Trauma Tantrums

2020-05-30 13.35.59I don’t talk very openly about the hardest days. I’m open enough to acknowledge that there have certainly been hard days (& months … & even years). But the hardest of the hard days? Very few people know those stories. I don’t share them in detail, partly because of my own pride or shame or feelings of inadequacy, but also because I don’t want others judging my sons because of behaviors they conducted as children. You see, trauma does untold harm to the brain, to the chemicals that are supposed to keep our minds functioning in a healthy way. Trauma as a very young child stays with that person psychologically, even if they don’t remember the events themselves.

Parenting a child who has experienced trauma is a very difficult endeavor, because you are constantly trying to figure out the line between behaviors that are simply related to a bad attitude in the moment versus behaviors that stem from something much, much deeper that the child can’t even articulate himself: the multiple holes in drywall, so very many things broken in anger, the stealing, the lying, the manipulation, the countless “I hate you!” tantrums, the running away, and I could go on, but that’s a long enough list. I’ve dealt with suspension, expulsion, court, fines, and probation, not to mention numerous sideways glances over the years from apparently perfect parents of angelic offspring.

Why do I share all of this now? The behaviors I mentioned above happened in the midst of YEARS of earnest attempts to seek counseling, therapy, intervention, you name it. Despite my best efforts to provide positive outlets, trauma isn’t healed overnight.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Sure, he’s also frequently quoted about peaceful protest, and rightly so. But when attempts at peaceful protest (say kneeling at a football game, standing with arms raised or holding signs, for example) are met with indifference, scorn, forceful retaliation, tear gas, being run over or shot at, what recourse is left but to act out? If my own sons who have been unconditionally loved & supported and have had access to positive intervention tools for years STILL act out because of early-childhood trauma, how much MORE would they act out if I had turned a blind eye to their pain, belittled them for their hurt feelings, or cruelly punished them and made them feel unloved and unwanted? Worse yet, what if I’d made them feel like their trauma was their own fault?

Even though I’ve been a parent for many years now, I still lack understanding of exactly what each of them has gone through psychologically & emotionally because I didn’t experience it first-hand from inside their heads. (Secondary trauma is another topic for another day.) Likewise, we, as white people, can talk till we’re blue in the face about why riots are a poor choice, but the root of the matter is that peaceful dissent hasn’t worked. We need to earnestly look beyond our own privileged & insulated worldviews and put ourselves into the shoes of our neighbors who have experienced very real trauma for many years, and that trauma has gone unrecognized, unheeded, and untreated. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” and we needed to be listening long before now.

Apples vs. Apples

There’s a lot of apples vs. oranges going on these days. If you want to be pro-apple, then knock yourself out (it’s still a free country, after all, and we don’t have to agree), but know that you need to be aware of the whole orchard, not just the variety you happen to like best. An apple is an apple is an apple.

If you post vitriol about abortion yet aren’t even more riled about about a preteen (or any age) rape victim being forced to continue a traumatic pregnancy, then I purport that “sanctity of life” is really just a catchphrase, because she (and many, many, many others in similar situations) will live with that trauma for the Rest. Of. Their. Days.

If you post vitriol about abortion but think it’s no big deal for a convicted rapist to get off with probation because jail time might hurt his athletic career or because he has the resume of an upstanding young [white] man, then perhaps it really isn’t the baby you’re worried about.

While we’re on the topic and I’m on a roll with alienating more people who are going to question my faith in private messages, let me pose another scenario:

If you post vitriol about abortion yet have ever used an IUD (an intra-uterine device, the T-shaped thingy that floats around your uterus to prevent pregnancy), then I hate to break it to you, but chances are, you’ve had an abortion, because even my abstinence-only Health Ed class taught that fertilization happens in the Fallopian tubes and then the Gift journeys to the uterus to plant itself. If life begins at conception, then your IUD got rid of it. (Same concept with a D&C, by the way – if you strip the uterus of its padding, then the Gift has nowhere to go but out.)

Please know that I’m NOT JUDGING ANYONE who has/had an IUD, or has even had an abortion, quite frankly. You have your reasons, and I’m not God – The End. I’m tired of the hateful rhetoric, as if the only women seeking abortions are floozies with no moral compass, or that the only way to abort a pregnancy is in some back-alley clinic in the bad part of town. I’m tired of Christians giving faith a bad name because they care more about issues than individuals and propriety than people.

In the interest of transparency, I need to be candid about both sides of the coin, because my current stance on this issue is absolutely not how I grew up. The older I get, the more I realize how much I need to ramp up my level of compassion for others on a whole slew of topics that I used to see from a much narrower perspective.

