Out of the Dark

Not again. The boys sat huddled on the long couch, eyes narrowed. A suitcase laid haphazardly on the stairwell. A blitz of harsh words and hearts blistered. The smiling faces of our two sons framed in gold on the far wall seemed to mock the conflict unfolding in our living room.

“Just say the word and I’m out of here!” My husband shouted.

“What happened to never say the D word?” I said between clenched teeth.

But if you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful or you will completely destroy each other.

“Well?”

“You know that’s not what I want.” I said.

A spontaneous shopping outing and day planner bursting at the seams with volunteering commitments depleted our checking account and my energy. Bankrupting my family of my time and attention. Again.

Lying in bed with my husband later that night, a chasm of mattress between us, I stared at the shadows playing on the ceiling of our room. Unhappiness lingering along with the stink of burned chicken. More apologies. More hugs and reassurances for our elementary-age kids, their eyes shrouded with disappointment. Again.

If you keep doing the same thing expecting different results…

How did we not hear that two pumpkins had been hurled into the back window of our station wagon? Or that their remains landed in the front of the car? Picking seeds and scraping guts out of the carpet and calling the police and insurance company not a welcome addition to the burgeoning family calendar.

My husband shrugged off my attempts to hold him and I rolled back to the opposite side of our California King. Fighting the sobs threatening to erupt couldn’t stop the renegade tears from splashing against the wooden frame.

In the stillness of midnight, I quietly slipped down the steep staircase and collapsed on that long couch. The day’s events replaying a circuit until fitful sleep and the nightmare found me. A cruel hand wrenched my hair and smashed my toddler forehead into the car window. Was that blood or pumpkin flesh?

I awoke as my husband descended the stairs slowly, watching me. Wary. Likely wondering what mood he’d find me in that day.

“Can I talk to you?” He said.

Bleary-eyed and weary, I nodded, grateful for the chance to be reconciled.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m taking you off our account. If you need money, let me know and we’ll get cash, okay?”

“For how long?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

I nodded and sank into him, loving the feel of his sturdy shoulders.

We kissed good-bye as he left for work, and I wandered into the kitchen. From the window over the sink, the rosy blush of dawn streaked like flames across rippling clouds framed in gold. My breath caught. The dirty dishes stacked neatly in the sink no longer overwhelming me.

Who had told me about that study in Colossians? I rushed to the library room, found my Bible, and flipped pages to the first Chapter.

…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…

Hmmm. Father. What did that even mean?

Light. That sounded good.

Rescued. I felt hope rising.

Darkness like a prison sentence. I wanted to be free.

The Son. Jesus. Yes, he could be a good friend. More than the acquaintance I’d stiff-armed him to be. I kneeled, bowed my head, and poured out my heart to him.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privelege to carry everything to God in prayer.

 

 

 

The Interview

With shaky hands, I flipped off the ignition. My boots clicked loud along the breezeway causing eerie echoes to bounce off the walls. I pulled my coat tighter, clutching my handbag like a life buoy. Yank. Up. Courage.

Squaring my shoulders, I read the lettering on the double-glass doors “Support Advocacy & Resource Center”. 

Although Mari’s wide smile and warm welcome confirmed the friendly woman I remembered, my heart hammered as I stammered through pleasantries. I ducked my head wiping the sweat forming on my upper lip, hoping she wouldn’t notice. You’ve interviewed dozens of people! My inner dialogue drowned out Mari’s cordial banter as I followed her through a narrow hallway.

She stopped and turned.

“I’m sorry, what?” I said.

“This is my office.”

She sat behind a desk and gestured to a seat across from her.

The trembling increased.

“I apologize, Mari. I don’t know why I’m so jittery.”

She smiled. “It’s okay. Now explain to me again why you wanted to talk with me?”

I swallowed hard and took a cleansing breath. “I’m writing a book.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.” My face heated. “I wasn’t going to tell you that.”

“People tell me lots of things. It’s okay. Go on.”

“It’s a nonfiction book.  Interviewing an expert is part of the process. I may use this information for an article and blog post, too. What I’m saying is, it will become public information.”

She stated her full name and official title of Forensic Child Interviewer. Her job includes working with law enforcement when there are allegations of child sex abuse.

While she has interviewed kids as young as toddlers, disclosure typically occurs during the “tween” years when puberty and its pressures begin. According to reports in the United States, one in three girls and one in five boys have been victimized. Some of the most common warning signs:

  • Depression
  • Cutting
  • Nightmares
  • Drug Use

“Do kids ever lie?” I asked.

“Nationally, the stats of kids who lie is 1%. An older kid might get in trouble for having sex so they fabricate a story. I haven’t seen any false allegations by younger kids. We’re very careful about false allegations.

“What about the perpetrators?”

“It’s not always who you think.” She strongly cautioned against boys as babysitters because there aren’t always premeditated motives just opportunity.

God, help me, please.

…”there are facts put together about what sex offenders want the public to know.  It’s adults’ jobs to keep kids safe.”

She told me some case histories that were shocking and heartbreaking and while she continued talking in her easy way, my script lapsed.

She paused.

