How to Heal From That??

Last week I attended the screening of “We Were Children” and also had the privilege of hearing the stories from those whose parents had gone through residential school. The film follows the story of two Aboriginal children, Lyna and Glen, as they endured residential school in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, respectively. These schools aimed to “kill the Indian in the child”. The effects of physical, emotional and sexual trauma they survived through persist into all aspects of their adult lives. It was such a heavy film to take in…I’m still processing…but here are some thoughts:

The First Nations “problem” we perceive to have today is just the symptom of  the incredible brokenness the residential school survivors carried. Many of these children were separated, sometimes forcefully, from their parents from the age of 4 to 18. The schools forbade touching, provided no affection, taught no social or life skills and the rich family-oriented culture they were taken from was effectively erased. In addition, attacks and abuses were heaped on physically, mentally and spiritually. No one believed you even if you told them you were abused because “why would the priests do that”? So you carry the shame, the hurt, the guilt, the anger, the injustice, the rage, the helplessness and hopelessness in silence. Upon “graduating” you were tossed back out into the world but now have no idea how to cope with the new freedoms. No ideas how to be in relationship with others. No idea how to be a husband or a wife or a mother or father. Many turned to alcohol to numb the memories. Many took their own lives. Many left their own wounded children in their wake. And the children of residential school survivors are the First Nations elders we have today. They’ve faced abuse of all sorts simply because their parents (the survivors) didn’t know anything else and many have passed that brokenness on…so the generational curse really does reach into the third and forth generations.

One lady from the Haida tribe shared about her memories from before she was taken into residential school. Their one tribal law was to respect and honor each other. And so they did…everyone’s conduct hinged on this law. Families were tight and loving. Homes were clean and decorated with flowers and seashells. Everyone took care of each others needs. It was a happy time.

Apparently, the atrocities seen in this film is still considered to be a mild version of what some have experienced. I can’t imagine. Also, I was horrified to learn that Hilter’s concentration camps were inspired by the Canadian residential schools. And even more sickened by how these schools were run by various “Christian” churches. What terrible terrible representation of God and His love!! But I am reminded that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) The end of the Story has been written and Christ will conquer. All who trust in Him will not be victims but victors.

Back to our First Nations…how does healing begin?? How does healing reach those wounds from generations back? For those of us bearing Christ’s name, how might we be agents of reconciliation today? The end of the Story might already be written but right now we get to be part of the action. Hearing the stories from Christian First Nations that night bore witness to the incredible power of healing from God. How do we fit into this picture, this journey of healing? That’s what I want to know…and be part of.

Poll: What do you think happened??

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I’ve been discussing various family history stories with people and are speculating about what could’ve gone down in a particular scenario. If the following facts were all you had, what story would you put together about what happened? (All the facts must be used)

  • This was during wartimes when Japan invaded China
  • Man has a Wife (W1) in China whom he was officially married to, they have one son
  • Man met another woman (W2) in HK/Kowloon before 1950
  • Man produces seven children in total, six born in HK
  • The children were born to W1 and W2 in this order: W1, W2, W2, W1, W2, W1, W2
  • At one point, a judge in HK invalidated the “marriage” between Man and W2
  • Man was not charged with bigamy nor was he granted a double marriage
  • W2 and her children later lived separately from Man, W1 and their children
And these were the marriage laws of the day:
  • Having more than one official “wife” was illegal in China…but you could have concubines…this practice of keeping concubines was banned in 1950
  • You didn’t have to register your marriage in HK until after 1950
  • Having more than one legal wife in HK wasn’t banned until 1971
  • Bigamy was illegal in China, the second “marriage” would be nullified if the first wife was still alive

Feel free to add your interpretation of the facts to the poll! I do believe there’s usually more than two sides to a story. Also, please share why you’d pick one story over the other(s) as being more plausible.

We’re all…a little crazy

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Dr. Sharon Smith spoke in our Sunday Service a few weeks ago….and what great insights into how we should view mental health in view of our faith and in Church. This is my little summary of the gems I gleaned from it. If you can, I totally recommend listening to it here too because I won’t be covering everything she touches on.

It’s important to consider the progress or regression as along a spectrum where an invisible line divides between mental health, and a mental illness experience.

Mental Health <————————–|————————–> Mental Illness Experience

This is a huge difference from how our medical system sees it. You get diagnosed with a condition and well, that’s it. Labeling someone as having mental illness keeps them in that category and doesn’t give them the sense they can be anything else. Dr Smith challenges this with this idea…that EVERYONE crosses into a mental illness EXPERIENCE territory at least once in their lives. It can be triggered by a combination of external environmental stressors, physical/spiritual health and what kind of community you have around you….but a key point is that EVERYONE will falter in their mental health. Some have a more vulnerable mind than others and simple triggers can slide them into another mental illness experience. Another key point that I REALLY appreciate is that we CAN slide back into mental health! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Is mental illness always Satan’s doing? If only the answer was that easy! The short answer is “no”. Dr. Smith shared an illustration of how wolves hunt by running through a herd of sheep and scattering them in order to expose the weakest members of the flock. Maybe the flock ran from the weak sheep, or maybe this sheep mistakenly separated itself…but it became isolated and targeted. A person’s physical and spiritual health as well as the strength and closeness of their community plays together to affect someone’s mental health. A pill may address a chemical issue for a short while, but unless a person’s physical, spiritual and community health is also addressed, mental health is harder to reach.

