Let Go

“Unclench your fists.” He was standing beside me, but speaking to the entire congregation. I felt the weight of his words laying heavy on my chest. Did he know the dreams that haunt me at night? The ones where I’m plagued with a heart and fists that refuse to let go, to unclench.

In the daylight I am free. I am fine. Fine, is a word that most of us use to often. A word psychologists tell us to delete from our vocabulary. Fine, deflects, hides and hinders the healing process.

The church gets quiet. “It’s time to let go, unclench your fists from around them.” I feel a hard lump forming in my throat. I am hyper aware of my breathing, surroundings and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. As well as the neon sign that must have been hanging over my head, “She can’t forgive!” Right here folks, arrows pointing at my head. I try to scoot down in my seat a little, but I’m momentarily paralyzed.

On the car home, my son leans in and says,”what did you think of the sermon?” I giggle, “well it really spoke to me.” He turns to me with a puzzled look. “Because he was. Speaking to you. Like literally speaking to you. He stepped off the stage, walked over to you, looked at you and said, “unclench your fists and let them go.” Oh right and there was that.

In Greek, the word forgive has many translations. The one we are most familiar with is “to release or let go.” When we chose to hold onto an offense we are giving the devil an invitation to reek havoc in our lives, mentally, spiritually and even physically.

• Ephesians 4:26-27 Be wrathful but do not sin, do not let the sun set while you are still angry. Do not give the devil an opportunity.

• Mathew 5:9 Happy are the peacemakers; since they will be called sons of God.

• Psalm 38:5 My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins.

• Psalm 38:3 Because of your anger, my body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins.

• Psalm 38:8 I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an exhausted heart.

Our bodies nervous system is an amazing highway receiving and processing information; to include our emotions. So what happens when our thoughts and our hurts are not processed the way they should? Surprisingly it disrupts the process and can leave a physical manifestation on our body. Unforgiveness, not only causes emotional harm but can show its wrath through neck pain, our respiratory systems, the throat and other areas of the body.

I’m not new to forgiveness. I’ve desperately needed it, received it and offered it. I’ve also unfortunately felt its physical manifestations. I spent the majority of my younger life trying to forgive someone for past hurts. My unresolved hurt turned into anger and that anger became part of my identity. As a young woman, letting go of that part of me left me with an intense fear of losing who I believed I was. Through lots of prayer and letting the Holy Spirit lead me I was eventually able to forgive, let go and become a new person in Christ. I lost that part of myself that I tried so hard to hold on to and gained so much more.

But here is the kicker folks. That person that I needed to “let go” that I needed to “unclench”, they aren’t part of my life anymore. It is so much easier to forgive someone when you are able to walk away or to forgive someone who is sorry. What keeps me up at night, what wakes me gasping for air are not the ones that I have walked away from, but the ones I can’t.

What about the offender that isn’t remorseful? The one that is a daily part of your life. The one you can’t walk away from. The one that continues to hurt you over and over with no regrets. How do you forgive them? That was a question I asked a family therapist a year ago. Her response, “well, you can’t, until they change.” This response I’m sure is backed by many years of training and education. But there is no hope in that answer. Hope is found in what God says.

When asked how many times we should forgive those who sin against us, he is very clear.

• Mathew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times, but seventy times seven.

Maybe you are living with an alcoholic, someone who is mentally ill, a spirited child. Maybe you are the sole caretaker for an aging abusive parent or trying to repair a marriage broken by infidelity. Whatever the case forgiving is hard when the offenses are daily. I’ve tried understanding. Thinking that if I could just understand why, or fully accept that hurt people hurt people that would be forgiveness. The reality is understanding may open the door to forgiveness but at the end of the day understanding is just that, understanding. It’s not what reaches down deep in your soul and heals those broken pieces. Understanding doesn’t cover a multitude of sins or help you sleep at night.

Only forgiveness can do that. And only our Mighty Father can help us through this process of deliverance, when we are face to face with our own sin and His merciful forgiveness towards our transgressions. For me this type of forgiveness and deliverance is a journey.

A journey of waking up every morning asking for a loving heart and eyes to see what He sees. “Lord let me see them the way you see them today.”

