“I Will Not Give What Costs Me Nothing”

‘But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.’                        -2 Samuel 24:24

This has been an absolutely fantastic week for me.  Starting last Saturday I spent the better part of my day donating time to a Back to School event my church sponsored, partnering with a local Elementary school in need.  We as a group were able to provide backpacks & supplies, games, activities, lunch, and a tiny piece of Jesus – all in the 90+ degree temperatures that soared throughout the day.  I had done a table offering special education advocacy, and though I’ve been away from public advocacy for several years now, it felt just like home to offer up my gifts to those who might be in need.  Even though it was ridiculously hot and the work was long, I left there feeling blessed and rejuvenated.

By Monday a wild idea began to circle through my brain.  I’ve been feeling really good, both physically and mentally lately.  I thought it might be time to raise the stakes and take on a new physical task, if my doctor approved, of course.  As luck would have it, I had an appointment that very day, and my check-up came back as glowing as I felt.  I asked permission to participate in the Hartford Marathon coming up in October, deciding that I just might be able to complete walking the Half Marathon in the allotted time.  Of course, I’m not looking to win any medals – I simply want to challenge myself to do more than I’ve done before.  I’d basically been walking a 5K every other day as it was, so this seemed like the next logical step.

Looking back over the last few years, I’ve lost 110 pounds and had 8 heart procedures.  The fact that I can walk at all and still breathe should bring God glory…and that’s my job.  My mother dropped dead with no warning of this same heart disease I have, 4 years younger than I am now.  My father struggled for every single gasp of breath as he died almost 4 years ago.  I know countless people who are obese and can barely move, who have COPD and can barely breathe; while I can, you better believe I am going to move.

So Monday night I hit the track, not exactly sure what my plan was.  I just knew I needed to get moving, farther and faster than I had been.  The race is 13.1 miles…my current average was 3.  Monday night I walked 6 miles, and I didn’t die.  Tuesday I woke up, not dead, and went back to the track, where I walked another 6 miles, this time faster.  I was breathing, I was singing, I was talking and I was laughing (maybe a little too much…some of those young chippies started to stare!)

Wednesday I took the night off, got dressed up and went out to laugh with a friend – a great night.

Thursday I pushed myself back to the track.  It was a little harder to get going, but once I was underway, I walked 7.5 miles.

As you can imagine, as I’m walking I have plenty of time to think – about all kinds of things.  I think about this decision I’ve made to try this Marathon.  I like saying the word ‘Marathon’ in conjunction with my name.  I am no athlete.  I was the little smart fat girl growing up.  Heck, that’s who I’ve been most of my life.  I’ve watched from the sidelines at my kids sporting events: soccer, football, basketball, baseball – mostly in amazement at the way they and the other athletes can move their bodies through space.

Several years ago I started taking karate with the kids, first in their ‘kid’ class with them, and then joining the ‘adult’ class, but even then I certainly was not athletic.  I could never find my center of gravity, my balance is awful, and my learning style is multifaceted, so merely watch-then-do does not work for me – I am currently a purple belt as my classmates have far surpassed my level long ago.

But like this Marathon, and much like my life, no one else runs MY race besides me.  I was given all the tools I ever needed to complete MY race.  Some days MY race will be slow, more of a shuffling pace, and I may not cover much ground.  Other days, MY race will look more like a sprint, and all you will see of me is a blur of curly red hair flailing in the wind.  I’ve learned with time and experience that I cannot phone it in.  Though my talents look different than others, that in no way diminishes my responsibility to use them.

That brings me to the title of this piece.  In May I was visiting my family in South Carolina, and heard a lyric from a song in church that resonated with me.  Tracking it down, I find it’s from Desperation Band’s latest album, a song called ‘Break Open.’  In the song, they’re speaking of offering empty sacrifices to God.  He knows what He’s gifted us with, and He knows what our best looks like – in all things.  He doesn’t ask for sacrifice because He needs it – He asks for sacrifice for obedience sake.  If we’re only willing to give God what we have left over, that’s a direct slap in the face to our Creator.  He wants our best, our first, our everything.

