My Shoes

Nobody says, “I wonder what it would be like to walk in their shoes?” about abused children.

No one daydreams about being yelled at, called names– or worse.

No one envies the child with the broken spirit, no one celebrates their choice to fight to survive.

One of the strongest memories of my dad was the time I walked into our living room and he just started yelling at me about how much he hated me, how I was just in the way– how he wished I were dead and had never been born.

I reacted to that, at first, by contemplating ways to take myself out of the way. Then– I called my best friend.

She helped me realize the best way to help myself would be to remove myself from the situation. So– I planned a vacation, where I could strengthen my will to continue to live.

I was in high school at the time. I planned for a two week vacation from my life. I took time off from my job, I arranged for a place to stay, and I told no one except the person I stayed with where I would be.

That saved my life.

It was inconvenient for others, I know. Some worried– and they should have. They should have been worried more about my state of mind before I took my time-out, than the fact that I left.

I only used a week of that planned two weeks.

I was introduced to a life I had never known before that, but it was just enough to realize– that also was not the kind of life I wanted to live.

I woke up to some harsh realities, and I walked away from some permanent options that would have become permanent mistakes– had I chosen to take them.

I had always had a secret life of envying others who had dads that were loving, kind, and healthy. Dads who’s hugs were not dangerous, where insults were not the “norm”– ones that cherished their daughters.

My dad, he had a rough childhood. He probably had a secret envy life, as well.

I forgave my dad for his failings, years ago.

I made sure my own children had what I envied of others (God made sure too) because I knew what I had missed. I don’t blame my mom for my dad’s issues. It’s never been her fault.

I love my friends who have had wonderful, nurturing and healthy relationships with their fathers. But, it’s like bumping an unseen bruise to know that that’s something I will never get to know firsthand.

I’m old enough that I’ve forgotten many things I’ve experienced. That ache at what I was robbed of is always there, though, silently throbbing under the surface.

I’m so very happy for others, but my heart silently envies and daydreams about what their lives must have been like.

I’ve attempted to try on their shoes, but my callouses and bruises keep them from fitting comfortably, I’ve never been able to walk in them.

I’ve heard more often than I can count, that God is my Father. True– He is. He is a good father.

As awesome as God is, I still have a lack in my heart for a loving, mentally healthy, earthly dad. That’s my reality. Acceptance from God has been more healing than anything anyone could offer. This is why more mentally healthy, accountable-to-others, Christian men need to step up inside the church. There are people of all ages missing healthy relationships. We are so quick to just expect God to mysteriously fill every void and heal every affliction, when God gave us to one another.

Jesus made sure his own mother had someone to step in to fill the void He was leaving. What an amazing example of compassion and understanding! We lack nurturing, healthy relationships inside our church families. Our own members are hurting from devastating wounds and circumstances, and we busy ourselves with programs, not recognizing the deep needs right in front of us.

God help us to be what our own family-in-Christ needs us to be– what You call us to be.

God has given us shoes to wear. Shoes of the Gospel of Peace. Shouldn’t we wear them at all times, starting inside the Church? And if we don’t wear them there, if we take Abaraham’s burning bush approach and take them off on Holy Ground– Jesus made it abundantly clear the need to wash one another’s feet.

In other words– we need to look after one-another, with the same intimacy as close, healthy, loving family.

We need to get this right so we can effectively affect and reach the world around us with God’s gift of Hope, Love, and relationship with Him through Jesus.

Believer’s Meeting

9:00 am, Sunday morning eyes close, hearts open– cue the perfect opening song, chosen because it’s upbeat, uplifting, and it gets the blood pumping. Energy surges. Those who practice loudly in their cars are ready to join in corporate Praise and Worship of Jesus, right?

Except, “I” and “me” are used far more often than His name.

It’s all about You, Jesus and how much You have done for me, how much I have been changed, how much You love me, how You’ve made a way for me…”

Song one finishes. Cue songs 2 and 3, in similar keys and subject so they can flow into each other smoothly. Hearts and minds are focused on all Jesus has done for “me“.

Cue song 4 for the offering, something catchy and convicting to encourage Believers to give to God freely…

Song 5 helps transition right into the sermon, getting hearts and minds prepared to receive the Word of the Lord and the Preacher’s sermon.

The sermon is deep, convicting, full of Truth and equipping Believers to make it through another week until it can all start over again.

A closing song extending the sermon message, inviting people to let down their personal guard so they can receive personal ministry to help them overcome the things holding them back, keeping them from fully embracing Jesus, God’s healing and deliverance…

And… we’re done.

