Lessons from Harvey.

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You are a strange species. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are at their worst.  —  Starman, 1984

The above quote is from an almost forgotten science fiction movie in which a visitor  from another planet is confronted with the human condition for the first time.  He was right.   We are a savage and violent species, but when we face a common threat, we have always been able to put our differences, even enmity and hatred aside — and work together for the common good.   If it weren’t for that, I doubt we’d have survived for long.

Last week Houston was hit by what many are calling the worst storm to ever make landfall in the United States, maybe the worst storm in 500 years.   Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane, but it wasn’t the high winds or even the storm surge that caused so much devastation — it was the fact the storm sat in virtually the same place for days, dumping 50 inches of rain on the Gulf city of Houston, Texas, leaving hundreds homeless and stranded, with no way to escape.

In spite of the current political mood of divisiveness and hatred that threatens to tear our country apart, all that seemed to be forgotten during the days following Harvey’s arrival.    Hundreds of Texans who were able to unselfishly donated their time and risked their lives to rescue others.    They brought out their own boats, worked all day and night without pay,  in very dangerous conditions, to rescue complete strangers —  in some cases strangers who were very different than them.   No one cared whether the person they were rescuing (or was rescuing them) was white or black, Christian or Muslim or atheist, gay or straight, rich or poor, or conservative or liberal.    For a few days, we were all part of the human family, and nothing else mattered.

One of the most touching stories I heard was of a Mosque that opened its doors to everyone, including non-Muslims, and even stranded pets.   The mosque volunteers offered food, clothing, shelter, and emotional support to the people (and animals) who came to them for help.       Another story that touched my heart was the help Mexico offered to help the flood victims — even after our president repeatedly insulted our neighbors to the south and wants to build a wall to keep them out.  Their repayment for this insult? Only compassion and kindness.

I kept hearing other stories from Harvey that proved kindness and caring are not dead after all.   It occurred to me that maybe, as terrible as Harvey was, we needed something like this disaster to show us that we are all brothers and sisters, all part of the human family, and instead of hating groups of people who are not like us, we need to work together to help each other and promote the common good, regardless of petty differences like race, religion, or creed.

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God among us.

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God is everywhere, but sometimes it seems like he’s nowhere in the universe when we’re depressed or in emotional or physical pain.

You don’t have to go to church or read the Bible to find God.    God doesn’t live on a lofty cloud always passing harsh judgment on us underlings far below on this little planet.    He isn’t a being we can only know after we die, or only in religious settings.  He can’t always be found in that hellfire and brimstone preacher in the megachurch on the outskirts of town, and He certainly isn’t present in those television evangelists who prey on the poor and gullible by insisting you make a large donation to their organization in exchange for salvation.

In 1977, there was a little movie called “Oh, God” starring John Denver as an assistant grocery store manager, who was searching for meaning in his life.  God (played by George Burns) appeared to Denver as a kindly but slightly eccentric little old man who was one of his customers.   At first, Denver was unbelieving, but over time it became clear this old guy was the real deal, and his life began to change.

Twenty years later, there was a popular song by a singer-songwriter named Joan Osborne called “One of Us.”  The lyrics speculated about the nature of God, and whether He (or she) would appear as “one of us” —

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to see?
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?

And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

He’s trying to make His way home
Back up to Heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in Rome

And yeah, yeah God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

Just trying to make His way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to Heaven all alone
Just trying to make His way home
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in Rome

Joan Osborne – What If God Was One Of Us Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The song in its time was somewhat controversial, because it had the temerity to suggest that God might be just a little too much like us — eg, too human (and therefore, not perfect).

While I don’t believe God would take up permanent residence in a human body, as He does in Osborne’s random stranger on a bus or as Burns’ unremarkable old man buying groceries,  I do believe God (or Jesus, if you are Christian) can use each and any of us as a vessel (for a short time) to touch the lives of others, and sometimes even change them.    We are all made in God’s image, and sometimes, when we least expect it, after feeling disconnected and ready to give up on spiritual life, God is suddenly right there, speaking to us, encouraging us,  or offering comfort — through another human being, often a total stranger.  That other person doesn’t even have to be Christian or believe in God, because I know from my own experience that sometimes God can even use a nonbeliever as a vessel to spread his love and care.