Asking myself why it hurts so bad. What is broken in my own life that allows these offenses to take take up residency in my heart. Asking God to shine a light into places in my own life that are still empty and places I haven’t allowed His pure love to fill and heal, and to strengthen me. Places that I am intentionally holding on to anger that has become a part of who I am and surrendering it to a mighty God.

It’s a process. It’s a daily choice to forgive. To unclench my fists, moment by moment, day by day. Seventy times seven.

Time alone can’t fix this. Distance only makes it easy to fool ourselves. We can fake forgiveness all day long only for it to creep into our dreams manifesting itself in physical pain and mental turmoil. If there is remorse, repentance, and forgiveness, then reconciliation can take place. Then there are those times when reconciliation is not best but forgiveness still needs to take place, even if you have to walk away.

For those of us that don’t have that option to walk away. Where there isn’t remorse and the offenses keep coming like the sun rises, we make a choice daily to forgive. We practice seventy times seven. With each day that passes comes with it more healing, wisdom and strength. We know He is doing something new in us.

We unclench our fists in the moment, again and again, then daily, then weekly. And one day we wake up and realize the nightmares have stopped and our hands remain open, unclenched and we are healed physically, mentally and spiritually. We are free and so are they.

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Leave Them on the Pavement

I was listening to one of those talk radio shows today. A woman calls in about her husband. A mean old man, grumpy as all get out. He had a accident years ago that left him without the use of his legs. Which I’m sure has something to do with his new found hatred towards life and his wife. I’m feeling so awful for this man, thinking if he could just open up to his wife and humble himself and tell her what he is really feeling inside and how worthless he feels, maybe he wouldn’t be so angry and could find emotional healing.

The wife is his main caretaker. He is constantly picking at her, cuts her down, telling her to leave him, overly controlling(I’m assuming he feels like he lost control of his life after the accident so in turn tries to control people). I’m psychoanalyzing this dude the whole time I’m listening.

Anyhow the wife goes on to tell how he is constantly starting fights and losing his temper. Sometimes he hits her. She’s crying at this point as she says how he loves to start arguments in the car while she is driving and then gets angry and opens the car door and throws himself out onto the pavement. She then pulls the car over, scoops him up and puts him back in the car. Just to have him throw himself back out of the car again days later after another argument. The woman is sobbing, at this point in her story. And again, “I stop, pull over, scoop him up and put him back in the car. We do this at least once a week or two. “He just gets so angry, says means things and then throws himself out of the car!”

At this point I’m embarrassed to say I’m laughing. Maybe it’s the visual, maybe because I’m not right in the head, or maybe it’s because I can relate, not entirely. Maybe, not to the husband and wife dynamic or the injuries, or people jumping out of my car(they usually ask me to stop the vehicle first), but I get it. I get the need for control.

My mind starts to wander as I listen to her story, adding in my own version of missing details. Maybe there are children in the car. Yes, there are kids in the car and they are singing “the farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell…the mouse takes the cheese, the mouse takes the….”. When they are interrupted by mom screaming, “not today, Larry, not today!”

Larry has his hand on the door, “I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it!” “Come on Larry, you know we have dinner plans with the Thompson’s at five! We can’t be late! We are always late, besides I just bought that outfit and didn’t bring you a change of clothes.” Just then the door flies open. Plop there goes Larry. “Ah”, the wife throws her head back, “I don’t have time for this today!” One of the kids chimes in, “mom, did dad just…” “Yes, son, yes he did…again. Hold on I’m pulling over.”

The woman telling the story stops and cries, “I just don’t know what to do…” The main speaker who has been quiet the whole time, just listening to this poor woman pour her heart and soul out says,

“WELL WHY DO YOU KEEP PICKING HIM UP AND PUTTING HIM BACK IN THE CAR?!?!” “Leave him there a couple times and I guarantee you he will stop jumping out of the car….

I’m dying at this point, hysterical. The woman I’m sure is in shock hoping for a “You poor thing” or a “oh hun that’s so sad” …..nope just a “STOP PUTTING HIM BACK IN THE CAR DING DONG!”

And it’s right here that I’m like, ya, there are folks in my life that I may need to stop scooping up off the pavement just to have them jump right back out of my car. Are ya pick’n up what I’m putt’n down here?

