The Power of Love

A few weeks ago, I started to read the book The Power of Attachment. The book by Diane Poole Heller talks about the different ways we connect to one another in relationships, and the importance that our early childhood plays in developing these attachments.

I was born in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers. My biological mother was raised Catholic. Her parents sent her away to give birth to me. She only held me for a few moments before I was handed over to the State and placed in the home of a foster parent for three months. After three months, I was adopted by my parents. From my baby pictures, I appeared to be a well adjusted and happy child. However, my earliest memories as a child communicate to me that I struggled most of the time with feeling like I belonged. Up until I was in my twenties, I believed that there was something wrong with me. I thought that being adopted and not being a blood relative of my family was what caused me to feel out of place. But then I found both of my biological parents, and realized that I still felt disconnected.

Reading Diane’s book has helped me to see that my lack of connection is about more than being adopted. What it is about is being raised by parents who did not know how to connect with me in a healthy way. Parents who didn’t connect with their parents either. My adopted mother’s mom died when she was just a little girl. She had very few memories of her, and didn’t talk about her father much either. My adopted father’s mother lived until I was in my twenties. He spent a lot of time talking about how she favored his brother over him. His father died when he was a child. His earliest memories were of him shooting up morphine in front of him.

I spent my childhood believing that I was the reason that I couldn’t connect with my parents. Even though they provided for my physical needs, I felt responsible for my own emotional needs and insanely for theirs, too. Sexual abuse taught me that it was my responsibility to meet my father’s emotional needs. It was also up to me to keep this secret from my mother. I had to work really hard to do my part to keep everyone happy. I felt like I lived in a minefield waiting for the next explosion to go off. I thought if I watched my every step I could keep something else bad from happening. Even though it didn’t work, I never stopped trying to make it work. It was the only thing I knew to do to survive.

Diane Heller provides exercises in her book to help people like me who grew up not feeling attached to start a process of feeling more secure. One of the exercises says to imagine having parents who had relationships with others in their lives who met their emotional needs. She said to visualize what it would have been like if our mother had friends she went out with who brought her happiness. As I visualized this, it felt like the knots in my stomach began to relax. Momma did not need me to do everything right to be happy. She was happy all on her own. I wasn’t walking in a mine field where I had to focus on my every step. I could focus on just being myself. I could see clearly through this practice that the reason I felt disconnected as a child was because I never felt the freedom to just be myself.

Other exercises in the book encourage the reader to think about the people in our lives who they felt safe around and remember how these people made them feel. I experienced relief as I thought back to an older couple who were friends with my mom. I stayed with them for a week when my parents went out of town. Their house was in the country. I chased chickens around their back yard. I sat on the porch drinking lemonade and eating homemade goodies. I went to the store and got a brown paper sack full of candy. It felt safe to be myself.

God talks about us coming to Him as little children, but I have so few memories of times when I felt like I could be a little child. I don’t know how to be a child and this has greatly effected my ability to connect with God. I am realizing that I still spend a lot of life feeling like I am walking through a mine field. There has been so much loss in my life that I wonder if I will ever find the freedom to be myself again.

I confess I struggle with feeling angry and cynical about how my life has been. Am I destined to be forever disconnected from God because I do not even know how to come to Him as a little child? I confess it feels impossible to me and with the religious abuse I experienced no where at all feels safe. The only thing I know to do is to continue to be honest about the struggles that I have with God and with others who are safe. In church it has been very challenging to find these people. Too often I hear judgment in their comments or quick fixes that sound more about control than a relationship with God. I cannot continue to sit through conversations like this. I desperately long to connect with God. I want to believe that He is a Father who wants to bring me only good. But these days I’m struggling with this. Even though our relationship with God is based on faith and not by sight, I see how much relationships play a part in revealing the goodness of God to people. Jesus had relationships with people. He didn’t tell them to just believe and walk away. He risked and really cared even though He knew that they would abandon Him when He needed them the most. When I think about this part of the story and Who God is through Jesus, I realize He doesn’t need me to do anything to meet His needs. I can be the kid who chases chickens in the back yard. I can laugh and drink lemonade on the front porch. I can find the relief of just being myself. This is the Gospel. It really is good news. This is the hope that I hold onto even when I feel like I am walking through a mine field. Truly, it’s a miracle that I even believe in Him at all. But faith is a mystery and a gift that we are not responsible for acquiring on our own. I so need God’s help every moment to give me the strength to keep moving forward, but I also need other people who are willing to hang in there in a relationship with me. People who do not need me to meet their emotional needs and keep them happy. People who love me right where I am struggling with all of my doubts and cynicism. I pray that God would help me to be this kind of person to others, too. In a world where half the people do not feel securely attached in their relationships, I believe that this is what Jesus has called us to be to one another. If all we are doing is telling others what to believe and what to do without investing time in relationships, we are missing the life giving portion of the message. I’m tired of cold and empty religion. I’m tired of just surviving. I pray that God would help us to see how desperately we need love and connection to one another. It’s the only way the world can know that we belong to Him. It’s the only way to give each other real hope.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Legitimate Needs

The crushing weight of our unmet needs that cause us to break are where the light of His love and truth get through.