Here are some examples from my own life of times I knew God was there, using another person to communicate with me or perform those “random acts of kindness” that seem so rare in today’s complex world:

  • When I was buying groceries a few days before Christmas a few years ago and my debit card was run through and showed I had insufficient funds, a man behind me suddenly handed the cashier the $40 I was short of.
  • A customer of mine who recently bought me four new tires because he didn’t want me driving on the old ones (the man happens to be an atheist)
  • Every time my therapist  is able to feel my feelings with me and due to that high empathy (which is a gift bestowed on him by God, even though he is a non-Christian), know exactly what I need from him emotionally.
  • A hug from a random little girl of about 4 who told me, “don’t be sad.”   I wasn’t crying, but was going through a dark time in my life and was being abused at home.  Somehow she knew how much I needed that hug.
  • A man with Down Syndrome standing in line at the store who was pointing to things, smiling and laughing at everything he saw.   His eyes sparkled and he just seemed so excited to be alive.  People around him were laughing too, but not at him.  They laughed with him, because he was so happy and made everyone just feel so good (as an aside, it’s interesting how often God appears through people standing on line at the store).
  • Random thoughtful gifts or kind words from my children when I didn’t expect it and other people I never expected a gift or a kind word from.
  • A woman I met online and wrote about last November who offered to pay for me to attend a 4 day seminar addressing trauma from a spiritual/Christian perspective, after I told her I didn’t have the funds and couldn’t go.
  • Another woman I met online and became friends with, who sent two thoughtful gifts to me exactly when I needed them, without my asking.

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There are so many other examples, but these are the first ones I thought of.

Think about the times that God has reached you through another person — who either gave unselfishly of themselves, or just made you feel comforted or happy during a dark time or when you least expected it.    Make a list of those times and refer to it when you feel like God has forgotten about you.

Think about how you can touch the lives of others.  Ask God to show you how He can work through you to help others in need.

Unexpected angels.

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During the past few months — since Trump got elected — I’ve become more judgmental and less trusting.   Now it’s true that due to being a victim of narcissistic abuse and suffering from several disorders and C-PTSD due to the abuse I endured, I’ve always been suspicious and hypervigilant of others’ intentions, always assuming the worst, or that they have some hidden agenda.    My motto has always been, “if you think the worst will happen, you will never be disappointed and your heart will never be broken.  If the worst does happen, you won’t be devastated because you will have expected it.”   It seemed foolhardy, even stupid, to be an optimist or expect the best from others.    Emotionally,  I couldn’t do it anyway.

But that’s a rotten way to live and certainly not a recipe for happiness or even contentment.  You walk through life being paranoid and suspicious of everyone all the time, always wondering what others are planning to do to hurt you.  You can never attain any semblance of happiness with a mindset like that.

Since I’ve been blogging and been in therapy, and since I’ve become a Christian, this had been improving.  I was feeling happier, trusting others a little more, and not always assuming everyone had a knife hidden behind their back.     I was beginning to find what I think God’s purpose for me is.    I noticed that people were actually treating me better, fewer negative things were happening, and best of all, more positive things were happening.  Changing my mindset to a more positive, hopeful one did indeed seem to attract even more positive things in my life. I realized that while it’s perfectly normal and even desirable to acknowledge and express “negative” emotions, that walking around with a perpetual black thunderhead hanging over my head wasn’t helping me or anyone else.  It was a defense mechanism that worked in its way, but was never going to allow me to be happy.

Trump got elected just as my SAD was kicking in, and the combination of the two sent me into a depression that seemed as bad as those I had when I was still married to my abusive husband.    It got even worse since his inauguration, and the ensuing (and immediate) shitstorm of chaos and fear-mongering that seems to have been unleashed since January 20.    It was so triggering for me that I began to distrust almost everyone again, no matter if they were on the right or the left.  It seemed as if there were no good people left in the world, and the world itself was going insane.   After all, how could a good person vote for such a leader, and yet, here he was.   Somehow, evil appeared to have won.     I’ve been scanning the news every day like a meerkat scanning the horizon for predators.

But even worse, I’ve become judgmental.   I never used to judge others for their political or religious beliefs, even if I disagreed with them.  I always believed that people have a right to believe what they believe, for whatever reason, and just because I disagreed with them doesn’t mean they are inherently bad people.   But lately, I’ve been adopting a hateful belief that all Trump supporters must be horrible people.    This is unlike me, and I knew judging others this way was wrong, but I couldn’t help it.    If someone was an asshole to me, even if they were just a driver acting like an asshole on the road, I’d say to myself dismissively, “they must be a Trump supporter.”   To my way of thinking, anyone who voted for Trump had to be a “bad person.”   Even though I knew several Trump supporters who are actually very kind people, I couldn’t seem to shake the judgmental thinking and stereotyping of Trump supporters as being a bunch of “deplorables.”

Today I was working in the home of an older retired couple who I knew had voted for Trump.   They listen to Rush Limbaugh and have a “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker on their SUV.   I also knew these were very nice people. The wife, Doris, always has homemade baked goodies, and they always tip.   Both are extremely friendly and just seem like good, salt of the earth people.  Okay, so I knew intellectually that Trump supporters weren’t all asshats, but I couldn’t accept this on an emotional level.   I also haven’t been able to accept on an emotional level that there are ANY really good people left in this country.

