Poop on the Porch

“He’s getting after me…”  my friend said of her dad.  “Why?” I asked.  “Because there is dog poop on the porch.” she replied.  Hmmm… There is?  I had never noticed it before.  “Little baggies of poop…  It bothers him…” she went on.  No kidding, I thought.  Sure enough, the next time I went over I noticed them.  I totally missed them the last time I was there.

There I was, frantically cleaning again.  That same old panicky feeling creeping up in my chest while I furiously scrubbed away at the counters.  Yelling toward the kids, “Please, just get up and clean things up NOW!  She’ll be here any minute!”  This pause in my heart and my head occurred as I wondered if one “stop by” visit was worth the emotional damage to my kids for my harshness.  Did I love this person more than my own children?  I stopped to consider, when was the last time I acted like this?  When was the last time I felt the pressure to perform, to look right, to have it together?  I literally asked myself out loud, “Why do I feel the need to perform?”

Law Living:

We all have that person in our lives.  That aunt who makes suggestions about how you should sign your kids up for a certain activity…  The homeschool mom that says “x” curriculum is the best and it would solve all your problems…  The dad who thinks that life would be better if you just took his advice…  Bloggers make a lot of money on it.  “10 ways to organize your life”.  “25 days to a better you”.  They all promise in return for your service to their plan, your life will be better.  Your kids will behave and obey, your husband will be romantic and handy around the house, and your body will be fit and toned.  Empty promises…  All of them center around trading a part of your worship for a better identity.

I used to believe that as a Christian, it was a part of my spiritual duty to call fellow believers to a higher standard.  My friends and I would call each other out on everything we felt was inappropriate.  We did it out of sincere love for each other.  But that love, was not love at all.  In fact, it was bondage. Jen Grice from Fully His said, “A dysfunctional version of ‘love’ keeps people in bondage to each other. Love allows for freedom, for feelings, and has no room for selfishness or cruelty.”   I love that quote!!

Never Ending Stairs

When I first learned about my identity in Christ and accept that in grace I have been fully made righteous, I started to give up on appearances.  Even though my heart had changed, it was such a slow mental change.  I had been so trained that appearances matter.  And while I deeply desired to be real with people, I had been hurt so badly, that I could not let people see the real me.  I had been told that the real me was false.  When those lies dropped off and I quit living in performance mode…  I got a lot of pressure from my dad to continue performing.  We got in heated arguments which usually ended with me hanging up the phone.  (A good portion of those fights had something to do with our house or yard maintenance, which was never good enough for my dad’s tastes.  Or child rearing, which he always told us we were doing a good job and then made sure we would know exactly how we could make it even better.)  The bondage in that relationship was ridiculous.  I was not free to be me.  He was not free to love me as I am.  I couldn’t love him as he was without performing up to his standards.  And when I decided to stop meeting his standards, he started enforcing them on my children.  My dad was worshiping the stairway of perfection, not realizing it only leads to death.

Living in Community

My best friends are those that have survived abuse.  They understand what it looks like to be imperfect, yet perfectly loved.  Hmmm, imperfect, yet perfectly loved.  Because Christ loved us perfectly by laying down his life for us, it frees me from having to obtain the love I need from my friends, which frees me from needing to look perfect!  And because I know that God loved me in the middle of my messy life, with all my mistakes and ugly sin, I can freely love my friends with all their mistakes and ugly sin.  Why?  Because I’m trusting God for their outcome.  He took care of me when my life was in free fall.  So no matter how out of control their lives may “look”, I can trust that the Lord is working all things for their good and his glory.  My friends might make mistakes.  They may have baggies of poop laying around their lives.  But that doesn’t diminish God’s love for them.  If I’m getting my love for my friends from God, then it doesn’t diminish my love for them either.  I’m going to let the poop be.  When the time is right, God will make it clean.

Just in case you think this means I’m going to “let love and let go” all the time, that wouldn’t be love either.  Love says the difficult things.  Sometimes to love someone freely is to tell them the truth, even if you might risk losing the friendship.  Prayerfully, I have had to say things a few times that I thought for sure would not go over well.  I have come to see though that the outcome of those conversations is not up to me, but up to the Lord.  So I speak what he gives me and then shut up.  I don’t have to make whatever it is happen.  I’m not responsible for someone else’s decision.  I’m not the Holy Spirit!  It’s amazing to see though, that God never fails.  Living in grace frees me from having to make things happen in other people’s lives or even in my own life.  It gives me the opportunity to love people without return.  To give without needing to take.  To receive freely without feeling the need for repayment.  To clean or not clean, knowing that I’m loved either way.

