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Reflections on the Interfaith Service

Posted on November 2, 2018 by Jenn Zaotpek

Last night, my husband and I drove to Ahavath Sholom, the conservative synagogue in Fort Worth, for the memorial service for victims of the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Worriedly, I told my husband, “I sure hope there are people who will show up.”  But nearly one thousand people showed up to the vigil last night.

I so often forget that I am not alone in wanting to extend kindness, care, and compassion to my fellow humans.

Ahavath Sholom is located in what I affectionately call “the religious cluster” in Southwest Fort Worth. Situated on rolling green hills stand several houses of worship, a large Methodist church, a non-denominational church and two synagogues near one of the local libraries.

When we arrived at the synagogue last night, the area was ablaze with sunsets glowing in all the reflections of the shiny cars.  I took in the scene and breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that people came out en masse to support the Jewish.

Upon entering the synagogue, several Jewish men greeted us kindly with “shalom” and “thank you for coming.”  The sense of community and concern for the loss of life was palpable, and my husband and I walked quickly to the back of the room and took seats when the ushers motioned to us to come forward.

The service itself involved many faith leaders sharing prayers, short reflections, and insights into the nature of faith as a source of strength, solidarity with the Jews, and the known and felt presence of God in the midst of suffering.  The congregation’s beautiful cantor sang a few songs for us, her rich soprano voice piercing the air with pleas for peace and God’s care.  My husband and I saw a multitude of faiths at the memorial: Jews, Christians, Catholics, and Muslims all gathered together, along with many others with some faith or of none.  The service ended with the children’s choir singing Israel’s national anthem and a call from Rabbi Andrew Bloom to action, working to find unity among different peoples and blessings on all with good morals and a peaceful night’s sleep.

As a self-proclaimed religious nut, I loved every minute of it, from seeing the familiar Torah scrolls on the wall to the narrow stained glass windows and the Jewish art work on the back wall of the huge sanctuary. If I could get paid to attend religious services, then I would do it.  I felt the presence of God most assuredly there as I feel the presence of God in recovery meetings, at my little Episcopal church, and in nature when I’m wandering around a mountain path or the shore of the ocean.  The sentiment is not sweet; for me, it is true, the deepest truth that I know, which is God is present with us from birth till death and after death, whether or not we feel it, like it, know it, or sense it.

Is an interfaith memorial service enough to turn the tide of obscene vitriol and hate speech from the White Supremacy movement and the ostensible lack of concern from the president, which belies a deep hatred for people different than him? Perhaps this is the wrong question to ask and so the focus can be on something else, at least for now.

There is a saying by a Catholic priest (Richard Rohr) I adore and it goes something like this: when one small action toward goodness is taken, then the universe rushes in to help and promote joy and love and grace and mercy.  Incarnations of the Divine only seek to promote goodness and more of it in our lives; I saw it last night at the outpouring of support for our Jewish brothers and sisters.

So I will relax and surrender to figuring out if the actions of one thousand people are enough to help, only that it does help and that is what counts in the end.

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(Photo by Yosef Pregadio on Unsplash)
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    My Own Private Lament

    Posted on October 31, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

    I was at folk mass on Sunday when I found out eleven Jews were massacred on Saturday. I didn’t know what to say when my new friend Emily explained what happened except “Oh my God” over and over and over again.

    For some reason, the mention of this crime makes me weep, and I believe it’s because it’s so personal. I am Jewish after all.

    Before I converted to Christianity in university, I dabbled in Judaism during my sophomore year. I attended services at a local reform synagogue while attending church on Sundays. (That was the year I was courted by two Gods, the Abrahamic faith of my mother’s people and Jesus.)  I seriously considered doing the mikvah, a ritual cleansing bath a person takes to become Jewish.  I was so taken with Saturday morning services, watching the older men and women playfully argue over Torah.  I loved all my time at Friday nigh shul (synagogue), enjoying the delicious foods at the Oneg Shabbat afterwards, immersing myself with people who longed for God’s justice and mercy to overflow on earth.

