Behind Closed Doors

10 years ago, my mom passed away in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Mom was one of those people who you couldn’t help but love because she had so much love and compassion for others. She had a faith that I can only aspire to. If you needed someone to pray for you, she’s the one you’d ask. Her sense of humor was something else, and her laugh was positively infectious. She was a strong woman, and had a stubborn streak that seems to be rather genetic. Mom was also in an abusive relationship.

I came across a book in this past year: Healing From Hidden Abuse by Shannon Thomas. I picked it up because it’s one of the rare resources I’ve found written by a Christian that deals with the aftermath of psychological abuse. I had to keep putting the book down and walking away because things the author mentioned were exactly the sort of things I saw play out in my mom’s relationship. I’d feel sick to my stomach and wonder, “How could I not see this for what it was before now?”

I was one of those foolish people who used to say things like, “Why don’t they just leave?” or, “Why don’t they just cut ties with them?” when hearing about someone in an abusive relationship. It’s funny the things that you get used to, the things you can explain away, and the behavior you make excuses for when you’re in the middle of it. The irony is, while I was judging all of those people who insisted on maintaining a relationship with someone who was mistreating them horribly, I couldn’t see the truth of my mom’s relationship, or the abusive one I spent decades in. Actually, it wasn’t until after the abuser cut ties with me a few years back that I started to see things clearly.

When someone asked me, “Why didn’t you, your mom, or your sister say anything?” I struggled to explain. The short answer is: I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with what was going on. When you grow up in a certain environment, you just think it’s normal. But it’s more complicated than that. I was afraid to say anything because I’d been conditioned to be afraid of saying anything. I felt too embarrassed and ashamed to speak up. I believed that it was my fault — that it wasn’t really abuse, and so I felt guilty for being upset and angry about it. I know that all of this sounds crazy from the perspective of normal, healthy relationships, but psychological abuse is insidious. The stuff you end up believing is crazy, and on some level you know it’s crazy, but you can’t shake that deep belief that all of those lies are true.

So why write about any of this? I can’t change what my mom went through. I can’t change what I went through. Why say anything?

First, because I want to tell people that sometimes the person being abused does not fit any of the stereotypes. Sometimes it’s the strong, independent, outgoing person who’s being abused. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and those closed doors are in every neighborhood and demographic. Sometimes the abuser is the person who’s in some sort of church leadership position. The kind of person who fills in when the pastor is on vacation and leads Bible studies. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Appearances can be very deceiving, and abusers can be very good at projecting a good front. The scary part is how good they are at getting the people they are abusing to help them put up a good front. We can’t assume because everything looks OK on the outside, that everything is OK.

Second, because telling our stories is a powerful thing. I’ve heard some truly awful stories, but sometimes those stories had remarkable things that came after all of the awful. Stories where people not only survived the abuse and survived getting out of the relationship, but stories of people who are healthier, stronger, and have a deeper faith than ever. It can take a really, really long time — many years — but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Those stories give me something to hold onto, something to look forward to.

I can’t change Mom’s story or my own and edit out the ugly parts, much as I might wish to. What I can do, is hold tight to my faith just like she did. By the grace of God, I’m going to get to the other side of this, even if it takes years.

Note: If you’re in an abusive relationship, or are dealing with the aftermath of one, please take care of yourself and stay safe. If you need to make arrangements for your own safety, or seek professional help for your mental and physical health, then please do get the help that you need.

Red Lipstick

Grammy Vivian was a tall woman with dark hair, and I’m told she was always stylish. She passed away when I was only two, and the only memory I have related to her is the hospital bed at our house. Still, I imagine her as one of those tall, effortlessly elegant women like you’d see in the “golden age” of films. My sister is like that too. Tall, gorgeous dark hair, blue eyes, and definitely stylish!

I’m sort of the exact opposite. At 5’ 7”, I’m a tall-ish woman, but not remarkably so. My once-red hair has faded to more of a medium brown with a healthy dose of gray thrown in! If I have a personal style, it’s closer to weird and quirky than effortlessly elegant. I’ve made attempts to look more “grown-up” over the years, but it always left me frustrated and feeling like I needed to be someone that I wasn’t.

Now, I’m a firm believer that Mom was right in the sentiment, “Beauty is as beauty does.” It’s far more important to cultivate our faith, and to be kind to people, than it is to look pretty. We can definitely go overboard and become too obsessed with appearances too. On the flip side, I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with taking some care in our clothing. While I don’t agree with the sentiment that makeup is necessary for all women, there’s certainly nothing wrong with wearing it if you want to. (If you feel like you have to, then I think it’s a good idea to explore why you are so uncomfortable if you’re not wearing it.) Like so much of life, there’s a balance to be found!

