Dealing with unmet expectations

Several years ago, I had a conversation with my boss where I asked if he could take 10-15 minutes once a month to check in on me, as I found it difficult to ask for help in the moment. Without flinching, he said he couldn’t guarantee anything. I left the conversation in disbelief and anger. I thought I had a completely realistic expectation of a leader, and he shut me down.

I stayed angry for a while, but then I realized something. If I truly had a need, I was responsible to meet it. No matter how reasonable my expectation was, I could not force the other person to fulfill it. I had to find another way.

This is not an isolated event. It’s happened numerous times where I had what I thought were completely realistic expectations of others, only to realize – sometimes painfully – that they were not willing or able to fulfill them. Of course, I could keep pushing, but it is an exercise in futility guaranteed to cause further frustration (and who knows, maybe permanent damage). I’m a slow learner it seems, because I have to keep reminding myself to take responsibility for my own needs and get creative in making things happen. In the scenario above, it was as simple as finding other people I could talk to when I needed help.

What about you? Have you found yourself in a similar position? What do you need to do about it?

Looking for magic, finding the ordinary

The cursor blinked rapidly as I stared at my laptop screen. As much as I tried to keep going, I knew I’d hit a roadblock and needed a break. Anxious that I was wasting time, but knowing that sitting there longer wouldn’t change things, I left the apartment to go for a walk. They had helped me overcome roadblocks in the past, maybe they would again. Sure enough, shortly into my walk, things clicked and the ideas began flowing again.

I felt my tiredness begin to show when my temper shortened and my levels of irritation seemed to skyrocket. I think I managed to keep my thoughts in my head most of the time, but I doubt I hid all my facial expressions successfully. I thought of what I could do to find the rest and rejuvenation I needed, but nothing seemed to present itself as a solution. I decided to take some days off anyway to see if it would help. It had before, anyway. When I went back to the office, I still felt tired and afraid that it hadn’t done any good. However, as I set about my work and interacted with colleagues, my inner responses were much more gracious and things seemed different.

I share these two stories not to emphasize the need for self-care, important as it is, but to discuss something I’ve been thinking about lately: trusting the process. I find I often get stressed when I want a particular outcome, but I am not in control of all the variables to make it happen. Actually, I think that in life we control a lot less than we think we do. However, we can put ourselves in positions or create environments where if the outcome were to occur, it would happen there. That’s letting the process do the work.

Does a walk magically fix a mind in roadblock? No. But it does provide a physical and mental break from the work that allows the mind to reorient itself and the body to stretch out after sitting. Do days off miraculously fix anger and irritation? No. But they also provide that break that enables a release and reshuffling of everything going on inside. These are ordinary practices. While it seems my inner skeptic says every time that it isn’t going to work, it usually does. And I am learning to trust that process.

Navigating the in-between

I grew up in a world of binaries. In or out. Saved or damned. Black or white. Right or wrong. Heart or mind. Theory or practice. The institutions and authorities taught me how these either/or options sufficiently explained the world around me – places and people. I believed it. The certainty that was available in this approach supported my subconscious desire to avoid vulnerability.

For years, the only place I have felt truly able to engage my mind has been the academy. Not only did the academy push me to continually deepen my thinking, it supported the heart/mind disconnection. A total comfort zone for me. So, I suppose you can imagine my shock and dismay when precisely the place that had enabled my inner dichotomy was where it was challenged most.

I took the curriculum-as-living-inquiry elective for my masters because my first choice was not available. I knew the philosophical, reflexive approach would drive me crazy, but I didn’t think the other options were any better. I resolved to appreciate the challenge. Maybe I would learn something new.

I lost count of the number of times my eyes rolled as I read articles about humanness and heart in education, lived curriculum, poetic inquiry, ecological identity and métissage. It seemed I was looking at an abstract painting I did not understand. I wondered half-seriously if the writers had been high when they wrote their pieces. I mean, really, what place did these things have in the academy I had grown to know and love? The place – the only place – where my mind was nourished, and my heart was inconsequential? Was this its betrayal?

I wrestled for weeks with the two morning devotions I had to prepare. My own devotional life had been a struggle for some time. While I could hear past spiritual teachers in my mind saying, “If you don’t have an hour a day to spend in Bible study, I can’t help you”, it just did not work for me anymore. It seemed I was only hearing God clearly when I was going for a walk by the water, yet I felt such guilt for not fitting the mould. What could I say that did not require me to abdicate authenticity and integrity, pretending I was in a place I clearly was not? The answer came to me on one of my walks.

