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Leaving an Intentional Legacy

Three Women, Three Legacies

Flora

I enter Flora’s house and find it dark just as if no one is home.  In the pink winged-back chair sits a woman of 90.  The shades are all closed, as usual, though it is a beautiful spring afternoon in California.  Her voice is without effect, low and halting, her eyes looking downward at the variegated brown rug that has been there since the 1970’s.

Flora’s conversation is a litany of her physical and emotional pain.  Her complaints vary little from month to month.  Unable to talk to me, she talks at me.  She is ready to die, she says plainly.  She has outlived her 10 siblings and all of her friends and both of her children.  Her grandchildren find it challenging to connect with her because of her decades-long depression.   Her propensity to criticize has kept her from forming close relationships with anyone.  She has had no interests in life, no passion for any cause, no purpose to live for.   She used to crochet and garden but can no longer move her body to accomplish these tasks.  She spent 70 years trying to survive and at least 20 wishing she wouldn’t.   As I leave my brief visit with her I have a heavy heart and lift up a prayer yet again to her Maker for this sad woman to find Life.

For most of the 98 years that Flora lived,  she was barely alive.  Her critical spirit and resistance to love kept her from attaching to God and to those who loved her.  In her inability to give life to others, she pushed away a multitude of good gifts that were hers to receive.**

Flora Hay

Melva

Melva was the matriarch of the farm.   I first met her when my daughters were in the Awana program that she was a volunteer in for decades.  Always ready with a smile and word of encouragement, I knew she was a jewel worth knowing.

At 75 she told me of her deep desire to go through the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises.  Someday, she said, she was going to do it.  And at 78 she did.                     This year, at 79, she was doing the second year called the Principle and Foundation, with me.  We have been challenged all year to let God have His way in our lives- to find what brings us life and lean into it with all our might.  This includes letting go of anything that would hold us back from receiving all of God and giving Him all of ourselves in return.  It involves detaching from all things mortal so that we can become fully attached to the Giver of Life.

When I went up the farm I loved to visit with Melva.  She lit up as she told me about the latest adventures of her grandchildren.  Her heart for her family was deep and strong.  She shared the history of the farm with me one day, talking about the transition from living in the Bay Area to becoming a farm mom.  The joy she found in the land was the overflow from her love for its Creator.  And so too, her heart of service to many people.

After she got the diagnosis that the very disease that her grandson had battled victoriously as a child was going to end her life, her eyes sparkled with joy.  She held the hands of her longtime friend and pastor and said that she was really living the Principle and Foundation.   She was now to let go of all that kept her from being fully present with her God.Melva and I were both part of a small prayer group for a while.  Her dedication to come early to church each week belied her years.  During the school year, Melva was in the kitchen each Sunday morning before the service, cooking lunch for the college student ministry.  When she wasn’t cooking, she was praying with us.  My guess, knowing Melva, is that she was praying while she was cooking, too.  Melva’s prayers were wise, like her thoughts.  70+ years of praying and following hard after Yeshua is bound to bring some wisdom and hers just leaked out even when she tried to hold it in.

Melva was loved by those who knew her.  She was a jewel that shone with the brilliant light of her Beloved’s life.  And now that jewel rests in His very crown.

Melva June Johnson

Mary Ann

The petite 82 year old woman enters the room of Spiritual Direction Institute grads with sparkly hat and sunglasses and 3 others follow her in.  She stands in the center of the room, eyes afire with mischief.  Snapping out the rhythm, she leads the others and begins the song and dance.  The little nun begins the rap, bouncing up and down and smiling like this is the first time she’s ever done it.

Mary Ann, founder of the training program and Spiritual Directors International, changed the world in her 84 years.  She had a vision and her vision brought feet to what is now an international movement to bring life to millions through training and supporting spiritual directors around the world.  Her love for God and people leaked out until her last breath.  During her illness that launched her into Yeshua’s arms she wanted to insure that her caretakers were being taken care of.

Mary Ann Scofield

Three women.  Three lives.  Three legacies created.  Two sowed blessing in others and one sowed grief.

What was the difference?  Why did one barely survive and the other two thrive?  Did the two thrivers have great childhoods and easy lives?  Was it all about what life served them?  Were they just lucky?

No, those two had as many challenges as the third.  What was different was the way they approached the suffering they had been dealt.    In the midst of our pain, what choices are we going to make?  The answer will determine not only the quality of our lives, but the legacy we leave for our families for many generations.  What legacy do you want to leave?  Let’s be intentional about it, beloved.

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**Flora’s story has a surprise ending!  After 40 years of her granddaughters’ prayers, she surrendered her life to the One who created her.  In the last 18 months of her life, Flora learned how to smile, how to say please and thank you, how to give and receive hugs and kisses, and how to say “I love you.”  After 96 years of resisting the God of the universe, she stepped down from the throne of her own life and let Him in.  After more than nine decades of life spent in depression, fear, and anger, she stepped into an eternity of peace and love.  When she passed, her granddaughters rejoiced knowing that Flora is now filled with His joy.  One of them saw a vision of Flora at 17 in her wedding dress running into Yeshua’s arms and dancing with Him.  Truly it is never too late to change!  God is good.

