Exposing the bad parts of my life is very frightening for me but I know I have to share some of the bad in order for the good to be seen more clearly. I have, at different points in my life, carried a lot of emotional baggage stemming from painful memories of my past. Like a skilled surgeon, God is carefully exposing deep wounds, cleaning them out, and gently restoring me.
• Friendship is a great treasure...but nurturing friendships were elusive to me in my earlier years. It took years of heartbreak to open my eyes to what real friendship entails. Real friends do not purposely humiliate you to make themselves look better. Real friends encourage you. Real friends pick you up when you have fallen, not stomp on you while you are down.
• Another thing that has been difficult to actually put a name to and admit it happened to me has been the childhood abuse/neglect. Those are such ugly words but it was an ugly time.
--Dad was abusive to all of us, in a variety of ways. (I was so happy the day that Mom told me I did not belong to him biologically. She was crying and embarrassed about the circumstances surrounding the beginning of my life but I literally jumped up and down with glee! Somehow knowing I was not blood related to this man made everything a little easier to deal with.)
--Mom was in survival mode for many years, sleeping a lot when she was home, absent as much as she was allowed to be. I can remember feeling so lonely, wishing she would wake up so we could have happy times. But there were very few happy times when Dad was around.
--In Nov 2002 I had a memory of my dad surface that was horrible and it filled me with shame and incredible pain. I not only had to deal with it myself but I also had to share it with my husband. He held me as I cried, all curled up in his arms. His response to me was the confirmation I needed that it was not my fault. The pain was intense and still a bit confusing but I knew that I was gonna be okay…somehow.
--Shortly after that is when I received and wrote about us not being oysters. If you haven't read it yet (We Are Not Oysters) , it is essentially a message about the pain that we bury inside us. Since we are not oysters, the result of “glossing over” the pain is not usually a valuable pearl. We have to walk through the pain, dealing with it “head on” before we experience true and lasting healing. There is no easy way, it’s difficult to face it, but burying our pain does not make it go away. I considered that message a gift straight from the Lord and I knew it was too important not to share with others. Sometimes we bury the pain because we are not strong enough yet to deal with it. I had been getting stronger and stronger (both emotionally and spiritually) and the Lord let me know that now was the time for me to face the pain I had buried so deep inside.
I am a work in progress. A sort of “restoration project.” : ) A renewal is happening that has been just amazing to me at times. God is doing some wonderful emotional cleansing in me through a variety of ways:
• He’s helped me through counseling. I found a Christian counselor who helped me work through these and other emotional issues. I knew I needed to talk to a person of faith who was not emotionally involved in my life. I knew she would be able to point out things I might not see because I am too close to the situation.
• God is doing the healing work. Many times He takes the issues that have come up in the counseling sessions and expands on them later in the week, leading me to the truth of each situation that I remember.
I have a mental picture of my heart/mind being full of rooms. Each one contains a memory. What is being done in me is like spring cleaning. When we are finished with one room and the door is closed, it’s like the difference between closing the door on a room that is a disaster (to hide the mess from others) and closing the door on a room that is put in order (because there is no longer a need to go in there). We are gradually working our way through each room and I know that God is faithful and will continue to work on me until my “house” is in order.
God is revealing His hand at work in my life as I look at the past and see how He has worked through unlikely circumstances to bring me out of worse trouble that I could have faced.
• One example of this was His using my dad’s selfish personality to keep us away from my mother’s family. There was a long history of ugly things committed by some of the men in her family.
• Another thing that He has shown me concerned the three dear loved ones who passed away before we left. My Mom had determined she could not permanently leave the abusive situation while certain members of our family still lived. She had tried many times to leave him but something always happened that made us have to return. She knew she had to get so far away that there was no return possible in order to finally be free. Even though she hated my dad, she loved his parents and couldn’t take us away from them.
