Sunday, April 27, 2008

Burden Bearing

The days tick by one by one, and the utter lack of any sign of help can almost lull you into feeling it's never going to change. It comes back over and over-- the small but blatant acts of vandalism, the discovery of items missing, the signs of identity theft when starting up online banking, the mail tampering, the crashes and loud bangs at night, the tampered cameras, the footprints, handprints, the sound of rocks suddenly striking the bedroom window at 4am, the cigarette smoke smell that sometimes filters into my room at night...and the fears of bodily harm while we sleep.

I try very hard to escape mentally from this. It may appear on the outside like everything is ok. I can still physically smile and laugh and hold a conversation about regular things. I can detach myself from the reality of this living nightmare for certain parts of the day by immersing myself in other pursuits, but the fact is, the momentary anesthetic of it never lasts. My burdens are always on my back-- my short stops to rest do no good to lift this great weight I carry. It is enough to crush me.

When there is no belief and no support from the people who have the job to support and protect, then what defense is left but to bear the brunt of the storm alone? In my weakness and my illness, when I've had nothing left physically or emotionally, I've compared myself to being a paper bag wrapped around my mom and grandma, trying to protect them from a tornado. This storm-- it just rips right through me-- right through all I have to offer.

To combat these feelings of being out of control, helpless, and panicked, I have to find a way to get through each day. My mind is either trying to figure out how to stop this or trying to figure out how to avoid dealing with it. My emotional crutch right now is distraction. It manifests itself in several ways-- primarily by focusing on projects, shows, research, movies, current events, meals, or other people. I will turn to anything, however mindless, that will allow my thoughts to focus on something else, anything else, but the horrific box that keeps narrowing and closing in on me. The only problem is, when the distraction is over, when the Bachelor ends at 11pm Monday night, then my burdens return, feeling heavier than before. Distraction is an imperfect art.

The way I handle problems probably isn't too healthy, if you were going to psychoanalyze me. When I have a major problem, I tend to get quiet about it, shut down, and sort it out internally over a long period of time. This presents a slight problem when the issue is chronic, however, because I'm constantly building up levels of pain that never seem to go down inside. I never have time to sort out and return to normal-- the assaults don't end.

My mom is the exact opposite, and so when you put the two of us together, she is trying to get me to talk, and I'm trying to get her to be quiet. We both desperately need a way to cope with the outrageous stress, and yet we both end up fueling the stress of the other. We are quite the pair.

Where do I go and what do I do with my faith through all this? Is it really true that I can have this yoke arrangement with Jesus and that he will help me bear my burdens? I've carefully considered that question many times over the past 2 years. I've come to the conclusion, through experience, that the answer is yes. However, I must not shut down on him too.

How is it that the one who can ease my burdens and help me walk through this is the same one I run away from when times get hard? Is it anger, resentment, or is it something more? I think the temptation to have my need for relief met the "quick and easy" way is so intoxicating. It is a way for me to exercise some form of control in a situation where I have long since been in over my head. It's a way for me to say that I will handle my pain THIS way, and that no one will tell me what I have to do or when I have to do it. The problem with this approach, though, is that it is a prideful breakdown in relationship communication with my Lord.

My relationship with Jesus is a personal one, much like what I have with a dear friend. He is my confidant, but when he waits for me to come and tell him how I feel each day --sometimes I just don't show up-- often racing by him to do what's on my agenda. When this happens, I have no chance to connect with him to get the strength I need. Without communication, there can't be intimacy, connection, or the chance to receive help, support, or comfort. It's sort of like a Facebook or Myspace friendship--just having my little Jesus icon on my list for show, but never putting any more effort into it than the initial decision to call him "friend."

Jesus warns me of this trap in one of my favorite passages, John 15:4-5
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Joyce Meyer once did a sermon where she had a small tree in a pot that was healthy and sprouting green leaves. But the dead branches that were no longer connected to the main vine/trunk had no source of nutrients or water, so they were dried up, brittle, and without green growth. She compared our spirits to these dead branches when we don't fellowship daily with our Maker. She called herself "a little crispy around the edges" when lacking adequate time with God. If that is the case for all humans in general, how much more so do I need daily water for my soul in the midst of my journey through this horrific wasteland? I must be in God's word daily and praying so that my spirit stays revived and bears healthy signs of life in this valley of the shadow of death. He is the spring of living water and promises help.

Isaiah 43:19
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 48:21
They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split the rock and water gushed out.

Who is the rock?

Isaiah 26:4
Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

Where does this "living water" come from? A Samaritan woman at a well asked Jesus that question.

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)

Thankfully, when I came to the end of my rope and finished resisting God last night, I came back to him, and he was gracious and patient, and eager to forgive my neglect. His gracious reception was full of the love he's been dying to pour out, but that I've been unavailable to receive.

