Faith, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma, Afterlife and Recovery

My late husband, Tony, was a licensed clinical social worker. He specialized in two specific areas of trauma recovery—sexual addictions and male survivors of childhood sexual violence including clergy abuse. Often Tony came home with this complaint:

“I had another new client today who went to his pastor first. His pastor was shaming. Had no compassion. Now my client’s healing will be longer and my job, harder.”

Tony died, suddenly. Tragically. Too soon. After he died, I went to therapy twice a week. I had to. The traumatic events which took Tony’s life, almost took our sons’ lives, and threatened mine. Therapy was a way to survive. To be here for our sons. To make sure we all made it through this mess of leftovers. In our afterwards, I often wondered aloud to my therapists about the pastor’s role in recovering from traumatic experience. They too expressed frustration at the often uninformed and harmful behavior of clergy toward people living in trauma’s pain.

In Seminary

Then I began seminary to become a pastor. Because I was enrolled to do so before Tony died. And now I just needed something to focus on other than tracking the trauma recovery progress of the three of us. But I was never fully there in seminary. Just present enough to learn a little bit more about God, myself, others, make a few friends, earn a degree.

In my first pastoral care class I disagreed with the guest speaker, a psychologist, on whether or not Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is exposure therapy or not (it’s not!). My protest led to a realization: I wanted to remember Tony’s legacy by not becoming one of those pastors he complained of. The ones screwing it up for the suffering person, their loved ones, and their therapist. So, I took far more than the required number of pastoral care courses, read Tony’s professional library until I ran out of books, began buying my own books on trauma recovery, wrote about it, and continued my own healing through various forms of therapy.

Now graduated I still spend a lot of time reading about trauma recovery, studying the experts, and taking online courses so that I can write and speak into the sometimes- murky intersection of trauma recovery and our faith as Christians. In doing so, memories resurface.

Earlier, Before Tony

While living in New York City as a young singer and actress, I haunted the self-help and psychology sections of bookstores so much so that a friend commented, “You are always looking at these books!”

Instead of waiting table like many want-a-be creatives, I facilitated parent and young child play classes. I became fascinated by how young children grow and learn so I enrolled in a child development degree program. The works of Erik Erikson, Alison Gopnick, Jean Piaget, Margaret Ainsworth, Lev Vygotsky, Stanley Greenspan, and a host of others opened new ways of viewing myself, others, and our relationships.

Student teaching in an urban poor and violent neighborhood increased my sense of this country’s true trauma reality. Graduate school textbook examples became human revelations of deep suffering: Families attempting survival in violent neighborhoods, the propensity of food scarcity especially healthy food in areas experiencing poverty, sexual abuse statistics far greater than reported, normalization of domestic violence, and historic, generational, and ongoing disparities based on race, gender, and ethnicity.

Empathy filled my body each day with pain making me flee from our collective truth for a school serving the affluent and white. But seeing my first mother pick up her child from school with bruises on her face was in an affluent school. As was meeting a mother who lost custody of her child due to drug addiction. As was having to call the police when a mother showed up drunk wanting to drive her child home.

These families, while in deep pain, had the means and availability to access healing resources. So, it was in neighborhoods of ongoing poverty that I witnessed the acute, perpetuated after-effects of traumatic experiences. Children trying to touch me in private places. Fathers shot in the head or in prison leaving their children sobbing in our arms. Gangs threatening staff who arranged for mothers to disappear into domestic violence shelters. Young children, gone mute. Small ones fed coffee for breakfast at the end of each month.

In 1994 I left a school serving those who had more than enough to begin teaching in a Head Start preschool in the Chicago neighborhood located at 63rd Street and Kedzie Avenue. Yes, it is here that I met Tony. But it is also here that I worked with a little girl who sat in her cubby all day saying, “I want to go home. I am worried about my mama.”

And another child who spoke and cried in a stuck, high pitched voice while repeating her compressed daily rerun of three Child’s Play horror films.

Still another child, cradling a doll in one arm while holding her stomach with the other, whimpered, “My stomach hurts. My boyfriend punched me. I need an ambulance.”

