Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Healing from Trauma

What I can’t take with me

My electric toothbrush died this morning. After more than 20 years. Burnt out. Busted. Going nowhere.

Which got me thinking about something else I can’t take with me. Not because it’s tangible, but because it’s intangible. Irreplaceable. Even valuable.

I struggle with giving it up because it’s valuable. Which is another way of saying two things.

  1. It isn’t valuable unless I give it away. Hoarding it does nothing for me.
  2. If I hesitate, the opportunity will be lost. Whether it helps anyone or not isn’t the point. I don’t want to live in fear mode. Especially about things that relate to me personally.

So what is it? It’s the opportunity to speak now, in this present moment, on behalf of all women everywhere who, with me, carry scars piled on scars. I don’t omit men and their scars. This time, though, I’m focusing on women.

Women are yet again (in my lifetime) pushing beyond the ‘normal’ cycle of news reporting. Insisting on being heard not once or twice, but over and over. Relentlessly.

Sadly, this has set in motion growing push back, with calls for ‘time out’ to slice and dice various permutations of inappropriate behavior toward women. Why? Because the men being talked about may be unfairly lumped together with all men. Which suggests we have generations of men and women who don’t yet get it.

Sexism, like racism, is in the air. The air we breathe, consciously and unconsciously from cradle to grave. No amount of slicing and dicing will ever capture the reality of what sexism does to the embodied soul of one woman or one little girl. Or the reality that no one is safe from sexism’s fallout.

It will take all of us—women and men alike—to begin turning the tide. We desperately need safe spaces for women to breathe, stand up and speak their minds. Telling their stories, often for the first time. Without fear of being judged, questioned as though on trial, or turned into side shows.

I’m tired of hearing subtle and not-subtle calls for women to Shut Up and Sit Down. It’s time to move on and try Listening for a change. Asking how we got here, and what we already know in our hearts needs to change, and what each of us can do about it.

Last night, just before I went to bed, I wrote these words in my journal as a kind of prayer:

I crave the companionship of women and men who carry scars like mine. Perhaps by naming my scars yet again I’ll find them, or they will find me. And then what will we say to each other and to the world?

Thanks again for listening, and for considering what part you might play in your neighborhood, or wherever you have a voice.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 January 2018
Quote found at squarespace.com

cracks in the pavement

she tiptoes on eggshells
of shattered dreams —
cracks in the pavement
of life after death erupt
with unexpected beauty

For all the children of the world, young and old,
who live with shattered dreams.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 November 2017
Image found at lovethispic.com
Daily Prompt: Mushroom

The Shape of Forgiveness | Part 4 of 4

“We do our forgiving alone inside our hearts and minds; what happens to the people we forgive depends on them.”
“Forgiving happens in three stages: We rediscover the humanity of the person who wronged us, we surrender our right to get even, and we wish that person well.”
Lewis Smedes in The Art of Forgiving (Moorings 1996)

I’ve never found public or required displays of forgiveness helpful. I’m relieved that Lewis Smedes makes this a personal issue. Neither my father’s presence nor his acceptance of my forgiveness is necessary.

And so, given Smedes’ three stages above and the work I’ve already done, including naming what my father did and why it’s blameworthy, I’ve already forgiven my father.

  • What I discovered about Dad’s humanity was heartbreaking; he and I were more similar than I like to admit. I feel compassion for him every time I think about his life—not just as a child, but also as an adult struggling with his own trauma. He, too, was a survivor of childhood abuse. Sadly, he never sought healing.
  • Sometimes I made small, symbolic attempts to get even with Dad. These included behaviors that helped me feel ‘better’ or ‘safer’ around him, even though I didn’t. I maintained my distance physically and emotionally while seeming not to be distancing him. I thought I was inflicting small punishments on him, getting even for his punishments of me. I was not. Today I have no desire to get even with him.
  • Finally, though Dad died several years ago, I still wish him well. How so? I don’t know what life is like after death. I do, however, know that if our Creator offers ways to grow into life after death, I wish my father well. Especially as the daughter who is most like he was.

From the cross, Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

He didn’t forgive his tormentors directly. He left that up to God. Instead, I see throughout the gospel narratives that Jesus understands the humanity of every person with whom he deals.

I also notice Jesus’ refusal to try to get even with those who opposed him. He spoke hard truth, sometimes with anger. Yet he didn’t grasp at his right to get even. Not in life or in death.

Finally, Jesus wept and prayed over Jerusalem, despite what he suffered from the hands of those in power who thought they knew better. They beat him, mocked him, paraded him in public as an ‘example,’ and hung him up to die. Still, he wishes them well.

Though Jesus doesn’t forgive his tormentors directly, he prays for them from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the prayer I pray for my father.

I’m not responsible for offering him forgiveness. That’s God’s business. I am, however, responsible for the three steps at the top of this post if I mean business about forgiving him.

