A Thread of Grace

I want to chicken out. I’m berating myself for telling anyone that I was writing a memoir for NaNoWriMo this year because now I can’t chicken out. That’s why I told people, because I knew that my stubborn streak would kick in no matter how badly I wanted to bail if other folks knew my goal.

I’ve read and heard the suggestion in more than one place. Write out the story of the abuse to help you deal with it and heal the old hurts. Writing is how I process. But writing makes it real. If I don’t write it down, maybe I can pack it away into boxes and pretend that since it was in the past it doesn’t have anything to do with my present. The only thing that strategy has gotten me is a pile of health problems and a heart in turmoil over things that I never faced head on. Life throws enough at us without dragging around a bunch of junk from the past because you never bother to sort through it and let the stuff that you don’t need anymore go.

The times when I’ve written little bits and pieces of my story have done more than just allowed me to face the things I’d rather not. In the writing, I start to see the lesson, the miracles, and somewhere along the way, that piece of my past doesn’t seem to hurt me quite as badly as it used to. Some days I wish I was an artist or a musician who could translate all of it into a painting or music. I feel like those mediums can express deep feelings better than mere words. Words are my medium though, and so I pick up the pen or sit at the keyboard. I think it was Steve Saint who said, “God doesn’t waste hurts.” I hope that’s true. Humans are always searching for the meaning in life, and if there’s some meaning, some purpose to the hurts, then maybe it’s easier to make peace with them. I’ve seen God bring beautiful things out of terrible circumstances. There’s something about knowing that a struggle is not in vain that gives us strength and hope. I find myself in need of both at the moment.

And so I’ll write.

I’ll write a story that I desperately wish was fiction. A story not meant to be read by others or published anywhere. Somewhere in that story, I’ll find a thread of grace that runs through the whole tapestry – the handiwork of God in my life. Maybe there’s a reason after all.

I know that I’m not the only one walking around with a bunch of junk from the past. I couldn’t avoid it forever, and neither can you. But if I can decide to deal with it, then so can you. (Really, I’m the biggest chicken in the world, and if I can be brave enough to do this, then you definitely can!) Whatever medium lets you express and process all of the overwhelming feelings you have about what happened, use it. Find that thread of grace in it all, and you’ll find God’s fingerprints all over your life, even in the hard places.

Never Unwanted

A few nights ago, I was settled on the couch knitting and watching some of the videos from the American History course that Munchkin will be taking in high school this year. In one of the first video lectures, the teacher said something that stuck with me. He said that God didn’t create us because He needs us, but simply because He wanted to. I paused the video, walked into the kitchen, unloaded the dishwasher, and pondered this.

I’ve spent the better part of my lifetime trying to make up for not being wanted by making sure that I was needed. That burden of not being wanted always colored how I thought God viewed me too. It’s an awful thing for a child to feel like they have to justify their existence, and when you carry that into your faith, you wind up with a works-based view of salvation. Sure, it’s by Jesus’ sacrifice that your sins can be forgiven, but you still have to prove that you can be good enough to warrant that redemption. You never can. I know this now, and I know that my salvation is not contingent upon me “earning” it.

And yet… there’s still that spot in the back of my mind that can’t quite shake the label “unwanted”.

I put plates in my cupboard and hung mugs on cup hooks. I wondered if there was something to what that history teacher said. Dare I hope that God created me simply because He wanted to? Wanted me?

It’s hard to put into words the deep sense of shame attached to being unwanted by a parent. There’s something about that label that just sticks to you like crazy glue, no matter how much you try to scrub it away. Always thinking that maybe, if you can scrub hard enough, be good enough, and prove that you’re worth loving, then you will be wanted. It doesn’t matter how much you try, how hard you work, or how long you wait, it’s just not enough. You’re not enough. Even if you can get past that a bit and understand that you can’t possibly earn your redemption, there’s still that label, stuck to you, convincing you that God only tolerates you. He couldn’t truly want you. If your earthly father didn’t, then why would your Heavenly Father? The lie that comes with that label is a powerful one. Perhaps it can be countered with a more powerful truth:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27 ESV

The fingerprint of the Divine on each of us, even me. Not a mistake needing to be fixed, but rather an image-bearer of the Creator. Not lesser, and certainly not unwanted. Redeemed and refined because I am already valued.