All three young girls exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress. But in 1994 the best we could do as teachers for children under the age of five was to place them on the long waiting list for psychological evaluations that in our experience might not happen. In the meantime, we attempted remaining internally calm even though witnessing these behaviors was both disturbing to watch and unnerving to listen to. We also built relationships with each child, remained curious about their ongoing behaviors, and tried to practice compassion. Sometimes we succeeded. Often, we failed.

No one talked about self-care or secondary trauma in the 1990’s. I burned out. Moved out of the classroom into directing programs, teaching teachers, and consulting. Yet in quiet moments I still thought and read about trauma symptoms in young children. I was pregnant with my second child and reading a stack of such books when the events of 9-11-01 shifted the world.

Now

This August will be six years. Six years from that clear, summer’s day stabbing me with trauma’s reality and afterlife. Six years of hard work in trauma recovery, healing, and recreating our lives.

My wonderings and writing remain focused on trauma recovery. But my thinking also expands into something perhaps more basic, more theological, even foundational: How does faith in a loving, merciful God intersect with recovery from traumatic events?

Questions lead me into metaphor. This one, a joining, two lines touching. Connecting at a perpendicular point to a become something–an intersection, a stopping point. A place for four directional choices, a crossroads. A letter used sparingly in the English language named “x.” A shape called cross as in stich, bar, or the leftover symbol of torture and murder attempted on God by humans.

Yet if the two lines have depth, like that of two felled trees, they double at the point of connection. If hollow out, this crossing place forms a pit. The pit, as in the space we all visit, even stay for a length of time, perhaps are still living in. It’s the point we occupy in the afterwards of traumatic experiences. Full of wounds, suffering, despair, and shock.

Pit forms a container for what has happened to us. Holds us until shock subsides. Enough for us to make choices: Either allow traumatic experiences to govern us by choosing to stay in pit not healing. Spread the pain of our traumatic experiences onto ourselves and others. Or the choice to reveal our truth, begin healing, do the work.

The choice to heal reminds me that God’s death on this wood, either in belief or as allegory, was temporary. God rose again. Lived on earth for a time. Once again feeding, teaching, and healing. Before commissioning the disciples to continue the work of “doing likewise.” Assured of and accompanied by God’s ongoing presence through God’s Spirit. Never alone as how it felt during the three days.

Another Memory

One morning, early in our relationship, Tony walked me to my car. The Chicago intersection at Glenwood and Berwyn was under construction. Each day a larger, messier, muddier hole deepened at the center of these crossing streets. We wondered again and again what this work meant? Was the city working on the sewer lines? Or something else? No one seemed to know so we watched, waited. Until one morning we walked out to a new sight. The back end of a car stuck straight up and out while the front end dove deep into the hole like a duck fishing in a pond. We groaned knowing we too had come close to driving into this new pit. Laughed as we imagined the driver opening the door, wondering how to jump down.

By evening the car was gone but we continued talking about the car in the hole outside our door. About a week later workers filled in this pit with a mound of rich black dirt. Then they planted a tree, some bushes, and flowers. The messiness of the pit reformed becoming both a place of beauty and growth as well as a reminder for drivers to slow down, keep safe, keep others safe.

Choice shapes our lives. The choice to heal forms in us in compassion for self toward a new direction. Healing helps us leave the pit knowing it has done its work. Gives us the inner strength and courage to roll our own stones away. Step out of God’s three days with the dead into life afterwards. In the choice to heal we enter new life for ourselves, others, and all of creation.

Accompanied by God’s Spirit. Amen.

Crossroads image by Ely Penner from Pixabay

Domestic Violence, Grief, Healing, Hope, Newsletter, Trauma recovery

NEWSLETTER, (JUNE/JULY 2022)

Hypervigilance. Stuck on high alert. A symptom of unhealed traumatic experience. Leading to constant control of environment, self, and others. Seen in perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual violence, and organizations, governments, and families who follow intense sets of rules. What if those who are trapped by their internal demand for control healed instead?

