Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blood Roses

Blood Roses

You know me, friend,
but you do not.
You do not see the bruises
like mottled flowers just beneath
the skin, blood roses blooming
in all the places where he
pushed and pressed and jabbed. 

They are invisible to you,
but I feel them sometimes swell
and throb when I remember:
In the numbness of a cheek,
the ache of a shoulder, or
a stabbing right through
the middle of me.

Pieces of memory like
broken glass,
that press into me
when I try to move

and break free.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Learn to Minimize: When you are Going Through Hard Things

When you are going through hard times, learn to minimize.  Lower your expectations of yourself, and just get the bare minimum done:  For me this includes buying groceries (endless with teenagers!), paying the bills/keeping up with my bank balance, cooking simple, nutritious meals (yes, with the occasional pizza night thrown into the mix), keeping the house livably clean (not perfect, but good enough to not make me feel crazy), and getting my kids and myself to where we need to be on time. Yes my kids and my husband do chores and occasionally cook, but I still need to superintend it, or it doesn't happen.

And to clarify, "livably clean" equates to maybe 15 minutes a day, picking up a few piles, wiping down or sweeping whatever is bugging me most, and making sure the kids do their chores.  Teenage boys do much of the housework and dishes around my house, and the result would not qualify for any kind of Pinterest picture.  But a long time ago I learned that there is a "good enough" that is far short of perfect.  That was a life-changing thought for me.  These days I also live by the mantra of "something is better than nothing."  In other words, doing a little that I can reasonably accomplish is better than doing nothing at all, or going all intense and completely burning myself out.  A few examples of simple, nutritious meals might be scrambled egg with some kind of meat or veg and some toast, or frozen chicken breasts and vegis in the crockpot with a sauce from Trader Joe's dumped over the top o, and then I make some rice.  Simple indeed, and they don't give you a stomach ache like fast food. 

Other than the bare necessities (can you see Baloo dancing and bopping to the Jungle Book song?), give yourself grace and space and lots of "downtime".  Time to read the novel or knit or walk the dog, which needs done anyway, so that's a two-fer.  Or just sit and drink tea for 15 minutes and watch the weather out the window.  Or work out or bang a hammer in the garage or play music if that's your thing.  

If you have to work long hours or have very young children, you might be thinking, "She has no idea.  Downtime like that is not even possible for me."  I'm not crazy, and I do get it. You may need to speak up for yourself, and enlist some help. Getting through emotionally hard stuff is work, and it takes real time and space.   To make progress, try to reduce the pressure on yourself as much as possible. Many of us fill our lives with a lot of non-necessary things--good things, but not absolutely necessary. Mothers especially can feel "guilty" taking this time.  

Traumatic stress will not just go away if we ignore it.  It may seem to go underground, but it will manifest in other ways, through physical problems like migraines, back pain or stomach upset, outbursts of rage at our loved ones, or self-destructive behavior that hurts ourselves and the ones we love.  If we take the time we need to stay emotionally stable, we don't keep perpetuating the ugly stuff.  I haven't even talked about really processing emotional pain and traumatic memories yet.  But learning to relax and stay "grounded" comes first, and it will keep you out of the crazy cycles.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Daughter of Sarah

Now it is Sarah's turn for a poem.  I am sure it was no small test to be married to the great patriarch Abraham, the forefather of three great faiths.  But in a time and context where women had no little status, she is mentioned for her faith in the New Testament.  God notices our faithfulness in all the little hard things, even if others do not.

A Daughter of Sarah

1 Peter 3:8

What a comfort it is to me that Sarah
is called righteous—
She who laughed
at the promises of God.

She who grew cynical
with the passing years, who
manipulated to achieve her plans and then
was jealous and spiteful and cruel
when they did not turn out
as she had so carefully

Yes, I have done
this, too.

She who knew much
about the pitching of tents,
and hard work when one is weary,
and the preparation of food in makeshift,
outdoor places, and the scornful sidelong
glances of child-bearing women.
She who knew

About hopes deferred and
a broken heart, and impossible promises
grasped so hard and then let go, almost forgotten.
Left behind on the trail of work-weariness,
of always setting one’s sights
toward the next move,
toward the work at hand.

She who heard
so little from God, directly,
yet somehow trusted,
yet somehow possessed faith
despite these things.

I can be your daughter, Sarah—
call me your daughter, too.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Obedience, Again: A poem about Abraham

Abraham did not have it easy, and was asked to do some things that would make most of us balk and then quickly, turn our backs and walk away.  It is interesting to imagine into the story.

Obedience, Again

Genesis 22:1-3

the voice had said,
“Give me your son—
Your only son.
The son that you

And there it is again,
That quick, unquestioning
obedience.  Abraham
saddled his donkey and
split the wood.
He loaded up the cart and took
the fire, the knife, and
his son.