“It’s sloppy,” I said.

“It’s okay.” She folded some colorful papers and slipped them into an envelope and added it to the stack of pamphlets she’d gathered for me. “These are for you.”

Puzzled, I nodded and thanked her.

While we walked the few blocks to lunch, I quietly confessed, “It happened to me.” As the words left my mouth, I startled. Pull yourself together!

She nodded and stated that everywhere and anywhere there are survivors who don’t talk about it.

All through our meal and on the way back, the familiar dread washed over me. In the resource library while perusing titles, I swayed and my vision blurred. Grabbing a chair, I fought to catch my breath.

“You okay?” Mari popped back into the room.

I nodded weakly.

Finally, I settled on a book (of all things!) for writers. As I checked it out, the woman recording my information said, “I didn’t even know we had this.”

When I got home, I  hastily pulled the colorful papers out of the envelope:

  1. Child Victim’s Bill of Rights
  2. Where Can I Go for Help? www.wcsap.org
  3. Sexual Assault Trauma Syndrome
  4. Flashbacks
  5. Boundaries
  6. Stress Reducers
  7. Positive Coping Skills

Coping skills for staying in the present

  • Name five things you can see in the room with you.
  • Name four things you can feel (“chair on my back” or feet on the floor”).
  • Name three things you can hear right now (“clock ticking” or “traffic”).
  • Name two things you can smell right now or two things you like the smell of.
  • Name one good thing about yourself.

My breathing steadied and I relaxed.

“God, how am I supposed to help others when I still get rattled myself?” Then I remembered what I’d read in 2 Corinthians over and over again:

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glimmers

A Song 

Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky. -Jane Taylor

Two years and four foster homes later, my caregivers visited her cousin and her cousin’s family. Their little girl, whom I call, Diana, eagerly grabbed my hand and pulled me into her bedroom a space blooming with all things pink and frilly. The canopied four-poster bed, the ruffled curtains, and shag pillows dumbfounded me.

“What?” Diana said. Her sapphire eyes and wide smile puzzled me.

“Come on!” She gently pulled me by the hand and as we explored her vast array of toys and dolls I stopped hard in front of her miniature piano.

“You want me to play it for you?”

I nodded.

She pecked the keys and sang with joyful abandon. Over and over she crooned about a little star in a night sky. And as she taught me the few notes, the terror and grief briefly disappeared.

According to brain wave power, “It has recently been discovered that music can be a powerful tool in relieving the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Music as a treatment.

Studies have shown that (specific kinds of) music can trigger the brain to release chemicals to distract the body and mind from the pain.”

* * *

A Prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. -The New England Primer

How many of us as children, learned this lilting verse?

Shortly after my singular visit with Diana, (who not only taught me to sing and play notes, graciously gifted me her mini-piano, also caused hope to unfurl in me) another precocious friend flashed into my life.

Her last name rhymed with the street she lived on, something like Carly Sunny lives on Funny.

We wore out the swings, teeter-totters, and merry-go-round at a small- town park playground.

She invited me to her church so she could win prizes and I tagged along so I could pretend to be her.

One day, while soaring as high as we could, hands gripping fat chains, and feet planted in black-swing-seats she yelled, “Do you pray?”

I shook my head.

She leaped off, mid-air, and jerked me to an abrupt stop.

Dropping onto the grass, she pressed her palms together and bowed her head.

I copied her movements.

“Every night you should kneel by your bed and pray like this…”

Who knew a child’s prayer could switch off if only for a little while, the scenes that played like a horror film in my mind?

In an article published on August 18, 2014, in The Desert News, Herb Scribner compiled a list:

8 Reasons Prayer is Good for You

  1. Faster spiritual growth
  2. Better moods
  3. Improved physical health
  4. More self-control
  5. Strong personal beliefs
  6. Inspiration in hardship
  7.  Better interpersonal relationships
  8. Increased creativity

Researcher Michael E. McCullough of Southern Methodist University found that prayer can calm your mood and put you “in a state of peace.”

* * *

A Wish

Carly not only showed me how to pray (and sing a silly song about a fine lady on a white horse with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes), she also taught me, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have this wish I wish tonight.”

A Baylor University study recently discovered that “There are physical, mental and social benefits that arise upon uttering words to God.”

Sometime during Carly’s free tutoring on life as a normal girl, a record playing something about wishing on a starcaptured my attention.

One night, before I knelt beside my bed to recite my nightly prayer, a  phrase from that song saying that it didn’t matter who you are, jingled in my thoughts.

Hands trembling, I held my breath and brushed back the cotton curtain.

Not too dark yet.

And like a glittery beacon-

The first star.

Scrunching closed my eyes, I recited the poem, careful to enunciate each line.

When I finished, something supercharged and ethereal broke through the all-too-familiar-dread.

My eyes flew open and I pulled back, heart racing with a kind of knowing-

The heavens declare the glory of God.

Someone heard the fervent desire of a little girl. A little girl aching for her mother, her grandfather, her innocence. A little girl lost.

Several days later, my wish for a pony came true.

