My little boy, he’s always had nightmares.
He used to wake in the night, crying out in fear.
Would someone jump in the window and grab him while he slept?
Was there a monstrous being in the closet?
As he grew older, his fears became more sophisticated, until, one day, he fretted, “What if I get cancer?”
My heart aches and I cringe upon each remembrance of my answer: “Kids rarely get cancer. That is not going to happen to you.”
I mean, really, what were the odds?
On fear-riddled nights, I would sit by my son’s bedside, encourage him to “bring his fears to God”.
And then came that dreaded day with the sudden limp and the agonizing hospital stay terminating in the horrifying diagnosis.
I was shocked and, frankly, pissed. The child who worried he would “get cancer”, who prayed he wouldn’t, got cancer.
You can bet my dialogues with my children surrounding fear and faith have changed drastically since then.
I had held to this strange notion that if a child petitioned God about something, God would answer in the affirmative, in order to build that child’s faith.
Oh, the lore and the mythology we humans concoct to comfort ourselves…
I realize now how screwed up my thinking was.
How many millions of children have cried out to God as their abusers tormented them, only to have their abusers go on abusing?
To assume God would keep my child from suffering while simultaneously ignoring other children the world ‘round made God out to be an exceedingly dysfunctional deity.
What did I think entitled me or my family or any of my children to receive some sort of extra special divine intervention?
To be fondled by pain is to be human.
God is not my family’s ticket out of suffering either.
The little boy Jesus, the young man Jesus, suffered. He grew tired and weary. Guaranteed, he stubbed his toe, lost his favorite toy.
As a parent I have seen the error in rushing to rescue my children from hardship.
My children are welcome to come to me, of course. But my constant intervention would keep them from tuning in to their own strength, ingenuity and wisdom.
We all have minds and wills, don’t we?
Like, when the weak among us are crying out at the hands of their tormentors, we sure as hell better be using our ingenuity, skills and gifts to ease their suffering, should we not?
Assuming God will hear these least ones and rush to their rescue with fire and brimstone or something, it lets us off the hook.
I mean, we don’t need to do anything if God is doing everything, right?
I asked Aydon recently what he thought of God during cancer and now, after cancer.
He said that on some days he thought God wasn’t real, and on others, he knew God was with him.
We then launched into a deep conversation about suffering and God, in which I apologized to him for the faulty ways I had informed his childhood faith.
I wondered aloud whether God perhaps isn’t about rescuing us out of hardship, because to endure hardship, after all, is to be human. And we are all only human.
I wondered whether that is why Jesus lived a life filled with pain. And perhaps that is why Paul talked about sharing in the hardships of Christ?
The wise man Buddha would say that while pain is universal, suffering occurs when we have trouble letting go of “illusion, false desire, superiority, and separateness” (Richard Rohr in The Universal Christ).
Maybe encountering the pain of cancer pissed me off because I assumed that the path to God and abundant life would be free of thorns, and I found myself angry, not because of the pain, but because I found I was indeed wrestling my illusions and false desires.
Both Christianity and Buddhism are saying that the pattern of transformation, the pattern that connects, the life that Reality offers us is not death avoided, but always death transformed. In other words, the trustworthy pattern of spiritual transformation is death and resurrection. Christians learn to submit to trials because Jesus told us that we must ‘carry the cross’ with him. Buddhists do it because the Buddha very directly said that ‘life is suffering,’ but the real goal is to choose skillful and necessary suffering over what is usually just resented and projected suffering. (Rohr, The Universal Christ)
This is a mystery I have only tentatively tasted, friends.
I wrestle daily, with God and life and pain and what it means. And I’m afraid I usually choose suffering over dying.
My answer to those childhood nightmares now? I’m sorry, child. I get it. And I love you.
That is all.
“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.” (Mark Manson)
Ouch, I penned into the margin of the above paragraph, truth-hammered.
Oddly, the “ouch” came with a sense of pressure-releasing-relief.
Truth sets free, after all....
I don’t know if it’s being close to 40 or what, but I’m tired of approaching every situation like it’s a battle to be fought-and-won.
I’m tired of pretending my life is better, somehow, than it really is.
I’m tired of fighting things I cannot change, about myself, about my family, or my husband.
I’m so fucking tired of trying to avoid suffering. Suffering, after all, has a mind and will of its own.
It will catch up to every single person eventually, if it hasn’t already.
You know what?
Trying to avoid suffering, to escape the negativity and avoid struggle, pretending and Instagramming your life perfect?
It’s weird, but in the end, it’ll isolate you.
Because no one, no one, has a perfect life.
And if that is true, if imperfection is universal, than it is something that connects us all, isn’t it?
“Suffering of some sort seems to be the only one thing strong enough to both destabilize and reveal our arrogance, our separateness, and our lack of compassion,” writes Richard Rohr.