TRANSITIONS

The last days of June urge us into July. A month when after eleven years in our home we pack our belongings, load a large truck, and transport all that we have across town into a temporary living space. In 2011 we moved to this area full of hope. In July we don’t leave this house in despair. But we do acknowledge all that happened to us as a family, individuals, the country, and world while living in this place called home. We also leave not knowing the future. Because my call into ministry moves painfully slow. And because the world shifted while we lived here in this place. Some shifts make us more truthful. Some shifts tore our hearts open. Some shifts are still healing.

So, we leave. Not feeling metaphorical or poetic. More practical and realistic. Turning faces toward this thing called now and another thing named future. Praying for soft landing at the other end. Knowing life, in its mixture of joy, pain, and sorrow, still claims its essence as worth living.

Behind the scenes for Faith+Lead’s Book Hub event.

RECENT & UPCOMING HAPPENINGS

Article: “Where Faith and Trauma Recovery Meet,” at Bearings Online.

Article: “Heal Self, Love Others.” at Faith+Lead.

Television Appearance: “Childcare in Iowa,” on Ethical Perspectives in the News. Sponsored by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.

Taped Workshop: “Beyond Job’s Friends: Accompanying Those in Trauma’s Pits.” Faith+Lead Book Hub Event. Listen to the podcast here.

July 16: “Beyond Talking About Trauma.”  Wild Goose Festival in Union Grove, North Carolina.

July 30/31: Reading, Q&A, & Book Signing at St. John Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Illinois. Stay tuned for more details!

July 31: Preaching at St. John Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Illinois.

August 6-7: Preaching at Faith Lutheran Church in Eldridge, Iowa.

August 11-12: “Trauma Informed Ministry.” Door County, Wisconsin

September 1 @ 6:30 PM: Book Reading at Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa.

October 22: “Trauma Informed Liturgy,” with Faith+Lead.

INVITE JENNIFER TO SPEAK

If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, preach, or lead a workshop, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak.

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

Whether we like it or not, there is a business to writing. Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my gratitude!

WHAT I’M READING

I’ve studied compassion from the clinical researcher point of view and also some of the Buddhist practices of compassion. Now I’m diving into the compassion of Jesus.

BUY MY BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press.  Also available at Prairie Lights, Barnes & Noble, Coralville, Iowa, Barnes & Noble Online, Books-a-Million, Target, Bookshop.org, and Amazon.

BONUS SECTION

From my journal

June 2, 2017. Iowa City, Iowa

On a clear day in late spring when the air cleared of Iowa humidity and big white clouds hung in a seemingly simple blue sky, on a day when grief’s pain hit me again and again, I sit in the living room of an senior living apartment listening to a man in his late eighties tell me the adventures of his life. As he does, thought fills my brain. What will I write about once grief is no longer the subject of my morning outpouring of words?

On this day, and I tell the man’s wife so, I think maybe I will write other people’s stories or maybe stories of being a pastor. Because on this clear day, I once again love hearing someone else’s story. Or perhaps I tire of my own. Acceptance of which sprouts in my soul.

JUNE/JULY Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Faith, Grief, Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Anchoring

From my collection of unpublished pieces circa early 2018.

When it came time for our oldest son to attend Sunday School, I balked. My late husband was no help because the concept of Sunday School was completely foreign to him. Tony was a product of parochial school. In his mind, we simply attended worship on Sunday. Religious education was taken care by the nuns during the week. Except in Ricky’s case there were no nuns at the private Montessori school he attended.

My own reservations were two-fold. So many things about God, Christianity, Jesus, and what seemed to me the veneration of Jesus’ violent death made me uncomfortable. My mother calmly clarified things for me one day when she stated, “All young children need is to know that God is love. The rest can come later.”

Her seemingly simple statement centered me through more years of questioning my own faith, changing congregations twice, parenting my children through much turbulence, and beginning seminary.

I think a lot about life, faith, and God since Tony died. Sudden death forces the living to recalibrate every moment of every day. Yet in the beginning, I lived in trauma’s shock. My mind struggled to think. My body shook from any number of reasons. Left-over adrenalin, fatigue, and lack of food being the most common. My sons felt in losing their dad they had also lost the me they had once known.

But early one morning in the pit of this mess I had a brief wave of clarity. My job was to love. Love my sons, Love myself. And in loving the three of us through this unbelievable time, love God as well (Matthew 25).