Despite the scars left by labels and lies, the truth soothes old wounds. I was never truly unwanted after all…

From Hidden to Healing

My past is a mixed-bag of good and bad memories. Sort of an odd patchwork quilt of a childhood. I had some wonderful, truly remarkable people in my life. And while no one is completely bad, there were still people who did damage. There are reasons why I don’t trust easily, and why I still can’t believe I’m worth a second glance. There are points in my life that haunt me to this day. Painful moments that I relive more often than I care to. How can something from decades ago still steal the breath right out of your lungs, make your heart race, and twist your stomach in knots? It sounds crazy, and some days I feel crazy.

I feel guilty too. So many people have been through so much worse than I can even imagine. And I wonder, “What right have I to be broken by things that are far less than what others have survived?” Maybe comparing our pain to others is just a way to avoid dealing with it. Healing doesn’t take place when you’re too busy deciding who’s wounds are deep enough to warrant care. Even the smallest scratch can become infected if it’s left untended.

Some of the old wounds have lost most of the sting. Scars may still ache from time to time, but scars are wounds that have healed. It’s the ones that never healed that cause the most problems. The ones that I ignored, glossed over, and pretended that they hadn’t caused any real harm. When I could ignore them no longer, I discovered something else hiding under the surface: bitterness. That surprised me at first. I knew that there were still things that hurt, and I knew that I was angry about some of them, but I didn’t know that bitterness had infected those wounds. The Lord and I have had a number of conversations on this topic lately. I can’t excise the bitterness rooted in my heart on my own. Truthfully? I don’t exactly want to let go of it. That’s the hardest thing to admit, because none of us like to come face to face with the darkness lurking in our own soul. As much as I’d like to hang onto that bitterness though, that’s not what I’ve been called to.

“Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many.” Hebrews 12:15 HCSB

And so I pray.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive me for letting this sin take root. Cleanse my heart of this bitterness, so that I may be healed.

Infected wounds can’t heal, and those haunting, painful memories can’t begin to lose their sting until the bitterness is gone too. It’s a work in progress. One that will take a lot of praying, a lot of hard journaling, and a lot of scripture. By the grace of God, and through the blood of Jesus, the sin I harbor in my heart may be forgiven. And yet, the grace of God is so great, that His grace doesn’t allow me to remain lost in my sin. Rather, God in His grace will change my heart, renew it, and free me from carrying that sin around. There is so much hope in that realization. By grace, there is hope for all of us, even me.

“Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.” Hebrews 12:12-13 HCSB

#wedonotgiveup

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” – Steve Jobs

2017 threw a few bricks at my head. Some days, it felt like more than just a few. The craziest thing is that from all outward appearances, it was a great year. A lot of wonderful things happened, but the bricks that got chucked at me were the “our battle is not against flesh and blood” sort. (Ephesians 6:12 HCSB) Only that kind of battle can devastate when everything else in life is better than ever. Honestly, it’s the hardest kind of battle to fight, and often the loneliest.

When things from the past that you’ve tried to forget come rushing back in, the panic attacks return. When the fear, humiliation, and helplessness from the memories takes your breath away, the anxiety shows back up with it. When you question your sanity and your salvation because good Christians aren’t supposed to feel like this, the depression creeps back in with a vengeance that you haven’t seen in years. When it got that bad, there were days when only two things pulled me out of bed and kept me going:

  • My kids still need their mom.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16 HSCB “Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.”

We do not give up.

Words lifted right out of scripture became my mantra, my saving grace. When I couldn’t even string together a prayer because the darkness was so deep, I would whisper, “We do not give up.” Somewhere along the way, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief,” was added to my whispered prayers. (Mark 9:24 KJV) It didn’t matter how many nice-sounding Christian platitudes I repeated, the only thing that helped even a little was praying the scriptures. It wasn’t instant, and I’m still not completely out of the dark yet, but bit by bit, those prayed verses were enough. The grace of God, poured out through His Word.

