Advent, Christmas, Family, Grief, Trauma recovery

Newsletter December, 2022

HEALING & THE HOLIDAYS

Holidays require a lot of time, preparation, and work. A focus on things that often don’t seem to matter especially when life is full of loss, sorrow, and pain. Whether you are in grief healing or trauma healing or both, our extended holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day can feel relentless. Accompanied by either a cacophony of increased social activity, gift expectations, feast preparations, religious services, family gatherings, scheduling complications, and hectic travel experiences or the agitated silence of isolation and anxiety. Either way, this time requires increased amounts of energy directed toward avoiding emotional triggers, traps, and anniversary issues. Output so often wasted because we cannot continue suppressing the emotional flooding or hijacking regardless of our hypervigilant efforts.

So, what if? What if instead of fastening our seat belts, praying to make it through, and dreaming of the time when this extended performance ends we did something different? What if we embraced these weeks as a time for having difficult yet necessary conversations with ourselves and our loved ones? The conversations which more often than not just simmer below the festive surface. Leaking out regardless. Creating outbreaks of varying levels during a time when we all are supposed to look like one big happy family and community.

What if this dreaded time was an opportunity to say what needs to be said? Speaking into our fears of this time of gathering and reliving what changed our lives without our permission. Emotions named and expressed minimizing the accrual of resentments and anger that we usually either numb with alcohol, food, or drugs or explode out into those gathered.

What if the holidays became more a time of shared reflections of what we’ve healed in the past year, the work we still want to do, and the compassion we are able to give ourselves and each other?

What if these holy and sacred shared revelations became as important as pumpkin pie, beautifully decorated holiday cookies, and holiday sweaters?

What if we looked forward to these yearly conversations, held over a period of six or so weeks? That somehow these conversations felt more needed and less obligatory than the annual fest of too much food and drink, concerts, parties, carols, and movies? Because we came to realize that being fulfilled by our relational transparency with ourselves and others led to deeper connections with the people we both love and need, including ourselves?

What if Emmanuel, God with us, included or even was these connections we made each year with one another? Making the real gift of this season of piled up holidays, each with their own set of implied expectations, an ongoing act of fostering and strengthening human relationships? What if?

Blessings on your holy connections this holiday season. ~Jennifer

HOLIDAY HEALING RESOURCES

“Just Hold On…When Grieving at the Holidays.”

“Dealing With Grief During the Holidays: 28 Ways to Cope.”

“Stress and Loss During the Holidays

AN EXCERPT FROM AN EARLY DRAFT

Grief Life List

“I’m not getting a tree,” I announce in early December.

“What? We always have a tree,” Ricky counters voice climbing into combat. Cave into his insistence.

Drive south, to the edge of Iowa City. Snow storm brewing across grey streaked sky. Sons grumble as they pick out and cut down tree. Farmer saws end off making rough places plain. His sons tie tree to roof of our car. Drive back home. Snow whirling around us. Beautiful. Scary.

Decorate tree. After Epiphany, thought of taking tree down makes head swim. Sends me back to bed. Remember year before. Ricky, in pain from losing his dog, his dear friend to the ravages of suicide, and his mind to a medical mystery screamed at us for trying to take down the Christmas tree. All Tony and I could do was soothe our beloved son. Once again feeling helpless in the face of this unknown something eating him away. Promised again and again we would keep the tree up forever. While he sat on the sofa staring at shedding, browning branches and listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas CD until Spring. When there was now no doubt that the tree needed to leave.

This year, in a trance, put away ornaments. Strip off lights. Ask sons to haul tree outside to curb. Vacuum up mess. Sit on same sofa gazing at empty spot left by tree, by Tony.

WHAT I AM READING

A good read in which religious historian and author Karen Armstrong brings together the thinking and practice of many of the world’s religions on growing compassion for self and one another.

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.

GOOD NEWS!

A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance made the list of Best Christian Grief Books for 2022 at Choosing Therapy!

© December Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Image by Monika from Pixabay.