Going Far Together

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Loneliness, an American Epidemic

All humans are lonely sometimes.  It is common to experience seasons of loneliness in life.  Becoming an empty nester presents a transition from having young adults around the house to much more time spent alone.  As we age and are left without a spouse we go from possibly decades of marriage to living by ourselves.  Divorce presents the same challenge.  These are common seasons of change.

In America, something else has become common.  Social isolation has become a lifestyle for a large sector of the population.

In a study on Social Isolation in America by McPherson, Smith-Lovin and Brashears people were asked about their core network structures.  From 1985 to 2004, the number of Americans saying there is no one with whom they can discuss important matters with nearly tripled.  They have 1/3 less connection with neighbors and local community, putting more stress on their need for connection with close family members, particularly spouses and parents.  “The number of people who have someone to talk to about matters that are important to them has declined dramatically… we have gone from a quarter of the American population being isolated … to almost half of the population falling into that category.”

Shankar Vedantam authored an article for the Washington Post which asserts that social isolation is growing in the US.   “Americans go on 60 percent fewer picnics today and families eat dinner together 40 percent less often compared with 1965, he said. They are less likely to meet at clubs or go bowling in groups. (Robert) Putnam has estimated that every 10-minute increase in commutes makes it 10 percent less likely that people will establish and maintain close social ties.”

Two independent studies illustrate our need for relationship.  Both UC Berkeley and University of Michigan studies indicate that social isolation is not only tough emotionally, but actually bad for our health.  They conclude that adults who do not cultivate nurturing relationships have double the premature death rates as those who have frequent, caring contact with others.  According to Robert D. Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone, having close and frequent connections with other members of a community makes an individual healthier.  The data indicates that “social isolation is as significant to mortality as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise,” according to James S. House of the University of Michigan.

Loneliness Can Kill

In her lengthy article, The Lethality of Loneliness, Judith Shulevitz states that “Psychobiologists…have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.”

I once asked someone from Nigeria what the hardest thing about being in America was and he told me that the social isolation he felt here was terrible.  He would rather have the material poverty of Nigeria than the relational poverty that we live in here.

In Nigeria, social isolation is not common.  Unlike America, Nigerians know how to live in community.  If you have enough food for yourself and someone comes to dinner unannounced, you have enough for two, no matter how little it is.  You do not call to schedule an appointment with your friend.  You knock on the door and sit and talk face to face.  When you are in need, your friends gather around you because that’s what friends do.  We would do well to consider the African proverb:  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  Unfortunately, Americans often prefer to go fast.

An African Story

In Alan Cohen’s book, Wisdom of the Heart, he tells the story of a tribe in Africa.  It goes something like this:

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of that individual child. They recognize that every soul has its own resonance that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. Then the women attune to the song and sing it out loud.

Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else. When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her.

Later, when the child enters education, marries, and passes through the initiation to adulthood, the village gathers and chants the child’s song.  Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, and they sing the person into the next life.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child.

If at any time during the person’s life they commit a crime or deviant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community make a circle around them. Then they sing their own unique song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for negative behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of one’s true identity.

You see, when you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt others.

Donna Roberts has oft been quoted that, “A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it.” Those who love you are not misled by mistakes you have made or false images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you think you are ugly; your innocence when you feel condemned; your wholeness when you feel broken; and your real purpose when you feel confused.

Good News and Bad News

I have good news and bad news.  Statistics reveal that there is, indeed, a high degree of relational poverty in the U.S.  This is bad news for those who desire to live in healthy, close community.  Our culture scores an epic fail on the relational scale.

The good news is that there are many options for creating a new standard for living in healthy relationships.  There ARE those who understand how to create healthy community.  The skills are known and can be learned.  There is great hope for living a life rich in strong connection with others.  Do not despair!

What Can I Do?

The first step is to assess your own degree of relational health.  Take this UCLA Loneliness Scale  Score it and date it.  Don’t get discouraged if your score is not as high as you had hoped.  Remember, we come from a culture with poor relational skills.  The key is to decide what you want to do with those results.  Determine what you would like to change and seek out the many resources available to support you on that journey.

A great resource is the nine month Living from the Heart course beginning this October.  I keep the group down to a cozy living room full and create lots of opportunity learn the skills necessary for growing healthy relationships.  In a safe, non-judgmental environment people address issues of trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and letting go of personal control.  They become aware of patterns that are no longer working in their life and find new options for creating the love and joy bonds that they so deeply desire.  I utilize weekly instruction, group coaching, daily individual exercises, expressive art and writing, and many other tools to help you connect with others from the authentic places of your heart and spirit.   Click here to learn more about Living from the Heart.

I encourage you to spend the time and energy to rate your current relational status, set and pursue your goals to rate your current relational status, set and pursue your goals to improve in the areas that are most important to you, and then return to the test again in a year and see how your score has changed.  When you choose to make the journey with those you love at your side, you may not get there quickly, but you might be amazed at how far we can go together!

Writing to Live

 

 

I am excited to share with you today a little bit about my writing process. I am honored to be able to participate in a blog tour at the invitation of my sweet friend Rachel Grant.  Rachel writes as she lives, boldly and honestly.  She uses her many talents, including writing, to bring awareness to the problem of child sexual abuse and speaks strongly and clearly about the hope for healing in her blog and her book, Beyond Surviving.