I find myself wanting to make an effort in this area again. Blame it on the gorgeous red lipstick that I got a week ago. My mom’s makeup routine consisted of Oil of Olay and bright shades of fuchsia or mauve lipstick. She totally rocked the bright lipstick! In a fit of nostalgia, I decided that I was going to try wearing red lipstick. I hate having to fuss with touching up typical lipstick, not to mention lipstick smudges on my teacups! That led to trying out a popular brand that a number of friends had raved about because it truly stayed put. It’s a bold lip color, but I really like it! Maybe it’s OK to put a little bit of effort into how I look after all. My goal is to develop a simple, pared down wardrobe and a basic makeup routine that doesn’t make me feel like I’m trying to be someone I’m not.

My makeup routine is never going to be complicated. My eyeshadow palette and this stay-put lipstick are the only things I’m interested in keeping in my makeup bag. If Mom could get away with Oil of Olay and lipstick, then just pick the makeup I like to use and skip the rest.

My clothes style is going to be a bit harder to figure out I think. I can’t even walk on high heels. Skinny jeans are absolutely not going to make an appearance in my wardrobe. I don’t like most make-up. When it comes to jewelry, I’m definitely a minimalist. I don’t care if chocolate brown and pumpkin orange are my most flattering colors, because wearing them doesn’t make me smile. If it can’t be tossed in the washer and dryer, then it doesn’t belong in my dresser. (Hand knits are the exception to this rule!) I’m definitely keeping my bright teal crocs, tie-dye, and my favorite graphic tees. Most fashion trends end up looking ridiculous on me. Can we talk about the lack of any kind of rhyme or reason to women’s clothing sizes?!? Not to mention the appalling lack of decent pockets…

As you can imagine, I’m no one’s first choice to take clothes shopping. Unless you want someone to commiserate with you about how much we both hate clothes shopping while on our way to the ice cream shop, that is. In that case, let me know when we’re going out for ice cream!

The idea of these capsule wardrobes where you stick with a limited color scheme and fewer clothes appeals to me though. I prefer to keep my wardrobe pared down enough to fit in just one dresser. Sticking to colors that will pretty much go together has a lot of advantages too. It would be nice to be able to pull together either a casual or dressy outfit out of the same few basics. I’m still not touching skinny jeans or heels, and as much as I’m told I should pick “flattering colors”, I’m going to pick the colors that make me smile when I wear them instead. When I started pruning the clothes in my dresser, I saw a bit of a color scheme emerging. It appears that most of my clothes are black, gray, or navy, with a splash or two of red. I think I’ll add a few basic pieces following this color scheme. Maybe a couple of teal or deep purple items too because those are colors that make me smile!

Munchkin was intrigued by this capsule wardrobe idea, so we spent Sunday afternoon going through her closet. We cleared out a LOT of outgrown clothes, and pared the rest down to reflect her chosen color scheme and a good variety of pieces that she could easily mix and match. It was surprisingly fun, and she was thrilled when she discovered how much easier it was to find the items that she really liked to wear when we cleared out the rest.

I started thinking about what kinds of messages about beauty that I want to pass along to her. I want her to know that you don’t have to have a huge wardrobe with lots of fancy and expensive clothes to look nice, because a few carefully chosen pieces can let you put together an outfit appropriate for just about any occasion. I want her to enjoy experimenting with makeup and hair to find what sort of style she likes, but I don’t want her to ever feel like it’s necessary to wear makeup daily. I want her to be comfortable letting her personal style reflect her personality. I’ve taken a page from Mom’s book too and told her often, “Pretty is as pretty does!” I’ve told her that the prettiest women aren’t always the ones who look traditionally beautiful, but are the ones who have a beautiful faith, and show kindness and compassion to others.

Ultimately, our outside appearance is of much less importance than how our heart looks. It’s our heart that God looks at after all! And while we should take the Bible’s warnings about vanity seriously, thinking a bit about the clothes we wear and using makeup doesn’t automatically mean that we’re flirting with vanity or obsessing over our looks to a sinful or unhealthy degree.

Now I want to hear from you! What’s your favorite wardrobe or makeup tip? How do you keep a balanced view of beauty in your life, and keep it from taking over your life?

White Shores

This week will mark nine years since we celebrated Mom’s last birthday, and also nine years since we said goodbye. I can’t help but be a little sad this time of year. Sometimes more than just a little.

Yet, as the verse in 1 Thessalonians says, I don’t sorrow as one who has no hope. I was reminded of this just a couple of weeks ago when watching Return of the King with my older kids. There is a scene where the hobbit Pippin and Gandalf the White are in the midst of a battle they have little hope of winning. Pippin remarks, rather sadly, to Gandalf that he didn’t think it would end this way. What Gandalf said next has stuck with me.

End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… then you see it! White shores… and