As much as a part of me holds on to my childhood world of binaries, I realized that for some time I have been living in-between, in a place of tension. Studying Aoki’s curriculum-as-plan and curriculum-as-lived, Pinar’s currere, and rhizocurriculum based on ideas from Deleuze and Guattari spoke not just to my practice, but to my personhood. The plan (binaries, rigid theology and practice) had been disrupted by the lived (my experiences and interactions with others). Though the plan sought to segment and cut-off lived experiences, like a plant’s rhizomes, they popped up elsewhere, prompting a continued consideration. Currere asked for connections between past experiences, future potentialities and present realities, positioning them within a wider political and cultural context. Who is served by maintaining a binary approach to life?

In all of this, I was drawn to Parker Palmer’s discussion of disconnectedness and wholeness. Separating practice and personhood in my devotion would be an attempt once again to avoid vulnerability, except this time the desire was not excused in the subconscious. The benefit of maintaining the binary was avoiding the uncertainty of vulnerability, yes, but at the cost of personal fragmentation and violence. A much higher price, in my estimation. The devotion suddenly came together.

Though I thought the academy had betrayed me, it had actually been a good friend. It had wounded me in the service of an ultimately good end – my integrity. A life whole and undivided. I am not there yet, but I am also not where I was. I am in-between.

Journey to the Eternal: Second Edition

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Journey to the Eternal, First Edition, 2009

It has been almost ten years since I published the first edition of my poetry book, Journey to the Eternal.

A lot has happened in my life since then. I moved overseas and back again. I changed jobs multiple times. I came to terms with having depression and was healed, only to have it come back again. I dealt with an abusive relationship from my teenaged years. I finished and started new academic degrees. I made friends and said goodbyes.

journey to the eternal second ed cover.PNG

Journey to the Eternal, Second Edition, 2018

I could go on, but you get the idea. Life is full of change.  One thing that has remained the same is God, and the eternal hope I have through faith. That has carried me through the past ten years and will do so into the future.

In this edition, I have included more than 30 new poems. Like before, they contain a mixture of all sorts of things – hope, pain, confusion, sadness, joy, death, life and opportunity. My hope is that you are able to find some of the release and meaning I had in writing them.

Your fellow pilgrim,

Tami

 

Journey to the Eternal (second edition) is now available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback. Click here for a free preview!

How to Deal with The Cat that Came Back: A Life with Depression

I remember listening to a children’s song when I was young about a cat that always came back, no matter how much you tried to get rid of it. In the Fred Penner classic version, the chorus goes like this:

But the cat came back the very next day
The cat came back, they thought he was a goner
But the cat came back; he just couldn’t stay away

Though the song is about a literal cat, I find it serves as an apt metaphor for other things in life. A cat that I thought I had left behind recently came back. Its name is depression.

After a six-year battle with depression, with three and a half of those years on different kinds of medication and a variety of counselors, I was finally free. My doctor had titrated me off the medication and declared I no longer had depression. For the next number of months, I was afraid it would come back every time I had a hard day or something bad happened. But it didn’t. The cat was a goner! At least I thought it was.

Four years depression-free came to a crashing halt at the end of 2017. I had been feeling off for a while but thought it would pass like all the other times. The feeling persisted, despite my best efforts to address it through engaging projects, extracurricular activities, time with friends, and prayer. I still didn’t think it was a big deal until the suicidal thoughts crept into my mind. It was then that I knew I needed help.

I felt like I had failed and was going backwards in life, especially as this turbulent time coincided with my 30th birthday. Why couldn’t I have things together like everyone else? Of course, now it is easy to see the lies in that question, but at the time it was a real struggle. I talked with my family and they encouraged me to see my doctor. He prescribed the same medication I had been on before and met with me until I stabilized. I’m grateful that medication works for me, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy road. I’ve had to continuously deal with a lack of motivation, tiredness, and self-defeating thought patterns. Sometimes I ask God why he couldn’t have given me a dog instead of a cat. Despite these struggles and the unknown ahead, I have been discovering ways to deal with my cat that came back. Here’s what I’ve learned that I can pass on to you.

  1. Though the cat may eventually leave, accept that it is here at the moment.

Fighting against reality makes dealing with it impossible. Trying to say the cat isn’t there, or that it isn’t affecting you, actually gives it more power. Accept the presence of the cat for the moment. This doesn’t mean you want it to stay, but it allows you to do what you need to do to address its presence.

