When Mother’s Day is Hard

photo of mother and child
Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

We have 5 children, one each from our first marriages and then our 3 youngest together.  Our two oldest are only 3 months apart in age, just 3 and almost 3 when we married, nearly 31 years ago.  

Blending a family is no joke, but when you are 25 years old, still swimming in brokenness and ignorance of who Our Pappa God is, then even your best efforts mostly end up a pile of mess.  We did family counseling, family get-aways, and took every opportunity to become a loving family.  I longed for our sons to feel safe and loved without condition.  In some ways, we succeeded, but in so many more, we failed miserably.  I’m sure so many blended parents can relate to this.

We were each overly protective of our bio-sons and had damaged relationships with their other parents.  Some of our family members on both sides were less than supportive.  We came from different ethnic backgrounds, different religious backgrounds and got married after only dating for 5 months!  I don’t think we could’ve set the scene for massive failure much more if we tried.

I’d like to say, “Here we are, still standing,” but that wouldn’t be the whole truth.  Those two sweeties, who are older than we were when we started this crazy journey, are now estranged from us.  For more years than I can fathom, at times, they have chosen to have nothing to do with us.  It is painful.  As time passes, I admit, my hope diminishes that we will ever reconcile.  I sometimes imagine calling my firstborn and saying, “Don’t you remember who I am?  How I have always loved you so completely and without condition?  Why was it so easy to just cut me out of your life over such pettiness?”  But, he has repeatedly made it clear that he wants no contact from me and tbh, I mostly feel at peace that we are, each of us, right where we need to be right in this season.  

I read something by Beth Moore today in CHASING VINES that gave me such comfort, because there are still moments that creep up now and then, when I feel like after all I poured into my son, to have him turn on me so completely,  it was a waste of my life because the fruit of that seems so rotten now.  I’m going to pull a few sentences out from her book to share with you, after my disclaimer.

*Please no judgement here.  I am being honest about the really dark and difficult days of this brokenness as a mama.  

“Why, Lord?  Why did this turn out the way it did?

He knows.  He tells those who listen….

The vinedresser does a curious thing with the rotten fruit.  He turns it back into the soil and then, underground, by some spectacular organic miracle of nature, it fertilizes a future harvest.”  – Beth Moore, CHASING VINES

I think many of us have experienced deep disappointment(s) in an area of our lives that was significant.  Then we wonder why and feel discouraged that it was all for naught, when, in fact, it wasn’t.  It never is, because when we choose to walk through that difficult season with Our Pappa, learning from the mistakes we’ve made, then the next season is full of sweeter fruit.

I poured everything I was able to into all of my children.  They were my life’s work and joy.  I messed up plenty out of my own brokenness, like every other human being that walks this earth.  I’ve spent the past several years asking My Pappa God to show me the places I’ve needed healing and where I’ve needed to help others heal from my sins.  I pray my firstborn is growing with Our Pappa God, as well.  I pray that one day we will find reconciliation and grace for one another because I believe it is His will.

Tomorrow will be hard in some ways.  I think of him every day, but he is the one that made me a mama, so this one is one of the harder days.  He will probably send me a text that hurts more than blesses (again) that says, “Happy Mother’s Day” and I will wish that he didn’t because years of texts that seem to check the box more than have true sentiment, are a reminder of how little I seem to mean to him anymore.

Tomorrow will also be lovely because my three youngest children and my husband of 31 years are still standing, sometimes limping, but always striving to grow together.  They love me and will celebrate me, flaws and all.  I am blessed beyond measure, but on my road to being whole I must honor that part of me that grieves the loss of another year with the boy who made me a mama.

 

Grace Reins Down

How soon I forget, when shame overtakes and the spiraling begins.

Searching for Your guidance and feeling unsafe, exposed to the critical scrutiny of Your other children.

Setting my own bar too high because of my pride.

Panic.  Self-loathing.  

Crying out.  Remorse.

Getting still.  Listening.  

Going.  Confessing.

YOUR GRACE reins down through Your daughters, my sisters.

Thank you, my Faithful Pappa-God.

Thank you, faithful daughter, sisters.

It is sweet humility to be reminded that I’ve so far to go, but I am never alone on this difficult, grace-filled journey.

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

2, Fix You

I am learning the sweetest lesson that I would almost swear is changing my body chemistry and slowing down the aging process.  I am simultaneously trying not to regret spending so many years not living in this truth.

So much of my struggle comes simply from being a mama, but it seems to be compounded by my 2-ness.  I have always loved to help my husband and our children “figure out” how best to navigate all kinds of difficult situations.  If any one of them is in the midst of a mini crisis, there is nothing this 2-mama loves more than being needed, and if the tangle is between any 2 or more of them, well then I’ve always felt it is my responsibility to get right in the middle and help them to understand the other person’s viewpoint so that peace and love would once again be restored in our family.

ick.

Right?!

