Wednesday, June 21, 2023
Saturday, April 30, 2022
As I participate in this year's Conference on Religious Trauma, this piece has been inspiring me.
(Like most of my trauma-inspired art pieces, it sits in the closet. No one wants to look at that every day!)
|"Broken", mixed media (2018)
It's been both empowering and comforting to listen to the conference sessions and remember how far I've come on this journey over the last decade. Here's to more health and heresy!
Saturday, February 12, 2022
All the news this week (nearly forgotten already--topics move so fast--but we had a funeral and other stuff going on, too) about book banning and book burning and white people's discomfort and Whoopie Goldberg and parents getting mad about teachers using historical facts has me processing more crap from my teens.
Looking back, I find my early lessons on the Holocaust rather horrifying. And not in the way that they should be.
I read numerous religious WWII paperback adventures about Communists, torture, boxcars, smugglers, miracles, and daring escapes when I was just a kid. Corrie ten Boom's was the only one about the plight of the Jews, and it centered...
...a Gentile Christian! Who survived the concentration camp to travel the globe telling people to forgive their abusers in the name of Jesus.
Corrie, at least the version created by Guideposts writers John & Elizabeth Sherrill, was my hero. I wanted to be strong like her, courageous, daring, smart, and famous, and sabotage a few Nazi radios in the process. I imagined visiting Haarlem just to tour her home and watch shop, the Beje, while I pondered whether God let Jesus-rejecting Jews into heaven.
Our school books gave Corrie her own history unit (Wisdom Booklet #35). They basically reworded The Hiding Place, with less emphasis on Jews and extra helpings of forgiveness for wicked deeds. You'd think it would be difficult to write a page about concentration camps without mentioning Jews, but IBLP managed it. It wasn't that they were on the side of the Nazis, just that they could adapt the story, just as they did the Jewish scriptures, to fit Bill Gothard's agenda by telling victims of violence that God willed their suffering.
During my year in the Philippines, my dearest friend was a German woman. Her Wycliffe missionary peers warned me, unbidden, never to bring up the Holocaust as she didn't believe it had happened. Huh? I knew a lot of interesting people with a lot of unusual hang-ups, but this was a new one for me!
Dietlinde had created a dictionary and translated the New Testament for the Muslim Yakan people group in the southern islands. I helped her assemble evergreen boughs into a Christmas "tree" and decorate it with German ornaments and she taught me to drink coconut water and showed me a night-blooming orchid and we had lovely tea parties, but I obediently tiptoed around the Holocaust question.
I encountered Elie Wiesel in a college English assignment, and Shalom Auslander was another Jewish voice who gave me a glimmer of what it means to grow up in the shadow of massive generational trauma.
I no longer think forgiveness is going to cut it.
Anyway... these are excerpts from the homeschool curriculum my parents chose. Maybe you used it, too.
Excuse me now while I ask my kids what they've learned about anti-Semitism, past and, painfully, present.
Friday, June 4, 2021
I’m eating rhubarb pie on the patio, watching a pair of chickadees hover over the wet lawn, listening to the cool wind rustle through the tree boughs, and thinking about the stories we tell ourselves.
Our minds are fueled by story. Stories unite us, warn us, soothe us, infuse us with courage. We use them to transmit our values, to slip truth into dangerous places, to remember, to escape, to fight, to heal, to find each other.
Story is what humans do. Consciously or not, we are constantly building stories to make sense of the world around us. Stories cushion the mind--keeping the brain from breaking every time the heart does.
Over the last year, reeling as loss chased after loss, we’ve needed story as much as ever.
It wasn’t like we hadn’t braced for bad news.
Still, it came out of nowhere. She’d just recovered from Covid after all. Quarantined, gone back to work. She had work, again, despite the closures, despite everything else.
Scattered from coast to coast, what else could we siblings do but begin piecing together a story? What happened to her? When and how and why? In an instinctive expression of human grief, we shared memories, pooling our knowledge of Glory Anna's life so we would remember. We all knew her so differently; we even call her by different names.