I’ve forgiven my Dad. Nonetheless, I can’t say this is a done deal. Forgiveness isn’t an event. It’s a process with a beginning and openness to whatever comes next. Childhood trauma has a way of bringing things to the surface when the learner is ready for more healing.

God forgives each of us daily. This is an act of stunning creation, not just for us individually, but for the families and communities in which we live. I want to be part of this ongoing spirit of forgiveness because I want to be part of God’s creative act, not part of the destructive problem.

And so I remain open to forgiving my Dad as often as needed.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 April 2017

The Shape of Forgiveness | Part 3

“Forgiving does not remove our scars any more than a funeral takes away all of our grief.”
“We cannot forgive a wrong unless we first blame the person who wronged us.”
Lewis Smedes, in The Art of Forgiving, Moorings 1996

Denial. I lived with it daily. Not simply denial about my father, but about precisely what he had done to me. In a dark room in my mind I still, in knee-jerk fashion, hadn’t given up bearing ‘my’ share of responsibility for the nature of our relationship.

I experienced it as unrelenting warfare. Yet if you’d asked me about this even three years ago, I would have protected my father by denying the truth. All it took was an add-on phrase or two like these:

  • I wasn’t always an easy child.
  • Sometimes I deserved what I got.
  • Sometimes I asked for it by being stubborn.
  • I know I’m not entirely guilt-free.

All intended to soften the truth and point away from my father as the responsible adult party. If I didn’t, I feared no one would listen to me. I had to remind them that I know I’m not perfect, either.

One of the most difficult exercises of my adult life was to blame my father. Not generally, but specifically, and in writing. With clear reasons, and naming the reality for what it was. I worked on this during the summer of 2014, using Lewis Smedes’ book, The Art of Forgiving, as a guide to rethinking my relationship to Daddy (the term my father required us to use when addressing him).

According to Smedes, I couldn’t forgive unless I first blamed my father for what he had done–concretely, specifically, and with reasons that held water. I had never blamed him in that way. I’d spent all my life trying to share the blame. That had to go.

Forgiveness has a shape. It isn’t a feel-good exercise driven by required words or even attitudes of reconciliation. Nor is it intended to deflect my attention from the Big Stuff truth. What happened to me changed my life in negative ways that are not outweighed by any positives I might name as ‘balancing’ factors.

What, then, do I mean when I say, ‘I blame Daddy’? My denial was so deep that it took several weeks to clarify this. Here it is in short form. You can read more here and here.

I blame you, Daddy, for

  • Willfully, intentionally and without coercion from anyone, using your power in ways that abused my body, my spirit, my mind, my emotions, my developing sexuality, and my overall identity/sense of self
  • Abusing your power as my father, as an adult male, and as an ordained clergyman
  • Not knowing or loving me as I was and am, beginning from early childhood and continuing throughout my adult years
  • Creating an atmosphere of intimidation at home, not an atmosphere of safety

Thanks for listening!

To be continued (one more post) . . . .

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2017
Daily Prompt: Denial

The Shape of Forgiveness | Part 2

“Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey”
“We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.”
Lewis Smedes, in The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How, published by Moorings, 1996

When I was a child, my father required me to beg forgiveness from him and from God. Most often after a beating, or as the so-called resolution of a sisterly argument about an alleged offence. This was often tricky, because I knew the facts as presented weren’t quite all the facts.

I’m grateful forgiveness isn’t a required event. Especially forgiveness of my father.

I didn’t know it then, but my process of forgiveness began the day I confronted my now-deceased parents about being shamed, humiliated and silenced. The process isn’t yet completed, but I’ve made unexpected, life-giving progress.

The meeting I set up with my parents took place the eve of my 50th birthday in 1993, more than 23 years ago. During the meeting I asked for my father’s apology, with no expectation that he would apologize. My husband, my sister Diane, my mother, and a trusted pastor witnessed the conversation between my father and me. It lasted for 1 ½ hours.

My father refused to apologize for anything. He wasn’t interested in revisiting what happened between the two of us or between him and my sisters. He’d already done all his business with God, privately. Nothing I said or did would change his mind.

I was on my own, without my father’s blessing. Disappointed but not surprised. Still determined to work on my healing.

We say punishment should fit the crime. Even so, I believe forgiveness must fit each situation, especially those with life-changing consequences. This isn’t about mistakes or forgetfulness. It’s about the Big Stuff we wish had never happened to us.

Forgiving my father has been a long, sometimes painful process. I’m not yet there. Still, looking back, I see several areas of progress. Sometimes with lightening-speed insight; most of the time with determination, grit and courage to take the next painful look at him and at myself.

Since that historic meeting in 1993, I’ve made progress in at least the following areas.

