Not a Place but a Way.

Well, 2020 is almost over, and I got my Christmas shopping all done already. Yay!

I’ve had a full month of feeling much better too, praise the Lord!

So, let’s talk about that.

What happens to someone when they are first taking the stumbling steps out of the hell of constant trauma symptoms, to the middle terrain of starting to break free, before really moving into their new life?

At first you almost don’t believe it. My first few days without gagging, I really wasn’t sure what to think, I’d had a respite before. Then after 2 weeks I began to hope. At 4 weeks, I think I might have weathered the worst of this problem.

But I’ve had a month or so of respite before, it’s still a daily choice much of the time if I will believe this is more than a respite, but actually a change.

Especially when a flare up of allergies can cause similar tightness and gross feelings in my body, and I can’t tell which it is.

For me this is physical, but many people have psychological symptoms exactly like this (I do too, they’re fun), a small problem for one person might be the harbinger of a huge relapse for another… or it might not, in the beginning you don’t know.

I’ve heard in Christine Caine’s sermons where she mentions A-21, that after you rescue a girl from sex trafficking (there’s a few boys in it too, but the bulk of the victims are girls) they don’t know whether you are just going to continue their suffering, or you are actually here to help. Some are hostile, others timid, all of them are scared.

Abuse it pretty much the same, as with any kind of bondage, you go through a really terrible time, and then you’re so used to it that if that time begins to end, you’re scared. You’d almost choose the dank dark dungeon over the open highlands, because you know how to survive in the dungeon (barely) but you have no clue how to thrive out in the open. Like an animal that has acclimated to one terrain only.

Perhaps God would like us to become animals that can migrate, thrive in multiple places, and transition easily between them, but would we really like that?

In Mere Christianity, Lewis writes a chapter titled “Counting the Cost” where he warns that we shouldn’t think that Jesus will solve only the problems in ourselves that we think are bad, he will take all the problems, all the ones we secretly like, all the sins we want to pretend we don’t commit, and he will get rid of those too. “Give Him and inch and He takes an ell” He commands us to be perfect, “You shall be holy as I am holy.”

Being holy for us is like being free is for a victim of abuse, unnatural, new, frightening. Oh, it may be better, we know in our heads, but it’s just so gosh darn painful, can’t we just be “okay.”

God certainly would be one to say “It’s okay if you’re not okay” but what He will add is “Because I will make you more than okay.” Far more than okay. (My sisters and I once named an imaginary band of characters we liked “More Than Okay” as a nod to how God goes above and beyond what we envision for ourselves–yes we are geeks who imagine bands for our faves. Everyone has weird habits.)

I think another good analogy for this is the difference between getting a message and going to the Chiropractor. I’ve had my sister massage me for a long time, she’s gotten pretty good at it, I like really hard massages too, deep tissue. Sometimes he’ll spend an hour on it.

And it brings relief, but no matter how good it feels, within an hour or so, I can feel my muscles prickle back into a strained place, or a few days later, I need it again. A massage just brings relief, it doesn’t fix anything. Massages really are just meant to be temporary solutions. But some people make regular appointments, and some businesses have in-house masseuse, because they want that relief constantly.

When you think about it, it’s a great example of how we spend a lot of money to enable our unhealthy life choices like sitting at desks staring at screens all day. I’m not against a massage now and then, but if you need it every week or even a few times a week, you’re probably doing something wrong, even if you have no choice about it, your body knows it’s not meant to move that way.

By contrast, an adjustment at the chiro feels a lot less good, I personally feel a lot less period when I get adjusted. It’s a relief, but the real difference is how you can move afterwards. I feel looser, more balanced, or less bunched up in certain places. A massage just doesn’t get the same effect. But, I can feel weird for days afterward, and it’s a step by step process, improving a little more each week, but full relief does not come everywhere at the same time. Plus, it’s hard work to walk the right way, to choose purposely to stand on both feet the same way, to sit up straighter and not strain my neck as much.

But, I’ve been reading “Get Your Life Back” John Eldredge’s latest book (at least as far as I know) and he talks about something very similar, the difference between relief, and restoration.

He pints out how all our distractions like food, TV, Social Media, or alcohol, provide a short relief from our pain, but they don’t provide restoration, and they can actually prevent it because it becomes harder to tune in to what we even feel anymore.

I’ve noticed it in myself, one reason I am stressed so much is I moved more and more off relaxing activities like reading, being outdoors, and using my creativity, to things that involved my technology.