Today they proved me wrong on both.    The husband, Alan, started asking me questions about my car and then went out to look at it.  I thought it was a little odd, but maybe he was just a car buff and curious about my car.

He came back inside and said, “Your tires look like shit.”  He knew I was driving to Florida in a few weeks.  Somehow I felt on the defensive.   I started to explain I intended to get new tires before my road trip, but he interrupted me.   “I want to buy you a new set of tires.   There’s a tire shop down the road.”   Whoa, what?   I stood there, my mouth hanging open like a dimwit.

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“Oh, no!”  I said.  “I can’t let you do that.”

“I want to and I will,” Alan said.   That was final.  He wasn’t giving me a choice.    “Wait here a few minutes, it’s just down the road.”

I gave Alan my car keys.  I was in shock.    I felt like I should offer to pay him back or something, but he wasn’t having it.

When he got back from dropping off the car, Doris and Alan invited me into the kitchen where we sat down and had some cake she had baked and some Cokes.   Alan started talking about God.  It turned out he’s actually agnostic.  He said, “I don’t know if God exists or not, but if He does,  then He works through people helping others.   I want you to understand why I did this today.  Doris and I never had children, and we are retired and comfortable.   We’re not going to take all this with us when we die, so we like to help our friends and neighbors when we can.”

Driving home on my four brand new tires, I realized in my heart and not just in my mind, that angels can be found in the most unexpected places.   There are genuinely good and even altruistic people left in the world after all, and yes, some of them are even Trump supporters!

We should never judge the hearts of individuals, regardless of their beliefs.   We are all brothers and sisters under God.

Have we forgotten?

May we always remember this man of God who always tried to live by the words he spoke.  Let’s return from our current culture of unbridled greed and selfishness and get back to caring about our fellow citizens.

mlk_wisdom

 

On people pleasing.

people_pleasing

I think most of us who were exposed to narcissistic abuse for any length of time learn to become people pleasers, always deferring to our “betters” (the narcissists) and becoming human doormats. People pleasing is known by many terms, but “codependent” in particular comes to mind. It’s an extremely unhealthy way to live.

All my life I’ve been a people pleaser. ‘ve always been terrified of saying “no.” I’ve always gone along with things I didn’t like just to keep the peace. The problem with being a people pleaser is that it tends to attract further abuse (they know we’re pushovers so they’ll up the ante); and potential abusers can “smell us out.” People pleasing also never really pleases anyone. Someone is always going to be displeased, even if it’s only ourselves. Chances are, the person you’re trying so hard to win the approval of is going to find something wrong with what you’re doing for them anyway, especially if they’re narcissists.

People who try too hard to please everyone–like politicians who can’t commit fully to either liberal or conservative stances because they’re too afraid of the disapproval of either side, wind up alienating everyone. It comes off as insincere–and it is. You just know they’re hiding something.

people-pleaser

I remember the first time I realized how fake I was being while engaged in people-pleasing. I was about 9 or 10. We were visiting some relatives in another state and my uncle had a collection of decoy ducks he was very proud of. I could have cared less, but because I’d been raised to always be polite, I faked intense interest in his hobby. In fact, my “act” was so extreme he really thought I was interested and kept talking to me about his ducks even though I wanted to scream at him to shut up already. It’s fine to be polite and civil, but I was so afraid he would “discover” my boredom with his hobby that I went above and beyond-and felt absolutely disgusted with myself later. Of course that didn’t stop the people pleasing. No one living in constant terror and shame the way I did would be able to stop.

Freedom from the “people pleasing” game where you always wind up losing doesn’t mean not helping others or being cold and selfish. People pleasing is very disordered and even narcissistic in itself–because you’re trying to please others to get approval or love, not because you really care about their feelings or well-being. You don’t need empathy to be a people-pleaser, just a weak and beaten down ego that makes you grovel like a dog for a treat. People pleasing is actually a central feature of several personality disorders–BPD, Avoidant PD, Dependent PD, and Covert Narcissism.

Unlike people pleasing, true caring and altruistic feelings for others are not about pleasing people–they’re random acts of kindness that come from an authentic and confident person’s heart, and nothing about it is fake. I’m working toward this too. Right now I’m still caught up in the fear of displeasing anyone and the ramifications that has for me. It’s very self-centered.

In summary, people pleasing is about lies–it’s all about trying to boost a shaky self esteem and it’s about as fake and inauthentic as you can get.

Faith in humanity restored.

I found this yesterday and it really gave me hope for mankind. A restaurant owner in Oklahoma put this sign on his door. Some people still care.

Why don’t things like this make big news instead of all the stories about hate crimes, war and and murder?

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