Tag Archives: abuse

Mamas and their daughters – hope for healing

I recently had lunch with a good friend to talk about planning a women’s retreat. As we discussed ideas for the teaching sessions, we ended up on the topic of mamas and daughters, and how there seems to be a large majority of women carrying around hurt, anger, unforgiveness, and/or resentment when it comes to this special but complex relationship. It’s a topic very near and dear to my heart — as both a daughter and a mother of two girls.

I’ve seen firsthand generations of women struggle to find peace and healing in their relationship with their mama. I don’t know what it is about the mother/daughter relationship that makes it a breeding ground for so much hurt. Perhaps it is because of the raw, primal dependence we have on our mothers from birth that makes us expect so much. We expect them to always be there without fail, to always say the right things, lead by example, and pick us up and brush us off when we are hurting. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a person, really, and when mamas mess up — as we surely will because we are, after all, just flawed human beings like everyone else — we come tumbling off our golden mother-of-the-year pedestals. The super-mom image crashes into a million pieces and we daughters, we don’t seem to know how to reconcile that.

I am very blessed to have three women in my life who have loved and mothered me at one point or another. Each of these women is incredibly dear to me, yet I have experienced some degree of conflict in all three of these relationships over the years. But it is my relationship with my first mom, the mom who gave birth to me at the tender age of 23, that has been through the most difficult of times. Our story is one rooted in hurt, anger, pride, and estrangement. But it has blossomed into a story of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope. It is a testament that healing and redemption can be found through the grace of God. I don’t divulge my past lightly or without concern for the others who played a part. But, with my mom’s blessing, I share with all of you this piece of our story because it’s important to understand the place of hurt that we came from to truly appreciate the place of healing we have found.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog, you know that when I was young I went through a horrible ordeal. Not knowing how to handle the shocking news and reality that was facing her, my mom chose to believe it was all a misunderstanding. After “the incident” I moved out of my mom and stepfather’s house and had a painful and estranged relationship with my mom. I was still just a girl, only 13, and I struggled internally between just wanting to have my mom in my life, and feeling deeply wounded over her choices. I tried many times to come to terms with what had happened and to forgive her, but the pain and rejection never went away, and eventually it turned to anger and resentment.

When I was a young college student my mom divorced her second husband and that seemed to open the door to a better, easier relationship. But it was really a superficial relationship because no matter what I tried to tell myself, or her, I still had not forgiven her; the wounds were still there, just under the surface. This was not the foundation of a healthy relationship because every time there was a conflict or a disagreement it was easy for me to go right back to that place of resentment; to pull up a mental record of all the ways I had felt hurt, shortchanged, or abandoned and relive that pain all over again. And so, our relationship continued to be strained.

After having my first child, my mother disagreed with some of the parenting choices my husband and I were making. At that moment I really considered just walking away. It would be easier, I reasoned. No more conflict, no more hurt, no more disappointment. Why was I trying so hard anyway? And then I looked down into the face of my little daughter and realized she was why. She deserved a relationship with her Nana. She deserved to have a mother who believed in forgiveness and healing, and who lived out those things; a mother who loved by example. Because one day she might be the daughter on the verge of throwing in the towel and giving up on me!

It took several years of counseling and prayer before I was able to truly put the past to rest. I was in my early 30’s and for the first time in my life I felt truly free of my past. I got rid of the mental record of wrongs. I saw my mom for who she was: a flawed, hurting sinner, just like me. Yes, she had made mistakes, and would likely pay the rest of her life for those, but I realized that she had been scared and overwhelmed and unprepared for the decision that faced her and so she did what she thought was best. Ephesians 4:31-32 In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us “You must not hold on to any bitter hurts, rage or anger. You must not fight each other or say bad things about each other. You must not think or act because of spite. You should be friends and you should be kind to each other. You must forgive each other, just as God forgave you. God forgave you because of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

In the 12 short years I’ve been a parent I have made many mistakes. I have been scared, overwhelmed, and unprepared for decisions that faced me. I have tried to seek guidance from the Lord, but I know I often jump to conclusions or act in haste. I have been guilty of doing the same in my marriage, friendships and other family relationships.

I am human.

I am a work in progress.

Thankfully I have a Father in heaven who forgives me every time;  who does not hold grudges or a record of wrongs; who sent His very own, beloved child to die so that my poor choices and decisions would be wiped away and I would not be separated from His love. If He can do that for us, should we not also try and do the same for our friends, siblings, spouses, grandparents, fathers, and our mothers? Forgiveness is not something we earn because we are worthy, for human nature makes us unapologetic and arrogant. Forgiveness is a gift that comes free of appraisal or condition.

