In the Aftermath of Trauma

Many people in my hometown of Orlando, Florida are feeling the effects of trauma right now.  Some of them are victims or relatives of victims of the two shootings which occurred here in recent days.  Others are first responders, police, fire or ambulance personnel who witnessed the carnage or its aftereffects.  But others are experiencing symptoms of trauma at more of a distance – those called upon to counsel victims or first responders, relatives and friends of those involved, maybe even the community as a whole.  We are struggling to wrap our brains around the idea that such massive evil and bloodshed could occur in our midst.  We are shocked, frightened, grieving, trying to “fix it” or to escape. 

Of course there have also been some lovely examples of heroes and helpers giving blood, offering prayers, providing food and comfort.  This reminds us of our role as God’s children, entering the scene of tragedy as Jesus did to bring the hope of redemption. We cannot not lose sight of God’s goodness, but, at the same time, we should not use that truth to dismiss others’ pain, jumping too quickly to a hope that many cannot yet feel.

Part of the healing that needs to be done is to allow ourselves and others to talk, to grieve, to feel our own feelings, whatever they may be.  Be kind to yourself and others right now.  We won’t always feel this way, but part of moving forward is living in the present, acknowledging whatever may be, telling the stories and validating the pain.  To that end, I offer the following handout which you can download, print or copy for others.

Trauma Recovery Handout

May you struggle well and heal in God’s time.

What Are You So Afraid Of?

Scared toddler covering his faceWhile stopped on the highway during a violent rainstorm, a shadowy movement in the rear-view mirror caught my attention. It was an onrushing tractor-trailer with no room to stop. Long before that incident, I was stalked through a deserted construction site by a stranger with malicious intentions. And I’ve also heard my doctor say, “Stage 4 cancer” (don’t worry – that was 35 years ago). But none of those things are among my scariest moments. All my worst fears have been about things that haven’t happened. Many times I’m not even sure what I’m afraid of. What really is my worst case scenario? What is it that I am so afraid of?

Depending on your source, you can read that humans share three, five, eight or more basic fears. Let’s take a look at a few of them. 

Pain and suffering – “I am not safe”

Are you afraid of the dentist or a car accident or heights? Then this might be your core fear. Pain and suffering concern the physical realm. If one of our fundamental needs is for safety, then this fear represents its absence. We depend upon others to provide security and comfort from our first days on earth. When that need is met consistently, we begin to believe the world is a safe place. When that need is met inconsistently, we are left with worry and doubt.

Abandonment – “I am alone”

Have you ever been freaked out by a silent, lonely landscape or thought you couldn’t survive a break-up? All humans (and many animals) need a sense of belonging, the assurance that we are loved, that there is a community which will never kick us out. Someone who struggles with the fear of abandonment may need multiple relationships or constant reassurance in order to soothe a gnawing dread of being left alone, rejected and isolated.

Shame – “I am unlovable”

Do cocktail parties or final exams make you tremble?  Then you may struggle with a fear of failure, a fear of shame. Developing a stable awareness of our own identity is one of the major tasks of young adulthood. We need a sense that there is something unique and beautiful in our makeup, that we are lovable. Yet, we are also seemingly born with deep doubt about our worth – and sometimes those doubts get confirmed by life circumstances. It doesn’t take much to make shame bloom, bringing an exquisite pain which can be worse than anything physical. 

Other fears

Psychology texts sometimes list the dread of commitment or confinement as another basic fear, and all of them will mention the fear of death. But in my view, underneath both these fears is really one of the other fears above. A lack of freedom to make one’s own choices means that pain, rejection or humiliation can happen to us at any time, without the ability to escape. And what is death but the ultimate suffering, abandonment and failure?

Fear of the unknown

Knowledge is power. If we know what’s coming, we can prepare for it. Our mind likes to paint the awful possibilities so that we can be ready for them. That’s why all my worst fears are about things that haven’t happened and probably never will. It can help to ask yourself, “What am I so afraid of?” For example, if I’m afraid of getting in my car, driving to my friend’s graduation and hobnobbing with strangers, what is it I’m so afraid of? Is it a fear of suffering (a car accident), a fear of shame (I will make a fool of myself) or a fear of abandonment (no one will talk to me)? 