I mostly recall her infancy—she was born into chaos and conflict. I left home the next year; we only shared a roof for two years of her first five. I listened to stories from the years after: stories that infuriated me, stories that made me proud, stories that broke my tired heart.
I could tell Glory’s story a dozen different ways, each version with a different villain to despise but always the same abrupt ending. (How does the math work? Am I still the oldest of 11? Does our baby sister move up to tenth place? What do we do with the gap?)
The true story? It’s all of them. The story that soothes me is that, though we’d never met as adults—distanced by twenty years and a thousand miles, in the weeks before her death Glory told me the stories she needed me to know. Those are the things I want most to remember. Our parents will include none of them in their stories, as they don’t fit their criteria for remembrance. We tell ourselves the stories that bring us comfort, after all. My bedtime reading is their nightmare, and vice versa.
Religions offer prepackaged story sets that remain popular in part because they claim, to varying degrees, they can keep the weight of the universe from crushing our little minds. Some achieve this by locking the mind in an airtight box while others leave room for add-on stories, or let you choose your own adventure. Stories gave me flight; stories keep my parents trapped and sad.
As a child, Glory was a storyteller. She saw power in stories, a means of escape from small minds and small hearts. When she got older, she tried other escapes.
I hesitate to speak of her death—my neighbors don’t know, nor my in-laws—because I resent hearing “I’m sorry for your loss” when news headlines remind me daily that the world doesn’t actually care. If I was a child, or poor, or black, or gay; addicted, homeless, pregnant, stalked by an ex; Asian, African, Jewish, born in Palestine? The world wouldn’t give a damn about my loss. Ohio didn’t care enough to give Glory unemployment. Michigan saddled her with medical bills. No one checked on us to be sure we were getting an education and healthcare and not just whippings and whooping cough.
When therapy is inaccessible and street drugs easier to obtain than prescription ones, “I’m sorry” feels…offensive. I resent hearing “I’m sorry” while millions of Americans mourn 600,000 Covid dead while being told we just need to “get back to normal” capitalism. People lost spouses, providers, children, teachers. Disease stole parents from 40,000 kids in this country alone. We’re losing our planet, our democracy, and our humanity, but, yeah, enjoy that normalcy.
I resent hearing it from people who can’t grasp that my loss is just the same as hers: a safe childhood, education matched to our potential, parents who loved us more than their sadistic sex-obsessed god. I lost Glory when she was a toddler and I moved far, far away, crying at my therapist’s because I had my own kids now but still worried over the babies I’d left behind. I lost her again when she was 16, when my own escape and healing meant estrangement from our parents. I never expected it to be permanent. As my recovery progressed, I slowly reconnected with five other sisters, but I never saw Glory again.
I am angry that Glory had to fight so hard just to live in this unfair world. Her loss was far greater than mine because when I left that world at 24, I found the support to heal and build a new one, while she had to support herself however she could, forgoing the education she could have excelled at. She was winsome, brave, intelligent, resourceful, and kind. There is comfort in knowing she can’t be hurt anymore.
Glory tried so hard to live on her own terms; I wish she could still be exercising that privilege today.
|Glory and me a decade ago.
Monday, May 31, 2021
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.A time to search and a time to give up as lost...
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Like many people, I've spent a lot of time in my head the last year.
My fantasy world these days makes NURTURING ITS YOUNG its #1 priority. I dream of a society that refuses to buy police one more tank or even rubber bullet until EVERY school is stocked with paper towels, hand soap, free lunch that smells good, and a full-time nurse. Imagine if we agreed that all children--regardless of zip code or parentage--deserve real food, clean water and air, a safe home, health care, education, protection from violence, and the right to play at recess even if they forgot their ID.
Teaching would be honored, and financially rewarded, as a noble profession, with no tolerance for adults who model bullying in the classroom. (In the same vein, cops who violate the public trust, and men who commit violence at home, would forever forfeit any right to carry firearms.)
Mental health screenings--for all kids and caregivers--would be as regular as dental ones. New parents, or abusive parents flagged by checkups, would receive mentoring. Cities would competitively invest in quality childcare to attract companies. Children would be taught from toddlerhood how to care for their bodies and their minds, how to expect respect, and how to say no. Schools would get all the resources they need to fully fund music programs AND drivers' ed. And the healthcare coverage! Funded by taxing the corporations getting fat off our consumption, helpful drugs and therapies would finally be easier to get than deadly ones, even for teens or young moms surviving on $2/hr plus tips!
