The Little Things

My hope over these past months of writing is that those who read will be able to see all that God has done for me. He has been there for me in so many big ways: loving me when I didn’t love Him, rescuing me from hell on earth, comforting me in my struggle to find peace, teaching me to defend myself against an endless barrage of lies meant to tear me down, and even keeping me alive through threats from myself and others. Jesus has been with me through all of these big challenges. Yet, I don’t want to overlook all of the small things He has done as well.

It is easy for us, especially when we long to be strong and independent, to try to maneuver through the every day little things on our own. But we were never meant to navigate life alone. I believe I have mentioned before that I serve on my church’s worship team as a singer. This past week I unfortunately came down with labyrinthitis which is the inflammation of the inner ear. On Tuesday, just opening my eyes sent my entire world into a spin. I could not stand up straight or walk by myself. In fact, the effort of moving unsettled my stomach to the point of sickness. Saturday was the first day that I felt confident to walk on my own without holding onto someone else or a wall. What does all of this have to do with Jesus? Sunday I was scheduled to lead singing. About a third of the way through rehearsal, on Sunday morning, my energy was depleted. It was overwhelming to stand and sing, and I was struggling to get my breathe in order to support my notes. While I tried to rest to regain energy before the start of service, I prayed for God’s strength. The Holy Spirit resides in all of Jesus’ followers – and He is a spirit of strength! He did not let me down, as usual.

Our pastor has frequently been reminding us lately “that we do not have because we do not ask.” And there is more to “have” than just material things. Jesus pours on His people many blessings: love, peace, strength, endurance, wisdom, discernment, and so much more. And there is no shame in asking. He wants us to reach out to Him just as we would want our own children to reach out to us.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:7-11 ESV

Again, we are not meant to walk through life alone. Jesus can be your life line for traversing the big and little challenges of life. And learning to trust Him in the little things will help you to remember and to know His goodness and faithfulness when things get hard.

The Next Climb

Have you ever been hiking and you could see the top of the hill, but your body was crying out to stop? So you do some self talk, “Look how close it is. You can do this. Just a few more steps, and you’ve made it.” With determination, you continue the climb only to find that what you saw wasn’t the top at all. Unbelievably, there is another uphill bigger than the one before. Your heart sinks, and the self talk battle begins again. I had this same experience running cross country in high school. I’d misjudge a lag of the race just to realize there was at least another mile to go, and of course, uphill. I have found forgiveness to be the same kind of animal. Just when you think you are there, another climb begins.

Forgiveness has played a huge role in my healing process. When I was young, I wanted to hold onto my anger against my father. Like somehow my anger would hurt him. Truth is, it only hurt me. It added an even darker element to my already crushed soul. And the darkness grew by its constant hunger for hate and malice which only increased my despair and grief. I could not begin to heal holding onto so much hate. A huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders when I released that hate. At first, I tried empathy knowing that he too had faced some unknown evils as a child. This did not last and basically crumbled like a house of cards. It wasn’t until I began following Jesus that I learned that I could hand my hurts to Him which made forgiving much easier. Then I soon discovered that I kept taking my hurts back from Jesus which would completely knock the air out of my forgiveness. This was a fairly painful cycle until I eventually did learn to stop taking it back. Talk about a slow learner!

Compassion and empathy were a key component for forgiveness; however, I was incapable of extending that kind of love without God. As I learned more about Jesus and the Bible, I found peace in understanding the grace God had given me. God loved me even in my broken down, messed up state. He loved me even though I was a walking volcano of hate – a hate that I spilled out at everyone. He still loved me. And when I asked Him for forgiveness, He forgave me. He calls me to forgive others as He has forgiven me and leave judgment to Him. But again, this was not the final climb. Part of my false peace still remained in the hope that God’s wrath would be poured out on my dad under God’s judgement. I still wanted revenge.

This week a friend of mine shared her thoughts with me after reading one of my articles, “And, as difficult as it may be to hear … Jesus still loves your terrible, rotten, awful Dad. Apart from His grace (God’s grace), any of us could be as vile and evil as he. Jesus could reach down from heaven, and save your Dad … and redeem him. That to me is unfathomable grace, remarkable grace.”