Abraham knew
that if Isaac died,
all the promises of God—
all the promises he
had staked his life on
were false, were negated,
were made void.

God must have some
plan, Abraham thought—
some trick hidden
up his sleeve.  For he
had been rebuked
before, and had come himself
to believe the

Is anything
too difficult
for the Lord?

This one was published here in the literary magazine First Things in October of 2000.  Before we moved overseas and all the writing went into a file in a deep drawer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Taking Comfort: How to Cope when You are Dealing with Traumatic Memories

How do you admit traumatic, evil, horrific things into your mind and heart, without being overwhelmed by them?  I have found that "taking comfort" is an important part of this process.  My counselor called it "getting grounded".  When I first went to counseling after remembering episodes of abuse for the first time, this is the first thing we worked on, for months, before tackling the harder stuff.  I had a new baby at the time, and I wanted to stay present for her and for my boys, not get sucked under by trauma and PTSD.  I needed to deal with the harder stuff, yes, but without getting overwhelmed.

So what you do when you have to deal with horrible realities that you never chose but that intrude into your life anyway, is to find ways to stay calm and peaceful in the midst of it.  To find your eye in the center of the storm.  To take a step back, and refuse to let your mind become all crazy and impulsive.  You want to be able to stay who you really are.  You want to be able to maintain a calm, rational mind to react--no, respond--to people and situations around you.  Not get involuntarily high-jacked into crazy-world.  When you're facing down really hard things, you need to take a break, and often.  This is not about "pushing through" memories or "claiming healing" or some of the other spiritual nonsense that gets bantered around, especially in a church setting.  It is about maintaining a pace and staying present in your life for the people you love and making progress over the long haul.

Knitting works for me.  Somehow the motion of my hands frees my mind to think, to process, and to calm down.  Taking a long walk with my dog (I love to go somewhere empty and let her off the leash and watch her frisk and play) is good, and so is going to bed with a good novel, or watching a rather mindless but fun tv show while snuggling with my daughter.  Watch out for intense shows that will only work you up and confirm the crazy, irrational feelings though--it seems to me that people with chronic PTSD are the new action heroes in many tv series.  Their mantra is "I can handle it," as long as the action continues non-stop.  Just don't give them a minute to think or reflect.  That is definitely not the feel you're after.

Going out for coffee with a close friend or doing something fun with a group of friends requires a bit more planning and structure, but it is so important to make room for these connections in our lives. When we really go through a crisis time, friends like this can truly keep us hanging on.

These things that work for me may not be your things.  I have friends who run for miles or go lift weights or play basketball.  For them, that is their calm place, where they feel like they can really think.  For others, it might be composing music or digging in the garden or banging away with a hammer to build something in the garage. We are all different.  If you are not sure what your thing might be, ask yourself, when do I feel peaceful inside (not just numb)?  When do I feel really relaxed?  If the answer is never, it's time to try some new things out.  Is there something that you have always wanted to do, something that intrigues you?  Start small and simple.  Don't make huge new commitments or put pressure on yourself.  You will find a few things.

There are even smaller things that you can do when you are feeling agitated but you have to go to work or be engaged or be responsible anyway.  Wear a favorite "comfort sweater" or clothes to work. Keep a favorite lotion in your purse and when you put it on your hands, take a moment to breathe in the smell. Download a few calming songs onto your phone and plug them in for your drive to work.  I love the peace and order I feel inside when I hear Bach, especially Murray Perahia's Bach: Goldberg Variations.  This cd helped get me through a very stressful year with a newborn when I was overwhelmed with traumatic memories, and just hearing the first few notes makes me feel calm and peaceful.

How about you?  What calms you inside, reminding you that you are here in the present, not trapped in some horrific memory from your past, and helps you to feel like things are gonna be ok?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sibling Rivalry, from the book of Genesis to Family Game Night. And, a Poem:

I came to writer's group tonight after an attempted family game night that went south, a potentially fun, relaxing after-dinner hour that dissolved into angry words, knee-jerk reactions, and old bitternesses replayed.  As I sat down with my coffee and opened the lid of my laptop, this poem about brothers Jacob and Esau--the last poem I had typed from my paper manuscript of The Pentateuch in Poem, because I have somehow lost all my digital copies and back-ups--looked me right in the eye. Sibling rivalry can be so deep rooted, so ugly.  Why can't brothers and sisters let an immature comment pass them on by, and decide to just have fun?  Here is the poem:


Genesis 25:21-23

A pregnancy is like
A foreign invasion
even at best:
The earth of your body
ripped and pummeled,
the boundary stakes pulled up and stretched
far past all normal capacity.