When my son was being treated for cancer, I bumped into so many other ordinary moms and dads helplessly bed-sitting their horrifically suffering children.
I felt as though, before cancer, I’d been living in an artificial Matrix where everyone had healthy kids.
But the reality was, there were so many folks suffering, unnoticed by society at large, and I had suddenly been given the gift of sight, Seeing Them and also, simultaneously, Not Being Alone.
And so here it is:
My children love each other, but they sure can fight.
I love homeschooling, but sometimes I feel disillusioned and discouraged and wonder if I’m screwing everyone up.
I wonder, constantly, if I’m making the right choices in life.
I worry my independent, freedom-loving nature is keeping my children from finding friendships outside of our family; I can’t seem to stick with just one thing for long enough for them to find long-term friends.
When one of my little ones struggles with anything, I blame myself.
My own mind is always on, on, on, learning, absorbing, thinking, and it wears me out.
My husband and I love each other fiercely. But opposites attract, right? We fight. We argue. We disagree.
Questioning my faith has been equally freeing and isolating. I can’t “buy into” one side or another fully, and it all leaves me wondering where I fit.
I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and stay thin. One day, I lost my appetite and gained so much weight. I then spent years hating both myself and my new body.
I am friendly yet I struggle with vulnerability. I encompass the paradox of being everyone’s friend and no one’s.
Every “perfect” Instagram picture I’ve ever posted, I swear, came before either a major fight or a minor disaster.
I am horribly disorganized. Recently, I found a recipe for pineapple salsa in a file-folder labeled “Ryan- Career”.
And yet, I must have a tidy-looking house before company comes over.
I say yes to everything because I really think I can do everything and then when it becomes very apparent that I (and my family) cannot handle all the yes’s, I hibernate, sometimes for months.
No matter how many times they shatter, I continually find new rose-colored glasses and put them on.
There, my friends, is some I’m-tired-of-giving-a-fuck-about-perfection truth-telling.
I can’t wait to share more, but this is a start.
It’s been a while, I know, since I’ve written a post.
There are many reasons for this, chief among them being that my son had yet another surgery and the Christmas season is busy.
Another reason is that I still feel as though I am trying to really dig in and find my voice for this blog: Who am I, and what am I about? Who am I writing "stuff" for?
And, what’s the point of writing on a blog in 2019 when most everyone feels far too busy to be reading articles?
The voice-for-this-blog dilemma is a microcosm of my current life.
Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? Am I living my best life?
These are questions I have been wrestling too, which have also stalled my writing.
I am one of those people who can envision myself in a variety of careers, wearing a variety of different hats.
In other words, I have a great imagination.
When I was a child, I had endless ideas.
I remember exploring a new career each day (usually one employing creativity), imagining myself becoming “great” in that area. Then, I would either become bored or disillusioned with my lack of natural talent, and move on to exploring a new idea for future-me.
I always dreamed of being great and making an impression on this world.
I also love children.
I love being a mother.
I have loved playing with my babies and watching them morph into tiny human beings.
Lately I feel as though I am straddling an imaginary line between the small beautiful world of my own little family and the great big world of possibility.
Children do not choose to come into this world. They are much smaller than us and ridiculously powerless. They grow and change every single day.
I am not sorry I have focused on my children for these years of their young childhoods. I believe I will never regret this choice.
Now that the little ones are getting bigger and more independent, I have this burning desire to figure out what I want to do with myself, though.
I want to inspire my children by working hard at something.
I want them to see that men and women can wear many different hats throughout their lifetimes.
I want them to see that choosing themselves and choosing their children are not mutually exclusive: different phases of life might require more of a focus on one or the other, but everyone in a family (as in life) is equally valuable.
I know I am rambling here…but can you empathize?
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. Returning to the classroom as a teacher is not something I want to do, though I loved my years of teaching.
After exploring my options, I have tentatively landed on a master’s degree in applied anthropology.
I have always been fascinated by culture, and I also have a heart to help the immigrant and the marginalized, which applied anthropology would give me excellent tools for.
While I am literally clawing at the starting gate, other pressing matters have reared their heads: I don’t want a bunch of debt when I’m finished getting a degree, my family could currently use some extra income, and I have to take the GRE, which I won’t finish on time for next fall.
Following that thread of reasoning has led me to the decision to build a business teaching online and writing curriculum for fellow homeschool parents.
Sometimes I get excited about all of these "things" I want to do.
My husband, thankfully, believes in our equal partnership and will be there for our kids as I become busier.
Other times, doubt makes an appearance, warning and condemning me to failure.
How will I find the time to do all this?
What if I spend lots of precious time trying to build a biz, and then it all falls apart?
What if going to school “takes me away” from my ever-evolving children too much?
What if our family can’t handle all the stress this will bring?
What if my son’s cancer returns or another one of us gets sick or something costly in our house falls apart?
But I know I have to proceed, one step at a time, making the most of every moment as I go along.