Family, Food, Grief, Healing, Newsletter, Trauma recovery

NEWSLETTER November 2022

THIRD THANKSGIVING

Eleven pounds. Eighty-six ounces. Fresh. Organic. Not too heavy for me to lift into my grocery cart. Remember the brussel sprouts. Forget the cranberries. Because I burned my orange, cardamom, cranberry sauce in the crock pot yesterday. Making sauce no one will eat. Because really what we all want are good lingonberries with our feast. The hard-to-find ones costing seven dollars a jar. But I like the smell of simmering cranberries. Warms up our home with thoughts of holidays’ past. Until berries remind me of their fragility and burn. No longer evoking memories. Just another failed cooking attempt.

Earlier, when leaving for the store, gazed at sparkling crystals covering drive. Made mental note to sand upon return and remind sons to scrape mid-afternoon. Ensuring safety for myself, my mother, the delivery people. Before late November sun sets to soon.

Now arriving home, the back seat full for our upcoming feast. Sand our drive, pock-marked by your overuse of salt. Wanting once, a lifetime ago, to make sure I did not slip on this descending slope. Throwing grit down now. Missing you. Not because I do your chore. But because I simply miss you. Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Miss you on this sunny Sunday day.

Hours later sit with strangers in writing workshop. Flowing tears shift them in their seats. Like so many others blindsided by our pain. Spectators more comfortable with emotions on the page than in living truth. Curious voyeurs hoping against hope to keep covered their own pain while not empathizing with a slice of ours.

Tears emanate from truth told through poem written here and shared. Today, this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I bought my first Thanksgiving turkey since you died. We, no longer qualifying as refugees, welcomed at others’ Thanksgiving tables. Released this third Thanksgiving to celebrate on our own. The stuffing mine to overcook. The cranberries mine to burn. The gravy mine to whisk into lumps. The pumpkin pie mine to forget the sugar. Like the time my sons will not forget.

In following days leading up to event make another phone call asking to have your name removed from some bill, piece of mail. Like I have so many times these past twenty-seven months. Never ending, this removing you from our day-to-day business of living. Realize as this holiday approaches though that I must (once again) slow down. Be good to myself. Take care. Cease all dissassociations and denials. Just be in what was, what is not now, and what can be despite it all. A paradoxical trifecta of sorts. The holy trinity of living after trauma and death.

Third Thanksgiving. First turkey. Wonder what we will be thankful for this year. The brutality of what happened to us compounded by sons’ illnesses, mysterious and hard to treat? No. Will we be thankful for knowing and loving you? Will we be thankful for what we have accomplished in healing grief, trauma, illness? Will we be thankful for mercies still to come? Will we feel hope this day, our first alone. The first we trust ourselves to be alone just sons, me and my mother. Who will bring Norwegian lefse made with gluten free flour, thick instead of thin. Making us all remember when wheat lefse smeared with real butter rolled up easily. You wanting to sweeten yours with brown sugar. Me telling you this way is incorrect in purist lefse culture. You carving the turkey. Looking at me with silent words of, “I really do not know how to do this…”

Me believing you will figure it out. Like now I believe we will continue to figure out life without you as I dish up food. Light candles. Gather us into the grace of this day.

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.

GOOD NEWS!

A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance made the list of Best Christian Grief Books for 2022 at Choosing Therapy!

WHAT I AM READING

I love metaphor. I embrace metaphors for God in my own theological imagination, my own thinking about and encountering God. Rabbi Toba Spitzer’s new book is a welcome addition to my wonderings about God. Here is a small bit of her wisdom:

“There are two elements found in every spiritual and religious tradition that resonate with the power of Voice: music, and the sound of silence. Each of these modalities offer opportunities for transformative spiritual experience.” (109)

God Is Here

RECENT ARTICLES & UPCOMING EVENTS

Recognizing the Hidden Suffering of Addiction, Faith+Lead.

Devotional in Rise & Shine: 2022-2023 Devotion Book. ELCA School and Learning Centers. 

October 1: Tara Eastman and I talk on her podcast, Holy Shenanigans.

October 4: Book Club with St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa

October 10: “Being a Spiritual Writer,” with author Lori Erickson at the Iowa City Book Festival. Our session is at 6:30 PM at the Coralville Library.