I, with my eyes wide open, closed my eyes for years to the secret that I was looking to my children to give me more than either they had it in their power to give or could have given without somehow crippling themselves in the process. I thought that what I was afraid of more than anything else was that something awful would happen to them, but the secret I began to glimpse was that I was really less afraid for the children than I was afraid for myself. What dangerous and unknown new role might I fall into if the role of father were taken from me and suddenly the sky was the limit, if instead of trying to take care of my children’s needs, I started taking care of my own needs, some of which were so powerful and long neglected that I was afraid they might overwhelm me?

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

I confess that I have the same secret as Frederick Buechner.

I am afraid of my own legitimate needs.

I fear if I acknowledge that they are there that they will overwhelm me.

For so long I have taken care of everyone else’s needs, and I have neglected my own.

It seems so sacrificial, so loving, so kind.

On the surface…

But beneath all of this outward care and concern for others is a little kid who has not had her own legitimate needs met.

I have begun to realize this recently especially working at a residential treatment program where kids from all walks of life are hospitalized because of losses and unmet needs that manifest themselves in addiction, anger, or self-harm. For these kids, the wheels have run off. They have been caught in their desperation, and because of this they have the perfect opportunity to see what it is they really need and begin to heal. Some will take this opportunity. Others will not.

Recognizing the legitimate needs in our lives that have not been met can cause one to feel out of control and weak. Sometimes it feels safer to lock these needs away inside and pretend like we are fine. But we are not fine. Unmet needs can become like the dungeon Little Ease (pictured above) that Buechner describes hidden directly below a beautiful chapel (pictured below) in the Tower of London. It was an incredibly small 4 ft. square space where it was impossible to stand or even lie down. Like this dungeon, our unmet needs can feel like they will suffocate and crush us until we get them met. I know because I managed to make it until I was in my thirties carrying around an overwhelming amount of unmet needs. I had no idea that being given up for adoption caused me to desperately long for connection. My mind had also suppressed the sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my adoptive father, and I had no understanding that my need for healthy love was like a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. And one day it did explode, unleashing years of pent up anger and hurt that manifested itself in an abusive and addictive relationship with my former pastor, who I believed was the one person who could meet my unmet needs. But as addictions do, it only made things worse and I became just like one of the kids at work. The wheels ran off and I was caught. For the past four years, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to see what it is that I really need and get better. Sometimes I take the opportunity. Sometimes I do not. The hardest thing for me to do these days is recognize my legitimate needs, because I am afraid that they will be like a ticking time bomb that will explode again. A large part of my struggle is truly believing that there isn’t something wrong with me. As I look back on my life, I struggle to see the little kid who just needed to be held and loved. Sometimes all I see is a little kid who could never do anything right and who caused bad things to happen all around her.

It would seem to me after all the writing and processing I have done that I would not still struggle so much, but I do. Healing can be a long process. It’s hard being patient with myself. The other night driving home from a Bible study with my daughter, she began to talk about how difficult it was to trust others at this new church because of memories of the losses in her other church. I felt crushed under the weight of the reality that my choices had contributed to her present struggle. I realized how many times I hadn’t been there for her. These were years I could never get back. All because I was pursuing what I thought I had to have. My unmet legitimate needs had caused me to pursue things that brought me much shame.

I feel much compassion for my daughter. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do to bring her relief. To cause her to be able to feel that she is a part. To help her believe in the goodness of people again and recognize God working in their lives. I know that the lack of trust she struggles with comes from legitimate needs for connection she is afraid to have met. I know it also comes from having her own hope shattered by trusting in the wrong people and having her own innocence stolen. Betrayals that have been totally out of her control and that were never her fault. I have no problem at all loving her and reminding her that she is not alone. I can tell her over and over again that it is not her fault. However, showing myself the same compassion seems impossible at times. Frederick Buechner’s words strike a powerful chord in me:

To love our neighbors as we love ourselves means also to love ourselves as we love our neighbors. It means to treat ourselves with as much kindness and understanding as we would the person next door who is in trouble.

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.

I confess I have not loved myself well. My default mode is self-contempt, and only the grace of God can save me from it.

But will I let Him?

Or maybe a better question is can I stop Him?

I have to believe that nothing can stop the truth that sets us free.

The crushing weight of our unmet needs that cause us to break are where the light of His love and truth get through.