As I do my laps on the track, lost in my countless thoughts, calculating how many of the 13 miles I might actually complete in the 3 hours allotted before the medical support dissipates, I start to contemplate what my best effort would look like, instead of simply enough.  I realize I’ve been looking at this whole thing all wrong.  If I focus on doing my best, giving my best, and asking for strength to turn in my best, that is exactly what I will do.  Nowhere are we promised that getting there will be easy.  Anything worth having – better relationships, better health, lasting values – always costs us something.  If we are not willing to sacrifice, the ‘prize’ most likely is short-term.  I’m so much more into hitching my wagon onto things that are made to last.

I can’t wait to see what training next week brings…


Keep On Keeping On

“Someone once asked me how I hold my head up so high after all I’ve been through.  I said, it’s because no matter what I am a survivor – NOT A VICTIM.”

There are many traits about myself that I am not crazy about.  I am exactly five feet tall – no more, no less.  I have the shortest legs of anyone I know.  I cannot run to save my life, literally.  My heart physically fails me many times.  I have physical scars and bruises that aren’t that attractive.  My posture is atrocious.  My mouth gets me into trouble more than I’d care to share.  My upper body strength is shameful.  But all of these pale in comparison to this undeniable, unfathomable fact: I am a childhood trauma victim.

For the longest time I thought this label – this yoke around my neck – was nothing more than a delineation between me and other kids growing up.  Heck, I didn’t even think that for years.  I honestly believed that my life was a variant of normal – that all the girls experienced what I did; this was how Daddys showed their daughters love, and I was so very special and so very loved.

In my teen years, I didn’t want to be different, special in any way.  I wanted to be loved the right way, by the right guy…but at that point I was simply powerless to stop the momentum that had existed for so long.  So instead I made a decision:  I wasn’t special; I wasn’t different; and I certainly wasn’t a victim.

Once everything was exposed, and the ugliness began – the circles of blame and hurt feelings and raw emotions and bitterness – I sealed off that section of myself; blow-torched the edges and didn’t look back.  And it was settled…there was no damage, there was no problem, and there was no discussion necessary, period.  But I was so very wrong, for just because I had issued forgiveness for my Father, I had never ever forgiven myself, and it never once occurred to me that I was in far more need than he would ever be.

Since I had sealed off that portion of my life, I had never truly walked through how that experience changed me, formed me into the adult I became.  I entered a marriage still broken but functioning, in complete denial that the events of my trauma would ever touch another relationship.  In the early years of our marriage, my husband did make a valiant attempt to reach me, but he never possessed that capacity to fix what I had no cognitive knowledge was so vastly distorted – no one man could have taken on that task without my support and professional assistance – of this I am now keenly aware.

Also, because I had not examined how I was impacted by my trauma, my choices of relationships continued to be impacted, as our marriage stumbled and ultimately faltered, from a combination of both of our shortcomings.  I sincerely believe it took this event – the destruction of my marriage – to bring me to my knees, emotionally, spiritually, physically – before God and finally seek the answers within myself that had always been there, but that I had not been prepared before then to reveal.

As I’ve spoken of before, this heart work is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it is the most critical work I will ever do – for the health of myself and those around me.  I cannot be the best me I can be without finding the cause of my pain, identified or not, and choosing to walk through that.  Simply identifying the issues, past and present, but refusing to make the necessary changes is not going to bring about the healthiest version of you.  It is in the walking it out that you find who you really are, who you were meant to be, and the you that God desired for you to become.  This is the critical piece.

I also believe I’ve discovered there is no completion to this work; it is a process we must continue daily.  Though I have come a long way in deciphering why I make the choices I make, and where some of those bad choices have taken me, there are still choices to be made – each and every day.  Though I can now recognize behaviors that seem familiar and safe and remember that those aren’t working for me any longer that takes a conscious decision each and every time, choosing the better path laid out before me.