  1. Take care of the cat. Feed it. Give it water. Empty the litter box. Buy a scratching post.

Once you’ve accepted the cat is with you for the moment, take care of it. Be kind to it and find out what your specific cat needs, which may be different than what other cats require. Healthy eating, regular exercise and time with other pets are all important, but easily neglected when you have a cat. You may need to see a veterinarian, or other cat specialist, too, but that does not mean you are weak in dealing with your cat. It means you are wise and strong.

  1. Talk about the cat with others. It could just be that they have cats, too.

Trying to hide the fact that you have a cat is fairly difficult. People who visit your place will probably see the cat hairs and furniture scratching. Lying about having a cat is exhausting. Although it is hard to be honest about your cat, when you are it is incredibly freeing. Not only will others be able to help you take care of your cat, you may find out that they have cats, too. Actually, having a cat is quite common, even though it seems everybody else has dogs or other cool pets that are way nicer than a cat.

I’m still hoping that my cat goes away. Until then, I’m going to practice acceptance of its presence, good cat care, and talking about the cat with people like you.

‘The Young One’? When Turning 30 Triggers an Identity Crisis

For almost my entire life, I have been the young one in the room. Since completing grades one and two in one year, I was the youngest in all my classes. This continued throughout my school years, with me being the youngest high school graduate.

Though I wasn’t the youngest at university, I was invited to participate in opportunities usually given to older, more experienced individuals. For example, my professor asked me to be his teaching assistant, when he had only ever asked Masters students in the past.

After studies, in my professional life, I often found myself invited into conversations with people decades older than me. I joined the organizational leadership team as the only one under 30, and the team I led had children my age. The opportunities seemed to keep coming.

Throughout these experiences, I felt valued and unique to be included with people who I viewed as wiser and more experienced than myself, especially when it involved leadership. I didn’t realize how much my identity had been rooted in being ‘the young one’ until I turned 30.

Turning 30 wasn’t just another birthday to me. It was a significant shift. I was no longer the only person in the room in their twenties. I was in a different decade, and I felt significantly older. My lifelong trend of being ‘the young one’ seemed to come to an abrupt end before my eyes. My identity crisis was officially triggered.

Now, those of you who have surpassed 30 may be rolling your eyes at this point and thinking that 30 is still young, wondering why I’m even talking about it. You’re right. Most people live into their 80s, at least in developed countries, so 30 is comparatively young. But I had made youth such a part of my identity that the little 2 changing to a 3 caused me to ask some deep questions. Am I still valued? What makes me unique now?

The easiest response to calm my fears and boost my self-esteem would have been to assure myself I am still at least one of the youngest people in the room. Objectively, one year doesn’t change much, and I can continue almost the same as before. However nice this may seem, I realized it was a short-term solution.

Eventually, I wouldn’t be 30. I would be 40, 50, 60, 70, or even 80. I would no longer be ‘the young one’ in the room with a crowd of people much older than myself, feeling special and valued because I’m young. I would be the older one. What would help me feel valued then?

Achievements? Promotions? Degrees? Relationships? Travels? I could fill the gap with all of these things, but they will also shift with time. The only thing that doesn’t change is God. I remember a line from an old church song: “on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” It’s true. If I place my value and my identity in my age, and how that compares with those around me, it will change, and it will shake me. If I place my identity in Christ, it will not change no matter what happens. But what does this really mean?

To be honest, it is something I am still learning. But I think the core of it is connected to these verses from Colossians 3:1-4 (NRSV):

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

My life is hidden with Christ in God. The more I pursue God, the more I will find myself. My value, my uniqueness, who I really am, it’s not something to do with my age, my job, my education, or even my family. It’s to do with who God is, because I am made in his image (Gen. 1:27). The journey now is for ‘the young one’ to keep becoming ‘Christ’s one’. That’s something I will continue to be beyond 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and even 80.

There, But Not Here: Bible and Culture in Conflict

“They offered me the role of pastor at my church,” my friend told me with a smile. Originally from South America, she had been serving as a missionary for many years in the Balkans. Continuing with a touch of resignation, she added, “but back home, when I started a vibrant church plant with my friend, the denomination took it over because it needed a male pastor.”

These stories are not uncommon. Women are sent into mission by churches who support them prayerfully and financially. They are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. They are received back into silence and submission. As long as they preach and teach away from home, it is not a problem. As soon as they come back, it is. Women are equal ‘there’, but not ‘here’.

I am not sure why this is the case. Maybe there is some sort of cultural superiority at play. Things apply differently to ‘them’ than to ‘us’. Maybe there are not enough men to go, so we compromise and let women do the job. Maybe it does not matter, as long as we are not seeing it. Maybe we have never thought about it.

