Don’t Lose Hope

This year a young friend of mine took his own life.  He did so because he was so grieved and overwhelmed by mistakes from his past and pain from his childhood.  It breaks my heart that someone so young should have so much pain and no hope.  Having experienced a similar hopelessness as a child, I understand what he was going through and his choice.  I just wish I could have shared with him that there was hope for him and that healing and relief from his pain and past was possible.

No one is too far gone to be saved.  At one time, I thought I was unable to be saved – that I would always have to live with pain and a broken soul.  One verse that really gave me hope is in Isaiah.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV

If God can make rivers in a desert, surely He can restore life in me as well.  I do not have to be a slave to my past or continue to live in the pain of my past.  Look!  He is making me a new creation.  The more I believed this and trusted Him to restore me; the more healing and peace I found.  Today, I am not the same person I was 30 years ago, and I am truly blessed.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All of this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them”  2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV

You are never too far gone.  You are loved more than you can possibly even understand.  And there is always hope if you are willing to reach out to Jesus.

Please listen to Matthew West’s song Mended

Tender Heart

I learned early on that I could shut myself down physically and emotionally. I could build up a wall that separated me from what was happening to me outwardly and to any possible response within myself. By shutting down, I could hide from some of the abuse while it happened. Sort of. It enabled me to “protect” myself from the horrible things that were happening to me. And I could hide my despair in a heart of stone. All emotions could be locked away, and I would feel nothing.

This seems like a fairly marvelous survival mechanism; however, it came with a huge cost. Consider turning yourself off like a switch so you feel nothing, Nothing. That is no pain, no sorrow, no joy, not love. Nothing. If it is an emotion of any kind, it is buried deep within you. You truly become stone on the inside. I was thankful for this ability to shutdown while I was being abused. Unfortunately, it became how I lived even after I escaped the abusive situation.

This trick also effects memory. If you can remember, the memories can be clouded and almost as if you were more of an observer of a scene. Again, this can seem like a good thing when who wants to remember the bad stuff? Unfortunately, even though the memory is shadowed, it is still there. As long as we keep these bad memories locked within us, they tear at us emotionally and spiritually. And this inward tearing can eventually grow into physical issues.

By exposing our painful memories with someone we can trust, we start to shed light on the destructive memories, face them, let them go and find freedom. I found that I was afraid to face my memories. Having all that was buried inside of me bubbling up to the surface was overwhelming. I, instead, would recoil and continue hiding in my heart of stone not realizing I had become a slave to my own pain. It wasn’t until I met Jesus that I was able to move past my fear. He held me close as I faced my demons, and then He took them from me. He asked me to trust Him and to hand Him my pain, And through this process of facing my pain and handing it over, I have found healing and peace. This was a long process as it is not once and done. Each memory that surfaces requires these same steps; however, it does get easier as your trust for Jesus grows each time you feel His peace. Face it, share it, give it to Jesus, and live free of it.

Song suggestion:   Free by Switchfoot

It was difficult for me to start the journey of stepping out of my heart of stone, because I thought I was safe there. With every stressful situation, I would retreat within myself. In fact, I didn’t even know I was doing it. Hiding within myself had become a reflex. Jesus opened my eyes to my destructive pattern and started showing me what I was missing hidden in my fortress of despair. I was unable to love or grieve. Years ago, I traded my heart of stone for a heart of flesh. And now, I can love with all that I am. And I can truly live. I even welcome the tears of grief and allow myself to feel the love I had for the person and honor their memory. And Jesus, the God of Comfort,always meets me in those moments creating a bitter sweetness.

Having given up so much with my heart of stone, I refuse to hold back my tears now. I would much rather allow others to see my emotions instead of holding myself prisoner in a dark cell. I choose a tender heart. If you are concerned about exposing yourself to risk and are hesitant to move out of your own internal cell, consider all that you are losing. Don’t lose another moment to love and be loved.

Another great song by Tenth Avenue North:  Healing Begins

Well Meaning Advice

Once while I was still mourning the loss of my family, my caregiver told me that I was fortunate that my dad was a criminal instead of my parents being divorced.  Their point was, if my parents were divorced, I would still love my father so it would hurt more.

Before going further into this, first let me explain what I mean by “still mourning the loss of my family.”  My dad had been taken to prison which was absolutely appropriate, and I am thankful for that.  In fact, his sentence should have been much longer.  For my safety, I was sent to stay with relatives hundreds of miles away from my mom.  This was before the time of text messages and FaceTime, and our correspondence was very limited.  While the adults in my life believed they were doing what was best for me, it was the absolute worst time for me to be separated from my mom.  After years of trauma and forcing pain and emotions deep inside of me, so many things were surfacing within me – far too much for a young person to navigate alone.  But I was alone.