What is my point in writing this post?
First, to say to other friends who are looking at big changes in their lives, "I'm right there with you".
But also just to process where I’m at and why, and to say I will absolutely keep blogging...it may be sporadic, but even if no one’s reading, at least I’m getting in some great writing practice.
And eventually, I think I will begin to iron out what my voice in life and on this blog is, as well as my purpose.
To anyone out there reading these posts, thank you for hangin’ in there with me.
If you don’t mind adventure, incongruence and wild random thoughts on life that connect in strange or surprising ways, then definitely stick around, ha!
Finally, Merry Christmas to all.
If you are feeling more heartache than joy this week, I get it. Just know that you are not alone; reach out to others, let them carry hope's torch for now, know you are deeply deeply loved.
I am sitting here at my desk gazing out the window at our oak trees as they drip-drop leaves, the only noticeable movement under today’s cloud-encrusted sky.
In the background, the Cranberries aptly croon: “In your head, in your he-ead, zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie.”
The day, the music, it all plays perfectly to my melancholy mood.
This has certainly been a week of insight and melodrama.
I don’t know if you are like me, but I am addicted to joy. I love feeling happy.
And when I don’t feel happy, I worry something is wrong with me; I feel as though I am losing myself.
I attribute this to being an Enneagram 7.
Enneagram 7’s have this ability to put a pretty frame around every circumstance, to “look on the bright side,” if you will.
This is actually not always healthy. I used to become frustrated with my husband when he was down, assuming I was a better person since I didn’t ever allow myself to feel despair.
It took me a long time to learn that, not only was I shutting my husband down, but I was also terrified of my own negative emotions.
In controlling my husband’s feelings, I was covering up my own anxiety.
I am learning to notice myself reframing difficult circumstances. When I do, I stop and listen to what’s really going on inside of me.
I am learning that negative, even dark, feelings don’t mean the world is collapsing.
Understanding more about myself through the lens of the Enneagram has been so good for me.
And understanding my husband’s Enneagram number, and how his number interacts with mine, has been incredibly helpful in our marriage.
So, What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a personality typing system. It is unique in that it not only points out your attributes and strengths, it also shines a light on your weaknesses and areas of improvement.
It shows you what you look like when you are unhealthy and what you look like when you are healthy.
One profound insight I had when I first began learning about the Enneagram was how much each Enneagram type draws strength and wisdom from the others; in other words, we humans need each other.
The Enneagram Institute describes the equality of the types in this way:
“No type is inherently better or worse than any other. While all the personality types have unique assets and liabilities, some types are often considered to be more desirable than others in any given culture or group. Furthermore, for one reason or another, you may not be happy being a particular type. You may feel that your type is “handicapped” in some way. As you learn more about all the types, you will see that just as each has unique capacities, each has different limitations. If some types are more esteemed in Western society than others, it is because of the qualities that society rewards, not because of any superior value of those types. The ideal is to become your best self, not to imitate the assets of another type.”
I think this is one reason why all the diagrams of the Enneagram look like circles with nine points. Each point stands for one Enneagram type.
According to Don Riso and Russ Hudson in their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, “The Enneagram is a geometric figure that maps out the nine fundamental personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships. It is a development of modern psychology that has roots in spiritual wisdom from many different ancient traditions.”
I am fascinated by human behavior, so from the moment I heard about the Enneagram, I was hooked.
Unfortunately, I have noticed that as the Enneagram is becoming popular, some people are embracing generalizations about the numbers.
An example is my number, type 7. We are often stereotyped as shallow people who like to party and have a good time.
While this is certainly true of some type 7’s, it is not true of me. I am a quieter type 7. I actually have many traits which make me look like an Enneagram 2.
A Brief Summary of the Nine Types From The Wisdom of the Enneagram
You can find information about the Enneagram just about anywhere on the internet.
I typed out some information from the book here for you because I heard an Enneagram teacher say once that the best way to discover your type is to ask what your greatest fear is and what your greatest desire is, rather than only taking a test or relying on general descriptions.
So without further ado, here are the nine types:
How Knowing My Number Has Helped Me
Most Enneagram teachers show what each number looks like in health or in stress.
Each Enneagram number actually behaves like a specific other number when it is moving towards either health or crisis.
Again, read this article to understand this better: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/how-the-enneagram-system-works.
Acknowledging my “7-ness” has helped me to see that it is okay not to feel happy all the time.
It has helped me realize that under my “togetherness”, I struggle with darker emotions.
For example, when I am stressed, I act like an unhealthy Enneagram 1.
This means that I will suddenly be pissed off at how messy the house is. I’ll run around like a crazy person trying to clean and be very down on myself for not being perfect or having it all together.
I will also bury myself in busyness.
I’ll buy a myriad of books and read a little bit of every one of them without finishing any.
I’ll refuse to have silence around me: music or podcasts on at all times.