October 22: “Trauma-Informed Worship” with Faith+Lead. (10-12–Online Only)

November 1: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

November 8: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. 10-11:30–Online only)

November 15: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

November 29: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

December: Essay (print/online) in Sundays and Seasons: Guide to Worship Planning, Year A 2023 (Augsburg Fortress) 

WHAT’S UP IN 2023

There are a number of exciting possibilities incubating for 2023. Stay tuned!

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

Being an author, especially a spiritual author, means also being my own marketing director. And I admit I have all sorts of feelings about being tied to the social media self-promotion cycle. Yet there has always been a business side to writing. So here’s what publishers, book sellers, and writers know about getting books into readers hands, eyes, and hearts:

NEWSLETTERS: The more people on an author’s newsletter email list, the more the author sells their books. You can be on my newsletter list by simply following my blog. To do so, press the SUBSCRIBE button on the upper left side of this page.

REVIEWS: The more online reviews a book receives, the more a book sells. Please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. 

TIKTOK: If you post on TikTok, say something about my book AND use the hashtag #BookTok.

Thank you!

© October/November Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Healing meditation, Revised Common Lectionary Text, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Fear

Fearless Girl sculpture by Kristen Visbal.

For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid. Mark 6:50 NRSV

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”John 20: 19 NRSVUE

Reflection

After the accumulated traumatic experiences leading to Jesus’ death, the disciples felt fear (perhaps not for the first time) for their lives. The cross’ terror pounded through their bodies. Causing them to hide from the world. Live inside locked doors. Stay on guard. Peek out with wary eyes.

Jesus’ voice on the water and again in the locked room consoles the disciples. Settles their activated nervous systems. Gives them a sense of relief. The space within to see and hear what and who is truly there.

These words, “do not be afraid,” may also console us now. Remind us to breathe into our racing thoughts. Breathe into our protruding visions of what happened. The ones breaking into our everyday moments. Victimizing our survivorship. Directing our words and actions. In hurtful ways.

Yet there may be days in which these words, “do not be afraid,” just hurt. Illicit curses like WTF, Jesus! And questions such as how? How can I not be troubled or worried or afraid? Jesus’ words working not as reassurances. But as platitudes. No better than “God has a plan,” or “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.” Making our whole bodies, even our toes shout into our socks and shoes, “bullshit!”

Because we are afraid. Fear both saved our lives and brought us to this place in trauma’s afterlife. Life threatening fear still alive within us. Refusing to be calmed like the water by four words desiring peace for us.

Healing Practice: Take Heart

Breathe into your fearful heart. Just breathe into it. Allow your fears their space in your heart.

Picture yourself on your heart. Breathe into your troubled heart. Breathe deeper and wider.

Picture those who weigh heavy on your heart. Loved ones’ suffering. Joining you on your heart. Breathe into your troubled heart. Breathe deeper and wider.

Expand your breath until it dances with your fearing heart. Its wind weaving in and out of heart’s pumping action.

Keep breathing. Allowing breath’s wind to move with all who are on your heart this day. Allowing your breath to bring all of you together in one big dance.

Prayer

God of troubled hearts, worried heads, and fearful bodies, show us what Jesus meant when he said, “do not be afraid.” For his disciples then. For us now. Help Jesus’ words break into our fear. Bringing us a sense of peace, momentary or otherwise. Amen.

Image by maggavel from Pixabay

Faith, Healing, Healing meditation, Liturgy, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Flourishing

In health and human development we often use this term: survive or thrive. An either/or term with an embedded orbit between the two. Teachers, child development specialists, medical doctors, therapists, chaplains, pastors, loved ones, and really most of us want children and all people to move beyond surviving into thriving. Because surviving can be a time of waiting, frustration, fear, feeling stuck, and powerlessness. We use terms such as survival mode, subsisting, and stagnate to describe the extreme edge of this survival spectrum and softer terms such liminal space and limbo to describe survival as more temporary.

Environmental and systemic circumstances such as racism, genderism, joblessness, poverty, lack of resources, and poor or declining health attempt to hold us in survival. The ongoing worry about safety, food, housing, income, and health overtime can become a traumatic experience adding another layer of pain onto life in survival. Any traumatic experience may also keep us securely in perpetual fight or flight, even freeze states. Surviving then becomes a form of hypervigilant maintenance. Of keeping things as stable as possible while existing always on the edge of the next bad thing happening.