    My time with the Jews showed me that our beliefs need action to really make a difference in our lives and change the world.   My Jewish brothers and sisters sought and found God too, just like Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and other persons of deep and devout faith. That’s what our friends in Pittsburgh were doing this past Saturday morning before the fall: just finding their own way to God, being sacred together.

    ***

    I am horrified, dismayed, and grief-stricken at our president whose toxic rhetoric continues to fuel the White Supremacy movement and most likely encouraged the paranoid delusions of the killer. I hate that my tears and prayers are simply not enough to bring back those eleven precious souls back to life. (This last statement shows you I have tiny savior issues.  Please see this post for more.)

    What I do know is that I witnessed lots of beautiful butterflies on a recent hike after learning about the massacre.  Walking down the sunlit path, I breathed slowly and prayed and delighted in dozens of butterflies, some crimson, orange, and butter yellow, little messengers of hope.  That felt like such a small thing, noticing beauty amidst the terrible tragedy in Pittsburgh, but it is enough.  It’s good for me to look to the good in each day not because it takes away the awfulness of the crime but because it restores me to joy.  When I am filled up with joy, I can throw myself into the pool of grief that awaits me, that is around all of us in these sick and crazy days.

    Last night, I lit candles and prayed for the dead, for the killer, and for goodness to prevail.  In many First Nation tribes, especially those who resided along the Great Plains, butterflies represented hope and resurrection, a chance to begin again.  Perhaps those butterflies here in Texas represent the spirits of those eleven lost souls who will continue on in their own mystical way, our dead having a way of being here with us, even if it is only in our hearts and memories for now.

    In addition to my own private grief, I plan on taking action.  I’ll vote for sane and responsible leaders, send money to organizations that are helping the crime victims, and I will say hello to folks, especially those who look lonely and lost. I’ll bless the people who cut me off in traffic and forgive all the people who have hurt me, remembering that the only way to change the world is through prayerful action and knowing, without any doubt at all, that there is no us and them, but only us. Only us. Only us.

    HOW TO HELP

    Attend the City-Wide Night of Prayer, Remembrance, and Unity service in Fort Worth at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. The service is on Thursday, November 1 at 6.30pm. For those away from DFW, you might check with your local house of worship and see if there are any services coming up.

    Consider giving money to the GoFundMe campaign that has been created for the survivors of Tree of Life congregants whose loved ones were killed or injured.

    Consider supporting Southern Poverty Law Center.  They are a non-profit agency that works to bring civil rights to all persons through public awareness, education, prevention, and legal support.

    Allow yourself to read the events of the Pittsburgh shooting and be sad for awhile. It’s okay.  You will survive being sad and know what it truly means to “mourn with those who mourn.”

    Check to make sure your Voter Registration Status is current and go out and vote.

    Laugh.  One of the most marvelous gifts of being human, the thing that separates us from all other animals, is that we get to feel more than one emotion at once.  Laughter and tears are both holy and both human.

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    Two Ways of Looking

    Posted on October 17, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

    I sit contentedly in my little house today, bundled up in wool, flannel, and cotton.  Outside, the huge oak tree sways gently in the rain, manna from heaven for this delighted soul.  I am sick with a head cold, and strangely enough, I couldn’t be happier. I have finally learned the importance of being absolutely and only myself. There really is no one else to be.  I’ve learned it’s good to ask for help, and I have done so many times since last week, after the cold’s unexpected entrance.  That’s what being ill has always meant for me: a forced and necessary respite from life.  For me, it’s both Sabbath rest and active participation in the healing God has for me.  What a gift!

    Part of me knows the way of discontent and I could travel down that way today, familiar groves in the neural pathways of my brain.  I could bemoan my circumstances, fuss about all the things that need changing in the world and or in my own life.