I have gotten into some bad habits, but even so, I spend less time online than the average person, if I feel this tired and drained by it, how much more does everyone else? (In the West anyway.)

I didn’t realize till this year how much of my approach to negative emotions was about wanting relief. I might give lip service to the idea of deeper healing, but mostly just wanted to feel better in the moment. The same with the physical stuff, I don’t really want to think about my body’s alignment and my digestive track being messed up from years of anxiety, I actually hate thinking I have bigger problems.

It turns out God was after Restoration in my life. As the Word says “I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten.”

A locust is much like an abusive cycle, it devours everything it can get it’s little claws on, and leaves you nothing. Locusts are a plague, we have grasshoppers in America, or used to, did the same thing, no getting rid of them, you just have to wait till it passes.

No denying it, having a dad like mine robbed me of a lot in life, I’m beginning to acknowledge that loss and I learned new ways he hurt me all the time, it may go on for a while.

And, I’m not like those people who deny they lost anything. “I don’t need that jerk anyway! I’m doing just fine without him.”

There’s a speech from a popular show, I don’t know the name, where a deadbeat father fails his son again, and the son talks to his real father figure, saying at first that it doesn’t matter, he begins listing all the things he learned how to do without his father, like drive a car, and such. The other man just listens in silence. Finally the son ends it with the honest, upset question “So, why doesn’t he want me?”

And yeah, I have to say, that’s a question that never goes away. I’m not sure even God can answer it.

You see, God, He can’t imagine not wanting us. He lives to Love, He Is Love. If there’s one thing that puzzles God, (if I can speculate about such things) it is probably when we humans don’t want to love each other, even the most innocent people to us, our children. God would never beget a child He didn’t want to Love, yet we humans are foolish enough to do it.

My dad began rejecting me when I was an innocent baby, how do you reason with a man like that? When asked, he told my sisters “It’s just the way I am.” Yeah, but you shouldn’t be that way Dad, you’re seriously broken, you need to be fixed.

So, I am left wondering why my father doesn’t want me.

There are some questions that can’t be answered because they are beyond reason, some people simply are incapable of love. It’s hard to accept, but it’s true. They can change, but they have to want to. Becoming dead to love is a choice, but it’s often made long before the person even realizes fully what they are doing, when they do, they may choose to stay that way in order to protect themselves.

My dad decided I wasn’t worth it. That cut deep, and still does. But I know that humans cannot motivate each other to change, very often. There’s exceptions to that, but usually, it can’t be done.

Its really nothing wrong with me, there’s nothing wrong with you either. Even if you’re a bad person now, and you know it, that’s not why you weren’t loved. Humans are simply broken, often empty creatures. It’s rare we are able to become good parents without God’s help.

So, since I did nothing to bring this on myself, I also can’t fix it. That’s why it’s about restoration. I need to be given back what I lost. Security, Love, Joy, Self-Worth. Things that were ripped away from me, I do not exaggerate (I think people with good parents can’t imagine how cruel bad parents can be, and that’s probably a good thing for them, but sometimes Victims get dismissed as being over-dramatic about our lives by people who just haven’t lived it. So, let me just say, I try not to exaggerate, when I use strong language, it’s because I think it’s appropriate.)

I guess in closing, I’m trying to say that Healing is not always fast. In the church, we often talk and sing as if healing is one prayer away.

That’s a product of our instant relief mindset. If you read the Bible, both OT and NT, you’ll see deliverance often takes time and patience, and we’re even told to be glad when it does (working on that still). There are the big time miracles, but things like trauma just don’t go away all at once.

There’s a misunderstanding in much of the Church, though not all, that all problems are alike, just attacks of something at random, or when we’re weak. Some problems are that, but many stem from patterns and years of trouble in our lives. Especially like in my case where the church was bound up in the trauma of abuse, though it was unwittingly so. It’s sickening to me how people like my dad can use the church as a tool, but within any human group, there are blind spots. At least if you look for them.

We sing that God is just one prayer or song or moment away… but what about when God chooses to make us wait longer than that?

The Bible has lots of examples for us, but we seem to forget the context for them. It’s something I had to reconsider of late.

So, praying for relief, and singing about it, have not got me very far. My anxiety isn’t calmed when I’m still focusing on it.

But when I slow down, and breathe, and just let it be, I get a little bit of traction.

