More Spiritual Than I

A couple of years ago, my daughter had her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. We had just begun to attend a Messianic church, and we invited a new friend, a little girl whose parents were on staff. The mother (I’ll call her Gina) informed me she was fasting and eating only vegetables, and I agreed to provide a veggie tray for her sake.

When my mother and brother arrived with his family, I was embarrassed by the fact that I was wearing a head covering. We had just attended our church service where head coverings are common, and rather than show my flattened hair, I chose to leave the scarf on. I was not raised with such a custom and was nervous about my family’s reaction. Whether they intended it or not, I read discomfort in their faces.

As the party continued, I found myself increasingly self-conscious and nervous about how Gina perceived my children’s behavior. They were loudly and eagerly collecting tickets for the prizes they wanted. Their childhood exuberance seemed very selfish in the light of a spiritual “leader” who was fasting and noticeably limiting her daughter’s activities. I found myself repeatedly apologizing to her for my girls’ lack of self-control. Her responses were kind on the surface, but there was a quality in them that read to me as disapproval.

As we traveled home, and my daughter cried because we had said no to her request for cotton candy, I questioned my wisdom as a mother. Other than my husband, there wasn’t an adult at the party by whom I hadn’t felt judged. Now my 5-year-old was declaring we didn’t love her because the cotton candy was still at Chuck E’s. It was a low moment.

The next day, I cried as I told my husband I was sure I was a terrible mother. I decided to e-mail Gina. I included an apology for bringing her and her daughter into an environment where greed and “gambling” were encouraged. I concluded by asking her to mentor me in the finer qualities of Christian womanhood. Her reply contained what should have been a red flag for me: “No one has ever asked this of me before.” She eagerly accepted and had soon laid out a plan of regular meetings and a list of books for me to read.

As I emerge from the cloud of spiritual abuse, I see this incident in the light of truth. I was at a new church, with new people who knew nothing of our family. That is why I had chosen to wear head coverings. It was a chance to establish a “spiritual” reputation within an environment where I had experienced so much pain and rejection in the past – church.

Gina was someone in leadership, someone I felt I MUST impress.

When I realized I had not only failed to impress her, but had probably also managed to alienate her, I was compelled to undo my mistake. My asking for mentorship was a desperate attempt to regain her good opinion. Her acceptance was confirmation for me — I was a poor wife and mother who needed her help.

How I wish Gina had responded something like this:

Thank you for your e-mail. My daughter and I both so enjoyed the party. It reminded me of our church’s annual Hanukkah party. We set up game stations for the children and they earn tickets with which they buy all sorts of fun toys and prizes. I hope you and your girls will attend this year.

I can so relate to your concerns about being a good wife and mother. I struggle in this area too. It would sure be great if we could encourage each other. I’m honored by your request for mentoring, something no one has ever asked of me before. But since I’m struggling as well, I’d rather be a friend to you and have your friendship in return.

Is there a day or time when we might have coffee and get to know each other better? I’d love to hear about your life and share mine with you too.

And thank you for the veggie tray.

Sincerely,
Gina

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.

Spiritual Abuse

The words were rolling around my mind as I was waking up — spiritual abuse. What’s that? I wondered. Earlier that week He had woken me up by speaking my name. Yes, audibly. It sounded like my husband’s voice, but when I turned he wasn’t there. I had found him, asked if he had called me. He hadn’t.

God was trying hard to get my attention. Maybe this spiritual abuse thing was Him too.

A few minutes of clicking online gave me more questions than answers. So I changed my search to “spiritual abuse Pensacola Christian College.”

Jackpot!

Spiritual abuse is misusing God’s name. It is claiming the intentions and character of God are behind the thing that men and women are wrongly doing.” So said author Dale Fincher, a fellow PCC alum I had never heard of. On his blog, Free At Last, Dale had posted a series of videos detailing his personal experiences at our alma mater. As I watched them one by one, something in me stirred.

He had been mistreated too? But he was one of the popular people! He was student body president, became a grad student, taught classes! Why would they do those things to him?

I had always thought it was just me. I thought the administrators at PCC must have seen the truth about me, that I was unworthy, that I was a screw-up. That’s why I had been mistreated. It was all my fault. But Dale wasn’t a screw-up, and look what they did to him!

I read more and pondered. Maybe my recurring PCC nightmares meant something. I had joked with my college friends that it was PCC PTSD. Now the joke didn’t seem so funny.

The more I read, the more I realized that spiritual abuse was the cause of more than just my nightmares. It was at the root of my 20-yr clinical depression. SA’s voice had spoken louder than God’s for most of my life. Until now.


For more About spiritual abuse, including a list of articles, visit recovering grace.org.

Photo Credit: c. 2010 Brian Pennington
https://www.flickr.com/photos/byebyeempire/4635520149/

Out of the Salt Mine

If you’ve seen the movie The Monuments Men but have never read the book, you don’t know the half of this heroic true story. A ragtag bunch of museum curators and art historians are conscripted by the US Army to go to Europe, find all the priceless treasures Hitler and the Nazis have stolen, and restore them to their rightful owners. Problem is no one knows exactly what has been stolen or where it is being hidden. In the face of impossible odds, these amazing men managed to repatriate thousands of priceless works of art hidden in castles and mines throughout Europe.

It was dark as I lay in bed listening to the audiobook version of this story. After believing the salt mine at Altaussee had been destroyed, and then learning only the access tunnel had been blown to keep the Nazis out and the art safe, the men of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA) began to gently pick at the rocks that lay between them and one of the greatest caches of fine art on earth. When they broke through, light fell on the face of the Bruges Madonna. It was as if she had been waiting for them.

As I lay in bed and let the story unfold, my heart stirred. I could imagine the great paintings and sculptures, covered in dust, as they saw light again. I could feel the MFAA soldiers gently carry them out into the warm world. I could sense their joy and that of their saviors as they were returned home safely.

A few days later, I wrote in my prayer journal: “The sadness is so profound today. So deep.”

This is what I heard in reply:

I know. I see the darkness. I feel what you feel. I am intimately acquainted with your grief. I am here. You are not alone. You are as those lost treasures in Monuments Men. You’re a priceless work of art stuck in a salt mine where only I can see. Most people don’t even know you’re there. They can’t see you, touch you. It’s dark and it’s lonely and you feel worthless.

You’ve been damaged by the mistreatment of others. They don’t know how deeply their carelessness has hurt you. But you will not stay here forever. You will not be destroyed. With gentle hands and steady step I will carry you out. The light will shine on you again. Lift up your head. Your redemption is near.

When I wrote these quiet promptings from a God I had always tried to follow but had never really known, I was unsure and afraid. Would He be gentle? Or was I about to experience something frightening and difficult? What did He mean? Dare I hope that this dark night would end?

I could never have imagined what He had planned next.


Photo Credit: aaa.si.edu

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