Recently, as we have been walking through this trying season in our family, I am seeing so clearly that satan wants division and isolation among us.  In the past, this would’ve panicked me and I would be in full-on mama-2-fixit mode.  I’d convince myself because of other broken relationship history that any conflict between my children could be permanent.  I’d be on high-alert for any harsh word or action, lest left unaddressed, would sever the ties that bind us so that reconciliation was impossible. I’d force myself, my husband and our children into conversations that none of us was anywhere ready to have, thus resulting in deeper wounding all the way around.

Often I would listen to one of my lovie’s  emotional assessments of a situation, all the while getting amped up about the other lovie who was clearly in the wrong!  Then I’d confront this “other” only to find out that I was only getting one side of the story, and in the name of reconciliation, I had jumped the gun, crossing several boundaries and hurting everyone in the process.

Holy Spirit has been unconditionally patient with my insanity.  He has gently and consistently grown me in this area.  Initially, my first milestone, which was more work than I care to admit, was curbing my yelling (screaming) at my immediate family.   This is embarrassing, but the truth is, I lost my temper and turned into an insane banshee with my babies on a somewhat regular basis for more years than I care to admit right now.  This would happen for important and worthy reasons such as forgetting their schoolwork at home, not emptying the dishwasher when I asked them to, and their all time favorite:  when they would leave someone out, especially one another.  The amazing thing is that I can’t even remember the last time I went full-on banshee on anyone.  So, that’s a win.

My next goal was staying out of my grown children’s disagreements with each other and with their dad.  This was SO, SO HARD for me!!!  The interesting thing was that they asked me to do this and we all decided to make it a family rule, but when they would argue, someone would inevitably look at me and say, “Aren’t you going to say something?!  Why are you letting him/her say that without saying anything?!”  I also discovered that my children had become champion busybodies, thanks to my example, and staying out of arguments that didn’t involve them became a family goal.  So, that objective was not obtained as smoothly, but I’m grateful and proud to say that when 2 of us are having a spat and all of us are together, the other 3 stay quiet and refrain from taking sides 95% of the time. 

My latest ambition has been to stop being the fix-it girl. When my children share a challenging situation they’re dealing with, my mind is racing to think of the best solution for them.  Half the time, I’m not truly listening to what they are communicating, because I’m so busy trying to make it all better and be the hero! (insert another “ick”)

strength strong toy action figure

I’m learning I should not attempt to solve the struggles in other people’s, especially my children’s, lives.  It is perfectly acceptable, nay, preferable to stay silent, truly listen and simply ask what they need from me.  I’ve found that in actively staying focused on what is being said to me, I can more easily wade through the emotion and opinions that feel like facts to him/her.  I don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions as much as I used to and that’s a double win, imo, because people don’t get hurt by possible untruths and satan can’t use this against me like he has so much of my life.

stainless steel close wrench on spanner 

All 5 of us are NFP’s on the Myers-Briggs, so there is no shortage of the feels in our family.  Learning to keep our emotions in check has been such a blessing.  We still have tiffs and we are not terribly calm or logical when things get heated, but we stay in our lanes most all of the time now, we listen to each other in a way we never did before and the banshee is gone.  I’d say we’re winning.

board center chalk chalkboard

Pray

grayscale photography of woman kneeling on area rug
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Your voice is at the tip of my mind

Speak to me

Is that You guiding my steps?

Doubt creeps in

Speak clearly to me

Speak louder, Father!

No

Be still

Invite quiet

Release

Open hands, heart, mind

close up of hands
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Clarity begins to surface

Peace falls over me

Listen

Pappa…

I hear You…

Thank You, Pappa

Amen

 

#TimesUp #MeToo

Sexual Abuse Lindy West quote

I feel like we’re living in history making days.  Things are shifting.  Big things.  Terribly uncomfortable, but incredibly necessary things. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought much to light for many in our country.  There’s a feeling of our entire country being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, while too many are still trying to shift the blame back to the victims.  I’ve spent a bunch of time processing my experiences and feelings as someone who has also suffered sexual abuse on more than one occasion.