The truth is there are no more fathers and mothers. There is no opportunity to live my life over and do it right the next time. The betrayals, the losses and the regret will always be a part of my story. It’s ok to be sad about these losses. To offer myself the same compassion I give my daughter. I can also thank God because of Jesus that these things don’t have to be the way our story ends.

He is a Father to the Fatherless.

He is the Resurrection and the Life.

There is no shame in our legitimate needs.

They are what drive us to Him.

Our hearts cry out to be loved and love in return and for all our fear to be gone.

He answers and this is what ultimately saves our souls.

“ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:16‭-‬21 NLT

Jesus Wept

Jesus weeps for us.

When Jesus saw her sobbing, and the Jews who had come with her also sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
JOHN 11:33‭-‬35 AMP

I heard Brene Brown say in a video clip recently, in order for forgiveness to happen something has to die.

Death brings much sorrow. Whether it be the death of a dream, the expectations we had, a person we loved, or our hope of receiving what we needed from a caregiver in our lives. All death is incredibly painful.

In John Chapter 11, we see Jesus in the middle of the great sorrow that death brings when he arrives at the home of Lazarus and sees Mary weeping. Even though Jesus knows that He is going to bring Lazarus back to life, He does not avoid the sorrow. He embraces it fully, to the point He feels anger over it.

I don’t know about you, but at first glance this story confuses me. Jesus, Who is the Resurrection and the Life, weeps to the point of being angry over death. Maybe I struggle with the this so much, because I work so hard to avoid any kind of pain.

I don’t realize most of the time how many times in a day I am reassuring myself that I am fine when I really am not. I stuff a piece of chocolate in my mouth enjoying the temporary boost I receive from a sugar high. I open up my Facebook app and notice the little red notification that someone liked or shared what I posted. I cram handfuls of popcorn in my mouth and numb out the week’s frustrations with a new series on Netflix or Hulu. I consume ravenously the moments when I feel excitement or pleasure, but resist the ones where I experience boredom or pain. And it’s all because I know deep down, that I really am not ok.

Sooner or later sorrow always catches up with us. Our brains notice reminders of past events and bring them to our attention. As Bessel Van Der Kolk book title communicates our Body Keeps the Score.

Summers are an especially difficult time for me. This pain began when as a young girl I was so excited to get to go meet with my father who was separated from my mother at the time. He promised to take me out to eat and shopping for a new swimsuit. He said I’d get to see a new liter of puppies his neighbors dog had just had. After consuming a large hot dog covered in cheese at a nice restaurant, we wandered across the mall to the pet store. I had to go see Arthur, the mynah bird, who talked to everyone who passed by. I could have spent all day talking to him and dreaming of the day that I could have a bird like him of my own. But it wasn’t long before it was time to go to my father’s trailer that I’d never been to before before. It was easier to leave Arthur because I was going to get to see the puppies! Anticipation filled my heart as we drove that way. My parents had been separated for a period of time. My father was an alcoholic who I thought was trying to stop. I didn’t understand much about addiction at the time, but I knew that when he turned up a glass with that dark brown pungent liquid that really bad things could occur. Once the police even came. Another time, my mom and I snuck out during the night. I was so relieved he’d stopped drinking. I was so excited about a new start. But then on this day that was supposed to be the start of a new beginning for us, my father turned into the package store. Even though he promised he was just going to have one drink and asked me not to tell my mother, I knew when he walked out with the tall paper sack that things were not at all as I thought they were going to be. Deep disappointment and sadness filled my heart. And a weekend that was supposed to be a good time spent with my father, became very, very dark.

As I have mentioned before, I work in a residential treatment program for teenagers who are dealing with all sorts of addiction, trauma and losses. It’s an environment that brings hope and healing to so many, but it’s also an environment filled with much sorrow and pain. The other day I passed a kid who was just finishing up his lunch. My eyes met his for a brief moment and he smiled at me. The look of hope mingled with pain I saw in his eyes changed something inside of me. I was no longer focused on getting through the day and just going home. I got stuck in that two second glance, because I saw in his eyes a clear reflection of my own pain that I try so hard to avoid. He’s a kid like so many others there who’ve made some bad choices, because of tremendous lossese they have suffered in their lives. The program teaches these teenagers how to make better choices despite the fact that sometimes the caregivers in their lives continue to make the wrong ones. As these kids allow themselves to face the pain they have been trying to avoid, they begin to process it and grieve. There are no unhealthy snacks to consume to bring temporary relief. There are no TV and cellphones to distract them from their pain. Only the harsh cold reality of the pain they have worked so hard to avoid. However, once they face this pain hope begins to break through. I saw it in this teenager’s eyes that day, and I felt it in my own heart.

In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die.

