Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to quiet your harsh inner judge

Criticism from your personal, inner judge can be unrelenting and over-bearing. Your voice recedes as the judge’s voice magnifies: You are not enough. You are incompetent. You have no value.

So it can be your own domineering judge who frightens you into being and behaving as someone else. It’s time to get ruthless with your inner judge who harshly convicts and condemns your irrational inadequacies.

Getting ruthless with that lying judge has to do with getting real. Oddly enough, we challenge those lies by first getting real and ruthless with others. Relationship is often where those judging lies germinate. Therefore, relationship is where we expose the judge. Next we get real and ruthless with ourselves. This is where we look within to confront the judge who has taken up residence. Finally getting ruthless and real with God means we dare to believe His love for us trumps our lying, blaming, critical judge within.

1) Get real and ruthless with others
What we believe about ourselves is not always accurate. The perspective of others who know us, and are for us, can help us refute a harsh inner judge who accuses, You aren’t worthy to belong. When we bring our true self into community, safe people reflect truth back to us.

Recently in a leadership process group, I balked when all eight pairs of eyes were on me. Even though I did not want to be their sole focus, I secretly craved their acceptance. My persistent judge privately condemned, Your childhood left you wounded and weak. You are pitiful. Pity judged me weak, incompetent, voiceless, and therefore having no value.

Emotional trauma specialist, Dr. Sheri Keffer, challenges us to dredge up those wounds and confront them: “Take it out and process within a safe environment so that trauma doesn’t get stored in the unconscious place of your brain, the place that drives your behavior. Storing unhealed wounds in this place causes disharmony, bad habits, poor decision-making, and physically affects the body, brain and immune system….it shrinks our lives.”

In group, I had to be willing to re-open wounds and dig out the gunk. Within the safety of fellow strugglers, I had to get real and ruthlessly expose my weaknesses, my shortcomings and my flaws. One of those strugglers actually described such experience as “enjoyable and needful times together to notice what God is doing and saying in our lives. We acknowledge our forward movements, as well as naming our challenges.” No pity or judge here.

In community, we give and receive, something we cannot possibly achieve in isolation. As cheerleaders and sometimes soldiers, we affirm, listen, and seek to understand one another. We receive validation of our experiences and the truth of our pain, “Julie, mothers should not abandon their children. Young girls need a mom. I’m sorry you did not have a mom who cared more about you.”

2) Get real and ruthless with yourself
I was the one who lugged shame-filled pity into our group and hoisted its bulk right up into my lap. Those weighty, accusing lies attached themselves to my soul long ago: You are not enough for your mother to stay. You don’t matter. My value vanished along with my mother. And the inner judge took up residence in the void.

I had been harboring that no-value thinking and it was oozing out in disingenuous behaviors. Devalued Julie showed up and receded into the background by quieting her voice. At other times, Compensating Julie cheated pity by inventing confidence and competence. First century Paul of Tarsus explained my struggle: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

I stood up and the burden in my lap crashed onto the floor. I shoved the debris aside. In a small clearing, Real Julie confessed to the group: “Now that you know all this about me, do you find me pitiful? Even though I have devalued myself and also over-compensated, can you accept me?”

My group did not reflect my any pity back at me. Their responses pushed the pity bits further away, “I accept you…You belong here...I value your participation in our group…You matter to us.”

3) Get real and ruthless with God
Within a few days of pushing pity out of the way, I received a book, Ruthless Trust. My gift book from a loving daughter-in-law illuminated the new space where I dared to stand: “Self-absorption fades into self-forgetfulness, as we fix our gaze on the brightness of the Lord.” Brennan Manning describes this shift from self-pity to trust: “Many a believer’s perception of God and people often begins with a debased image of ourselves…Our trust in Jesus grows as we shift from making self-conscious efforts to be good to allowing ourselves to be loved as we are (not as we should be)…There is nothing any of us can do to increase His love for us and nothing we can do to diminish it.”

Like the needless binding of feet to keep them small, lies bound my life. You can’t do that; don’t even attempt it. Disparate threads rewind to create a different yarn, one that was first spun long, long ago: His-story is our story. Do I dare trust that God loves me when I have judged and pitied myself for so many years? And others? Is God’s love and acceptance big enough to squelch the judge who limits my value and my life?