“At least, you don’t love your father.”

Family was designed from the very beginning to be a father, a mother and children.  The family was meant to be a place of love and safety.  And with this design, all of us are born with an internal need for both parents.  Everyone longs for a healthy relationship with both their dad and their mom.  Anyone who says otherwise is stifling some deep pain from the loss of a parent relationship – they are in denial.  I also longed for a healthy family; instead, I had a psychopath for a father.  Worse, I had a father who did not love me because love does not do what he did to me.

In divorce, the loss of relationship is typically between the parents and does not destroy the possibility of relationship between a parent and the children.  Of course, pride and anger can make this a lot harder, but there is still hope.  And there is still pain, but love is not completely destroyed.  It is true that I did not love my father.  To this day, the thought of him fills me with fear and nausea.  That does not mean that I do not acutely feel the loss of what our relationship was meant to be.

My fear of my father destroyed other family relationships as well.  For my eighteenth birthday, I asked to visit my grandmother, my father’s mom.  We spent a few hours with her and an aunt.  That is the only contact I had with that entire side of my family since my father was taken to prison.  When I graduated from high school, they were not invited.  When I joined the military, I did not tell my grandmother.  In fact, I was grateful to be stationed elsewhere and didn’t share with them where I was – harder to find me that way.  When I married, I only sent my grandmother a picture and did not tell her my new name.  When she died, I was unable to attend her service.  I lost her, and I loved her deeply.  I also lost aunts, uncles, cousins and even siblings.

To the one who made that comment so many years ago, you have no idea.

While it is important to understand our losses and the pain they have caused, it is more important to heal and move beyond the losses.  It is healing for me to let out the pain and frustration that has been buried so deep within me for so long through writing.  I hope that it encourages you to do the same.  We can’t leave it buried within us.  We must release it and take that next step.  Check out this song by Tenth Avenue North, Losing.  It is an excellent depiction of the next step.

 

Losing – (C) 2012 Provident Label Group LLC, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment

Me too

It is great that people are taking a stand to speak up against sexual abuse. I hope that it actually does raise awareness of this horrible issue so that we can eliminate its destruction.

Did you know that the effects of childhood sexual abuse extend past the timeframe of abuse? In fact, they can linger for decades or even a lifetime. The effects can be psychological disorders such as depression, suicidal tendencies or suicide, multiple personality disorders and more. Abuse can also cause physical health issues like heart, lung and liver disease, chronic headaches, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.

All forms of abuse can lead to these long-term health and psychological issues, not just sexual abuse. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website provides access to information related to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) studies. ACEs include childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; witnessing domestic violence; growing up with household substance abuse, mental illness in the home, parental divorce, and/or an incarcerated household member. The more ACEs experienced by an individual increases their likelihood for lasting long-term impact.

While I am not counted in the studies above, my experience would add support to their numbers. My ACEs score is a 7 out of 10. I have suffered from depression and chronic headaches since I was a teenager. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in my thirties and still deal with these symptoms daily. My perpetrator has no idea how much suffering he created.

Don’t believe the lies

One of my greatest struggles in life has been overcoming lies.  Family passes lies on to us, society spreads lies as truth, the whispers in our heads push lies, and frequently, we give the lies to ourselves.

Over the years, I have faced many lies.  Some of them come out of the abuse I experienced.  Others, I feel, are straight from the devil who comes to “steal, kill, and destroy.”  If we believe the lies, we become less than we are meant to be.  If we believe the lies, we will move away from our destiny and full potential.  We begin living the lies as truth, and the devil laughs at his win.

Some of the lies I have experienced…

  • ”You have no value.”
  • ”You are unloved.”
  • ”You are damaged goods.”
  • ”No one will ever love you.”
  • ”You don’t deserve anything good.”
  • ”You are too far gone for healing or to be saved.”
  • ”You will not amount to anything.”

It can be easy to believe these lies especially if your home lacks love.  Unfortunately, these lies can grow into even more destructive lies.  Eventually, “you have no value” turns to “you might as well be dead” or “no one would care if you were dead.”

Please know, all of these are absolute lies.  Everyone has value.  You have value.  Sometimes we are born into families that don’t understand love or cannot love.  That is on them.  That is their need for healing.  You have value and a purpose.  You are loved!

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   John 3:16-17 ESV

If you don’t believe Jesus loves you or that it is too cliche, try asking Him.  If you wonder where he has been, please remember that He frequently works through people.  Is there someone in your life who has been trying to reach out to you?  Maybe a grandmother that puts Bible verses in your birthday cards.  Or an aunt who invites you to Sunday School.  Or a neighbor who invites you to church events.  Maybe you have been too sad to see them?  Please don’t give up.  You are worth the fight.