Why do I write?  I might well ask, why do I breathe?  I write because I am alive.  And I am alive because I write.

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I began writing as a wounded and confused teenager at 15.  I attended a summer camp where I was encouraged to journal about my experiences, and my feelings about those experiences.  My first story was about my battle with the desire to commit suicide, and I preformed it for the whole camp at the end of the week.  The words rushed from my mind to my pen like a dam that had just crumbled.  As I spoke, every fiber in my being came alive.  I knew I had found part of my purpose in life.  My mentor came to me afterwards and told me that my writing and speaking would bring great hope to others and encouraged me not to stop.  Nearly 4 decades later, I could not stop writing if I wanted to.

Throughout my high school and college years, I poured out my heart into journal after journal.  I was trying to make sense out of my life, like any teenager.  I was also trying to survive a crazy family life.  Though I had no vocabulary for it at the time, I can tell you now that addiction, mental illness, verbal, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse are what characterized my family of origin.  My journal was my only safe place, my confidant and the depository of my hopes and confusion, inspiration and pain.  No matter how difficult things became, I could breathe if I had paper and a pen.  And if I could breathe, if I could write, I could live.  My writing became my prayer and my prayer was the only string that kept me attached to hope…the hope that somewhere there was the love I deeply longed for.  It is that hope that has fueled these 40 years of my recovery.  Through my writing and my speaking I have been able to capture the promise of healing and the reality of a thriving life after severe childhood abuse.

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One of the ways my writing is utilized is on my podcast, Beyond Abuse Radio.  I write as I speak, from the heart.  Words become the expression of my passions and burdens, my longings and deepest desires.  One of my desires is help people find the tools to heal from abuse.  Another is to inspire those on the healing journey to embrace the love of God as the ultimate power of transformation.

I have written free verse, children’s stories, articles, and am currently working on a guide for living in authentic, life-giving relationship with self, others and God called Living from the Heart.  I have published a book called the Covenant of the Beloved which chronicles the covenant that I made publicly with Yeshua, the One responsible for saving my life and leading me into wholeness.  It combines brilliant color, beautiful photography, and the Christian scriptures in the dialogue between my God and me.   I loved not only the writing process but the artistic design as well. The book ends with this poem:

Surrender

I inhale the salty-fresh scent

Of Your nearness

And feel the fine sand-smoothness

Of Your touch upon my skin

The sweet tendrils of Your desire

Beckon me to come

And be surrounded

Filled

Overcome

With the spacious sea

That is Your heart for me

 

Your soft rolling voice

Bids me nearer

I shed my skin and dive

Into the cool liquid longing

Of Your passion

 

Floating

Swimming, swimming, swimming

Finally sinking

Into the ocean

Of Your perfect love.

Writing-Is-The-Painting

Writing for me is not an activity I engage in.  It is the way I live.  In the last few years I have also begun to explore art journaling and painting as a part of my life’s expression.  I have never written or painted for any audience, but as part of my own healing journey and discipline of self-care.  I have come to realize that these expressions bring others hope and inspiration and am endeavoring to share them as a wounded healer with a passion to encourage others on their journeys into wholeness.

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Living from Your Passion

Angry-woman

What makes you really mad?

What do you do with that anger?  Especially as a woman, you may tell yourself that it is NOT okay to feel anger.  But what would you say if I told you that your anger is IMPORTANT?

That’s right.  Important.

Without your anger, the world just might be a darker place.

I’ll tell you what makes me mad.  When I hear about the Catholic Church and other organizations that are spending millions of dollars fighting Statute of Limitations reforms to keep abuse victims from being able to seek justice, my blood starts boiling.  I get pissed and my voice rises.  I climb on my soap box to anyone who is willing to listen.  Fighting SOL reform is not right!  (Learn more here)

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I used to think that getting good and mad about anything was dangerous.  I had a hard time letting myself feel anger deeply, or much of anything else for that matter.  I was afraid of my feelings; of living from the deep passions of my heart.  Instead, I allowed fear to snuff the flames of my fervor. Sometimes Instead of listening to what I know to be true inside me, I allow my fear of rejection to quench my strong feelings about things.

It started when I was very young.   When my grandfather did some horrible things to me at the age of three, I knew already that I could not tell anyone what I was feeling.  By four, when my uncle continued the abuse, I shut myself up in my closet one day and told the “bad, dirty girl” that held these memories to stay there.  She could NEVER come out and certainly not EVER tell anyone about the pain she felt.

little-girl-in-corner

Instead of learning to live from my heart, I learned to disconnect from it.

A big part of my healing process has been to reconnect to my passions.  As I write and speak and work with others on their journey into wholeness, I am learning how to be fully present.  And that means I am learning how to feel deeply, containing those feelings and channeling that emotion into a productive course.  Instead of tucking tail and slinking into a corner, I have made a conscious decision to take my passion and change the world.

Are there days when my fear raises its ugly head and slows me down?  Absolutely.  But I have determined that I WILL live from my passion so I know that each battle will eventually be won.  I won’t have it any other way.

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When I hear about another idiotic Statute Of Limitations fight, I use my voice.  I sign petitions and encourage my friends to as well.  I make comments on articles and blogs.  I write letters and make phone calls.  I will not be silent.

