From the Hills: Our Experiences Can Make Us Bitter or Better 

By Sylvia Peterson
Posted 5/2/22

There is a shocking amount of trauma in our world today. I’m not talking about the shattering disappointment of an adolescent romance that didn’t work out. We are in an age of widespread …

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From the Hills: Our Experiences Can Make Us Bitter or Better 

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There is a shocking amount of trauma in our world today. I’m not talking about the shattering disappointment of an adolescent romance that didn’t work out. We are in an age of widespread abuse that has the potential to disable us — but sometimes it doesn’t.  

Why? 

Something most people don’t know about me is that I have experienced a lot of trauma in my life. I’ve been shot at, kidnapped, held hostage domestically and in Africa twice. I’ve been   sexually assaulted (more than once,) and gone through two very nasty divorces. I was repeatedly molested as a child, and emotionally abused in a number of adult relationships. 

So where are my scars? Why am I able to love my life today without bemoaning the past? 

I’ve noticed that I am drawn to other women who have also survived situations that could have killed them: abusive marriages, sexual compromise, and selfish children who left home with reckless abandon. Most of my friends have been forced to live without consistent safe housing and food. Their trust has been betrayed

Are my friends and I mentally, emotionally, and spiritually impaired by our experiences? If so, where is our PTSD? 

Much has been deservedly studied and written about the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of the American combat in the Middle East. Much less has been written about “post-traumatic growth,” the process of finding a new appreciation for life and a greater sense of purpose following adversity. 

Dr. Nate Zinser talks about this in “The Confident Mind.” He proposes that we each have a mental filter that serves two purposes. It allows the thoughts and memories that create energy, optimism, and enthusiasm to pass through, while blocking fear and failure from permanently damaging our lives. 

“With a functioning mental filter, you could play in an afternoon softball game, get only one hit in four at bats, and spend the evening reliving and enjoying that one successful trip to the plate.” 

When I remember Somalia, I don’t feel the fear, failure and despair. I remember the warm breeze on my cheeks when I sat in the moonlight enjoying desert nights. I relive the camaraderie that the nurses and I developed. We learned to be compassionate, empathizing chaplains to each other, listening and dissecting our experiences at the end of each day. 



I absolutely remember the joy of my first bath and the smell of Pantene shampoo in my hair on furlough after the first two months of dirt and sweat. 

I now understand that my mental filter has allowed me to process in a healthy way the place where my pain is stored.  

Forgiveness is the bridge that allows us to move beyond experiences that could have broken us. When we muster the courage to extend grace, we receive two gifts: peace and courage. Either our painful experiences make us bitter, or they can make us better. 

At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph reunites with the brothers that stole his cloak and threw him in a pit to die. He said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me, but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now — life for many people.” (Gen 50:19)

I’m so grateful for the friends I have today. They are women of profound wisdom and courage, aging with the peaceful confidence that is only developed by overcoming adversity and following Christ’s example of extreme forgiveness. 

Jesus demonstrated an authentic filter and moved from pain to peace. 

•••

Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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