Manning’s love of God invites me to risk responding despite the fear: “Yet the mysterious love of God is fierce enough to penetrate even those who think that they cannot receive it.” Trusting in the love of Jesus soothes the accusations of the harsh inner judge. The weft of love weaves over the warp of lies. Real patterns emerge in the design: I am worth loving. I have value. I matter.

Aged lies, distorted thinking, immature ways of being are interrupted and exposed. Nothing is the same. All is laid bare with others, self and God. The judge has been muzzled. I speak up, I am enough.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Unexpected healing for a hurting family

My brother’s stroke set off a tidal wave of panic and chaos back in Florida where he was hospitalized. Yet, the disaster sirens blasted inside me. My family’s tsunami-response has a way of resurrecting and exacerbating hidden, unresolved hurts. 

The powerful swell threatened to overtake me and swallow me up. When considering an emergency visit to Florida, I was more fearful of the force of family frenzy consuming me than about my brother’s recovery. One can manage a recovery process. But how does one navigate a family tidal wave, except to avoid being in its path? I telephoned my brother from afar.

Besides, what good could a visit from me do?

I am not prone to insert myself where I am not invited. A similar tentativeness crosses over into my coaching business as well. I have avoided marketing myself as a personal coach because that seems too pushy. A marketing coach recently reframed self-promotion as, “getting to know me, like me and trust me.” That sounded inviting instead of invasive. In considering going to Florida, I needed an invitation to outweigh this familiar chaos that triggered my anxiety.

Go willingly with the attitude to help bear another’s burden in crisis.

My son and daughter-in-law listened as I shared concern for my brother. “He cannot form his thoughts into comprehensible sentences. His finances are a mess. He is a contentious guest at my sister’s house. My sister almost lost it when she had to send a letter on his behalf because she had no stamps or envelopes,“ I lamented.

Daughter-in-law tentatively spoke up, “When I am overwhelmed,” she said, “sometimes I just want someone to swoop in and take care of it for me, even when it’s hard for me to ask for help.” Hearing that, I had my reason to jump back into the surge. Perhaps, my invitation was that I could be of help.

Working together enhances the healing process.

In Florida, my siblings and I locked arms together on our brother’s behalf. Waters were turbulent but we rode the waves. We searched, sorted, telephoned, documented, prioritized, and filed all the issues into categories. And we rebuked, listened, affirmed, accepted, apologized and laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. Amidst the debris we discovered traces of compassion. I thought it was just my brother who needed healing after his stroke. In the midst of working together, I caught a glimpse of how God was already at work in each one of us.

Willpower exhausts itself but trusting in 
God’s great love for us emboldens us 
to face adversity with sustaining hope and faith.

Occasionally I would be pulled under by the strength of the current but could bob back up to the surface…exhausted.  Overcome by the details of disaster, I doubted family myself, and the power of God. My friends’ invitation to dinner offered welcome respite from swimming against the current. The instant we were seated at the restaurant table my fear and frustration gushed out and onto my friends.  They listened. When my grumbling gush ran out of steam, one friend responded, “I will pray for you.” His words secured the dam and contained the waters.

Words from the biblical apostle James wafted past me, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” My friend had intervened to ask and believe on my behalf. I was grateful.

My thoughts shifted direction like a repentant thief caught red-handed. Clarifying words from Dr. Henry Cloud challenged me, “Repentance,” writes Cloud, “is the change involved when we face the truth about ourselves.” Maybe this journey was not about willful and defensive maneuvers against tidal waves but about engaging trust when disaster strikes.

In Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning writes, “In the midst of tragic events that leave us bereft of understanding, trust does not demand explanations but turns to the One who promised, ‘I will not leave you orphans.’ (John 14:18)  Manning’s simple prayer appeals to my lack of trust, “Jesus, by your grace I grow still for a moment and I hear you say, ‘Courage? It’s me! Don’t be afraid’. I place my trust in your presence and your love. Thank you.”

The more we are healed, the more we can be 
genuinely generous with others.

My family has known me to insulate myself with distance and resistance. Fear and self-protection wanted to hold me back. But my call to grow was for the real me—the swimmer—to show up…with family. God has honored my yielding to this intentional process of healing over the past couple of years. As my swimming has grown stronger, I can jump into an ocean of conflict and not sink. So now my sister calls more often; she trusts that I won’t judge her. And my brother acknowledged my apology. He expressed his response with thoughtful acceptance, “I...I know…I have another…uh…a second chance.”