So what was it like
for Rebecca,
who bore
two warring nations
in her womb?

The story in the Bible skips straight from Rebecca's tormented childbed to the twin boys all grown up, and we learn that Esau became "a skillful hunter" who loved the outdoors, while his brother Jacob "had a quiet temperament, preferring to stay at home." (see Genesis chapter 25, NLT).  And that Isaac, the father of the family, loved Esau, but Rebecca loved Jacob.

What a load of family history and strong emotion is carried by these few short sentences.  It is not hard to imagine into the story.  Did Esau, physically stronger than his brother and rash of temperament, bully and physically torment his brother as they grew up?  Did Isaac look the other way?  How many years of stifled resentment are stacked up behind Jacob's cool, calculated act of revenge?  And what kind of a man would trade his rights as a firstborn son--of incredible significance in their culture--for a single bowl of stew?

The stories in the Old Testament are characteristically told in a brief, factual style, but there is so much going on between the lines.  So much of humanness. So much, if we are humble enough to admit it, of ourselves.  In three thousand-odd years, people really haven't changed much.  As we read these stories, just maybe we can learn sometimes.  I told my children before I left that things did not have to play out the way they did this evening.  It could have been different.  Someone could have shown grace, could have said something kind.  If Jacob and Esau had done this, or going back a generation and two, Isaac and Ishmael, or Sarah and Hagar, what a different story the history we know today might have been.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Carve: Another Beach Poem


Carve me into
gentle ripples, undulations,
hills of grace and spirit and love.

Each day a
different shape:
You bring, you take

The grains of sand that 
build me up, then pull
me down again,

These waves
of flow and ebb.
And it is all right:

This gaining, and then 
losing.  Because one day
you will come for me.

Some early morning
when the sun is painting
the lines of waves brilliant white.

You will walk across
those waves to me, and take
me to that other shore.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Now a Prayer Poem from me

Here is a poem I composed about prayer while walking along Cannon Beach.  I realize how much my practice and my point of view have changed over the years, in good ways.


In prayer, it is hard to be dutiful.
Because to me,
you are never dutiful.
Maybe when you went to the cross,
but after this,

You are all open like a cup
pouring out, 
pouring in,
new water, new wine
each time.  So how

Can I know what to pray?
When every day is new, and
I must learn your thoughts
for each day,
for each person,

Always different
then I expect.
How can I know
what to pray
until you tell me?

There are people that I love,
so I pour out my concern for them
to you, and I trust that
you understand. 
Perhaps it would be easier

To make a list,
tick off the boxes.
Perhaps that would take
less time, expend
less grief.

But my heart is open
to you, Lord—
I hold nothing back.
Not one of these ones
that I love,

That I have failed
in multitudes of ways.
But you are better than me.
will not fail them.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Thinking about Prayer


I woke up thinking about prayer, and with a fragment of a poem in my mind that I had read years and years ago.  I had always thought the poem was written by C. S. Lewis, but a search for it on the internet informed me that it is actually a poem Lewis found in an old notebook, author unknown.  The poem talks about how although in prayer we attempt to speak to God, in the end it is what He speaks to us that endures.

Though it often takes us awhile to get there: To the listening part.  And that's o.k.  Eugene Peterson, whose book Answering God literally taught me how to pray and helped me sort through my confusion on this subject at least 10 years ago, tells us that the language of prayer is the gut-level language of relationship, and we can learn to speak this language through the psalms.  If you want to hear people being honest with God in an uncensored, no-holds-barred way, read the psalms.  Despite the fact that they are in the Bible, they are the opposite of what people think of as "religion", by which I mean our attempts to earn merit with God, doing good works and feeling righteous about it.  In the psalms you see that somehow, through the ugliest of human emotions, through the depression and frustration and jealousy and anger and yes, even hate with which these psalm-prayers often begin, they end up in praise.

How does it happen?  This is not really explained.  We are just given the example that it does happen, and told to go and do the same.  For centuries Christians have read the psalms out loud, both alone and in public services, in order to learn how to pray themselves. It's a good method. Because we find it excruciatingly hard and unnatural to shed our pretenses and to come to God as we actually are, and this is what prayer IS. But Jesus tells us this is the only way we can hope to enter the kingdom of God.  Like a little child.

Sometimes I think of prayer like one of those old car radios with the dial knobs.  Say you are driving through someplace barren and empty for miles on end, central Nevada maybe, and trying to find a radio station.  You oh-so-carefully turn the knob and it's static and it's static and then you catch the sound of a voice or a fragment of a popular song, only to shoot right past it and be unable to catch it again. It is not always easy to tune into the "spirit frequency," to hear the intimate words that God has to say to you in particular.  But the signal is out there, it is broadcasting, always.  It is our selves that are out of tune.  Now, for the poem I woke up remembering:    

They tell me, Lord, that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since but one voice is heard, it’s all a dream,
One talker aping two.