I don’t have easy answers. There’s no magic pill to fix everything broken in us. I wish there were, desperately so. And yet, there’s grace. There’s the kind of grace that takes five words, “We do not give up,” and puts power behind them. The power behind them isn’t in me though, I don’t have that kind of strength, but God does. Those five words are from His Word, and they serve the dual purpose of reminding me not to give up and of becoming a plea for the strength not to give up. When I had nothing in me to rely on, “grace abounded much more”. (Romans 5:20 Geneva Bible)

I started 2017 with lofty goals. Then life threw bricks at my head. Turns out that I needed to dodge a few bricks, and get whacked with a couple of them in order to be ready for my 2018 goals. Those bricks, and the grace that was poured out on me because of them, put things in perspective. My prayers this year were lifted out of scripture, and so are the three words that I want to sum up 2018:

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Faith. Hope. Love.

I’ll blog more about that later, so stay tuned!

I know that the holidays can sometimes be really, really hard. If it gets so hard, that you can’t even figure out how to pray, then please look to the scriptures. Sometimes, praying God’s Word is exactly the kind of prayer that you need.

#wedonotgiveup

Hard Goodbyes

“Time heals all wounds.”

Who hasn’t heard that one a time or two? I get the sentiment behind it, but it’s clumsily put, implying that a healed wound is like the injury had never happened at all. Perhaps it would be better to say, “Time helps you get used to the scars from your wounds.” Admittedly, that’s much less pity and a bit too long for a fortune cookie! I think it’s more accurate, and so I’ll stick with the latter sentiment myself.

The thing about deep wounds, is that they leave scars when they heal. Scars are funny things. Move just right and you’ll feel the pull on the scarred tissue that just won’t stretch quite as well as the undamaged area. Scars themselves tend to be quite sensitive, and while that lessens over the course of time, there may be days, years later, when even the feel of clothing against the scar irritates and inflames it. Changes in seasons and weather patterns can make old scars act up again, reminding us of how deep those long “healed” wounds once went, and the damage that was done.

Time has allowed me to become used to the fact that my mom is no longer here. Most days, I can talk about her, remember the good memories and be fine. Then there are days like today, nearly nine years later, when all I can think is, “I want my mom.” I want to sit down at her dining room table with a mug of the tea she kept in the cupboard for me because it was my favorite. I want to hear her laugh again. I want her to tell me that everything is going to be OK. I just want to hear her tell me, “I love you, kiddo,” one more time. I know that it’s not possible, and most days that’s alright. Today though… today it really doesn’t feel alright.

Part of me says that I’m being foolish. After all, it’s been almost nine years! Surely that’s more than enough time for me to “get over it”. I’ve had elderly women tell me with tears in their eyes that they still miss their moms dearly, and that no amount of time will change that. I suppose that it is a little bit encouraging that I’m not the only one still missing my mom after several years have passed. At this point though, you sort of feel like you need to push all of those feeling aside and get on with your day. In the period immediately following Mom’s death, no one would have thought twice if I’d cried and said, “I’m just missing her a lot right now.” Nine years later? It’s a different story. I have work to do. I have kids to take care of. I have a house and dog to tend to. Taking time to let the tears fall seems like a silly luxury that I can’t afford today.

Sharing the struggle with someone is problematic because you don’t know how they will react to your admission that it still hurts and you still dearly miss your loved one. There are some people who would understand, typically the ones who’ve also suffered a deep loss. A number of people would be confused about what the problem was because they haven’t been through that kind of loss yet, but they are sympathetic and kind at least. Some people roll their eyes and mentally label you a “drama queen”. There are even a few people who would take it upon themselves to be “helpful” and impatiently tell you to get over it like everyone else has, or worse, like they have, implying that they are better and stronger than you are.

I think that maybe Winnie the Pooh was onto something when he said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” How much we miss someone is tied closely to how much love and closeness there was in the relationship. The fact that I can still have a day, years later, when I miss Mom this much, means that there was a lot of good there. I had something that makes saying goodbye really hard. Maybe the fact that it’s still hard from time to time, isn’t something to be ashamed of, but rather something to be thankful for. Maybe it’s not just OK that I still struggle with grieving the loss, maybe it’s actually a good thing. We don’t grieve all losses this deeply, just the loss of people who impacted us deeply for the better. The kind of people who made us who we are, and loved us through everything. The kind of people like Mom.