It’s a set, a church service proven to be a smooth and embraceable formula that the majority of American Church models follow now.

What’s the fruit? Happy people, a love for deep, powerful music, a new determined focus to meet the challenges and difficulties of a week focused around “me”.

Mid-week, there used to be Wednesday night Believer’s Meetings to help get us past the dragging down of our spirits, and re-focus in putting Jesus first and foremost in hearts and minds. It seems many churches have instead poured their entire focus on that Sunday morning gathering. Which is fine, Wednesday night sometimes just adds into another thing that keeps us busy and exhausted.

Which songs in church help equip Believers in how to treat others? How many prepare Believers for interacting with those hurting, abused, or abusive outside of the Church bubble?

What church service songs encourage us to help rescue others from the spiritual muck and mire that acts like quicksand, holding and pulling people farther from freedom through Jesus.

We hear the words “help the dying and lost” so often, we’ve gotten numb to their meaning and impact.

The world that has not embraced the Salvation, Grace and Mercy of God through Jesus– it’s not a friendly, warm place. There are people who hate Christians, hate everything about God. Are we ever prepared to walk in the empowerment of God to not only deal with people that hate us, but also show them Jesus?

We lack transformative power, most often, because I believe we are stuck in a “me me me” rut.

Me filters everything– how does this song minister to me? How does this affect me?

All fingers are pointed at me. I’ve recently been confronted with my own boundaries of keeping the ugliness of the world out of my perception and eyesight-hearing range.

Choosing what I allow my understanding to be exposed to is a luxury.

The hurting, lost and spiritually dying don’t have that luxury. They don’t have Jesus, the necessity for us all, to protect them, to shield them, to deliver them from the cold, dark world of animosity towards all God has created– which includes them.

I had forgotten where I had come from. But– God reminded me. How can I not go back and help others ? Did Jesus rescue me so that I could become cold-hearted towards others who need Him to rescue them as well?

Jesus told us to go, share the Good News with the world that hates Him, and by proxy– hates us. Share the Good News that they don’t have to serve hatred any longer, they can have His free gift of Eternal Salvation. Before meeting Jesus, after allowing Jesus to give freedom is like night and day. It’s like shackles and freedom, caged and free, oppressed and… free.

Free.

No price.

No bondage.

No entrapment.

Free.

Mind-blowing, am I right? The human mind cannot even fathom what that means, and so many reject it because it sounds far-fetched and unbelievable.

We need God to empower us to demonstrate that reality of Jesus.

Where does the neat and tidy American church service infuse that empowerment?

We will never find that power on our own, within ourselves, to reach out to a torture victim. Because they do exist– in America.

How can we help rescue someone’s mind who has been trapped in human slavery– because, again, that exists inside of America.

Jesus left Heaven to be born as a human to walk with us, so He could rescue us– heart, mind and soul. Not just our soul. Not just physical and heart healing.

Our minds.

Our emotions.

He came to set the captives free.

Where are we most held captive?

In our minds.

How can we ever be ready to help people get free from the ugly hatred of the world if we stay focused on “what Jesus has done for me? Those trapped don’t care what He has done for me. They need Him to help them, and they need us to stand in the gap while He sets them free.

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:17 (NASB)

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

We live in a timeline of illusions. Photoshop and other apps often help us give the appearance of faked perfection. Movies and tv shows take us to other times, places, worlds, universes, and realms of perception. Even Reality shows are not very “real”.

We are so caught up in a culture of perfection that the imperfect, as defined by popular societal opinion, is often thrown by the wayside.

We measure others by a set of standards we’ve been told everyone should just fit into, or else they are wrong.

Worse– we measure others by the standards we have set for ourselves, and that our parents or spouse have set for us.

If we are honest, we can admit: anyone who doesn’t conform is wrong and not worthy of our time.

In Christian circles, I see so much of this “Put your pretty face forward” junk. “Think Positive!” “Focus on the prosperity God wants to give to you!” “Be happy! The joy of the Lord is your strength!”

I’m caught in the middle of imperfection. I used to be able to fit into an appearance of perfection. Now I have way too many openly apparent flaws. I’m ok with that, but a lot of people are not. If some things were suddenly reversed, I’d have it made! Like, if being overweight were looked at as a trophy of having carried and cared for 4 children, for instance. I’d fit right in there!

My imperfections on the outside are right there for everyone to see.

My imperfections on the inside aren’t easy for anyone to see unless I draw attention to them. Like I’m about to do. But, it’s going to get ugly. Because some of my memories just can’t be prettified. They can’t be made into happy ones. There is no prosperity to be gained from them.