As I plan my work and my time, I seek solitude and center myself in loving connection to my Creator and endeavor to be fully present to the person He made me to be. and then I endeavor to let all I do flow from the depths of my heart.

live-with-passion

There are two things that are helping me to ascertain what my passions are at the moment.  I am taking a course called Message to Money with Marisa Murgatroyd.  Some of the questions she asks are:

  • What was it that kept you up at night, dreaming and scheming and planning?

  • What was it that got you so excited?

  • Were you angry at the status-quo in some particular field and wanted to change it?

  • What was your lowest point or greatest challenge?

  • What big problem do you have a solution for?

The answers to these questions could help you clarify exactly what your passion is.

The other resource that is a great help is a book called Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia.  In the chapter called Desires, he asks:

  • As you read or hear about the news of the day, what recent current affairs bring a tear of empathy or joy to your eye, and what frightens, appalls or concerns you about one such real-life situation?

  • As you think back to your childhood, what experiences did you have that taught you- for good or ill- how to respond to the needs of others…  How have these experiences affected the way your longings and values have been shaped today?

  • What are the deepest desires and longings of your heart today?  Without reservation, list all that come to your heart and mind…

  • What matters most to you today?  Without discrimination, list all that matter most to you- don’t hold back.

  • Are your desires and core values in congruence with the way you are currently living?  What would need to change in order for you to fully attend to your core values and the deepest desires of your heart?

What is holding you back from living from your passion?  It is only as we connect deeply and strongly to that passion that we are able to make our mark on the world.  We were created to live from our hearts in ways that transform the world around us.  When we fail to do that, we neglect to give the gift that only we can offer.

Click here to subscribe to Free to Thrive, Misa’s email newsletter

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The Lost Art of Connecting

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“Loneliness is the most common ailment in the modern world.”    

                                                –Shimi Cohen                                          

If you could change anything in the world, what would it be?

Creating world peace, stopping child abuse, ending human trafficking, and obliterating poverty are all high on many people’s lists.

If you could teach everyone how to have bonded, joyful connections with others, you would go a long way to changing all of those things.  Mother Teresa says, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

Mara is married with 3 young children.  She rarely has 3 minutes to gather her thoughts, constantly occupied with the needs of her family.  Almost never alone, Mara has this gnawing ache for something more.

Jim is single.  He keeps himself busy with work and the gym.  He has a great theater system in his living room and often invites the guys over for football parties.  But at night when he goes to bed, in the morning as he takes a shower, and on the drive to work there is an uncomfortable feeling inside that he can’t put words to.

Randi has been in and out of relationships.  Right now, she is alone by choice.  She loves the time to do what she wants to do without having to consult someone else.  She likes to explore new places and try daring things.  She wants companionship sometimes, but enjoys having peace and quiet too.  But there are times that she just feels, well, lonely.

Loneliness.  It’s the great ache of the 21st century.

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With all of the opportunity to “connect” online through social media, texting, skype, and cell phone calls, you’d think people would have more vital and life-giving relationships than ever before.  But just the opposite is true.

Secure, healthy, intimate relationships are a rare commodity in our society.  While people are sending more words than ever through the cloud, they are communicating in ways that do not result in bonded relationships.

cloud electronics

Kendra Cheri writes in her article, Loneliness: Causes, Effects, and Treatments of Loneliness, “While common definitions of loneliness describe it as a state of solitude or being alone, loneliness is actually a state of mind. Loneliness causes people to feel empty, alone and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people.”

The problem is not about being able to say or type words but about being able to communicate from the heart in appropriately vulnerable ways.  It is about not being able to live in a community of securely attached relationships.

So what is getting in the way of creating authentic, healthy bonds?  There is a litany of answers, all competing for our time, attention, and money, but few seem to deliver long-term results.

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There are many things that keep people from feeling vitally connected to other people.  Genetics can be an issue as depression, isolation, and other emotional struggles do have a cellular influence.  Sometimes people develop fears of becoming vulnerable and are unable to risk being known because they do not have the strength to deal with possible rejection.  Child abuse is a common precursor to depression and isolation along with many mental disorders.  Addictions play into the mix, whether the source is chemicals, sex, relationships, internet, work, food, or other things.

 

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The ability to create healthy, intimate bonds with others is supposed to be developed in early childhood.   When parents know how to meet the needs of their children in the first years of their lives, those children grow up with the brain skills that allow them to share joy, soothe themselves, rest, and return to joy after being upset.  They are able to trust and know when it is safe to be vulnerable.  Their emotions do not overwhelm them because they have been taught how to feel them and then contain them in healthy ways.

Instead of receiving those important skills, most children are left to themselves to try to figure out the challenging stuff of relationships.  They develop survival skills to help them deal with less than ideal circumstances.  Often, they unconsciously embrace false beliefs about themselves, others, and the world around them.   These beliefs very often keep them from being able to interact with others in ways that allow them to create joyful bonds.  Fear of abandonment and rejection and lack of self-acceptance fuel the thought patterns that prevent appropriate trust and vulnerability.

