Threads

My dad was the son of a preacher who abused his family. He was asthmatic and small — a full head shorter than his twin sister. With abuse at home and bullying at school, fear was his life-long companion. He compensated with control. Mom wasn’t prepared for marriage to such a man, and her coping mechanism was yelling at me.

Spiritual abuse was woven into the fabric of our family.

The fundamentalist church I grew up in justified the abuse my parents were enduring and perpetrating and solidified in me that I was unworthy and disappointing. I was a lonely, scared little girl who received regular “spankings” from my father that left deep bruises from my hips to my knees. When mom tried to intervene, dad threatened her and accused her of being “unsubmissive.”

Fourteen years of Christian school thoroughly indoctrinated me in fundamentalism. Naturally, I followed my father’s and grandfather’s advice (as I had learned from countless Bill Gothard seminars) and “chose” Pensacola Christian College.

PCC was a big lake to my small-pond upbringing, and I had no idea how to navigate. The culture was permeated with fear – fear of failure, fear of the administration’s power, fear of being known, fear of God. Naïve, lonely, and afraid, I was in no way prepared for what lay ahead.

Rita (not her real name) asked for help with a class assignment. She made me feel smart, important, even loved. She told me no one loved me like she did. Though time would prove her a user of the worst kind, I believed her. When the principal from a Christian school in her home town across the country offered me a job, I accepted.

Monday through Friday, we taught fundamentalist children. On the weekends we went across the bay to party with our lesbian friends in anonymity. To my surprise, these friends seemed more genuine than the hyper-religious community of my childhood.

I began to question everything I had ever known, even God. No God, no consequences, I thought. Then Rita slept with one of our friends, and then a stranger, and then another teacher from her school with 6 children of her own. Our secret got out and we lost our jobs.

I was amazed when my parents embraced me and let me move back home to pick up the pieces of my life. The scared little girl was back in her small pond, but not for long.

Three years later, I jumped into the biggest sea of people on the planet – China. It was a chance for a new beginning. At the time, I was “going to the mission field.” In retrospect, I’m sure I was trying to regain the favor of God I was sure I’d lost. That was probably also the reason I had left fundamentalism for charismatic circles. The charismatic church offered energy and hope, until I discovered it was even more fraught with abuse than the church of my youth.

I taught English, fighting illness and injury for a year and a half. I prayed. I talked to people about Jesus, and some put their faith in Him. Then, a newbie supervisor more hungry for power than truth grilled me for an hour about my relationships with school officials. I had no idea what he was driving at until he finally told me they had not invited me back and that he would not recommend me for language school. He assumed I knew something. I didn’t. He treated me like a criminal.

“Don’t speak to anyone about this,” he ended.

I was crushed and confused when I returned to my school for my final semester. I had not regained God’s favor; I believed I had lost it forever. People kept asking what was wrong. I kept quiet as I had been told.

Three months later, I was suicidal. I called our Hong Kong office and begged them to let me out of the rest of my contract. Within days I found myself on a plane to America.

I was completely shut down and would probably never have gotten help if my hair hadn’t started falling out. A doctor from my church prescribed medication. I went into three years of church-supported counseling at the charismatic church.

Ten years after China, and after a year teaching in Japan and what seemed like interminable singleness, I met my husband. We married within six months. Dad reminded me to be a submissive wife. My pastor’s wife advised me against marrying someone who wasn’t “Spirit-filled.”

I chose not to listen to her.

Something changed the day we got married. He was now my husband, my spiritual leader, my head. He would provide, and I would have babies. I would homeschool and keep a perfect house and be everything my husband always hoped for in a wife. I had yet another chance at a new beginning.

But I was still depressed and broken on the inside. I found myself unable to keep house or be the wife I wanted to be. We lost three babies. My father died. We decided to adopt. Five months after we returned from China with our first daughter, I gave birth to another. Our already-strained marriage began to crumble. For years we were in and out of marriage and family counseling.

As my husband and I began to embrace the Hebrew roots of our faith, I began to see God in a new light. I took a class on listening prayer and began to hear him. Through everything, God had been there — unseen, unknown, but always there.

One morning, I woke up with the words “spiritual abuse’ repeating in my mind. Spiritual abuse? I thought. What’s that? I ended up on Soulation watching videos of a fellow PCC alum I’d never heard of talk about experiences that struck a chord in my soul. I wept through the videos about his PCC experience and began to see the true source of my lifetime depression – spiritual abuse.

I immersed myself in articles, videos, and books on fundamentalism and abuse. I listened to podcasts and talked with old friends who had begun to emerge from spiritual prison. I heard God say He was reaching down and gently pulling me out of the deep, dark hole where I had lived so long.

At first, the light was so bright I could barely stand to look at it. The world began to open up, and I saw truth in the most unexpected places. I found God’s voice not condemning, but consistently encouraging and loving and good. And deep inside of me, where no one but he could see, a very old, festering wound began to heal.

My husband noticed the difference first. As I shared what I was learning, his eyes began to open too. We defied our church tradition and embraced egalitarian marriage. The shackles I had been laboring under fell off. I found out my husband had more grace for me than I did for myself. Together, we are pursuing a brand new way of loving each other and parenting our children.

I don’t know what the future holds, but for once I’m not looking for a fresh start. I’m beginning to see my life and myself as wholly valuable. God continues to show me how He is weaving the threads of my life, even the dark ones that were not part of His original plan, into something truly beautiful. The fear and shame and abuse that has thrived in my heart for so long is being crowded out by God’s unconditional, unfathomable, and unending love.


Photo Credit: Rajesh_India, https://www.flickr.com/photos/74821492@N00/sets/72157625463625584/

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He Restores My Soul

What do you think I did as a little girl all those times I was sent to my room to await a beating? I cleaned my room of course! I knew if my dad saw the state of my room, the beating would be all the worse. My brother did the same thing. Is it any wonder we both grew up to be slobs?

