The Most Important Lesson

Through all of my lessons from life, the most important is that I can always trust my Lord and Savior. People will always eventually let you down and break your heart.  But my God will always be there.  And I can trust Him to comfort me when no one else will or can.  And because He is trustworthy, I can continue to love others fully – even knowing that someday there will be tears.

Memory Lane

Headed down memory lane earlier today when my husband showed me a non-profit video of a family struggling to live in the Appalachian hills. When I first heard the video describing the setting, my mind went straight to picturing a third world country. Instead, there were the familiar hills and shortly after the heavy drawl of the young man they were interviewing. There home wasn’t much different than a suburban tool shed. It did lack the vinyl siding and framed windows that frequent sheds these days. They also had no bathroom and visited a neighboring friend when one was needed. Their home was located next to the burnt remains of their mobile home.

It seemed quite unbelievable that anyone in the United States could live in such a situation. But I know first hand that it is true. I remember the days of envying my neighbors who had a trailer with electric and running water. To me they were rich and surrounded by comforts until I spent the night and the rat crawled out from under the stove. We may have been quite literally dirt poor, but we did the best we could to keep out the vermin.

Our kitchen was an aluminum shed with a large wood burning pink cast iron stove. That stove was amazing and had a reservoir to keep water warm whenever there was wood burning. Our “bedrooms” (we basically had a corner) were in a mid-size army tent along with a table and a pot belly cool stove. The walls of the tent were boarded up and covered with insulation to keep it warm in the winter. A piece of asbestos covered by roofing tin protected the insulation from the heat of the stove. And a portion of the tent roof had been cut away and replaced with tin roofing so that the stove pipe could exit the tent without causing a fire.

There was no bathroom. We did have an outhouse which my parents had built and dug the hole under. That was a lot of work, but I was grateful to no longer need to traipse out into the woods. We had a small tin tub we use as a bathtub. When the weather was nice, we could bath outside. In the winter, we set it up in the tent next to the stove. I’m not sure how often we actually bathed. It took a long time for the big pan of water to heat on the stove, and it was difficult for my mom to lift it down and carry it to the tub. Dad always washed first, then mom, and then me. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” was unfortunately too relatable of a phrase.

So how do people end up living in these situations? For my family, my dad was insane. For other’s it was family land and life was hard. They did the best they could but struggled to just live let alone make things better. Some were veterans hiding in solitude mentally ravaged by a foreign war. Other people were from a line of family members who learned to get by on disability. I just remember it being a hard place with little hope. The men could either work really hard for not much or make a career of alcohol. The women were lucky to find a man that didn’t beat them. For me, my hope was to escape. And my plan was to do the best I could at school so that I could support myself and get far away from there.

Last Father’s Day

Sunday was Father’s Day. My own husband was proudly wearing his “Rad Dad” t-shirt with a big cheesy grin. At church, there were many smiles and well wishes. Daughters and sons greeting their father’s with loving hugs, and little tikes running about with “I love my Daddy” shirts. At the end of the service, the last note from the worship band faded away, and a video began to say…

“Who…

Read you a good night story.
Taught you to ride your first bike.
Helped you with your scrapped knee.
Always invited your friends to your house.
Chased away the monster under your bed.
…”

To be honest, I can’t quite remember all the things the video listed that dads should do. An account of cherished memories that some people take for granted. My heart was breaking inside of me so I quietly left the room to find a solitary place to work through my tears. A lady stumbled upon me, saw my tears, and knowingly whispered with a nod, “I lost my own father 13 years ago.” I just nodded back with a smile. How do you explain to someone that your tears are not because your dad died but because your dad was the monster under the bed? And yet, she sort of understood my emotions as I truly was filled with grief. Filled with a grief not from the loss of a parent but from the loss of something that would never be. Grief of the absence of the memories so beautifully depicted in the video. Grief over what our relationship should have been.

Some may say that I should be over this by now, but grief is unpredictable. Ask anyone who has lost a spouse or a parent. After they are gone, you are never quite the same, and so many things can trigger your grief. It is the same for me. Some days the grief sweeps in unexpectedly and sometimes powerfully.

But I compose myself and remember the step-father with whom God blessed me. The first years were rocky as he knew nothing of kids and I was an angry and depressed high schooler. As I grew older, I began to appreciate all he did to provide first for me and my mom and later my own family. And he bestowed with me with wisdom to help me live wiser. I am thankful to have him in my life. And my daughter is blessed with sweet memories, similar to the video, made with her Pappy.

Even better is my Holy Father who has walked with me down some really dark roads. And He has filled me with His Holy Spirit to protect me spiritually and to continue teaching me better ways to live. Wisdom that will help keep me from walking back down those same, old roads that only lead to destruction. He is my joy and my love. And when my journey here is over, there will be no more grief, no more lost memories, and we will meet in His beautiful, heavenly realm.

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.