The ability to create life-giving joy bonds is becoming a lost art.   Whatever the reasons that these skills have not been developed, the fact is that we cannot afford to lose them as a society.  The ability to attach securely to safe others around us is vital to our survival, personally and on a global level.

Many may sense that they are wired to live in community and have a desire for healthy, intimate relationships.  The good news is that these skills can be learned!  They can be taught to find new ways of connecting; ways that bring life and joy.  They can become aware of the patterns that are not working and step out courageously to learn appropriate vulnerability.  They can start to let go of the ways that have not worked and set and receive healthy boundaries with others.  New skills can be learned for creating secure attachments and new communication techniques can be forged to support those attachments.  Most importantly, people can learn how to give and receive love and embrace all of themselves unconditionally.

While it doesn’t happen in a day or even a month, the outcome is well worth the work.  Living in securely bonded, joyful relationships is the stuff of our deepest longings. Perhaps it is time to begin the journey.

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Misa Leonessa Garavaglia is a Transformation Life Coach, Spiritual Director, author, and speaker specializing in relationships, spiritual growth, and trauma recovery. She is the producer and host of Beyond Abuse Radio and creator and facilitator of Living from the Heart, a nine month program focused on building authentic relationships.  She will be conducting a four-hour workshop on Creating Healthy Connections August 2nd in Scotts Valley, California.

Sneak Peek: Addiction Series Coming Up

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A lot is known about the mechanics of addiction these days, yet addictive lifestyles are becoming more common.  There are many approaches to breaking addictions and plenty of recovery programs out there.  What is working, what is not, and why?  What is the path from childhood trauma to addiction and why is it so well worn?  We hear a lot about chemical addiction but what about food addiction, relationship addiction, sexual addiction, and computer addictions?

The cost of addictions in personal lives and to society is huge.  They affect relationships, physical and mental health, jobs, finances…there is nothing left untouched.  I know the cost personally, as my father left my mother after 20 years of marriage and multiple affairs and then died 10 years ago from alcoholism.

Medicating yourself is a common outcome of child abuse.  Whatever your “substance of choice” is (mine is sugar), you use it help alleviate your pain and fear.  It seems better than feeling the intolerable feelings inside and seems like a good choice at the time…or at least a way to survive.

addictions- recovery of a lifetime

Mike Reis and son, football hero Chris Reis, have written a book called Recovery of a Lifetime about their odyssey out of addictive family patterns.  Chris’s choices inspired a turnaround in his father’s life and now they speak candidly about their history and how faith has played a role in their healing.  Mike grew up the son of a boozing father and a teenage mother.  He was sexually abused and terrorized by his grandmother and discovered sex at an early age.  He numbed his emotional pain with alcohol.  After he married, extra-marital trysts and all-night drinking escapades were not uncommon.  One of his affairs led to the destruction of his first marriage and left two preschool-aged sons without a father in the home.

Many never recover from a life-long addiction to sex and alcohol,.  My father was one of those people.  Mike and Chris’ story has a happier ending.

The truth is you have options.  Whether your struggle is with drugs or porn, gaming or sugar, you are fighting the same thing.  How do you deal with your pain?  You live in a culture that teaches you that pain is the ultimate evil- to be avoided at all costs.  Rather than seeing the pain you are perpetuating in the addiction cycle, you tell yourself the half-truth that your chosen substance will make you feel better. And it does…for awhile.  Until it begins to destroy you.  And then you have another choice to make.

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There are all sorts of programs and interventions for treating addiction.  Some things work for some people and not others.  There is not a formula.

Some of the topics we will be covering in the radio series are:

  • The different approaches to addiction recovery- what is working and why
  • The well-worn path from child abuse to addiction
  • The high cost of addiction
  • Overcoming specific addictions such as relationship addiction, sexual addiction, food addition, and chemical addiction
  • Overcoming BEEPS -“An attachment to a Behavior, Event, Experience, Person or Substance that is used to regulate emotion, increase pleasure or decrease Pain,” and learning how to create relational joy

One thing we know for sure is that until you address the root cause of your pain, your battle with addiction will be in vain.  Without dealing with the root cause, it;s like sticking your finger in the dyke- it works until you run out of fingers.  As long as the pain is not dealt with, the addiction will find a new pathway and burst forth again.  you have two choices.  Walk through the healing, or be destroyed by the addiction.  There are no other paths.  You fool yourself if you think you can “just not do it,” without doing the hard work of healing.

Addiction love you dad

My father quit drinking for a year or two after he nearly died.   By then he had destroyed all of his relationships.  Even the glorious garden that was the one place he produced life and beauty withered away.

Sometimes I wonder what his life could have been if he had been willing to face his pain head on.  Apart from the sex and alcohol addictions, he may have been a really wonderful man.  Perhaps he would have used his gift of humor to encourage and uplift instead of to tear down and humiliate.  It is possible that his incredible creativity and inventiveness would have found an outlet in his career.  Maybe his first or even his second marriage would have been a place of love and joy.  And wouldn’t it have been amazing if he could have been a father and grandfather that loved and blessed those who so wanted him to impart life to them.

I understand how hard it is to face your pain.  But the choice is worth it, beloved.  On this Father’s Day weekend, I choose to honor my dad through this:  You have options.  Healing is there for the taking.  There is so much hope.