What a tsunami threatened to destroy, God intended to heal. He loves me and my family that much. When I was hell-bent on dodging any family business, God tossed me right into the middle of it. After all, my family business IS God’s business. And I’m absolutely blown out of the water that He would entrust me with His business…to turn around and help others grow.

Am I the only one with family tidal waves?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Things change

A few days ago, the storm that brought much needed water to Southern California also swept away the beach sand where I often wogged.  (That’s walking with an occasional jog.) Left exposed were jagged bedrock monoliths wedged upon one another. No more space to wog easily and sadly, no more glass bits to be discovered; it was all swept out to sea.

The next day I donned my wog shoes deciding to brave slippery, sharp rocks, tangly kelp and dead sea slugs. With ear buds in and audio TED Talks loaded to synch to the rhythm of the waves, I walked…then jogged…then walked, then…found a piece of sea glass. They had not all been swept away after all.
My afternoon’s collection was overwhelming.
Oftentimes, sea glass signifies so much more than broken bits and fragments to me.

They benefit from the riches of the sea
and the hidden treasures in the sand. Deut 33:19b

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pursuing or Pursued?

Pacific Coast Highway curved in and out of road cuts through steep cliff walls and back into expansive views of uncontrollable ocean beyond. Having passed the slower drivers, I was in the lead as I glanced behind and then refocused forward. Open space ahead and behind. The convergence of space, movement, view, and direction rested on me and in me like moist ocean air.

However, much needed rain had seeped into the hardened cliff facades and loosened rubble. I rounded a curve and had to break for rock debris littering both directions of travel. Navigating fallen impediments in the road was strangely familiar. During much of last year, I encountered lots of broken-off bits and pieces from weakening walls within myself.

Looking back, I could see that my journey with my word for the year, pursue, was necessary…to get through such troublesome stretches.

In 2013, what I really desired was smooth, straight roads without obstacles. Post-hormonal, empty-nester, easy street meant no schedule to limit me, no goals to pressure me, no structure to confine me, and no conflict to stress me. If I could just make certain that all my no’s insulated me, then I would be free to pursue relational and missional goals. But insisting on all those no’s was far from freeing; pursue had become more about resisting and avoiding than developing.

Gripping onto no’s at every curve or bump in the road was exhausting. Resisting schedule, goals, structure and conflict resulted in getting nowhere…and often left me stalled at the bottom of a climb. Running on empty and unable to make the grade, I allowed a couple of hitchhikers…just for the company. I did not realize how loud they would be. Overwhelmed and overpowered, I was displaced to the back seat. To avoid further confrontation, I sunk low into the well-worn leather of the back seat. Even though I was reasonably comfortable, I had no idea of where these hijackers were taking me.

Relaxing into back seat bondage is not without personal loss. Staci Eldredge describes the costs of avoiding and hiding in her book, Captivating:

We hide our truest selves and offer only what we believe is wanted, what is safe. We act in self-protective ways and refuse to offer what we truly see, believe and know. We will not risk rejection or looking like a fool. We have spoken in the past and were met with blank stares and mocking. We will not do it again and will hide because we are afraid…To hide is to remain safe, to hurt less. And so by hiding we take matters into our own hands. We don’t return to our God with our broken and desperate hearts. And it never occurred to us that in all our hiding, something precious is also lost—something the world needs from us very, very much.

The hijacked journey of pursuit took a turn for the worse as I realized I had been moving away from all that was important to me…God, relationships and the real me. Henry Cloud put words to this distance in Changes that Heal, “And when we are hiding, [our true selves] are not in relationship with God and others….and without relationship, without attachment to God and others, we can’t be our true selves. We can’t be truly human.” Yes, something precious was getting lost.

One day in mid-November pursue showed up in a radically different context. Pursue appeared on one slide among many from the workshop presenter. And that one slide was like my own burning bush miraculously speaking directly to me, “You are worth being pursued by God.”

God seized pursue away from my hijackers and then presented it back to me. Pursue was not about me defending my space, my desires, my self… triggered avoiding and hiding. Nor was it just about pursuing goals, freedom and a life all about me. Those were diversionary pursuits compared to my being worth being pursued…by God.