I have found it difficult over the years to find people who can, or want to take time to try to identify with me. My life has never been average, but I rarely invite anyone in to look at it.

These days we are drawn to dark things, but not the kind of dark that I have faced– the kind of dark that makes you beg for the Light.

It’s intense. That’s not my fault. I didn’t author my life.

I’ve just survived it.

I don’t know how anyone else would have lived through– survived– the kinds of things I have had no choice about. I suspect they might treat other imperfect people with more compassion and understanding.

I’m drawing this out because I don’t want to write about the dark memory that’s been on my mind.

When a bone is broken, there is something on the outside to make that apparent. Lots of pain. Bruising. Swelling. It can be x-rayed, set or fixed with surgery and put into a cast until it heals.

When something happens in our lives that causes us to be broken inside, there are no x-rays, no setting or fixing, no doctor that puts a cast on it until it heals.

Yes, God heals us. But, that’s not what this is about.

There is no bandage that is able to heal the memories of what I have seen and experienced as a child with an abusive, mentally ill parent. The legacy I have been left by my dad is painful memories. There is no amount of  “Put on your pretty face and be happy because the joy of the Lord is your strength” that I can apply like a balm of Gilead.

Happy is not the same thing as joy.

I have an inner joy because Jesus Christ has given me eternal Salvation. I have an inner sadness because something has been stolen from me that has not and can not be replaced: my dad. Even while he was still alive, things could never be repaired into a normal, healthy relationship. Because he wasn’t normal or healthy.

He was broken.

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No medicine could fix him. In fact, for years, it made things even worse.

Sure, talking with a counselor often helps with inner healing. But, let’s be honest: what’s been seen can not be unseen. And the darkest memory I have fits into that category. I don’t really think about it often. I remember that it happened but I don’t actually look at the memory.

Because it’s the crippling kind of painful.

I feel an anger and a sadness I don’t want to acknowledge. It makes me feel like crying, but the tears are stuck somewhere deep.

It’s the horrifying picture of when my dad tried to kill my mom on Mother’s Day of 1980. I witnessed it. I might have even helped stop it. But, what I remember is that nothing I said, or yelled in desperation seemed to have actually been heard by my dad. I heard my dad shouting early on that morning, and I opened my bedroom door to find my mom lying on her side, under our dining room table– under my dad– curled up in the fetal position. My dad was pounding his fist against the side of her head. She was crying, trying to get him to stop.

I nearly lost my mom that day.

When I stop to really think about what happened that day, Mother’s Day is not a happy day for me.

When I gloss over it and instead think about how I am now a mom of 4 amazing miracles, there is happiness.

So, is the answer to just gloss over it all the time, and never really remember? I don’t think it is.

I can’t change the fact that it happened. I can ignore it, but it’s going to pop up in other areas.

That deep anger creeps into my interactions and reactions.

The sadness tries to take over as depression, but I don’t usually let it.

There is a gratefulness that we didn’t lose my mom that day, to God and the family member that made my dad stop before it was too late.

I don’t think I’ve let myself think about the full impact of that.

My mom was almost taken from us in a horrifying way.

There is nothing to make that memory “pretty” or happy. That day impacted me deeply. It’s a thread sown into the tapestry of my life. I can’t remove it, or ignore it forever.

It caused something in me to break. No x-ray machine will show where the breaks are, or help anyone diagnose how to help it heal.

I can’t explain how it’s made me want someone to reach out to me. I can’t talk about it. The rare times I’ve tried to, people get put off because they don’t know how to react to it. It’s not the kind of thing that societal advice applies to, there is no Joel Osteen quick fix.

It’s not pretty. It’s not happy. It’s not the popular kind of “dark” or traumatic.

There is no box my life fits into comfortably, without trying to conform me to some unrealistic expectation.

I once asked a Pastor to counsel me, and she told me I didn’t need to be counseled. She finally agreed, but ended up she blaming me for reacting badly to things– like crying and irritating my dad when I was a baby.  I was told I need to just “let go and let God.”  I have done that, and I still hurt when I remember. I still feel angry.

I forgave my dad. I moved on.

But it still happened.

I appreciate my mom’s strength. She never divorced my dad because she made a covenant with God when she married him– For Better Or For Worse. Many marriages end with things less worse than what my mom endured. She stayed with my dad because if she had left him, he would have no one. She felt compassion for someone who behaved like a monster to her. In this day and age of impatience and perfection– who does that??

My mom is a brilliant example of loving someone unconditionally.