I’ll feel antsy, go on shopping sprees and spend too much money.
I’ll avoid people.
I used to just give in to these sudden feelings. Now I realize that when I do that I am struggling with emotions, and I need to spend some time in quietude, meditating or writing to get in touch with what is actually bothering me.
I highly recommend discovering your Enneagram number. Here are some resources to guide you:
The Wisdom of the Enneagram
The Road Back to You
Enneagram and Coffee
What Does All This Have To Do With My Current Mood?
I am at the cusp of some life changes, and I am overcome with a myriad of emotions.
I have been feeling anxious and acting out on that anxiety. Luckily, I recognize anxious behavior for what it is, and I’m working on meditating and writing.
I have had this lie in my head for so long: I can’t be a mom and anything else. The lie tells me that if I pursue something like education or a career or business, I am rejecting my family.
This lie has kept me trapped and in pain for quite some time.
I’m very committed to homeschooling my children. I see the fruit of it in their lives. They are receiving a stress-free childhood in which they can grow at their own pace and pursue their passions.
On the flip side, my youngest is now six, and I know my kiddos won’t be at home forever. And when they move out, I want to be doing a job I love.
As I dream and begin to pursue my passions, I struggle.
I struggle with anxiety my son’s cancer will return. Because of the shock of cancer, I feel like our family is catastrophe’s playground; if cancer doesn’t strike again, I have this awful foreboding that something else horrid will happen.
So, my anxiety queries, why should I pursue anything or get excited?
I struggle with fear that pursuing my dreams will take me too far away from my little ones, and I will miss out on their childhoods.
I struggle with terror that I will pick the wrong career and live the rest of my life trapped by debt and unhappiness.
I struggle with my unfair advantage and privilege. So many women don’t have the time to pursue a new career at my age.
I know I will only be truly happy if I am making a difference in this world for the better. I see so many possibilities to do this...But, how do I choose only one??
And yet I know that if I sit around and do nothing to develop myself and grow and change, I will implode.
So it is time to move and make decisions and let the chips fall where they may.
The time has come for me to take a deep breath and step into the unknown, to use what I have been given and multiply it, to pick up those loose threads and see where they take me.
Have you ever made big changes and struggled with grieving the past or fear of the future? How did you deal with ALL THE BIG FEELINGS, especially if you’re not a fan of feeling all the feels?
To finish up, I will leave myself and you with the magical wisdom of Anne Lamott, “Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Sometimes, when I post a photo of my family on Instagram, I consider being brutally honest and writing about all the chaotic “things” which happened before and after the peaceful pic was snapped.
(You know, like how someone had just finished crying because of a stubbed toe or how someone subsequently got angry about something her sibling did…)
One of my daughters has been suffering anxiety of late. She was enthusiastic about people and all things new, but in the past few weeks, she cries and begs not to go to places where there will be large crowds.
My son just went through a year of cancer treatments, and while we are finally finished, there is no guarantee the cancer won’t return.
At night, he breaks down. He wonders why life is so hard, and why the doctors’ appointments and surgeries never end and, and, what if he got sick tomorrow?
And I feel as though I am always trying on new hats, looking into this career then that like a frenzied bird, never alighting to say, “Aha! This is me. Now I can simmer down.”
Perhaps these struggles are common to most people, or maybe they are unique to my family.
I do believe that suffering and hardship are an integral part of the human experience.
You know what makes everything harder than it should be?
Fear’s messages sound something like this:
You should have…
Why did you....
What’s wrong with your child?!...
I could/would never have done that…
Just trust God…
Well, look on the bright side…
At least it’s not xyz…
Have you ever heard these mantras, friends? Have they been directed at you?
Have you ever said them yourself?
It's all right if you have. I know I've certainly said my share.
On Why My Family Really Doesn’t Fit The Proverbial Mold...
Have you heard the term “neurodiverse”?
According to Google, neurodiverse means “displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior; not neurotypical.”
I love using this term because instead of labeling people whose brains are wired differently as “bad” or “disabled”, I get to use a descriptive term which implies that “normal” is a spectrum.
The neurodiverse are just more “diverse” in how their minds work.
Using “neurodiverse” also puts the onus on those of us who are more like the majority of people (neurotypical) to learn, learn, learn how the neurodiverse person thinks and moves through this world.
Having a family with members who are neurodiverse will sometimes make you stand out like an annoying sore thumb, especially in the standard places where people gather to socialize.
Church can be overwhelming for a child with sensory sensitivity: loud noises, crowds, weird smells, etc.
This makes church extremely painful for neurodiverse kids.
And most churches and church classes are structured to cater to neurotypical folks.
I’ve read stories about moms with neurodiverse children being told their littles cannot attend Sunday School or being asked to leave a church service because their kiddos were being too noisy or “disruptive”.
Then there are social groups, parties and functions.
Parties are so so fun for most children, yet for some children, they are torturous.