Pursue was about relationship after all…God unconditional love for me. And pursue was about mission too…God’s mission to draw me out of hiding and into the world where I have something precious to offer.

What can be different knowing that you too are worth being pursued by God?

If God is leading you, don’t hesitate to share with the rest of us below. You never know how God will use your story to bless someone else. If we do not speak up, something the world needs from us very, very much could remain hidden. No more hiding, eh?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Room to grow

Not a doorbell but a soft tap, tap, tap. It interrupts. Not now. I don’t want to be disturbed. I cinch up my robe over my flannel pjs behind the locked door. Tap, tap, tap. Never had I imagined that my word for the year, Pursue, would show up here unsettling jammie-time in my armchair. My heartbeats bounce off interior walls like an erratic ping-pong ball. I dodge and duck the noise. But Pursue stands at the door and knocks. Go away; just leave me be.

More tap, tap, tapping at the door. Pursue persists…like big brothers pinning me to the ground with spidery fingers in my face taunting, “You gotta do dishes.” Like my dad insisting his school-aged children keep watch and report on my mom’s movements should she try to run away again. Like my mom blaming dad for all the disappointments in her life, “Don’t mention your father’s name to me ever again. You don’t know all the bad things that went on.” Yet mom will often reference the hardships she endured in life with my dad, her first marriage of three, ending more than 40 years ago.

Triggered memories from the past amplify tapping into pounding that bullies. I wonder, too, if my mother hears the hurt pounding hundreds of miles away in her own isolated space far from her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

When ordeals frightened me long ago, I closed doors and withdrew…unnoticed and without emotion. “I will never be vulnerable again to those who want to use, abandon or devalue me,” a privately terrified twelve-year-old girl declared.

Years piled upon fears while insulating myself from the hurts. From inside my walls, everything outside had become “risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure”…the perfect storm of vulnerability, according to Dr. Brené Brown, social science researcher and author.

Fear gone amuck had seeped in through the cracks and sealed them up from within creating cognitive darkness. “Fear,” explains Parker Palmer, author and educator, “paralyzes cognition.” Trapped inside—condemning voices, bullying voices, dismissing voices—all false voices mingled with my own. They intimidate and obscure, binding mind and movement forward. Though I imagined armchair freedom from the pursuit of bullies, I was neither fearless nor free in my confined space. It was no surprise then that the fictional cowardly lion and I would commiserate together.

I remember words—no motivation, no desire, no insight—escaping my soul only a few years ago in the company of other wounded women. Fueled by fears, we were hell-bent on defending our separate vows against vulnerability. While we were protecting ourselves, we had assumed responsibility for enabling others. While we were judging ourselves, we had criticized others. While we were blaming others, we had justified our resentments. While we were begrudging others, we had shielded our own shame. Defending against vulnerability costs.

Like the careful taps wielded by an archaeological excavator, Pursue chips away at sealed cracks, fortified walls, and closed doors. Dust particles floated across pinhole piercings of new light into my room while tapping excavated more. I catch glimpses of old clutter and how much I have been avoiding. The scene overwhelms me. I do what is most comforting and nestle into the fake fur of cowardly lion.

The tapping softens. Bullies quiet their advance. My guard relaxes. New voices drift in with light slivers. Book open, hot cuppa within reach, voice of words from Dr. Brené Brown gently captivate, “If courage is a value we hold, then vulnerability is the only way in and through.” The cowardly lion pretends a growl.

“Most of us are brave and afraid in the exact same moment all day long,” her voice acknowledges and emboldens me. “We are all on that trajectory of vulnerability whether we want to or not…we have a choice.” You mean vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Brown declares its strength, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Lion and I grumble a low roar in unison; I make believe it is audible.

Not-giving-up-on-me taps again at the door surfacing ancient God words: “Perfect love drives out all fear.” God, who loves faithfully and unconditionally, remains outside the door awaiting access in. Love taps into the rhythm of my faint heart. John the apostle adds, “If anyone hears and opens the door, I [the Messenger of Perfect Love] will come in to him and eat with him and he with Me.” Are you sure you have the right address?