I would still contend that I am not a victim, but rather a survivor.  In fact, I loathe the word ‘victim.’  The implication is helplessness, hopelessness, and weakness.  I am certainly none of these things.  I am strong, wise, and loved.  I have a pep in my step that has been missing probably forever.  I walk with my head up instead of looking down because of unworthiness.  I am a Princess, and I won’t be diminished by titles lobbed at me by this world.  And while I can’t grow any taller, I can lengthen my gait by keeping on this new path, this healthy path, and realizing that when I stumble, I can reflect on where I’ve come from to get me on track again.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

I have this gift – it can be viewed as a blessing or much, much less, depending on your perspective.  I never forget anything.  Even the tiniest of things with no significance to some, I remember.  Yesterday was a date of some great importance.  Two years ago yesterday, my supposed ‘normal’ life was altered forever.  My 22 year marriage stopped existing as my spouse informed me it no longer did.  I wasn’t asked for my input, there was no discussion, there wasn’t even an argument – just the announcement of the end.

As I reflect on these 2 years, my initial thoughts are that it seems so very long ago.  While the words still sting like a fresh wound, I hardly remember what I felt in those first moments.  I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing – but other than my tears, I have no idea what was in my head as the longest relationship of my life was ended in 5 words.  It’s funny how I can remember September 11 like it was yesterday – where I stood, paralyzed by fear, glued to the television as the images came across, the gasps and the tears as the first Tower fell, the longing for my family to be whole and home immediately so I knew they were safe, the complete numbness as the second Tower fell, the inability to turn away from the news coverage for days afterwards.  But this inner destruction, this attack on my person, my family…happened right in front of my face…and yet the feelings and emotions were lodged so deeply inside that it seemed that they might never see the light of day.  Instinctual mode broke free and took hold, and my motions became robotic – protect my children, show no weakness, do not become broken.  Going through the motions, really…not feeling a thing.

Time is the enemy of numbness.  Just like going to the dentist, eventually the Novocain wears off, and the residual pain breaks through.  This is when the real work begins…learning to feel those feelings, meet them head on, one at a time, acknowledge their value and purpose, realize that you can survive the process and come out on the other side, stronger and wiser.  But it is just that…work…and it’s hard and painstaking, and you have to want to get through it and see what you’re made of.  For me, that meant a lot of soul-searching and a phenomenal therapist who never once judged me, told me what I felt was wrong or inappropriate, and helped to guide me through everything I was experiencing.

The biggest piece, though, was that I was ready to get healthy and whole – for me.  You can’t experience any kind of traumatic event and then walk it out for someone else.  Sure, you can try that – but the results come back hollow and meaningless – because you’re trying to walk your journey to please another, and that never, ever works.  You can’t live your life to please someone else, and you certainly can’t sift through your junk to suit their needs.

The entire 2 years haven’t been rosebuds and raindrops.  Divorce, I have found, is a very despicable word.  I never realized just how ugly people who once loved each other can become when pushed to their breaking points.  Battles over possessions, property and payments cannot be made kind.  And when children are involved, one parent has to be annihilated to make the other one more appealing – there is no simpler way to put it.  The number of times I have sat in that Family Court in the last 2 years has embarrassingly made me an expert on something I take no pride in knowing about.  And I can say this in all truthfulness – God stands outside that Courthouse, as the feeling of evil upon entering envelopes you like a heavy wool blanket each time and you know you need to be washed clean when you leave.  Love was never intended to be this way…ever.

As I’ve moved forward in my process of healing, I’ve decided that I have a small responsibility in his healing too.  Not in his process, his choices, or his actions – but solely in how I choose to treat the man I once loved.  If I continue to treat him with disdain in my heart, and yet intend to show Jesus to strangers, aren’t I being a hypocrite?  How can I show any less than the love of Jesus to him?  This is certainly not to say when he is hurtful I am just to accept it openly.  That person is gone – the one that allowed herself to be quashed for years, silenced by emotional abuse that I was embarrassed to reveal.  But I do not have to allow myself to be baited by his hurtfulness.  I am stronger now, and I am secure in who I am.  I won’t be confused about that ever again.

So what does all of this mean?  Because I am healthier, I can lead my children in a much better way.  They don’t have to be confused or afraid of what is happening in their own home.  We all are prospering – a word I wouldn’t have dreamed to use even a year ago.  Each of the kids has a path they are on, and they are making their way.  And their Mama?  For the first time in a long, long time…she’s happy and making plans to enjoy the days in front of her.  I am done looking back…my ‘new’ is ahead and it’s waiting for me to discover it.  I can’t wait!