And while the gift provided years of joy, Judy in no way compared to the awe I’d felt or the longing ignited in me to know the mysterious Who.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cast Down

The year I turned three my soul went missing.

No one could hide from the heat that Fourth of July in 1969. Little feet blistered and sweat and tears seemed to sizzle in the sand.

My grandmother’s sun-bleached shack sat in a naked yard. Tamales and cheap perfume permeated the air. Inside, female voices collided in a darkened room.

My mother, a slender teenager with hair like a black waterfall, dodged shoes that ricocheted off the walls. Her stocky mother reached for another.

“Mommy!” I shouted, leaping from the corner, reaching for her. But she had escaped. I raced outside after her, bare feet churning the sand, then slapping asphalt. Yes! I spied her car at a stop sign. An eighteen-wheeler whooshed by.

Finally! I slapped the trunk of the car, and my beautiful mother’s black eyes met mine in the rear view mirror. When she lurched forward, I stumbled, then watched in disbelief as she sped away.

I trembled as pain crushed my chest. Tears burned and left a salty taste on my cracked lips. I wiped my eyes and nose, but a new tide rose inside.

I jumped to my feet. Run! Run faster! Run! I fell out of time and space, blindly chasing my mother again.

A car with a flashing light skidded to a stop in front of me, and a man wearing a badge sprinted toward me. I sank into him, resting my head on his shoulder.

At the police station he handed me an Orange Crush and offered to pop the cap. I shook my head and caressed the gift like a baby doll.

He had me back to my grandmother’s by nightfall, insisting I take a sip before he left. As soon as he was gone, my grandmother jerked the bottle from my mouth-the glass scraping my teeth-and dragged me to a bedroom.

As fireworks boomed outside, she gave me a belt lashing, buckle and all.

I scrambled to a corner, rolled into a ball, and offered her my back.

After she had gone, I crawled onto the scratchy army blanket on the bed. Even at that age, I got the message: I had to be perfect to be loved.

God in the Circumstances

It’s cool for a late August morning.

Few runners and walkers pass. Some cordial others in the zone. Oaks, elms, and maples gleam in the soft light.

Two men charge me, closing fast until, miraculously, two runners sprint between us. The men shift course to a park table and sit glowering at me.

Sixty days later, the constant nightmares and insomnia strangle my sense of well being. Although my doctor has prescribed a sleep aid and a sleep hygiene list to follow, the Land of Nod still eludes me.

December comes, and I work as in a trance, through the tasks of preparing our home for family and friends.

When I eventually drift off, every night sound jars me hard awake.

New construction wraps up, near our backyard. One afternoon, as workers install irrigation and lay sod, two men peer intently into the windows of our home. When they notice that I see them, they duck behind our fence.

My way of coping? I deny myself food and water for three days. Not as a fast to seek God for help and answers, rather a default mode of anorexic desperation to feel in control in circumstances beyond my control. Now the nightmares stalk me like predators during daylight hours.

Choose to sin, choose to suffer.-Dr. James MacDonald

These episodes of delirium occur as I’m pursuing a resurrected passion for writing. Many discussion board posts and e-mails to new acquaintances typed while engulfed in the flames of this physiological, intangible, and emotional inferno. The Scream (a painting created by the Expressionist Edvard Munch in 1893)now a snapshot of my internal battle.

My family arrives and they gape in horror at how the fear consumes me. Irrational thoughts spoke aloud force them to seek help. A midnight visit to the local Emergency Department and appointments with specialists follow.

Feelings of isolation, doubt, and shame seem to swallow me whole, despite the love and support they offer.

Through it, all, Immanuel, (a name for Jesus) which means “God with us” becomes my lifeline in the Christmas season. I’m forced to reexamine my motives, the blackest thoughts within my heart, and why I’m too proud to reach out to others in my times of need.

Written as a poem, by Episcopal clergyman Phillips Brooks in 1867 this carol a favorite since childhood-brings me comfort.

Oh, little town of Bethlehem/How still we see thee lie/Above thy deep and dreamless sleep/the silent stars go by/Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light/The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

 

“Forgive me,” I whisper to God, family, and friends over and over again.

But it will take more than words to salvage relationships.

In the ashes of burned bridges, God lifts up my head. With scars on my soul, I rise humbly, gratefully, and step out of the shadows: go public again. Keep my word to keep earning trust. Even when conversations feel awkward, strained.

God will often give strength or confidence in our souls to face our trouble. -Dr. David Jeremiah

It’s hard work-recovery. Some days it feels like scaling a sheer cliff, inching upward. Hot tears stinging my face. Hinds feet on high places? This is harder than I thought!

Cling to God’s Word. Trust Him.

The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O LORD, endures forever-do not abandon the work of your hands. -Psalm 138:8

Accept that some people and opportunities vanish like smoke.

Grieve.

Receive grace. Do the next right thing. Just keep moving forward…

Well into the new year, while praying for family and friends, a vibrant prism appears under that picture in our entryway-

My daughter-in-law calls and we talk about everything and nothing. We laugh and make plans to get together other again.

And that rainbow-a symbol: God keeps His promises-stretches strong and true across my heart.