We Must: A Hurricane Poem

21106756_10155282314234342_7874135219911076783_n“Be Someone” sign in Downtown Houston

 

We Must

 

The sun

Is out

But the storm

Is not over

We must keep watch

With those

Who work

Or weep

This night

We must keep hold

Of those things

Most important

And learn to grieve

What is not

What is lost

To take joy

In what is left

We must have hope

And believe

Not just in God

But in each other

Compassion

Is salvation

And love

Will dry the tears

The earth has cried

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

For all those affected by Hurricane Harvey

 

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Psalm 29:10-11

My Father’s Eye’s: A New Poem

Hello, all. I wrote this poem recently. It may be difficult to read, but that’s kind of the point. It’s meant to reflect the dissonance between the what I was taught about myself by my biological father and what I know to be true about myself through God. As always, thank you for reading!

CW: sexual assault

 

7/29/17

 

My Father’s Eyes

 

In my father’s eyes

I was a burden

Something taking money from his pocket

Food from his mouth

 

In my father’s eyes

I was a toy

If he couldn’t lose me, he’d use me

To fondle and fuck

And torture to his heart’s delight

 

In my father’s eyes

I was a whore

A little red light district to visit

I did owe him, after all

For allowing me to exist

 

In my father’s eyes

I was less than human

And I knew that

When I asked him to kill me

He refused even that kindness

 

Turn the page

Next chapter

 

Now I know he was full of lies

The truth is with my real Father

My Father in Heaven

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am beloved

I am a flawless, raw diamond

Formed out of years of darkness and oppression

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am more than a conqueror

I am His workmanship

I am holy and blameless

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am a new creation

I have a heavenly calling

I am the salt of the earth

And the light of the world

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am a daughter

I am healed

I am free

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

 

Understanding Grief: Love With Nowhere to Go

grief-is-just-love-with-no-place-to-go

I can’t seem to find a reliable source for the author of this quote. But it’s the best explanation I’ve found for the type of grief that I’ve been experiencing around the loss of my ability to have a child.

I was sitting in therapy the other day and I was frustrated. I was saying how I didn’t understand why this “grief process” was taking so long. How I didn’t understand, didn’t anticipate, that my grief over not being able to become pregnant and have a child would be so intense. And why it had only seemed to be since that last ultrasound the previous March that I have felt this way.

It’s not like I didn’t have some understanding that infertility was a possibility for me. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been on psychiatric medication since I was 14. I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disorder seven years ago, and PCOS six years ago. I was told about the scarring from repeated sexual trauma when I was 25. I knew all of those things could affect my chances to get pregnant and have a healthy baby at some point in my life, but I wasn’t putting it all together. I thought I still had options. I thought there was still some chance.

The truth is, I know why it’s only been since March 11, 2016 that I’ve felt this way. It’s because that’s when I put it all together. That’s when all my options were taken away. That’s when I was told that there was, essentially, no chance, unless I wanted to risk both my life and the life of any fetus I tried to carry. That’s when whatever little hope I had was crushed.

And so the grief really began. The loss that had been, up to that point, only theoretical, became an actual, tangible loss. A death. One I was not prepared to mourn.

The strength of this grief and the length of time is has gone on has confused me, frustrated me, angered me, and generally been a stumbling block in my healing. I understood that there would be grief but why was there so much? For a long time I felt like I didn’t have the right, didn’t deserve to mourn so much about a loss that, for the first few months, I still had to convince myself was a real thing. I told myself that I was mourning “imaginary children” and that was “stupid.” Disparaging and minimizing the truth was a defense against the pain I was feeling, just a another stop on the way to acceptance. I had to have multiple people tell me that this was real. That I had the right to feel what I felt. That it made sense.

Six months after that ob-gyn appointment, two dear friends of mine lost their three-year-old child to a drowning accident. And suddenly, my grief seemed like the stupidest thing on earth, because this mother had lost a real child. Her living, breathing child whom she had carried and birthed and held and known and played with and taught and fed and rocked and loved beyond measure, had died. I mourned for her child, mourned for her. I stopped mourning for myself because I felt unimaginably dumb doing so.

I’ve never said this to her before, but I know she’ll understand if she reads this.

I had to get past the idea that there was some comparison to be made. I had to understand that we are two separate people with two separate stories, and we each have the right to grieve our own losses. I had to get past the idea that there’s like, some scarcity of grief out there, and that if I grieved while she did I’d be taking up too much of the supply.

There’s plenty to go around.

I finally really understood this two months ago when I went to a Lenten discussion on grief with a few people from church. Why they chose to do this in a loud,  hamburgers-and-beer place was beyond me but I found myself leaving the discussion to sit outside at a picnic table and cry. A woman I know, who had also lost a child, came and sat down next to me. This woman had lost her fourteen-year-old daughter to a rare disease just three years ago. Without a word, she sat down next to me and opened her arms. I fell onto her shoulder and sobbed. She told me something I hadn’t known: that since she had been very young, she thought that she couldn’t have children, so she understood my pain. When she got pregnant with her daughter, it was a total shock.

Something about the fact that this woma who had lost her real, living child, was willing to sit down and be in my pain with me over not being able to have any was extraordinary. It was one of the most generous acts of grace I’ve ever seen. She validated my grief with hers. She validated it by being a mother who had arguably been though much worse and still was willing to comfort me. I can’t thank her enough for that.