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About three years after I finally let go of my hurt and anger and truly forgave my mom, she said the words I had been waiting almost 25 years to hear: “I believe you. I’m sorry.” I am convinced God was working on both of our hearts for years leading up to this. After I finally let go of the past and started anew with my mom, she was able to do the same.

Today my mom and I are closer than ever. I lean on her for support and guidance. I value her opinion and I trust that she loves me beyond all measure. Our relationship is not perfect, we do things that frustrate each other and disappoint each other. But I can’t imagine my life without her in it. Forgiveness Fellow daughters, I don’t know what past hurts you are carrying around. I don’t know if your relationship with your mama can be restored, because it takes two people to heal a broken relationship. But I do know that with God’s help you can forgive. You can finally, once and for all, let go of whatever you are carrying around and be free of that burden. You can find healing. And I encourage you to start now, before any more time is lost.

Can I share a prayer with you?

Heavenly Father, the relationship between mamas and daughters is an incredibly special and fragile gift. From the moment we are born there is a bond forged in iron. Yet the very things that make our bond strong can also be our undoing. Father, I know there are so many women who are hurting right now — seeking out forgiveness, repentance, healing and hope. I pray that we daughters can soften our hearts and turn our sights to you so that we may see our mamas through your eyes. I pray that every daughter who is hurting will seek out the help she needs to heal and come to know the freedom of forgiveness. I pray that us mamas, we will lean on you for strength and guidance when we are taken by surprise at how incredibly difficult this mothering job is. May we be patient with our children and gentle with ourselves. And may we show mercy on our own mothers, remembering they once stood in our shoes and, just like us, they did the best they knew how. Amen.


#livefreeThursdayForgiveness is freedom! And I’m honored to be linking up today with Suzie Eller and friends for #livefreeThursday. Hop over to Suzie’s blog to read more encouraging stories of hope and freedom from women who are joining together to live freely in Christ.

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Speak your truth

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

Today I read this blog post by a woman named Laura. It’s her story about finally coming forward and reporting the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her grandfather. I cried as I read Laura’s story. I cried as she described wanting to dance on her grandfather’s grave. I cried the moment she and her cousin decided to report the abuse to the police. I cried when they called her sister from the police station and had her give her statement. Mostly I cried at the freedom and validation she felt by having her truth told and acknowledged publicly. Because I know how freeing and healing it is to be able to tell your truth. To no longer hide it, keeping it tucked away deep inside like it never happened.

When I was molested by my step-father at 13 there was no police report filed. There was no public announcement made. I never even got to confront him. I was removed from the situation and taken to live where I was safe (and I’m thankful for that). But I was told that reporting it could ruin his life and his career. I was told that I was confused, that I had misunderstood what had happened. I was told I needed to talk to a counselor – a stranger who sat behind a large desk. There was a lot of whispering behind closed doors. There were awkward hugs and “how are you doing?” from family members. I wasn’t sure who knew and who didn’t. If they did know, most of them never said anything to me, and I was afraid to bring it up.

While no one ever said the topic was taboo, I felt it deep in my heart. I felt like it was too big, too real for anyone to handle. I felt like the only person I was supposed to talk to about it was my counselor, who was the very last person I wanted to open up to. So I pushed down my truth and hid it in a dark corner, under a heavy rock in the pit of my stomach.

There it stayed, only shared with two or three friends for the next 8 years, until I was 21. Out of nowhere the truth came bubbling to the surface and exploded from the years of pressure and subconscious effort it had taken to keep it hidden. I fell into a deep depression for a year and almost didn’t graduate college. But, the good news was that explosion forced me to seek help. It forced me to get the counseling I needed but hadn’t wanted at 13. It forced me to start telling my story.

Over the years, through lots of counseling and prayer, and amazing support from my husband, I learned how to own my truth. I was able to start sharing with other people what had happened to me. The first few times I told my story my hands trembled, my heart raced and I sobbed, barely able to get the words out. Then, with each telling it got easier. With each telling I healed a little bit more; I took another step towards freedom and forgiveness. I began to own my past, not be afraid of it.

With each telling I was met by women who confided they, too, had been molested or sexually assaulted. Each and every single time. And I would hear God say, “There are more. Keep telling your story because there are more.”

Last year I told my story in the most public forum to-date, this blog. To date over 400 people have read that post and because of it I’ve been approached by women who have been molested, or had a sister, a daughter, a grand-daughter who have been there. They’ve sought me out eagerly, with a sense of urgency, and whispered this in my ear or sent me private messages, still unable to tell their truth out loud, but wanting so bad to tell someone. Some women have confided they’ve never told another living soul, others said only a few very close family members knew. Yet, they were compelled to tell me because it felt safe. I was one of them. And I could see the slight unburdening of their soul as they shared with me.