Complementarians often point to passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12 to bolster their position that women should not be allowed to teach. In it Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” They assert that Paul’s instruction to Timothy was trans-cultural, and so should be applied in a similar way today, even though our context is different.

But the apparent double standard between a woman’s permissions at home versus in mission sends a confusing message. Are women really equal with men? Or are they not? Are women really permitted to engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men? Or are they not? It seems to me that if Paul’s exhortation was truly trans-cultural, then it would apply as equally in mission as it does at home.

A pastor once told me, “we’ll just call it a missional encouragement, not a sermon. That way no one will get upset.” I had taught and preached in a variety of settings around the world as a missionary, but at home, it was different. The inconsistency in application leads me to believe the real issue is our culture and comfort levels, not Biblical adherence. For whatever reason, people are not comfortable with women in positions of influence and authority, so we limit when and where it can happen. If it were anything else, would mere semantics put us at ease?

Either Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 are trans-cultural, or they are not. Either women can engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men, or they cannot. Either women are equal to men, or they are not. We cannot pick and choose in which geographic location Scripture applies.

God is using women in mission around the world. Many are hearing about Christ for the first time because of women. Churches are being planted because of women. Relief and development projects are thriving because of women. Justice is happening because of women. If it is okay ‘there’, but not ‘here’, ‘here’ is what is missing out. Women will always take advantage of opportunities and serve God however they can. Let us clarify our message: women, you are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. Everywhere.

Putting My Wounds Into God’s Service

This is the seventh of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

I am finally coming to the point where I am more comfortable talking about what happened. I want to use it as a source of healing for others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (MSG) sticks out to me.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort – we get a full measure of that, too.”

As I wrote this series, I really wondered whether there is anyone else out there who has experienced something similar. I doubted, but statistically, it was likely. I have already had a number of people reach out to me with similar experiences in the past few weeks. I’m saddened by how common this is, but I also have hope that each of us can experience healing.

When I was five years old, I had my appendix taken out. I remember how painful it was at first. My activities were restricted. I couldn’t go swimming, which I loved. After some time, the butterfly closures were removed, and I could slowly go back to normal. I still had to be careful, and I often noticed the angry red mark staring at me. Months and years went by, and the scar faded. Now, I hardly remember it’s there. This experience gives me continued hope of what can happen on an emotional level with my past experiences, and those who have experienced similar things.

Going forward, I know I will face new situations that bring up old wounds in new ways. I also know that as I pursue healing and wholeness in Christ, the scars will fade. Maybe one day I will hardly notice it at all, and it will simply be a mark of the past. Whatever happens, I know that just as God has been faithful in the journey so far, God will continue to be faithful into the future. May you have the same hope in your journey.

Trusting God Again

This is the sixth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

As I began meeting with my counsellor, it seemed the painful layers of what happened were being peeled back. More and more came to the surface that I didn’t know was there.  It was as if I was at the checkout in a store, about to pay for my item. Just before the payment was finalized, the price was increased. Over and over again. I didn’t think I had anything left to forgive, but suddenly I was angry. There was no clear-cut process to follow with a start and an end. It all felt so unfair. Dealing with everything was taking so much energy, and John was probably living his life as if nothing ever happened.

November 2016

I really struggled through counselling, and even kickboxing couldn’t get me out of my funk. I was crying out to God on the drive home – actual tears, swearing, etc. Why do I have to suffer because of someone else’s actions? It’s not fair! He’s fine and I’m still suffering. If it was my own bad choice I wouldn’t complain…Then I sensed God speak to me clearly that he understood, because that’s what the cross is all about. Jesus punished for sins he didn’t commit (ours). I was personally experiencing something of the cross. Somehow that calmed me down and gave me peace.

My counsellor’s specialty was biblical counselling, so she often connected what we talked about to Bible verses, and encouraged me in ways I could pray about the situation. I remember one meeting in particular where she told me I should pray boldly for justice. I didn’t want to because I didn’t believe there was any hope for it, and I thought if I focused too much on that, I would get angry again. I knew eventually he would experience the consequences of his actions, even if not in this life.

God doesn’t usually speak to me in dreams, but shortly afterward I dreamed as I hadn’t before. I was in my apartment and John was there too. Initially I was afraid, but he began to apologize. For the first time, he acknowledged what happened and was truly sorry for it. I began to weep uncontrollably. It felt like a massive release in my heart of all that had happened. When I woke up, I felt like I had been given a gift from God. Although none of the events in my dream have happened, I experienced some healing in a way that is hard to put into words.