We'd keep strong families, of whatever shape or immigration status, intact--never killing or jailing or deporting parents over pieces of paper. We wouldn't let fostered children simply disappear. We'd interrupt the detention-to-incarceration pipeline with targeted social support until private prisons go bankrupt and law “enforcers” have to stop using body armor manufactured by American slaves. Maybe fewer kids would grow up wanting to wear a bully’s uniform or to escape their lives by dropping bombs on other kids with a remote control and would instead find meaning in trauma-informed social science, biological research, diplomacy, the arts.
We'd cease building prisons and we'd start centers for healing, with trees and gardens and libraries where Neil Gaiman's work isn't banned. Lots of sunlight. Treatment would focus on recovery, restoration, reconnection, relationships. And probably pancakes and puppies.
Maybe my fantasies are a buffer for my mental health, or maybe they're a threat to it.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
According to my mom's nursing textbooks, a stage of labor. The worst part, I gathered from her friends. Tugging and stretching from the inside. "If she seems angry, or starts shaking, or says she can't do this--that's normal." Hallmarks of transition.
I was living in the Philippines while preparing for my wedding when a seasoned expatriate instructed me to attend a "transitions" workshop. I scoffed (I was young! I was resilient! I was leaving in a matter of months!) but that was decades ago and I'm still grateful.
Having been exposed to very little research-based psychology at that point, the tools the instructors offered blew me away. I believe this was my first introduction to the concept of psychological trauma. They explained how our brains process change as loss, how we grieve even through happy transitions, and how to prepare a RAFT to ride out the rapids of inevitable change.
When they explained the importance of goodbyes, I cried. And there, under the palm trees, I began to heal from years of heart bruises sustained while working for the IBLP cult, which excelled at both facilitating deep human attachments and ripping them away.
Transitions, it turns out, are both cause for celebration and the most intense stage of creating something new.
The following year, despite obsessively reading birth stories to prepare myself, my daughter was weeks old before I recognized the transition stage of my labor. At the time, the outside world fell away as I went deep inside myself, summoning the strength to start a brand-new life.
This summer has been one long series of transitions. I find myself obeying the same instinct, withdrawing and digging deep. It's been...intense.
Daughter to woman. Student to graduate. Child to adult.
Shopping to pick-up. Friends to family. Travel to staycation.
Middle school to high school. School to home. Home to university.
Quiet to loud. Inside to outside. Live to remote. Anxious to angry to hopeful and back again.
Provider to mentor. Part-time mom to full-time to long-distance.
We moved our firstborn to campus last week, with protective masks and mixed feelings of pride, anxiety, envy.
For us, it was the culmination of 18 years of choices in support of both our daughter and our values (albeit under circumstances we never envisioned). I confess, as the first to leave home myself, I had not fully empathized with the plight of a younger sibling losing a best friend. But parenting is ever an emotional expansion--experiencing life through multiple proxies at once, each child needing different support.
Considering how many times I have used paint or a new hairstyle to assert autonomy when I felt otherwise helpless or out of control, I wasn't surprised when my youngest chose a radical new cut for her birthday this month. Or that she wanted to update her room. What did surprise me is that she recognized when the pace of change was too much. She knew to slow down what she could and climb aboard her own "raft", comforting herself with the familiar, digging deep, enjoying change by degrees.
My girls give me courage to keep embracing change and as always, my partner provides steadying emotional support when I get wobbly and think "I can't do this".
We will all be adjusting to this latest transition for a few weeks, then remote high school will upend the routines we've slid into over the last 5 months of "summer" and we'll calibrate yet again, thankful for the technology that connects us to the things we need and the people we love.
Transition: the process of changing from one state to another.
Transitions are stages of movement and growth, and they can be intense! But to live well is to change, so I wouldn't want a life without transitions. Here's to making it through the rapids and floating out on the wide calmer waters beyond.