Why did Lazarus have to die?

Why did Mary and Martha have to suffer the confusion of loving someone whom they loved so very much?

Why do parents choose addictions over their children?

Why must a child’s hope of a parent who is present and loves them be totally crushed?

Why doesn’t Jesus just avoid the pain of sorrow when He knows that life is coming again?

Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!” Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:37‭-‬40 MSG

After tremendous suffering and pain, Jesus breathed His last breath as a human being. Death had finally come.

It is finished, He said.

That day in the car as I watched my father walk out with a bag of whiskey in his hand, all hope seemed lost of ever having a father who would love me.

He (Jesus) was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled.

Jesus wept.

My eyes met his for a brief moment and he smiled at me. The look of hope mingled with pain I saw in his eyes changed something inside of me. I was no longer focused on getting through the day and just going home. I got stuck in that two second glance, because I saw in his eyes a clear reflection of my own pain that I try so hard to avoid.

Jesus weeps for us.

In our suffering we experience connection with Him.

We find forgiveness.

By His wounds we are healed.

I don’t know why it has to happen the way that it does.

But I know that on the other side of death, life will come.

Sing to the Lord , all you godly ones! Praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalms 30:4‭-‬5 NLT

Rushing to Belong

All of my running seems really in vain when I stop and think about where it has gotten me in the past.

Lately, I’ve been reading Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. This book has opened my eyes to how desperately I long to belong, and how easily I allow life to cause me to miss the ways that God says I already do.

I realized yesterday how quickly I rush through life. I was frustrated when my computer software was not allowing me to log into the program I needed to use. I wanted to get to the store, but the person on the online chat was keeping me from it. After an hour, with still no resolve, I closed the computer to wait until next week to get someone on the phone who could help solve my problem. I went to the store much later than I planned, which was fine, because actually I didn’t have anything else that I needed to do. Yet, I was rushing for no reason. Running when I didn’t need to be.

I started asking myself this morning why I am running and rushing so much? What is there that I hope to find when I stop running? Why can’t I just settle into the moment, doing what needs to be done taking my time? Is something chasing me, or am I afraid I will miss something if I slow down? Rushing is like driving too fast, most of the time one saves very little time and uses way more gas and energy. I know this in my head, but applying it is another story.

If I look behind, I realize nothing is chasing me and forcing me to move at a much faster pace, other than a culture that seems to always be in a hurry. I believe that I am running towards something that I hope to attain. As I have thought long and hard about this question, I believe Richard Rohr helped me to see what it is. I believe that I am rushing through life in an effort to finally find that place where I belong.

My husband recently had a job change. He’s driving four days a week and almost 200 miles a day. If he goes to full-time at this job, we plan to purchase a home closer to where he works. I struggle so much with staying where we are and waiting until we move. The reality is one day we won’t be here in the town we live in. We will be somewhere else that maybe we can call home.

The past three years of living in the town we are in now has been very difficult for us. Healing from the trauma and losses suffered in our previous church and family has been a slow process.

A three hour conversation over coffee with our real estate agent was an enlightening experience. She encouraged me to let finding the right house just happen, and not try to force it. She pointed out how people often become addicted to looking at houses on real estate apps. She said that sometimes people are still looking for houses after they have already purchased and moved into the one they want. It seems that what we look so diligently to find falls way short of what we expect it to be.

A house in a neighborhood can easily offer the false hope that this is the place we will finally belong.

A pastor who spoke for God on Sunday and flattered me with empty words on Monday felt like belonging, too.

All of my running seems really in vain when I stop and think about where it has gotten me in the past.

It seems to me as Richard Rohr so wisely points out that I need to slow down and realize that I already belong just where I am even if we may not always be here.

But what is logical and what I understand I need to be doing in my head, doesn’t always make it to my heart. Acceptance is a long and grueling process that doesn’t offer the instant gratification that I’m used to receiving when I chase after the things that I want. Acceptance means that I need to slow down, take a deep breath and wait which seems impossible to do for someone like me.

But what if I could believe that God can give me what I’ve been rushing through life so quickly to find? What if I could know that slowing down would actually give it to me? I’d have to slow down to actually know that, right?

How do we find what is supposedly already there? Why isn’t it obvious? Why should we need to awaken our deepest and most profound selves? And how do we do it? By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all of the above, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our reality.

Excerpt From: “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer” by Richard Rohr. Scribd.

God is already with us. Therefore the belonging that I am rushing to find is already here.

What sweet relief this knowledge brings.

I can slow down.

Stop looking.

I already belong.

And this is everything.

Help me, God, to not forget.

That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

Ephesians 2:19‭-‬22 MSG

If you are like me and need every encouragement to slow down, this video is a wonderful way to remember how to do this:

Godspeed