Whether you lost that person recently, and the grief is still fresh, or whether it’s been years and this is just one of the days when that scar is particularly sensitive, it’s OK to still miss them. You don’t have to get to the point where you don’t miss them at all, and neither would you want to. It feels very lonely sometimes, the hard goodbyes, but we need not walk through it alone. Isaiah 41:13 is my reminder that I am not alone, “For I, Yahweh your God, hold your right hand and say to you: Do not fear, I will help you.” In the middle of struggling to hold back the tears, God is beside me, holding my hand and reminding me that He will help me. That’s the most comforting thought of all.

Hope in the Middle of the Mess…

Some weeks…

Some weeks are not for the faint of heart. Juggling work, four kiddos sick with a stomach bug, end of year homeschool reports, and trying to get something productive done around the house will challenge the sanity of most parents. The problem is, I’m one of the faint hearted. I don’t have my own life figured out, not by a long shot. I definitely haven’t gotten this motherhood gig as well in hand as I’d like to pretend that I do.

And then there are the facebook posts, the articles shared… The ones that firmly declare that “messy” and “authentic” are cop-outs. That anyone admitting to how much they don’t have a pinterest-perfect life is just making excuses for laziness and sin. They can be excuses, I’ll freely admit it. Human beings will do some crazy mental gymnastics in an attempt justify anything they like! Maybe Christians weren’t called to chaos, but there are days when it seems that God has dropped me into some pretty chaotic circumstances. I’d love to say that I handle it all with grace, that I perfectly balance everything on my plate Proverbs 31 style. The truth is, I’m still a work in progress, and sometimes I just need to know that I’m not the only one out there who isn’t doing this perfectly.

That being said, simply being transparent and sharing our struggles and failures isn’t enough. Sure, it helps to know that I’m not alone in this imperfect life of mine, but what I really need is some hope. I need the second half of the story.

The blunt truth is that I can’t do this in my own strength. I’ll never be the perfect woman, wife, mom, or anything else. Not this side of Heaven anyway. I need someone to remind me of the verse on the sticky note that I have stuck to my monitor:

“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16 HCSB

When I was cleaning what felt like an endless stream of sick buckets, brewing another cup of coffee, and trying to get a little work done in the brief moments when sick kids slept, I kept repeating to myself: We do not give up. Maybe sometimes running the race just means rubbing a sick kid’s back and handing out ice pops. Maybe the best prayer you can come up with in the middle of it is just, “Lord, please give me Your strength, because I’m all out.”

We need to know that we’re not the only ones, but we also need to know that God can and will give us the grace and strength that we don’t have on our own. He’s not done with me, and he’s not done with you either. We need to be authentic without using that as an excuse for staying where we are. We’re being transformed by the renewing of our minds, and it’s not us that’s doing the transforming and renewing, it’s God at work in us. God taking our sin, mess, and brokenness, and redeeming it through the blood of Jesus. God loves us in the middle of our mess, but He also loves us too much to leave us there in the mess. (“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12:2 HSCB)

When you don’t have the strength, wisdom, or grace, (and none of us do!) remember that we rely on the strength, wisdom, and grace of God. God started the work of redemption in you when you trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus to cover the guilt of your sin. Someday that work will be finished, but until then, don’t give up. Keep running the race, and keep your eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

“I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6 HCSB

2017 – My Year to Live

2016 was my year of “Story”. A year ago, I had no idea exactly what that would look like! Turns out that I wrote about some pretty hard things, and I wrote about grace. In November, I wrote the first draft of a novel. This is the year that I really started telling some of my stories. The ones that are hard to tell sometimes. Behind all of the writing, there was a lot of pondering, soul-searching, letting go, and healing. It’s been a process, and though it’s not completely over yet, I feel like I can breathe. I spent so many years with this horrible weight on me that literally made me feel like I couldn’t take a deep breath. It’s only the grace of God that has lifted that burden. I’ve spent three decades just reacting to whatever life threw at me. That brings me to my word for 2017:

I want to spend 2017 learning how to live. I don’t want to just react to life anymore – I want to live it.

What does that mean practically?