If surviving continues or moves into more security toward or into thriving’s beginnings, trauma’s leftovers from the time of living close to death can create more disease, the autoimmune and inflammatory kind. Disease throws us back into surviving once again shutting down the other end of this trajectory of survive or thrive.

Surviving is not to be minimized. The experience of just surviving seems relentless and unending for most people. Yet self and other compassion asks us to hold gently the miracle of surviving. Our bodies keeping us alive again and again after possible non-survival. Desiring us to move the other way toward and into thriving.

We survive then to thrive. Surviving becomes the living basis in which to add on layers of living. Layers such as growing in deep health, relationships, possibilities, accomplishments, and resources. When we cannot move toward thriving we of course feel stuck because flow is denied.

I, like many people, overuse the word thrive. I want my sons to thrive. I want my new husband to thrive. I want all my beloveds to thrive. I want all of creation to thrive. I want to thrive. The word thrive means “to grow vigorously,” and flourish.* Yet my heart embraces the word flourish as something more than thriving. A word meaning “to grow luxuriantly.”** Flourishing, for me, extends life’s various layers of growth. Creating an out of rather than an or. Instead of survive or thrive, we build: Survive first. Move toward and into thrive leading into a time of flourishing and beyond.

How can we build from surviving? Through healing. Deep, ongoing healing leads us out of surviving, into thriving and toward flourishing. Healing creates goodness within and around. In goodness we are no longer separated from love of self and others. In healing we create more internal and external space to ensure everyone has access to healing.

How do we heal? We begin with the simple desire to heal. Just a tiny mustard seed amount desiring something else. Something replacing the suffering in us and around us with hope. Something washing away the layers of pain bit by bit until we find ourselves where we’ve always existed, encapsulated in love. Love flowing in, above, under, and around us.

Then what do we do? Without thinking we connect and reconnect. Realize we’ve been shut down and away from the world and its people. The process of healing rejoins us to ourselves, others and all that is greater than ourselves–the universe and Spirit. This connection and reconnection, in Scriptural terms, uses the word righteousness or righteous. As in I have reconnected to God. Words which have come to mean, in some traditions, following God’s rules, being obedient to these rules even if they are the rules of powerful humans and not God. For so many people, myself included, these terms feel like more trauma turning my stomach around. I remind myself in healing that there are other understandings of these words.

So, what if we substitute righteousness with healed? Here’s what happens in Psalm 92, verses 12-15 when we do. (NRSVUE)

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

The healed flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.

They are planted in the house of God; they flourish in the places of our God.

14 In old age they still produce fruit;
    they are always green and full of sap,

In old age the healed still produce fruit; the healed are always green and full of sap,


15 showing that the God is upright;
    God is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in God.

showing that God is healed and wants healing; God is my rock, and there is no un-healing in God.

There is no un-healing in God. What a thought! What a belief! God wants us to move beyond surviving. God wants us to heal. God wants us to build on survival into what is possible for ourselves, others, and all creation. And when some of us begin to move out of survival into thriving, God wants us to turn back toward those people still in survival. God wants us to connect, have compassion. Offer healing ways to all people, to all of creation. Only when we heal, connect, and ensure others will also heal can we truly flourish within ourselves and in our world. Flourishing then is an act of compassion for self and others.

*https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/thrive

**https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flourish

Image by Joe from Pixabay

Faith, Healing, Newsletter, Trauma, Trauma recovery

NEWSLETTER, SEPTEMBER 2022

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. And in my travels I’ve met many people harmed by some form of Christianity. Some by my own denomination. Yet all the people I’ve met still seek something greater than themselves: The earth, other gods, nature, other ways of believing in something. But God, the God I proclaim, seems absent.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

I too, know this sense of God’s absence. I felt it in the depths of trauma’s aftermath. I feel it now as I write these words. What I’ve learned though is that fatigue, anger, and stress impact my daily sense of God. And experts tell us that the experience of prolonged spiritual absence is a symptom of unhealed trauma. Healing and self-care uncover our innate spiritual selves. Yet not necessarily back to the pews of our past. But back to something–named or unnamed.

God, are you always with us? Even when we cannot feel your presence. See you in nature, animals, other people? Even when we cannot trust you? Or believe in your presence anywhere? Hold us in hope for the return of our spiritual selves. Amen.