Fatally Attracted

“The moment you feel like you have to prove your worth to someone is the moment to absolutely and utterly walk away.”

I have been manipulated by people my entire life.  To even make this statement out loud strikes at the core of what I value most about myself – my intelligence.  How could someone so smart be so stupid and allow herself to be used and abused so intimately by so many? My greatest relationships have been the most disappointing – the most manipulative.  I thought this cycle of behavior began with my marriage, but in a revelation last week, I discovered this disturbing pattern began much earlier in my life – with my father.  And this new discovery sent me into a tailspin that revealed a level of myself I had not yet seen, and one I wasn’t certain I was ready to look at up close and personal.

They say, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  How many times do we hear this statement and never really stop to think what these words mean?  My observation has been that people peering into your life from the outside – the ‘cheap seats’ as I like to call them – always have the best vantage point.  It’s just so seemingly easy for them to speak volumes into your life:  you should choose this relationship; you shouldn’t buy that house; no, don’t have children now; oh gosh, you bought that dress?  But many times I find the ‘cheap seat’ advice is guised as judgment, even by the best meaning people.  Even with a pretty spin, judgment still stings, especially when some of the words ring true.

Over time I’ve learned to listen first, reflect on the person’s heart who’s laying down their pearls of wisdom, and respond less.  Oh, it’s not been an easy lesson by any means – I will be the first to tell you.  That sting is still there – maybe just not as painful as it once was.  But when you can trust the one who speaks into your life, trust that their heart is not intentionally trying to hurt yours, the pain is short-lived and you’re left with the nuggets of truth to take away.

So this is what happened for me last week.  A painful, but heart-full exchange, truthful nuggets, and reflection.  It was in that reflection time I found my brain spiraling out of control, and I needed to put those thoughts to paper before I simply lost my mind.  That exercise – release of my thoughts and feelings on a blank paper – proved to be so powerful and freeing…I’m not sure I can completely put into words what all I accomplished with that simple act.

I have shared my childhood experience here before.  I am a steadfast believer in the fact that there are no accidents – all things happen as they are meant to.  And while we may or may not receive answers for the tragedies we experience here on this earth, they all absolutely serve a purpose.  I don’t know why I was molested as a child, and quite frankly, I don’t need to know now.  I am, however, learning over time how even though I had thought I was not impacted beyond the end of that event by what happened, that is not exactly true.

As I sat with my therapist this week, recapping what I had discovered in solo work, questioning how I could have been so foolish to allow myself to be continually manipulated, she stopped me and posed several questions to help me work through my harsh conclusion.  Who was the parent and who was the child in the relationship with my Father?  Obvious answer there.  In my marriage, why did I choose my husband?  That he lived 1000 miles away and I was looking to escape, and his family seems so welcoming and I desperately wanted to belong to someone’s family.  In my friendship with X., what did she bring to the table?  Strength when I was at my weakest and availability when my other friends were busy with their families.  So with this information, was I ‘dumb or stupid’ in making the choice to be with them when I made my original choices?  No.  I made good choices at the time.  However, I am drawn to this type of personality – a controlling, manipulative, overbearing person.  Each and every relationship I have had has revealed this trait.  And I bounce from one relationship to the next to the next.  And if I don’t identify why I make this choice each time – I will continue to make this bad choice for myself again and again.

So what we decided together is that I need to trust ME more, pay attention to the red flags that I see coming up instead of avoiding them, and take my time, allowing people to earn my trust, instead of giving it away too freely.  Wow…that seems like it would be so simple, but believe me, it is not!  Doubt is sneaky, creaping in to every little crack and crevice you have, and seriously…I have too many!  But I am wicked proud of the work I continue to do, and I am thankful for the people I have who speak into my life from their heart.  I love them more than they know…and they know who they are.