Something opened within. Allowing the wonderful work of child development theorists to creep back into my brain. Combine with this quirky need to read Tony’s professional library, particularly the texts on love, relationships, and trauma. Discovering once again how human development theory and research mirrors God’s message through scripture. Even though I couldn’t really read scripture again yet. Only that funny line Job utters in chapter seven which now made complete sense to me: “Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?“

And eventually the book of Ruth because, let’s face it, three strong widows in one story is wildly amazing and attractive to someone yearning to be a strong widow full of self-agency.

Now after twenty-one years of marriage, twenty years of parenting, and fifteen months into grief and trauma recovery, I know this about my life: I want to center in love. And if nothing else makes sense (which it doesn’t right now) somehow the greatest commandment does in its “all you need to know is that God is love and the rest will come later” kind-of-a-way.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 NRSV

Words I see interpreted every time I drive north on Interstate 35 near Lakeville, Minnesota. There on the West side of the road a billboard reading “Love God. Love Others,” catching both eye and heart. Adding two more words: “Love God. Love Others. Love Self.”

Love anchoring me like a plumb line.

Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

Grief, Hope, Newsletter, Trauma recovery, Writing

NEWSLETTER (MAY, 2022)

Photo Captions:

Discovering my book on the shelf at Prairie Lights (Iowa City), Barnes & Noble (Coralville, Iowa), and an upcoming event with Faith + Lead.

RECENT & UPCOMING HAPPENINGS

New article with Faith & Lead: “Heal Self, Love Others.”

“Childcare in Iowa,” on Ethical Perspectives in the News. Sponsored by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.

Saturday, June 4th at 5:30 pm: Preaching at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.

Sunday, June 5th at 9:30 am: Preaching at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.

“Beyond Job’s Friends: Accompanying Those in Trauma’s Pits.” Thursday, June 16th, 2022 at 2:00 pm: Faith+Lead Online Book Hub event.

“Beyond Talking About Trauma.” July 14-17: Wild Goose Festival in Union Grove, North Carolina. Stay tuned for more information.

INVITE JENNIFER TO SPEAK

If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, preach, or lead a workshop, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak.

THOUGHT

Pray for compassion, for just mercy, for our culture prone to carry unhealed pain buried within its layers of controversy until it explodes into others–so often and again innocents. Then get off your knees advocating with every word, deed, action, courageous works of self-healing, and posture for God’s love, compassion, and justice to rule our world. Not those humans whose pain permeates their stolen power. Prayer is like empathy, only the beginning. The first step. Stagnant unless it leads to compassionate action.

BONUS SECTION

I journal a lot, daily. Or I have in past years. Right now, I’m slowing down. In part because journaling for a writer also includes returning to finished journals. Rereading them. Looking for themes, recurring questions, poetry fragments, hints of unhealed pain, and the next piece or book asking to be written.

My current confession is I do not like rereading my journals. At all. Feels like work done begrudgingly. Like I know its good for me and that feeling never really works with its shift into shame’s posture. So I often avoid rereading my journals. But recently five tattered notebooks created a pile in my office. Greeting me each morning with a whined, “Hey, remember us!”

Until one morning I muttered, “Fine! But I’m not going to add to this pile by continuing to journal until I’ve read all five of you!”

So I haven’t, much. Journaled. Although occasionally something flows into my heart and head which begs to be written down. Then, I scribble away again. Or in reading yet another trauma recovery book I do some sort of suggested exercise. Because nothing short of dutiful am I in investigating these small moments of healing. Which often fill up many pages!

Much of what I reread in my journals is repetitive, boring, and often depressing. The gems, the possible sprouts of something bigger, are rare. Making the discovery of something moving me to write are longed for gifts. And these gifts do appear! Here’s one from the height of the pandemic, before the vaccine.

November 6, 2021

Quiet morning of shiny sadness felt in cheeks. Turning down toward the earth. Maybe in sadness we return to creation waiting to be made anew like a seed. Irony: This thought makes me smile…

WHAT I’M READING

Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN by Tara Brach.