How This All Plays Out For Us In Everyday Situations
For us parents of the neurodiverse, we are always “on call”.
Our kids will appear to be clingy and whiny while your kids are skipping around and having fun.
We may not really get to visit with you much, though we are longing to.
We experience every stare and every question at 100% magnification.
It is as though folks are standing on boulders screaming through megaphones into our ears.
Yes, we know we seem strange.
Yes, we know our kids aren’t enjoying themselves like most of the other children are.
Yes, yes, yes, we wish our kids were having fun like yours. Of course we do.
No, we are not more overprotective than the average parent.
If our littles wanted to run and play and galavant, we would be thrilled.
Yet, It’s All Really A Gift...
Do you have an idiosyncrasy or quirk? Do you have any pet peeves no one really gets?
Do you hide these things so as to “fit in”?
Hiding is a luxury the neurodiverse do not have. Their struggles are always on display.
In spite of the constant hand-wringing and book-reading involved in the parenting of the neurodiverse, I am so incredibly grateful for my children.
They are truly a gift.
They are a gift because they have handed me empathy and compassion on a platter.
When I see another mother whose child is "unreasonably" clingy or who is having to rush home earlier than all the other moms, my heart goes out to her. I know how she feels.
When I read why many parents of neurodiverse children do not attend church, I get it.
My babes are a gift because they have taught me that true freedom is not found in “fitting in”; it is found in loving what I have been given.
They have taught me to look inward when I feel pangs of envy upon seeing families easily enjoying themselves in this world.
What does my sudden jealousy reveal about me?
My children have taught me that it is okay to dance to the proverbial beat of a different drum.
My decision-making thought-process often goes something like this:
“Everyone says we should be like xyz; but so what? We’re not everyone”.
My diverse family has given me the gift of stopping and resting when I have wanted to go, go, go.
The Myth Of The Lonely Sufferer
As you know, I’ve been reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. I feel as though I am having an ongoing dialogue with everything in the book.
In one chapter, Rohr points out the universality of grief: all grief is really one grief.
Like, you know when you are sad about something and it builds up to a breaking point? And then, while you are crying, you think of more and more and more sad shit and the floodgates open? And soon you are weeping about the problems of the whole wide world?
I used to think it was wrong to weep that way.
Like, come on lady, you’re being too dramatic.
But now I see that weeping for the weight of the world is my participation in universal suffering.
And this connects me with Christ.
Grief and pain and heartache, loneliness and isolation and being misunderstood are opportunities to experience Christ's suffering, which in turn is an opportunity to connect with all of humanity’s suffering throughout all of history.
I still say, fuck cancer and fuck mental illness. All this needless suffering is devastating and shitty, and we should not paint it pretty.
There’s a reason God wept at the tomb of her friend.
So what is my point?
My point is that wherever you park while reading this post, however you are currently feeling, I hope you know that when you most taste your brokenness, you are indeed less alone than you've ever been.
You are in the sweaty grimy company of the hurting multitudes. You are in the blood gushing, nail-pierced, rejected and scorned company of the Suffering Christ.
“A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us— much more than just for us [...].” (The Universal Christ, 162)
And so, dear one,
Weep all you need.
Do you hear the multitudes weeping with you?
Then,on the next clear star-studded night, drive out into some open field .
Turn off your car so's you can step, step, pitter-patter, naked-feet-to-spongy-soil, kiss, kiss.
Listen to the chirruping crickets and the breeze that's tousling that tall grass, snap, crackle, pop.
Let the glorious night air gulp up your exhale: out, out, out.
Do you hear it?
That rhythm, that beat, that cacaphonous melody of your one and only, uniquely-you drum?
Go ahead, crank up that beautiful music, dear, dance all crazy-like.
And when you pause to choke up some air, open your eyes.
You might glimpse me there, cavorting, snorting holy-night-air, caught up in my own hullabaloo, me being me...
Can you see it? The truth?
You're always, always, free to be you.
Have you ever made an agreement with someone who has then broken that agreement without so much as a word?
I’ve certainly been the person who forgot about an agreement or cancelled at the last minute.
Let’s take this question a step further.
What if you confronted the agreement-breaker and she acted like she had no idea what you were talking about?
What if she went on to treat you like something was wrong with you for imagining you had ever made an agreement with her?
When incidents like this happen, it puts you in a tight spot.
First of all, it places all the blame for the broken agreement on you.
Secondly, it moves you from an offensive position to a defensive one.
And thirdly, it leaves you in a lose-lose battle of “my word against hers”.
I have had companies I bought products from treat me this way. It is very difficult to get a refund when this happens.
A good term to describe the above situation is “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation which causes you to question your own sanity.
Watching someone you love being “gaslighted” is infuriating. Especially when the person doing the manipulation is a close family member.
Often, manipulators who gaslight go out of their way to turn the people closest to you against you.