I hunger to accept and to be accepted. “If fear keeps our lives small, does a life that receives all of God in this moment grow large too?” the writer of One Thousand Gifts and I ponder together. New voices—those of Brené, John, and Ann—crowd out the old voices that demand, pressure, and accuse…from within. Truth, love and grace invite me to stretch beyond self-limiting fear. There’s a bit more wriggle room…perhaps room to grow. It’s time.

I listen intently for the invitation, the love tap. The power of one word persists, cares, beckons, and…loves. I trace the root word back to God, the giver of His Word—which is love—to me, for this very year, the Year of Pursue. I am pursued; I am loved. He pursues me, I receive Him. He receives me; I accept me. I can genuinely love because He first loved me. Shift happens.

I have donned avoidant behaviors like defensive armor—and sometimes hostile armor—that can constrict the wearer and bruise the outsider. Pursue is shedding the armor. Pursue is vulnerability. Pursue welcomes instead of repels. Pursue reaches out instead of retreating within. Pursue advances through fear instead of hiding out with cowardly lions. Pursue is strength. Pursue is love. Pursue is a grace-gift sent from God.

Tugging at my big girl pjs, I cross the room cutting a wake through fear and vulnerability…toward love and grace.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The other woman

Unlike the anticipated birth of newborn joy, the sailboat’s dreaded delivery date arrived. Gestation was almost two years while the 15-year-old boat was being refit with a new design in the boatyard. Time, however, was not all that was needed to welcome this she-yacht into my life. I sensed an unresolved something churning in the dark, deep waters of my soul.

Everything the boat is, I am not: huge, commanding, fast, intrepid, sleek and striking, and extravagantly decked out for adventure. The boat’s all-that exacerbated all that I am not…but would be required to become. Her imposing presence obligates, demands, and expects much of me…too much. The more she commands sea-worthy superiority, the more I notice my she-worthless inadequacies.

Her massive sails harness the winds and her powerful hull heels. Gravity pulls me down into the curvature of her cushioned cockpit. I don’t resist. My silhouette is absorbed into the shadow of her sails. And I tuck into protective comfort while my captain husband actively engages…with her.

Elusive voices drift past like an occasional gull gliding by overhead. “He prefers her to you…you don’t have what it takes.” I pull my hood up over my head against the freshening wind, and secure its cords under my chin into a proper bowknot.

I don’t like the cold wind. I don’t like the swells heaving the boat. I don’t like being in the cold, sunless shade of her sails. And I don’t like the accusing voices, “You are so dull. The ocean is passing you by while you hunker down in your warm, cozy, protected cushion of comfort.”

The depth meter gauge blinked showing that the waters were so deep they could not be measured. I don’t like the uncertainties of deep waters. And I don’t like my response to this other female.  Uncertainty welled up; I wondered whether the female I resented was the she-yacht…or me.  

Bracing my leg muscles against the pole of the cockpit table, engaging my core, and straightening my posture, I turn my head forward with the wind full into my face. The force of the wind catches one of the accusing voices and whisks it off and into the wake behind us. I stretch upwards, grab a table grip and pull up, driving my body against gravity, against the weight of the boat and onto the high side of the cockpit…the side in the sunlight. It takes all my strength to shift to the other side.

From this vantage point, I take notice of commonalities between the two women encountering one another in deep waters.  The sunlight accentuates the curves of the she-yacht, curves designed to replicate what is pleasingly feminine.  Designer son has his handprints all over this shapely ship. My husband has noticed her boat curves, and mine.

Her reach extends into family ties and beyond. Each of us makes use of knots. Knots that bind ship to shore. Knots that bind past to present. Knots that tighten the tension of lines, and knots that strain the lines of relationships. In my shared spaces with this other female, truth and untruth have gotten knotted together. In a similar way, true humility and false humility got bound up too…all requiring disentangling and needing some ship-shaping. Knots, I now know, need untying when venturing from the safety of a homeport.

“Ready to return to the harbor and dock?” the captain’s voice disrupted my momentary boat bonding. From HOT—honest, open and transparent— conversations with husband-captain, he no longer assumes that I instantly recall all the complexities of this sea maiden. Complexities…something else we have in common. We patiently reviewed which of the four dock lines I would first toss up to him once I landed on the dock. Then he calmly identified the second one to toss, and so on. I love the captain for his considerate explanation void of any sarcasm or ridicule of my sailing insecurities.