My sisters (and brothers) there are so very many of us who have been hiding our truth for too long. Thinking we were the only ones. It’s time to end the silence and the fear. Whether you choose to file a report with the authorities, like Laura, to tell your best friend, or share with your Bible study group — don’t be afraid to tell your story. Don’t be afraid to own your truth and reclaim it from your abuser.

Let God be your armor and your strength. You are not alone and you are loved.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” – Ephesians 6:13-14

[Author’s note: While I believe that telling our truth is a freeing and healing step for those who have suffered sexual abuse or trauma, I also want to stress that doing so may open up a lot of old wounds, especially if you have been keeping your secret for a long time. I encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse to seek out professional counseling to help you work through your past and move toward healing.

Update, May 3, 2016: I dear friend of mine, also a victim of childhood sexual abuse, recently released a book called Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to find healing from the abuse of their past.]

God calls the broken to be his chosen

It was a bitterly cold Tuesday night when I met Jared. We were both volunteering at the temporary homeless shelter that our town sets up every year from November – March, the coldest months in the Shenandoah Valley. Our church was that week’s location for the shelter and Jared and I introduced ourselves to one another in the kitchen as he brewed pots of steaming coffee and I began to cook enough baked beans to feed a small army. I found out he attended service at our church’s downtown campus, which is why we’d never met, as I attended church at our northern campus. We, along with the other volunteers, fell into an easy rhythm of loading trays and passing plates, as you tend to do when there is work to be done. Other than saying things like “how many more plates of peach cobbler do we need?” and “have all of tomorrow’s lunches been made?” we didn’t really talk too much.

At the end of our volunteer shift Jared asked if anyone could give him a ride a home. I asked where he lived and since it was pretty much on my way I volunteered to drop him off. It was only a ten minute drive, but it’s one I’ll never forget. As we were pulling out of the church parking lot he shared with me that he was about five months clean. It was his second time getting sober after becoming addicted to prescription pain medications many years earlier following an accident and surgery. This last time he’d hit rock bottom. He hadn’t been able to see his 8 year old son for months, and he was days away from being homeless. “That’s why doing things like volunteering tonight are so important to me. Once you’ve been an addict and hit rock bottom, all of your self-worth is lost. This…well it’s kind of a way to get that back.” He was planning to go back the next night, and the next.

In that brief ten minute drive that seemed to last much longer, we talked about the goodness of God’s grace and how unfailing His love is even when we don’t deserve it. He talked about getting to see his son again, and I could tell it meant everything to him. Then he said something that I will never, ever forget. “In a way, being an addict and hitting rock bottom was the best thing that could have happened to me, because if I hadn’t lost everything, I never would have turned to God to save me.” And I knew, right in that moment, it was no accident that this guy was in my car and I was giving him a ride home and we were having this conversation.

There are so many moments in the Bible where we see that God uses the most broken people to speak the most explicit truth. Moments where He uses the most devastating circumstances to reveal ravishing beauty and unmitigated joy. And there is so much good. I think of how He chose a prostitute, filled her heart with faithfulness and made her the great-great-grandmother of a king, and part of the family tree of a Savior (Joshua 2:10-11, Matthew 1:9). Or the Roman centurion who felt he was completely unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus but had faith that caused Jesus to be “amazed” and declare it was unrivaled in all of  Israel (Luke 7:9-10). I remember how a boy stolen from his home, sold into slavery and sentenced to jail became a revered and respected adviser to a Pharaoh and saved an entire country (Genesis 37:28, 39:20, 41:39-57). And I remember Paul’s words written from a jail cell, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12,14).

Like Paul and Joseph, I know what it’s like to be in your darkest, lowest moments and have God use those moments to change lives in a way you could have never imagined. Like Rahab and the centurion, I know whats it’s like to be broken and afraid, to feel unworthy of God’s grace, but still be saved and healed and loved beyond belief. Like Jared, I know what it’s like to have the worst moment of your life become the best thing to ever happen to you. I think back to that dark time when I was a scared 13-year-old girl, violated by someone who was supposed to take care of and protect me and then, worse, accused of fabricating a horrible story and forced to keep it a secret. I felt fear and shame, unloved and unworthy, and painfully alone. But that was not the ending God had written for me. And out of that darkest moment came a shining light. I found my way to Jesus. I came to know what it meant to be in relationship with Him. And there was love. So much love. The love of a father and step-mother, the love of a pastor, the love and support of a few special friends, and the unfailing love of a Savior. Eventually there was healing, forgiveness and restored relationships. And then God did the most unexpected thing. He told me to break my silence and tell my story. He said others needed to know, needed to be comforted and loved.