Foremost, I have some specific goals about spending time together as a family with Aaron and the kids. I also have plans to start a Morning Time routine with the kids. I want to start off our days together by reading, learning, and having meaningful conversations together. Time slips away awfully fast when you’re raising kids, and I want to be very purposeful about redeeming some of that time!

I have a number of big writing goals for 2017 too! Remember that novel draft I wrote for NaNoWriMo? I’m going to edit, re-write, and publish it. It’s a pretty ambitious goal, but I’m actually looking forward to the challenge. I’ve also got goals for writing another novel and a non-fiction book. I’ll need more paper and fountain pen ink…

NaNoWriMo showed me that when I have a set goal and I’m tracking my progress, I tend to get more done. That’s what prompted me to try out Lara Casey’s Powersheets Workbook this year. That’s where I’m setting my goals, breaking them down, and tracking progress. My Well Planned Gal planners will keep the day-to-day planning and to-do list sorted out for me.

I spent so many years being scared. I never really stepped out in faith and lived life. By God’s grace, I’m ready to live the life He’s given me. I’m not scared of taking that leap anymore, and I can’t tell you what an amazing gift that is…

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” – John 10:9-10

Book Review: Parenting

Note: Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

 

Book Cover of Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your FamilyI’m only half-joking when I claim that I was a better parent before I had kids. For a long time, I was convinced that finding the right method would give me a guaranteed result. Oh if only that were true! I still read plenty of parenting material though, and the title of Paul Tripp’s book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, caught my eye.

Reading Parenting sort of confirmed that which I’ve finally started to understand: I have very little control over the kind of people my kids grow up to be. That seems pretty disheartening on the surface, and I’ll admit that it discouraged me at first too. The more I think about it, and after reading this book, I’m convinced that it’s actually a freeing and hopeful thing. It is a very good thing that the people my kids grow up to be is not completely dependent on me. I still haven’t gotten the whole life, faith, and relationships thing figured out!

Parenting is, as you might expect, broken down into 14 chapters addressing one principle per chapter. The chapters aren’t terribly long, so it’s a pretty easy read in the respect. However, this is the kind of book that you’ll need time to mull over each chapter read. I read through it quickly for review purposes, but I’m already planning to go back and read just one chapter at a time and let it really sink in before moving on to the next. The chapters are titled:

  1. Calling
  2. Grace
  3. Law
  4. Inability
  5. Identity
  6. Process
  7. Lost
  8. Authority
  9. Foolishness
  10. Character
  11. False Gods
  12. Control
  13. Rest
  14. Mercy

Whew! Those are heady topics to cover in just one book, but Parenting does it well. Honestly, what I liked the best about the book, was that it made me uncomfortable. It forced me to take a look at myself and my own sin, my own need for grace, my own failures, and my own lack of character. Ouch. Now I can see why it’s a good thing that the kind of adults my kids become is not solely based on how good of a parent I am. This isn’t a book about how to make my kids behave, but more about how both of us can grow, mature, and draw closer to God.

I don’t typically underline or highlight a book as I’m reading it, but I was tempted to more than once when going through this one! Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the chapter on Grace…

“My children don’t cause me to do and say what I do and say. No, the cause of my actions is found inside my own heart. My children are simply the occasion where my heart reveals itself in words and actions. So I need much more than just rescue and relief from my children; I need rescue from me. This is why Jesus came, to provide us with the rescue that we all need but that we cannot provide for ourselves.”

That quote should give you a taste of how appropriate the “Gospel Principles” part of the title is! This is not a formula for perfect parenting, and let’s be honest, perfect parents don’t exist. It’s a very hopeful book though. In the midst of conviction, there is encouragement too. This would be a great gift for new parents, but I’d highly recommend it to any parents, no matter what age their kids are! This principles will apply to any age range from toddlers on up.

Now, who wants to win a copy? Just leave me a comment and on Sunday, October 30th, I’ll draw a winner!

Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

An Introduction…

I used to think it meant constant bruises, possibly a few scars, or maybe even a broken bone. I thought abuse meant that someone was constantly beating you up. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would stay with someone who was only ever mean to them. I didn’t understand that abuse can take other forms, and that abusive people can be just as kind and generous as anyone else. I couldn’t grasp the significance of a phrase Mom quoted from time to time, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Subtle warning and even a glimpse of my life today were both wrapped up in that short phrase.