I recently shared in a post about the first time I was abused by an older neighborhood boy, but that wasn’t the last time.  There was the time a family member repeatedly came in while I was bathing (age 8 or 9) and touched me inappropriately.  I knew it was icky, but until years later when a friend shared about the incestuous relationship between her father and sister, I couldn’t give the incident context.  There was the man who graduated a decade before my friend and I who would drive down our country road and slow down to expose himself to us when we were in elementary school walking to meet each other for playdates.  There was a time an older boy from the middle school showed up at my elementary school and pinned me up against a wall, while telling me how pretty I was and attempting to unzip my blue jeans with my Tony the Tiger iron-on on my knee before I pretended someone was walking in behind him and ran away as he was distracted.  There was the time I was babysitting for three families – two of the dads were brothers – and one of the men showed up just after I had gotten the kids to bed and became quite sexually aggressive.  He was laying on top of me on the couch, I scrambled for the phone and pretended to dial a number, threatening to call his wife.  He watched me dial the phone, accusing me of not knowing her number.  In our town at that time, EVERYONE’s numbers began with 266-4.  He wasn’t incredibly intelligent and left quickly as I dialed the 4, saying something about this not being finished as he walked out the door.  I can still feel the relief wash over me as I fell against the wall next to the phone.  I called no one, not my mother, not a friend.  I gathered myself and began to clean the kitchen up.  A couple of hours later his inebriated brother showed up and scolded me for not being ‘nice” to his brother during his earlier visit.  I was 11 or 12 years old.  I continued to babysit for these families for years.  I would invite a friend or keep the children in close proximity, often having one sleep on the couch in the living room.  In all honesty, there were very few families that I babysat for that I didn’t have to deal with an overattentive “father.”   It was commonplace for my girl friends and I to talk about this happening to nearly everyone.  We would warn each other about the really bad ones.  There were also teachers who were inappropriate in middle school and high school.  Again, we discussed which teachers to avoid being alone with or getting too close to in proximity for fear they would “unintentionally” brush up against us or touch us inappropriately.  These conversations were often laced with giggles as we tried to minimize the fear we felt in the normalized sexual abuse culture we were growing up in.

I recall talking about this with my girl friends in front of boys and their comments would generally insinuate that we should take it as a compliment because grown men shouldn’t be expected to have self-control around those they considered attractive teenage girls.  And, if I’m honest, I believe most of us bought into that theory.  On some level I know I felt some confirmation that I was attractive if men showed interest in me, even if it was perverted and/or abusive.  I also believed that it must be my fault because every time a girl or woman spoke out about sexual abuse, I watched the adults in my life, as well as my peers, find a way to blame the victim or convince themselves that she was lying – that it never really happened or if it did, she wanted it to.

At a football game at the beginning of my senior year of high school, some friends and I were drinking.  I remember running into a much older friend of my brother’s.  He told me he would give me and my friend a ride to a party after the game.  We were drinking alcohol before going to the game and I was tipsy, but not drunk.  He gave me something to drink on the way to the party.  I don’t remember much after a vague memory of an outdoor party with loud music and then getting into his vehicle.  I don’t remember getting home.  I know I woke up in the morning with bruises on both of my inner thighs and what appeared to be semen on my pubic area.  Every time I saw that man over the next several years, he treated me as if he was disgusted with me.  When I finally shared this story with a friend who knew that man, she became very uncomfortable and told me that I couldn’t really know what happened, especially since I had been so drunk and may have even encouraged him.  She then made it clear that she was done talking about it.  I walked away from that conversation wondering if I had wanted something to happen with that man or at the very least wondering if I deserved it.  I have never blacked out in my life except for that night.  I often wonder if he put something in my drink.  I wonder a lot of things, but the truth is, I’ll never know what happened that night.

I remember as an adult being violently knocked around for hours in my home, kicked, shoved and slapped, and then raped by a man I was in a relationship with, as I tried to break things off with him.  When he left that afternoon I showered and got dressed before going to a family gathering.  I choked on my sobs during my shower, but I didn’t allow myself to cry because I was afraid he would return, hear me and continue his violent attack.  I focused on behaving normally during the gathering, numbing myself to what had happened earlier that day.  Because my family didn’t want me to date this person, I never told them about what actually happened that day.  He stalked me at my college, getting my class schedule somehow. I changed my number twice because he got the first number change and kept calling me to let me know it wasn’t over. A month or so later, he showed up at my house late at night, watching me through the glass door I had just walked through, arms full of groceries and I had sex with him because I was terrified he would kill me.  I was all alone and I didn’t know any other way to get him to leave.  I remember telling him I loved him as he left to insure he would keep walking out the door.  Later when I shared it in a detached way with my boyfriend (now, husband), his initial reaction was to blame me for not fighting harder and to accuse me of wanting to have sex with my rapist.  I was filled with shame for a long time about the choices I made because I didn’t understand them and I loathed myself for being weak and trampy. 

I think the thing that keeps blowing my mind about this is that women aren’t really shocked about any of this.  We’ve been sharing stories with each other, sometimes supporting one another, sometimes blaming one another, since the beginning of time.  The reality is, it is a rare (and extremely blessed) girl over the age of 8 that hasn’t been sexually abused in some manner.  It’s even less rare to find an adult woman who hasn’t been sexually abused by more than one person in her life.  

Think about that for a moment.  In a recent poll they found that over 80% of women have been sexually harassed or assaulted.  There is also evidence that women will often block memories out of their minds or minimize it if they weren’t forcibly raped by a stranger, blaming themselves on some level if they knew the abuser and not acknowledging abuse less than full-on rape.  I know that just a few years ago I would’ve said I was never really sexually abused because I always knew my abusers.  The few times I shared my stories with others I was usually filled with shame.  It wasn’t unusual for the listener to question what I was wearing at the time, what I said or did, or to ask why I didn’t do something else, especially if the listener was a man and/or a christian.