My primary therapist often talks about Tara Brach’s work. Post seminary, I have time to read outside the Christian theological canon. Which I love doing because I believe that when we are curious about God, when we believe we can never fully grasp the immensity of God and are humbled because of it, we become curious about other faith traditions’ thinking about and relationship with God.

According to her website, “Tara Brach’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and a full, compassionate engagement with our world. The result is a distinctive voice in Western Buddhism, one that offers a wise and caring approach to freeing ourselves and society from suffering.”

Radical Compassion Book Cover

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

Whether we like it or not, there is a business side to writing. Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my gratitude!

BUY MY BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press.  Also available at Prairie Lights, Barnes & Noble, Coralville, Iowa, Barnes & Noble Online, Books-a-Million, Target, Bookshop.org, and Amazon.

MAY Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Healing, Hope, Prayer, Trauma, Trauma recovery, Violence

Prayer is Only the Beginning

Pray for compassion, for just mercy, for our culture prone to carry unhealed pain buried within its layers of lies and controversy until it explodes into others–so often and again our innocents. Then get off your knees advocating with every word, deed, action, courageous works of self-healing, and posture for God’s love, compassion, and justice to rule our world. Not those humans whose pain permeates their stolen power. Prayer is like empathy, only the beginning. The first step. Stagnant unless it leads to compassionate action.

Healing, Hope, Writing

HEART’S BEAT

Infused in the words we speak, imbued in the words we write, dripping in the words we think is something pulsating with direction and meaning. Writers call this something many names, none right or wrong. Just ways of describing our unique urge to use words when making sense of self, other, world, and God.

Writer Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew calls this something, “heartbeat.” Without a heartbeat, without this “internal engine” moving our words in all forms–spoken, written, and thought–into truth, our work falls from”mattering” in this world. (58)

This same author suggests ways of unearthing the heartbeats of our pieces. Exercises and practices designed to discover the emotions and subsequent behaviors brooding and bubbling beneath words’ surfaces. Last September I did many of these exercises for three articles and a book manuscript I was writing. In my journal on September 4, 2021, I wrote the
following:

Heartbeat

Hope in healing’s many ways. Hope gifted to us through the ancestors of faith. Hope in healing–God’s and humans. Hope in ourselves. Hope in our bodies. Hope in each other. Hope in God. Living, active hope is the heartbeat…

Yet left to wonder how and what defines hope. Various online dictionaries instruct me that hope permeates our lives as both a noun and verb. Linked (in either grammatical form) to trust, belief, and desire in what’s possible for the future.

Definitions lead me to scripture’s many versus speaking directly of hope while linking it to faith. Here are just three of so many.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope; Psalm 130: 5

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 

Theologian Andrew Purves connects hope with compassion especially in “the feeding stories” found in the Gospel of Mark. “Compassion,” he writes, is associated with “…the most profound human need for hope…” (25-27)

Again and again the Gospels show hope through the behavior of those needing feeding and healing. Hope meets or even at time collides with the compassion of Jesus. Think about the profound hope of the man with a skin disease in Mark 1: 40-42. Or the hemorrhaging woman willing to risk touching Jesus in Mark 5:25-34. Or the father in Mark 9: 14-29 bringing his non-verbal son through an argumentative crowd to see Jesus. In each story Jesus is willing to see the
hope of people whom others deem invisible and undeserving. In doing so Jesus aligns willingness with keeping awake and aware of others’ needs. (Mark 13:35)  Jesus understands these needs in empathy and does something about them in compassion.

This hope in Jesus leads me to what mental health clinicians and researchers think. Many consider hope a skill, a good one to have. In other words, hope can be learned, practiced, and strengthened.

For Dr. Daniel Goleman, hope is more than “solace amid affliction.” Hope changes outcomes. He writes, “From the perspective of emotional intelligence, having hope means that one will not give in to overwhelming anxiety, a defeatist attitude, or depression in the face of difficult challenges or setbacks.” (86-87)

Based on some of the same research Goleman uses, Brené Brown writes, “…Hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities…Hope is learned!” (240)

We often categorize hope as an emotion. But really hope is a cognitive function. Something we can acquire and grow through observing others who are hopeful as well as practicing hopefulness. I also wonder if we are genetically primed to learn hope as a way of survival. Practicing hope then can be thought of as a life giving and sustaining spiritual practice. 