The first passage I got to last night, as I began reading again was this:

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.
Psalm 68:19-20

He daily bears my burdens AND he saves! How great and awesome is our God in heaven, whom we can meet with and be friends with through Christ.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Psalm 27

Psalm 27
Of David.

The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.

My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.

Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.

Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.

Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.

Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

2 years

Have you ever had something happen in your life that was so painful that it was easier to pretend life was fine around others than to go into detail explaining what happened?

I have that secret pain in my life that is so heavy a burden, I can only share bits and pieces of it with those who care most about me. I've been rejected, shut out, cast away, and shunned after revealing too much. I've been doubted, disbelieved, and silently ignored. I've had the most chilling reality to cope with, and fewer and fewer places left to turn. It has been eating away at me, and this blog is an attempt to break that silence. I want to shine light on what is happening to my family because every day that goes by without screaming that something is very wrong is one more day I scream on the inside all alone. Trying to live life as if everything is okay is getting harder and harder. I can no longer gloss over the fact that I'm overwhelmed by terrifying fear, anger, and deep sadness. I see this ship sinking, and all I can do is wave my two little hands in this vast ocean.

I will cut to the chase. For over the past 2 years, my family has been stalked, harassed, and terrorized by an organized group of individuals. This is not a conclusion we came to willingly, as it would be much easier for us to believe that nothing was happening and to try to move on with our daily routines. All of us as a family have witnessed the reality of the crimes committed against us and the crimes are so heinous and so pervasive, that it is impossible for one day to go by without having to face that we are targets of a massive, vicious assault on our very lives.

One of the first things people say is usually, "What are the police doing about this?" or "How is it that this has been able to go on for so long?" My answers to these questions are probably not satisfying, but the police have had these events brought to their attention, and we have been blamed with implied mental illness and "case closed..." put in our file. “An inside job.” Feeling not only abandoned, but blamed in the process has been victimization in and of itself, but we are still hoping and working for a breakthrough. As for how the harassment has been allowed to continue-- it's a green light for criminals when the police turn away. We have no professional protection, no cover.

This assault first began, to our knowledge, as a series of robberies committed by caregivers that my mom and grandma employed for 7 months to take care of my grandpa while he was dying. Once my grandma broke her hip, there was no one left in the house to supervise the caregivers, and on an emergency basis, they brought in one of their relatives at the last minute to "help." My grandpa was drugged by the caregiver(s) and the entire apartment was searched, with a great deal taken. Things went to a whole new level that day in July 2005. Everything in their apartment was fair game including house keys, bills, bank statements, and jewelry. My grandma lost a great deal and all of her identification and financial information was left exposed, some of it taken or left in disarray. The woman who had been caught owned up to taking very little of what she'd actually stolen, and her statement was full of blatant lies, saying she had only “snooped.” She herself turned out to have a criminal background, as well as criminal associations, but the other caregivers were never thoroughly questioned or charged. I found out later that she was released, making restitution of only a tiny, insignificant sum of cash, and never held responsible for drugging my grandpa. To make matters worse, items like clothing, medications, and kitchen supplies disappeared a little bit at a time while my grandma was in the hospital for her hip surgery.

9 months later...

My grandpa had passed away and we were moving on with our lives after my grandma’s series of robberies. The day we submitted our police statement about my grandma’s thefts, my dad had his headlight smashed in while his car was parked in front of our house, but we brushed that off as one-time, unrelated vandalism.

Then the day came for my graduation defense of my thesis. For a year I had been almost completely homebound by my illness, having only graduated by writing my thesis from bed. After having been home for many months, this was our first family outing for any extended period of time. While we were gone, our home was burglarized. We came home to an unlocked front door, later discovering many missing and damaged items including car keys, credit cards, financial and medical papers, clothes, and many other oddities, like half-emptied lotion bottles and damaged photographs. The most upsetting part of the incident was finding my grandmother's previously stolen jewelry planted in our basement.

So the set-up began to make it appear as if our family was not credible and that we didn't know what we were talking about. My take on it was skeptical at first. Who would bother with a family like ours? Who would have so much time on their hands to research us and plan this attack? I didn't know what to make of it. I did know, however, that there were things missing from both my grandma's apartment and our house. I was the one who had personally discovered the initial robbery. Yet none of it seemed to make sense.

We, of course, reported all of this to the police immediately, and nothing was done about it.

Over the next several weeks, we had more distressing events. My mom and I were home alone together one Friday afternoon, and all of a sudden, we both heard the unmistakable sound of our front door opening and then shutting. Alarmed, we both jumped up and ran out into the main room, only for the sickening realization to sink in-- someone else had been hiding in there with us, or was now hiding. I called my dad panicked, but there was nothing else I knew to do. He came home and searched our small condo, but no one was found.