“I don’t have to come home. There are other places that I could go.”

I was in elementary school when those words were yelled at me. As a parent, I can appreciate that sometimes the noise that comes with kids can get on your nerves, especially at the end of a long day. But also as a parent, I can’t quite imagine saying that to my own kids, tired and frustrated or not. As a child, I took those words to heart. I was convinced that if I didn’t behave well enough Dad might leave, and that it would be my fault. I had to be good enough.

When I told my husband that the most humiliating and hurtful things ever said to me were all said by my dad, I think it surprised him. He knew more than most what I’d been through, but it’s still a pretty shocking thing for someone to verbalize.

Like everything, there’s a flip side though. The same guy who once told me that he’d never wanted kids and that he was disappointed that I’d been born a girl, is the same guy who found a beautiful telescope in a second hand shop, restored the wooden box it came in, built a tripod for the telescope, and presented it to me one Christmas. I’d always wanted a telescope, and it was through that one that we watched comet Hale-Bopp in the night sky. The guy who told me that I wasn’t really smart because I lacked common sense, is the same one who watched Star Trek and Doctor Who reruns with me, and was thrilled when I was accepted to flight school. The guy who disowned me a year ago, is the same one who wrote me a thoughtful, sweet letter on the eve of my wedding. It wasn’t all bad.

It wasn’t all bad.

That’s why I couldn’t see just how not good some of the bad things were. For years, I used softer words to describe it: “We had a difficult relationship,” or “Things are a little dysfunctional.” It was only recently that I could bring myself to say, “It was an abusive relationship.” It was a relationship that drove me to bouts of depression, physical illness, and even contemplation of suicide. It was a relationship that made me scared to form close relationships with anyone, yet still desperate to find someone who could like me, flaws and all.

People always told me that I was just like my dad, probably because we have similar interests and personality traits. That thought terrified me beyond belief. I couldn’t even consider the idea of marrying someone. What if I treated someone that badly? What if I said horrible things to someone I loved dearly? Wasn’t it unavoidable if I was just like him? Worse, what if I had children? I vowed that I’d never make someone else grow up in the same environment that I did. That’s when a wise man told me something that’s stuck with me for the past 20 years:

“It can stop with you.”

Regardless of how many generations back the difficult relationships went, I was not condemned to continue that pattern. I’d never considered that possibility before. This is where Aaron and a whole lot of grace came in.

At age 19, I did what I’d sworn I never would… I got married. There but for the grace of God indeed. Many girls who grow up with the kind of relationship that I had with my dad end up in a similarly abusive relationship as an adult. I ended up married to a guy who is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I can only credit this to the hand of God. Aaron knew how much emotional baggage I came with long before I realized it. He’s spent the past 17 years carrying one end of that steamer trunk when necessary, and helping me to unpack all of the junk when I was finally ready to.

Even more astounding is the fact that Aaron and I are raising four kids these days. The girl who would absolutely never have a child of her own, has four of them watching Star Trek reruns with her. In some ways I am like my dad. I discovered that while I was my dad’s daughter, I was also my mom’s daughter too. Mom’s faith made an impression on me, and God has used her influence in my life to make me a better mother.

Does the idea that I might screw up these four precious kids worry me? More than you know! Here’s where the grace of God comes in again though… He can change my heart, my attitudes, and my default reactions. Now, I’m far from the perfect wife or mother, but apologizing and asking forgiveness can do amazing things in relationships. Admittedly, there’s nothing quite so humbling as apologizing to a 3-year-old. Thankfully, kids are quite gracious when you sincerely ask them to forgive you. I never once heard my dad apologize to anyone, let alone me. On the days when I worry that maybe I am just a little too much like him, my husband reminds me that I do apologize to the kids when necessary. He reminds me that my relationship with the kids is very different than the one I had with my dad. All of that is because of God at work in our family.