Why Me?

All of us will at some point have an experience that causes us to question God. In fact, life may be filled with one challenge after another. We could lose a spouse, be raised in an abusive home, have an abusive spouse, have a chronic or terminal disease, lose a child. The list of horrible things that can happen to us goes on and on. So the question that comes up is “why would God allow this to happen to me?”

I struggled with this question for decades. If God is love and supposedly loves me, why did he allow such horrible things to happen to me? First of all, no matter what happens in fairy tales with people living happily ever after, our world is not safe. In fact, our world is messy and can be down right dangerous. And God has allowed us to live as independent creatures with free will. As people, we get to make our own choices. God does not want mindless followers who are programmed to obedience. He wants followers who seek after Him as He has sought after us. Followers who long to know Him and are willing to obey His rules. (BTW, His rules are designed for our own benefit.)

Unfortunately, in a world of free will, people are going to follow their own desires regardless of the impact on others. They will live to achieve personal pleasure at the expense, and sometimes, even the destruction of others. Sometimes, their wake of destruction is completely unknown to them; and sadly, some people find pleasure in the destruction and are quite intentional about hurting others.

While God allows the consequences of free will, He is not absent from your life. You may not know He is there or even want Him there, but there He is all the same. God is the God of comfort. He will never leave us to suffer on our own. He will not forsake us especially if we seek Him. I experienced this in a very tangible way as a child. And with the perspective of age and time, I can see His hand of protection over me even while I was suffering. And He has been my strength and guide through the healing process. Yes, I may have suffered, but He did not leave me there. Nor did He leave me trapped in the hell of memories.

John Mark McMillan has a song that expresses this truth along with a beautiful melody, “When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me.” He loves us with an immense love and does not leave us in a state of suffering. He is our hope and our rescuer.

You can check out the song and John Mark McMillan’s story behind the song at https://youtu.be/axpgjJzfl54. I hope you find the same peace in it that I do.

Hard to Hear

Even though my childhood abuse is decades behind me, it is still difficult for me to share with others. Some of that is from reliving horrible memories and emotions created by my past; however, my fear in sharing has more to do with rejection. I have been rejected by family members, friends, members of support groups and even people from church.

My story is difficult to hear, and it makes most people uncomfortable. This is a natural and appropriate reaction. We should be uncomfortable with people sexually assaulting children; but we should not be uncomfortable with the person who was the child. What happened to me as a child was horrible, yes. But we shouldn’t shut down and run away from it. It should outrage us that stuff like this happens. It should create a desire in us to help others – to stop this kind of behavior and protect our children.

Sadly, my story is not unique. If you are in a room with 8 people, statistically two women and one man in that group have been sexually assaulted as a child. With so many people affected by this crime, you would think we would do more to stop it. Instead, we cover it up and hope no one finds out. Imagine how many lives are impacted by abuse. It would be a different world if our children could grow up in homes of love instead of darkness and despair. The effects of abuse are far reaching.

Above I used the phrase “sexually assaulted” to try to help drive home a truth. Saying someone was sexually abused lessons the reality of their experience. If someone is attacked and raped on the street, it is sexual assault. If the same thing happens in the home, suddenly we label it as abuse or incest. It is still rape. The only difference between being raped by a complete stranger and a family member is, with the family member, you mix in emotions of betrayal and have the destruction of trust. It is devastating to have the person who is supposed to be your protector be your assailant.

Hard Conversations

I know many people have had bad experiences with churches over the years. Sadly, many people walk away from the church due to those experiences. And not only do they walk away from the church, they end up walking away fromJesus believing that their experience is a reflection of Jesus. The truth is Jesus is about love and saving people from their brokenness. His goal is restoration of mankind’s hearts and the restoration of all nations to God.

The tough reality of the church is that it is filled with all kinds of people. There are people that truly understand God’s message to the opposite end of the spectrum with people who really don’t understand. There are people that follow God’s guidance and live out of His grace and truth. And there are others who live out of their own truth; and frequently, they extend their judgement rather than God’s grace.