She is right. And God is calling me to start another climb. A climb to the place where I can be ok if God saves my father the way he saved me. To be ok with someday seeing my father in heaven knowing that he experienced no retribution from what he put me through. That is challenging stuff. But I will be obedient through prayer. I will pray for endurance and strength for myself to follow God’s call but more importantly for my father. I will pray for his soul that he too will be able to reach out and accept God’s perfect grace. I will listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and fix my eyes, with hope, on the next ridge. And holding onto the fact that even though each new climb seems harder, the view keeps getting more and more magnificent.

My First Blessing

In just a few months, it will be a year since I started blogging. And in that time, I still have not shared my blog with my mom. There is so much I have wanted to share with the world in order to help those who are hurting, inform those who just don’t understand, and hopefully stop those who are causing all of the hurt. While I believe my message is important and needs shared, I worry about how my mom would react to reading my words. She walked most of this path with me. I have also watched her beat herself up over and over again no matter how much reassurance I give her.

For those following my writing, you know that I give all the credit to Jesus for rescuing me and leading me down the path of healing. It is important to remember that God does most of His work through other people. My mom was the first blessing God ever gave me. I have never met another person that I felt could have navigated the challenges we went through.

My mom carries a huge burden of regret in not knowing what was happening and blames herself for not protecting me. But she should not. Being apart of this story, I know better than anyone that she was drowning in her own despair. I will not go into any details about my mom as that is her story to tell not mine. But she was living a life that was not her choosing. We make so many choices in life, and unfortunately, many of them are driven by impulse, pushed on us by others and even just pure foolishness. The decisions we make as youth, when we have the least amount of wisdom, have such a huge impact on the rest of our lives.

At the peak of the darkest time of my life, my mom was trying to keep us alive. She was amazing. She grew our food and processed the deer that were our primary source of protein. Everything had to be prepped and canned to last us the year. She strived to keep as safe, clean and comfortable with the limited resources we had available. She was also the one working to provide for us and was also going to nursing school. She was tireless.

She was also the one who pointed me to Jesus though she may not know that. My father would rail on her all of the time for her faith, but she never denied Him. She would quietly bare the attacks as he would try to tear her down through insults, shouting and throwing her limited belongings. I worry that she counts her silence as weakness. To me, she maintained her ground in the only way she knew how. To me, when I think of my mom, I see incredible strength and love.

And who is worth quietly defending in the midst of constant attack? If Jesus wasn’t someone incredible, why would she endure so much for Him? And in contrast, my father was lazy and worthless. There was no love in him, and he did nothing to support us. He thought he was so wise, but there was never any signs of wisdom, only foolishness. So if my mom would endure so much for Jesus and my father hated Jesus so much, then maybe Jesus was worth seeking. And when I had no strength left to endure on my own, I followed my mom’s example and reached out to Jesus. He did not fail me.

Some, including my mom, may wonder how she could not have known. Consider being responsible for as much as she was – our entire household – which was so much harder than anyone living in normal society can even fathom. When she got home and finished cleaning up after dinner, she was completely spent. And over years and years of personal attack at home, she had retreated into herself for survival. She should carry no blame or shame. She did as much as she could – even more than that really. I will forever be grateful for my mom.

I love you, Mom.

Oceans

As a pre-teen, I was so overwhelmed by the pain and betrayal in my life that I was at the point of committing suicide. I was drowning in an emotional ocean of despair and hopelessness with no one to turn to for help. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t bear to keep living either. In a moment of desperation, I called out to Jesus for help. And amazingly, He responded. An unexplainable sense of peace descended on me in such a powerful and tangible way that I looked over my shoulder to see who had wrapped their arms around me. No one was there. And though I didn’t realize it then, I took my first step of faith that night by handing my situation over to Jesus and going to sleep. If I had not, I would not be here to tell my story.

