Walls of Defense

I have always been shy, reserved, and timid. Then came the traumatic situation, and these inborn character traits grew more extreme. The shyness turned into shamefacedness. My reserved nature turned into a reclusive nature. The timidity turned into chronic fear. As strange as it may seem, shame, reclusiveness, and especially fear are how I protect myself. These extremes are some of the building blocks of my defensive wall.

In ancient days it was not uncommon for cities to be enclosed by defensive walls. The history of Jerusalem's city walls is partially recorded in brief passages throughout the Bible. Sometimes these passages recount the building of defensive walls, and sometimes they recount the destruction of those walls. Here are some passages for consideration:

BUILT: The first wall of the city known as Jerusalem was built by King Solomon.
1 Kings 9:15—And this is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon drafted to build the house of the Lord and his own house and the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem….
(See also 1 Kings 3:1.)

DESTROYED: King Jehoash of Israel destroyed a section of the wall of Jerusalem that was well over a mile long.
2 Kings 14:13—And Jehoash king of Israel … came to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem for four hundred cubits….
(See also 2 Chron 25:23.)

BUILT: When Sennacherib, King of Assyria, threatened Jerusalem, King Hezekiah of Judah repaired the broken wall and built another wall outside the original city wall.
2 Chron 32:5—He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall….

BUILT: King Manasseh of Judah, Hezekiah's son, built an outer wall upon his release from Assyrian captivity.
2 Chron 33:14—He built an outer wall for the city of David west of Gihon, in the valley, and for the entrance into the Fish Gate, and carried it around to Ophel, and raised it to a very great height….

DESTROYED: When King Zedekiah of Judah revolted against Babylonian rule, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Jerusalem.
Jer 52:14—And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem.
(See also 2 Kings 25:10; 2 Chron 36:19; Jer 39:8.)
Soon after the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah the prophet recorded a lament for the fallen city.
Lam 2:8—The Lord determined to lay in ruins the wall of the daughter of Zion; he stretched out the measuring line; he did not restrain his hand from destroying; he caused rampart and wall to lament; they languished together.

BUILT: Nehemiah was allowed by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls.
Neh 6:15—So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.

DESTROYED: Jesus prophesied about the fall of Jerusalem that occurred in 70 AD.
Luke 21:5–6, 20–21, 24—And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” … “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it…. Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles….”

Why did God allow the walls of Jerusalem to fall time and time again? I think a fraction of the reason God allowed the destruction of the walls is given in Deuteronomy 28:52, before the Israelites were even established in Canaan: “They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land….”

God allowed Jerusalem's defeat because the Israelites placed their trust in their own defensive structures rather than in Him. No matter how high we build our walls, if our trust is in our own defenses rather than in God, we are vulnerable to the enemy.

My trust has been primarily in the defensive walls I have built to protect myself, not in God. May the following words be true for me and for anyone who reads this as we work to place our trust in God: “‘We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you’” (Isa 26:1–3).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV* Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version*), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In the acknowledgment above, fair use constitutes permission. See https://www.crossway.org/support/esv-bible-permissions/ for information on copyright and permissions.


The First Not-Good Thing

I just finished reading Wladyslaw Szpilman's The Pianist and rereading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Both books include accounts of instances in which the real-life protagonists are profoundly alone.

In The Pianist, Szpilman recounts (among several other horrifying experiences) his survival as a Jew hiding in the ruins of Warsaw also occupied by the German army. For the greater part of 4 months, he had to remain in hiding, completely cut off from interaction with any fellow human being. The only human beings he was able to observe for this duration were part of an army bent on exterminating his people. He remembers the Christmas of 1944 and the New Year celebration of 1945 as being the worst and loneliest holidays of his life. Szpilman was at this time devastated by the undeniable thought that he had to be alone if he wanted to live.