And if you’re frantically cleaning before someone shows up because you know your clean house is tied to your value in their mind…….  Take a deep breath and ponder if that’s a relationship you really need.  Law based relationships breed death.  Grace based ones bring life.  Search for grace and give it to others.  In Christ, be Life.

Advertisements

A word for the church and a word for victims, from Hebrews 12

I was considering bitterness lately. I want to make sure that my heart is not running towards bitterness, but increasing in love.

A Cry For Justice

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  (Hebrews 12:12-16)

This passage has a word for the churches to whom we are broadcasting our Cry for Justice.
And a word for victims who are suffering abuse from their spouses, families and churches.

First, the word for victims:

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness…

View original post 1,084 more words

Thursday Thought — How to Support an Abuse Victim

A friend has recommended this book to me and I haven’ t had the chance to read it yet. This excerpt makes me want to read it even more.

A Cry For Justice

If you would like to make a significant difference in the life of an abused woman you care about, keep the following principle fresh in your mind:  Your goal is to be the complete opposite of what the abuser is.

The Abuser:  Pressures her severely

So you should:  Be patient.  Remember that it takes time for an abused woman to sort out her confusion and figure out how to handle her situation.  It is not helpful for her to try to follow your timetable for when she should stand up to her partner, leave him, call the police, or whatever step you want her to take.  You need to respect her judgment regarding when she is ready to take action — something the abuser never does.

The Abuser:  Talks down to her

So you should:  Address her as an equal.  Avoid all traces of condescension or superior…

View original post 571 more words

The “Ex” Part II

 Stained Glass

“Maybe he’s changed…”

she thought.  “It’s been quite some time.  Surely he’s different!”  She hoped with everything in her that he had changed.  How could he keep hurting people?  He must know he had hurt people.  Shouldn’t she hope for the best and try to think the best?  Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had seen these warning signs before.  “No”, she thought.  It wasn’t loving to assume bad things.  She has to think the best.  To do less would be “uncharitable”.   Or is the forgetfulness of time warping her memories, leaving her with fondness and affection for someone who never really existed in the first place?


When I was a teen, I played this card game that had no rules.  Not that it didn’t have rules, but you weren’t allowed to know what they were.  The key to the game was to learn the rules as fast as you could, so you could finish the unstated objective of the game to win!  It was a massively confusing game.  The first several rounds of the game was spent with everyone getting penalty cards for breaking the unspoken rules.  After a while, it was easy to see that you had to bark when you played a spade, pat your head for a diamond, etc.  Some of the other rules were more tricky.  I spectacularly failed the first several times I tried to play that game and often ended up with practically the whole deck of cards in my hand.

Card games remind me of all the wonderful times we had at church camp.  Ever have one of those groups of people that you’re so comfortable around it just feels like one big family?  That’s how I described my church.  We were family!  It was a small non-denominational church.  My immediate family helped start it.  Once a year as a church, we would go camping.  The memories of hanging out at the sandy beach, long chats by the warmth of the fire, card games (Dutch Blitz!) that went long into the night and outdoor worship services are times I look back on fondly.  I have pictures of lake baptisms, floating dock “king of the dock” fights, and kids getting thrown off the “blob” into the shimmering water of the lake.  They remind me of what once was.

For a long time, our church rented a building in which to meet.  It had been near a decade when the subject of building came up.   As things typically go, we built a brand new church building.  Suddenly there were all these new “understandings”.  With a new building came rules that had not been there before.  And a pastor!  Our elder run church was suddenly a pastor run church.  In this new world of new building, decorations, multiplying Bible studies, groups, and a shifted social pecking order there were unspoken rules that I didn’t know.  Some seemed to get them just fine, but I was like a clown in huge shoes, walking around and stepping on everyone’s toes.  While being very well meaning, but not without mistakes, I kept having to pay the fines, both emotionally and socially.  Still the rules to the game escaped me and I was painfully aware.  The unrest that resulted because of the change of order in the leadership shook things up in the entire congregation.  While my husband and I might not have been the only opposition, I have come to realize I was an easy target.  With the rest of my extended family in positions of leadership (elders, worship leaders, etc.), I volunteered on the worship team and my husband ran sound.  We weren’t integral cogs in the machinery of the church.  To be frankly honest, we were expendable.  While the hows and whys are an explanation for another day, we eventually, spiritually beaten to a bloody pulp, left the church.

