybe for some of my poetry. I am a woman on a journey of faith, healing, discovery, and recovery. Currently I am in school, seeking my Associate’s of Science. I plan to use that as a bridge to finish my Bachelor’s of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center (if I’m lucky enough to get in!) Ultimately, though, I feel called to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. What that looks like yet, I don’t know. My feeling is the priesthood, but it could be something else. Once my Bachelor’s is complete, I will apply to seminary.  Right now, I’m simply in prayer and discernment, taking things one step at a time. I have plenty of time and wonderful clerical guidance in my life to discern God’s plan for my place in the church, if indeed that is where He wants me.

I currently serve on several ministries at my home church, St. Mary’s, including Eucharistic minister, worship leader, and arranging altar flowers. I recently completed my postulancy to become a member of the order of the Daughters of the King. When I say this is my home church, I mean that in the truest sense of the word. There is nowhere in the world that I feel more comfortable or safe than the nave at St. Mary’s. The people there are my family. I feel loved, cherished, needed, and wanted there. Through the pastoral counseling I received there I’ve found so much healing, hope, compassion, and peace.

Despite all of the healing I’ve done, I still struggle with many things. Most of my issues now are with grief. I grew up in violence and chaos. I was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused, and sexually tortured. I am a child of domestic violence, a victim of rape and incest. Most of these things were committed by my father. I was also raped again as a teenager by a stranger, sexually harassed by my gymnastics coach and a college professor, nearly date-raped by a guy, and sexually assaulted by another college professor. Classic re-victimization; it happens. I had a major surgical trauma at 23, when I developed a rare pneumonia and was forced to have my chest cracked open to have part of my lung removed. I briefly coded on the table during surgery (read: died for minute) and was in a coma for several days. It took me nearly a year to fully heal from that surgery. I have some trauma from several car wrecks, as well as the sudden death of my young cousin, Tyler. Basically, I’m a walking case of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Along with those things, I have struggled and nearly died a few times from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, bipolar disorder, and self-harm (cutting myself mostly, hitting myself with blunt objects, at times until I broke bones, and rarely burning myself). I’ve had some issues with prescription pills at times.

You would, too.

I’m thirty three now, and I’ve been in therapy since I was fifteen. Basically, I’ve spent the second two thirds of my life trying to recover from the first. At the present I am also dealing with chronic illness: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Celiac disease, inflammatory arthritis, fibromyalgia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a number of gastrointestinal issues that need not be detailed. (To be noted: there has been resent research into the link between childhood trauma and the development of autoimmune disease later in life “Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness”). Last year, I found out that I am infertile, and unable to have my own biological children. (That has been brutal.) I take about twenty pills each day, which keep me stable, but have a number of really not-fun side effects.

So what’s the upshot of all of this? It sounds like a lot, right? It is. The only way I can claim any sanity in it all is God. I give all credit to Him. I am not just saved by Jesus through the waters of Baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Cross. Jesus saves me every day, in little ways, when I don’t have the strength to cope, to get out of bed, to tolerate the pain, the fatigue, the grief, the stress.  Jesus saves me. He gives me a peace that passes understanding. He sends me rescuers in the form of family, friends, my beautiful little Godson, trashy novels, Netflix binges, my cat Sophie, white chocolate mochas, thunderstorms or perfect sunny days, poetry and prayer, my church, my clergy, and scripture. He resurrects me from the ashes and reminds me that I am more than what was done to me, more than my failing health, more than the scars that cover my body.

Jesus had scars, too. And they were reminders, not just of the wounds inflicted, but of victory over the pain and death. I like to see my scars that way, too.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. At times it may be difficult, but I hope you see what I see: the beauty from the ashes.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me

because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations…
 Instead of your shame

    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them…

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation.

Isaiah 61