    Or I could find another way instead.  I sit at the little brown dining table and look behind me at a Mid-Century American buffet one of my best friends gave me.  In the center of the table sits a bouquet of fresh flowers my husband bought me.  I wear freshly laundered clothes and stay warm and dry in a cozy, albeit small, home in a beautifully green neighborhood with sidewalks and autumn trees shedding their leaves. For lunch, I eat homemade chicken noodle soup my husband made me.  And I look out through the windows, watching the cold rain fall steadily upon the great big post oak tree outside my front window, the cold weather finally arriving in Texas.

    Is gratitude simply denial dressed nicely in fancy wordplay or is it the best and only way to live in a beautiful, unpredictable, and dangerous world?  I could lament about my illness, the damp and rainy weather, and the lack found in the world.  That’s something our culture tells us to do, doesn’t it?  Find the culprit and blame them till they bruise.  And of course, nothing real gets resolved and tempers flare and we miss out on the amazing miracle of being alive.

    For me, each day is a gift from God, and in between the sorrows of loss, I will surrender my way for another, perhaps something that connects me with thousands who have gone before me on the path of faith.  That’s what gratitude is: it’s joy in the face of unmitigated suffering and saying “I refuse to give in. I refuse to despair. I will take it all and make it beautiful.”

    I will enjoy this day. I will turn from the urge to whine and complain and project my fears onto the future (or others) and surrender to the good found in today.  Each day is filled with endless possibilities for trusting that healing and growth happens, even though we cannot see it now.  But we trust and enjoy anyway.

    Show me a day when the world wasn’t new. (Sister Barbara Harce)

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    Rest – Part Three

    Posted on September 17, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

    Upon opening a book recently, I found a bookmark that reads “The heart which gives freely is never lonely,” and it’s one that I’ve had since childhood.  A beautiful little girl is holding an apple toward you, the reader, and she is dressed in old-fashioned clothes, drawstring gray boots, white tights, and a little red coat with a white frilly dress underneath.  The little girl’s long hair blows in the wind, and she is incandescent, beaming with joy at giving away her food.

    I sort of hate this bookmark but have kept it around for years because I am a lover of anything related to books.  But I know why I’ve kept it around: it represents why I believed, as a twentysomething, that I had to fix the world’s problems and somehow save others. It is why I joined a Catholic work program up North in Indiana, right after university.  I wanted to save the world except they placed me in a lawyer’s office, filing papers.  I remember feeling grief-stricken, falling into the lie that I could not change my work placement.

    I didn’t understand then that I could have found a bit of work helping others outside the law office.  I was only twenty-twenty, a very scared emerging adult who didn’t have the necessary life skills to process how to find a nuanced way to help others. It never occurred to me that filing papers could be a way to help clients with trauma, albeit indirectly.  Back then, I lived in the land of the black-and-white, the all-or-nothing zebra thoughts that consumed my lovely tired brain, and if it wasn’t what I absolutely expected, well, then I was in for emotional tumult.

    How I wish I could go back and hug that girl.  She was so young, impressionable, and kind.

    When I found the bookmark the other week, I reacted as if I had touched something hot and repulsive. I slammed it down on the sofa, next to my elder cat who scampered away.  To my husband, I lamented about my reasons for going into the helping professions, for having an unhealthy compulsive need to fix others and for it to turn out perfectly, just according to my expectations.

    God, what a way to live, right?  It is exhausting and not surprising for a child of an alcoholic who also had delusions of saving the world.  I saw in my father a great need to help others and that was one of the great things he gave me: a pull towards social justice activism, a love for minorities and their plight against systemic oppression, and a desire for goodness.

    But he was unable or unwilling to give me the love and nurturing I needed.

    As my husband took in the bookmark, with the pretty child giving her shiny red apples away, he remarked to me, “But look at how she gives.  Do you see it?”

    And then I wept with grief, longing, and frustration because I finally saw the truth.  The girl’s basket that she holds is overflowing with apples.  My husband said kindly, “She gives out of her abundance and not her lack.”  How could I have missed it all these years?