Mom didn’t know everything that happened back then. I never intended to tell anyone, especially not her. She always said that if anyone ever messed with her kids, she would kill them. I didn’t want him dead. I just wanted the abuse to stop. I wanted him to love me just because I was his child, not for his selfish gain or pleasure. Mom never knew until a friend forced me to tell after we were safely in Omaha (I was by then fifteen or sixteen years old and had only recently confided this "secret" to one person).
Before now, I never understood why the Lord took my grandmother away from me. I viewed her as my protector. She was my dad’s mom and she was the only one who I had ever witnessed stand up to my dad whom he didn’t retaliate against in one way or another. Now I have a better understanding. If she were still alive, we would never have left.
Sometimes I find myself playing the “what if” game (what if Mom didn’t leave when she did? What if the abuse progressed to a level I could not handle?) I do not need to do that anymore because God had me in His hands and was taking care of me all along…I know that now.
• He took care of us by leading us to a good place (Omaha, NE) when I was fourteen years old. Imagine 2 women, 7 kids, 1 dog w/7puppies and everything we could fit into black garbage bags piled into and on top of a Ford Fairmont station wagon. This was an adventure that I will detail in a book someday…it’s a very long story.
• He took care of us by allowing us to meet the Byrds who opened their home to us before even meeting us. We later “adopted” them as grandparents.
• He took care of us by allowing us to get to know other genuinely loving families who supported us in many ways and taught us so much.
• He took care of us by allowing us to go to church camps for the first time. For us kids it was an adventure, but now I can see they were helping my mom by giving her a break.
• He took care of me by allowing me to meet my future husband at VBS the summer before 10th grade.
--I had never intended to get married but IF I did (I told God) that “these” are the qualities I’d want---and finding nearly every one in this young man (who, by the way, had also determined never to marry). : ) (Robert says Shania Twain's song " I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" reminds him of our early days)
• He continues to take care of my family by putting us in places we would never have chosen but in those places He has blessed us beyond what we could have ever imagined. San Angelo, TX, Wichita, KS, and Grand Forks AFB, ND—these are just three of the eleven bases we have been assigned to so far, but they have yielded the most memorable life lessons and also some of the deepest friendships. : )
--God’s provision and care led us to great friends in the most unlikely places. : ) Through these friends I am being taught character traits I hadn’t previously learned.
Amy—hospitality & service to others
I had been raised to view “fancy” things or occasions as something people do when they want to “put on airs” for others. She and Elizabeth have taught me (without even realizing it) that there are those who make occasions "fancy" because they want people to feel special and worthy of being “fussed over.”
Elizabeth—relationship skills & love for children
I was raised in a family/culture where children are just there, rarely ever interacted with. There were only a select few adults in my life who ever truly took the time to listen to children. It has been very intriguing for me to watch Elizabeth deal with children as she helps them learn conflict resolution. She has an awesome gift of seeing life from a child’s perspective.
Anna(pronounced Anya)—faithfulness & making marriage a higher priority
Obviously, this was not something I had learned in my childhood years. It has been great seeing her willingness to serve others by watching their children so these couples can have time together alone to maintain their marriage relationship.
Belinda—no one is perfect, we all need grace
“We all make mistakes.” She has a deep compassion for others and rarely have I ever heard her say anything bad about another person.
Michelle V.--the importance of taking care of our physical bodies Her devotion to good health and regular exercise is inspiring to me. I am still struggling in this area of my life but am determined that I will have victory. She encourages me often and prays for me daily.
--I know I have not covered every friend who has taught me valuable lessons here but that would take all day. : )
I am learning parenting skills that I had never really witnessed (or if I did, I didn’t “catch” the lesson). Among them all are three main concepts that are essential to raising emotionally healthy children.
• The first is problem solving. This is an extremely important tool to have because every relationship will eventually have a conflict and we need to know how to deal with those situations in a healthy way.
• The second is unconditional love. I know many of the adults in my life loved me but I was always afraid of doing something that would make that love go away. When I messed up it was easy to misinterpret their anger with me for hatred. I was well into adulthood before I ever figured out that someone could be angry with me and still love me.