Nearly 50 years after Szpilman suffered 4 agonizing months of necessary solitude in order to survive, Chris McCandless voluntarily and enthusiastically embarked on a solo adventure into the wilderness of Alaska, which lasted almost 4 months, and lost his life. Jon Krakauer pieces together the puzzling story of Chris McCandless's tragic and solitary death in his book Into the Wild. McCandless wanted to travel into the Alaskan wilderness and survive entirely on his own for a time, largely by living off the land. After a few weeks it seems he was more than ready to reenter civilization. However, the small river separating wilderness from civilization that he crossed a few weeks earlier had swelled greatly and treacherously because of glacial melt and seasonal rain. He saw no way to cross. In his improvised journal, two words in that day's entry stand out: “Lonely, scared.” The circumstances leading up to McCandless's death remain a mystery. A note he left at his camp a few days before his death indicates he was desperate for help, injured, weak, and includes the phrase “I am all alone.”

The two men in these accounts experienced an aloneness very few of us can fathom. But I think aloneness is something many of us can relate to if only out of the sense of dread with which it is often associated. To me, feeling alone is one of the most depressing and debilitating experiences a person can endure. Offshoots of this feeling that come to mind are fear, despair, emptiness, desperation, hopelessness.

The account of creation given in the book of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, is worthy of much study and meditation. I am endlessly in awe of what these words tell us about the world that was created with all that is in it and around it, of how God created and established it, and of how he views and feels about it.

Remember the repetition of a certain phrase throughout chapter 1?: “And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). On either side of this cluster of verses are similar statements: “And God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:4) and “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

Continue reading in chapter 2 and you will eventually come upon the first not-good thing mentioned in Scripture. Genesis 2:18 reads “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone….’” I believe this statement of God is recorded for several reasons. One reason is to emphasize that man needs help from someone who can relate to him, someone similar to himself. The latter half of God's statement in verse 18 reads, “I will make him a helper fit for him.”

I find it interesting that the word “help” or “helper” is used as the solution to the not-good circumstance of aloneness. The solution was not a particular relation, a child, a brother, or even a wife. A more general term that every person on this earth can relate to was chosen: “help.” God knows we need other people in our lives to help us in the various circumstances we face. He does not want any of us to be alone.

The men in the books mentioned above both found themselves in desperate situations and entirely alone. One man had to be alone to be safe. The other chose a lonely venture. One man received unlikely help from another man and survived, lived to tell his own tale. The other never received help and died alone, his tale only partially pieced together by a man he never knew.

Both men were in situations where they could not simply walk over to a person and ask for help. Most of us have never and will never experience a circumstance even remotely resembling these. However, there are times when we feel alone, and we hurt because of this feeling. In these not-good times, do you see that there is help? Can you find another person to talk to? Can you email a relative, text a sibling, call a friend? The emotional experience of feeling alone is not the same as the reality of being alone. Remember these things, self (and others reading this), when emotion overwhelms actual circumstance. God does not want you to be alone. He did not create you to be alone. He wants you to benefit from the help of other people. He quite literally made it so.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV* Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version*), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In the acknowledgment above, fair use constitutes permission. See https://www.crossway.org/support/esv-bible-permissions/ for information on copyright and permissions.


Untitled 1

Only conscious when asleep
Alarm signals inactive mind
Thoughts and feelings all held captive
All is lost and wandering blind
Walking backwards on a tightrope
A breeze fells the house of cards
Bearing weight of stone cathedrals
Glass becomes a thousand shards
Wise Solomon trapped in folly
Humble Moses ensnared by pride
Godly David found unfaithful
Immortal Adam knew and died

Two tornadic minds in motion
Sensations thrown into reverse
Sparks and signals in the crossfire
Tightly held confusion-curse
All of life spins in a circle
Fiercely winding turning top
Grinding gears unoiled machinery
Breathless rollercoaster drop
Chosen Jacob known deceiver
Unwilling Tamar sent away
Lying spirits sent from heaven
Virgin daughters proposed as prey

Waken mind that sleeps while watching
Too much rubble obscures the view
Violent memories left abandoned
Troubled waters demand their due
Strong connections in the circuits
Wires frayed with overuse
Pathways are not prison shackles
Iron fetters can come loose
Mighty Samson strong in weakness
King Manasseh bowed in chains
Three faithful men withstood fire
A crucified man lives and reigns

To the extent possible under law, J has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work. This work is published from: United States.