I hope you will join us for a closer look at addictions and be inspired to make the courageous choices to walk into the thriving life that awaits you.

 

 

Healing the Inner Child

inner-child adult baby hands 2-14 As I tried to think of a title for this article, I had a little battle going on inside my head.  While part of me was trying to be creative, another part wanted me to be logical.  Yet another part was just critical of all the ideas anyone else came up with.  And then someone said, “I’m ready to play, let’s take a break!”  Sometimes it’s amazing that we get anything done.

There are times when the voices inside get so loud it can be hard for us to hear the quiet, loving voice of God.  Sometimes we may even mistake those voices for the voice of Truth.

Mary Steege writes in her book, The Spirit-Led Life, “This kind of internal dialogue is not the exception, it’s the rule.  It isn’t specific to those who experience traumatic events of childhood neglect, nor is it unique to the realm of the mentally ill…it is the norm in human makeup.  It’s not pathology; it’s part of being human.  It’s who we are; it’s how we come.”  According to Internal Family Systems, having parts is not the problem.   The only problem comes when those parts become shut down or try to take over.  Then we either lose a very important piece of our self or chaos reigns.

IFS The-Spirit-Led-Life-Book-Cover   How often do we try to exile a wounded little part of our self?  It is so much easier to blame them, shame them, or just make them go away than it is to give them a safe place to tell their stories.  Isn’t it the way with all relationships?  When someone is hurting and not handling that pain in the most mature and healthy way, it is difficult to stay present and listen without judgment.  Yet that is exactly what we need to learn to do with those voices inside.  You see, they need to be loved.

They are us.  WE need to be loved.  So we have some choices.  We can continue to reject our own parts and look to another to be the voice of the good, loving parent.  Been there.  Done that.  It didn’t work very well.  In the first place, it opens us up to becoming dependent and vulnerable in ways that can easily be unhealthy.  In the second place, we cannot REALLY receive someone else’s love until we decide that our own parts are WORTHY of being loved.  As long as we continue to shut them down or shut them up, we will have a battle inside.  We will not be able to open our self to the love of another or the love of God because we are functioning from the belief that we do not deserve to be loved…at least that “bad” part doesn’t.

inner child squabble 2-14   When we do not allow our parts to have a safe, loving environment in which heal, we become our own abuser.  We take over where a previous abuser may have left off.  Mired in the belief that we are bad and undeserving of good things, we perpetuate the cycle of victimization upon our self.  When someone else comes along and treats us that way, it mirrors the inner beliefs we hold and thus we find it acceptable.  Maybe even comfortable.  Even if it does hurt.

How do we move out of that pattern?

That has been the topic for the last 8 episodes of Beyond Abuse Radio.  We have been talking about lots of tools and theories to help us heal those inner children.    Mike Garner joined us for two episodes sharing the technique he has developed to help the “inner kids.”  First he shares about the technique and how it works and then, on the second show, he actually brings someone on and does a role play to demonstrate it.  You can listen to them here and here.

On two of the episodes we discuss a couple of tools that are specifically prayer based.  One is called Theophostic Prayer Ministry (listen here) and Share Immanuel with Chris and Jen Coursey (here), two things that I use in my practice and on myself.  Both focus on inviting God into the conversation and asking Him to show us our false belief system and then speak His truth to us.

We also were privileged to have two master therapists on the program to share the tools of their choice in addressing our inner wounded parts.  Juanita Ryan talked about Integrating our Fragmented Pieces (right here) and Donelyn Miller did a show on EMDR( listen here).

Last night’s show was nothing short of life-giving.  Mary Steege talked about Internal Family Systems and the way this tool is being used for healing not only of individuals but in communities as well.  You can find that show here.

Whew!  It has been an amazing series, and we’re not even done yet.  Coming up are two more episodes with even MORE tools.  Matt and Fawn Bradley will be talking about Attachment Treatment (June 26th) and then Fawn will be with us again to discuss Neurological Reorganization (July 10th).

All this is to say that you are NOT ALONE!  We all have inner conflict to some extent and there are so many ways to help us find peace and wholeness.  The goal is to learn how to heal the internal polarizations inside and bring all of our parts into harmonious relationship.  We can create an environment of love, acceptance, and good communication, becoming our own good parent.  We can learn the skills that perhaps were not modeled for us when we were young.  We can stop listening to the false beliefs inside and start a new pattern of unconditional love and acceptance for our self.  And maybe, just maybe, it will flow through us into the lives of our loved ones around us. Inner child fairy 2-14   Is it time to find a new way to relate to yourself and others?  Listening to this series might help you explore the tools and support to do just that.

Another resource is the four hour, low-cost workshop I will be doing in Scotts Valley on August 2nd called Creating Healthy Connections.  It’s all about helping you to move into thriving connection with yourself, others, and God.  Find new options and resources to help you learn communication skills to create healthy intimacy, know when to choose to trust, understand skills for creating secure attachments, and more.  You can learn more here.