So why bring this up in a blog about overcoming the destruction of abuse? Well, while I love my church and understand that the church is supposed to be full of people who can walk the road of life with us, some times the church fails. One area that is tough for the church family is interacting with hurting people. I’m not talking about mild hurts. These are people who feel like their souls are crushed,and they struggle with the basics of life because of their overwhelming emotional pain. There are many reasons why people struggle with other people’s pain. Some times they just don’t understand and have no idea how to react. Some times it reminds them of their own pain. I think church leaders understand this tension so they try to steer clear. Unfortunately, this leaves a significant portion of their congregations with no biblical guidance on dealing with their deep hurt. It also builds on to an already existing shame. “My experience was so awful, we can’t even talk about it.” Or worse, “it really is just me or wouldn’t our pastor address this?” And again even worse, the people inflicting the abuse lose another opportunity to hear about the destruction they are leaving in their wake.

When I first started working through this topic, I was surprised at how deep the church had hurt me. Again, it was not intentional. The outcome for me was another level of shame and rejection. It was so upsetting to me that I couldn’t write about it. So, I started with the following fictional story that touches on several experiences I encountered at church in, again, a fictional setting. I hope it helps open eyes to why we can’t just ignore the hard conversations especially in our churches.


The Baptism

The auditorium was filled with smiling faces. Friends and family members came to join in celebrating God’s glorious works in the lives of those there to be baptized. Celebrating broken souls that had accepted God’s grace and would publicly announce their trust and gratitude and the work He had already done to transform their lives from old to new.

The first gentleman stepped forward with a mix of timidity and anticipation. He began his story of moving in a different way than his parents’ faith. Sharing his story of a life of drugs and sex that led him to a place of ruin. He was left with nothing – fired from his job, divorced, and basically living in the streets. Then at the mission, he encountered Jesus. He was beyond words to explain his experience as tears rolled down his cheeks. He shared how the mission staff accepted him and loved him even in his darkest moment. He gave his heart to Jesus, and he had seen blessing after blessing ever since. While the consequences of his past remained, he had a new hope and a fresh start.

The room filled with the sounds of applause and a few cheers as all celebrated the glory of God.

After his baptism was complete, the next person stepped up to the microphone. She was an obviously shy young woman of about thirty. The notes in her hand were already mangled due to her nervous folding and twisting. The pastor looked at her with a reassuring smile and encouraged her to speak. She looked out at the sea of faces and then quickly back at her notes. Her eyes fixed on the page, she began to read with a faltering voice. She told of her childhood and how her father raped her repeatedly for years. She also shared how she lived in hopelessness and complete despair for years to follow.

It was good that she kept her head down to read. Looking over the crowd, many shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Some stopped listening at the word “raped” and retreated within themselves not wanting to hear. Others were horrified at her story. “No one should ever share such things.” “The shame of her poor family!” “She must have brought this on herself. The tramp!” “Oh, that she would do that to her poor mother.” Then still others who shared the same nightmare tried desperately to sink within themselves terrified that others might notice the truth on their own faces – that they might be exposed. Desperate to leave the room, they were frozen in their seats.

The young woman finished her story with tears mixed with shame and gratitude. She looked out at the room of grave faces. There was no applause – no cheers. Her story of God’s glory had been completely missed. She could see their judgement. She could hear the labels that they would mark her with for as long as they knew her. She saw friends who refused to look at her. She thought some of these friends might share a similar past as her, but she was always afraid to ask. Now she knew for certain; and from now on, they would try to avoid her in order to avoid their own pain. Their friendships would be no more.

She looked down at her chest expecting to see a giant scarlet “I”. Oh, the things she would say if her spirit wasn’t crushed. “I was only a child. I did not ask for this. My father was supposed to be my hero and my protector – not my tormentor. I was innocent before all of this happened. And I begged over and over again for it to stop. Instead, I was threatened into submission. This was not my choice. Children do not ask to be raped. I do not deserve your condemnation.”  Rather than defending herself, she moved solemnly through the remainder of her baptism. And while she still knew she loved Jesus with all that she was, the wound of her past cut even deeper.

The Madness Ends Here!

So much hurt in the world is created by our families. We pass our disappointment, regrets, jealousy, shame and anger from one generation to the next. Now this is not the intention. Most people are completely unaware that they are passing on their hurt. However, misery breeds misery.

I have watched the effects of this generational passing in my own family. I have a limited view of everything that happened in my family since I come from “good German stock” so nothing is shared. Nothing. My great grandmother married a middle-class gentleman, together they had two children – a daughter and a son. My grandmother was the first born. Unfortunately, my great grandfather died in his twenties. To add sorrow to sorrow, his family felt that my great grandmother was beneath his station in life so they rejected her and her children. Great grandmother did remarry and together they had many more children. I am certain that she carried through her life the sorrow of losing her first love and the sting of rejection from his family, as did my grandmother.

