Throwing Away the Remote: A Lesson in Courage

Flipping the page on my Alaska Wildlife calendar to a new month I’m reminded of an encroaching anniversary. 

I’ve lost track of how many years passed since my home break-in but even without a calendar on the wall I internally sense its date.  My first clue?  Something in my spirit hungers for more control.  From serving eight years as a volunteer for women’s crisis centers I learned that need to control is a common denominator among survivors of violence.  Not surprising when you consider that during the commission of many violent episodes/crimes, victims are generally at the mercy of the perpetrator and have no control over the situation or even their own life. 

During my home break-in, I didn’t know if I would live or die.  Wickedness taking the form of a human held me prisoner at gunpoint, my only recourse to endure his abuse or perish.  In those dark hours with control stripped from me, helplessness assailed me.  Even for weeks following I was not in control.  Fear gripped me preventing me from living my life.  Every noise startled me.  I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep without nightmares, couldn’t step outside the shelter of a friend’s home without trembling, couldn’t look people in the eye without crying, couldn’t watch tv newscasts without feeling sick.  Aftermath of violence rendered me helpless in nearly every aspect of life.

A lie took root:  Absence of Control equals Helplessness.   The remedy appeared obvious.  The more I control my world the less helplessness I experience.   In a misdirected attempt to avoid soul agony of helplessness & vulnerability, I convinced myself I must always be in control.  Some control proved helpful like planning where I ventured out to and for how long, making sure to return home before dark.  Other decisions seem random.  I controlled the length of my hair, lopping it boy short for the first time in my life.  I wore unattractive colors & frumpy clothing.  I isolated myself from everyone, including friends.  Many nights when insomnia owned me, I took refuge in television, not for my viewing pleasure but mechanically pressing a remote control every few minutes for hours until I drifted off exhausted.  It seems so ridiculous now but at the time, I felt powerful with control literally at my fingertips.

Problem is my controlling spiraled out of control, ruining relationships, isolating me from people who love me.  Control cost opportunities, rendered me a slave to lists and self-imposed rules of how life must be structured for my protection.   Need to control narrowed my world, prohibiting me from venturing too far beyond the familiar and manageable.  It chained me to routines, limited my circle of support, prevented me from trusting, robbed me of freedom, cheated me of JOY in living and loving.  Ultimately, my quest for control consumed me.

What I needed wasn’t control but courage.  Friends told me how brave I was for living through a violent attack.  There’s nothing courageous about being a victim. Courage can only be found in choosing to move from victim to survivor, choosing to FULLY LIVE as a Survivor.  Control is the antithesis of courage.  Despite my best efforts to appear brave, I realized bravery cannot emerge as long as I control everything because control roots and thrives in fear. 

As long as I knew exact outcomes, hid behind routines, averted vulnerability by limiting my friendships, as long as I buried my heart and surfed through meaningless relationships like channel surfing with a remote control, true courage evaded me.  I was, in fact, cowardly hiding behind a thin veil of false bravado destined to unravel in ugly ways.

True bravery emanates from staring down our fears, especially the fear of losing control.  Courage emerges when everything in me shouts “RUN! HIDE!” but I chose not to, when outcomes are shaky & threatening and I risk anyway, moving forward even in uncertainty but with resolve to conquer.  “Courage”, as my dear friend Marshele Carter puts it, “is running up to the dark and taking one more step.” 

The truth is, the more I tried to control the more I became controlled.  If I honestly believed in the Sovereignty of God, I had to surrender control to Him.  Surely the God who numbers the hairs on my head and watches over lowly sparrows cares about my struggles, right? {Matthew 10:29-30}  But surrender seemed like giving up, admitting defeat, weakness.  I fought until I nearly destroyed myself.  The longer I avoided raising the white flag, the deeper fears bored into my soul and the emptier I became.  No 12-step program delivered me, no magic formula to follow…just a simple prayer of relinquishment, a commitment to reach out to others for love & support and a long journey of intentionality to trust my Creator with details of my life every moment, every breath, every heartbeat.

As I glance again at the calendar on my wall I commit the date August 3rd to the Lord.  I won’t be controlled by fears in this season.  My heart beats a little faster when I think of that night but I recognize fear sooner when it attempts to slip through cracks of my brokenness.   I’m quicker to declare I will not let fear rule, not let it constrain me anew to channel-surfing-type control.  Instead I choose to throw away the remote.  I risk more.  I forgive quicker.  I laugh louder.  I love deeper.  I live freer… I live courageously

{A woman’s magazine invited me to contribute an article about my recovery from violent crime.  I submitted this & it’s now under review by the editor.  I’ll let my readers know if it they accept for publication.  At the risk of sounding self-serving, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a lot of clicks on this link so please FEEL FREE to share.  Thanks!}


Grief is Better than Laughter?

 A chiming doorbell on my cell phone signaled I’d received a text message.  “How’s your day?”

I’m so grateful for friends checking in with me.  Otherwise my human interaction is limited these days to nurses, strangers in a hospital cafeteria and a frequently sleepy mom…we’re blaming it on Compazine for her nausea. 

My reply text, “4 hrs sleep. Got thrown up on. Cried to see mom so sick. Ate junk 4 lunch for comfort. And just got beat at cards cos mom was bored. Good day.”  I no longer ask or desire for my days to flow flawlessly.  I’m choosing to embrace reality and to thank God for every moment, even if I’m saying, “Thank you, God” through tears.

I used to puzzle over Ecclesiastes 7:3, “Grief is better than laughter…” Today I’m rethinking that.  I’ve grieved much these past few months, mostly related to mom’s multiple myeloma and all she has suffered in this process for hope of healing.  There have been days when I have forced a laugh, feigned a smile trying to put up a good front.  But the tears…those have all been real.  Laughter can be faked but grieving cannot.  Grieving is honest.  In that respect, Scripture holds true. Grief IS better than laughter.

Do not ask why the old days were better than these, for that is a foolish question.”  Ecc. 7:10

We’re often tempted to look back over the “old days” and tell ourselves those were better days.  Past pain diminishes. Foggy recall occludes accurate details.  Selective memory clings to positive while it ferrets out, then dismisses negative…well, at least in those who favor optimism.  Whether a fact, tainted sentiment or complete denial, ascribing “good” to the past can easily be accomplished if we so choose.  But today, when my heart is aching over mom’s suffering, when I smell like vomit, I’m coming down from a self-inflicted sugar high,  I’m sleep deprived and I can’t seem to stop my eyes from leaking, “Thank you God” has a much different feel to it.  I’m steeped in the misery of this day and still I’m choosing to say THIS is a good day.  Why?  Because I was blessed to spend time with someone I love.  Because any “bad day” side-by-side with a loved one is better than the most beautiful day without love. And because God sees my day, sees how it pales in comparison to what mom is dealing with and He graces me with divine perspective…compared to what His Son went through at Calvary, this is a very good day.

“Consider God’s handiwork: who can straighten what he has made crooked? When things go well, be glad.  When things go ill, consider this: God has set the one alongside the other in such a way that no one can find out what is to happen next…man is greatly troubled by ignorance of the future.  Who can tell him what it will bring? It is not in man’s power to restrain the wind and no one has power over the day of death.  In war, no one can lay aside his arms, no wealth can save its possessors.”  Ecc 7:13-14; 8:6-8

Control is an illusion.  I can’t predict what will happen and I am powerless to control outcomes.  The only thing I can fully control is how my heart will respond to the here and now.  By God’s mercy, as long as I have breath in my body, I get to decide one day at a time to say “Thank You, God” even when grief overshadows laughter.