The Remedy

There is a remedy for each one of our fears. Will it mean an instant cure?  Probably not. Will it help? Certainly.

  • Am I safe? Nothing can touch me which does not first pass through the Father’s hands. I am secure in the One who is both good and sovereign. He may not spare me all suffering, but God will give me what I need to walk the road He maps out for me, including His comfort, protection and courage. (Psalm 16:8-9; Romans 8:28; Phil. 4:13). 
  • sunset in heart handsAm I loved? No human being can be the basis for my confidence, but I have been chosen by God, and nothing can ever separate me from His love. (Rom. 8:38-39; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 4:10).
  • Am I lovable? I have only to look at the cross to know how much I am worth. God created me for His glory, seated with Christ in the heavenly places (seeing me NOW as I will be when I am perfect), and He is making me more beautiful every day. There is no shame in Christ. (Psalm 34:5; Matt. 6:26; 1 Cor. 6:11; Songs 4:7; 1 Peter 2:9).

When I am in close relationship with the King of Everything who has already proven His undying love for me, then I can never be outside His redemptive plan, I can never truly be alone and I cannot judge myself unworthy when He has pronounced me holy. 

What is it that you are so afraid of? After you nail it down, apply the remedy.


Related Material

Fear of Death, Abandonment and Failure by the Stenzel Clinic

What We Worry About, The Huffington Post

You Are Loved, Father’s Love Letter

No Shame in Christ, John Piper

Journal Your Anxiety, guided journaling

I Will Not Forget You

The following post is a letter to my children which I have included with my will and other end-of-life information.


Elderly manLong after Alzheimer’s disease ravaged my grandfather’s confidence, his humor and his past, it finally drained his body of breath and life. Once he died, his wife began the same, slow descent, and I went to her, hoping to comfort her with Christ while she still knew me. However, in human terms, it was already too late; a sweet, vacant smile was her only response to love or logic. So I left her with a Bible, which has now come back to me, unmarked and unruffled, and she left me with a new struggle of my own. Can God’s word sustain those who are beyond words? Does His Spirit indwell those whose spirits are vanishing? Because I became a Christian as an adult, the specter of returning to childhood, of forgetting the best news I ever heard, weighs heavy on my mind. There are a thousand losses in that possible future.

 

Yet, if I should experience the slow, sad leave-taking which is Alzheimer’s, I would not wish anyone to grieve over-much for my sake. Whatever else it may be, the disease is surely a metaphor.  It leaves behind what cannot be taken forward. As perception, kindness, the fruits of faith, a loving heart and the twinkle of an eye fade from our sight, they cannot be lost. Those are the elements of a child of God which will never be lost but will be infinitely improved. Just out of sight, those pieces wait for the final exhalation of the last remnant of a soul which has been yearning toward God all along. We will all leave behind a dry husk of flesh and sin, a seed “sown in dishonor.” It is no necessary thing for us. A thousand years from now, will it matter if I shed my skin more slowly than you shed yours?

 

Psalm 139 speaks eloquently of the omnipresence of God not only in the world, but in all the days of our lives which are ordained and written in His book. Are some of the pages blank?  If they are, it must be those pages that I have wasted on myself, taken hold of and shared with no one, refusing the difficult prose of God. Those are the meaningless pages, the ones that will burn in the fire of salvation. The pages which God alone has written with His own finger, like those days in my mother’s womb, those nights of mysterious slumber, those years which may be lost in confusion or delirium, must not be waste. The script on those pages is gibberish and foolishness to the wisdom of this world, but waits like mirror-writing to be revealed in the perfect light of grace. He who is familiar with my going out and my lying down will write on all the pages just as He wishes until that glorious morning when I arise to His call and behold the glory of His face. (Ps 17:15)

 

I do not wish to forget my children or my parents or my husband. I do not wish to drop my sword while still on the field of battle. But I will be yielded to His will and used to His purpose. And even if I forget God, He will not forget me. Having forgotten that there is hope or life or a beautiful God, I will still wake one day to the most breathtaking of all surprises: to hope and to life and to my beautiful God.

 


Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Isa 49:15-16