God heals and redeems. He takes our brokenness, our fear, our rock-bottom moments and He wraps His arms around us, picks us up, and creates healing and love and light all around us. He did it with Rahab and Joseph, Paul and the centurion, Jared and me. He healed us and then called us to be His servants. Whether it’s serving food to men and women with nowhere else to go on a cold night, telling our story to others who are broken and hurting, preaching the Gospel to millions, or standing with Kings, God calls the broken to be His chosen.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6

*I have changed the name of the young man in this story to protect his identity.

I don’t belong here

When I was 13 years old I was molested by my then-step-father. There are really no words to adequately describe the fear I felt that night. While my short-term memory fails me every day, I can still remember that night in vivid detail. What I remember most are the thoughts going through my head “How do I get out of this? How can I get away without making him angry? I should not be here. I don’t belong here.”

Somehow, God gave me the courage and fortitude to make an excuse and get away from the situation. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones because unlike many of the 1 in 3 adolescent girls who are victims of childhood sexual assault, I was not a repeat victim.

The next morning I had to call my mom, who was away on a business trip, to tell her about what had happened. I think I knew deep-down that she wasn’t going to believe me, but knowing it didn’t make it any easier to hear.

It was not just my mom who didn’t believe me. Many immediate family members also could not accept what had happened. I felt like the family outcast. In their eyes I was confused, at best, and at worst, a liar. I felt like I didn’t belong any more.

I moved in with my dad and step-mom immediately. They worked hard to incorporate me into their lives, to make me feel at-home and loved. But the reality was that in the span of one week I had lost my identity as part of one family, one household, and was suddenly placed in a new house, new town, new state. I had left behind my sister, my friends, even my furniture. Everything was new and unfamiliar. To my 13-year-old self I felt like it was all a bad dream and I was just waiting to wake up and realize none of it had happened. I felt like I didn’t belong in this new reality, this new life.

I was enrolled in a new school a few days later, only weeks before my 8th grade year began. The school was huge and intimidating. I knew no one. I remember walking through the cafeteria on the first day, looking across the sea of unfamiliar faces, trying to figure out where I should sit. I felt the lump in my throat and willed the tears back down. I didn’t belong.

Because I had already completed one year of confirmation class, my dad and step-mom signed me up for my second year at a local Lutheran church (one they didn’t attend). I walked up the unfamiliar sidewalk to the never-before-entered red doors. Why was I here? This church was not home. I didn’t belong here.

Then I walked through the doors and a man with a white collar came up to me. “You must be Jelise.” He knew my name. He was expecting me.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” he said. “Come, let me show you the way to the classroom and introduce you to everyone.”

Isaiah 43:1

I don’t belong. Three small little words to represent such powerful emotion.

Whether you went through foster care as a child, moved to a new town where you didn’t know anyone, landed in jail, landed in divorce court, moved countries, schools, houses, or families, I would wager a guess that every single person reading this blog has felt like they didn’t belong at some point in their life. The reality is the world can often seem unfamiliar, cold and scary. We can feel abandoned, judged, or just different.

But there is One who calls us by name. Who knows us and loves us for who we are, who He created us to be. He is with us always, and when we are with Him we not only belong, we are beloved.

We are beloved

I love the book of Isaiah because it is essentially a passionate love letter from God to His people. Over and over He tells us that He is with us; He knows us and we belong to Him.

I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:9-10

But now thus says the Lordhe who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2

Just like that Pastor who called me by name all those years ago, God has already called each of us by name; He calls us every day. When we feel like we don’t belong in the earthly world, let us remember that we always belong to our Heavenly Father. We are wanted. We are loved.

That night, in that unfamiliar church, a seed was planted.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that church and Pastor, those other kids in that confirmation class, they would be a huge part in helping me heal and start to feel like I belonged somewhere. God was using them to call me by name — figuratively and literally. It was a pivotal moment in developing a life-long relationship with Christ. And through my relationship with Christ I learned to forgive. With time and counseling, I was able to heal from the events of that night. I made friends at my new school. I was loved and cared for by my dad and step-mom and they became home. And eventually my relationship with my mom was healed and made new.

There is no happily-ever-after in this world, but there can be a lot of happy-after-the-hurt. Through Christ all things are indeed possible.

[Author’s note: We’ve started a new teaching series at church called #metoo. Each week a different topic that covers a common human struggle is covered. Two weeks ago it was #I’mTired, which I blogged about. This past Sunday the topic was #IDon’tBelong, which obviously inspired this post. If you want more information about this series or Grace Community Church, go to: http://gracecommunity.com/metoogcc/}