We wonder why women don’t speak out.  

I wonder why we don’t see that victimized women, by and large, don’t think they are worth fighting for in these situations, until others are possibly in harm’s way.  Then, when they courageously speak up, we make them reopen their deep wounds while we coldly inspect them with doubt and judgement only to usually find a way to blame them or disbelieve them.

We wonder why victims don’t speak out.

Several of my abusers were family members, close friends, bosses, and teachers.  I should have, as a young and very innocent girl, been able to trust these authority figures, these loved ones.  I should’ve felt safe.  Instead I felt like my discomfort wasn’t important enough to disrupt the “peace.”  I didn’t believe I would be believed.  I believed people would think I was to blame.

I didn’t feel safe at home, at school, at some friends’, at my babysitting jobs.  Why would I speak out?  Who would I have trusted?

Of all of the men I’ve told you about only the flashing car driver ever got in any trouble for what he’d done.  One of them became an attorney.  One of them was serving on a school board, last I knew.  Both of these men were known for their sexual deviance in that little village, students even joked about it.  The adults never did anything about it because we have a “boys will be boys” mentality in this country.  We hush and shame anyone who tries to bring it out into the light, so that the people in power get to stay in power.

Although I say women aren’t surprised because the vast majority of us have endured sexual abuse, from threats to violent attacks, I have to admit I haven’t often shared the abuse I’ve gone through because I believed something must be extra wrong with me because it’s happened so many times.  In recent months as I’ve had conversations with other women of varied ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, I’ve come to realize that not only is the frequency of times I’ve been abused or harassed not excessive in comparison to the women I’ve spoken with, but the degree to which I’ve experienced abuse and harassment is less than almost all of the women who have shared their stories with me.

While I haven’t enjoyed that the incredibly painful abuse of too many women has stirred up memories I’d rather pretend to forget, I am entirely indebted to the amazingly courageous women who have chosen to lay bare their deep and horrific wounds to an audience that has a less-than-shiny track record, at the risk of everything:  their jobs, their income, their reputations, their families, and at times their sanity.  They have jeopardized everything so that we can finally begin to purge this evil from our society.  It’s way past time to speak openly, even when it makes us uncomfortable (like when I typed semen up there) because bringing this scourge up from the depths of darkness and exposing the numerous layers of accomplice for how awful and harmful it is may be the only path to beginning a different way, the way I pray my daughter and  granddaughters can walk fully in – the way I pray my sons and grandsons can walk fully in.  

We have to look this misogynistic way of living full in the face, with all of its discomfort, own our part in the ugliness of the perverted abuse dance and then stand for and live in what is right.  Begin by understanding that ALL people, women as well as men, people of color as well as white people, are truly EQUAL.  When we begin to listen to women and people of color as equals, while believing their stories, the entire everything will shift in the most glorious way. 

It’s past time

  • to believe victims and stop blaming them
  • to empower women and people of color
  • to reject our “boys will be boys” acceptance of abusive, predatory behavior
  • to hold abuser accountable
  • to make this a safe place to hear the truth and change our destructive pattern

I don’t want to wonder why.  I want to be a part of a community and culture that holds ourselves to a standard of respect, love and humanity.  Women shouldn’t have to dress a certain way, lest men can’t help but violate them.  Victims shouldn’t alone bear the burden of proof in a culture that shames us for stirring the pot when we accuse our aggressors. This way isn’t working.  Sexual sin can’t just keep being covered up.  The rug isn’t that big.  God isn’t that complacent.  He loves us too much to turn a blind eye for very long.  It’s time for His children to take their just punishment and turn away from this too common debauchery. It’s time for the church to stop dressing up the misogyny of white men in an expensive suit holding a Bible, and downplaying the abuse of the women and children whom Jesus calls to be honored as His beloved.

Ephesians 5:1 Be imitators of God in everything you do, for then you will represent your Father as his beloved sons and daughters. And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance.  And have nothing to do with sexual immorality, lust, or greed—for you are his holy ones and let no one be able to accuse you of them in any form.

It’s WAY past time, isn’t it?

#TimesUp

#BelieveSurvivors

 

Their Discomfort is Not Your Shame

 

shame-652499_640

I have spent a decade recovering from my husband’s betrayal.  I often refer to that event as the beginning of great change in my entire family’s lives.  Betrayals in marriage make others uncomfortable.  Some of our closest family members have created distance between us and them since becoming aware of  this part of our story.  Immediately after discovering his betrayal, one of my oldest and dearest friends promised to fly out to Texas to help me through the time when I was struggling with wanting to commit suicide.  She was the only person I had shared my shame with at that time. The promise of her visit gave me something to hang on to.  We made plans for over a week.  She told me she’d call with specifics about her ticket.  I picked up the next phone call, hoping she was coming soon, when she told me that her husband said they couldn’t afford the trip and that he needed her home during that time.  I was devastated, but told her I understood and wouldn’t want them to struggle financially because of me.  Two days later I was betrayed all over again as I saw her fb pics of the tropical and pricey girl’s trip that she had chosen (and lied to me about) over supporting me.  After ignoring my texts, calls and letters for about two years, she was in Texas for business and asked to stay with us, so during the day I spent with her, I asked why she did that to me and her response was, “I’m just a sh*##@ friend.  There’s not really anything to talk about.  I suck.”