How about you? Is there someone in your life that keeps jumping out of your moving vehicle going 50 mph and you keep repeatedly stopping, scooping them up and forcing them back in just to have them go splat on the pavement yet again? Do you need to ask yourself the same question? Is it care taking or is it control? Hun if someone is throwing themselves out of a car to get away from you, it’s probably control. Leave them on the pavement, just for a few.

I’m sure we all have a “Larry” in our life. Maybe we have a few. Heck, maybe you are Larry. If you are, let me give you some friendly advice. Stop throwing yourself out of cars Larry and start talking! If you can’t do that, for Pete’s sake at least wear some padding! I’m sure the medical bills from the endless ER visits are adding up.

It’s the Little Things

I could write about a million and a half things that make my life stressful. The things that I lay awake at night anxiously contemplating. Things that are big, huge. But that isn’t what is driving me crazy. The things that make me nuts are the little things. Things like toilet paper…or the lack there of.

Toilet paper, people, toilet paper! For at least a month I’ve noticed the soft papery necessity is disappearing faster than usual. I started shopping at one of those big bulk stores solely because I can’t keep up. Is it because I have three girls in the house? Maybe it’s because of the teenagers? Or a family of seven? Maybe it’s the toddler who insists on mummifying the family dog. Oh how I wish it were that simple. Those of you with RAD kiddos know exactly where I’m going with this.

I bought one of those tall toilet paper holders. You know the ones where you can stack multiple rolls in. I call it a toilet paper tree. After the entire house was out of TP yet again I decided to do a little test. I put five rolls in the toilet paper tree plus half a roll that was left. I did all of this right before the kids got home from school. Made note of it. Took a still picture in my mind, counted and recounted. Fast forward an hour, I walk into the main floor powder room and it’s gone! Like gone, zip, zilch , empty.

I don’t need to know why or who. I’ve learned the answer to that question long ago. But I still question myself and my mental stability. I mean seriously people, it’s toilet paper. Let it go. But I can’t. I interrogate every person in the house except the one. There is no point in asking that one, unless I have time for a good story and want a headache. Honestly the only reason I’m asking the others questions like; how many rolls did you see in there? Did you move any to other rooms, did you number one or number two, is mommy losing her mind, is because I need some justification that I’m right or at least that I haven’t went completely off the deep end.

RAD (Reactive Attachment) and toilets, I’m not sure why but they always seem to go hand in hand. If anyone out there knows why, I would be grateful if you blessed me with your RAD wisdom. My grandmothers jewelry, a roll of paper towels, stuffed animals, toys, legos, the list goes on and on of things that one can flush down the commode when in a “mood”. I remember once I was at a therapy session for one of my children and got up to walk to the restroom and the secretary says, “oh sorry they aren’t working. We had to shut down the bathrooms because all our patients keep flushing stuff down them.” Instantly I thought, oh drugs and I laughed when she shook her head and pointed to a sweet little gold statue of a dog sitting on her desk. “Found this yesterday, clogged everything up, made a real mess.”

I’m in the powder room, opening cabinets, looking behind the toilet, where did they go? Five rolls of toilet paper don’t just disappear in an hour. We are talking at least thirty rolls gone, never used, vanished over the last month. I noticed the plunger was dripping water, laying in a puddle. I know what you are thinking, stellar investigative skills. Five missing rolls within an hour, thirty over the last month, a plunger was used, the toilet was clogged.

Instantly I’m transported to a year ago in our old house. The house that I thought was built on Indian burial ground due to the plumbing issues. Side note, new owners, if by chance you are reading this I’m joking about the Indian burial grounds, well probably, most likely I would have mentioned that in the disclosure statement during settlement, so of course I’m joking. The endless malfunctioning toilets, broken pipes, the hose that came off the washer and sprayed my entire kitchen with water during the drain cycle, the three dishwashers, four washers, the countless “uh oh mom there is something wrong with the toilet”. The never ending plumbing, toilet issues that plagued us for years. Was there a chance that they were not caused by some angry Native American coming to reclaim his home but, heaven have mercy, my child?