For a long time after that I didn’t even want to go to church.  I felt like I had left family.  Not my relatives.  I had left family, period.  I could name all the names of the people in the church that I would miss like sisters, brothers, mothers and children.  To go somewhere else felt like betrayal.  But at the same time, the abuse that had happened to me by the words of the “pastor” (and others) was betrayal.  The inner conflict for me was almost more than words can describe.  It was torturous.  I near lost my sanity.  (Truth be told, I’m fairly certain I lost it completely at times.  Thank the Lord for his protection.)  My husband, my steady husband, while utterly helpless to do anything for me, did the best thing he could possibly do…  He kept loving me.  He gently prodded me to church when he could and he lovingly let me stay home when he couldn’t.  My illness flared up worse with the emotional trauma, so at times it was difficult to distinguish depression and anxiety due to the abuse verses physiological issues.  When things got bad enough that I was concerned about being a danger to myself, I finally found help.  (Let me take a second to urge you- if you or anyone you know is considering harming themselves or others, please do not hesitate to reach out and get help!  It could save your life or the life of others!)

It took about two years of counseling and learning about God’s grace for me to feel like I could dare to consider there might be something in life worth living.  While still extremely fragile, I had to go and try to live life in this new found grace.  There were times that even walking into a new church would cause a panic attack.  Now two years past that…  Life is worth living!  Grace literally makes me giggle with delight!  Yet, now I can see what an abusive situation was happening inside that church.  I have hoped and prayed that that church has changed.  A lot of those members are still in my social media feeds.  My extended family still attends there.  I find myself seeing signs (words, phrases, behavior) that still indicate abuse and entrapment.  (Sometimes those signs cause PTSD type symptoms in me.)  But then I tell myself that I’m not a member there anymore.  I think how much I’ve changed, so I hope they have changed.  Then I think I have no right to make judgement about it.  I remember the good times and pretty soon I’m thinking idealistic thoughts again…  I have caught myself saying to my husband, “Do you think they’ve changed?  What if they’ve changed?  They must have changed by now!  Surely they wouldn’t continue to hurt people like that.  I should hope for the best, right?”  Then damning evidence comes out that is undeniable.  During one of my last “wishing for the best” moments, I started realizing that I sounded just like an abused woman, longing for her abuser.

My former church is my abusive “ex”.

I am so thankful that I no longer am beholden to an abusive intimate partner.  My Jesus loves perfectly.  He understands intimate partner abuse.  He understands pain.  He bore not only my sins on the cross, but the sins of what others did to me.  It’s because he perfectly paid their debt that they owed me, I can have peace in him.


 

Author’s note:
My husband and I hope and pray for freedom for this church, so locked up in bad theology and abuse.  We pray for the women that are being subjugated under the teaching of “headship”, although not being taught from the pulpit, well being caught in the foyer and fellowship.  We are waiting with open arms for the exodus of abused women and children- while we dread the pain and suffering that will accompany it…  And hate the brokenness that sin brings…  We know that God can use all things for his glory.  We also recognize that not all congregation members are experiencing the same intensity or level of deception.  We refuse to condemn an entire church, when we know there is hope from God.  While the pastor and others (his supporters) meant their actions to be well meaning, God used their complete misuse of authority for our eventual good.  All glory to God!

 

The “Ex”, Part I

Does he really love me,” she wondered.  This wasn’t the first time around in this swirling pattern of thoughts.  His actions and behavior showed something different than his words.  His actions were manipulative.  Self serving, if truth be told.  Yet his words said it was all for her good.  She kept thinking about how many times he had reassured her of his love.  He brought gifts, did her favors and…  But somehow she kept getting hurt.  Why did his version of love result in repercussions?

Hit by a brick wall.  That’s what I would say.  I remember as a child saying, “What does it take, what didn’t I see, what happened that I got hit by a brick wall again?”  What was my “brick wall”?  My dad yelling.  Boy, he could yell.  When he was done, you felt almost literally hit.   He never laid a finger on me beyond appropriate discipline.  But the yelling!  When I think of it now, I often don’t remember what I did to get there.  I can’t even eek out an image of the berating.  However, I clearly remember the emotional repercussion and tears that followed, usually in my room or elsewhere after the fact.  I remember the shame I heaped upon myself and the self loathing for having gotten caught in that situation again…  As if I was to blame in the first place.