Closure wasn’t to be in that relationship, apparently.

When I talk about my spiritual and emotional health journey, I often refer to and differentiate the years before the betrayal (The Stepford Years) and the years since to mark the beginning of this incredible journey.  My husband, our three youngest children and I have been very intentional about working through our junk with as much transparency as we can muster.  We believe that this is the best way to help others and to remember how far Our Pappa has brought us since we submitted to His leading.  So, I’ve been surprised by the number of Christian friends and family members who have attempted to shut down that part of our story.  Even in my recovery walk I was asked if I realized how often I refer to that time when I worked through my steps… (btw, this is kinda the point of working the steps, right?). Fortunately, because I had another christian friend say something similar previously and had prayed about it, I was prepared with my shameless response this time.  I’m not living in that brokenness or dwelling in victimhood.  I’m testifying that My Pappa can effect a kind of change in people that can’t happen by our own effort, alone.  So, when a friend comes to me and describes a situation that resembles my B.B. marriage (Before Betrayal), I want her/him to know that I can relate and I can share the “brokenness to the point of not wanting to live” chapter of my story that He miraculously loved into the “wanting to live for Him” chapter of my story.  I can also empathize with mourning that the trauma of that betrayal changed who I was and I will live with that forever.  Always trying to remember that I best serve Him by sharing and thus shedding the layers of pain, sin and fear that stand in the way of walking in my FULL identity that He has always held for me.

I often wonder why our church videos typically share the “end” of the story without an occasional “messy in the midst story.”  We like to wrap it all up in a pretty bow after sharing a quick, not too graphic, picture of what the struggle is really like.  I think the people that are still planted in the mud, stuck in the desert, struggling to feel like their story will have a portion of joy in the morning (“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”        – Psalm 30:5) would love to hear how truly freakin’ hard the days leading up to His miraculous healing  were for a real live person with skin.  Instead, we have stories that skim over the ugliness and then spend 70% or more of the video on how amazing things have been since the ugly ended.  I understand the motive is to give hope to struggling people, but I think we can do better.  We can be more authentic about how hard and lonely and messy our dark chapters are so that when we get to the pretty bow part of the story, we really give Him all of the glory He deserves because we see that it was only by His grace that we can be redeemed.  This is what will give hope to the hopeless, truly seeing His unrelenting, unconditional love fighting for our hearts in spite of the muck and mire.

I could tell you numerous stories of church peeps who attempted to shame us when we shared our betrayal story

– the leaders of our marriage class that stopped talking to us and then “unfriended” us on fb,

– the first Texas friend I shared the truth with after 2 years, who said she understood and would like to talk after she absorbed it all and then told me she wasn’t sure she could forgive me and cut all ties with my family,

– the family member who used to call me weekly and has called me less than five times in the past ten years because it makes her uncomfortable how open we are about it. 

Their discomfort is not my shame.  We need to be uncomfortable in order to grow.  We are called to comfort our sisters and brothers. 

“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”     – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

There is nothing in the Good Book that tells us that we should shame others if their story makes us uncomfortable or fearful.  There is nothing that tells us we should tone down how messy things are so that the people sitting in the pews or across the table feel more at ease.  The peeps who prioritize their need to feel at ease aren’t leaning into the real story of God’s redemption and the peeps that are leaning in, need us to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, again and again, without shame.

If you are one of those courageous people who is speaking your truth in order to heal and/or to help others heal, just know that He sees you and your heart.  He loves that you are choosing to do the hard and often humiliating work of crawling your way back to health.  The people that try to shame or shun you because you are speaking your painful truth are afraid or lack compassion, but it isn’t a reflection on you or your journey with Jesus.  Keep your eyes on Him and seek His will, even when it’s lonely and doubt rears it’s ugly head because the enemy doesn’t want you to walk in the identity Your Father has for you.  Hold your head up and walk through, knowing He is with you.

“I am your anchor in the wind and the waves. I am your steadfast, so don’t be afraid. Though your heart and flesh may fail you, I’m your faithful strength and I am with you wherever you go.”  

We need to do better.  We need to love better.  We need to open our hearts to His stories of redemption and the beautiful, uncomfortable messiness that comes with it.  

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God.”        – Isaiah 40:1

 

 

 

Buyer’s Remorse

Buyer's Remorse and Sales

That post yesterday?  Violated?

Yeah.  I’m having some buyer’s remorse.  I think this might be similar to what one feels the morning after a one-night-stand or a drunken escapade…

“What did I do?!”

