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.

Overcoming Insecurities: What I Wish I Had Known 20 Years Ago

When I was young, there was one person in particular whom I wanted to impress. I desperately wanted to make them proud of me. I thought that if I could only be good enough, smart enough, and helpful enough that it would prove to them that I was worth loving. I based my value on the opinion of someone who couldn’t seem to see anything except what I was not. A soundtrack of every negative thing they said about me played in my mind. And I started to believe all of it…

I was convinced that I couldn’t do anything well. I was sure that no one would ever truly want to be my friend, let alone love me. Worse, this warped view colored my relationship with God. I may have said aloud that salvation was by grace alone, but deep down, I still believed that I had to be good enough to deserve it. I was one of the most insecure girls you could imagine.

My mistake was becoming so fixated on the opinion of one person, that I forgot the words of Romans 8:1-2 NIV, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Over the years, God has graciously sent scripture, books, people, songs, and so many things into my life that helped me see myself the way that God does. I learned that the biggest key to overcoming insecurities is this:

Base your worth on the fact that you were created in the image of God, and have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1 NIV

I spent years living in fear and insecurity. That motivated me to do everything I could to win the approval of my parents, my peers, and God. I was working under the assumption that I had to earn grace, and in doing so, I completely missed the fact that it had already been given to me. I carried around a burden that Jesus had already freed me from. Letting go of that burden allowed me to feel like I could breathe for the first time.

How much of your insecurity is rooted in the idea that you must earn God’s grace? You can’t earn grace, and you don’t need to! Jesus loved you enough, exactly the way you are right now, to die for you. Even more amazing, He came back! He overcame death. If He can do that, then He can free you from your insecurities. God loves you, insecurities and all, but His love means that you don’t have to live with that burden anymore.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10 NIV

When I was a teen, I wanted to change the world. I had big dreams, but all of them involved me helping people. I was called a foolish idealist. I was told that I needed to grow up and face reality. My dreams became smaller and smaller until I just wanted to find a way to get by. That foolish idealist in me never completely gave up. It turns out that God had plans for her, and, in ways both big and small, God has allowed me to help people. That core vision in me never changed, because it was the one that God created me for. Today, my life is quite different from all of those big dreams of mine, but it’s even better.

Does your insecurity hold you back from the amazing things that God has planned for you? When you’re driven by your fear and insecurities, you will do only what you think you must. When you are driven by love, and a passion for God’s plan for your life, then you will do so much more. Find that core vision that God has for you. Seek His plan for you, and when insecurity threatens to hold you back from stepping out in faith, remember that you were created by God for this. If He has called you to something, then it’s because He has prepared this task for you.

I know that when you look in the mirror, it’s too easy to see every flaw and fault. Yet, when God looks at you, he sees a young woman who is loved and cherished. In God’s eyes, you are so very dear.

Do Not Fear…

Earlier this year, I had surgery. I’ve mentioned a bit about my hysterectomy, but for the most part, my blog has been pretty quiet this summer while I recover. Now I’d like to share with you a bit about the day of my surgery. Not the technical details, rather how God gave me comfort and reassurance through a rather remarkable meeting.

IMG_2691[1]It’s not surprising that I was terribly nervous in the days leading up to my surgery date. When I asked for prayers on social media, a Facebook friend posted the reference Isaiah 41:10 & 13. The first verse I’m very familiar with, as it’s the verse that Mom wrote in the front of every Bible that she ever gave me. (Did Mom know me or what?) But I couldn’t remember what verse 13 said, so I looked it up.

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand…

For I, Yahweh your God,
hold your right hand
and say to you: Do not fear,
I will help you.”

Isaiah 41:10 & 13 HCSB

When I read that verse, I nearly cried. The picture of God holding my hand and telling me not to be afraid because He would help me was exactly what I needed.

I repeated those verses to myself as I sat in the pre-op waiting room on the day of my hysterectomy. The nurse that came out and called my name looked familiar, and when she introduced herself I recognized her name right away. Turns out that she knew my grandparents from one of the churches that Grandpa had preached at. We chatted a bit about my grandparents and how they were doing as she helped prepare me for surgery. Seeing a familiar face calmed my nerves, and I’m convinced that it was just one more way that God was showing me that He would be with me through it all.

Eventually, I was wheeled into the operating room, and just before I fell asleep one of the nurses squeezed my hand and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of you.” It reminded me so much of Isaiah 41:13, that the verse was the last thing on my mind as I drifted off.

My surgery went well. Recovery took a bit longer than I would have liked, but thankfully, was free of complications.

What I’ll always remember about the day that I had surgery is how God showed me that He really will be there beside me every step of the way.

Redeeming Love

“You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life.” – Lamentations 3:58 NIV

I am broken inside. All of us are, truthfully, no matter how put-together we appear on the outside. We work hard to impress people, whether it’s our employer, our friends, or our family. We desperately seek validation from people, only to discover that we do not measure up.

