Demons & Divine Nudges

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I wasn’t expecting I’d find myself alone in an alley at night with a homeless man. It definitely wasn’t on my agenda. I was actually on my way to San Diego to visit some friends, but I had stopped for a quick lunch and coffee on the way.

I first saw him after I parked my car and walked towards the coffee shop. He was in a wheelchair and had only a grocery bag hanging from the back of his seat in way of possessions. I felt my heart tug in his direction. I wanted to talk to him or something—to find out how he was doing. I wondered about his story. How had he ended up homeless in a wheelchair? It was just SO sad.

But I didn’t stop—I let my internal editor talk me out of it and went and got coffee instead.

I emerged from the coffee shop about an hour later as dusk was setting in, all caffed up and ready to finish the second part of my drive. But as I walked back to my car, I saw him again—this time wheeling off into a different direction in another parking lot.

My heart tugged on me for the second time. Was this an assignment?

The internal monologue started back up within me. What would I say if I walked up to him? Should I offer him food? I already knew money was off the table since I never carried cash, but I figured he could at least use some food. I had a friend who recently watched a documentary about the homeless. She told me it highlighted food and conversation as the two things that a lot of homeless people wanted most. Maybe that would be enough.

But what food did I have? I was pretty sure he didn’t want my half-eaten leftovers. Then I remembered I had a protein bar. And what about blankets? It was almost nighttime. I knew I had a couple blankets stashed in our trunk for when the kids got cold. Hopefully I could find one that WASN’T pink.

I grabbed the protein bar, dug out a green blanket, and started walking in his direction.

It was getting darker and when I finally caught up to him, he was at the end of a weird parking-lot alley. It was surrounded by various fences, so I mapped out my exit routes just in case this interaction went south. He was facing the freeway—just kind of staring off into the distance.

“Hello? Excuse me?”

What followed was a surprisingly pleasant interaction. I knew as soon as he started talking that he was lucid and safe. I was able to let my guard down a little and just engage in the conversation. I asked him if he wanted the blanket and protein bar. He accepted both graciously.

Then I asked him how he was doing. I dug a little more into his story. He told me about some of the rougher struggles with living on the streets—like his difficulty with getting the medicine that he needed and the very real harassment by harder cases like drug addicts that lived alongside of him. Any money and possessions were frequently found missing when he awoke from sleep. 

This whole situation FELT orchestrated, like it was an assignment from the Father. But so far, I couldn’t figure out why he wanted me there—as opposed to someone else. So as I stood there chit-chatting with the man, I checked in with God. Father, why am I here? What do you want me to do? Is this just a compassion mission—giving this guy some needed provisions or is there more? What’s next?

I was so against the more old-school evangelistic techniques that left people feeling spiritually mugged, that I now found myself erring on the other side of caution. I wanted to tread carefully. I cared not only about his spiritual situation but also about his dignity and heart.

And then God threw me a clue.

The man mentioned difficulty with sleep and referenced something that sounded A LOT like demonic torment. “Oh! Do you mean demons?” I asked him to elaborate. Yes, he answered. He definitely meant demons. They were messing with his sleep and bringing him torment. “Do you want that to stop?” I asked. “Can I pray for you about that?”

His answer surprised me. NO. He didn’t want prayer. He had received prayer before and said the demons would leave temporarily, but that they’d always return. And it was always worse when they did.

Awwwww…the picture was now becoming clearer for why I was there.

I validated his experience and told him that scripturally that was true. If he kicked a negative entity out but didn’t fill the vacated spaces with more of God, then they WOULD return in greater quantity. So I went deeper with my questions: Do you know Jesus? I explained that if he did, then he actually had the authority to kick the critters out himself. Yes, he said. He’d previously worked that particular reality out.

So what was keeping this guy stuck in torment then?

And then it hit me: generational ties.

“How about your relatives?” I asked him. “Do you know of any ties to the occult in your family line?”

BINGO. I’d found it. The answer was yes, along with some specific details. I now knew why I was there. I could help this guy with the bungee cord that kept yanking him back into torment—IF he would accept my help. I gave him a mini explanation about how generational issues from our family lines can keep yanking us back, until we finally pray to sever them. Then I asked him: Do you want me to pray to disconnect this generational bungee cord? 

His answer: Yes.

So we prayed. I felt the heavy spiritual atmosphere around him. It was thick and took some serious concentration to pray through. But we did it. And I hadn’t even made it all the way through my prayer, when the man started coughing up and spitting out huge chunks of mucus. That outward indication was helpful to know that the unwanted critters were vacating the premises.

We parted ways a short time later, shaking hands. He was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I was gearing up for a major praise session in my car. I was just in awe at the whole experience. The God who plans ahead. Only God could set up a situation so perfectly—I just had to step into it and follow the clues along the way.

So glad he gave me TWO chances.

Nova

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).

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BUSTED!

IMG_2757So my kid got in trouble today. I even got a call from the school principal with the guess-what-your-kid-did-today question. It was a typical school malfeasance. I’m not gonna say which kid; I’ll keep it generic for the sake of privacy—but boy was it a good one! And I couldn’t have picked a better learning lesson as a parent if I had tried. Such GREAT natural consequences as a result of their personal choices.