Am I advocating for someone to stay in a marriage they are not safe in? NO. Absolutely not! I can’t tell you how much I wished she would divorce him throughout my childhood.

God protected us all as she honored Him. I believe that. I’ve seen proof of that more than once.

Before my dad died 3 years ago, my oldest son wanted to make sure he was Saved. My dad said to tell my son that he loved Jesus. I’m sure he had to work out his Salvation with fear and trembling because there were still some ugly things that had a hold of my dad’s understanding.

But, isn’t it good that God has made Salvation so simple “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10 NASB) We like to make it more complicated.

Mother’s Day is coming up. This year it will be tough for me to not remember that day so many years ago.

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I’ll try to acknowledge and embrace my inner devastated, heart-broken, frightened child as I also embrace my beautiful children who are like the sunlight lighting up that darkness.

I understand what I’ve survived God has used to make me stronger, but the scars will always remind me of the brokenness I’ve suffered and what God has brought me through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Once Was Not A Christian

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I have had a lot of experiences in my lifetime. Way too many to write about here. I’ll break it down into two parts: Before Christ and After Christ. I’ll even throw in some Why I CHOSE Christ, for added tangibility.

So, BC:

I was born into a family that loved me, but that love didn’t create a safe, warm, snugly, nurturing environment. We are often hurt the worst by those that love us, and that was certainly the case for me. Do I need to go into details of abuse? Goodness, I hope not, but I’ll touch on a few of the “highlights” of my BC life:

I was sexually, emotionally and mentally abused by my dad. Maybe he treated me better than his dad treated him, but I HIGHLY doubt it because my dad was mentally ill. I don’t mean the catch-phrased quirky kind that seems acceptable, or even coveted by some in our modern society. He was severely mentally ill. I think I can honestly say I’m one of very few who watched their dad try to beat their mom to death as she laid huddled in a fetal-ball beneath him, his fist pounding into her temple. On Mother’s Day. Then there was my dad escaping the mental hospital hundreds of miles away, hitchhiking to try to come back and finish killing her. There was lots of yelling in my house, sometimes my dad even acknowledged I existed and he yelled at me. Once he punched me in the jaw, which made it painful for me to hold my violin for a few weeks.

As a result, I was a pretty screwed-up kid and I nearly died when I was 16 because of my own stupidity.

Let me just say this: I lived in a house of horror because of mental illness as a child. There is NOTHING in Christianity that comes even close to actual mental illness.

Thankfully I got to spend the summers with my grandparents, who were Christians. Things weren’t perfect there, but they were better.

I hated myself for bad decisions I made.

So at 20 I made another decision future me would hate: I married  someone I had convinced myself was “my best friend”. The problem was, I only knew him a short time before we married. The other problem I didn’t realize yet was: we were not equally yoked. He was not a Believer.

Trust me when I tell you that, yes, that absolutely does make a tremendous difference. Not only could I not share my faith with him and grow with him in that, he did not value me as God would help him if he were a Christian.

My ex-husband was abusive to me. Much like my dad, though not exactly to the same degree. But, there was also more aspects to the abuse from him. I was cut off from my family. I was locked-down at home, he had to know where I was and who I was with or talking to at every moment. I had to work and it had to be the graveyard shift.  My earnings had to pay all the bills while he kept his earnings in a separate account and he bought anything he wanted for him. Never for me. He convinced me to get life insurance, but was angry when I was refused because of extensive damage caused by an eating disorder. When I was sick he treated me like I was faking it, wouldn’t let me call in sick to work or go to the doctor until it became emergencies. Once the car he made me drive nearly got me killed, the lug nuts on the tires he had just worked on weren’t tight.

I wasn’t safe with him. He actually saved my life by divorcing me.

Now I’m thankful he decided he didn’t love me anymore. Not only am I still alive, I am married to a man I am equally yoked with, who really is my best friend and who does value me.

But my divorce was the beginning of my personal rock bottom.

After Christ:

It was at that point I finally began to “own” my relationship with God through Jesus. (Thank God Jesus didn’t return while I self-focused, because after that “blink of an eye”, I would more than likely have been left here.) I got baptized. I began making changes and reading the Bible on my own.

Because I wanted to.

I could feel God healing my life and my heart as I read His Promises.

I went through a tremendous time of grieving the death of my old self. Regret, unforgiveness, shame… God helped me work through each one of those at my own pace. He never gives me more than I can handle as He works His healing, often one-on-one with me, through His Holy Spirit.

My “conversion” did not happen because someone preached a sermon and “guilted” me in to following Jesus and obeying God’s Word.

My life changed as a result of God working in my life. Often without people.

God illuminates His Word.