I was pondering this the other day while listening to the hymn by William Cowper “There is a Fountain”. The very beginning of the song struck a chord…

“There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”


Wow. Lose all their guilty stains? When I stand before God, because of the blood of Jesus, He does not see the imperfections. All of those ugly stains on my heart have been washed away. Because of what Jesus did, I stand before God, and I am accepted. I am loved. This means that we are freed from the old way of doing things! Our value is not dependent on or measured by the approval or praise of earthly men. Our value is found in the price that was paid for us. God has seen such value, such potential in us that he was willing to sacrifice His own Son in order to purchase redemption for those who seek it.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV

This brings me to another line from the hymn…

“E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply; Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.”

Redeeming love. That’s what love does, it redeems what was broken and tossed aside. It is God’s redeeming love alone that can make me (and you!) whole again.

The Best Gift

It’s rare that I come across a new Christmas song that I fall in love with. But I found one today. The group Cloverton has taken a popular song and written new lyrics for it that tell the Christmas story. Listening to it today took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.

The part of the song that prompted the tears? “My sins would drive the nails in You. That rugged cross was my cross too.”

The older I get, the more I can understand why Mom used to shed tears over the Gospel. The reality of my own sinfulness weighs heavy. Realizing the price of my sin, and then coming to see how costly and precious a gift salvation truly is… How can grace like that not bring me to my knees in tears? Hallelujah indeed; God be praised!

A Wretch Like Me

I keep sitting down to write this post, and I never quite seem to know how to do it. I guess it’s an uncomfortable subject. I think a lot of us who grew up in church, regardless of denomination, picked up the idea that we had to present a certain image. We talk about things like grace and forgiveness, but desperately try to hide the fact that we are as much in need of them as anyone else. It’s easier to talk about all of the terrible things that have happened to me, and blame my problems on them. It’s much, much harder to admit that there’s just as much ugly stuff in my own heart. Nearly impossible for me to admit that all of that anger and greed lurking below the surface might have more to do with my problems than I’m willing to admit.

It started out when I read the book Everything: What You Give and What You Gain to Become Like Jesus by Mary DeMuth. It was a book that I was assigned to review. The entire time I was reading it I kept thinking, “Are you trying to tell me something, LORD?” See, I’m a bit of a control freak. I’ve laughed and admitted it on plenty of occasions. The idea of actually letting go and giving everything to God is utterly terrifying. Reading this book got me thinking and asking myself some difficult questions. (I’ll let you know when my review of it goes up on the Home Educating Family review site.)

Then came a free audiobook by Andy Stanley, Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You. (You can download it for free at the Christian Audio website through the end of April.) Listening to this book was tough. It forced me to take a long look at what was in my own heart. I had no idea what I would unearth. One thing in particular that I took away from this book was that at the heart of greed is fear. Fear that God either can’t or won’t take care of me. It was this book that showed me all my obsessive worrying about money, the sleep lost over expenses that might or might not come up in the future, my constant thinking and planning how we might come up with the money for this or that was just plain greed. I was actually surprised when I discovered just how much anger I’d held on to as well. After realizing all of this, I was thankful for the chapters about how to deal with it.

At last, came another book to review. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst caught my attention because of the cover art. I’ve wanted to bury my head in a bag and scream more often than I care to admit. I don’t always handle stress or conflict well, and I tend to get a little “unglued”. Sometimes more than a little. This is another great book that I’ll mention again once the review is live.

If my blog has been a bit quiet for the last couple of months, this is why. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and soul searching. So many of my problems, including my health problems, are my own fault. Mom was right when she used to say that I was my own worst enemy! I hold on so tight, not trusting God enough to actually give Him everything. I hide attitudes like anger and greed deep in my heart where they eat away at me. I react to situations in ways that hurt myself and those I love most. A couple of years ago, God showed me that I needed to get beyond things in my past that were still hurting me. Now, He’s showing me that I have things in my own heart and mind that are hurting me.

Truthfully, I’m just as much a wretched sinner as the former slave trader who penned the words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” A terrible price was paid so that where there is repentance, there is also forgiveness. Grace is forgiveness, but it’s more than that. Grace is God constantly at work in our lives. Shaping us. Refining us. Purifying us. It’s a difficult and often painful process. Yet I’m so thankful that God did not leave me the way that I was, and that He will not leave me the way that I am. “Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.”

Four Years of Grace

They say that time heals all wounds. I’d have to disagree with that particular sentiment. Of course, the passage of time does tend to change our perspective. Given enough time, we do learn to live with things that seem almost unbearable at the start.

It’s been four years since Mom died. I still miss her. I guess I’ve sort of gotten used to missing her though. Four years ago, it felt like more than I could handle. It’s true what’s written in 2 Corinthians, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect through weakness…” That was actually a verse that Mom quoted often. I’ve learned just how true it is over the years. Some days, God’s grace is the only thing left to hold on to. That’s when you find out that His grace is all you need to begin with.

You know, I never had the chance to “say goodbye” to Mom. It happened so suddenly. But I don’t have any regrets. Mom knew how much I loved her, and I know how much she loved me. I didn’t have to have one last chance to say something to her, because there wasn’t anything that we’d left unsaid. Mom always said that she told her family “I love you” so often, because we never know if it will be the last chance we have. That’s one of the most important things she taught me. Don’t ever leave the important things unsaid. Make sure the people who matter know that you love them. Make sure they know how much you appreciate them. Send a card, pick up the phone, stop by for a visit… just do whatever it is that you’ve been putting off. We think we have all the time in the world, but sometimes we don’t.