First confession: I had an IUD for a while, many years ago. I’m completely unaware if I terminated any pregnancies from wearing it, but I realize the odds are quite high. So, guess what? It’s highly likely that I am one of those women who had an abortion who you love to hate. “But, Ang — you didn’t mean to; that’s not the same thing.” Yes, it is. I meant to not get pregnant by wearing an IUD, and it worked. End of story. An apple is an apple.

Second confession: I strongly regret participating in a pro-life march when I was a young adult. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing by supporting babies (who doesn’t love babies?!?). Later, though, I started learning more about how cruel and lifelong-hurtful that protest probably was to the women we encountered. I wish I could go back, put down my sign, and offer each of them a hug and my deepest apology for having had such a myopic view of the world.


Silent No Longer

I have sincerely appreciated the outpouring of support for my book, awards received at work, and other professional accomplishments in recent years. It truly means a lot to me, because I endured quite a lot to get to where I am today.

What keeps nagging at me, though, is how people can be so proud of me for these things, how I’m respected as a knowledgeable authority on topics like ethics in fiscal administration, and I think (hope) I have a reputation as a pretty smart person with integrity and a heart for others, yet when it comes to spiritual matters, I’m not permitted (in most church circles) to speak with authority or lead co-ed groups of adults. Why the disconnect?

For the love of my sanity, don’t say, “Because the Bible says so.” We can play the Bible Drill game, if you really want to, but I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt, and I will smoke you. I don’t want verses recited to me; I want to know WHY. For years, I put this issue in a box neatly labeled: Agree to Disagree, but the longer I’m silent about it, the more I’m complicit, and I cannot keep quiet anymore.

After all, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I’m expected to provide spiritual guidance & instruction to my children. When does that authority expire? Does my 18-year-old son suddenly supersede my spiritual authority because he’s technically an adult? Do the decades of my faith-walk have an effectiveness expiration date?

The faith community has made plenty of tweaks to its interpretation of Scripture over the centuries. Case in point, how many people do you know who cheated on a spouse but are still alive (Lev. 20:10)? It used to be culturally acceptable to have multiple wives & concubines (here’s looking at you, Abraham, David, Solomon, and others). On that note, some people still interpret 1 Tim. 3:2 to mean that elders & deacons cannot be divorcees, as opposed to currently married to one person. For crying out loud, people used to use the Bible to justify slavery (& some still warp Scripture to justify present-day racism)! Also, if Matt. 5: 27-30 were taken at face value, there would not a man alive who’d still have eyeballs or hands.

So, if we can make concessions based on certain cultural understandings as a rational society, then why are we still in the dark ages when it comes to women in leadership roles in the church? Gen. 1:27 says that male & female were created in God’s image. The same Spirit resides in me in equal measure as my male counterparts (John 3:8; John 14:16; Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 3:16; Acts 5:32 and others). Our giftedness was not somehow distributed in lesser portion than that of men (1 Peter 4:10-11; Rom. 12:6-8), neither were our gifts meant to be squelched (Joel 2:28-29). Why, then, aren’t women allowed to exercise their gifts for the benefit of the whole church … which is kind of the whole point of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11)?

Riddle me this: If men are supposed to be the leader-supreme of the household/society/whatever, then why did Adam sit quietly by instead of taking a stand while the serpent conned Eve (Gen. 3:6)? After all, Adam was the one to whom God gave the command about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil – not Eve (Gen. 2:15-16). He was right there, yet he did nothing.

Rather than hide behind a verse here or there to try to justify keeping women in their subservient place, I urge you to take a contemplative look at WHY you really believe women shouldn’t preach, teach, and lead. Do you earnestly, truly believe that women aren’t capable, knowledgeable, or called? Or, is it something more deeply rooted, like tradition or fear of change?

Change is hard; I get it. Accepting a change of this magnitude might mean taking a stand and having a difficult conversation with a church leader. It might mean leaving your church or denomination. It might mean disappointing your family. It might mean being excluded from certain privileges and positions in the community. It might mean being called names.

Yet, let me ask you this: Since when was walking in faith supposed to be easy?

I’m not trying to be inflammatory. I’m not a power-monger, nor am I hankering to be a preacher. I’m writing this because I want other women & girls to know that they can do more than teach Sunday School or lead a ladies’ Bible study. Those are fine roles, if that’s what they want to do, but I also want them to know that they can lead in the mission field, write a commentary study guide, or shepherd a church. I know plenty of people will oppose what I’m saying; I’d be shocked if they didn’t, because systemic change often takes generations to come about. But, I’d ask those people to agree to disagree in silence – after all, that’s what I’ve felt like I had to do for years.

