Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Church

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It wasn’t anything I asked for or sought out, but it is a fact of my life. I have seen God work some amazing healing in my life, but I have not arrived in the Promised Land yet. An unfamiliar man touches my shoulder and an unreasonable fear rises in my heart. My head knows the truth of my safety for a second, but my body jumps to high alert – it remembers the pain of the past. My heart pounds, my stomach forms a knot, every muscle tightens in preparation for flight, and then memories…oh, if the memories did not begin to replay in my head I might be able to reason through the angst. But alas, the minute the flashbacks start, I become consumed with the need to flee or find safety. I am no longer the adult, but the child who was harmed. And I am unreasonable.

When something unexpected happens with one of my children, the panic hits within seconds and I am ten. I am the ten year old that no one protected and I need to protect this child of mine with all that I am. And the instruction comes, “Trust God.” Trust God. I am told it over and over and over. Obviously it isn’t helping me process the panic, but it doesn’t matter. That is all the church has to offer. Empty platitudes. And they wonder why so many walk away.

The Church is not kind to men and women like me. When they could be a refuge of healing and hope, a place to help us find an appropriate way to release the panic, they become a place where we feel judged. They speak platitudes that unknowingly shame us. It’s why I withdraw. It’s why it is easier to not go than it is to go. I am too often told that I don’t trust God. I know that in those moments of being triggered, I don’t do anything rationally. The fear is out of control, and the need to protect – especially my kids – becomes so all consuming that I can’t function. And that is when it happens. “You just need to trust God…”

I know that I am failing in my trust of God. I know and I hate myself. I am ashamed as I am told to do something that I am totally and completely incapable of doing in that moment. “Trust God.” And so, the hatred for myself grows, the shame, and more than anything, the panic becomes even bigger. The need to flee and to self-medicate because “trust God” is all the church has to offer…

…all in the name of “biblical response.”

I wonder….I wonder if that is what Jesus really would have done?

I ask the question out loud to God during my quiet time today, but I already know the answer…because I know Jesus. He carries my shame. He holds me when the church beats me up with my failure. He whispers, “I know. You are safe. Remember who I AM.” Where I fail to give a biblical response, the church fails as well. They point me to myself, instead of the One who can enable me to do it. “Trust God” is all about what I am and am not doing, instead of being about the One who is able to do it for me.

And as I process through the self-hatred and the panic, I am positive of one thing: God doesn’t condemn me. He understands me. He knows that I don’t need to remember to trust Him because I can’t. I am incapable of trusting God because in an instant, spiritual amnesia has set in and I can’t remember who he is. I can’t remember what He has done. I am reliving the harm done to me as a child and I am terrified. The memory of never being safe as a child is my reality in that moment of panic. I am not safe. My people are not safe. And church, instead of speaking the Truth of the God I know to me, simply says, “If you would just trust God…”

And in those moments of the past being the present, I need someone to sit with me, to cry with me. I need someone to give me gentle reminders of who God is, of His great love for me, of His provision of my Savior, of His goodness. Even though I am sinning and failing to trust Him, He still wants me. He is not chastising me for my lack of faith. He is whispering through His Word, through the praise music on the radio, through the verses I have memorized, “Remember who I AM. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. I have cared for you when you were rejected. I am good. I am present. My loving kindness, mercy, and grace are for you. Remember the many battles I have won for my servants. Remember how I carried the Israelites away from Pharoah. Remember how I parted the Red Sea and they crossed on dry land. Remember how I fed them in the desert and gave them water from the rock. Remember how I turned the bitter water at Marah sweet. Remember how I took a shepherd boy and gave him victory over a giant. I am your God. Remember ME. Remember how I set you free. Remember how when you were lost to addiction, you were never lost to me – I never stopped loving, pursuing, whispering your name. I am good. I am your ever present help in times of trouble. Come, take refuge under the shadow of my wing.” And I receive his invitation, and I run to him.

I confess, I do not always respond to his invitation immediately. Once the flashbacks and the night terrors start again, the past torments me and sometimes, the need to self-medicate wins. But, only for a moment. God promises. “The Lord makes firm the step of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 34:23-24) And God keeps His promises. Another thing to be reminded of when the panic sets in.

And I suppose, the Church doesn’t know how to walk this broken road with me, so they do the best they can. My heart and head nod in agreement with the Church that God has given me and everyone like me everything we need for life and godliness – it is contained in the very words of a living and holy God, the Bible. Still, biblical response is so much more than telling someone to trust God. True Biblical response involves pointing the person back to the One who saved her, the One who is powerful and able, to remind her that He is with her and He is good, He is for her.

If you have been through trauma, and are struggling, please seek help. There are trauma therapies that bring so much healing. You are not alone and you are deeply loved. God has freedom for you! And I also encourage you to find a church that faithfully preaches the gospel…even if they don’t get working with trauma survivors right. Everyone needs the gospel, every day. Men and women who have been through trauma need the gospel every moment of every day, constantly reminded of the magnificence of the one in whom they are being encouraged to trust.

If you are someone working with survivors of trauma, please hear me. Trauma does something inexplicable in a person. When the panic comes it is most likely because the past has visited the present and the person can not escape. You can be a tool to help them escape, but not with the words, “trust God.” You can help them escape by using sound grounding techniques and then by reminding them of who God is, what He has done. Trusting God in those moments is exactly what the person needs to do, but telling them to do it is not going to accomplish it. Helping the person return to the present and then gently reminding him of who God is and what he has done is so much more helpful.

If you are a survivor of trauma, and have things that you find helpful in the midst of a flashback, panic attack, or night terror, please leave it in the comments. Maybe we can help others inside and outside of the church know how to help us!