I considered deleting it because I keep thinking it makes people uncomfortable, but in all honesty, it makes me uncomfortable because it was humiliating and I never worked through it or discussed it with anyone in a healthy way.  So, I’m leaving it and praying it helps another person who shouldn’t feel embarrassed or humiliated because someone else violated them.  Bring it out of the dark.  Take away the power that story holds over you in secret.  You are worth the risk.  You are. 

It’s All Relative…

relative fish

 

I’ve struggled for years with feeling shame for feeling pain at the lack of everything I received when I needed everything the most.  Compared to so many others my neglect was minimal.  The emotional abuse was a blip compared to the sexual and physical abuse so many people I hold dear have dealt with as children and as adults.

There is no winner or highest achiever because it’s not a competition.  While it may seem natural to downplay one person’s trauma while contrasted to another’s seemingly deeper trauma, it all still remains trauma.  There is no rule that if you don’t reach a certain amount of awful, you have to just stuff it down.  These are our truths. 

The irony is that often we follow this lifelong martyr routine of diminishing our own pain, when we should be bringing it all out of the darkness so that we can look it right square in the eye as it begins to lose its power in the light.  The only way to turn this agony into something good is to hand it over to Our Father and do the work of facing it in the light as He calls us to do.  Finally, we are called to walk through pain with others because we are called to love like Jesus.  We are called to follow Him as He turns our ashes into beauty as we walk it out in the relationships He brings into our lives. 

Your anguish is real.  It’s good to see that without any obstruction.  Having a counselor confirm my  grief was absolutely freeing for me.  Broken parents, teachers, friends often hurt us deeply because they don’t see their brokenness.  Our charge is to see our wounds and not cover them up so that they fester, causing more pain as we soldier on.  The truly courageous choice is to do the painful, valiant work of healing our festering wounds so that we can walk in the fullness of the identity He has for each of us. 

We can wallow for a bit.  Mourning is part of this pilgrimage.  We can and should find trustworthy people to come alongside us as we do this hard work.  I’ve found some wonderful people to help me as I’ve traveled toward health.  Counseling can be so helpful.  A good 12 Step program (not just for people addicted to drugs or alcohol) can be life-changing.  I’m a big believer that EVERYONE should work through the steps and more than once.  I’ve done it twice and plan to start my third round in the near future.  It’s like a little Jesus tuneup for your emotional and spiritual health with other peeps who are just humble enough to know they need a Jesus tuneup, too.  The Destiny Project is an extraordinary retreat for women.  The men’s counterpart is called BraveHeart and I’ve heard nothing but great reviews.  Inner-healing prayer (which goes by several names and can vary a bit, depending on where the facilitator was trained) can bring exponential healing in many cases and is something I’ve done in the past and am engaging in once again.  One of the most helpful pieces in my “health toolbox” is the enneagram.  Learning about this has helped my family tremendously. 

Not everything will work for everyone.  I went to counselors that I just didn’t click with.  I didn’t do every step of the twelve perfectly.  That’s why I’m so thankful that there are so many options.  I’m grateful for people who have helped me speak my truth and didn’t shame me or compare my  pain to other people’s pain.  I spent too many years allowing satan to tell me that I was being a baby, (*See enneagram 2 and shame) so that I wouldn’t face my junk and move toward health.  I pray you decide to ask Jesus to help you bring your stuff out into the light and begin your mission toward the beautiful identity He has for you.  I pray you are protected from people who want to minimize what you’ve experienced.  Lastly, I pray you have the courage to walk through the especially painful parts of the journey, knowing there is abundant freedom along the way.

 

Family Secrets

Proverbs-28-13

Every family has them, right?  It’s just how things happen in this American culture, especially in the generation before mine, which I often call the “sweep it all under the rug” generation.  My mother was a pro at this.  It always seemed so bizarre to me that she would preach to me about my siblings and I getting along better, when she kept so much from her own sisters.  I would argue that it wasn’t really getting along and loving if you didn’t really know one another, but it was an argument that never saw resolution, because my priority was being known and loved, while hers was having “peace.”

I remember when I was around 10 years old and a cousin told me that she had visited the cemetery with her mother and there was a headstone with the name, “Baby McDowell,” (my maiden name).  When she asked about it, her mother told her that my parents had lost their first child, a girl, when she was born.  I was blown away!  I had a sister!  I know it sounds ludicrous, but with four brothers and a mom who wasn’t super chummy with me, I was thrilled that I wasn’t alone on some 10 year old level.  When I went home to ask my mother about it, probably not with an abundance of sensitivity, I was met with such anger, I didn’t know what to do with myself.  She refused to answer any of my questions and told me it was none of my business and my aunt had NO business telling her daughter about it.  In the over 40 years since then, she’s never discussed it with me.