    I grieve for all the years I thought I had to give until I couldn’t  anymore. I am deeply saddened by the years lost to the locusts of perfection, performance, and people-pleasing.  I think of the young woman I was at university who believed that she had to be stunningly perfect and give and give to others, no matter the cost.  This girl believed she had to be an evangelical Christian and win others for Christ as the cost of herself and relationships.  I felt I had to believe as my Christian friends did and gave up my love for seeing the connection between religions, the belief that we are all deeply connected, and signed up for a Catholic program to help others, whilst not even being Catholic.

    Sometimes I wish I could give the girl an informative talking-to in addition to a hug. I would warn her that giving to others with perfection is completely impossible and that she believe differently than others. I would tell her she is a gift to the world and that her father’s alcoholism, manifested in his complete inability to maintain emotional sobriety, makes her a fine candidate for Al-Anon. I would encourage her to go to the meetings, save money, and make plans to move out of her father’s house before the abuse becomes violent.  I would, in essence, nurture my young self.

    This tiny revelation, found in an old bookmark, marks a new chapter in my life: it is the first time that I have compassion for the girl I once was, and not egregious self-hatred.  It has taken me a few decades to understand that my desire to give to others perfectly, at the expense of self, came from my childhood desire to be loved by my parents.  And it has taken about that long for me to realize that radical self-care, as Anne Lamott coined, is one of the most dangerous and dissident practices a woman can engage in.

    So while I’m not exactly grateful for being in burnout and for having a physical issue (i.e., the back pain) manifest my burnout, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to practice radical self-care today. I get to take exquisite care of the one person I have control over: me.

    When it comes to self-care, sometimes it’s best to start off small.  Eat healthy food, listen to relaxing music, pray, meditate, walk in nature, and spend time with people who are uplifting and not people who believe the world is a dumpster fire and believe it is their job to complain about it at every chance they can.

    I say this in the nicest possible way, of course.

    Another thing to remember is that our worth is not dependent on what we do but who we are. If Christianity is true, then our worth is about stepping into our identities as beloved children of God and rejecting the Puritan notion that work is the main reason why we are here.

    What if we are here to enjoy life? To live freely? To enjoy the gifts that God gives us, including healthy work and rest? To relax and heal from helping others? What if it is true that when we stop listening to the inner critic we begin to hear the calming voice of the Lover instead?

    The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, New International Version).

    (Photo by Raju GPK on Unsplash)
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    The Most Liberating Thing

    Posted on September 2, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

    While I waited to begin a medical procedure last week, I read a book about a woman who reunited with her family in another country.  Her long-lost family were thrilled to connect with her, and while that is wonderful for her, it was a huge shame trigger for me.

    I have tried to reconnect with my father’s family up north.  They say they want a relationship and then they do not answer the phone, return emails or text messages when I reach out to them.  This is all very confusing for me, baffling, really.  Previously, several Christians had informed me that I HAD TO WORK VERY HARD to get my family to like me.  This kind of pressure is sort of like slapping a puppy that’s been hit by a car.  Growing up, I worked very hard for my parents and they left me still, so even though I worked myself to the bone, I have nothing to show for it.

    I think this is where the prosperity gospel hurts us.  Good people believe that good things happen if you just trust God enough and if you do not, then, well, you are somehow responsible for the actions of others not responding to you, having mental health issues, or not getting the things you want.   All the power lies in us to change things.  How do you make others do what you want them to do?  I don’t think there is anyway to change others.  As much as I wish that were true, I can tell you that in my own life, people do what they want to do.  I can certainly respond with grace and create conditions for respect, love, and kindness, but if someone does not want a relationship with me, I cannot change that.

    If only it were that simple.  If only saying a simple set of words or praying a few simple set of scriptures changed everyone else.  It changes me when I say them.  There is no guarantee that it would change others.