I keep thinking God must REALLY trust me to give me this kid.  Continue reading

Overcoming The Odds

IMG_2361I love the overcoming underdog. I resonate to movies where a persecuted or otherwise broken individual makes a HUGE comeback because of the tenacity and bigness in his spirit and because of God’s intervention.

Me too, God. I want my overcoming breakthrough, too–This is what my spirit usually cries out in response to hearing or seeing these amazing stories.

Yesterday, I went out in my front yard and I found this bush looking just like this. I was shocked. It hadn’t looked like that the day before. And yet, here it was. Crazy, tall growth in ONE day.

Odd, right? Or really not so much…

Let me make a quick detour here to say that nature is one language that God often uses to speak to me. I LOVE the world of parables, riddles, and anything symbolic. It’s in my DNA–I get such joy out of digging deeper. Finding the hidden pictures, meanings, and treasure in just about anything really lights me up. And interacting in nature with my awesome Creator is my FAVORITE.

So yah, the bush.

I pointed it out to my husband as we walked past it. We speak different languages with God, apparently, because he barely gave it more than a passing glance. I think his polite response to me was simply hmmm…

But for me, I had just been initiated into a new treasure hunt–this MEANT something for me. I could FEEL my spirit motor start up. I felt my Father’s fun fingerprints drawing me into an intimate game of hide and seek. Find me in this. Find the meaning and application to your life right now.

As I looked at the sudden, new growth, the faintest impression of a scripture floated through my mind: a shoot from the stump of Jesse. 

“Isn’t there a verse about the shoot or branch of Jesse?” I asked my husband. He didn’t remember. So I went and looked it up. Isaiah 11:1. Funny. I’d been seeing 1:11 EVERYWHERE lately–on clocks, on license plates. It made sense.

“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot–yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.”

I KNEW the verse was about Jesus. But God was now using this in a multi-layered meaning for my life now. A rhema word. And I knew what it meant. I was growing beyond the old generational stump of my family.

I was forging different paths.

It had been a lonely process–challenging me and causing me to have to go deeper with God, because I didn’t have anybody in my family that I could really relate to. I often felt like the family oddball. 

In fact, just about a week ago, I had publicly posted a very raw blogpost about my past childhood sexual abuse. It was risky. It was brave. And I did it because I knew that God was backing me up.

And now here God was again–affirming me DEEPLY in the very place that I needed it. 

I WAS growing fast. I was growing out of the places of my past, the limited mindsets that had held me down for so long, and the scripts that I’d been fed as a child. I was becoming the overcoming underdog.

I was beating the odds. I was making a comeback.

I bent down so that I could get a better view of this branch. It was THEN that I noticed the shoot had actually grown upwards from one of the lowest sections of the bush. It had pushed its way through all the other obstacles and made it through to the light. Definitely an overcomer.

Definitely prophetic.

Yah, I had been down for so long. Pushed into smallness. Wounded. Intimidated. But I was growing up and breaking OUT into higher places, bigness, and most importantly–into the sunshine…

Nova

Me Too

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DISCOVERING

Sexual abuse is pretty much the worst thing ever. If you want to strip someone of their identity, confidence, and ability to navigate life and adulthood well–sexual abuse is definitely the easiest way to get the job done.

I’ve walked that road.

I remember one of the first times sexual abuse popped up on my family’s radar. A relative was sharing his opinion with me about the effects that sexual abuse would have on a young child we knew. We had just found out she had been molested by a family friend. The child was three. My commenting relative happened to be a doctor.

“It’s better if they just stop asking her about it. She won’t remember it later anyway.”

I felt ambivalent and torn by his response. His opinion felt WAY wrong–but what did I know? He was the medical expert. I usually trusted him regarding physical health. But emotional health? I wasn’t so sure. And as I would discover in the years to come, he was pretty much a COMPLETE ignoramus about this particular topic.

I would personally come to realize that sexual abuse is NEVER actually forgotten. It just gets buried. I would learn firsthand that even if the brain can’t access the play-by-play memories, the body’s senses and emotions will carry and remind you later of the details of the trauma.

The body remembers.

That particular opinion was only ONE of many future expressions of naiveté that I would hear voiced from within my family circle. In subsequent years, more abuse revelations would come to light regarding incest that was perpetrated by my extended family members. And the clueless family commentary that followed was paramount and very telling as to why the abuse was FIRST able to happen and THEN allowed to continue on unnoticed for many more years.

Denial and ignorance thrived in our whitewashing family system.

My own perspective shift on the subject of sexual abuse began once…well…once I realized that it had happened to ME TOO. And not just once…

I had a long road up ahead.

REMEMBERING

I started having concrete memories when I was in my late 30s. I had plowed straight through grad school to marriage and then popped out four children in the first six years.  I began working from home as a writer in between my mommy duties. More and more responsibilities kept getting added to my plate, especially as the kids got older.

I think the constant pressure and intense activity load just threw me over the edge. I could no longer repress the memories. My body started telling its story. Health issues sprang up from out of nowhere and hit me hard.

I don’t remember all the physical specifics now. I was sprinkled with so many diagnoses over the years that I kinda lost track. But as multiple specialists scrambled to figure me out– complicated migraines, depression, an immune disorder, ruptured ovarian cysts, and a mini stroke were just a few of the titles they threw my way in lieu of an explanation. Then I launched straight from years of insomnia into being inundated in my sleep by buried memories finally resurfacing.