And at the the end of the day, if the Church leadership and lay people don’t get it right, cause you more pain, don’t be surprised. They are sinners just like you, saved by the One who died and rose again. They need the same grace and forgiveness you and I need. Their failure is not a statement of your faith or God’s thoughts of you. You are dearly loved and wanted by the God who made you.

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Shifting Sand

“… like a foolish man who built his house on sand …”

Matthew 7:24-27

We stood on the edge of the deep cold water, marveling at how far the winds and waves had beaten back the beach, how much of the sand dunes had been consumed by winter’s rage. I stood next to the man who has walked this beaten path with me, staring up at the boardwalk that just last fall had carried us across the dunes. The thick, long posts that once had been buried deep in the sand now hung exposed over the cliff of a disappearing dune. More than ten feet of the dunes had been consumed by winter’s destructive winds and waves.

And with my hand in his, I whisper, “I am sorry.” Tears course as my eyes meet his. A short nod, as if he knows why I am apologizing before the words ever flow from my mouth. “I am so sorry for the last three years, for the last twenty six years, for the life I tried to build on shifting sand.”

The truth of the Word of God is so evident in these beaten down sand dunes. The wind and the waves came, washed away the sandy foundation, and the structures couldn’t stand. Bits and pieces of it now are scattered at the bottom of the dunes to be washed away by the next storm. So much like my life. Positive my foundation was rock, not just any rock, but the solid Rock of Christ, until the storm raged. And when the unexpected storm of the past blew in, every brick that wasn’t of Christ was knocked clean out from under the beautiful life I had built. Crumbling, rotten decay. The house did not stand, but fell headlong into the sea of lies and addiction. Only, it wasn’t a house that fell, it was a woman. I am that woman.

The good news of the gospel found me in the mess I had made. The sandy lies that had washed away are being replaced brick by brick with the truth of the Word of God. The accusations and shame that I have kept hidden in the depths of my heart are being carried out by the tide. Today, I am so grateful. I am so thankful that Christ is the solid Rock on which I stand. I thank God that the names I have been called, the things that have been done to me, the accusations made, the addictions that I fell to when past hurts raised their ugly heads, and the sins I have committed are not who I am. Those labels and heartaches have affected me, but they have been washed away like sand on the seashore . I am a new creation in Christ. I am standing in the truth of His Word and He is daily giving me the grace I so desperately need to cling to Him as the world rages on around me!

And for you this morning, can I just ask, what are you building your house on? When the storms come – and they will come – will your foundation stand? Are you the wise man building his house on the rock or the foolish man building his house on the sand? I encourage you to take time today to just sit at the feet of Jesus and let Him show you His truth. The only foundation that is able to withstand the storms, the waves, and the beating wind is the solid Rock of Christ!

Pebbles of Forgiveness

No ones knows the heartache
or the heavy burdens a child was forced to bear.
No one sees the daily struggles with which the past has cursed my present.
Yet there is a God who commands me:

Forgive.
Forgive.
Forgive.

The harms done.
The love spurned.
The abuse endured.

My Rock drops pebbles of forgiveness
to toss into the past
To sprinkle like refreshing rain
On those who were knowingly to blame,
Creating ripples of hope in their seas of shame,
And beginning to ease my memories and pain.

The Choice

 Pain comes to claim my heart.
The needle or the pen,
The choice is before me again
Pain comes to claim my heart.
 
The needle or the pen?
Will I write to claim the pain
Or will I let drugs have free reign?
The needle or the pen?
 
Will I write to claim the pain?
Pour out memories that taunt
Till they no longer haunt,
Will I write to claim the pain?
 
Pour out memories that taunt
Aloud on paper white
Or seek poison to silence the fight?
Pour out memories that taunt.
 
Aloud on paper white
Ugly letters scrawled in black ink
Create a space for me to think.
Aloud on paper white.
 
Ugly letters scrawled in black ink
Pain comes to claim my heart
Memories now written still rip my life apart
Ugly letters scrawled in black ink
 
Pain comes to claim my heart.
The needle or the pen,
The choice is before me again
Pain comes to claim my heart.

My attempt at the form Catena Rondo, as introduced at Poetic Bloomings.

Heaven’s Hand

Five treasures laid in heaven
neither by my choice nor by my hand
Precious pearls in faith’s storehouse
so much more than grains of sand
Five souls soar secure, untarnished, undefiled
safe in my Savior’s land
Five hearts never know sin guilt
or pain of growing earthly old
Five pairs of feet skip and run free
on streets laid with finest gold
Five babes my arms empty ache to hold
rest safely Home in Heaven’s hand.

Tell A Story

Track marks tell a story
she wishes they didn’t tell
about a girl who faltered
as to smack she fell
when her heart was bleeding,
bruised by evil men
 
His scars tell a story
she grieves that they tell
about the Innocent who died
as to evil men he fell
when His heart stopped beating,
thrashed and hung upon a cross.
 
His grave tells a story
she rejoices that it tells
about a dead Man raised
to overcome her hell
when His tomb was empty,
defeated death and evil men.
 
Her life tells a story
she humbly does share
about a drug addict rescued
by the King’s gentle care
when He silenced accusations,
made a new creation.
 
Her scars tell a story
she’s no longer shamed to tell
Bout a Savior who renamed her
made her sick heart well,
when he freed from heroin’s call
healed harm done by evil men.

Stained Glass

Stained glass people fill the pew
wondering if they are really new
Bright joyful smiles on the outside
Hearts shattered  pieces  inside
Hiding from judgmental view

Oh, if the broken but knew
all the pieces  now askew
by the Savior are priceless fired,
His  Masterpieces love-inspired
windows we see God's mercy through. 

Broken shards forged to form a view 
of mercy, grace, and the Word True
His glory, your good  His desire
Shines bright from the heavenly fire
God's love through Christ makes you new.