Countless more upsetting events followed. My mom found her closet torn apart one day after returning from errands. She discovered a hunting knife in with her clothing. Her belts and shoes had been cut.

We would sometimes awake to hear loud bangs and crashes in our home. Checking the garage and basement would yield fruitless searches time after time, though we later found the tall packing boxes from our old house had had all of the clothes removed, leaving anyone a human-sized place to hide.

My mom's car alarm went off in the middle of the night. We heard a cell phone ringing while lying in bed one morning, but it wasn’t one of ours.

Repeatedly our garbage can lid would always be found in the middle of the street, even when there was no wind and all the other cans on the street were fine.

There was also increased traffic on our quiet cul-de-sac. Run down cars with one headlight, and missing hubcaps would race down the street at odd hours. Our neighbors even called to report suspicious people parked on the street. We suddenly had an unusual car parked constantly near our house. When we would write down the plate numbers, the papers with the info would later disappear.

This was what was happening at my house. As my panic level rose, so did my denial to combat it. I did not want to face the fact that we were having harassment, home intrusions, and that no one was able/willing to stop it. It seemed surreal that every time we tried to get help, things would get even worse. We had trouble finding people to be straightforward with us. Our first attempt at getting a security system ended badly. We were given a “substitute” installer who installed the system improperly, tried to get our code from us, and lied to us about not being able to change the code once we’d set it. When contacted by the police, the reputable security company we thought we’d hired had no record of us ever having our system installed. Yet no one followed up.

If you think all this sounds weird, outrageous, and crazy, it was. It continued to build from there, though. These bad things continued to happen-- the loud crashes and bangs at night-- things getting knocked over at night, but not finding who did it-- setting down papers, and then coming back later to find them missing. Were we ALL going crazy at the same time? That's what it felt like at first.

We were followed when driving at night, lights being flashed at us, cars waiting for us, pulling out in front and behind us all along a quiet country route, being tailed when there were no other cars on the road.

After a few months of these events and my father’s day gift being stolen before I’d even given it, I was forced to abandon my denial. We were getting a message sent to us that nothing of ours was safe. Not our stuff, not our house, not even our bodies while we slept. The nightmare of my life was just beginning, and I have to tell you here that it just got worse-- a lot worse. This was April of 2006. It's now April of 2008. And evil unchecked has grown into a monster whose tentacles have wrapped around my family, squeezing the life out of all of us.

I ask God where he is in all this and why this is happening. I rage at him, give him the silent treatment, cry, beg, plead, reason, avoid or cling to him, but through my ups and downs, I’ve heard back only one recurring theme—that I must wait and trust. My faith is paper thin, but still it remains.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sometimes He calms the storm

There is a song by Scott Krippayne called "Sometimes He Calms the Storm," and personally, I'd like to stop with the title and have God calm every storm for me right away. However, that's not how life works, and so I'm grateful for the other part of this song-- that if God allows my storms to rage on, he promises to calm me in the middle of it all.

All who sail the sea of faith
Find out before too long
How quickly blue skies can grow dark
And gentle winds grow strong
Suddenly fear is like white water
Pounding on the soul
Still we sail on knowing
That our Lord is in control

Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn't mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child

He has a reason for each trial
That we pass through in life
And though we're shaken
We cannot be pulled apart from Christ
No matter how the driving rain beats down
On those who hold to faith
A heart of trust will always
Be a quiet peaceful place
--Scott Krippayne

I thought of this song because of a quote I read this morning:

"Christians are not exempt from heartache, but we do have the means to endure heartache without falling apart. For this we have Jesus... His grace, His sufficiency. For this we have His word...His promises, His wisdom." --Kay Arthur

2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

How is his power made perfect in weakness?
When we depend on Christ, he strengthens us to endure, displaying his power in and through us.

Matthew 11:28-30
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

My pastor did a sermon on this passage several months ago. To clarify the meaning of "take my yoke upon you," he had two actual yokes as visual aids-- which I thought were just ways to demonstrate the different styles of yokes and what they look like. But it was more than that. The yokes were different styles for a specific reason.

This one is my yoke:

This one is Christ's:

It wasn't until the very end of the sermon that I finally saw his point: Christ's yoke is for two. Him and me. He bears my burdens when I seek him, submit, and ask him to walk along side me. Then when I am weak, he compensates with his strength to pull the load, but only when I go to him in prayer, read his word, and lean on him in trust and faith.

We all have burdens in this life, and the harder they are to bear, the more urgent the choice we must make-- Use yoke 1 and struggle feebly and helplessly alone against burdens too great, or walk with Jesus in yoke 2 and let his power bear my burdens so I am not crushed by their weight.

Which yoke will you choose today?