Fourteen years ago I had just started this little blog and had about 2 or 3 readers.
That fall, I experienced what may well have been the most acute trauma of my life. But I didn’t even have the word “trauma” in my working vocabulary.
I’ve never told that story. The most I ever told was a blog post I wrote that fall about Psalm 131, quieting myself like a weaned child, a post that I republished in 2014 with a general sort of description. Here it is.
I’ve known for years that this brief but acute experience was one of the pieces of my life that the Lord used to bring me to the place of experiential understanding of trauma that I have now. It’s time to tell that story.
That fall, the fall of 2009, a relative was having an episode of severe mental illness. We shall call this relative “Shane.”
Because Shane was suffering and in the suffering was causing those around to suffer, Shane came to stay with us for a while, to allow for the others to have a break. All four of our children were still at home at that time, but it just so happened that Tim was away for an extended period on a business trip.
I began the experience with what I believed was strong faith, trusting that I could be of help in some way and the Lord would carry us through.
Shane was not sleeping and talked almost nonstop. Some of the talk was disturbing and over the days became more and more and more disturbing. One goal was to get Shane to the mental hospital, but that can be a tricky thing to accomplish. That is, if the individual doesn’t go willingly—and Shane believed there was no problem—then the person has to clearly be a threat to self or others before being taken against his or her will.
As Shane’s mental illness situation deteriorated over the following days, my own emotional state deteriorated as well. I was getting very little sleep. I was listening to increasingly disturbing talk over the days, talk that, to be frank, became increasingly blasphemous.
And the anger increased as well. I and even sometimes my children (though they were mostly spared) became brunts of the loud, angry lectures.
Shane got to the hospital after just about a week (and eventually got stabilized on medication). But in those few days, I was reduced to what felt like a fearful little mouse, scampering around trying to hide, trying to make phone calls, trying to get the help that was so desperately needed.
Maybe someday I’ll give more details about this experience. But for now I just want to say that I wish I could communicate properly how truly terrible it was.
I don’t really feel shame about my fear as I look back on it, but I certainly did feel shame about it at the time. I felt like my fear meant I had failed the Lord. I had lost faith.
Shane got to the hospital. I said to myself, “Now I can get finally back to the missionary book I was writing.” And I sat down at my computer to write.
But to my surprise, I couldn’t write. My head was bursting with Shane’s voice in my head, yelling. With confusion, with extremes of emotions.
If you will recall from the title of this blog post, I Didn’t Know What Trauma Was.
I went to bed in a fetal position. Shane’s voice continued to yell in my head.
I paced the floor, grasping my head, feeling like I was Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress, trying to get to the Palace Beautiful with rows of lions flanking me on both sides.
I felt attacked by demons, all yelling at me in Shane’s voice.
I got a hold of Ed Welch’s book Blame it on the Brain and read that, but I didn’t find any help there. I got David Powlison’s book Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture, but I couldn’t find help there either.
That’s when I parked in Psalm 131. This is the back story to the blog post I referenced above, written in what felt like the most feeble possible state.
Several years went by before I could look back on this experience and analyze it through a trauma-informed lens. More years have gone by before telling the story, in part because of my desire to speak discreetly about Shane, who is someone I care about very much.
When I read my Psalm 131 blog post now, I can see that it doesn’t even really communicate what I wanted to communicate. What I wanted to say was that I was weak and feeble and low and incapable and frankly, a mess. I felt like I was sitting behind David in the back of the cave, afraid but holding on to hope that there was someone there at the mouth of the cave, guarding it against the enemies that would like nothing better than to burst through and destroy me. Wanting to encourage others to continue hoping as I was barely able to hope myself.
And as I look again at Psalm 131 now, I am reminded again of the vital importance of strong, loving, faithful relationship with the Lord. Through all the trauma, I did still know that the Lord was faithful and would carry me through.
And He did.
That was why—though it was a difficult process—I could ultimately say “I have quieted myself.” It was, first, because the Lord wasn’t forcing me to do anything; instead, He was offering me something more. In keeping something I wanted from me, He invited me to something greater. Amazing. I still marvel at it.
When that episode with Shane began, I held what seemed to me like strong faith—I was sure that I would not waver in my confidence in the Lord—I ended the experience simply wanting to survive. My faith in the Lord didn’t look anything like what I thought it ought to look like.
It wasn’t a blazing glory. It was a weak candle flame.
At that time nothing crossed my mind about the Lord bringing any good out of it. Again, I simply wanted to survive and stay sane if possible.
But as Untwisting Scriptures #5 emphasizes, it is when we go through suffering in faith—even when that faith is small and weak—that the Lord will be glorified in the midst of our suffering. It isn’t the suffering itself that is glorifying to Him. It is the faith that is developed in the midst of it.
It was years later that I could look back and see that the experience of the fall of 2009 became one of the pieces of my life preparing me for my current work.
Untwisting Scriptures to Find Freedom and Joy in Jesus Christ: Book 5 Brokenness & Suffering is officially launching next week, on September 11th.
And Book Crafters Academy opens for applications next month. It offers exclusive group coaching with a Christian trauma-informed book coach (me), so you can finally write the nonfiction book God has laid on your heart.
It may take a while, it may take years, for you to be able to look back over your life and see how the Lord has so gently and masterfully worked. To see how even in those really bad experiences the Lord can work through the (small!) faith you have held, in order to lovingly craft something more, something beautiful.
I pray you’ll be able to see His good work, His light shining in the darkness. I pray you will know the “more” that He offers you in loving relationship.
Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty:
neither do I exercise myself in great matters,
or in things too high for me.
Surely I have behaved and quieted myself,
as a child that is weaned of his mother:
my soul is even as a weaned child.
Let Israel hope in the LORD from now on and forever.