Though I had leapt from boat to deck many times before from other boats, this was my first solo attempt leaping from this new deck three feet above the dock that is an additional few feet above the water.  Not only was this a longer stretch but a wider once since the oversized fenders were already lowered on the starboard side of the boat where I stood. As the dock drew closer, I eliminated three vertical feet by sitting into my calculated, catapult position.

With pretend courage and wanting to prove my worth as first mate, I launched my whole body forward, fully expecting at least a 7.8 landing score. My leap—from my bottom—was powerful. My next thought…I am underwater! And submerged between a moving 20-ton boat and an immovable dock is not a good place to be. Either I could be squeezed to death, or trapped underneath a foreboding hull like National Geographic divers looking for a hole in the icecap. Amazing how many thoughts can flood through one’s mind in seconds.

I looked up to sunlight above me, sensing a great, dark hull close behind me. Powering to the surface, I grappled for the dock, frantically flailing to hoist myself out of the water and out of danger. Kicking, heaving, panting, pushing…one elbow made it to dock level. Then two unfamiliar arms reached down for me and I awkwardly wet-flopped onto the pavement.

The two, tentative dock hands were not quite sure how to respond to a waterlogged wife of a sailor. I may have caught a glimpse of some exchanged smirks. Relief leaked from my soggy clothes and hair while adrenaline pumped through each new heave of breath. The men firmly knotted she-yacht to dock while I shivered back critical voices gaining volume inside me: “You look so foolish…you are so inept….talk about getting in over your head.....”

My long-legged captain leapt down and enveloped me into a towel, muffling the cacophony within. “Wanna warm shower?” he invited tenderly. I reboarded the boat not daring to look any higher than my toes. Shame dribbled off me and left little puddles after each step to the shower. Warm water washed over me as I peeled saturated garments from my skin. Naked and exposed, I replay the leap, the panic, the voices. More water, more cleansing, more pressing into the discomfort of these strong feelings. And then I think I notice...another voice running off and down the drain.

After my shower and into my hiding time in the cockpit, I overhear the voice of another captain commanding action from his crew as they dock their humongous power boat. “Don’t jump, toss those guys the dock lines.” After big boat is secured to the dock and the engine cut, the captain announces over his loudspeaker, “Nice job crew.”

Mustering levity to the surface, I turned to husband captain, “How come I didn’t hear that when we docked?”

With a playful smirk, he responded, “You must have been underwater when I said it.” 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Girl in the mirror

Her words got under my skin leaching deep into the pit of my stomach…where they churned up what I thought I had resolved decades earlier. Like reoccurring acid reflux, I regurgitated the conversation back with others. “Did I mention that while she vented teeth-clenching bitterness about her first marriage—that ended more than 40 years ago—she failed to mention her own destructive part?”

Yet, retelling the words to friends and husband did not bring relief, only more resentment piled atop hurt. My wise husband—probably wanting his own relief—gently interjected his carefully crafted coaching question, “Follow that contempt you have about your conversation with your mom. What’s really underneath her leaving out some details?”

Planting my feet firmly in place with hands on hips, and chin defiantly tilted up into the air, I protested, “She’s not telling the whole tru….” But the twitch of a noise magnified by the length of hallway interrupted my whinging.

“Back a-gain? What a nuisance,” I muttered.

Scritch-scratchings from unidentifiable places coincided with her appearance. So I wasn’t really surprised by her reflection in the hall mirror. The petulant little girl and I had encountered one another many times before. She was swallowed up in my brother’s hand-me-down shirt, unbrushed hair pulled back into a haphazard ponytail, arms locked across a flat chest, complete with pouty scowl. “Don’t even think I’m stupid or vulnerable or weak,” she mouthed the words through her pursed lips. Though a mere reflection from childhood, her resolve was palpable.

The tomboyish girl in the mirror tracked with me like precisely painted eyes in a master’s portrait. Wherever I moved, whatever I did, her cynical viewpoint and voice followed. “I’m sorry, mom,” the small, insincere voice told my mom, “that your choice to have five children with my dad was so unbearable.” The little girl’s phoniness nauseated me, even more than a bouncy boat on a wavy ocean. Her fearful and whiny manipulations would sneak in through a crack in the back door into conversation with my husband, “I already had my schedule planned; now I have to rearrange everything…okay, I guess I’ll go sailing with you.”