The flood of dreams poured in by the hundreds. 

I had always been a prolific dreamer in the past, but these dreams were different. They carried a sexual overtone and a lot of them included demonic torment. Sometimes the demonic realm would paralyze me from within my dreams. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t wake up. I couldn’t even call out to say the name of Jesus. Something was terribly wrong that I didn’t understand.

A handful of times I even woke up gagging and gasping for air. 

At the time, I reasoned away the dreams as a spiritual attack. But they were just TOO dark and too many. I couldn’t break through into any freedom. Why wasn’t my spiritual authority working? I needed answers. What was happening to me?

FINALLY, I got the revelatory breakthrough that I needed through one of those intense dreams. God had prompted me to start writing down every dream–no matter how jacked up it appeared. I had also been studying biblical dream interpretation. And as I began to combine these two tools–I finally broke through the denial.

When two guys in a dream started harassing the childhood me, mocking me and threatening rape, I finally figured it out. It pretty much had to be spelled out for me before I could finally believe it:

Sexual abuse was buried in my childhood past and it made SO much sense.

Daytime flashbacks began to follow the dreams. My life dots began to connect from that point forward. I felt massive relief. All the years of missing childhood memories. The weird sexual triggers. I finally began to feel NOT crazy. 

I started counseling around that point and embarked on the long journey of detangling my past. At least now I had a target. The years of NOT knowing filled with mysterious emotional triggers had felt brutally insane.

So I trudged through. Learned the psychotherapy rhetoric. Did the work.

But I felt really alone…

TELLING

It took months of counseling before I felt strong enough to start telling other people. That evolved slowly. It actually felt easier to tell friends at first. My family didn’t feel safe. And when I finally progressed to telling family members–I found out why. I had one empathetic cousin, but not much else in the way of support.

The rest of my family’s responses sucked to varying degrees. I got both sides of the spectrum. On one side I got doubt, the questioning of my memory, and the actual trying to talk me out of it; and on the other side, I got over-emotional reactivity, smothering support, and some probing for details. Nothing balanced and in-between–and I certainly didn’t need any MORE people to emotionally triage. I was enough.

I realized I would be on my own in this healing journey. Me and God, that is. 

When I’d occasionally interact with my more probing relatives and their questions, I was so tempted to throw out Jack Nicholson’s line from A Few Good Men: “You can’t HANDLE the truth.”

It was true. The things that had happened–they couldn’t emotionally handle hearing.

My personal sucky favorite was my own father’s response. I felt it epitomized the family’s complete oblivion: “Why didn’t you tell me?”, he challenged. I remember feeling so shocked by the utter stupidity of his question that I was left speechless.

I don’t know–maybe because the abusers knew where I lived, told me they were watching me, and threatened me with personal harm, the harm of my parents, or sending the police after me if I told. 

How was I supposed to answer that question?

Should I try to explain the effects of violent trauma on the brain and the often-used coping mechanism of disassociation? Do I start with the fact that a young child doesn’t have language or understanding to describe this stuff? Or should I just tell him specific details like the fact that sometimes I was so heavily drugged prior to the abuse that I couldn’t even open my eyes to see WHO was doing what?

In retrospect, I wish I had responded with the more logistically-obvious answer: “You were NEVER home, you abandoning JERK! How dare you think you knew anything that happened in my life!”

So yah, there was that.

WHITEWASHING

In general, my family members acted SO surprised like–“HOW could this have happened?” or  “WHEN could this have happened?”

I think the real question here should have been: “How could this NOT have happened?” There was absolutely nothing normal or stable about my early childhood.

Our family made an easy target. Simple. It really shouldn’t be ALL that shocking. I had parents that were mostly separated or divorced. A father that was always working and gone. A mother who left for days at a time for her job.

Duh.

So who exactly WAS watching me? A very good question. It was a crockpot of character–that’s for sure. A disgusting college student hired off a message board. A molesting grandfather. A dysfunctional grandmother who shirked responsibilities and left me with her pedophile friends. A handful of benign others.

I was left alone without safe parental supervision during my most vulnerable and defenseless years. By the time my upbringing became more stable and consistent, the damage had already been done.

But the ignorance and naiveté didn’t stop there. Oh no. My family just wasn’t the brightest judge of sketchy character. Like maybe you shouldn’t have let me play ALONE at the neighbor’s house. You know–the friend whose father dressed up as a FLASHER at Halloween. HELLO! Was anyone paying attention?

Did that really set off NO parental alarms?

What about all of the visitors who slept in the bedroom right next to mine–WAAAAY down the hall and on the other side of the house from my parent’s bedroom? Not the best idea. Or how about the cocaine-snorting family addict who LIVED with us for a year in that same bedroom?

Hearing his voice for years afterwards would terrorize me.

You’d think the family lightbulb would have come on when a teenager in our family came forward with sexual-abuse allegations against a certain relative. What happened, you ask? Well, it got a little bit of family circulation but was then shut down and sealed like it never even happened. Abuser NOT confronted–and still allowed into family gatherings.

That incident went into the vault of family secrets with all the other coverups.

(I would eventually cut off contact with previous abusers and cover-up enablers in the family tree. The other main perpetrator in the family just died off while I was still a child–thankfully.)