If you are ready to move beyond survival and thrive you might want to check out the Living from the Heart course. You can fill those longings for deep, authentic relationships and spiritual depth as you grow in your awareness of what motivates and restricts your thinking, feelings, and actions.  This course will move you beyond self-protective patterns into relating heart to heart.  It is nine months full of weekly instruction, group coaching, and daily exercises providing that safe place to heal from the past and build the thriving relationships you were created for.  You can find out more on this page.   Blue hearts butterfly 8-1

A Half Century Celebration

 

 

50 cake 6-14

 

50 years ago, my mother birthed me in an ambulance at a traffic signal in San Jose. She always told me that the reason I cried a lot as a kid was due to my entrance into the world. The siren was screaming. She was screaming. And the ambulance attendant who had never before delivered a baby was screaming. She thought it only natural that I would scream, as well. And then I kept on screaming.

In truth, there were other reasons I screamed as a kid. Lots of them. There were many people who did horrible things to me, and there was nowhere to unburden my soul and speak my truth about what was happening to me. So I cried. A lot.

Then I stopped crying. That was the place people SHOULD have been concerned. I put most of the memories out of my head and became the adept manager and administrator that everyone needed me to be.

All the while, there were multiple volcanoes brewing inside. But I continued to put one foot in front of the other, marching to the unconscious mantra of survival. Forget. Deny. Minimize. Stay busy. Work harder. Perform better. And it worked. For awhile.

It All Fell Apart

Then it all fell apart. My pieces fell into the laps of a couple of people who wanted to help me and thought they knew what I needed. Unfortunately, they were less than half right. The half that was wrong nearly destroyed me. I survived severe emotional, sexual, and physical abuse as a child. I was good at survival. But I very nearly didn’t survive this.

I landed in a program called Life Skills where I spent 3 years finding my fractured self and sewing it together. In the process I learned that I could admit the horrible truths of the reality I grew up with and that we are all a complicated mixture of light and dark. I learned that trust is not an all or nothing choice.

We all have places where we are not completely trustworthy. And some have more of those places than others. I have come to trust myself more and more to discern where people fall on that scale. I also learned that God and I are the only experts on me. No one else can see me from the inside. No one else can be the all knowing good parent that every child must believe in.

There is something I CAN believe in, though. I can believe in a good God who took care of me through things most people don’t even want to think about. I used to get hung up on how a good God could let me go through those things. Now, my picture of a good God is much bigger than one who intervenes in evil expressions of human will.

My good God is so big and so good that He is able to take that evil and transform it into life. He values my free choice to receive His love and love Him right back so very much, that He will let bad things happen and then He will amaze the world by pulling the ultimate rabbit out of a hat. He brings light where there was only darkness and joy where there is no rational reason for its existence. He brings comfort and compassion into the black holes of wounded and confused souls. And then, like a cherry on top, He turns it all around into arms and hands and a heart who can help others look honestly at their own pain and find hope in the midst of it.

My story is not finished yet. But the first 50 years only pave the way to the next glorious 20 or 30 or 40. I celebrate a half century of life, knowing that the person I am becoming is worth every bit of what it has taken to get here. I have a big hope. And a big God. And that’s enough for me.

Blue hearts butterfly 8-1

Sexual Healing and Wholeness

 sexuality holding hands 1-14

Developing a healthy perspective on sexuality seems to be a difficult task in the world we live in.  Understanding what sexual wholeness even looks like has become confusing given the cultural standards that we are surrounded by.  Sex is on the minds and lips of most everyone these days.  But how do we define healthy sexuality?  And what if we have been sexually abused as a child or an adult?  It makes the task of understanding that picture even more difficult.

Wendy Maltz, author of The Sexual Healing Journey says, “It’s almost as if we don’t see the word SEX in the phrase sexual abuse, but sexual abuse DOES cause sexual harm…survivors of sexual abuse have to overcome the damage of the past and to build their own, new models of sexuality based on a sense of choice, renewed self-respect, and a commitment to emotional intimacy.”

Just how does one overcome that damage and build a new model?  This has been the subject for the last six episodes of Beyond Abuse Radio.  The topic of healing our sexuality has many components and the process is a challenging one.

Sexual brokenness keeps us from thriving, intimate relationships.  Instead of being able to connect in authentic, transparent and tender ways with another, we may respond out of fear and self-protection.  Unable to peel back the layers and become vulnerable, we experience sex apart from bonding, or perhaps shut down our sexual feelings altogether.

Because our sexuality is deeply rooted within each of us, a violation of our sexuality also affects us deeply.  It touches every area of our lives, including our thought processes, belief systems, relationships, spirituality, and even our genetics according to the latest research.  The younger we are when that violation takes place and the longer it lasts, the more profound the effects.

sexuality finger people 1-14

Sex addiction is the disease of our age.  There are 68 million requests per day for pornography on internet search engines and 372 million porn websites available.  Aberrant sexual practices are on the rise.  No longer primarily a male issue, one out of every five WOMEN struggles with pornography addiction and of those, 80% act out their behaviors in real life.  Anonymous sex, exhibitionist activities, self-destructive acts, and sexual violence are becoming common place

We hear a lot about what sexual brokenness looks like.  What is a picture of sexual wholeness?  The characteristics of a sexually healthy adult cover a lot of territory.  According to an article published by the Minnesota Department of Health , “sexual health includes emotional, psychological, physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions.”  They provide an extensive list of the many aspects of life that are part of sexuality, including communication, self-esteem, education, values, and body integrity.