So here I am. I don’t know where the thirty five missing rolls of TP went. According to Mr Plunger at least some of them went down the commode along with whatever else. Like I said I don’t need to know who or why but maybe what I really need to know is where I can get the best bargain on toilet paper and does anyone know an on call plumber? I think this house may have been built on burial ground as well.

Badge of Honor

“Trauma Mama”, it’s a term used to describe a mother who is raising traumatized children, rather through unfortunate life experiences or through foster care or adoption. She’s strong. She’s a little damaged from witnessing things she can’t unsee. She loves hard and is constantly fighting for her traumatized child. She’s welcomed trauma and abuse into her home with open arms, all in the hopes to save one more.

But what about the other children in the home? The innocent ones. The children who’s biggest fear was the imaginary monsters under the bed. The monster that could be wished away with mama’s magical monster spray. Now, they unfortunately know monsters are real and aren’t just taking up residency under their beds. What about them? Do we have a name for those children, a badge of honor, like “Trauma Mama”?

If there is one, I haven’t come across it. Maybe we should call them “Little Warriors”or “The Blindsided”. Because that’s what they are, blindsided. They didn’t ask for any of this. It wasn’t their calling that opened the door to trauma. Innocent bystanders who watched foster children come and go, covering the grief, afraid to have a voice. They’ve seen the never ending battles, heart break and behavior that comes with this way of life.

They’ve sat back and watched their homes turned into therapeutic recovery centers, shelters, behavioral clinics. They are the quiet listeners behind the bedroom door as their mother cries into the pillow. They watch as the slow fraying of their parents begins, unraveling little by little. The small weaponless toy soldiers, they stand on guard.

“Be a good sport kids”, “they just need time”, “love on them”, “wait that’s too much love”, “give them some space”, “no, wait, include them”, “love will heal all wounds”, “put yourself in their shoes”; these all phrases that I have used at one time or another over the years. Some contradictory toward themselves as I learned how to do this. Their little heads spin as they too are trying to find their new normal in a place that used to be familiar, predictable and yes, safe.

What about them? This was a question my husband and I asked ourselves eight years ago when we started this foster care journey. How will this affect them? At that time we couldn’t have possibly understood the magnitude of such a decision and the affects that it would have on our birth children. They sat there wide eyed and smiling from ear to ear at the possibility of a new brother or sister, a playmate, clueless as to what lay ahead. We all were.

I remember praying, asking God to protect them. If this is what he was really leading us to do, save them. Save them the heart break, pain and keep their innocence. I didn’t care about my own heart, but knew carrying around their brokenness would be too much guilt to bare.

At that time I truly believed God would shelter them from it all. As the years past though, I watched as the anxiety replaced the joy in their hearts. I watched my sweet, innocent boys turn unforgiving, their hope turned to skepticism. Family game nights turned to children hiding in their rooms, avoiding the chaos that so often came with family time.

So what about them? What about my prayers? Where was God in all of this? Was he in their bruises and broken hearts caused by their traumatized siblings, doing only what they knew? Where was their protector, their warrior?

This question plagued me for years as I watched them slip further away. As I slipped further away, consumed with finding healing for our broken children. There was a verse in James that I stood on to get through these years. “James 1:2-3 (NLT) Dear Brothers and Sisters when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow.”

I can trust this verse for myself but why is it so hard to trust this for my children? Why is it easy for me to believe that God will take all that is meant for harm in my life and turn it to good, yet I can’t believe that for my sons?

Maybe because I forgot that they aren’t truly mine. They are His children and I have just been gifted with the responsibility of raising them. I forgot they have their own stories to write, their own testimony to share, their own path that God has laid out with much care for them. And yes, in that path are many trails and tribulations, troubles that will test not only their faith but mine as well and just like me, their endurance will grow as well, as promised.

God is shaping my boys, molding them through all of this. So yes, God was there. He was there in the middle of the fights, holding them on sleepless nights, comforting them when they hid from the chaos.

It’s been eight years since the day we signed those papers opening our hearts and Home to trauma through foster care. My birth children’s signatures weren’t on those forms. They weren’t the ones child proofing the house, making sure we had fire extinguishers, covered sockets, or screens on all the windows. They weren’t the ones attending the endless classes on mental illness, trauma, and behavior. But they were part of it all. God had a place for my warriors, all part of His bigger plan.