I never met my great grandmother’s new husband, but I have heard that he was a hard man. Keep in mind, this was the generation of the great depression where life was hard on many levels. My grandmother did mention that her and her brother were outcasts within his family. She went as far as to call her and her brother orphans. In blended families, it can be difficult for the new parent to love someone else’s children as their own. This can be intensified if there is jealousy created by a belief that they are loved less than the first spouse. This easily leads to favoritism which creates resentment, jealousy and a reduced sense of worth for the children.

My grandmother and I were never close. I have no memories of her cuddling or playing with me. She did teach me to play solitaire, which as an only child, I appreciated. Grandmother always seemed stern and carried an air of defeat. She was particularly hard on my mom. There was definitely a perception of favoritism among her children to the point they felt that the favorites were permitted to take advantage of the non-favorites. Children learn more from our actions than our words. Grandmother’s actions did not teach love. She taught resentment, jealousy, and anger. She was passing on what was given to her. The hurt created among her children still divides my family.

Imagine how the world would be if we, as parents, learned to move past our own hurts to give our kids a fresh start based on love. If we took a stand, “the madness ends here!” If we acknowledged our brokenness and worked through it, we could stop it from moving to the next generation.

A Deeper Look at Love

Ok, so Corinthians provides a pretty little poem on love, but what does all of that mean anyway?  How would I apply that to my life and my relationships?  How could this help me deal with the pain inside of me?  Excellent questions!  Let’s start by breaking it down into smaller chunks so we can reflect on it better.

“Love is patient.” We understand that no one is perfect. We are all going to do things that hurt or upset others. Instead of responding in anger, we need to extend grace and give people time and space to work through what is going on within themselves. We don’t force our own agendas and time tables on them.

“Love does not envy or boast.” Life will never be fair on this side of heaven. Everyone knows this. Love says learn to be joyful where you are and not worry about where other people are. Love also does not rub its advantage or blessings in other people’s faces. (Though my experience with this boastful behavior is that it is frequently compensating for their own feelings of envy over something else.)

“Love is not arrogant or rude.” In all we do, we should treat others with respect and how we would want to be treated. How would you like to be treated? Wouldn’t you like people to be kind, to acknowledge your presence and value as a person, to include you in conversation, and not take advantage of you? We should always be nice to one another which could be as simple as extending a warm smile.

“Love does not insist on its own way.” Sometimes it is more important to take care of the needs of another than to meet our own agendas. Love takes the time to listen and understand the other side of the story. Love does not live with the mentality of “it’s all about me.” If you live life all about you, you may gain a lot of things you think you want, but your life will not be fulfilling.

“Love is not irritable or resentful.” Again, people are going to do and say things that hurt us. Love says let go of the hurt and forgive. Taking on the judgement of another and not forgiving does more damage to you than to the person who injured you. Not forgiving makes us bitter and miserable. It is a path to more sorrow.

“Love does not rejoice at wrong doing.” It is a terrible thing to take pleasure in hurting someone else. I saw this frequently in my own family. They would laugh and make fun of other people’s pain or even the pain they were causing. This is a sign of a cruel heart. If you find yourself laughing at another’s pain, I encourage you to find some quiet time and reflect on why you feel this way. You most likely have a past hurt of your own that you need to work through and overcome.

“Love rejoices with truth.” It is so important to be honest with yourself and others. We need to talk things through with our loved ones so we can understand the whole story and what is real rather than relying on the scenarios in our minds. Going through life believing you know what someone else is thinking is dangerous business. No one can do that. No really, no one can do that. And there is freedom in being ourselves. I once knew a woman who wore many different masks. She would completely change her outward personality to be who the people with here would like, or at least her perception of what they would like. She did this for so long; she eventually forgot who she really was. She lost her identity, and she was miserable. You can never know true love from others if you are living a lie. Even if they love you, they are loving the lie not you. Living life locked within yourself – hiding – is a very lonely way to live.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Going back to my grandmother, she did not live out of love. She was one of the most dissatisfied people I have ever known. I am convinced that her and I were never close because of shame she carried. Early in my parents relationship, grandmother learned that my father was a child molester. She never shared this with my mom. Rather than extending patience and forgiveness through love, she allowed my mom to travel a road of pain as a punishment. Inevitably, I walked this road with my mom. I am not sharing this to further shame my grandmother. Our story is a vivid example of how our actions, or lack of action, without love effect more than just our original target. I understand that my grandmother had some tough challenges in her life. I choose to love her regardless of how she lived. After all, love is exactly what she needed. The last time I saw my grandmother, she was in a hospital bed dying from cancer and surrounded by her children. When she saw me, she struggled to reach out and speak to me. My aunt stopped her. To me, my grandmother’s eyes were filled with sadness and regret. I hope she could read the love and forgiveness in mine.