Basically–at the time of my sexual-abuse disclosure, my family’s incredible whitewashing ability was operating at full throttle. They lived mostly in a reality of clueless oblivion. The few times I tried to hint at specific details, I could see their eyes glaze over into denial. I was done trying. But I wasn’t going to let them drag me down.

I realized I could STILL heal even if they stayed forever in their hypnotic trance of denial. But I wouldn’t be there. I was determined to break out of generational patterns. I was done with coverups, secrets, and denial.

The truth truly WILL set you free…if you let it.

I couldn’t talk about any of this with most of my family, but I did have one ally in the bunch. Another Me-Too survivor–a relative who shared a similar abuse memory with the same perpetrator and sexual-abuse infraction.

Once this revelation surfaced, I felt extremely validated for the first time in forever.

DENYING

Earlier on in my healing journey, everything kind of came to a sudden family head. My counsellor had informed me that she was legally required to report one of my childhood abusers: a distant relative, because he was STILL around children. So I had to make the responsible calls, giving the head’s up to certain people. Awkward. I still remember one close relative’s reaction:

“But are you SURE?”

It was a huge blow at the time. It was especially destabilizing for me because this person also happened to be a licensed therapist. Shouldn’t she know better than to ask something like that? Like I hadn’t already wrestled with MASSIVE doubt and denial as it was? Like denial and minimization hadn’t been THE manipulative tools of choice used by my abusers to confuse me?

And speaking of Denial…

Denial had actually been one of my longest and most protective of friends. He had served me well for decades–but I was finally tired of his pathological lying. “It probably wasn’t THAT bad” was one of Denial’s favorite mantras to throw at me over the years. The next runner up would definitely be: “It probably only happened a couple times.” And every once in a while, Denial would slam his judgmental gavel down with the LOUD decree that “NONE of this actually happened. You’re making it all up.”  

But the years of dream memories, flashbacks, and painful triggers with no other explanation SCREAMED otherwise.

READING BETWEEN THE CLUES

So I started paying attention to my own reactive clues. Like my panicky habit of always waking up to check the door to make sure no one was entering my room. Then there was my obsessive fear of someone walking in on me in the bathroom. Or my trouble talking to sixty-year-old men and the forced compulsion I felt to smile and look them in the eyes. That was a BIGGIE.

I just held all older men in that 60’ish age bracket as suspect pedophiles. I thought they should be quarantined. And anyone that winked at me? Yah, they ended up in that suspicious category as well. That felt WAY too familiar.

The blanks in my life began to fill in.

I had to be my own private investigator most of the time, piecing together the clues. So many haunting dreams that left me with more questions than answers. And a life full of triggers–which was probably the hardest dynamic of the journey to navigate. 

TRIGGERS

Triggers saturated my senses. I saw, heard, smelled, and felt them everywhere. Seeing knick-knacky decor from my grandparent’s era made me feel panicky. Catching a glimpse of a man with an overhanging belly nearly sent me into tears. Certain guy smells triggered my gag reflex. Getting startled from behind made me feel RAGE. I’d freak out if my head or neck were ever held in place. And spontaneous favors or surprise gifts? These were met with dismay and suspicion–I was ALWAYS leery of strings attached and hidden agendas.

Pro quid pro was a social contract I knew sadly all too well and now cynically expected.

Then PTSD entered into the scene. Loud sounds became troublesome. They were infamous for bumping me into fight or flight. I’d feel like a caged animal that needed to escape. Crowds became really difficult for me as well. I’d feel surrounded by danger.

And then there were just the NORMAL parts of life that felt abnormal. Things that most people take for granted. Things that should have been fine–but for me they’d gotten SO warped and distorted by the trauma. Like someone telling me they loved me or missed me. How dare they?! Or someone trying to kiss me–even on the cheek. No thank you.  Anything whispered became synonymous with diabolical intentions. And I NEED YOU was definitely high up on the Richter Scale of panic.

And as if those weren’t ENOUGH to deal with, some previous strengths then morphed into new weaknesses. Like talking to men. 

I used to interview and interact with a lot of men during my grad school years. But at some point along my trigger-laden journey, I became a bumbling idiot talking to guys. ESPECIALLY new acquaintances or friends who hadn’t yet proved themselves safe. One-on-one conversations were the WORST and were usually doomed to fail. I’d become awkward and incoherent. Say stupid things and be mad at myself afterwards.

Thanks to my childhood abusers’ perverse indoctrination, I began to FEEL like talking to any guy communicated sexual desires and intentions. And if I reached a panicky point in the conversation, I’d often just cut and run. Most. Embarrassing. Thing. Ever.

I’m STILL working my way out of the bumbling idiot trigger and it REALLY sucks.

Feeling trapped and feeling powerless were probably the biggest perpetual triggers in my healing journey. Those two feelings popped up EVERYWHERE. Waiting in long lines or sitting in heavy traffic were just a couple of the daily normals that could trigger them. Enclosed water slides and other claustrophobically-small places worked too.

Then there were the spiritual triggers–bringing God into the sexual-abuse mix was seriously pure evil.