I remember continuing to cry after they left, in my car, for an hour. I drove around, eventually ending up at the St. Mary’s church grounds. I walked the prayer path, stumbling in the dark, not seeing the irony of the metaphor at the time. I went home, because I had to. And I felt something shift.

The very next day, because this is how God works, I saw the image at the top of this piece on Facebook. It hit me like a ton of bricks: The reason my grief is so intense is because I am feeling all the mother’s love I ever wanted to give to all the children I ever wanted to have, all at once– except there are no children to receive it. So this love has nowhere to go but straight back into me, where it sits like stagnant water, a swamp full of care-taking and nurturing and hand-holding and playing and teaching and mothering. 

I’m a mother, but I will never be a mother.

That’s why it hurts so much, and is taking so long.

 

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Job 1:21

How I See You: A Poem About a Shift In Perspective

Joan of Arc for you. Elizabeth I for me. 😉

 

I wrote this poem today, after talking to someone who knows me probably better than anyone else on the planet. I was telling her how I felt so down right now, how after all that’s happened in the past year my spirit felt crushed with grief. And well, she had some words for me about that. 

Thank you for loving, supporting, and guiding me, and sometimes giving me a total shift in perspective! You are a light in my life and I’m so grateful for you. So grateful. Love you.

5/17/17

 

How I See You

 

I sit here, nursing my spirit

As I feel it, bruised by so many blows

I sense that it’s crushed, but a wise woman tells me:

You’re not crushed,

You’re a fucking hero

I see you burning so brightly

I see you strong and fighting

Yes, you’ve been beaten, but no, dear, not crushed

Your spirit is nothing if not shining

You’ve run a gauntlet of pain

You’ve been honest and vulnerable

You’ve faced grief and trauma

And forgiven the unforgiveable

Only heroes do that

Only heroes come back

Only heroes keep fighting

Only heroes know how

To use the gifts of darkness to move forward

To find those gifts in the first place

I see you stronger than ever

On the cusp of something great

Remember that you’ve done more than you ever thought possible

And you’ve got a whole new life to create

 

For Krista

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.

Psalm 34: 18-19

Let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread…for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.

Deuteronomy 20: 3-4

Tears from Fears

Having PTSD is weird.

Having Complex PTSD is weirder. You know, I have needed to cry for a while now. After a year of grief, death, loss, stress, excitement, pain, hard truths, and very little time to process, I have needed to cry. Really cry. The kind of crying that leaves you a red-faced, snotty, puffy-eyed mess. The kind of crying that comes from your gut. Loud, ugly, soul-cleansing crying.

Thanks to PTSD, I have not been able to do this. In order to cry like that, you need to relax. When your body stays in stressed-out survival mode the way mine does, your sympathetic nervous system does not allow your brain the luxury of feeling safe enough to feel emotions deeply. So they get shoved away, stuck on a psychological shelf somewhere. They wait. The weirdest triggers can bring about the crying, though, and it happened last night.

It was nearly two in the morning. I was about to try to settle down to sleep when I got a message from a dear friend: her cat, who is like her baby and her best friend, had unexpectedly died that day.

Suddenly, it happened. I was crying, and I couldn’t stop. The crying got loud. I didn’t want to have any attention or talk about anything with anyone in my house, so I crept downstairs, grabbed my keys, and went and sat in my car in the driveway. I just sat in the silence of my sealed car, like my own soundproof booth, and wailed.

And wailed.

I’m really not sure how long I stayed out there. I was messaging with my friend for part of that time, when I was able to stop and gather myself for a few seconds.

Here’s the thing about this type of crying: while it’s uncomfortable, I find it to be an incredible relief, almost like a prayer of supplication through my body: God, please take these things which have been weighing on me. As I express them through my tears, please take them from me and by your compassion replace them with your grace. Amen.

You want to know something weird? I almost enjoy crying. I’ve done a lot of it since September. That’s when I figured out how to cry.

See, when I was a child, I literally never cried. Ever. Not when I was being abused. Not when I broke my arm. Not when I smashed my finger in a heavy wooden door and my fingernail came off. I just. Didn’t. Cry. And I thought that was like, just an “abused child” thing. Like I was just super tough, because I had to be. But it wasn’t.

Through counseling I figured out that when I was being abused, it was my father’s specific goal to make me cry, to make me react in pain. He wanted to see me hurting and terrified; he got off on that. I must’ve intuited that, and as a way to defend myself, to hold some control, I stopped crying. I stopped reacting at all. I refused to give him what he wanted. Which meant that he became more and more violent to try to elicit the reaction he wanted from me. Which meant I withdrew deeper and deeper into myself to survive, until I didn’t know how to feel anything.

When I realized this, it was huge. I was able to see my inability to cry not as a fault but as an act of heroism on the part of the child that I was, who refused to feed the evil energy attacking her. And therefore, I was able to redeem my tears as something safe, something holy. Withholding them once protected me. Now, every time I’m able to cry it’s like spitting on my father, and saying: you won’t take this from me. Every tear is like a tiny baptism, a birth by water into the newness of life beyond that trauma.

So you can see how, even though crying is painful, for me, it’s an experience I’ve only really been fully having for a few months, and so in many ways I almost relish it. It’s a release most people take for granted that I never really had. I’m grateful because, even thought crying is usually seen as something negative, to me it has made me more whole, more human. How could I be anything but glad about that?

So yeah, PTSD is weird, and you never know what will set you off crying. I’m just grateful that at this point, that’s something I can do.

 

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:4-5

 

 

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