• The third is positive praise. I cannot stress enough the power of positive praise and love in a child’s life. I had very few experiences with someone actually praising me for something I did correctly. One family in particular comes to my mind when I think of these experiences. Romie Comer use to always tell me how he “wished he had a bus full of Shirleys.” I guess because I was so quiet and didn’t cause trouble on the bus. : ) Some of the other kids were pretty rowdy at times. As an adult, I can now see what a labor of love it was to drive this bus around week after week, picking up kids from all over Charleston and taking them to Sunday School. His wife was always so nice to me and I thought she was one of the prettiest women I had ever seen. When I met two of their children, and experienced genuine caring and acceptance from them, I knew this family was different and I wanted to know this God that they served.
My hope is in the Lord. In learning more and more about His character through various Bible studies, I feel more secure in this hope. Because of what I know about who He is, I know that I can trust Him with my life. I know His character is unchanging and that He loves me more than anyone else does even though He sees the ugliest parts of me. He is my Abba Father, my daddy, my protector.
• Yielding to Him always brings good but sometimes it even brings about miracles.
1. I was amazed at how God worked a miracle in my friend Elizabeth’s life when the life of her baby was in jeopardy. We prayed and pleaded for that baby to be able to stay in her womb for just one week longer so it wouldn’t need to be taken to Fargo for the special equipment a baby that premature would need. He blessed her willingness to yield to His will (whatever it may be) with complete healing, something that we hadn’t even thought to pray for!
2. After the painful memory that surfaced in November, I knew I couldn’t face seeing my dad in person. I wasn’t ready. We had been planning a trip back east to visit my family for Thanksgiving. The Lord worked things out in such a way that I didn’t have to have a face to face confrontation with him.
3. There was a time when I was at the end of my rope and felt the only solution was to divorce my husband. I had all kinds of reasons to justify it. When I brought them to the Lord, however, He stopped me dead in my tracks. “Shirley, what do you tell your boys about who is responsible for who?” “But he did this…but he did that…but…but…” I knew I had no leg to stand on. We always tell the boys not to worry about what anyone else is doing but to pay attention to their own behavior. (“William, who is responsible for William?” “Don’t worry about what Joshua is doing, that’s our job.”) I knew I had things that I wasn’t doing right either. God was telling me that it wasn’t my job to judge my husband. He would take care of it if I would yield to Him. When I finally handed over control to the Lord, He brought about a change in both of us that has put such spark back into our relationship. It’s like the honeymoon stage, only better because we are a bit less naïve about life. : )
4. With God’s help, I am learning to change my lifestyle. I am letting go of food as my comfort, letting go of my “escape” methods--computer, books, “projects”. These things still occupy some of my time but it’s not the same as it was. I am using them as tools or recreation, not using them to escape my family. I didn’t want to escape my family because I didn’t love them, I just didn’t know how to handle the relationships that were sometimes so demanding or situations that I had no “training” in how to handle. We are training our children to handle life and relationships. It’s an important job but sometimes so overwhelming. With the Lord’s help, I am gradually learning how to deal with life in a way that is healthy for me and for those around me. I have fallen many times in this area but He is ever faithful to pick me up and put me back on track. I look forward to the day when I am completely free of my "vices."
• You can trust Him with your future.
-- Sadly enough, I know I am not alone in some of these experiences, nor are mine as bad as some other stories I have heard. If you have had similar pain in your past, I want you to know, more than anything else, that there is hope. Jesus Christ knows who you are. He knows your heart, your pain, and He also knows your future. He knows the deepest secrets you carry and He loves you regardless of anything you think someone else would reject you for if they knew. Trust him to walk through the pain with you to get to the place of healing. He will walk with you through the darkest places where no one else will go. He is the only One who will never fail you. Call on him. He is waiting for you. It’s not just about your eternal life. God wants to bless you on this earth. He is a perfect gentleman. He will not force himself on you. He will wait for you to invite Him into your life. When you do, when you yield to His lead, you will see amazing things happen in your heart, in your life, and in the lives of others around you when they notice the change in you.