Many of us experienced negative impressions about our sexuality from religious sources.  This is not uncommon, unfortunately.   Most people experience a split between sexuality and spirituality.  The truth is, beloved, that we were created for vital human attachment, and that is a deeply spiritual thing.  The deeper truth is that our positive earthly sexual experiences are just a rehearsal for something even better…an incredible bond with a living God.  Sex is more than a coping mechanism.  It is more than a way to bond with another human.  It is actually a sign of the Divine.  It IS possible to be intensely spiritual and intensely sexual at the same time.

Sexuality heart candle 1-14

How we see ourselves sexually and how we relate to others based on that lays the foundation for all of our relationships.  When we are told or shown that our sexuality is a shameful thing, something that will hurt us, or a tool to use to control others, we can miss out on one of the greatest gifts to humankind.  It is my hope and my heart that you will live more and more from the pure passion that expresses itself in a strong and truthful picture of who you are as a physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual being and that it will help you to create the honest, intimate, and life-giving relationships that you were intended to have.

Though each of our stories differ, the hope that we can lay ahold of remains the same.  We have options to fill our desires to try to meet our perceived needs in our limited resources or to bring those needs to the One who knows our deepest hearts’ desires and allow Him to work His will through His perfect love in our lives.  I believe that as we pay attention to what we REALLY want, what will most fill us up with real life, we will indeed find it.  Because NOTHING is impossible with God!

I hope you will explore the awesome interviews and great resources we have made available to you in the radio series, Healing Our Sexuality, and learn more about sexual wholeness.  You were made to thrive and it is our goal to help you do just that.  Take a look at the episode list here and click on any of the links to listen in or download the show as a podcast.

 

Physical Self-Care in Trauma Recovery

Trauma Release Through Exercise

When going through trauma it is not unusual for your body to react to the stress. It has become common knowledge that the mind, body and spirit are not separate entities that respond in isolation to one another. Emotional trauma will strongly impact the body and spirit, just as trauma in the body or spirit will impact the others. When you take a fall and break a bone or have surgery, your emotions come along for the ride! One cannot have a baby and not have a profound emotional and spiritual experience along with the physical act of giving birth.

If you have been physically or sexually abused, you may have learned how to separate yourself from your physical feelings. You may hardly notice when you are tired or hungry or something is hurting. On the other hand, you may be intensely sensitive to physical changes. Being attentive to your body is an important step in self care. Learning to give your body what it needs is one way to honor yourself. Exercise is one of the most important needs your body has when dealing with trauma. Take a break and go for a walk when stress threatens to overwhelm you. Go to the gym and be part of a class. It may be hard to get up and move while you are dealing with trauma, but physical exercise actually helps release the trauma that is held in your body on a cellular level.

Stress Stored in the Body

Business and life coach Malcom Avner writes, “When humans experience a traumatic situation, the body’s nervous system initiates an energetic infusion to fuel a genetically encoded physical defense response. If not expressed and released, the energy generated by traumatic experience is stored at the cellular level. The stored energy generates an ongoing loop of mind/body self-defense reactions. Trauma Release Exercises are a set of physical exercises designed to address and release deep-seated, unexpressed energy that originated in past experiences of physical or psychological trauma.”

For those who are avid exercisers, don’t be surprised if you need to slow your workouts down for a time. Your body needs energy to process your grief. Sometimes people avoid their feelings by driving themselves too hard physically. Be aware of your tendency to overwork, as well. Allowing yourself to exercise appropriately will help your process tremendously. Another area to be conscious of is rest.

Massage helps de-stress the body and can be beneficial for trauma release.

Massage helps de-stress the body and can be beneficial for trauma release.

Connecting to the Body, Connecting to the Heart

When you are trying to avoid painful feelings or memories, it is easy to drive yourself hard. You can do that through work, studying, and even playing. Keeping your mind and body busy enables you to be disconnected from the heart that may contain things you don’t want to feel.

If you have decided that it is time to live fully and put to rest the thought patterns and relational dysfunctions that are keeping you from authentic living, then connecting with that heart is crucial. Giving yourself permission to rest is part of that picture. When you need rest, make some time for a nap, or just lay down for awhile even if you don’t go to sleep. Turn off the TV and computer and turn on some soothing music. Take a hot bath, read a book, or drink a cup of tea. Build a fire or light a candle. Tell yourself that you are worth taking care of!

Joyce O. Beckett writes in an article on Silver Planet, “You may need to determine what relaxes and re-energizes you. It may be an evening with friends, a long walk, a ball game, exercise, a religious service, sitting by a lake, or reading a good book…Whatever self-care activity you select, it is important to regularly schedule the time. Place it in your personal calendar and set alarms to remind you. Then, protect that time by telling yourself and others: “I have an important, standard appointment that I cannot cancel; I am unavailable for anything else.

You're worth it!

You Deserve It!

Paying attention to the needs of your body is one way to communicate love and acceptance to yourself. Underneath your struggle with self-care may be a belief that you are not worth taking care of, or that your body is the enemy that betrayed you. Becoming aware of the emotional blocks that keep you from being connected to, and kind to, your body can help you move through your resistance to learning great self-care. Maybe it’s time to replace those beliefs with the truth: You deserve it. Really, you do.