Later, as a young adult, I had to keep mum at extended family gatherings when another family member was in jail, for months at a time – not only once and not the same person.  My mother was adamant about this, so the rest of us fell in line and helped keep up the facade.  This meant telling our children to also lie to their relatives (because that’s healthy…).         When I tried to explain how uncomfortable I was, asking my kids to do this, I was berated for telling my children the truth in the first place, as if I had done something completely idiotic and detrimental to my offspring and my family of origin all at once.

 I was 19 and in college, dating the boy who would become my first husband, when I became pregnant and, as a result, had an abortion.  My husband and children are all very aware of what my experience was and how it’s affected my entire life.  While I wish this was not a chapter in my story, it is, and I believe the only way to change the trajectory of my children’s lives and their children’s lives, and so on, is to bring my secret sins out into the light and talk about what led up to and what happened because of those awful choices I made.  I can say with some disgrace and a bunch of freedom that I have been relentlessly upfront about my bad choices with my children and that the good that will result from my transparency far outweighs the shame I’ve experienced.  

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:  ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  (Ephesians 5:13-14)

With so many wounds, secrets and lies layered upon one another through the years, eventually my family of origin imploded.  Secrets of abortion, miscarriage, a shotgun wedding, an illegitimate child, affairs, stealing money, the list goes on.  It was both heartbreaking for me and somewhat of a relief.  The carnage is still scattered all over the place and I’ve collected all of the pieces of the implosion that I want to keep.  The ones I left behind are not pieces I want to include as I go forward.

The irony is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a family that doesn’t have these same or very similar skeletons in their proverbial closets, and yet, we all freak out and try to hide it when it’s ours.  THIS is normal.  We Sin.  We make terrible choices.  We are HUMAN.  The goal isn’t to get through with less embarrassing sin than your other family members or the neighbors.  The goal is to know each other and love each other through the good and the bad choices.  The goal is to take the bad stuff and help others to not take the same detours, because if we don’t use that junk to cause some good, what in the world is the point?!

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—  to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,  the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”  (Isaiah 61:1-3)

When my husband betrayed me several years ago,  I remember so many things going through my mind.  I felt horrible shame because my husband turned to someone else after I had tried so hard to be a great wife in every way I knew how. I did not want anyone to know about this and possibly take pleasure in it at my expense.  I reached out to our church and they connected us to another couple who had gone through something similar a few years before us.  They advised us to tell our children immediately.  We did NOT want our children to know anything – which is ridiculous when I think of how I didn’t leave my bedroom for 2 solid weeks and they must have heard all of the crying and screaming I was doing on the regular.  After a lot of prayer and some time, we took their advice and told our children.  We also shared with them that this had happened with other family members in the spirit of getting it all out into the light and moving forward in freedom.  It was one of the most devastating nights of our lives.  I honestly didn’t think we would ever recover from all of the horribleness.

I’d love to tell you that we instantly became better than ever before, that once the truth was out, we all instantly forgave one another and moved on in perfect harmony.  I could lie, but then I’d be starting that crap again and what would be the point of this post?!  We did couple’s counseling, individual counseling, teenage counseling, and in the process of working toward health with boundaries and all the glitter, there was lots of fallout and sadly, some of it has not been resolved, yet.

I know one of the biggest reasons family secrets begin is because we are concerned about what other people think of us.  We want to appear better than we are.  I often refer to the time before the betrayal as our Stepford Family years because we worked SO hard to make it all look perfect – and by we, I mean me.  On some level (and this is where my 2-ness came into play, HARD.  * See Enneagram) I always believed that if I did enough for the people I loved, they would keep me in their lives because I wasn’t worth loving just because I was me.

SO, if you pour all you’ve got into being the perfect wife, then you finally burn out after 20 years and in your exhaustion your husband turns away because you’re not revolving around him anymore, all of your worst fears are pretty much confirmed.  Which is why I found myself rocking back and forth immediately after the discovery and chanting, “I always knew I wasn’t worth it.”  Satan had been whispering this into my ear my entire life.

In my diligent and often treacherous pilgrimage back to who I was always supposed to be, I discovered that I’ve always been worth it to My Father and that is more than enough.  As the layers of lies were peeled off of my self, my marriage and my family, I could finally hear the voice that mattered most, the voice of My Father.  Instead of the lies drowning Him out, His voice now drowns out satan’s lies.

Once I could hear His truth and accept His love, I was able to face my own “less-than-lovely’ traits and begin to work on replacing them with healthier tools.  This meant more counseling, attending a Destiny Project weekend, working through the 12-Steps (again), inter-healing prayer, revisiting boundaries and how they are healthy, and loads more time with Him throughout.

In the year after the discovery of the betrayal, I was betrayed by one of my oldest and dearest friends (the only one I shared this horrific news with), some people in my husband’s family began (and continue) treating me awfully, and my parents requested that I stay out of their lives forever (and so I do).  There were also many other incidents that were challenging during this period, and I can say it seemed more than I could bear at times, but mostly I had a peace like never before and because I FINALLY knew I was loved fully and unconditionally, I was able to not allow the rejection of me by other people’s brokenness to be my scale of self-worth.  It was all very painful, but I can now look back and see that God was preening my life.  In order to grow He has to trim away the unhealthy stuff, so that we can move forward without that unnecessary weight dragging us down.