That Still, Small Voice

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2

I love my showers.  In the winter, the scalding water warms my chilled body down to the bone, where the snowy cold has robbed me not just of my body temperature but many times of my spirit.  In the summer, the cool water seeps deep into my pores, chilling me beyond what air conditioning can do in the most refreshing of ways.  What I love most about the shower is the silence, the peace, the solace – time for reflection, a collecting of my thoughts, my only true haven.

My showers lately have been different – noisy, distracting, befuddled.  I haven’t been able to connect with that place of peace I need so desperately as of late.  Miscellaneous noise and others’ junk whirl overhead like a swarm of bees, robbing me of my soul connection.  I have allowed it to continue – I make no qualms about this – but I haven’t known how to stop the distractions…until today.

Today, as I watch the water spin down the drain, that still, small voice I’ve been missing for months whispers my name and demands my attention.  The voice only I can hear speaks into my being, and suddenly all the confusion and lack of clarity I’ve been experiencing for the last few weeks becomes transparent – gossamer even – and I know what I must do, and how to get to where I need to be.

For the first time in weeks, I feel light again.  Upon deeper inflection I realize though I’ve made great strides in the recent past, I’ve chosen the wrong road of two presented before me.  And while I thought I’d chosen well, I chose the easier of the two paths, which typically would cause great disappointment in myself.  But today I resolve to make a better choice, with the new information, and leave my weapons on the ground – I’ve been beaten down enough.  Even this revelation is a huge one for me, and I find myself a little giddy at my progress.

I intend to reach out to that voice again tomorrow.  I really hope she’s not a stranger…I’ve got plans for us!

I’m Teflon…Sometimes

Life is full of disappointments.  From very early on in life, we learn this inevitable truth.  As children, we find out we cannot eat candy 24 hours a day.  As adolescents, we learn the lasting scars of being chosen last for the team.  As teenagers, we somehow survive the gut-wrenching anguish of losing our first love.  As young adults, we experience a missed job advancement or failed financial venture.  As young parents, we die a thousand deaths that first time we cannot take the pain away for our child.  As experienced parents, our hearts shatter the first time our child yells in anger that they hate us.

Each time, with each newly experienced heartache, we shut down just a bit more.  The human heart can only tolerate so much before the brain takes over, and instinct takes charge.  In the battle between heart and mind, the heart will always lose – the brain is programmed to dominate every time – this is by design.

But the problem is that our hearts are unaware of our brains ‘survive at all cost’ mentality.  Our hearts are stubborn, see.  They are the ‘David’ in this story.  They might be smaller and weaker, but don’t bother telling them that.  Because next to the heart’s bathroom mirror is a mantra – a daily pep talk, if you will – ‘I can and I will.’  The feisty little heart refuses to understand that it’s delicate and fragile – disposable even.

Someone who suffers a trauma typically learns how to bypass the heart-brain circuit fairly quickly, for self-preservation purposes.  Without this ability, the presentation of each new rejection is like reliving the trauma over and over again, regardless of what it was originally.  The same mental anguish, self-loathing, personal disdain and downward spiral ensue with no ejection handle available.

This ‘heart bypass’ might look plastic in nature – with no real ability to attach to anyone or anything.  In my case, I have become ‘Teflon Girl’ – able to leap huge piles of BS in a single bound, especially when spewed from the male species, without getting a speck of crap on me.  It really is an art form, getting into and out of the suit so quickly, but I’ve noticed a few flaws in the design as of late.  ‘Teflon Girl’ does not have hinged elbows – that is, she straight-arms all recent male relationships, careful to keep them far enough away from the cargo inside.  While that’s great potential damage control, when and if you actually do want to let someone in, trusting that feeling is made all the more difficult.

Another flaw with ‘Teflon Girl’ – as in life, the coating has started to wear thin from overuse in a few areas, especially around the heart.  And as much as the brain says “You didn’t hurt me.  I’m Teflon.” the heart knows better.  This heart is hypersensitive…it feels every beat – irregular, skipped, crushed, longing – nothing gets past this baby.