I learned a lot from Mom. I’ll always be thankful for the time we had, and I can look forward with confidence to seeing her once again someday.

Grace in the Trenches

A very large mug of Lady Grey tea is steeping, and the cream scones are out of the oven. I need tea and scones tonight.

Today I said to my husband, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t… get it together.”

Lunch was a couple of hours late today, and quite a bit of it wound up stuck to the pan. It took me an hour and a half to finish unloading and reloading the dishwasher. Our bedtime reading consisted of our science and Bible lessons, because that’s the only way that I could get them in today. I have writing projects that I need to work on tonight, and then there’s the pile of reading that I still have to get through. I’m trying to decide whether I have to make another batch of bread right now, or if what we have will be enough for tomorrow. Right now, I feel so tired.

I wish I could ask Mom about it. I wonder if she felt like this when she was my age. Was she overwhelmed by all of the things that needed to be done? I’m kind of betting that all moms do.

That’s probably why the idea of attending a conference, any conference, appeals to me at this moment. A whole weekend of someone else taking care of the kids, the house, the cooking, and the laundry? Where do I sign up?! Of course, then I crunch the numbers and realize that the cost of such an event is more than my entire homeschooling budget for the year…

The truth is, I’m in the trenches of being a mom right now. And when you’re in the trenches, the only thing you can see is how hard and exhausting it is. You don’t really understand just how short these years are. My kids will be grown up before I know it. My house will be quiet, too quiet I’m sure!

Mom used to quote Romans 12:8 & 9, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

There’s nothing like having a family to make you come face to face with your own weakness. When it seems that everyone needs something, yet I have nothing left to give, that’s when grace comes in. It’s only by God’s grace and His strength that I can keep going. I sure can’t do it on my own! And I can’t be the only one here in the trenches who needs heaps of grace. If you’re out here with me, I just want you to remember that you’re not the only one trying to somehow muddle through. And if God can “even make a way in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19), then He can get us and our families through this too.

In the end, what I really have to remember is this: God’s grace will always, always, be enough to get me through. No matter what.

White as Snow

I woke up this morning to snow falling outside of my kitchen window. Snow!? My first thought was that it wasn’t very appropriate today. But then a verse that Mom used to quote when it snowed came to mind.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins were as crimson, they shall be made white as snow: though they were red like scarlet, they shall be as wool,” – Isaiah 1:18 (Geneva Bible)

Perhaps snow is appropriate for Resurrection Sunday after all.

Redefining Better

They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t think that’s quite true. Sometimes it just gives us enough perspective to allow us to live with the old wounds. But some of them still hurt, even many years later…

Munchkin and I were talking while we changed her bedding before bedtime this evening. One of the blankets we put on her bed was one that Mom made for her. She asked me if it was the last blanket that Grammy had made for her. I thought for a minute and then told her that it may have been.

She was quiet for a few minutes before softly saying, “I can’t remember Grammy’s voice anymore.”

I could tell from her tone that she was bothered by that. We talked for a while about some of the things that she still does remember about Grammy. I told her that she would always have some memories, but she still seemed a bit worried that she would forget Grammy over time. So I told her about my Grandpa.

I was four when he died. The same age that Munchkin was when her Grammy died. I told her about some of the memories that I have of Grandpa and how that even though he’s been gone a long time, I still have some really special memories. Both of us were trying not to cry when she spoke again.

“I miss Grammy.”

The tears that I’d been holding back started to spill over just a bit when I hugged her and whispered, “You know what? I still miss my Grandpa too.”

We talked a bit more about how Grammy is in Heaven. I reminded her that was a good thing, and that now Grammy would never be sick again. I hugged her again and kissed her goodnight. I tucked her in and said a final round of “I love you” to all of the kids before heading downstairs to write.

I hate to cry, but I can’t seem to help it as I sit here in front of the computer screen. Part of it is because I still miss Grandpa and Mom so very much. I seem to miss them even more this time of the year. But that’s only part of it…

I look up at the ceiling and ask God why my little girl has to go through this. I’ve been there. I know how much it hurt 26 years ago, and I know how much it still hurts today. And to be honest… I wanted better for my daughter. None of this feels better. Yet even as I question why God would send this, I am reminded of a verse that the kids and I read together a couple of weeks ago:

“Also we know that all things work together for the best unto them that love God, even to them that are called of his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

That’s from the 1599 Geneva Bible. What struck me the most when we read that in this particular translation was that it was written that all things work together for the best, not just for good, but for the best. I say that I wanted better for my daughter, but God has sent this for her best.

I found the notes for this verse to be quite thought-provoking as well, “…we are not afflicted, either by chance or to our harm, but by God’s providence for our great profit….”

All is from God. All really is grace. And sometimes, that grace is hard. Sometimes it hurts. But should this really surprise me? The grace by which I am saved was brought about through incredible pain and suffering. Grace does not mean that all is sunshine and roses, but perhaps grace does mean that it really is all for the best, our best.