In the past I would continue to insert myself into the lives of family members and friends regardless of how they treated me because I thought this is what good, christian women were supposed to do.  I have more broken relationships with extended family than I would like to have, but I know that this is a chapter in my life and theirs, not the whole story, and if I continue to be in My Father’s will and follow His lead, then things will work out just as they should.  Sometimes there will be reconciliation and sometimes there will not be, and in the meantime, He is growing me and preparing me for the next step on the path He has for me.

The other thing I want to say about bringing secrets out into the light is that you don’t have to share your stuff with the anyone who feels unsafe, especially if you are still working through the pain of it.  Mrs. Smith, down the street, doesn’t need to know that your niece had a baby out-of-wedlock, especially if she is prone to gossip!  But, if it’s about someone in your family, you should probs tell your family.  The thing is, that too often those family secrets affect the way we parent, or love, or live.  We may not even realize it, but once it’s out in the open and some time has passed, we may very well notice that we are living more from a place of freedom than ever before and that’s just better for everyone.  I often wonder if the reason my mom didn’t really seem to get close to me as a child is because her first precious baby that she lost was a girl and since I was the only other girl, maybe I reminded her of her profound loss.  Maybe that’s the reason it was easy for her to walk away from me several years ago over something very trivial.  I don’t know.  I probably never will, because family secrets.

The last thing I want to say about family secrets is:  Just ask.  Don’t do it like 10 year-old me probably did, but ask with gentleness and grace.  If you think there is a family secret that you should have knowledge of,  go IN LOVE to the person you think it involves and ask for the truth.  Help him/her bring it out into the light and then extend grace.

I’ve had people come and ask me about choices I’ve made with such grace that confessing to them was a blessing for both of us.  I’ve experienced other people coming at me with such judgement and condemnation that the only result was broken relationship and betrayal.  We’ve all sinned.  We all need grace.  When we remember that and approach the people we LOVE in humility, God can make miraculous beauty out of our messiness.  I know this because, many years after that horrendous night of bringing our devastating secret out into the light, my marriage is more authentic than it ever was and my husband & I have walked numerous others through this devastating journey to healing on the other side.  Our three youngest children will always carry the pain of that chapter of their lives with them, but they have chosen to use it to help others and to grow with a kind of dependence on Our Father that often only comes from walking through a period of anguish from facing hard truths.

While the temptation to have others see me as having my stuff together is always lurking, I don’t ever want to go back to living in the dark.  I know that living with my junk in the light is how I can best follow Jesus.  It’s where He lives and even when my junk is in the dark, He knows, RIGHT?!  In those moments of shame or rejection when I’m tempted to hide a detail or two, this thought will usually cross my mind, “HE ALREADY KNOWS!!”

  “God, you know what I have done wrong; I cannot hide my guilt from you.” (Psalm 69:5)

– and it isn’t the fear of Him that steers me back onto the right path as much as the knowledge that living in truth and transparency is living in freedom.  Living with hidden secrets and festering heart wounds is a life of imprisonment.  I’ve lived there and while I struggle daily with how I appear to others, ultimately I want to be able to come to My Papa day after day, more and more in the identity He has for me.  This isn’t a straight road with no detours or break downs, but it is a well-worn path of persistence, humility and surrender with light and freedom along the way.

Oh, that I could (a mama’s lament)

Dandelion clock in morning sun

If I could go back 

and do it all again

-or maybe just parts of it…

I would honor who He made you to be more than forcibly attempting to mold you into who I thought you should become.

I would listen more with the intent of hearing your heart and less with the goal of sharing my “wisdom.”

I would engage more in being a part of all of those wonderful memories and less in the role of martyred stagehand. 

I would enter into holidays, vacations, and special gatherings with my hands and heart wide open instead of my everything being wound up and around unrealistic expectations that almost always led to disappointment and my embarrassingly bad behavior.

If I could go back,

I would remind myself that I don’t have to be perfect in order for people to love me and that even if people will never love me without condition, HE does and that’s enough.

I would give myself grace, and, in turn, give more grace to others. -Because NO one is perfect, we all make mistakes, and grace is such a beautiful place to live and grow in, unlike judgement and condemnation.

I would set healthy boundaries so you would feel safe and have a confidence that my wounded parenting wasn’t able, but desperately wanted, to instill in you.

OH, if I could go back and do it all again,

but I can’t – not even a little bit of it.  So, I will not linger in “what-if’s” or “should-haves.”  I will move forward, grateful with experience and wisdom that I lacked early on (and hope still to increase), accompanied by grace and love for myself and others born of my journey, prayerful that I will continue my pilgrimage, walking ever more fully in who I was created to become.