One of my stupid abusers had lied to me and told me he used to be a pastor. He told me he could tell me more about God (I was really little at the time and LOVED learning anything about God.) He called me over to him with a deceptive line like “Let’s talk about God”, then grabbed me so tightly I thought I was breaking, and then sexually abused me. Yep. I remember my utter confusion and devastation. For years, I had trouble looking ANY pastor in the eyes. It was an instant shame trigger.

Actually–direct eye contact with pastors or men in general is sometimes still hard. 

(Nowadays during conversations, I just try to give myself eye breaks as a trigger workaround.)

GUILT, SHAME, AND FEAR

Mysterious triggers eventually became a healing game of sorts. I’d curiously pick them apart to see if I could find the traumatic threads to figure them out. Making store returns was one such trigger that initially seemed bizarre until I did some digging. I’d experience tons of guilt, shame, and fear (a common abuse trio) every time I tried to make an exchange or want my money back.

I now know that it was partially because I had to ask for help. There was a reason why I lived most of my life in self-sufficiency. Trauma taught me many lessons–like TRUST NO ONE and DON’T ASK. It’s just NOT safe, so figure it out yourself.

But even bigger than that, I had EXTREME difficulty answering questions that felt interrogative, where I had to explain myself or prove that I was right. The return situation could trigger this–depending on how simple or complex the scenario. Anytime I had to explain or defend my actions, reasons, or truth, I’d start to feel panic and fear.

I’d feel like THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE ME and thought I was lying.

It seems like a pretty logical assumption here that I DID TRY to tell my family about the abuse when I was young. BUT THEY DIDN’T LISTEN TO OR BELIEVE ME. It makes me wonder: how many times did I try to tell but got shut down? How many times was I dismissed by an adult because of the inconvenient interruption? How many times was distracted-parent brain a part of the equation? My dad was infamous for pretend listening.

People NOT listening to me had always been a BIG point of reactivity. 

Each clue eventually fit somewhere. I had a lot of unexplainable floating guilt and fear during the first few years of the healing journey. Those feelings eventually subsided and became way more manageable. But the shame triggers remained a LOT longer. I still battle them. Sometimes the shame would waft in like the wind and just shake me up a little bit. Other times, it would slam me down hard like a wrestler on a mat:

Don’t even try to get up. STAY DOWN.

SUSPICION AND PARANOIA

Having kids brought a whole other slew of triggers in addition to my own. I became obsessively suspicious. Men working in church childcare freaked me out. Going on dates with my husband was tricky because I only trusted a couple people to watch my kids. And when one of my daughters was assigned her first male teacher in elementary school, I watched every compliment and pat on the back that she received. I was absolutely terrified of any possible grooming.

Any affection from anyone became HIGHLY suspect.

Then my paranoia spread to include even trusted family members. I remember the time my youngest daughter and visiting father went in another room together. I eventually noticed that the door was closed and started to freak out. When I threw the door open, I found them seated quietly inside playing the board game Pretty Pretty Princess. My father had a crown and earrings on. All was well–and quite precious, actually, but I felt near to hysterical tears.

I couldn’t keep living like this. It was unbearable.

MOVING THROUGH

After the initial sexual-abuse-in-my-past discovery, my life seemed to get a whole lot worse for a long time before anything started to improve. Paying for counseling was expensive. Think $50 a week for say–oh, four years. (In case you’re not near a calculator–that’s over $10,000.)

Taking time away from my family to actually GO to counseling and do the followup work was time-consuming and even brought conflict. My husband and kids hated it. I felt like I was betraying my family. And detangling from a codependent marriage in the midst of my own individual healing posed a whole different set of challenges. I wasn’t even sure it was OKAY to take the needed self-care and inner-healing time. So I had to battle my own learned mindsets and codependent upbringing as well.

It was really hard–but I kept at it.

The journey was pretty ugly at times. Messy. Non-linear. I didn’t have a lot of support. Counseling massively helped. Books helped too by filling in the gaps. Beauty in nature supplemented my healing. I tried to take trips to the beach and go for walks outside.

Self-care became a REALLY core component of my healing process. 

BEING MINDFUL

Living in a perpetual state of survival for so many years had done me a huge disservice. So I had to learn a completely new way of living–not easy after decades of hyper-vigilance. Instead of my escaping from current experiences into my own ruminating mind, I now had to focus on staying present with myself and others.

It took a lot of work JUST to learn how to stay in the moment.

Some days were better than others. I had to learn how to tune into my own body and emotions again. But as my self-listening increased, I found my others-listening likewise improved. I eventually transitioned out of hyper-awareness to my environment and moved into a better balance of self and others awareness. And when I began to stay present in the moment, I felt way less overwhelmed in general. Experiences and details got imprinted correctly. I felt more aware and in control.

I began to feel like I was actually LIVING my life, rather than just struggling through each day.

SELF-CARE

As I healed from self-martyr mode, I started leveraging enjoyable elements of my life again that I’d previously pushed away as luxuries. Things that brought me peace and comfort like baths, aromatic candles, meeting friends for coffee, and listening to music became mandatory in order to survive the harder parts of my journey.

I learned to trust the miscellaneous pieces that worked for me. Like music and movies. 

Different bands became useful in various seasons of my healing. I listened almost exclusively to Metallica during a long stretch of time when I was trying to reawaken the fighter within me. And I found that listening to really passionate songs were great for a good cry. Otherwise, I had a hard time tapping into my swirling emotions. 