RECENT ARTICLES & UPCOMING EVENTS

Recognizing the Hidden Suffering of Addiction, Faith+Lead.

Devotional in Rise & Shine: 2022-2023 Devotion Book. ELCA School and Learning Centers. 

Around October 1: Tara Eastman and I talk on her podcast, Holy Shenanigans.

October 2: Guest worship leader and preacher at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tipton, Iowa

October 4: Book Club with St. Mark Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa

October 9: Guest worship leader and preacher at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tipton, Iowa

October 10: “Being a Spiritual Writer,” with author Lori Erickson at the Iowa City Book Festival. Our session is at 6:30 PM at the Coralville Library.

October 22: “Trauma-Informed Worship” with Faith+Lead. (10-12–Online Only)

October 23: Guest worship leader and preacher at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tipton, Iowa

October 30: Guest worship leader and preacher at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tipton, Iowa

November 1: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

November 8: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. 10-11:30–Online only)

November 15: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

November 29: “Spiritual Care for Trauma” with Faith+Lead. (10-11:30–Online only)

December: Essay (print/online) in Sundays and Seasons: Guide to Worship Planning, Year A 2023 (Augsburg Fortress) 

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.

BONUS SECTION

From an early draft of my book.

The minute I laid down I knew something was wrong

For days I felt tired. Tired to the bone. Slogging through my days. Achy as if coming down with something.

School was in session. Is Paul bringing home the latest bug?

Sure, I was working out more if only to save my skeleton. But my new regime began weeks ago. Really! My body should be used to all these weights and prolonged walks by now!

Yes, I was writing all the time. For work. For me. For seminary. Lower arms feeling a bit stiff at the end of each day. But that’s to be expected, isn’t it?

But I also felt edgy. Tense. So tense I couldn’t break out of it no matter what I did. Then I started having headaches. Really bad headaches accompanied by nausea. Happened at church one Sunday morning. Left worship to ask around for some acetaminophen. “What’s wrong?” a friend wondered.

“I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Amos all morning for seminary. I think I have Amos head.”

“Well, I’m glad we have a name for it,” she replied.

At noon I laid down to nap. Too tired to go on. Study more. Write more. Take care of more bills, schedule more appointments, wash more dishes, do more laundry.

In bed my body spoke to me. Nervousness rushed everywhere within me. Agitation kept me from stillness. Even though this felt different, I breathed like I would in an anxiety attack. Long deep breaths in through my nose. Blown out through my mouth in steady pulses. Rhythm bringing in hope. Pushing out pain.

It worked, sort of. But not completely.

So, I waited. Breathing taking the edge off for a time. Never forever. Forever requiring deep healing for this stuff to cease residing in my body, any body. Is this a relapse? Or is it the next layer of pain ready for healing?

Checked my calendar. Another EMDR session in a few days. Healers and healing on their way.

THE VALUE OF NEWSLETTERS & REVIEWS

Being an author, especially a spiritual author, means also being my own marketing director. And I admit I have all sorts of feelings about being tied to the social media self-promotion cycle. Yet there has always been a business side to writing. So here’s what publishers, book sellers, and writers know about getting books into readers hands, eyes, and hearts:

NEWSLETTERS: The more people on an author’s newsletter email list, the more the author sells their books. You can be on my newsletter list by simply following my blog. To do so, press the SUBSCRIBE button on the upper left side of this page.

REVIEWS: The more online reviews a book receives, the more a book sells. Please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. 

Thank you!

WHAT I AM READING

I’ve never been much of a fan of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) person. Tony, my late husband and trauma therapist, was not either. We both felt professionally that its effects were not long term nor reached for root causes. When it comes to trauma recovery, many of the primary researchers agree. Why? Because CBT is about the mind, not the body. And trauma infects our entire selves. Yes, I use some CBT methods at times but as an adjunctive method and not for my deep, long lasting healing needs.

Medical doctor and author Paul Conti agrees. He writes, “The idea that we can simply get over difficult things that happened to us in the past is far more common than it should be, and in my opinion, some cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques (CBT) perpetuate this notion.” (71)

Read his book for an insider view of how the medical treatment of trauma often goes wrong.

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