Back to exploring my heart’s beat. About a month after the first heartbeat entry I again write about hope. “…Even in the depth of despair, I reach for hope eventually found in God through
scripture, through those who help, and through healers…[my writing projects] begin in the depths searching for hope.”

Scripture, dictionaries, mental health research, and writing exercises lead me to embrace the rhythm of hope as my heart’s beat. Hope in my own innate abilities to heal, hope in healers, hope in God, hope in my growing compassion for self, others, and the earth, hope in both the emotion and action of love, and hope in believing in what is possible despite all that surrounds me.

What is your heart’s beat?

 

SOURCES

Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman

The Search for Compassion: Spirituality and Ministry by Andrew Purves

 

 

 

Grief, Healing, Newsletter, Trauma, Trauma recovery

April Newsletter, 2022

CURRENT REALITY

It’s April. My youngest son left to explore Europe. My oldest son winds his way toward home for work, doctors’ appointments, and visa renewal. Forrest and I passed the first round of applications to adopt a doodle dog. The house is up for sale. I’m interviewing for congregational ministry, wondering and worrying about finances, marketing the book, writing an article, and working on a second book. Oh! And it’s Easter. Still. For the next 40 plus days.

Yet I breathe in all the goodness this whirlwind of words embraces. Because without all the healing work we as a family did and continue to do the list of our lives would read very differently. This possible reality, of what could have been, always lives in my heart and mind. Not as pain but as truth laced with gratitude. Thankful I pushed us to do the work, the healing work, as an act of love. Healing giving us balm and leading us to live fully in love, purpose, and joy each hour of each night and day now and in all the days to come.

May you find a way to “do the work” as well.

~Jennifer

HAPPENINGS

In-Person

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 7:00 pm: In-person book talk at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa. Prairie Lights Bookstore will be there selling my book at the event. You may attend virtually or watch at a later date at Gloria Dei Live.

Saturday, June 4th at 5:30 pm: Preaching at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.

Sunday, June 5th at 9:30 am: Preaching at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.

July 14-17: Wild Goose Festival in Union Grove, North Carolina. Stay tuned for more information.

Podcasts

Tues. May 3 – Ep. 52: Grief + Healing Author Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez on Untrained Wisdom.

Thursday, June 16th, 2022 at 2:00 pm: Faith+Lead Book Hub event.

Articles

“Where Faith and Trauma Recovery Meet,” at Bearings Online.

“Small, simple self-care” in the January/February 2020 edition of Gather Magazine

In the News

Coming up! Ethical Perspectives on the News sponsored by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.

Gazette interview with Rob Cline.

Read why Chalice Press decided to publish A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance.

November 4, 2021:  A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA eNews.

Interviews

Q & A with Chalice Press President, Brad Lyons.

Book launch interview with Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life and Compassionate Christianity

This is Life and the Living of It: Steven D. Lee and I talk about faith and trauma recovery.

If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, preach, or lead a workshop, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak.

BONUS SECTION

Each month I share part of my process of writing A Time to Dance & A Time to Mourn. This month’s offering is a blog post from May 4, 2018 that did not find a home in my memoir.

Easter Understanding

Sitting in a church pew Easter Sunday. Seats at a premium this morning. Finding space third row from the Baptismal font.  On the right almost under the organ pipes.

Swarms surround us. Decked out in Spring’s cold glory. Small limbs buzzing from early morning chocolate bunnies. Syrupy smells poured over church-basement pancakes wafting up sanctuary stairwell.  Scents floating off potted lilies celebrating this day, distracting our noses.

Me, quietly book-ended by sons. Lanky height towering over shrinking self. Our hearts cradling family variants. Arriving on time for once. Not participating in today’s service. Missing one person in body, spirit, love. Forced imbalances creating new holiday traditions. Because of loss. Because of illness. Because human essence demands continual, dynamic change. Life ever flowing somewhere. Living in all directions. Forward, one of many routes. Options include straight back, down, and up above. Existence also following verticals and sub-verticals like feeds and streams.