Now What? (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 20, 2015)

I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my living room after bringing my firstborn home from the hospital. Family members were visiting from out of town, and a friend from work had stopped by to see the new arrival. At one point, though, I was in the room by myself with the baby, and I remember looking at him in my arms and thinking, “Now what?”


When you are preparing to have a baby, it can be information overload – childbirth classes, baby registries, pregnancy journals, and other women sharing their unsolicited labor horror stories. However, there’s not as much information about how to manage after the baby comes home and reality sets in.


Unfortunately, I think we often operate in that same mode when it comes to our faith journeys. This is the season when we focus on Jesus’ arrival, and people who haven’t attended church all year decide to show up out of the blue. We’ve put so much preparation into Christmas morning – decorating, gift buying, grocery shopping, travel arrangements, etc. Yet, what happens next week, or next month? What happens when family members leave to go back home, the decorations go back into boxes, and the New Year gets underway? In other words, “Now what?”


In Luke 2, we get a glimpse of the hustle & bustle surrounding Jesus’ arrival, and I’d like to point out one verse, in particular. It’s tucked in the middle of the shepherds’ story: “… Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19, NLT).


We have a choice to make. We can box up the Christmas décor and tuck away the baby Jesus figurine with the nativity set to wait for next year, or we can treasure the living Christ year-round. I encourage you to find ways to get plugged into a faith support structure. Your “Now what?” plan could mean attending a Life group, Bible study, or weekly lunch to stay connected with other believers. Or, maybe you need to start a Bible reading plan (there are gobs available free online) or begin a daily conversation with the Lord in prayer. However it works best for you, keep the Christmas miracle in your heart and think about it often.

2015 Word

My word for 2014 was Set. As I reread my post from last January, I was struck by how much happened in 2014. Truly, it was a year of launching off the starting block and swimming full-speed down the lane. Now, as we’ve just begun another year, I’ve been thinking of what word might stick with me in 2015.

I was introduced to this song a couple of days ago, and I have been playing it on repeat ever since. It speaks to my spirit like a mantra, and I think the word I will choose for 2015 is Brave. The song is so beautiful; just close your eyes and listen to the words.

“You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.”

“No fear can hinder now the promises you made.”

“Champion of heaven, you made a way for all to enter in.”

YOU make me brave, Lord! I have accomplished nothing in my own strength, my own power, my own anything. YOU have given me strength; YOU have empowered me; YOU are my everything.

The Champion of heaven is on my side. What have I to fear?


Transparency & Privacy Settings

This week, my humble lil’ blog has surpassed 2,500 posts and now has more than 150 followers! I remember when there were just a handful of followers, and those were folks I knew personally. Times have changed; life has changed. I’m grateful that people care to read what I have to say.

The focus of my writing has shifted, since I converted my posts over from an academic blog in mid-2008. I do have some geeky posts tucked away in the Scholarly Stuff and Techie categories, but that hasn’t been my main focus for a long while. There are also a variety of recipes and other food-related posts in the Nomnomnom category. I’ve got several poems filed under Musings, fix-it projects under DIY, a couple of reviews in Book Nook, and some adventures described in Travels. The biggest categories, though, have been Little Men, Grief, and Ponderings.

I posted frequently in the Grief category for the first few years after my brother died, and I still write entries there occasionally. I have been frank about some of the struggles that I’ve gone through, in the hopes that my candor about grief would help others cope, as well, but I try not to be inappropriately transparent.

I began writing some devotional thoughts in late 2010 and then committed to posting them weekly/daily for my church in January 2011. Since then, the Ponderings category has become the largest section of the whole blog. I enjoy writing the devotionals, and they seem to be well received, so I plan to keep posting for as long as the Lord leads.

It’s the other category, Little Men, that gives me pause these days. I have always been conscientious not to use my children’s real names, for some semblance of privacy in this digital world, and I don’t think that I write about topics concerning them that are overly personal. Most of the entries in this category are simply posts that seem too long (or too “deep”) for Facebook.

So, here’s my predicament right now: the birthmother of my nephew-sons is an unstable individual, to put it politely. She has mental illnesses combined with God-only-knows-what substance abuse issues (there have been numerous ones over the years, both prescription and illicit); she is intermittently homeless, in & out of rehab, and waltzes in & out of the boys’ lives whenever she’s lucid enough to remember to call. Her last call was in late October, for the younger one’s birthday. She never sent whatever it was she promised to mail him for a present, and she completely missed Thanksgiving and Christmas … again.

I don’t talk about her because I don’t want her stumbling across my blog and reading it, but that’s precisely why I need to talk about it today.