You know what amazes me the most? God has helped me grow through all of this. Sure, I have some pretty bad memories from growing up, and even from recent years. Would I change any of that now though? Once upon a time, I would have said yes without hesitation. Now, I don’t think I would change it. I wouldn’t be the person who I am today without everything that’s shaped me, good and bad. If nothing else, it has made me more conscious of the kind of relationship that I have with my own kids. I parent more carefully than I would have otherwise. Not perfectly, but that’s where God’s grace will come in for my kids. He can cover those mistakes with the blood of Jesus and make something good come out of it. Just like He has for me.

My dad has his own story. One that probably explains a lot of the things that he’s said and done over the years. I’m not saying that excuses anything, but it helps me to remember that the person who hurt me the most, is also hurting. I have no idea what the future holds with regard to my relationship with him. I know that miracles are possible, and I also know that sometimes we don’t get the miracle we’re hoping for. Right now, I’m content to let it rest in God’s hands.

It’s time to start telling my story. Not the story of a girl who overcame her past, but one of how God overcame it for her.

Starting Fresh: Breaking the Cycle of Dysfunctional Relationships

I looked back through part of my family tree and saw a pattern of dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships that stretched back generations. I was so sure that I was doomed to repeat the same pattern in my own life, that I determined I would never marry or have children of my own. I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting people I loved in the same way that I’d been hurt. It wasn’t until a pastor said these words to me as a teenager that it occurred to me I could do things differently.

“It can stop with you.”

All relationships are dysfunctional to some degree simply because all of us are imperfect sinners. Yet some are so deeply dysfunctional, even downright abusive, that the fallout from them can last a lifetime. Maybe you know that from experience. Now, you just want a fresh start, a chance to break the cycle of dysfunction. And you can.

Looking Back

When we’ve been through something awful, our first reaction is often to “stuff it”. Just box it up and don’t think about it. That’s what I did. I tried to bury everything that had happened, every hurtful word. I mistakenly believed that doing so was “moving on”. I made excuses. I told myself that it was wrong for me to feel angry. I felt guilty, scared, and ashamed. Beneath all of that, the anger still simmered away for years. Ignoring something is not the same as dealing with it.

Unpacking all of that baggage during counseling stirred up a lot of strong emotions, and it was hard to handle sometimes. Something unexpected happened though. When I admitted that I was angry about what happened to me, I was finally able to start letting go of that anger. I was able to start figuring out how to forgive. And for the first time… I felt like I could breathe.

Looking Around

When we’re kids, we assume that the relationships we see modeled in our family are the norm for everyone. As we grow up, our tendency is to pattern our own relationships after the ones we are most familiar with. When our relationships were mostly healthy, this is a good thing. When some of those relationships were dysfunctional or even abusive, it’s a different story. This does not mean that you are destined to continue the cycle of unhealthy relationships though!

I knew that I didn’t want my kids to spend their childhood tiptoeing on eggshells. I didn’t want them to hide in the corner of their bedroom because the yelling and arguing scared them. I didn’t want them to believe that all of the emotional turmoil in the house their fault. That meant that I had to learn how to communicate with my husband and kids in healthy ways, even when I was frustrated or upset. It didn’t come naturally to me, and it’s not always easy! There are times when I’m impatient with one of them or when I say something that I shouldn’t have. That’s when I have to swallow my pride and ask for their forgiveness. No excuses, no blaming them, just owning up to my own mistake. I prayed many times that God would help me do things differently, and He has!

Looking Up

The relationships we grow up with do affect how we relate to God.

Instead of picturing God as a loving Father who saw me made whole through the blood of Jesus, I imagined Him as a critical, just waiting to wash his hands of me the moment that I didn’t try hard enough. I felt like I had to be good enough if I wanted God to actually love me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. God does love me, imperfections and all, and he loves you too! He doesn’t expect us to measure up, because we can’t. Yet we were so precious to Him, that he sacrificed His Son in order to save us. To save you.

I’m still very much a work in progress, but God isn’t finished with me. He’s not finished with you either. Our past is only part of the story. He has so much more in store for both us!

“’For I know the plans I have for you’–this is the LORD’s declaration—‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 HCSB

Author’s Note: Dealing with issues like this can be painful and traumatic. Seeking help from a reputable Christian counselor may be necessary. If you or your doctor feel that this would benefit you, please don’t hesitate to seek the help that you need.