The last flaw I’ve noticed…there’s no helmet with the suit, leaving the brain completely exposed to all attacks.  My brain, I would say, is my greatest asset, but also my greatest liability.  It is a wealth of information, humor, personality, spunk, and gifts.  But at the same time, my brain cannot leave a question unanswered, a puzzle unsolved, a problem unresolved or a stone unturned.  My brain never stops running – ever.  So when attacks come, which lately seem constant, my brain goes into hyper-drive;  first, trying to fend off the assailant, protect at all costs, formulate a plan, and rearrange strategies and then after the attack, to assess the damage, replay the battle, and ponder the lesson gained.

And while this seems somewhat straightforward, it is exhausting.  I have been working so very hard on me for the last 2+ years, trying to rebuild what I allowed to be torn down and demolished, and have made excellent headway.  I have learned to distinguish happiness from façade, learned that I won’t fall completely apart if I’m not always black or white, and that I am strong but that doesn’t mean I cannot ask for help when I need it.  There are still many areas that are works in progress:  realizing what I am worth and not accepting less, being alone and being lonely are NOT the same, and listening to and trusting my inner voice.

So as I’ve observed these design flaws, in ‘Teflon Girl’ and myself, I’ve decided to give us both a break.  Every superhero has their kryptonite.  For me, I am absolutely my own harshest critic.  The sooner I ease up on the negative self-talk and soul bashing, the sooner I can continue the rebuilding process.  Maybe I’ll even use stainless steel…everything sticks to that!!

Let Freedom Ring

“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you.  You will suffer for ten days.  But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you a crown of life.”                                                                                                                                                                     Revelation 2:10

Even after living in Connecticut for 24 years, I still consider Charleston home.  My roots, my heart, my soul are all stored deep in the south – I don’t believe that will ever change.  The news of the Emanuel AME Church shooting Wednesday evening rang through me like a shockwave.  Someone, an intruder, had violated MY HOME…killed MY PEOPLE…damaged MY TOWN…it feels just that personal to me.

I scour social media to get the latest on the offender, his whereabouts, input from President Obama, outcries from the families, reactions from the community – but I know one thing I don’t have to ready myself for – more violence in retaliation.  That is not how MY HOME works.  I love the response of my people…banding together in churches and sports fields, to PRAY.  These people have been through this experience and worse before, and they know who to turn their troubles to, and who not to blame.

Being raised in this community, the difference of race was out in the open, always.  My Mother’s best friend was African American, half of my classmates were African American – heck, the first boy who ever loved me was African American…it was there, and you were either going to deal with it, or you were going to be the problem.  Sure, ignorance existed back then too, but we kids didn’t tolerate it, at least my group of friends did not.  If someone had the gall to actually say something ignorant out loud, they got stared down mighty quickly by about 10 people more than ready to ‘bring them to Jesus,’ and then they were allowed the grace to retrieve their dignity and simply move on.

I understand I can be fairly naïve about many things, though I am not naïve enough to believe my experience was the sum total of race relations in South Carolina, with its Confederate Flag whipping in the wind and the good ole boys making deals in back wood bar rooms.  But these references, as I’ve heard mention, as well as a few others in the last few days, are not the origin of racism, of the hatred displayed Wednesday night.  This story, unfortunately, is not new.  And as the pieces of the puzzle still unfold and we hear from the offender himself, a variety of conclusions can be drawn.  One point is transparent:  this young man messed with the wrong town, the wrong people – the evidence is clear.  His repayment for such unthinkable acts?  Riots, looting, burning my precious city down?  Quite the contrary…prayer, worship gatherings, vigils…inviting Jesus right back to where He was forced out by gunpoint.

I worship a God worth dying for.  I have that right because men and women have given their lives for me to serve this country I call home.  They gave their lives for Dylann Roof without him ever asking or approving as well.  I read an amazing quote last week that I really loved…basically it said Jesus died for you knowing that you might never love Him back.  Jesus died for Dylann Roof, knowing he might never love Him back…he was worth the risk.  Jesus certainly died for Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson, and though they may have feared what stood before them Wednesday night, they had the promise of eternity with God ahead of them and freedom from this broken world, and we must try to focus on that positive picture.

Please continue to lift up Charleston in your prayers – for healing and wholeness, and continuing to let God reign.