Recently, I’ve been helping a couple friends through domestic violence situations.  I’ve been reading and researching, using various websites, blogs, books and pod casts, to understand this cycle better.  While sharing their experiences related to mine, I was blown away that what I had experienced as a child and teen was actual real domestic violence.  One of the first experiences I shared with a friend was about the time that my sister choked me so much, I thought I was going to die.  I had been living with roommates for 9 or 10 months during my junior year of college.  When I came back to my parents house, my sister and I got into a fight.  Well, not exactly a fight.  She told me what to do and I said no.  She gave me the “evil stare of death”.  Man, that stare used to scare the living daylights out of me.  This time I realized it was just that.  A stare.  A vain threat.  Now that I had been out and lived on my own, I realized this didn’t have to have power over me.  I said something like, “That’s it?  A stare?  That’s not going to work anymore.  I’m not scared of you.”  Next thing I remember is ending up flat face down on the floor with my 250+ lb sister on my back, hands around my throat, choking me.  I was struggling to get my breath.  I remember thinking, “If I don’t do something, I’m going to die.  Lord help me!”  With everything that was in me and all my adrenaline pumping, I pulled my arms in under me- which was no small feat.  Even more astounding, I bench-pressed my sister and threw her off my back.  She hit the wall, which must have knocked the wind out of her.  I certainly didn’t stick around to find out.  I ran up to my bedroom, shut, locked the door and then shoved a fairly large all metal Steelcase desk against it.  When my mom got home, she came up and asked me to open the door.  I remember being very insistent that I would not open the door if my sister was there.  Somehow that wasn’t a red flag for my mom?  I’m pretty sure I told her what happened.  I don’t remember there being any big deal made about it.  Sometimes I wonder why not…  Did she not believe me?  I didn’t tell anyone else for years…

When I shared this story with a friend, she said, “Oh Laura!  I’m so sorry!”  That’s when it hit me…  That’s not healthy behavior!  This friend had been through a lot.  I thought maybe she didn’t react the way others would.  So I told another trusted friend.  She instantly said, “OH Laura!!  That’s not okay!  Are you serious?!  That’s abuse!”

Abuse.

My dad and sister had been so abusive for so long, I didn’t realize what danger I was in.  Like the frog in the pot, I had grown so accustom to it that I didn’t know danger when I saw it.  Funny too, considering I was continually on the alert.  When I was a kid, we talked about “walking on egg shells” around my sister.  We talked about how dad was “micromanaging”.  But no one said, “That’s abuse”.   On that day when my sister stared at me, I had no idea there was a real chance that she would kill me.  Or that that wasn’t the only episode of abuse during my three month college summer break at home.

My room in my parent’s house was right next to the bathroom.  Having lived with roommates for almost a year, I had grown accustom to sharing a bathroom with someone who was not my family.  This morning seemed like no other morning to me.  I got up and gently knocked on the door to find out if I should run down for breakfast first or wait to get in the shower right away.  The brick wall hit me and I hadn’t even opened my mouth.  Like a volcano behind the door, the fury of my father verbally erupted.  I was getting yelled at through the door just for knocking.  Again, because I had lived on my own, it was like the spell was broken.  I remember saying, “I just wanted to know how long you were going to be.  I wasn’t asking for you to get out.”  While I thought that was going to ease the tension, it only added to it.  It became a big blow up fight.  I got smart and walked away.  But later it caught up to me.  The fight started again.  I remember firmly and in a controlled manner standing my ground, despite crying so hard I was soaking the front of my shirt.  I made the point that I was just being polite, asking how long he was going to be and it didn’t necessitate that type of yelling.  At that, he backed down and even showed remorse.  But the emotional cost to me was great.

In my mind, the two greatest episodes of abuse (where I was clearly not remotely wrong), happened during that three months.  I called my roommates and we moved out again as soon as we possibly could.  I thought I was free.

Abuse.

It takes many forms.  It sneaks up on you.  It cycles.  And something in your past may be opening you up for it again in the future.  It’s only after I have been able to get away from my abusers for a significant time that I’ve been able to see more clearly.  This is why I was open to spiritual abuse from my former pastor.  This is why I believed him and didn’t have enough respect for myself to believe my own thoughts.  This is why I took his word over what I felt God was saying to me.  Does that make me responsible for the abuse that happened to me?  No.  I’m not responsible for other people’s abusive choices.  But God help me, I can have the strength to walk away the next time.