    ***

    Later that night, I sat in my therapist’s office, in a comfortable burgundy wing-back chair and released the storm of emotions and fears to him.  I noticed his huge painting of a New Mexico sunset that hangs on the wall above the soft tawny couch, the lacy window curtains behind him, and the soft black drawings placed across on the other office wall.   This man’s office reminded me of a cowboy’s home, which makes sense given that the therapist dresses in full cowboy regalia, complete with a silver pocket watch, colorful vests, tall cowboy boots, and billowing dress shirts.

    I feel very safe with this man, which is part of the reason I chose him.  He understands pain. He lived that way for decades.

    After I lamented for awhile, he queried “What do you want?”  He asked me to stay with the question as long as I needed, and I let myself sink into it, moving slowly from my head all the way down to my heart, the core of my being.

    To be frank, I couldn’t pin down what I wanted at first.  I think this might be why sitting with God is so hard. God basically just wants to be with us and so there are no circus of readings, scriptures, prayers, incantations, or things we can perform that will make Him love us anymore.  He just wants our presence.

    After sitting in the silence for a very uncomfortable time, I realized I wanted to be happy and let go of the pain narrative, which no longer serves me.  He led me through a visual meditation, calling me to my highest self, stating truth over me including “Stand as your most authentic self, in the fullness of your being.  You are a warrior, Jenn.  What do you see?”

    With my eyes closed, I saw myself standing tall and looking out across a mountain vista.  My head was held up and my eyes were bright and calm and I smiled.  There was wind and it was blowing all around me. I was, dare I say it, happy. I was just being. I was not working to fix anyone or make others come to know Christ or force others to seek counseling.  I just was me.

    Then, the most remarkable thing happened.  After we talked about the experience, I returned to apologizing for not doing it right, and he stopped me, and asked “Wait, who are we, Jenn?”

    I return very much to my head, or overthinking concepts, whenever this therapist asks me what the truth is.  Like a great therapist, he called me to stop messing around with wordplay and asked me to step into deep truth and said emphatically “I do not care what you think. I want to know who we are.  Who are we, Jenn?”

    Peers, I say, and I begin with, I think all of us–

    Stop, he says again, I don’t want your thinking. I want another word for this relationship, and he sends his hands as a flourish between us, to describe our relationship, waging his fingers back and forth between us.

    And then it dawns on me.

    EQUALS.

    I smile as I type this word now. We. Are. All. Equals.

    Why is this a big, earth-shattering deal for me? Because I have been walking around for decades believing that you are better than me and I am the rotten trash that lies on the ground.  Like Martin Buber penned in his famous book I and Thou, there are a few types of relationships in society, and the first one is the I-It relationship. You see this scenario played out when you visit a cafe or a drugstore or a department store and a furious woman or man is yelling at the store clerk.  The clerk is a veritable “it,” nothing more than object for the other person to use and abuse.  This dynamic plays out everywhere, and for me, it defined the type of relationship I endured with my parents.

    But there is an ideal relationship, the “I-Thou” relationship, a dynamic that is sacred, holy, and imbued with Divinity.  The Jews believe the space between individuals in this sort of relationship is filled with God.

    Equals.  The space between you and me is holy because you and I are equals, living partners of the Divine spark that flows between us.

    That night, after I wrote the shocking post, following the meditation, I knew, bone deep, that I am equal to everyone else on the planet. No matter the title of others, the prestige, status, wealth, family ties, religion, or whatever other barriers that create false divisions among us, I am equal to everyone else.  Our culture tells us that this isn’t so, that what we have or who we know or what we do, somehow, makes us more special, grand, helpful, or beautiful than others.  It elevates us as a special “I” status over the lowly “it” of others while leaving out the richness of relationships, of sacred encounters that last briefly and those that can last a lifetime.

    What a terrible way to live.

    I got up the next morning and prayed a different sort of prayer, one that I gleaned from my therapist, and I’ll leave it with you today:

    Dear God, help me today to walk with grace and peace to be my most authentic self, to accept myself just as I am now, and love myself well.  Help me to walk in the truth of who You made me to be and rejoice in the gifts You have given me.

