“He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.” Psalms 147:14

Years ago, I was introduced to garlic presses, food choppers, and baking stones through a direct sales kitchen wares company. I was even a consultant for their business for a brief stint. I credit this company with teaching me to use fresh garlic and herbs, the benefits of grating your own cheese, and the use of zest. This company launched me on my culinary journey, changing my menu planning from Midwest casseroles to fresher meals. Even today, some of my husband’s favorite recipes are ones I learned from their cookbooks.

As with all fads, I sold most of my stones and upgraded my knife skills so that when the chopper died, I didn’t need to replace it. But I still loved their magical handheld can opener. Successfully connecting cans to electric can openers without making a mess perplexed me. Manual can openers have also troubled me, leaving sharp edges that felt like the teeth of a rabid dog ready to bite me. But this can opener opened the lid from the side, leaving no sharp edges. It worked smoothly, allowing me to dump beans or tomatoes into a pot without any fear or mess. This handy kitchen tool survived almost twenty years, surpassing other kitchen tools with fancier features and higher ticket prices. If writing an obituary of this can opener, thirteen coffee pots, four toasters, three sets of cookware, and two kitchen aid mixers preceded it before its demise. Last year, this piece of cutting perfection had become dull. Finally, we had no choice but to bury it in our trash can.

I investigated replacing the can opener and was shocked at the sticker price. The item itself was a little higher than ones you would find at retail store. But after years of Amazon prime and free shipping at Target, I struggled to pay 1/3 more of the cost of the item in both taxes and shipping. So, I shopped at bargain stores, thinking that all can openers were equal. The first $10 can opener was utilitarian with no frills, and lasted only a few months with many grunts of frustration from both of us. Soon, we were trying to open a simple can of tomato paste for five minutes, before we could carefully pry open the lid. Finally, Terry insisted on replacing it. This time we went with a reputable brand, with blue silicone handles jazzing it up. With this new one, I still struggled to open cans, thinking it was my RA hands not working properly. Once again, my husband grunted with frustration and insisted on ordering one like we had in the first place. Minutes later, I clicked “Checkout”, sighing in frustration. I now was spending $40 on a can opener that I originally thought was too expensive. And in doing the math, my reluctance to spend $40 had now cost me $65.

The can opener had not yet arrived, and once again I had to use the jazzy can opener. As I painstakingly opened the lid, I thought, how often do I try to cut corners in my life, and it ends up costing me so much more in the future? How often have I decided not to pray because I had too many things on my to-do list? And then I wonder why I respond sinfully when situations arise. How often do I shortchange my rest to be more productive, and then the next day my RA flares forcing me to slow down? How often have I avoided setting boundaries in my life and ended up frustrated, hurt, and depleted in my relationships.

Shortcuts seem to be hardwired into human nature. Everybody has an opinion on what the fastest route is to a destination. Even GPS apps don’t always agree. Multi-level marketing companies continue to be successful because everybody is looking to get rich quick. People spend a lot of money on miracle drugs or supplements to help with weight loss or memory for a quick solution to health issues. And people are always looking for an easier method to do housework.

Not all shortcuts are bad. Terry and I regularly pick up groceries by ordering through an app. We find that our schedules are full and grocery pick-ups free us to have more time together doing things we enjoy. We also spend less, avoiding impulse purchases. For us, it is a valuable shortcut, making our life easier. But although this shortcut works for me in my life, for others, it might not work.They may find the substitutions that the paid shopper sometimes has to make frustrating. Or just maybe, they really enjoy grocery shopping.

On the flip-side I have seen that when I avoid doing the hard thing and use a shortcut, this shortcut ends up costing me something. The shortcut might be a temporary solution that initially works out well, just like the two cheaper can openers worked well the first time we used them. But eventually, the shortcut’s temporary fix ends up with hard to open lids, cut fingers, and frustration. And then I am left with a choice: do I find another shortcut or do the hard thing?

In the past couple of years, I realized that I have a terrible time setting healthy boundaries in my life. It was easier for me to agree to help others without really considering the cost. I managed other people’s emotions by swooping in to fix things, without taking care of myself and letting them sit with difficult situations. I played peacekeeper, without addressing my feelings often discounted by others. My hard thing, setting boundaries, cost me my peace, time, energy, and emotional well-being. And my shortcuts left me feeling inadequate, frustrated, hurt, and devalued.

How did my boundaries get so messed up? Boundaries are typically established in childhood, where they are modeled and taught by parents. These patterns may be healthy or unhealthy. As an adult, it requires self-awareness and work to change the pattern of responding to boundaries from unhealthy to healthy. But in the case of childhood sexual trauma, boundary development is almost nonexistent since your physical body, your most private parts, are being violated by a person you are supposed to trust. This leaves you with the inability to trust your gut instinct for self-preservation and changes your sense of responsibility. In my case, I felt responsible for other people’s choices and for making them feel better. Since my ability to say no was discounted during the abuse, I rarely said no later in life, fearing rejection and disappointing others around me. Finally, I rarely addressed hard issues, because it was easier to avoid, move forward, and pretend everything was okay.

Years ago, my mom gave me a stack of childhood school papers. Included was a third-grade autobiographical story about my family. In the story, I wrote about my “wonderful dad” who listened and took us on fun adventures. I could hardly believe I wrote that, knowing full well the nightmare I lived daily. Yet my eight-year-old self couldn’t reconcile that fact with my school assignment. I couldn’t talk about the flying mashed potatoes, or the broken dishes being thrown across the dinner table. I didn’t write about the sweaty socks being thrown in my face while disparaging comments were being made about my normal weight. And I certainly couldn’t describe being forced to go to the basement knowing full well what would happen down there in the dark. So, I pretended, because telling the truth was scary.

Yes, trauma distorted my ability to set healthy boundaries. And for years, I lived with messy boundaries. But like the popular meme, “Trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.”, I have a responsibility to learn to set healthy boundaries. I am not sure why I didn’t address this early in my life, but I do know that I am now in the safest place in my marriage, my relationships, and my community of believers to address this. I am digging into what I believe about myself and what is truth. I am learning to lay down other people’s responsibilities and pick up my own. I am learning that saying “No” is okay and addressing hard feelings is safe. I don’t always do it well. A lot of times, I mess up, expressing anger in a way that is not conducive to good conversations. Other times, I read into others responses without exercising curiosity. And I still find myself trying to figure out a way to help others at the expense of my own well-being. But I am slowly building healthy boundaries.

And there are no shortcuts in doing this. Like my utilitarian can opener, I could read about boundaries and map out a flowchart on how to handle situations. But this will only change my actions without getting to the healing that makes setting boundaries natural. Like my flashy can opener, I can become a boundary setter, zealous for myself, but forget to do the hard work in addressing my own sinful responses. The hardest and best response is to invest in this process. I have to invite Jesus into this process, along with some good friends who hold me accountable, and do the hard work of setting boundaries. It will cost me something: time, uncomfortable feelings, and maybe the loss of some unhealthy relationships. But ultimately, it will leave me healthy and whole, giving me room to do the things God has called me to do.

I threw away my third-grade autobiography. It has probably decomposed unlike the useless can openers still taking up space in some landfill. But I wish I had kept it. At the time, I was frustrated with my younger self for not telling the truth, for making up an imaginary life. Today, I have so much more compassion for that little girl who wanted a life of adventure and a father who listened. I can’t change my trauma, but I can create a beautiful life with adventures; I can be the one to listen well; and I can set healthy boundaries.

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