He did not fail me. And while my story of healing spans decades, He has never left my side. With each new ocean, He is always there.

Matthew 14:22-33

Sorrow to Blessings

Life happens. It has been a while since I have been able to write. In, fact it has been a while since I have been able to even think of writing. The whirlwind of work projects, service projects, church events and major life changes. Blend that all together, and the energy you have left at the end of the day is enough to carry yourself to bed. Please don’t hear the wrong tone. It was all good stuff and just adds to my mental list of how blessed my life has become.

Reflecting back on my life, the first half was very dark. There was no list of blessings, just sorrow. However, a change happened at about the halfway point, and each day as my faith grows so do my blessings and my joy. God loves and restores those who love Him! I feel like the poster child of God’s love, and I know I am not alone in this. Ask anyone who truly loves Jesus, and I am certain they have their own story. They might just be unpracticed at sharing it. The other great thing is He loves us first! His love is already there waiting for everyone; but when we reciprocate our love, that is when change really starts to happen!

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
A Psalm for giving thanks.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

                                                              Psalms 100 ESV

Love Has Won

“Death has died. Love has won!”

The emotional trauma I experienced as a child left me dead inside. Sure, I was alive – up moving around – but not living. It wasn’t until I met Jesus and really got to know Him that I started to heal and live.

What He did for us so many years ago on the cross is hard to understand but at the same time wonderful. He has opened up not only the grave so that we can have eternal life but also a way to healing now so that we can truly live.

If you don’t know or fully understand the Easter story, I encourage you to visit a Bible teaching church this Easter. Before you go, say a prayer and ask Jesus to help you find the right church for you and to meet you there.

 

 

Out of the Blue

Are you ever going through your day feeling fine when, it seems like out of the blue, your mood takes a dive? As if suddenly, the joy has been sucked out of your day. For us ladies, it could be a simple hormone flux. It could be someone greeted your smile with a frown, or hearing something sad on the news. Other than the hormones, it is usually easy to recognize the cause of the cloud hanging over your head.

For those of us with traumatic past experiences, it could have been an emotional trigger. What do I mean by a trigger? A trigger is something that draws out our emotions from a past experience. It could be a song on the radio, a ticking clock, a phrase, or something as ridiculous as the smell of Lipton’s noodle soup. Our brains are amazing. When a memory is created, all of the information of that moment is stored away whether we know it or not. Not just words spoken or physical sensations, but also, the sounds, smells and even lighting. It is actually quite incredible and can be wonderful when connected with a good memory. Unfortunately, when the memory is connected to something traumatic, it can send your emotions whirling.

The first step in overcoming the effects of triggers is to become aware of and understanding your own particular triggers. For me, several of my triggers were always very obvious to me even though I didn’t really understand what was happening. It took me years to be able to be in a room with a ticking clock without getting the tremors and feeling an overwhelming urge to run away. It was completely unsettling. To be clear, they were not excessive tremors. I doubt anyone else noticed. Though, they probably noticed me withdrawal and just felt it was part of my quiet nature.

My initial coping mechanism was to not have any clocks that ticked. That was easy. Unfortunately, when I married, my husband’s grandparents’ house was filled with clocks. I mean walls covered with clocks. In the living room, there were an overwhelming amount of out of sync ticking sounds and gongs. I loved my grandparents-in-law, but being in their house just wore on my nerves. My husband loved the clocks and started to add clocks to our house. I also had a private no Lipton soup rule (private meaning, I never told anyone else). When my daughter was young, she would stay with my mom when she wasn’t feeling well. Mom gave her Lipton’s soup. Of course, after that, whenever my daughter didn’t feel well she would ask for soup. And not just any soup, it had to be Lipton. Sigh. So, I would make her the soup.

A really awesome thing happened over time. My old memories started to be replaced with new memories. When hearing a clock, I was no longer pulled back into my childhood. Instead, I see the smiling faces of my husband and his grandparents. And now, when I smell Lipton’s soup, I remember my daughter as a little girl and the joys of motherhood.