Which is why I think this Oh Hellos song sums up much better what many of us need right now:

At the edges of my fingers, never quite closing round it, that peace like a river always flowing, never getting. Seems like maybe it’s not all that much a place, as it is a way. And ways don’t ever seem to want to stay too still, too long./

Isn’t that what’s it’s all about? The slow trickling that sets the banks in half, the sweet melody it makes as the canyons crack. I want to give it all I got, and I want nothing, no I want nothing back./ Whatever kingdom come, it probably won’t come quick, no might clarion to announce it, no single use ark to discard in an instant. Like Theseus’s ship, we’ll fix the busted bits. Till it’s both nothing like, and everything, it’s always been. It’s a wonder we expect a thing to stay the same at all./

Isn’t that what it’s all about? We keep fixing what we know is only bound to break, what’s worth saving’s never worth letting go to waste. I want to mend what I’ve got instead of throwing it away./

Ain’t nothing comes easy, no nothing comes quick, it’s gonna hurt like hell to become well, but if we set the bone straight, it’ll mend, it’ll fix, and we’ll be well.

Ain’t nothing come easy, no nothing comes quick, but I want for you this:That you are well. I want for us this: That we are well.”

The Bible says Peace is like a river. Isn’t it odd that it does not say Peace is like still water? A lake or pool maybe? No, it’s a river. Seems more like something Pocahontas would like, because it’s always moving. It’s not much like the eastern idea of serenity is it?

But, with the help of this brilliant song, I began to understand why the Bible might use the image of a river.

I found that peace if I chased it, and tried to treat it like a place to camp out, was fleeting. What comforted me one day didn’t the next, what worked one day didn’t the next. I can move one way and feel better, the next day I might feel worse.

But my understanding of healing and health was off. I wanted to just lie down and be at peace. But if I lay down, my mind would dwell on my fears. If I held still, it would catch up.

But trying to move, to make myself think of other stuff, didn’t work either. Trying to pray or worship out of it didn’t work. I was often scared even doing that and my mind went right back to worrying (I still have this problem).

What started to change that was when I realized a little that this is a journey of learning how to walk differently, to walk with God step by step, as Rich Mullins sang, and walk in straight paths. It really is a way, and Jesus actually calls Himself The Way, not a place. God is a shelter, a strong tower, but Jesus, our savoir, is The Way. Being saved comes by learning to walk in Him. God bails you out, but Jesus changes you until you no longer need to be bailed out (of course it’s more complex than that, but I’m trying to give a vague idea of how it works here, not a whole theology of who does what).

How can I describe it? I think the song puts it better than I can. Peace and Healing is the slow trickling that wears down the banks and cracks the canyons, which you might see as our problems and obstacle to change, just like water erodes rock now. It happens so slowly you don’t notice, it’s not loud, it’s not announced with a clarion.

It’s not something you can pray once for, not like the reference to an ark, this isn’t the Flood, a one time disaster, it’s an ocean we have to keep crossing, a river we have to float down.

And when our vessel (which can mean ourselves, in the Bible, and also a ship) is fixed bit by bit, it will be nothing like it was before, because it’s new, and yet it will still be us, far more ourselves than we were before, so it is everything it’s always been.

I think when the song says that I want to mend what I’ve got, be cause what’s worth saving is never worth letting go to waste, it means that if we think we are worth saving, we must believe we are wroth healing. That we should not hate what we are, but be willing to be fixed bit by bit, and not throw out our whole selves. We are given this raw material to work with, what we let God make of it is another matter, as Lewis pointed out.

Finally, the song reminds us that a truly good person will want us to be well. and tells us that it is never easy or quick, that it hurts like hell to become well (and often physical therapy is more painful than the original injury, if you totaled it up) but if you set the bone straight, it’ll mend. In other words, you have to correct what’s been wrong, you have to be set on the right path, you have to be changed, and then you will heal.

I will only heal when I have been changed, but you could just as easily say, I will only change when I have been healed. Both are true because it’s a simultaneous process.

That’s why human cures rarely work for stuff like this, many people I know chase a healthy diet, exercise, and outdoorsy lifestyles, and many are still sick all the time with serious problems. But they are only trying to heal, they are not trying to change who they are. They probably can’t.

And people who try to change how they are by force, will fail even harder. The bone has to be guided and held back into place, you can’t do it yourself.

Which of course, is why you have to be careful when you think about that river. Remember that you can ride down a river with no effort on your part except staying straight. That’s how Peace is, you let yourself be moved as God moves you. Not by your own power, not trying to stay still. It’s more work to stay still in a river than it is to move.

This turned into an essay, but I kind of like it. Until next time, stay honest and get healthy–Natasha.

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