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

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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

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.

Sharing

I am part of the cruel statistic of 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men who have been sexually abused.  My life has been filled with many struggles and pain.  However, I have also found hope and healing and would like to share them with a world filled with hurting people.  If this blog can save even just one person from continued hurting, it is worth it.

There are actually many reasons to share how I have come to find peace.  Most of us are excited to share with our friends when we find a good thing – like a great sale, a fantastic cup of coffee, or a book you just couldn’t put down.  There are many reasons to share: to give thanks to my Rescuer, help others, and raise awareness of a hushed evil.  Still, there is fear in sharing.  Much of this fear is a direct result of our culture’s and our family’s unwillingness to admit to our hidden evils.  If we don’t admit to, it isn’t really happening.  If we don’t acknowledge it, it will just go away.  But in reality, it doesn’t go away.  It is just a wound that festers and spreads until there is nothing but decay.

I hope you will join me in walking this path and that you will find peace on the way.