Truthfully, it’s emotionally easier on the boys when she stays away than when she’s on-again-off-again. Even at 10 and 11-years-old, they don’t quite know how to voice their anger and disappointment with her, so when she goes through periods of calling frequently and then dropping off the face of the planet again, I’m the one who has to deal with the emotional aftermath, as they wrangle with their frustrations over her. I also have to deal with her empty promises, lies, and threats, like when she tells them that she’s going to send them boxes of gifts that never arrive, or that she’ll “get them back” from me to go live with her, because I “stole” them from her. (Never mind that my brother had sole custody of the children before he died; when she gets into one of her manic episodes, there’s no telling what is going through her head.)

I had my Twitter account (@Ang_PF) public until several weeks ago, when I got an automated alert that she was a new Follower. Again, I don’t talk about deeply personal things on Twitter, and she’d probably bore quickly of my countless football-related posts, but the thought of her snooping into my everyday life was disturbing, so I changed my privacy settings. I already have very tight public settings on Facebook, for that same reason, but I never dreamed she’d try to follow me on Twitter. Knowing her, she probably just followed whoever happened to be in her address book, but still — I don’t want to be that close to her, ever.

That’s why I’m planning to not post anymore under the Little Men category here, and just focus on the devotionals. I can still share stories and pictures of the kids on Facebook, where I have a little more control over who sees the posts, but I’m removing that category from public view on my blog. I know some people are averse to using social media at all because of this type of issue, but I’m not going to live in fear; I’m just going to try to be smarter about what information I make publicly available about my family.

My 12 Days of Christmas

Since my true love should know that I’m allergic to birds & therefore cannot accept the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, I took the liberty of writing my own wish list. 😉

1 steaming hot bubble bath
2 hours of quiet
3 tweens not arguing
4 broken things repaired
5 glasses of Malbec
6 months of teenage auto insurance
7 loads of laundry
8 errands run
9 mismatched socks paired
10 shoes that still fit
11 trips to the grocery store
12 dishes washed

Merry Christmas! 🙂

[Single] Parents Night

Our church youth leaders hosted a Parents Night event tonight, which was partly a meeting to discuss upcoming activities and partly getting-to-know-each-other time. We split into two smaller groups for Q&A, and I was the only single parent in attendance, which made me the odd man out. It wasn’t as terribly awkward as it could have been, but I still felt a little self-conscious. I knew one of the couples in my group already, which helped me loosen up. Some of the questions were silly, and others were more serious and/or spiritual. It was nice to get to know some other parents and youth leaders better, which was the point of the activity.

I’m really glad I went, but the whole day has brought my single-parent status to the front of my mind, as if it’s tattooed across my forehead.

A dear friend was going through a really tough situation earlier today, and as we talked about it over the phone, she made the comment that I’m stronger than her because I’m independent. (Those weren’t her exact words, but I think it captures the gist of what she said.) I appreciate where she’s coming from, and I realize she meant it as a compliment, but sometimes I think it must be more difficult to be dependent on someone. I don’t really know what that’s like, beyond my growing-up years at home.

I read in the Bible and hear pastors teach about biblical roles in a marriage, and I don’t disagree with the concept, but I have seldom witnessed it firsthand. (That’s not to say that I have no godly marriage examples in my life, but I’m talking about a situation similar to my own, where the wife works outside the home and there are more than a couple of kids in the house.) Truly, I would like to not have to make all of the decisions and pay all of the bills, in addition to other daily chores like cooking, cleaning, sorting mail, grocery shopping, driving kids hither & yon, and household repairs. It’s just that I’ve had to do those things for so long (yes, for the most part, even during my marriage) that I’m not sure what it would be like to have someone to share the load. On the other hand, I want my ideas, opinions, and intellect to be valued in the decision-making process, as well. Being submissive doesn’t mean (or shouldn’t mean, that is) being bossed around.

For example, I heard a preacher on the radio this week who, I suppose, thought he was being funny as he talked about husbands and wives, and he made the comment, “Thank you, ladies, for cleaning up after us.” I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? Clean up after yourself!” It is not ok for my kids to leave plates & cups sitting on the dining room table. The older three have rotating chores that include loading & unloading the dishwasher. The younger two take turns wiping the table and sweeping the dining room & kitchen floor. Are they still messy? Of course — they’re kids — and I bark at them 24/7, it seems, to pick up after themselves. My house is far from pristine, and I have bad habits that I need to adjust, as well. But to pick up dirty dishes left by a grown man too lazy to take them to the sink?!? I don’t think so.

I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible where it says that a woman should clean up after a man. Some people may think that perhaps I’m too independent for my own good, but if that’s their interpretation of biblical submission, then I may as well stay single forever.