I know there are still some triggers out there that have not been beautifully replaced like the clocks and the soup. However, I realize they are out there. When I feel my mood shift, I try to refocus on reality – to ground myself and not get sucked into darkness. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes the sorrow is overpowering. In these moments, I pray, listen to worship music, and seek out my husband for comfort. It may take a little a while, but Jesus always meets me when I need him.

The Reflection in the Mirror

For too many years, I focused on the negative and broken parts of myself. I bought into all of the lies ever said about me: you are ugly, you are trash, you have no value. And I believed the unspoken voices that I was unloved, unworthy of protection, and that women are just for sex. I hated myself. I hid in corners in social settings. I hid from cameras. I even hid in clothes that were way too big for me. And these were baked in beliefs and reactions, not conscious. It was just who I was. And without even knowing it, I was carrying on my own abuse.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I got a glimpse of my own destructive behaviors. It happened sort of like a two-by-four to the back of the head. Sometimes, we really need to feel it for our wake up calls to move us into action. Each year my church would create a space for spiritual reflection along with a book of readings and questions to help guide you through the process. My favorite spaces were those filled with plants and bubbling fountains. There were others with images of the cross to help us start to grasp what Jesus really did for us. Those were always tough spaces. This particular year, the tough one for me though only contained a chair and a mirror. The guide simply instructed me to look at my reflection, and thank God for creating me. It broke me. I couldn’t bear to look at myself. And I certainly couldn’t thank God for making me. Instead of responding with a grateful heart, I was filled with anger. Why did He create me? The weight of my self-loathing crushed my spirit and brought me to tears.

Now here comes the two-by-four. Several days later, my friend at church asked me if I enjoyed the spiritual spaces. I shared my dislike for the mirrored room, and how I couldn’t even look at myself. What I expected from her was an “I get that.” Her reaction caught me totally off guard. “Who are you to insult God’s handiwork? You were made exactly as He intended you to be.” Inside, my emotions swirled from disbelief to anger to reflection. Her words rocked my world. I had never thought of myself as God’s work of art. That He had planned for me to be a certain way. After all, I was no one special, right? But God doesn’t make garbage?

Others may consider my friend’s words to be harsh, but they were exactly what I needed to hear. Her words started me on a new path of seeing myself through God’s eyes. And while life tore the edges of my canvas and slashed scars through me, I was still His masterpiece. And the more time I spend getting to know Jesus through prayer, reading my Bible, and listening to worship music, the more He restores me. He is taking my tattered form and revealing someone beautiful.

Raising Up the Broken

Most people who know me don’t know my story. I may occasionally joke about growing up in the woods, but I like to keep it lighthearted. There is no need in most circumstances to bring such pain into a relationship or give glory to the devil’s handy work. Here in this blog, however, I would like you to be able to see the great things Jesus has done for me. My deepest wish is that others will find hope in my story and that they will continue to persevere, and ultimately, find their own path to healing.

There are great tragedies in my life which left me with sadness and scars. Some of the sadness and the pain of the scars surface from time to time; yet, I do not live there. My life now is filled with blessings. Before, I could not sleep for fear of the nightmares that haunted me. I lived in fear of being found. I was afraid to venture out of my home without my husband or a relative. My heart was filled with anger and distrust, and I hid from people, basically, refusing to socialize. In fact, my dearest friend in the world became so only because she forced me to interact with her. For that, I am very grateful.

Today, I have many friends. My home is filled with love and laughter. I am blessed with a great job where I have the opportunity to help our company and our employees grow. In a business setting, I have the awesome privilege to apply what I have learned about love and empathy to help nurture a work culture of trust. I am involved in business groups in my local community. I am involved in several ministries at my church, and I volunteer in my community. My acquaintances see a person of success and blessings – not the scars I carry. All of this is through the grace of God. Jesus has saved me; and with each day, He makes me more and more whole again.