    The most liberating thing we can do each day is give ourselves back to ourselves. (Unknown)

    (Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash)
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    Letting Go

    Posted on July 22, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

    After the end of a long work week, I locked up my counseling office, and walked slowly toward the main hallway leading downstairs. Two of the residents at the home stopped me and asked for help, their brown skin gleaming beautiful and sweaty thanks to the relentless hot weather and tending to rambunctious children. I smiled at them, grateful for distraction from my back pain and for the holy wonder of intimacy that occurs between newly acquainted strangers. They wished me a good weekend and I returned the goodwill, marveling at the paradoxes of life.

    There is so much violence in the world and it occurs on our earth, between people and animals, to our children and the marginalized. It is heartbreaking. And yet there is so much beauty in creation, in the love and grace and peacekeeping that occurs between people, in music, in art, and in spirituality that it frequently stuns me to tears. I practiced gratitude for being of service to others and did so in those seemingly mundane events of getting to know some of my new counseling clients this past week.

    But for now, it was time for me to get some help of my own. Back in graduate school, one of the most gracious counseling professors reminded us regularly that the best counselors have their own counselors. She would say this calmly yet firmly, with a hint of urgency in her voice, as if she knew once we fled her nest we would work to help others beyond our own limits.

    Thank God for teachers.

    I drove away from the home and weaved my way through the older neighborhood, driving with intention, making my way across town to see my therapist. I looked at the homes, colorful clapboard houses, and stately bungalows with wraparound porches, and the burnt grass, baked to spun gold, and pondered contacting a family member. A part of me sternly reminded myself that I needed to honor my elders, and the litany of negative self-talk began. Why don’t you try harder? Maybe if you were different things would be better?

    It’s funny, but these voices usually say the same old things; they don’t really have any new material to work with.

    Over the years, interactions with this person have been tense, sparse, and grief-stricken, and not for lack of trying. I reviewed all the times I sought her approval and fell short, wondering if I were doomed to repeat a very ancient childhood story of constant performance and rejection.

    So I did something new. I turned on some music and sang, bellowing as loud as I could. I sang for me and for everyone who has been hurt, rejected, and abandoned by others. We all of us are singing to be seen and known, and these two desires, to be deeply seen and known, are the most marvelous gifts that family, friends, members of recovery meetings, clergy, and counselors can give to people.

    The problem is that love and belonging, affection and nurturing, does not often come from one’s origin family. It is the ideal, of course, but not the reality for many humans.

    As I kept driving in the blinding hot sun and breathing deeply, I considered the problem from a few angles: I could reach out to her and try again for relationship. I could suggest dinner at a local restaurant or invite myself over to her home, hoping and praying that this time things would be different. I could be the one to make things happen.

    I was becoming mentally ill in the process of trying and failing to find a solution in my own mind. This is where having a relationship with Jesus helps.

    As I got out of the car and walked slowly to the shady office building, surrounded by large post oaks, I asked again to Spirit what I needed to do, and this response came:

    Why would you go seeking mercy from someone who can only offer harsh judgement?

    I stopped and looked around and smiled in wonder. Opening up to Spirit and letting God talk to me has been one of the most joyful and adventurous things I have ever done. These experiences jar me from my tangled thinking, and help move toward a more compassionate and loving response toward life, others, and myself.

    So what if the most compassionate response I can do for myself is to stop clinging to the false expectation that this person can give me what she herself does not have to give? What if the most loving response is to forgive her for the times she has hurt me? What if I gave myself permission to do what I advise my counseling clients to do, and simply let go of hoping for a better relationship and accept what is?

    Grace comes in many forms, and perhaps the most stunning one is an answer that involves rest and waiting, rather than frenetic attempts to grab at connection with people who are simply unable and unwilling to do so.

    So do me a favor and remember that it really is okay to rest in the space between encounters with others.  It is right and good and divinely inspired to take care of the one person that you can only care for today. You honor yourself with mercy and grace when you admit “I do not have the emotional energy to reach out right now.” It really is holy for you to find the people in your life who love you for who you are, who offer you a safe respite from the pressures of modern life, rather than heap on more condemnation.

