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”)

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Evolution of My Sin

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Growing up in my family of origin, it was normal to discuss how absurd other people’s choices were.  I heard (and eventually said) things such as, “Who does that?!” and “Iwould NEVER act like that!”  We pretty much had the corner on the market when it came to how to parent, how to behave in public and just generally how to do everything and how to be at all times.

I carried on this tradition with my own family for longer than I care to admit.  At some point I realized in the midst of utter shame that I was the leader of my “judgmental & gossipy pack,” so I began praying a bunch and worked toward not criticizing almost everyone we encountered on the regular.  It was clear to me that, while I believed almost every “normal” family did this on their way home from gatherings, it was not healthy, nor very Christlike, and I wanted better for my children.  I wanted better for myself and my character.

Several years ago, after I had been intentionally working on extinguishing this ugly behavior,  I felt very convicted and decided I didn’t want to participate in it with my family of origin any longer.  This is when I realized that what we were doing was gossiping and I could put a name to my sin. Up to this point, it had honestly not dawned on me that what we were doing was judgmental gossiping.  The next time I was on the phone and my family member began to criticize another family member’s parenting and marital choices, I calmly said, “I feel like what we’re doing is gossiping and I don’t want our conversations to be about this kind of stuff.  I would prefer to talk about you or something else because…”  And at that point the other person began screaming at me a bit maniacally, hung up on me, and then did not speak to me for almost 4 months.  This was not how I envisioned this scene.  I was certain that after I had poured so much prayer into it and was speaking out of my own shame and love that it would be received in kind.

I’d like to tell you that I never get in the car with my family and begin to chat it up about how so-and-so spoke to so-and-so very rudely or how much so-and-so bragged about his whatever, but that would be a lie.  The good news is that since we’ve been working on this as a family for years, I can usually count on someone to guide me back to Jesus in love.

It’s not unusual for my husband, our three youngest children and I to occasionally discuss what we believe is gossip.  Because while we believe that our family is a safe place to vomit without judgement, we also, now and then, cross the line into the realm of gossip and/or judgement.  It is a fine line, and sometimes, when our emotions are high or our egos are bruised or someone’s heart has been broken, my mama-bear comes out in all of her ferocious “glory,” instead of my faithful daughter in her beautiful humility.  Sometimes because we are all reeling from the unfair blow one of us received, we forget Who has us and we don’t pull each other back into His will, or toward the faith that He’s working it all out for a minute.

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Now, let me just say that the only thing worse than not being gently pulled away from the ledge of judging and gossip is a confidant who immediately throws anecdotal christianity all over my pain, so that I don’t feel seen or heard, but I do feel as if I’ve been served a big old judgement sandwich.  I know that people think that they are helping and pointing me back toward Jesus, but before doing that, a wounded person needs to feel safe, heard and not judged.   (and if you ask my kiddos they will tell you I’ve done this a time or two)…  Just the other day, one of my precious children was sharing the anxiety he was experiencing, and I immediately began wrapping it all up in a nice little b.s. Jesus package to which he replied, “I know all of that, Mom, I just need to express my feelings in a safe place before I can get there.  Please don’t shame me.”  I thought I was making him feel better, but, really, he just needed to be heard without judgement and without me trying to fix everything.  – Like I could do that in a million years, anyway!

So, initially I joined right in to the sin of my family of origin.  As an adult and especially, as a mama I realized this sin was wrong.  Years after that I could name the sins – Judgement and Gossip. All the while, I have been praying about this, feeling shame off and on as I stumble, and then I heard about something called the enneagram.  I’ve done plenty of personality tests, many of which have been extremely helpful and had a positive effect of my life such as MBTI, StrengthsFinder, love languages, and spiritual gifts tests.  The enneagram, however, has definitely had the biggest impact on my life.  In the evolution of this particular sin, it has been a game-changer.  Your enneagram number is not a personality test, but it is more about determining the essence of who God made you to be.

I’ve been studying the enneagram for almost three years and my whole family is very into it.  It has helped me see how I behave in unhealth and understand why I have been and done SO many of the things I’ve done and been since forever.  Partnered with the other personality tests I’ve taken, I’ve been able to walk more fully in my daughter identity than ever before.  It has also helped me understand more fully the people I love most in the world – and often other people who may offend or hurt me.  As a 2, I listen to and read anything I can get my hands on that explains my husband and our children so that I can meet their needs in just the way they need them met.  I’m all about meeting the needs of people before they even know that they have that need.  As I’ve taken in this knowledge about other people’s essences/enneagram strengths, I feel as if my eyes have been opened anew and I am understanding how others view, react and behave in a way I never did before – especially considering my family of origin and the fundamental belief we cultivated that our way was the only and right way.

Which brings me to the next stage of the evolution of my sin…  As I’ve learned more about others and their essences, I’ve realized how arrogant I’ve been in judging people through the years.  Of course, I realized years ago I was gossiping and in that I was being judgmental, but now I also realize how arrogant it is to believe that the way I am motivated is the only correct way to be motivated – and that, of course, we all think the way we believe is the correct way or we wouldn’t behave the way we do.  This may seem very obvious to most of you, but it has been revolutionary for this girl.  In learning about each number of the enneagram, I’ve learned more about the lenses we each look through because of childhood wounds and what motivates us at our core.

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There are times when I wish I would’ve known about the enneagram before I had married or had children, so that I could’ve been a better wife and mama, or just before I made SO MANY MISTAKES, not because I would not have made any, but because I would’ve made less and had more grace for myself and everyone who crossed my path.  I’m more than thankful that my children have this tool at such a young age and that they understand it isn’t just a narcissistic information source so that they can talk about themselves or make  excuses for their personality flaws, but a rich source of information about how they can work (hard) toward growing into the person God is calling them to be.

I’m thankful for the evolution that God has enriched my life with.  I won’t lie to you and say it’s been a joyful journey…  not even most of the time.  It’s always been worth it, though, and the alternative is not even worth considering for this girl.

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