In the Bible, Jesus has been given many names. To me, these names are promises, and I claim all of them! Jesus is the God of Comfort, our refuge and strength, Wonderful Counselor, Father to the orphan, Prince of Peace, The Potter, the Light of the world, and our Everlasting Father just to name a few. He loves us even when we don’t yet love Him. He is faithful. His mercies are never ending. He is a help in trouble. He comforts us in all our affliction. We need only to reach out to Him; ask Him for help.

“All these pieces
Broken and scattered
In mercy gathered
Mended and whole
Empty handed
But not forsaken
I’ve been set free

You take our failure
You take our weakness
You set Your treasure
In jars of clay
So take this heart, Lord

I’ll be Your vessel
The world to see
Your life in me

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind but now I see

Oh I can see you now
Oh I can see the love in Your eyes
Laying yourself down
Raising up the broken to life”

These words in the song Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace) by Hillsong remind me of how much Jesus has done for me. If you are on the way to healing already, I hope this song helps you see how much God loves you. If you are still in the midst of pain, may this song give you hope. May it give you the courage to reach out to Jesus and see what He can do in your life.

 

That Can’t Be True

Frequently, when I share stories of my childhood, I get the sense that people don’t believe me. Not that they think that I am a pathological liar. They just can’t seem to balance what I am telling them with what they know of the world. Maybe this is all inference on my part, but I don’t think it is. I do have to remind myself that my childhood experience is unbelievable. And while others have crazy stories as well, most people I interact with have the suburban life style perspective with little exposure to what else is out in the world. We are so used to our developments, apartments, and trailer parks. Of course, that is how everyone lives, right? Not so much, especially in areas outside of the United States, dark places on the edge of large urban centers, and hidden in the deep woods of Appalachia. Though even while I lived in Appalachia where people built porches on small RVs just to build it in and add on another porch, even there my teachers didn’t believe how we lived.

The social workers who drove me home one day after school didn’t believe me either. And they couldn’t imagine that anyone had to walk two miles to get to a bus stop. And who could blame them. Haven’t we all heard the old story “I had to walk uphill two miles in the snow – both ways!” Well, there was definitely an uphill, but it was only on the way home.

These ladies were escorting me home because I had fallen in the creek on my way to the bus. By the time I had finished my walk and the bus showed up, my shoes and jeans were frozen. I remember a feeling of fear as the bus driver had me sit on the floor in front of the heater to try to get my feet warm. So the social workers were taking me home to confirm my story.  They probably thought I decided to play in the creek on my way to school. Really??? Truth was, the creek crossed the lane I lived on seven times. The further the lane extended beyond our property the wider it became. The final crossing was wide enough that it had a small foot bridge (a board stretched from one bank to the other). Unfortunately during a rain storm, the board washed away. I must have been the only one to use it so no one either noticed or cared to replace it. I never considered mentioning it. With a running start, I could jump it so all was well except that morning. That morning was on the tail end of a storm and all the crossings were wider. I ran and jumped but didn’t make it.

The social workers had a small sedan to bring me home. I was just thankful for a ride and someone to talk to. Unfortunately, but not surprising, we had to leave their car at a neighbor’s house about 3/4 of a mile from where I lived because their car couldn’t manage the ruts in the road. And there was no way they would be able to cross our portion of the creek where the bank in the road rose about 12 inches into a steep climb. Most vehicles couldn’t get to our place. They hadn’t counted on that. So they had great pleasure gasping up the hill on the final stretch – navigating my off road walking path which could have easily been mistaken for a deer trail. I knew they were already a bit shocked by the reality of my situation. Then we came to the clearing with my home. “This is where you live?!?” They were staring right at it and still didn’t believe.

Why share all of this? I want to ask that we all consider that our sense of normal and reality isn’t necessarily the same as other people. And we shouldn’t immediately assume someone is lying because what they are saying doesn’t fit into our view of the world. With all of my experiences, I am very sensitive to a lack of integrity and lying. I don’t want people to assume I am lying or to be lied to. I don’t want written off just because doctors have no clue how to help me. And I would love if, as friends, we could be real with each other. Life is hard enough as it is. And through honesty and taking down our masks, we could possibly help each other walk through the challenges life hands us.