Six months ago, I found myself reflecting on my oldest sons childhood as he applied for colleges and planned his future after graduation. I became weepy as most mothers do when you question if they have done enough. “Have I raised him right? Did I give him enough of me?” Would he leave our home remembering the good? Because there was good. Sometimes it was overshadowed by chaos but it was there.

“Son”, I said, “I just feel like after everything our family has been through, well, I,….I…just feel like maybe I wasn’t there for you the way you may have needed me.” His response shocked me and forever changed me. “Mom, you are right. There were times when you weren’t there. You were busy trying to help the others. But I had everything I needed and I watched you. I watched as you loved children that couldn’t love you back. How you fought for them. How you were there for them even though they continually pushed you away. How you forgave. How you gave everything you had to help them and you refused to give up on them. And for that mom, I’m a better person because of watching you and how you loved us all.”

And there it is folks. Tears rolled down my face. There He was. The Man Upstairs, God, My Savior, My Warrior, our families Protector, there He was making it all for good, touching the hearts of his children through their struggles, through troubles, teaching them endurance through perseverance.

I’m not sure what God has in store for all my children, but I do know they are better people because of this. They are more accepting, resilient, more caring individuals. They can spot a hurting soul from a miles away. They know what trauma looks like but they also know what love looks like and what God looks like in the midst of it all.

There are still times that I have to ask God to help my unbelief. To help me believe his promises aren’t just true for me but for my children. To believe He loves them more than me. There are still moments when our world gets overwhelming and I find my boys yet again hiding in their rooms to escape, but I know He is there with them, comforting them, shaping their hearts and minds and preparing them for a future serving their Father in Heaven. I know they will be well prepared for whatever task he sets before them with a heart and faith that has been tested and an endurance that is continually growing, even now as children.

So whatever we call them; warriors, blindsided, the innocent, let’s remember who they really are and that they wear the greatest badge of honor that exists, “A Child of God.” Their badge lies in the fact that He calls them His.

I’m All Out of Spoons

I found the phrase, “I’m all out of spoons”, years ago on a popular autism site. It’s a phrase that parents of autistic children use as a code word to their spouse or friend letting them know they need a break, a parental time out, a Zanax, a nap, whatever your go to is. I honestly have no idea where the actual phrase comes from, but I’m sure there is a very interesting story behind it.

It worked wonders. No questions asked, just throw it out there and everyone knows mama is locking herself in the bathroom for a few. The best part is the child is never shamed or has a clue that you’ve reached your breaking point. It is a wonderful phrase that creates understanding, self awareness and adult break times with no judgement.

It was miraculous! Note I said, “was”. Here’s the kicker people. Code words are an absolute must when raising a child with special needs.

However, throw into the mix another child who suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder and the party gets real, very fast. I could go into a huge explanation of what Reactive Attachment Disorder or R.A.D is but that’s a whole other article.

For times sake let’s just say because of past trauma or neglect a child can develop R.A.D. Reactive Attachment is ugly. It keeps your child in constant fight or flight, afraid to bond, always having to be in control and my favorite, often punishes the “nurturer” (in most cases the mother), for every sin or wrong doing ever done to them or what they perceive has been done to them.

At this moment you are probably wondering where I’m going with this whole spoons thing. Bare with me. So you have an autistic child that causes you to need to use the term frequently, “I’m all out of spoons.” Another child who has R.A.D and is hell bent on mentally torturing the mother figure. Enter stage left a teaching moment for all you code word parents.

After hearing this phrase tossed around by her parents at least three times a week, when dealing with her brother, there was only one logical conclusion that my sweet little Radling’s mind could produce, “man, spoons must really be important to this woman!”

In true R.A.D fashion, one by one our actual, real life spoons went missing over the next weeks. It started slow and picked up pace as the days went on. We didn’t think much of it till one night we tried eating soup with a fork. My oldest son screams, “this is ridiculous, how can we be all out of spoons!?!”

At that moment, with soup splattered all over our shirts in wasted effort, my husband and I looked at each other. Knowing, wisdom, and shock crept over our faces. We turned to our Autistic child still trying his best to scoop up his vegetable soup with a fork, then to our sweet little Radling, daughter, who sat there with a spoon, the very last spoon I might add, with a cheeky grin on her face. “What”, she smirked, “looks like you all are out of spoons.”