In another meeting, my counsellor asked me if I had problems trusting God. Initially, I thought my trust problems were more with other people, but I realized I struggled to trust God, too. I didn’t blame God for what happened, but I still didn’t understand why it happened. I had gone into self-protection mode. Subconsciously I thought that if God wouldn’t or couldn’t protect me, I would do it myself. By putting up walls, avoiding vulnerability, and appropriating a high level of skepticism in my interactions, I was removing any possibility of being hurt again, as much as was in my power. In short, I was a control freak.

I was angry when my counsellor suggested my reactions were sinful and I needed to repent. I preferred to see them as opportunities for growth, because that didn’t engender feelings of contempt and dread, but rather opportunity and possibility. However, as I worked through the chapter on repentance in the Wounded Heart book, I realized she was right. I had confused repentance and penance. “Contempt (self- or other-centered) is the energy behind penance. It produces a sense of being downtrodden and worthless and leads eventually to rage and murderous hatred. The result is an unredemptive sorrow that is full of self-pity and despair” (p.206). But “genuine conviction of sin, on the other hand, leads to a softening of the heart that dispels other-centered contempt in the wake of the recognition that we are no better, at core, than those who have abused us. Self-contempt is Satan’s counterfeit for true conviction. Contempt attacks the perceived source of the problem to gain control and then attempts to regain relationship with others and God through penitent deeds. Conviction humbly recognizes the need for grace and embraces a sorrow that leads to life and sacrificial love” (p.206).

I knew I needed to call sin, sin, and not try to make it nicer. My attempt to control, to be in control, was trying to protect myself, rather than trusting God. It was an avoidance of vulnerability, which decreases my own life, and my ability to love God and others the way I was intended to. It was seeking comfort apart from God. It was sin. Sure, it came mostly out of being sinned against, but my reaction to that was still sin. I asked God for forgiveness again.

I wondered for some time what it meant to trust God if there was no guarantee I wouldn’t be hurt again. I realized that trusting God didn’t mean nothing bad would ever happen to me again. It meant that God was still good and still enough even if it did.

Dr. Dan B. Allender. 1990. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Admitting Weakness

This is the fifth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

I continued to struggle with an intense fear of vulnerability. Constantly questioning peoples’ motives was exhausting. As a youth worker, I was afraid that somehow even I might also be manipulating others, especially the teens I worked with. Two journal entries spaced nearly a year apart show continued struggles in my relationships.

May 2014

Sometimes I want so much to believe but I can’t.  What if it is not what it seems?  What if I’m being played again?  In reality that seems unrealistic.  I’m much older now and I should be able to spot it.  But all that caused me to doubt myself too.  In some ways I still feel like a child.  This is all so confusing.  When I think I’ve put it behind me, new situations bring it up again and cause me to experience it in a different way.  I can never escape it.  It’ll always be a part of me I guess.  Like you can’t erase your scars.  Sometimes that makes me really sad.  It’s hard to constantly experience new aspects of a painful past.

I think it’s also become a ‘role’ that is harder to trust.  People in Christian leadership, pastors, etc…they are hard to trust. 

March 2015

I realize again how scary it is to be vulnerable, even a little bit, and how hard it still is for me to trust people. I’m still experiencing the effects of what happened before. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free of it. Even with physical wounds the scar remains. I just wish it was easier. I don’t want others to pay for his mistakes, but the reality is that it still hurts sometimes and I’m still discovering the effects. I don’t really like thinking about it because it brings me down. It already took so much from me, and I don’t want it to take more, but maybe I have to face it again to move on. I’m sick of feeling down though. It feels like a rock and hard place…maybe I have to sacrifice short-term to benefit long-term.

Finally, in the summer of 2016, I had two breakthroughs. For the first time, when I shared my testimony with friends, I included the story of abuse. I was finally ready for it to lose its power over me. I had no need to be ashamed for someone else’s actions. I also went back to counselling. It took three years after I came off medication for depression. I was self-aware enough to see the continued effects of the abuse in my life, particularly an inability to trust, a skeptical nature, and self-doubt in my interactions, never knowing if there was cause for concern, or if I was just transferring past reactions to current situations. I knew I couldn’t fix it on my own. Even though I had been to counselling before, I still struggled with feeling like it was giving in to a weakness. I should have fixed things by now, or gotten strong enough to fix it myself. I had to convince myself that the only weakness would be believing I didn’t need help.