David and Psalm 25

Often when I read the Bible, I forget that the people I am reading about really lived. They had the same physical experiences we have: they perspired when they were hot, shivered when they were cold; to stay alive they had to sleep, eat, and breathe. No duh, right? They also experienced the same emotional and spiritual struggles we wrestle with today. Tonight and several recent days I have found that I relate to the words of David in the 25th psalm.

Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions… (Psalm 25:7).
Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon my affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins (Psalm 25:16–18).

David went through so many trials in his life and time and time again he cried out to God. In this way I want to strive to be more like David.

Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible. The KJV is public domain in the United States. See version information here: https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/King-James-Version-KJV-Bible/#vinfo.



I have been thinking about seeds a lot lately. It's fascinating how something so small and simple looking (on the outside) can grow into something so different in form and size and color. Think about an oak tree starting out as a tiny little acorn! Wildlife cameraman and photographer Neil Bromhall captured the beginning of this transformation in his video of an acorn seedling sprouting into a baby oak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK4LjURtaDw&feature=related.

Also fascinating to think about, several environmental conditions must be met for the seed to grow. If the soil temperature is too hot or too cold, growth is unlikely. If the seed is buried too shallow or too deep, growth is unlikely. If the seed receives too much water or not enough, growth is unlikely. But seeds are well designed. Generally speaking, the life of a seed is safely held within a protective structure, the seed coat. Ideally, the seed coat protects the "unborn plant" from harm and only allows good things to enter.

As essential as this protective layer is, it must be broken for the seed to grow and flourish once the right environmental conditions have been met. If the seed coat does not give way to the growing life inside, the plant will die, or at the very least its growth will be impaired.

1 Cor 15:37—And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel….

We don't bury a seed in the ground expecting a giant seed to sprout. We bury a seed expecting something different to break through the ground; we expect a vegetable or a tree or a flower to sprout. What we are in the beginning is not what we are intended to be in the end.

I am now in an environment conducive to growth. God, please help me to trust in You and to allow life to break through the seed coat.

Foreground: Purple flower on vine (Clematis?). Background: Brick pathway partially overgrown with grass.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV* Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version*), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In the acknowledgment above, fair use constitutes permission. See https://www.crossway.org/support/esv-bible-permissions/ for information on copyright and permissions.


Symptoms of PTSD: Avoidance (Part 3)

All quotes below are from the following Open Access sources and are solely intended for the education of the reader:

  1. Norrholm, S. D., & Jovanovic, T. (2010). Tailoring therapeutic strategies for treating posttraumatic stress disorder symptom clusters. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 6, 517–532.
  2. Brousse, G., Arnaud, B., Roger, J. D., Geneste, J., Bourguet, D., Zaplana, F., … Jehel, L. 2011. Management of Traumatic Events: Influence of Emotion-Centered Coping Strategies on the Occurrence of Dissociation and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 7, 127–133.
As described by Friedman [2006], exposure to a traumatic event … can produce a robust emotional response…, and this association can lead to PTSD avoidance symptoms…. (1)
Emotion-centered coping is an attempt to manage the emotional responses induced by the situation…. Numerous strategies belong to this category, including substance abuse, physical activity, expression of emotions, feeling of responsibility, minimization of the event, alteration, denial or avoidance of reality, hoping for a miracle, and use of the imagination. Among all these emotional behaviors, avoidance of the event seems to particularly influence evolution to PTSD, suggesting that emotion-centered strategies (avoidance, flight, denial, or self-accusation) may lead to more negative outcomes after a traumatic event…. (2)
One of the earliest theories proposed to explain avoidance behavior is Mowrer's 2-factor theory [Mowrer, 1960; Levis, 1981], which posits that escape of a fear-conditioned stimulus negatively reinforces avoidance behavior, thereby maintaining fear responses. Applied to PTSD, this theory suggests that avoidance of reminders of the trauma can maintain the disorder by preventing extinction of the original fear associations. (1)

One problem with avoidance is that it keeps you stuck. I think a lot of us construct walls of sorts to keep out the things we'd rather not see, hear, or think about. Certainly avoidance does have its place in preserving our safety and well-being, but when avoidance becomes crippling it is not healthy. And, evidently, scientific inquiry has led us to the conclusion that avoidance of (perceived) fearful things only strengthens the fear association in our brains. I don't know that there is a way to shut off the fear. But I do know that avoidance is only one way to handle it. Several other options exist. I know I have not explored those options enough. I am slowly getting there.