Join me for Part II to learn about my abusive ex.

Nightmares

It was a beautiful evening.  The sun was beaming from behind the center of perfectly placed white fluffy clouds.  The expansive blueness of the sky mirrored the warmth of my soul.  The whole picture filled me with awe.  I was struck by the wonder of God’s creation.  His color palette is ever more expansive than any human ability.  Just then, down from the clouds, I saw the feet of Jesus.  As he continued his decent, his arms outstretched, the people around me (why hadn’t I noticed them before?) flew up into the sky to join him in the air.  I remained on the ground.  I wondered why?  That’s when I looked up and saw his full figure in all its glory…  And noticed…   Jesus was an illustration.  The rough edges of the torn paper were obvious.  I started screaming, “No!  Don’t go!  He’s not real!”  No one was listening.  That’s when I woke up in a sweat.  I’ve always wondered what that dream meant.  I’ve had it multiple times, with different places and different pictures of Jesus.  But every time, it was just that, a picture.  A 2D Jesus.

My religious life started at a very young age.  I had been attending church since I was born.  I grew up in a conservative homeschooling Christian family.  I prayed to “receive Christ into my heart” at six, baptized both with water and the Holy Spirit at age twelve.  But as I grew, things became more complicated.  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t be good enough.  I was well aware of my lack, my sin, my shortcomings and my failings.  I would try harder to be “good”, but that definition seemed to always be shifting or even if I could figure out what it was, it was beyond my reach.

When I was in my early 20’s, my brother who was an elder in our church, told me that they needed me to play bass in the worship band.  At the time, I had just started dating (yes, seriously) and had my first boyfriend.  We were enjoying each other’s company and spending way too much time kissing.  At the time, I thought I was beyond help.  I was so far gone!  I had kissed someone before marriage.  It was the unpardonable sin.  So I told my brother I was not in an appropriate place in my Christian walk to stand on stage and play bass for the church.  I knew deep within me that I was not a good example of what a “Christian” should be!  He said something to the effect of “Oh well, you’re all we’ve got.”  There’s a ringing endorsement.  Perfection or not, I was playing bass.  And with that start, I never felt worthy to be on stage in the six years I played for that church.  Oh and just so you know, that boyfriend only lasted 3 weeks.  The shame of “throwing away my purity” before marriage stayed with me and continued to affect me for at least a decade more…

The dreams continued…  And every time I saw a beautiful cloud and sunbeam filled sky, I would think, “Jesus, is today the day you will return?”  I would be filled with hope and almost instantly that would be overshadowed by fear.  I was terrified he would come back and the dream would become reality.  In my practical mind, I knew that his return was a good thing.  I knew his return would mean the end of suffering.  If that were so, why was I so filled with dread?

My life has not been one of total ease and comfort.  Some time ago, I contracted Lyme Disease.  The daily result of that is for years pain and fatigue have become my constant friends.  Also, I have suffered spiritual abuse that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  Because of that, I understand emotional pain, bordering insanity.  The Lord has used the pain in my life as a blessing.  Through the abuse and physical pain, he brought me to understand grace.  I now know that my righteousness is not based on my performance!  It never was.  God loves me just as much when I’m in bed unable to get up as he does when I’m strong and working.  That understanding is a gift so precious, it is worth all the pain I’ve had to endure.  Yet, I long for his return, the end of suffering and the reality of heaven, not only for myself, but my chronically ill friends and all those who have lived through abuse.  The end of all suffering…  Can you even imagine?  I long for it- it is a reality that is sometimes more real to me than my life here.

The other day I looked up into the blue, orange and gold evening sky.  The sun was going behind the clouds.  Again, I thought, “Now Jesus?”  Then I realized the fear was gone.  Where was the fear that usually accompanied such thoughts?  It was gone.  There was such peace in its place.  Because I know God’s grace and understand how Jesus lived his life perfectly for me in my place, I have a relationship with God.  My Jesus is no longer a 2D Jesus.

Come join with me on this journey.  Find grace.  Find peace.  Find rest.  Leave behind the paper Jesus.  Learn to hope again and find life in the real Jesus.