Watching movies about overcoming underdogs was helpful too. They gave me hope.

My emotional default for decades had been to stuff all negative feelings. So I knew it would take some purposeful effort on my part to retrain my brain’s autopilot. To build new neurological pathways. And PTSD needed safety, consistency, and time to heal.

LOVING MYSELF

Another crucial part of my healing process included learning how to love myself. Love your neighbor as YOURSELF. To love others well, you FIRST have to love yourself. And to be honest, I didn’t really even LIKE myself much when this whole thing started. My self-image and self-confidence were horrible.
That had to change.

I thought I had been GREAT at loving others for years, but eventually I realized that a lot of it was just disguised enabling. My intentions were good, but I gave too much of myself to others almost all of the time. I was a nice, helpful doormat. I had learned it growing up through the abuse–and because I had also been the family caretaker.

I didn’t have ANY boundaries. And I didn’t know how to be direct in communication. These two missing life skills thwarted my plans CONSTANTLY, so I had to take the time to learn them. It took some serious hard work, but the payoffs were immense.

My time became my own–and my family’s again, rather than everyone else’s. And I learned how to ask for what I wanted.

Then I discovered that self-kindness was KEY to healthy self-love.

Rather than defaulting to self-condemnation, criticism, and hate; I had to learn to exercise mercy, grace, and compassion towards myself instead. Self-kindness became the radical fertilizer. All the other healing tools worked quicker and deeper in my healing soul when kindness was also in play.

Eventually, I reached a breakthrough in my ability to love myself. When mysterious triggers floated my way now and again, I began to default to self-kindness, understanding, and coaching myself through them. Self-hate was leaving my life.

I was changing brain patterns and renewing my mind.

I also had to let performance die. It was one of the last things to go. But my perfectionistic goals and expectations had been killing my soul and exhausting my body for far too long. So I began to embrace transformation–rather than perfection, as my ultimate destination.

MOVING ON

I meant it when I said that sexual abuse was like the worst thing ever. Because the damage isn’t just about the physical acts done to the body. It’s about all the long-lasting COLLATERAL damage that affects the rest of life from that point forward. My own experiences with sexual abuse affected me for decades before I even REALIZED it. I just thought I had a lot of weird idiosyncrasies. At times I felt crazy–but I WASN’T. Every effect has a cause and my life actually made incredible sense. 

That knowledge itself brought freedom.

I experienced more than just sexual abuse throughout my early years–as is usually the case. I know all too well what emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, and even spiritual abuse feels like. Neglect too. Rather than purposeful harm, neglect is the lack of the good things that are needed for healthy growth and development of an individual. 

Each experiential piece of the abuse pie needed my intentional healing attention. But as my understanding of my past grew, I could then reconcile to the history and move into the healing.

It was a workable sequence.

I hope I made it sound horrible–because it was. I want to do horrific justice to the wide range of possible experiences on the sexual-abuse spectrum. But I also want to impart HOPE. Because if a person can find hope, they can make it through to that eventual light at the end of the tunnel.

That light DOES exist. And God is willing and waiting to walk with each person through the tumultuous tunnel in between–if they will invite Him in….

My intimacy with God is now my biggest prize from the healing journey.

I wouldn’t have come to know Him so deeply if I hadn’t needed Him so desperately. When no other horizontal relationship can understand your pain, it drives you to go vertical. DEEP pain can either drive a person to bitterness against God or it can drive them into deep intimacy with Him. We each get a choice.

I chose intimacy.

God didn’t cause the abuse to teach me some lesson. He is a GOOD God–who has innumerable other ways to mature us that don’t include subjecting us to brutal torture. But He WAS waiting to redeem it all, turn it around for my good, and make me a dangerous force against evil. So that’s my plan now–transformation and becoming dangerous for God. I’m not where I eventually want to be in my healing journey, but I’m definitely en-route.

And compassion is my new superpower.

Nova

Just Call Me Jacob

IMG_0123I’m gonna be brutally honest—I’ve ALWAYS been really good at striving. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been awesome at figuring out ways to finagle life to get what I wanted. And that biblical picture of Jacob grabbing onto God’s heal is my metaphorical picture for the way I used to live my life.

I carry that symbolic picture with me now in my mental wallet—a reminder of what NOT to do. It’s the picture of the old me, the old man, the one that wrestled and struggled through life SO afraid.

I used to wrestle with God—just like Jacob, trying to take the blessing from Him that He already wanted to give me. Striving. Stubborn. Holding tightly to people, pursuits, and agendas that I just couldn’t let go of and entrust into His hands.

My fingers were wrapped SO tightly around everything: marriage, parenting, friendships, finances, etc. I was desperately afraid to trust and let go. Anything that I couldn’t control felt wildly unsafe.

Nothing was left untouched—striving’s fingerprints were everywhere.

I didn’t understand the concept of RESTING in God. I couldn’t rest because I had never learned TRUST. And I couldn’t trust because I wasn’t FULLY settled that God’s intentions for me were logistically good.

My mindset was that I had to make things happen. 

I truly believed (though I didn’t see it at the time) that if I didn’t fight and strive to get what I wanted, then I would be left deprived and all alone. In the most basic cells of my belief system, I didn’t believe that God actually WANTED to be involved in the dailies of my entire life.