If you struggle with avoidance as well, please be assured that there are other methods of coping. Help is out there. We need to peek over the wall long enough to spot it.


Symptoms of PTSD: Avoidance (Part 2)

I have been reading the second edition of Coping With Trauma: Hope Through Understanding by Jon G. Allen, PhD, sporadically for the past 2 years. He discusses the topic avoidance a lot in this book. Before you even make it to the double-digit page numbers, he has pretty well defined the role of avoidance in PTSD. He describes it as a primary symptom, saying that anyone who has experienced trauma will likely avoid any reminders of the event. Even thinking about the trauma can trigger overwhelmingly unpleasant emotions. And although avoidance is a natural coping strategy, it can ultimately keep you stuck. To move forward, it is vital to think about the trauma rather than to avoid it.

One recent afternoon, probably as I was trying to avoid other trains of thought, I was thinking, Well, yes, it's true that I avoid things I shouldn't. But there are things that I should avoid. What are those things? I delved into the book of Proverbs and found some very sound advice from King Solomon.

  • Avoid sin.
    • Prov 4:14–15—Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
    • Prov 22:3—A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.
  • Avoid certain types of people, especially in certain situations.
    • Prov 14:7—Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.
    • Prov 20:19—He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
    • Prov 22:24–25—Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare for thy soul.
    • Prov 23:20–21—Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.
Note that Solomon's advice is for our own good: to keep us from foolishness, to keep our secrets safe, to keep our souls, and to keep us from poverty.

Several of Solomon's ancestors fled people and situations when avoidance was the best action to take.

  • Solomon's father David fled from King Saul in 1 Sam 19:10–12:
    And Saul sought to smite David event to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul's presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night. Saul also sent messengers unto David's house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning: and Michal David's wife told him, saying, If thou savest not thy life tonight, tomorrow thou shalt be slain. So Michal let David down through a window: and he went, and fled, and escaped.
  • Joseph fled his master Potiphar's wife in Gen 39:7–12:
    And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
  • Joseph's father Jacob fled his own father-in-law in Gen 31:3–7, 20–21:
    And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee. And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock, And said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me. And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.… And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled. So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount of Gilead.

In a first therapy session with a healthcare professional, one of the first questions asked to someone who has been abused is, “Are you in a safe living situation?” To heal and cope, you need to be in a situation conducive to healing and coping (speaking from personal and unfortunate experience). If someone is threatening your life, forcing or coercing you into a sexual relationship, or otherwise taking advantage of you, you have the support of this lowly blogger, hundreds of healthcare professionals, and the Almighty God to leave that situation.

Yes, avoidant behavior is a major symptom of PTSD, but it often has to be the first step on the road to recovery.

More on avoidance (the bad kind) soon …

Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible. The KJV is public domain in the United States. See version information here: https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/King-James-Version-KJV-Bible/#vinfo.


Symtoms of PTSD: Avoidance (Part 1)

Google the initialism “PTSD” and you will quickly find that the symptoms of this disorder are most commonly grouped into three categories: 1) re-experiencing, 2) avoidance, and 3) hyperarousal.

The second category has been on my mind a lot recently. Avoidance can be an effective coping strategy, but when taken to the extreme it is debilitating. Here is an analogy my therapist made today:

Let's say that someone eats something that has a raw egg in it and gets food poisoning. Because of that experience, this person decides that in order to keep himself safe he is never going to eat food again. End result: he dies.

This man did what he could to keep himself safe. His logic was flawed, obviously, because he overgeneralized. Food itself was not the problem. It was the improper preparation (or misuse) of the food. All he needed to do was avoid the improperly prepared food, not food altogether!

I have done the same thing with the word and concept “love.” I avoid saying and thinking that word; I can barely bring myself to type it in quote marks. I avoid people or discussions that use that word frequently. I avoid reading about God's only begotten son who embodies that word in its purest form because I overgeneralize. I am the food-poisoned man … except that I'm not a man and I don't have a problem with food.

More on this topic soon….