They subtly discredit you.
They may tell your friends, “Did you know Carissa lied to me yesterday??” or they may ask them, “Have you ever wondered if everything Carissa says is true?”
If a person like this is in your life, chances are that when your friends and family members are around, they will take the opportunity to make sarcastic comments or jokes aimed to mock you.
(Check out this enlightening article to help you spot more signs of manipulation: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201510/14-signs-psychological-and-emotional-manipulation.)
Then, if you act hurt or defensive, they will criticize you for being too sensitive.
To make matters worse, a gaslighter will engage in a vicious cycle with you in which they treat you kindly when you hit your lowest point. They may even show you “grace” when you mess up.
Once you run back into their embrace, however, they will begin the process of subtly and not-so-subtly discrediting you, criticizing you, and lying to you all over again.
Pretty soon, the real you will disappear, replaced with someone who is confused and out-of-sorts, someone who needs the gaslighter to tell her what to do, someone other than Real-you.
I’m willing to bet that at some point in your life you’ve come across this sort of toxic manipulation.
The only solution I’ve found?
Refuse to let this person into your life.
If the person is already in your life, draw some very big boundaries around yourself:
Here are some excellent tips in addition to the thoughts I shared above: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201406/how-spot-and-stop-manipulators.
Unfortunately, I believe many “Christian” churches use manipulation as a tactic to control people.
When our oldest child was preschool age, he came to us after Sunday School claiming that another kid in his class had put his hands around his neck.
Horrified, we asked our son whether or not he had told the teacher what happened.
He said he did, but the teacher didn’t do anything about it.
We decided it was time to speak with the pastor of the church. Ironically, his wife was the Sunday School teacher.
In our meeting, we simply asked the pastor that the teachers be made aware of what had transpired so it would not happen again.
We said we did not want to reveal the teacher’s name, afraid the pastor would think we were criticizing his wife.
The pastor, however, pressed us for the teacher’s name, and we finally revealed who it was.
He then mentioned he would look into the matter.
He also cautioned us not to be “too overprotective” of our son.
Do you hear the subtle shaming message here?
“Don’t be too overprotective”...
Already, we were not to be taken seriously, since we were “protective parents”.
The following Sunday, the pastor informed us that his wife had no memory of the incident or of our son bringing it up during class.
Now we were in the awkward position of wondering who to believe: our son, or his teacher.
Foolishly and naively, we ignored the red flags, and, bearing some shame and doubt upon our shoulders, dropped the matter.
A few Sundays later, my husband happened to be looking out a church window when all the Sunday school students and teachers went outside to play games. To his utter astonishment, a group of children formed a circle around our little boy and began to push him back and forth, in full view of the church.
That did it.
We decided to leave the church.
My husband had some obligations he had to fulfill there, but I never brought my children back.
Years later, I shared what had happened with my therapist. I still blamed myself for the whole incident, and wondered if I was indeed too overprotective.
The therapist helped me to see that what had really been going on was spiritual manipulation.
While this is one way a church may manipulate its members, by not believing them when they have critiques or complaints, there are multiple other ways churches manipulate.
If you are never allowed to ask questions, this is a red flag.
If the leader or leaders of the church seem to have all the answers and are never wrong, that is also a red flag.
If you are compared to others, whether individually or corporately, say, for how much money you give, that is a red flag.
Here is a useful article outlining the warning signs that a church is engaged in spiritual manipulation: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/spiritual-manipulation-how-spot-it-and-what-do-about-it/.
It is never bad to trust your instincts, my friend. You and your family do not deserve to be ignored or put down.
Everyone agrees that the theater of politics often involves manipulation.
I’m not going to get into critiquing one political party over another, as I think both parties engage in varying levels of manipulation.
I do believe manipulation is subtle and occurs slowly over time. For this reason, being aware of the warning signs can go a long way towards keeping you from being sucked under someone’s control.
Here is an excellent resource to use as a litmus test: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201610/9-classic-traits-manipulative-people.
Some of the questions I ask in regard to politics are:
There are so many more excellent questions we could ask. It’s worth googling for resources on how to spot manipulators/manipulation.
If you recognize the qualities of a manipulator in someone you either know or are in a relationship with, it’s worth seeking therapy so you can learn how to spot the deception and set up boundaries.
About two years ago, I found myself looking for therapists in my area.
The therapy I went through was enlightening and healing.
I learned to set boundaries and not feel guilty for doing so.
I learned to love and value myself.
I learned coping strategies to deal with certain trauma which lingered inside of me.
I have grown so much through the process of being hurt and then healing.
It gives me a glimpse of the beauty in that ol' death-to-life paradox.
I feel her.
Her whispers tickle my ear,
Breath, holy zephyr,
“There is no hope without despair, honey
No risen without dead
Darling, love never says
When I laid this banquet
I invited the least and the lost,
The broken and confused
Your Belief-castle’s brittle,
Without bending it will break
Come closer, child,
Forage, find out,
A secret revealed holds no allure,
Can there be passion without desire?