I didn’t know Him then as I do now—as my Destiny Creator and Facilitator. It took me a while before I came to understand that He was MORE invested in my destiny than even I was; and that He actually carried the heavier load to bring it to fulfillment.

So I spent a lot of years toiling unproductively in various pursuits. Working hard by the sweat of my striving to put into play what God was already offering.

Performance and perfectionism saturated my life. Grace was thrown in the mix somewhere. But the waters were just too muddied by so much law-mindedness.

Indoctrinated into perfectionistic behaviors at such a young age, I was completely blind to the reality of my own belief systems. Performance was the only language I had known. So when I met Jesus, I just transferred these works-based mindsets and behaviors over into the world of Christendom.

I lived with a dualistic mindset for decades. 

On the one hand, I passionately believed and proclaimed the existence of a loving God who provided for His children. But on the other, I wasn’t actually seeing the fruit of my own belief system—so I would step in to MAKE SURE things happened.

I grabbed at God’s (and others’) heels every chance I could get.

I wouldn’t say that I was a total parasite or user. But I definitely used to live with a lot of hidden motives and agendas. And even though I’ve since reconciled with myself and others for my past behaviors, I still cringe when I think of some of my striving snafus that hurt other people.

Some of those people still view me through a Jacob lens—even though I believe I’ve moved onto my Israel identity. I’m not the old me anymore. And I’ve had to surrender the responsibility for my reputation over to God.

It’s one of those sticky striving traps to think that I can carry the weight of that one on my own.

And during my LONG season of striving, my belief system as a Christian didn’t do me much good because I lived pragmatically—solving problems through logic and reason. I was double dipping.

I didn’t SEE much supernatural fruit in my life because I was still living from a humanistic, secular orientation. I ate mostly from the Tree of Knowledge.

But my entire life began to shift when I started to pursue intimacy with God instead of performance. I began to invite Him into my situations and partner with where He was going, rather than trying to figure things out by myself. THAT was when the supernatural fruit began to fall in my life.

I found that the fruit from the Tree of Life was much sweeter.

In God’s wooing pursuit of intimacy, the scales of performance and striving eventually melted away. I found myself changed in name and nature in the light of His presence and love.

Striving had served me well as a child in order to survive. But it was a mask. And as an adult, that mask actually hindered my relationship with God. He wanted to know the true me behind the mask.

Some may still call me Jacob—but I know what my true name is in Heaven.

You have a true name as well.

❤ Nova

“Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28).

 

PANIC ATTACK PARALYSIS

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I remember the first time I ever had a panic attack. It came from out of nowhere. It was so far off the grid of my experience that I didn’t even know it had a name other than torture.

It all started when I decided to take a driving shift on the roadtrip back home from Colorado to California with my husband and four kids. We were on our way back from visiting friends and had decided to drive straight through the night to avoid kid interruptions. It was almost entirely black throughout the mountain range—save our headlights. My husband had taken the first shift.

It was now my turn.

My kids were already fast asleep and as soon as I started driving, my husband quickly followed suit. The two-lane highway was narrow and windy, with a cement divider on my left and what appeared to be an open chasm of death off to my right.

I felt a little nervous driving, but I was doing okay navigating the narrow twists and turns of the highway until another car zoomed up right behind me and started tailgating aggressively. He tailed so close that it felt threatening and dangerous.

The pressure and danger combination mounted together into a highly-reactive panic trigger for me. These two things would remain consistent in my future episodes. They were my specific “recipe” for a panic attack.

The first thing I noticed was the tingly fear that crept up my entire body until it constricted around me like a tight blanket. I felt frozen and wrapped in fear—unable to move. My arms became fused to the steering wheel with a paralytic death grip. I was afraid to breathe, much less call out to my husband for help. I broke out into a cold sweat. 

All of a sudden, the lane appeared much narrower. I felt terrified that if I veered even one inch in either direction, we would all die. Either I’d crash into cement or careen off a cliff. Neither one appealed to me in my desire to live. I couldn’t speed up to get away from the tailgater because I couldn’t guarantee control, but I couldn’t slow down either— I was afraid he’d smash into me. He was SO close. I had ZERO margin for error.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God”, was all I could think to think.

The whole episode probably only lasted about five minutes before the road shifted into three lanes, and the other car floored it to maneuver around me—but I felt like I’d just made it through Hell. The rest of the details are still a blur. We didn’t die. We eventually made it home. I didn’t know it yet, but this episode was about to change my entire life. It would become a trigger that would affect my life for many years to come.

That was almost 9 years ago. 

Immediately after the road trip through Hell, I remember being hit by a rush of euphoria. From my optimistic perspective of a great storyline, I thought I’d query a magazine or two about my death-defying adventure. I thought certainly I could find some venue from which to share my amazing testimony about staring death in the face and surviving.

But I didn’t. 

Instead, in a cruel twist of fate, I spiraled down into an even worse season filled with many more panic attacks and new pop-up fears—including a fear of heights, fear of mountain roads and freeway overpasses, fear of enclosed spaces, fear of finding parking, and a fear of big social gatherings.

Life got worse, NOT better.

My idealized testimony morphed instead into many more mocking reminders of my current limitations. It was like an ever-increasing revelation of incapacity.