Sometimes it is, yet not as they 
Conceive it. Rather, I
Seek in myself the things I hoped to say
But lo!, my springs are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talkers, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015: The word is "Health"

Each year around the end of December, I ask God for a word for the new year.  Sometimes I have to spend a bit of time meditating and journaling to arrive at it, but every year since I began this practice (at least 5 or 6 years now), a word will float to the surface that shapes my prayer for the new year and a focus for the next few months ahead.  This year the word came to me without my seeking it much, coming to my mind spontaneously as I was busy at home and at my job at the bank.  Lord knows I've little time for concentrated "seeking" these days!  It's a word that surprised and cheered me, and the word is "Health".

I'm sensing this does not mean a frantic collecting of recipes and a stocking-up trip to the natural foods store, nor vows to get up in the early hours to work out or signing up for an exercise class.  It has more to do with the inside of  me, the spirit and soul part at the core, though the body is inextricably connected to these things.  Other words that came to mind as I prayed over the matter are integrity, wholeness, connectedness.  Encouraging words indeed for someone who was fragmented by the trauma of sexual abuse at a very early age, and has spent years trying to put the pieces back together.  For years--or to be honest, decades--it seemed I was fighting a hopeless, losing battle.  I have lately learned that this kind of trauma literally rewires the brain and body, so it is not a wonder that much of the commonly given advice simply doesn't work.  But in the past nine years, and especially in the past year, I've found new sources of information, and genuine hope and help.

Most recently I have been undergoing EMDR--Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy.  This was something recommended to me by my GP at the birth of my 2nd son fifteen years ago, and again by others over the years.  The whole idea of it freaked me out: I was simply too scared to pursue it.  Most recently when I went to the doctor for problems with extreme insomnia, looking for a pill to help me sleep, he told me there was nothing he would prescribe for me that I could take every day, and encouraged me to deal with the root problem, Complex PTSD.  Then he gave me a referral to a highly recommended local psychiatrist, Dr. Dean Funabiki in Pullman, the same name I was given 15 years ago.  I really did not want to pursue it, but decided it was time.  At the same time, Dr. Funabiki himself called me more than once, explaining the specifics of the therapy, assuring me I would remain in control of the process, and answering my questions.  And amazing provision opened up that completely covered these normally very expensive appointments.  All signals were "go", so with fear and trembling, but also determination and courage, I went.

It has been tremendously hard, but I can feel some differences already.  I may talk about the specifics of EMDR more in a future post.  I am not going to talk about the uncomfortable subjects of sexual abuse, trauma and PTSD very often, but . . . sometimes.  They have been huge, huge shaping factors in my life.  And it is simply not right to leave these subjects out in the "unmentionable" ether.  That is how child abusers get away with the horrible things they do in the first place, and what makes adults who have to live with such memories feel so "crazy" and alone, and alienated from the "normal" people around them.  Although sexual abuse is unfortunately all too "normal" in our society, no matter how unmentionable it may seem to be.

Before I sign off though, I will share about two significant things that--I think not coincidentally, though I did not plan them this way--began on January 1st.  On New Year's Eve I took a pill--not a sleeping pill actually, but a blood pressure and prostrate medication that is also occasionally prescribed for PTSD and was recommended to me by Dr. Funabiki--and fell asleep within 15 minutes.  How encouraging!  And the next day was the same!  Having gone years on end without this ever happening, and often sleeping only 2 or 3 hours a night, this felt like a miracle.  Secondly, I started to read a book called The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by a man named Bessel Van Der Kolk, whose name keeps popping up all over the place as I research things like trauma, PTSD, EMDR and the like.  Van Der Kolk is apparently one of the leading researchers in the world on these subjects.  For the curious, a fascinating and accessible PBS interview with him can be found here.  What an amazing, revolutionary book.  Though it is dense with hard-core scientific information, it is surprisingly easy to read.  It is also positive and hopeful in tone.  The book was a present from my Mother, and I want to say that my parents have been 100% supportive in my efforts to heal since I truly began remembering specific episodes of abuse nine years ago with the birth of my daughter. They are not the ones who abused me, another relative was to blame.

So "Health" is my word, and I am cherishing it.  Despite the struggle and the extreme unpleasantness of the things I get to think about since starting the EMDR, I am encouraged.  Significant healing is perhaps in my sights, and that is not something I have ever felt before.  I only wish I could have learned the things I am learning now 20+ years ago, before marriage and especially, before becoming a mother.  But if I can help another by writing about these things now, I am happy to do so.