One part of Dr. Smith’s message that really struck me is regarding how the Church community deals with mental health. It’s easy to see someone with broken leg and know to help them, accommodate, etc but it’s harder to see someone who’ve crossed that “line” into mental health issues and accomodate them. She quoted someone as saying, “Mental illness in church slows down the church to rethink their theology” — there are no easy answers around how mental illness fits into God’s “good plans”. “Life is hard, but God makes good of those hard spaces. He transforms the person and the community around him/her. Jesus didn’t come to take suffering away; He came to fill it with His presence.” So what does this say the Church is to do? Our call is to make tender places for people in vulnerable times. To rally around, accomodate and support those individuals. This makes me take a hard look at my responses and attitudes towards people around me. I confess I have a LOT of growing to do in the area of creating tender spaces in my life for people in vulnerable times. God help me.

I really don’t know how to summarize this GREAT message further, so please listen to the online version. I’ll just end with some practical mental health practices Dr. Smith shared with us:

  • STOP trying to read people’s minds. You guess at their meanings, you make your assumption real to yourself and it increases anxiety and worry. This eats away at your mental health.
  • Celebrate the baby physical steps towards mental health (whether your own or someone else’s). Maybe it’s making a diet change (sugar, alcohol and caffiene negatively impact mental health!) or maybe it’s just getting outside for a short walk. As a person physically moves towards health, the mind and spirit moves in that direction too.
  • If walking with someone in a mental illness experience, don’t take away what is hard for that person to deal with. This takes away their motivation to take the necessary hard steps towards wellness. It also could impact your OWN mental health.

Six Years

Six years ago. Today.

Time does ease the pain. Healing does come…though it’s more like healing after an amputation. You no longer bleed. But you’re altered forever.

It’s strange…if I ever meet someone who’ve lost a sibling, I feel a certain affinity to them. Like finding out you’re from the same home town or belong to the same club. But this is one membership no one chooses and I wish no one to have. I still wonder why it happened at all. Why us? I also still tell myself that there just might not be an answer on this side of Heaven. And on the otherside, I might not need an answer anymore because we’ll be able to see each other face to face. And see Jesus face to face. Glorious day.

I was at my parent’s place in April and wandered into his room. His wardrobe, bookcase and desk are all there. Relatively untouched. I opened the wardrobe, stuck my face in between the hanging shirts and inhaled. Nope…his scent is gone now. I think it’s time to let go of the clothes. I can still remember his laugh though. Once in a while, I hear someone’s laugh that’s slightly similar and I fight the urge to find out who this person is. Once in a while I also see someone with his physical shape…posture, tilt of head, maybe haircut, style of glasses…and I’ll just stare for a bit.

If I ever have a son, his middle name will be Nathaniel. After his uncle.

Six years. And counting. I miss you.

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

– William Wordsworth

Consequences vs Punishment vs Discipline

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Recently I had a heavy conversation with Dahn about consequences, punishment and discipline. Does God find ways to punish you…purposely withhold good things from you…because you displeased Him? Or is it just consequences…either of our wrong doing or someone elses. How about discipline from God? What leads to which in view of our spiritual walk with God? Keeping in mind too, that our spiritual lives cannot be separated from our physical lives…nor can our lives be separated from the lives around us.

I think we’re wrong to rank sins. “Well, doing this is better than doing that.” Choosing the better of two evils…is still evil. We should weep over someone who hates, as much as someone who lives in addiction or is abusive, as much as someone who lies. Sin = sin which deserves death. Not because God is mean, but because He is just. Real-life consequences of the various sins might differ in impact to our lives but consequences is NOT punishment. Consequences are natural results of laws being upheld or broken; whether laws of nature or laws of spirit. Spiritual laws are harder to discern and sort through…but I think of Deut 30:15-18:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

That’s spiritual law. Walk in obedience to God=life. Disobedience=destruction. Destruction isn’t the punishment…it’s the result of breaking spiritual law. Like burning your hand on the stove isn’t punishment…it’s the natural result of putting your hand on the stove. Spiritual consequences can carry into the 3rd or 4th generation. Look at effects of acoholism or teen pregnancies in familes. But that curse/chain of consequences can be broken as that person claims new life in Christ and starts to live in obedience. The consequence of that is God blessing them to a thousand generations. Obedience vs disobedience determines what consequences result.

Sometimes I’m tempted to believe that God is out to punish me, in addition to the consequences. But I keep reminding myself to humbly bear our consequences in the now, which isn’t punishment. I believe God knows our heart and is merciful too….so sometimes the consequence could be lifted as a result of that mercy. Or He blesses us so much more than we deserve as we’re living in true repentence and that’s His grace. God is slow to anger and doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. To believe God is out to get me is a false belief of God…perpetuated by the Enemy.

I think God’s discpline…could feel like punishment…but isn’t. Discipline brings about maturity and growth and good transformation whereas I think punishment is just to make you suffer. Make you pay. Was Joseph’s time in prison punishment? No. But it is part of God’s discipline and training for Joseph to be a good govenor of Egypt. God’s kindness was with Joseph IN prison…we’re apt to think God’s kindness would’ve kept Joseph FROM prison. This tells me to examine how I view trials/suffering as well as how I view God. And maybe if I’ve gotten nothing out of a difficult situation, then *I’m* the problem, punishing myself.

I’m reminded again of the saying, “God is more concerned about your character than your comfort.” So now when I find myself in some kind of uncomfortable/painful situation I go through these thoughts:

  1. Is this consequences for a sin of mine? If yes, confess, repent, bear the consequence with humility and start to live rightly.
    If not…perhaps it is part of the consequences of someone else’s sin which unfortunately, is never in isolation to that person. It’s an opportunity to practice grace and forgiveness. Or it could be a form of discipline and training. Or even a strange answer to prayer….
  2. Could this suffering be used for character development somehow? Absolutely! It grows patience, perserverence, hope, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, love, peace, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc etc. Take this time to learn well and be transformed!