The panic attacks continued—sometime major, sometimes minor. The fear usually manifested in an either quick or slow spread of terror throughout my body. My whole body would then feel almost suffocated by the tight blanket of terror that restricted me, coupled with the fear-induced paralyzation. One of the panic attacks was SO intense that it actually dried up my milk supply and I could no longer nurse my son.

I continued to spiral down.

I couldn’t drive on mountain roads, bridges, or freeway overpasses for years. Even being a passenger on mountain roads left me with the shakes. I had to close my eyes and pray under my breath just to survive those drives—which made it tricky to visit my in-laws who actually lived in the mountains.

I lived in a place of constant fear, wondering what would trigger me next.

Many beach trips and misc outings had to be rerouted due to bridge overpasses. It became inconvenient and humiliating. One time, I accidentally ended up on some mountain roads with a friend. When I realized my mistake, I decided I would just have to power through by the sheer force of my will. Except that I couldn’t. My will was not strong enough to overcome the neurological and emotional components of my PTSD-ravished brain. Trembling, sweating, and barely able to breathe, I found a mountain turn-out and defeatedly drove back down.

Life became really hard for a LONG time after that initial drive in the Colorado mountain range. 

Xanax couldn’t touch my fear or panic at all. Antidepressants didn’t accomplish anything other than my weight gain. I already struggled with insomnia. Sleeping pills didn’t work either.

I felt like a zombie, technically alive but dead inside as the fear, panic, and insomnia swirled around inside of me—trying to finish me off for good.

I lived in that dreamlike state for years, unable to engage with much. Life was all about survival—not enjoyment. My spirit’s will to live and my desire to raise my children were the ONLY reasons I stayed alive.

Somehow I knew that there HAD to be a light at the end of my tunnel.

Years of counseling and the unravelling of my past would then enter into the scene of my life. Everything would change after that. My panic, fear, and PTSD would slowly lessen. My understanding would massively increase. I would receive lots of new information and tools. And the natural outgrowth of all of these eventually brought me my breakthrough.

I remember that VICTORIOUS day when I finally decided to try and drive over the 91 Freeway Overpass on my way out of town. I felt the Father’s gentle nudge of confirmation—“You’re ready. You can do this.”

And I did.

It’s been two years since the day I conquered that overpass. My freedom has continued to multiply into other areas. I’m no longer afraid of bridges or overpasses. I don’t get parking anxiety anymore. I actually attend a lot of social gatherings without emotional pushback. I even went through an enclosed waterslide the other day. My previous triggers have become a non-issue. 

I made it through Hell. You can too.

Don’t ever give up.

Two steps forward—one step back is still moving forward.

Love, Nova

Moving Past BS To Find The Treasure

Somedays I forget I’m a person. Seriously. A lot of days I get so sucked into the crazy mom shuffle that I forget I’m supposed to also be a human being. Most moms will get this: the days when you just feel like a Mom ATM. Yep. That’s me: Mom ATM. What do you need? Taxi Driver? Social coordinator? Listening ear? Conflict resolution? That’s usually how I feel. But not yesterday. Yesterday, I got to be something different:

I got to be a real person again. 

Yesterday, I got a quick break from Mom ATM mode and I had an opportunity to sit with some new friends and share my heart. They actually wanted to know more about me. Like who was I? What was I all about? I got a chance to share some of my passions, my dreams, and my quirky God life and the way He walks with me.

It invigorated me. 

It wasn’t the attention so much but the permission that refreshed my weary soul. The permission to remember who I really was. To remember the ME apart from the kid attachments and the stay-at-home-wife identity. For a few hours, I got to remember what made me, ME.

And I REALLY liked being me again—even if only for a few hours.

Most introductory meet-and-greets or initial get-to-know ya’s for me usually include questions related to marital status or number of children, or the inevitably awkward “What-do-you-do?” question—which I seriously hate. 

I know one person who bypasses all the external BS and extraneous details and just asks: “Who are you?—and don’t tell me what you do for a living.”

I LOVE that question.

I wish our culture would begin to adopt a more internally-oriented focus like that. I would love to see society as a whole start to move past the introductory questions that are geared towards social or economic productivity—and instead try to identify a person’s design.

Like “Who are you INSIDE?”, “What makes you, YOU?”, “What lights you up and makes you come alive?”, “What is the FIRE shut up in your bones?”

As for me, I actually asked God a similar question recently:

“Father, who am I REALLY?”

His internal answer came as a soft voice spoken inside my spirit. He answered me simply with two words: Worshipper and WONDER-er.

He nailed it.

It’s so true. I do and like a lot of things. I’m pretty eclectic by nature. But the satin thread that weaves its way throughout all of the interests and timeline of my life are those two things:

I AM a worshipper. And whether I’m writing a blogpost, laughing with my kids, praying over somebody, walking down the street, cleaning my house, or singing on my guitar—I am worshipping Him.

AND

I AM a wonder-er. I constantly marvel at all of creation—hawks, dragonflies, mountains, the ocean, wind, rain, motion, colors, rhythm, light. I was made for WONDER. I was made for AWE.

That’s who I am inside—everything else is just playing field.

Who are you?

Who are you REALLY?

We all have TREASURES and a SPIRITUAL DESIGN inside of us that are God-given.

It’s time we start looking for them.

Nova