Normal is Boring

One of my favorite memories…

Anyone that knows us well enough knows that my daughter and I rarely see eye to eye on well, just about anything. But today we had a moment. While walking out of the pharmacy. Jojo, who is insanely competitive with me decides she is going to run to the car, yelling, “I am going to get there first!!!!” Even though the odds were against her, seeing that I was only steps away from the car, she still ran as fast as her little legs would carry her.

I opened her door so she could hop in. She was running so fast with such determination that she didn’t notice the open door. WACK, a direct face-plant into the side of the car door. I thought for sure when she looked up I was going to see a face full of blood.

Instead she lifted her head and looked at me with a cheeky little smurk and said, “Well, at least I got here first…..” I responded with, “Yes, but isn’t that like cutting your nose off to spite your face?” As much as I tried not to, I started laughing hysterically. Jojo, trying her best to be angry started laughing too.

It was the first time we laughed whole heartedly together. Laughing at eachother, ourselves and the plain rediculousness of the situation. Two years of pent up laughter came rolling out in the pharmacy parking lot. Laughing about the fact that any “normal” daughter would not have taken a face-plant into a car door just to prove a point and that any “normal” mother would have asked if she was okay instead of having some smart remark.

And thats okay because we aren’t normal. Normal is boring. Normal doesn’t bring us moments like this, that even so small will last forever. Moments where you recognize your own faults and connect by laughing hysterically at them together in a parking lot. Years of blending our family, healing trauma, and trying to force attachment had taken it’s toll on us both. For that brief moment the pain was forgotten, the wrongs forgiven and we were just two crazy girls laughing together at our faults.

The Birch Trees

Summer, the trees all decorated in their fullness and vibrant, silky leaves. Like people shining full of grace and beauty. Oh, how they are loved.

Fall, they tell the tale of change, insecure in what lies ahead. They become showy, change their colors in hopes to rise above the inevitable. Maybe one last dance before the cold winter sets in. One last hope to prove their worth before dying. This may be the truest beauty. Living in their fight against time, using every last bit of effort to impress, to challenge the artist, the writer, the maker.

Oh how they must feel time slipping away. Wondering if they have left an impression long enough to last through the cold winter. Then as it was written by the poet, they fall. Leaving behind a raw canvas. A once full landscape hid all the sins behind it, now left with peep holes through the few leaves that remain. Holes into the gray unforgiving forest and the truth that waits on the other side.

The Oak could no longer fool you. The Maple held on as long as she could to shield you. The Birch, left standing naked with no beauty to show, revealing her slender, fragile body.

Everything is seen. She asks, “Do you love me now? Now that you can see through me?” You answer, “no, you have lost your leaves.” The Birch answers, “I’ve shed them, leaving myself exposed for you to fully know me.”

But still they do not love her. She dances swaying her barren branches back and forth in hopes to delight. It goes unnoticed. She becomes fixated on her scars and broken limbs. Now in full view for all to see.

Soon the snow comes and the Lady’s of the Forest are covered in white, alone, quiet, still. She sleeps.

The Oak forgets how she felt in all her spender. The Cherry, what it feels like to be adored. The tall Birch stands alone, weak, helpless to the harsh winter. All her sins revealed to the world, ashamed, unloved and unwanted. The solid trunks around her offer no assurance. For they too are now barren and have nothing left to offer.

The days go by more slowly than the next. No solace for the trees. The painted canvas once revered, now blank and dry. As with the seasons of life she manages to find hope in a barren place and healing in the pain.

Her body tingles. Her arms ache. Her skin irritated with the new coming season. She reaches up to touch the sun and notices the trace of vibrant emerald lace that will soon cover her body. Confidence a new as she forces each new leaf from her veins. Soon she will be dancing again. It is worth the pain.

She adorns herself, hiding her inequities. She shines for them, for the maker. She knows her lovers won’t last when the unveiling comes, when the cold winter is there. But till then she dances with her grace and beauty.

She asks, “Do you love me now? Now that I am hidden?” “Oh yes”, they cheer! “You are beautiful!”