During Lent this year understanding the movement of Lot’s wife. Looking back froze her future. Into crumbling salt. Comprehending this can happen to us. So far doesn’t. Ongoing therapy eradicates salt. Revisiting the past orients us into living. Discovering alternatives. Lot’s wife perhaps wanting choice too. Beginning with resisting orders. Ones requiring forced obligation in ancient womanhood. A constricted soul experiencing momentary freedom. Salt worth its weight. Me, not so interested in salt. Embracing all directions.

WHAT I’M READING

My latest? Homecoming by Thema Bryant, PhD. Also check out her podcast by the same name.

Homecoming by Thema Bryant, Ph.D.

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

Whether we like it or not, there is a business side to writing. Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my gratitude!

BUY MY BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press.  Or support your local, independent bookstore.

April Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Faith, Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery

Easter Early in Grief

Every Lent a simple wreath hangs on our door. It’s a peace sign woven from vines by a third world woman. Someone trying to better her life and therefore the lives of her family by fingers practicing hope.

This sign also hung on our door from the first August morning of our grief. I took down our summer garland of blue and yellow flowers and hung this one up instead. Attempting to mark us as a home experiencing a different time than everyone else’s. Wanting to wrap the wreath in black ribbon but could not find the energy for it. So the peace sign hung as is for months, actually until Thanksgiving or Advent, I don’t remember which. Longer however than I lasted in my all black widow’s wardrobe hanging heavy on my shoulders.

This morning checking the mailbox I looked at our wreath of peace, the same color as the dead foliage falling against our home. Realized I was done with long dreary Iowa springs, grief, and Lent. Decided to find our flowered Eastertide wreath waiting for its turn on the door. It’s blooms signaling something good, something looked forward to and now here. Thinking its flowers, bouncing off the budding daffodils along our front walk, create a cacophony of color celebrating the return of something deemed beautiful.

So days before Palm Sunday, the day marking the beginning of what comes next in the Christian story, I took down our peace wreath. Not because I have fully found peace, but maybe because I haven’t. Not yet. Not quite yet. Maybe I trust, because Tony taught me this and Aunt Linda keeps reminding me, that I can and will heal and will come to some sort of peace with what happened.  Knowing a one time trauma is not comparable to perpetuated trauma, not as complicated. More of a clean break in trauma speak, no emotional pins or surgery escalating matters even more. Yet still full of sorrow. Occasional panic attacks creeping in from out of nowhere except now I know how to appease this pain.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five.Repeat.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five. Repeat.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five. Repeat.

On and on in a circle of breath, maybe five minutes or so, until the agitated sensations running through my body pass away returning me to my now normal. Finding Easter in my breath. Life, resurrected from grief’s anguish. Again and again. Breath after breath. Blooming even in my muck.

A version of this piece was first posted on April 8, 2017.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery

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Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery

Tomorrow’s Dawn

Five and a half years ago I was closing the door of my late husband’s mental health practice for the last time. Boxes of client files went into clinical professional storage. Furniture came home, was sold, or moved to my older son’s first apartment. Various mementos found their way to family members. Tony’s extensive professional library was given to a young colleague, a sexual abuse crisis center, the library, or was toted home in white, file boxes.

Other boxes came home as well. Full of information I was told to keep, didn’t really know what to do with but might need in the continual process of closing our beloved business. One box contained outlines of every professional presentation Tony ever created. Another, all the blank forms clients filled out before beginning therapy with him. Still another box held various clinical resources–charts on the brain, lists of emotions, pamphlets on various life changes, as well as a plain, slightly worn, vanilla file folder with Tony’s escalloped handwriting on its tab. “Grief,” it read.

I found this file early on, maybe in the initial days after his sudden and tragic death. Wading through his office while sharing my shock, trauma, and grief with our children. Even though they had enough of their own without witnessing mine. The file, tucked away on a low shelf, sat along with other folders with various clinically relevant markings. This file labeled in a way I thought odd however. As if my now deceased husband left us a final gift. A folder of resources on how to live  in anguishes’ aftermath. Along with some books on grief which turned out to be outdated and therefore unhelpful.