Cry out, darling,
There is no succor without want.
True joy is paired with mourning
Hunt for me, honey,
There’s no seeking
What’s been found
For only she who loses her life
Will find it.”
"God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes." -Richard Rohr
I used to worry that if I asked too many questions about my faith, God would punish me.
I grew up hearing how illness in a Christian was God’s discipline: depending on a person’s “walk with God”, illness was either punishment for wrongdoing or a trial-like test of faith.
How can we know whether our suffering is a punishment or a trial, I wondered?
My son was born premature and had to remain in the hospital for six weeks. One night, the doctors were concerned about him. Not to be dramatic, but we spent that night terrified our son was going to die.
I searched my heart.
Was I not trusting God enough?
Had I sinned in a big way recently?
How could I know which types of behavior constituted punishment and what sort of faith warranted trial?
I heard many cautionary tales over the years: so and so was gay, and they died in a car wreck; someone was filled with faith-questions, and they were diagnosed with cancer; such and such a city was carnal, didn't care about God, and was hit with a hurricane.
I was taught fear was a good thing:
First, because fear of hell forced me to see I needed a savior. Fear was an excellent tactic for rescuing people.
Second, because fear kept me on the “straight and narrow”. It encouraged me to obey God without question.
What the people who instilled a healthy faith-fear in me failed to realize was that fear gave me a skewed view of God which kept me from fully experiencing God’s love and acceptance.
It also gave me a judgmental stance toward “others” who weren’t "walking with God".
Then I had children.
I vividly remember when my oldest child, a son, reached 18 months of age, the prescribed spanking age a la Focus on the Family.
I recall gazing into that little boy's clear blue eyes and imagining the pain, betrayal and hurt I’d see there if I spanked him.
I stepped into his little world and pictured life from his point of view.
Here was his mommy, who he ran to when he was in pain, or hungry, or tired, or anxious. His safety net.
What if one day, Mommy hit his hand because he became curious or distracted and touched something mommy said not to touch.
He would snap to attention, smarting, stung, and look into mommy’s eyes, wondering why she hurt him, wouldn’t he?
He would still love mommy, but he would feel a teensy bit scared of her.
Over time, and multiple repetitions, he would either become terrified of accidentally not hearing his mommy’s commands and therefore getting punished, or angry and vicious and ready to fight in his own defense.
Fight, flight, freeze would become the rhythm of his childhood.
And though perhaps his mommy would tell him she always loved him, unconditionally, he would know experientially that unconditional love did not, could not, in fact, exist in the face of Perfect Justice.
Therefore, he would never feel 100% safe with mommy.
He would never fully rest.
Additionally, when he messed up, he would wonder if he needed to be punished first (or even punish himself??) in order to be welcomed back to his mother’s arms.
While I pondered my son’s emotional reaction to corporal punishment, a verse went ‘round and ‘round my head, a veritable ping pong ball spouting truth:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4: 18)
So I chose not to spank my son.
Over the years, I was touched again and again by the vast profundity and power of God’s love as I parented my children without wielding fear as a parenting tool.
But some things still confused me.
Though I believed God’s grace was wrapped around me tightly and that God loved me unconditionally, God still scared me:
You see, I believed in a punitive God who demanded death as payment for my sins.
Yes, I believed Jesus paid for those sins by offering his life on my behalf, and that I was forgiven. It's just that some things didn't add up.
Why did Jesus have to hide me from God?
As I understood it, if Jesus ever so much as stepped out of the way, God’s wrath would be pouring like hot lava all over me, right?
This is the reason we sang songs every Sunday thanking and thanking and thanking God for saving us, wretched wriggling bottom-feeding worms that we were.
I couldn't wrap my mind around a Trinity seemingly at odds with itself, wrapped in a vortex of wrath and appeasement, bloodthirst and forgiveness.
Why were God and Jesus so different in their attitudes towards people?
The Punisher and The Martyr.
I felt as though I was in the middle of some ancient Greek myth.
Must I, should I, ought I be afraid of God?
When I was repentant and weary, I ran to the forgiving arms of Jesus, while simultaneously wondering where the punishing blow would land.
Was God really this punitive and bloodthirsty?
Did God demand my death in recompense for my sins?
Some scriptures seemed pretty clear on this subject.
Yet, what about this verse (John 3:17):
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him?”
This verse sounded like God and Jesus were about doing the same thing: saving the world, not condemning it.
In fact, if God was about redemption, renewal and restoration, and not about insatiable wrath, then I needn’t fear.
But how could I reconcile God’s wrath, which never stopped pouring out, with God’s redemption?
Not that long ago, I discovered there were multiple theories of atonement (aka why did Jesus die?).
The theory which I had always held to was called Penal Substitution, but that was not the oldest theory.