Now, I’m not trying out for Hoarders, but there are chronic cleaning issues at my house. To go into detail would be embarrassing, even on an anonymous blog. It has been a source of contention for my husband ever since we married. This week, we had a heated argument about it (and other things, of course). When we discussed all this with our therapist, he wisely pointed away from my cleaning (or lack of it) as the source of the problem. Still, I have been taking a much closer look at this issue in myself this week.

I can plan cleaning sessions like nobody’s business, but when it come time to actually get started, I freeze. This week I’ve practiced mindfulness in those moments, looking deep into my heart and asking myself what I am feeling and why. I feel deeply depressed, even sick to my stomach. I feel tired and afraid. All the negative feelings overwhelm me, and before I know it, I’m sitting on the couch checking Facebook again. As the song goes, “What’s goin’ on inside me? I despise my own behavior.”

What seems clear to me is that I associate cleaning with pain and abuse. When I start to clean my house, I feel all those feelings I used to feel cleaning while waiting for a beating. The dread of those moments transfers to the present and paralyzes me. I obviously need healing in this area.

Last night, as my mindfulness meditation, I chose Psalm 23. I pondered each phrase.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

Wait a minute! He restores my soul? He does? Really? That’s what it says. He restores my soul.

You mean, God wants to fix the broken parts of me? He wants to turn me back into the beautiful person He created me to be? Is that possible?

When a restorer goes to the flea market, he searches for the things others have overlooked. He wants that special piece he can return to its original beauty. He finds it, buys it, takes it home. He stares at it for a long time. He’s imagining it in its former glory. Then he gets the wood stripper and begins taking off the old paint. Why would anyone want to paint over this beautiful wood? he wonders. Gently, carefully, he wipes and brushes away the changes others have made. Then he sands the wood smooth, being sure to remove the last vestiges of abuse. Finally, he applies oil to the wood, and the piece glows again.

I think this is what my Restorer is doing in me. He’s stripping off the paint people have slapped on me to get me to look the way they wanted. He’s sanding smooth the splinters of abuse that have arisen from my core. And He’s rubbing in the healing oil that will return me to the original beautiful woman He created me to be.

I’m not there yet. I still feel dread when it comes time to clean, but I’m cleaning anyway. And I’m trusting my Good Shepherd to complete the work He has begun in me.

ADDENDUM: A few days after I wrote this, I had the opportunity to buy myself some new t-shirts, you know, the everyday kind. I really needed new shirts because I tend to get grease on mine while I’m working in the kitchen and I’ve never quite figured out how to get it out. Well, I loved my new shirts and didn’t want them to be ruined too. So I decided to pull out an old apron and start wearing it when I was working to protect my clothes. Not only does it feel really good to be taking care of my new things like this, something amazing happens every time I put on that apron. The depression lifts. I feel energized. There’s a spring in my step, and work gets done without dread. The other day I started working in my room while my apron was downstairs. I just pretended I was wearing the apron, and the depression lifted. He really does restore my soul.


Photo Credit: Richard, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rich701/5834476660/in/photostream/

It Was Just a Branch

Trigger warning: This post contains descriptions of child abuse.


I must have been around 10 years old. It was a summer day and I was in our front yard playing alone. Like most little girls, I pretended to be cooking, and I scavenged the yard for bits to include in my concoction. A low hanging branch from our maple provided the perfect green salad leaves. I just got my dad’s pocket knife from his room and picked off a branch.

Dad came home and walked over to see what I was doing. “Did you pick that branch off the tree?” he asked. There was something unsettling in his tone. I felt I was about to get into trouble.

“No. I found it in the yard.”

He questioned me again, and again I lied. Clearly, he wasn’t buying my story.

As he continued to press the issue, his voice grew louder, his face harder, and his manner more threatening. I couldn’t go back now. I had no idea what so crucial about a little branch, but I feared what would happen if I told him I had lied. No, I stuck firmly to my story. He went inside.

A moment later he was back with his pocket knife in hand.

“Why was this out?”

Silence.

“You used this to cut the branch!”

With my secret out, I admitted I had lied.

“Go to your room!” he yelled. Those words always meant one thing — a spanking was next.

I waited in my room for what felt like an eternity. Then the knob turned. I saw Dad’s stern mouth first, then the paddle. It was wooden, about 18 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 3/4 inch thick. We were well acquainted.

He came over, sat on my bed, and lectured me for about 5 minutes. He told me again that lying was one of the worst sins, adding a story about when as a teenager he had lied to his father. He had been woken from sleep to the worst beating of his life.

I was terrified when he told me to lie over his lap. My waist wouldn’t bend. So he reached up with his arm and forced me down. I began kicking and screaming. He held me down with one leg and began hitting me will all his might. As I cried and begged him to stop, he only yelled over me to shut up.

I don’t know why I chose to count this time, but I lost track after 40 “swats.”

Then my mother came in the room yelling at Dad to stop. He did, probably out of shock that she had dared to interrupt. He raged at her, telling her she had no right to question his authority, accusing her of being “unsubmissive.” They both left my room and continued arguing outside my door.

The bruising extended from my hips to my knees and lasted for weeks.

I swore to myself that I would never lie again.

Of course, I did lie again, to him, to others, and the fear of retribution was overwhelming.

These incidents, along with constant fundamentalist teaching at church and school, convinced me that I was inherently broken and evil. No one could possibly love me if they knew the truth about who I was.


I love my dad. I always will. Before he died 10 years ago, we had the chance to apologize and forgive each other. It was one of the most treasured moments of my life. But there are many incidents in our past, like this one, which I will never be able to forget.

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