  • Acceptance of the life-changing enormity of what his behavior meant for me then and now
  • Interest in my father’s life story
  • Appreciation for his wounds, including his determination not to ask for help
  • Awareness of his deeply rooted shame
  • Compassion for him as another human being

I was surprised at how much more comfortable I became around my father, even though his opinions about me never changed. I enjoyed being in interview mode, though I didn’t always like what I heard. I was also comfortable being in the compassion mode. Especially because he carried many griefs, sorrows and disappointments similar to mine.

Nonetheless, I knew this change for the better wasn’t yet forgiveness, much less reconciliation. It was more like a cessation of warfare and a sometimes uneasy truce. I still had work to do.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2017

The Shape of Forgiveness | Part 1

My deceased father, an ordained clergyman, has been on my mind for the last several weeks. Especially the way his behavior toward me still affects my life.

I began blogging over three years ago because I was ready to break my silence. I wanted to tell the truth. Not just the truth about what happened to and within me back then, but the way it shaped the woman I’ve become.

If you haven’t read my earliest posts, I invite you read these, published over three years ago: Dear Dad and Rituals of Submission: Part 1 and Part 2.

Forgiveness has also been on my mind in the last few weeks. The topic almost always comes up when I describe my life as a child and young teenager.

My friends are concerned for me. It’s important, even necessary that I forgive my father. The sooner the better.

  • For some, this is the key to God forgiving me. Indeed, if I cannot forgive another human being, why should God forgive me?
  • For others, it’s important so I can ‘move on’ with my life. This means not getting stuck dwelling on this negative part of my life. Or at least not making it the leading theme of what is, after all, ‘my’ life. Even though it’s impossible for me to conceive of ‘my’ life without multiple connections with my father.
  • For friends who aren’t wired the way I am (an INFJ from way back and very happy, thank you!), forgiveness seems a reasonable exercise that would break the power of the past over me. By putting ‘his’ voice in one column, and ‘mine’ in another, I would simply clarify the truth and get on with my life. Almost like starting over with a blank slate. It sounds lovely; yet it isn’t true to reality as I experience it.

I appreciate each outlook. Yet I still get hooked by self-destructive attitudes and behaviors that arise daily.

  • My responses to these situations are rooted in my father’s attitudes and behaviors toward me.
  • Yet they seem to be my own beliefs and assumptions about myself.

Finally, I often wonder whether I can or need to forgive myself. If so, what would that look like?

As I see it, forgiveness isn’t a spiritual, intellectual, or strategic decision made once for all. It’s about my whole being and will take a lifetime. I face multiple opportunities each day to let go of my sometimes frantic desire for security and survival, affection and esteem, power and control, and my desire to change a situation.

A broken clay pot can’t be made whole by gluing it back together. No amount of glue will make it new. It’s still a damaged, cracked clay pot. The only way to repair the damage is to return the pot to the furnace, melt it down, and tenderly begin reshaping it. Not as an act of terror—though the process is terrifying—but as an act of love, acceptance and healing.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. What might healing look like, and what kind of forgiveness would it take?

Thanks for reading, listening with your hearts, and commenting if you’d like.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2017
Image with quote found at wordsofbalance.com

Prayer

Lion-And-Lamb-Picture-HD-Wallpaper-1024x574

Dear Friends,

This week was a roller coaster. Highs and lows one after the other. Still, I wrote in my journal and will post some pieces later. The picture is messy. Not because it’s ugly, but because it isn’t logical or sensible.

In the midst of the ups and downs I’ve followed George MacDonald’s sonnets for May. Some keep drawing me back for another read. Not because they’re profound, but because they’re simple and speak to my heart and situation right now.

Here’s one I’ve read over and over the last few days. It comforts me during this extended, unexpected Sabbath rest.

May 26

My prayers, my God, flow from what I am not;
I think thy answers make me what I am.
Like weary waves thought follows upon thought.
But the still depth beneath is all thine own,
And there thou mov’st in paths to us unknown.
Out of strange strife thy peace is strangely wrought;
If the lion in us pray—thou answerest the lamb.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
Augsburg Fortress Press 1994

I identify with every line, every word, every nuance. Especially the contrast between what I am not and what I am. Not because of myself, but because of the way God answers me. Not in kind, but in ways only a little lost lamb understands.

  • I roar with indignation; God whispers with comfort.
  • I get my back up; God rubs it gently.
  • I complain about the puny food that’s set before me; God smiles and pours a glass of wine.
  • I rage; God sings a lullaby.
  • I blame God; God holds me closer.

Stubbornly (!), God keeps responding to the little lost lamb. Taming my anger, showing me who I am in God’s eyes. Reassuring me, like waves that keep washing up on the shore, that God is found in the depths of the ocean. Not in the wearying repetition of my human effort to make a mark on life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 May 2016
Image found at cityviewchurch.com.au

This is not a Dream | For my Readers

The Body Keeps the Score3

Seminary Land, 1990s. My faculty colleagues and I have been summoned to a meeting with the chair of the seminary board.

Recently we sent him a letter about a decision that will affect all of us. He didn’t appreciate our letter. Read the rest of this entry »

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