As it turns out, there were several other theories which were even older than Penal Substitution.
The most ancient theory is called Christus Victor. This theory depicts Jesus and God working together to defeat the powers of Satan, sin and death.
Here is a brief summary of the main atonement theories across the history of the church: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/29-march/features/features/is-there-one-doctrine-of-the-atonement-ransom-substitute-scapegoat-god.
I urge you to study these theories and ask these questions (as well as others):
How were these theories influenced by the culture of their times?
What do they have to offer? What do they tell us about God? What do they say about us as humans?
What are their drawbacks?
When all is said and done and the dust of your queries settles, what is left?
For me, what was left was this: Jesus crucified and risen; the Godhead working to redeem me from sin, evil and death.
The more I read those New Testament books, the more convinced I became that the focus ought to be on resurrection, not death, on peace, not wrath, and on restoration, not judgment.
When all was said and done, what did the risen Jesus mean for this whole wide universe?
What did God want, ultimately? I'm still pondering this one.
Sometimes, while I was wondering about God, asking if there were things I had gotten wrong, I would have the strangest experience.
I would be thinking, and my muscles would all tense in anxiety. My stomach would ache. Fear would grip me so tightly, I’d lose my breath.
What was I so afraid of?
I could not put my finger on it.
I was talking about this fear with my husband one day when he said, “If God does not allow God’s people to question God, then God is a fearful God and not really all that powerful in the end. God should be able to handle our questioning.”
I sat with the questions.
I began to embrace the inevitable mystery that comes with “I don’t know” answers.
Meanwhile, I imagined God, holding all those answers.
I let go.
It was not my job to know everything, to have it all fit neatly into a box.
After all, if God could be perfectly explained, why should I pursue knowing her? Why should I ask her hard questions?
Didn’t God invite and encourage a yearning after him?
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
The truth was, I yearned after God more when I was questioning then when I was holding on to a God I could explain.
I realized my version of God had become a sort of idol.
For so long, I stood at the ready, armed with arguments to defend this god in case anyone tried to attack it.
I had forgotten that the true God was so much bigger than me.
God didn’t need my apologetics.
God needed me.
I decided it was time to let go of the god I had fashioned from my own limited understanding: the god who threatened me and scared me, the god who would be out for my blood if I went too far off the beaten path.
If God said God was love, it was time for me to embrace that.
If the Bible seemed to be wrestling with an issue, it was time to acknowledge that, to realize that faith involves struggle and dissonance, that there aren't always easy answers, but that the questions can lead us to wisdom.
There is this story about Jacob, who received a blessing and a new name after he struggled with God.
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
What if God didn’t ever want to be fully defined, other than with the fullness alluded to in the phrase, “I am who I am”?
What if God wanted endless quest, endless wonder, endless relationship-desire?
I had to let my version of god die.
Then I stepped back and gazed in awe at the shadow, the enigma, the great loving mystery before me.
Of late, I have been reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. I have been in awe of the many ways God steps into our world to be known by us:
“Most of us understandably start the journey assuming that God is “up there,” and our job is to transcend this world to find ‘him’. We spend so much time trying to get “up there,” we miss that God’s big leap in Jesus was to come ‘down here’. So much of our worship and religious effort is the spiritual equivalent of trying to go up what has become the down escalator. I suspect that the 'up there’ mentality is the way most people’s spiritual search has to start. But once the real inner journey begins—once you come to know that in Christ, God is forever overcoming the gap between human and divine—the Christian path becomes less about climbing and performance, and more about descending, letting go, and unlearning. Knowing and loving Jesus is largely about becoming fully human, wounds and all, instead of ascending spiritually or thinking we can remain unwounded.”
One day soon, I will write a post about everything this book is teaching me, but for now, that is an excellent intro.
I no longer live in fear of what God will do to me because of all the faith-questions I have. I do not worry that if I’m wrong about something I believe, God will strike me with some sort of punishment.
God’s love has to be love in its purest form if it is really love. And I believe it is.
Breathe in, breathe out,
Focus on your breath as it enters and leaves
Allow distraction to flow past you like water
I am in a barren brown-dirt land
A peace rests in me and around me,
It sits in the air,
Mouth-watering and tangible
I watch as
Leafless gray vines knit a dome over me
Leaving gaps for the light
I feel warm,
So safe and secure,
My body tingles in anticipation
Then I hear it,
All my secrets,
All the hidden doubt and insecurity,
And the myriad things I haven’t yet discovered
The voice speaks.
Is it deep?
It is a well filled with water…
Is it soft?
Oh yes, yes it is,
Tender on my ears,
Mother with newborn babe,
“I know you,
I know everything about you,”
And though I understand The Voice sees my awful ugly
And all the hurt I’ve ever caused
I feel no shame
I swim in the ecstasy of
And I know something too:
This is what Love tastes like.
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.