Of course, I couldn’t look at the folder. The mere sight of Tony’s handwriting sent me further down into the clenches of grief’s pit. Threw it in a pile covered by other files. Then like a rebellious child, found my own grief resources. But within a month or so the file sat on my work table. Its presence urging me to go through its contents. Finally getting my attention when I failed once again to begin my son’s college financial aid forms.  “Why not?”  I asked dumping the file’s slew of papers out on the desk.

Could only stare as eyes blurred over. Stomach clenched. Acid rose into throat. Stuffed the papers back into the file again.

A few years past. In that time I spent a portion of each week in therapy, lots of stolen moments reading about clinical trauma recovery, wrote a memoir, wrote another book manuscript, learned how to be a pastor, parented during really intense times, experienced profound loneliness, and tried recreating a life for myself while supporting my sons in doing the same. All the while the file sat there. Somewhere. Shuffled around to various holding positions in my office or bedroom. Getting lost again and again amidst ongoing life. 

But then I remembered the grief file. Right when I felt strong enough to view its wisdom in articles, sayings, outlines for continuing education sessions, grief groups, and liturgy for those suffering from HIV AIDS. Some of the articles, outdated. The sayings, designed to be hopeful, felt like diminishing platitudes. The liturgy, powerful still. Then an outline–Tony’s. A six week session created for a congregation in the months my father slowly died of cancer’s Sezary Syndrome. Entitled “Tomorrow’s Light” and covering nineteen pages.

As I skimmed, not able to attend to each word, I noted Tony’s predictable curiosity.

  • “What have you heard about grief?” 
  • “How do you define grief?” 
  • “What messages (verbal and nonverbal) were communicated to you about grief and loss?” 
  • “Who am I now?” 

Woven with other thoughts on grief.

  • “Grief is a period of time [when] life is out of balance.”  
  • “Each person experiences their pain at 100%.”
  • “YOU CANNOT RECOVER ALONE.” 

And words about the world’s weirdness regarding the humanness of grief.

  • “We live in a society that…teaches us how to acquire and hold on to things.” 
  • Suggests we “keep busy” rather than normalize the experience of grief.”
  • Tells us we should not “be angry with God.” 
  • Avoids witnessing others’ pain by using a “change the subject attitude.” 
  • Produces people “afraid of the expression of strong feelings [and who] will sometimes try to acknowledge the feelings quickly and then offer some intellectual or logical advice.” 

And then there it was. On page twelve. The last statement on the page. “Sudden, untimely or accidental death of a loved one can take as longs as 4 years to get through.” 

Wow. An answer to the question I asked Tony’s clinical supervisor maybe a week after he died. “How long does this shit last?” 

She replied, “Two years.” 

Hated her response. Resented it. Knew I needed to heal more quickly than that for my sons.

Recently the clinical supervisor and I were back in touch. When I reminded her of her answer in those early days of grief and post trauma, she admitted she lied. Didn’t think I could take the truth. “I really thought it would take 3 1/2 years.” 

She was right. In exquisite expertise, this healer knew a truth I could not hold until now. Her lie, a gift. But one given by one who intimately knows the landscape of anguish, sorrow, pain, and trauma. 

We did not know Tony would die, leave us, on August 13, 2016. His death was not something we prepared for together. Writing closing thoughts. Sharing enough “I love you’s” to last the rest of our living lives. Planning a funeral together. Making sure our financial life was in order. We had none of that. Only a will and a few insurance policies–more than most at our age.

Instead what Tony left us was a belief system. Belief in our human ability to heal. Belief in life after death for the living as well as the dead. Belief in each new dusk and dawn–that day follows night and night follows day and that tomorrow’s light needs the healing balm of the previous night’s dark. 

The folder, not a grief manual. Perhaps a symbol, even a gift of hope’s tangible existence. A reminder the world continues creating healers who assure us healing is possible, believe in our humanity, and offer accompaniment in our time of sorrow into healing, health, and wholeness. 

I never did read the file’s entire contents. It now lives in a box full of my journals and papers from the first two years after Tony died as part of the documentation of our human tragedy and truth.