While her appearance signaled the presence of intruders, I prepared to detect and control the sneaky, squeaky, multiply-in-the dark mousies who nibble away at our safe places. They seem to gather in our garage seeking any opportunity to slip inside. So we set traps in the garage and hurl bait into the attic to fend off their droppings and disease. Vigilance is key when it comes to mice.

Alert to any attack of my personal space, I continued my juvenile posturing to my mother’s offense, “And furthermore,” I told my husband, “I don’t want my mom to think that she is fooling me again.”

Managing mice and my mom can be…disturbing. Just the other day I found a four-legged trespasser ensnared and motionless in the middle of the garage floor. I dared to reach down to pinch the protruding tripped wire with a fingertip grasp…when a furry leg wiggled. I lunged for a shop towel and threw it over him and his trap. There he remained—out of sight—for days, maybe weeks. To avoid him, I changed my course from house to my car. Finally, the stench of his decay convinced me that it was safe enough to pinch the trap tripwire and toss him into the garbage bin.

“I would have scooped him up with a shovel,” my wise friend advised. Honestly, the idea of using a long-handled tool had never even entered my mind when I encountered stinking mousies.

Curious about the girl in the mirror, I returned and peered deeper. I observed a puckered brow pressing into her youthful skin. I noticed the depth of brown in her eyes and a whisp of playfulness in her childlike movements. Separated by almost a half-century of mirror, I dared to speak aloud to her, “I, uh…I was wondering if it would be okay for you and I to get together?”

“Me? You want to spend time with me?” she asked, perplexed and wanting to understand.

Already, this young girl had seized my heart with her response…which was a question.

“I’d like to get to know who you really are. Would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions?” I responded, wanting to acknowledge her sweet value...and yet, respect her boundaries.

She lifted her pointer finger to her girlish grin and nodded a slow up and down.

Granting me permission, I delicately approached her tender spirit, “What happens when your mom or big people talk like that to you?”

“My heart gets frozen up, like it can’t do what it’s supposed to. Clouds come in and fill up my head. My words run away and I want to disappear with them. But my feet won’t move. No one notices. I am alone.”

“That must be scary to feel like that; I am sorry that no one noticed.” I imagined placing her hand in between my own two as streams of tears tumble down my big person cheeks.

Her young hand warmed into mine as she continued, “A long time ago, my mom loved me and then disappeared. I didn’t cry though. My dad said bad stuff about my mom. I didn’t want to hear him. I didn’t have words then either. But I had lots of thoughts.”

‘I’m interested in your thoughts; would you want to share your thoughts?” gently inviting her to trust me.

I don’t like feeling scared and helpless,” her voice a little shaky. “So I thought of some promises that would keep away people who would hurt me, kinda like the way you try to keep mice away.” Emboldened by promises made long ago, this underdeveloped vigilante recited those well-worn promises: “No one will ever surprise and fool me again.” and “They can’t make me do something I don’t want to.”

Overwhelmed by maternal compassion for this isolated side of me, I open my heart wide to her, “Next time you are afraid, I will be right there with you, so you won’t feel abandoned or vulnerable having to fend for yourself.”

While young Julie softened into my closeness, I embraced all of her abandonment, fear and vulnerability, assuring her with words that the adult needed to tell the child, “I’m not going to leave because you matter to me. You are valuable.”

Childhood promises linger like decaying mice that have been trapped or poisoned. They cause myopia that limit our choices to a finger pinch instead of a shovel. Omissions or distortion of the truth exasperate “You’ll never fool me again.” And “You’re not going to make me do anything I don’t want” resists risky invitations for adventure and fun. Bound by promises and ill-equipped with a direct voice, immaturity will disingenuously agree and then resent the situation or people. Even an inanimate and adventuresome sailboat can become a ‘scapeboat’ for resentment indecision, and defensiveness. 

Let’s face it, mice happen. I mistakenly thought that strength and freedom came with protecting the promises…which were supposed to protect me. But recognizing and challenging those childhood promises is more fruitful and freeing. Not an overnight process but one that requires vulnerability—really?—and a long-reaching tool.

Biblical wisdom is a tool that offers grace and hope with the little girl in the mirror, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, [The Lord] will not forget you!”  This tool has even helped with my mice problem. They are still there but I see mice differently, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you..”

Posted with permission from the girl in the mirror.