He teaches me how to be a better human being. He helps me look at people as individuals, not through my own preconceived opinions.

Why I Chose Christ:

Had I continued on my own path, my life would look like the night version of how I am now. It’s like Jesus called out to me through the darkness and despair, and He whispered to me, “I have a better way for you”.

His ways are higher than mine, so much better and healthier. His way is practical. It’s loving and kind. It’s rational. It’s peaceful.

Jesus is the best way. He is the truth. He is the light with no darkness in Him, nothing evil or hateful.

I wish the naysayers would pay attention to the positives Christians demonstrate, because I lived as a non-Christian and was surrounded by non-Christians. It was destructive, mean, harsh, even deadly.

My job as a Christian isn’t to try to convince others that Jesus is the Savior of the world. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, to do all the hard work of preparing the way of the Lord for people’s hearts and minds to be ready.

My job is to love the Lord my God, and to love my neighbor like I love me. Give them the same benefit of the doubt I give myself. Show the same grace I believe I should be shown.

Some call that cutting people slack…

I just know– I’d personally rather have Jesus than anything this world could ever hold. I have known both– life without Jesus and life with Jesus.

He makes the difference. Not me. Not my choices.

Only Jesus.

Exposed

I hate my past.

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I hate the parts of my personal story that involve my past. I don’t like who I was, I don’t like what I lived through. I abhor my reactions and choices. I despise where I had no choice or that I had no one to help me, to comfort me, or just talk with.

Yeah, I hate my past.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get my book written. I hate reliving it. I hate thinking about it. I hate how when I am in a group of people and I just want to fit into the conversation, I feel compelled to share my experiences so I can identify with others. And I hate how vulnerable and

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I often feel when I tell something deeply personal.

Who really wants to hear about the horror experiences of my childhood and teens, and for what reasons do they want to hear about them?

Who cares? About me?

I loathe feeling like other people think I’m competing in storytelling. I hate how it just feels normal to me that I have gone through so many things, and then I see that look of shock on the face of someone I’ve opened up to- then I realize, my life has been anything but normal.

It’s like a thorn in my side.

The parts I don’t hate about my past are when God shines through, as a warm, magnanimous Light, as if He has given my heart the most loving hug.

Healing me, bringing completeness to my injured, abused soul.

Exposure reveals the miracles and even the heart of God throughout my life.

Hating my past has helped me to love and appreciate God. Living my life, I’ve learned there is no one more trustworthy and faithful than God.

Before and After: A Matter of Perspective

Here is my dad David was able to get a picture tod

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been 2 months since my dad’s passing, wow, to the day. My timing isn’t planned, just lucky coincidence.

This picture accurately represents something unexpected for me.

My dad is smiling here. He was happy because my husband was able to visit him.

When my dad was alive, it wasn’t his smile I remembered, or his comforting shoulder hug when he walked up next to me after not having seen me for a long time.  It wasn’t the twinkle of kindness and love in his eyes when he looked at me during my short visits so far and few between the passing time. It wasn’t his jokes, or the happy tone behind all he said.

The thought of my dad when he was still alive wasn’t anything warm and fuzzy.  It was sadness that he was in hospital or nursing home care. It was frustration that so much of a normal relationship with him had been stolen from me because of mental illness (also PTSD misdiagnosed and neglected) and his “guinea-pig” status with the VA. It was anger that he was so unpredictable, I never knew what to expect when I was able to visit him. My mom claims he had no “filter”, what I know as practicing self-control and taming the tongue. The last time I saw him when he wasn’t being kept alive by machines breathing for him, he told my husband some really awful things, stuff he said he was confessing to concerning me. There are so many holes in my childhood memory, some of what he said I  can’t even verify.

He was moved around so often by the VA that I rarely knew where he was, and he did not always have access to a phone for me to call him. My mom stopped remembering to tell me he had been moved, it became part of her normal life. And, the truth is, I often cringed at the thought of talking with him on the phone. What would I say? What would his frame of mind be?

The most surprising aspect of his passing is that all those fears and negative emotions have just sort of evaporated away. I am finally free to feel the good feelings when I think of him now. My guard can be let down, I don’t have to defend myself, or prepare for the worst. I don’t have to remind myself of the bad things.

I never once wished him dead- well, after I forgave him, that is. So, there is no guilt to deal with now. Life circumstances kept my family and I far away from him, so again, no guilt about any of that. It was out of my control.

I can let the little girl I once was think about my dad and remember what I loved most about him.  No more guard, no more self-defense, no more cringing as I think of him.

My heart is free to remember safely now.