    As I drove home after the appointment, I watched the night sky settle over the city like a cloak, deep indigo with streaks of ruby red disappearing into the horizon. The air was hot but cooling off slightly, and I slipped into my house and settled down with a good book and a cat, and took my own advice and rested. Things may or may not change with this family member, but I am relaxing, loosening my grip, and letting Spirit do the work in the waiting.

    (Photo by Neill Kumar on Unsplash)
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    Freedom

    Posted on July 3, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

    Recently, I have been told that I push people away and that I have to let people in and be vulnerable.  But, quite frankly, when I have let certain people in I get the shit kicked out of me.  In the past, I have taken the risk of being vulnerable, revealing my somewhat insane past, only to have been abandoned by friends and parents.  In fact, when I told one of my friends that my mother assaulted me, she stopped calling and pushed me away.  At the time, it only reinforced the lie that because of where I come from I am not worthy of love and belonging.

    So what in the world do you do when your templates or maps for attachment are disorganized, based on family-of-origin issues?  (By the way, disorganized attachment, the most common for trauma survivors, means that a child does not feel safe with his or her caregivers but must rely on them for life.  For a child to be in a family, he or she must feel safe, secure, loved, and nurtured.  For many trauma survivors, especially sexual abuse survivors, this is basically impossible, and so children react in a myriad of unhelpful and unhealthy ways. The previous information is based on The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk.)

    This is what you do: you find the people who are kind, loving, responsive, and accepting of you.  You make time to take care of your own exquisite, lovely, playful, joyful and delightful self and continue to buck the traditional notion that one must have a relationship with family as the standard parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and whatnot. You forgive yourself for indulging in darkness for decades while recognizing that it makes sense, given what you went through.  You find compassion for yourself.

    Do I wish that I had fabulous parents who treated me like I deserved? Absolutely.  Do I honor them by telling the truth about their behavior of me while recognizing that they too were beaten, mistreated, and neglected? Yes.  Do I acknowledge that God wants me to rest in love and peace? You bet.

    Do I keep trying to make certain family members like me, respect me, talk to me, when they are neither able or willing to do so?  No. Do I continue to move toward God, wholeness, grace, acceptance, healing, etc.? Of course.

    I accept full responsibility for my life. I accept that God loves me and always has and He will make it easier and easier to find the safe people in my life to be vulnerable with.  Unfortunately, it probably won’t be the standard family that we all hear about in movies, books, and Christian culture.

    I suppose that’s one of the hardest things about being a Jesus person: the expectations.  As a greenhorn Christian in my twenties, I was told, well-intentioned of  course, that I would have a great family, that my father would come to know Christ eventually, and if I just prayed hard enough, that my family member would get help.

    All those expectations are long gone.

    If you read the Gospels closely, Jesus never, ever said all our wildest dreams would come true.  He just said that He would be here with us (God or “Immanuel”) in the muck of things and, paradoxically, that we get to enjoy our lives.  For someone like me, with no Christian parents, engaged and active Christian siblings, and huge cadre of childhood Christian friends, this truth helps tremendously.

    Our country’s national holiday is tomorrow, and while I am not exactly patriotic, especially given our country’s dangerous leader and various other sundry reasons, I’ll focus on freedom.  There is freedom in accepting the truth of one’s past and powerlessness of changing anyone but ourselves.  There is also deep, expanding, and gracious joy when we lean into the discomfort of being loved just as we are today.

    I get to be the tender, merciful, and loving parent I never had today.  I get to decide who I want to have contact with and who the safe people are in my life.  I choose to practice kindness toward myself on the big freedom day.  The same goes for you. There are no exceptions.

    PRACTICE

    It might be a good idea to write down a list of adjectives that describe your gifts, after you sit in silence and wait for God to show you.  The trick will be taking time to be still, to practice staying in your body, and to breathe.

    (Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash)
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