Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In whose image? It's my choice.

Recently I read a letter that I had written to a friend in which I asserted that if I responded to someone who was hurting me with like behavior, I was allowing the hurtful person to transform me into their image. As a christian whose life purpose is to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, my desire (and His promise) is that by His Spirit, if I choose it, He would transform me into His image. Because I am included in this equation, the process may be bumpy and a bit sporadic at times. Still, when I look at Jesus, my heart is so full of the desire to be like Him, I can barely stand it.

If I allow difficult people to control my behavior, I am giving them the power to make me into their look-alikes. We all know people who have been so hurt and damaged by others that their personalities have actually changed in very negative ways. It may be that one of the people we know like this is the one we see in the mirror each morning. We blame the people who have hurt us, and claim that we have had no choice. We had to get tough, to get mean, to be protected.

Once when I was a small girl on the farm, I ran in a panic into our front porch to escape a bee that was chasing me. Unfortunately, the bee followed me into the porch and when I closed the door, I closed myself into the porch with the bee and it's very sharp stinger. In my effort to protect myself, I locked myself in with the enemy, and got stung for my efforts. When we adopt anger, hate and bitterness as our means of protection from the anger, hate and bitterness of others, we effectively lock ourselves in with the enemy. Instead of the occasional moment of pain when we come in contact with those who want to hurt us, we are plagued 24/7 by the pain that our own anger and bitterness inflict on our hearts. We become what we hate in order to avoid it. We are transformed in the image of our enemies.

We have a choice. In the Old Testament, the notion of discipleship was a life long endeavor to travel so closely with the Teacher that one eventually became just like him. Jesus offers us an advantage in our walk with Him. His Spirit, the great Counselor, Teacher, the Source of Wisdom, the Transformer, lives within us and supernaturally changes us into the image of God, loving, patient, kind, strong, hopeful, gentle,'s a process because it takes a while to convince us that God will take over protection duties if we lay down our weapons. We learn to trust Him as He shows Himself ever present, strong and able. Initially our instincts still drive us to anger and revenge. Once we realize how much power this gives those who want to hurt us, it becomes easier to let go.

Psalm 18 is a passionate cry to God for protection. It is also a powerful, frightening story of God's response. The image is of an enraged father, charging one who seeks to destroy his children. The question is not whether we will be protected. It is who will do the protecting. When we allow God to intervene and to fight for us, we can rest assured that we will be safe, and not just from our greatest enemy, which is the hatred within us.

My body may suffer. My mind may grow tired and confused. My feelings hurt. My spirit, though, grows deeper and deeper in God's love until hurts and persecution simply serve to increase my experience of God's grace and hope. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

It's my choice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I shared with you, a few weeks ago, that Marc and I had separated. I haven't written much since, because I have been thinking about how to write about what I am going through, and praying for guidance and clarity. Normally, when things get rough like this, I stop writing. When my emotions are high and I am in pain, it is difficult enough to live with the words that come out of my mouth, let alone having to deal with ones in black and white.

This time, though, while I am deeply hurt and have moments of crazy-making pain, I feel generally calm and clear-minded. The writing that I have done concerning setting healthy boundaries was more than just writing. I was living it as I wrote. Consequently, while setting healthy boundaries may have gotten my daughter and I kicked out of our home, it has also left us unbattered, unbruised, and uncrumpled. Is it possible to be whole and still deeply wounded? I think it is. I believe that sorrow is a pure emotion, that is often sullied by fear, anger, bitterness, resentment, etc. Sorrow can be comforted. Anger can't. Fear must be kicked out. Bitterness needs to be pulled out by the root. I am striving for sorrow, and while I have had my share of anger and fear, I'm trying not to let anything take root.

I have also debated whether or not I should continue writing as I go through this. The fact that at one point I was ordered not to makes the decision that much easier. One of the primary ways people who try to dominate others pave the way for their activities is by silencing their victims. Don't think, don't question, don't tell. Since I don't believe in coincidences, it was significant to me that on the day I was ordered to stop writing about boundaries, I received an email from a woman whom I had never met. She had read one of my blog entries and had seen herself in some of the descriptions of bullying behavior. She thanked me for giving her something to think about. I felt so encouraged!

I write what I write primarily because I struggle with these issues, and I know that I am not alone. Yes, I have been a victim of bullying, but I have also indulged in bullying behavior. I know that people will read these posts and see themselves in the descriptions. The road to freedom begins with courageous, honest self-evaluation. I understand that some will be enraged, believing that I am purposely targeting them, while others will feel the sting of recognizing themselves and respond thoughtfully, humbly, with repentance and healing.

My purpose is never to demean, insult or humiliate anyone. I am also sincerely trying not to use this blog as a means of addressing some of the slander, gossip and lies that are swirling around concerning my daughter and I. A friend of mine recently sent me a message, encouraging me to "remain myself" as I go through this trial. Wise words. We often think that others steal ourselves from us in times like this, when we become bitter and vengeful at the hurts inflicted on us. The truth is, no one can steal me away from myself. I can, though, give myself away by allowing myself to behave in ways that I never want to behave. What other people do to me is no excuse. When I react to the intentionally hurtful behavior of others with rage and hate, I lose myself. I also feel like crap. I hate what I become if I allow myself to become what I am trying to get away from. We who are learning to set boundaries for others must also learn to set boundaries for ourselves. If I will not allow someone else's rage to turn my world upside down, I can also choose not to allow my own rage to do the same.

As you can see, there is a lot to think about, a lot to examine and work out. That may be the direction my blogging will take. One thing is clear. I love my husband. I love him more now that I ever have. There is a time when love grows deeper and it is strengthened through forgiveness and acceptance of the person as they truly are, as opposed to who we thought they were in the beginning. The love I have for my husband now is built upon my choice. I chose to love him. I see that, like most of us, he has very few people in his life who are willing to see him as he really is, without excuse, and still love him deeply and enduringly. True love does not have to believe lies about another in order to maintain itself. It is a rough lesson to learn, that the "yes" people in our lives are not the ones that love us the most. The people who love us the most are the ones who chose to say no to us when we need to hear no. God's unconditional love poured out onto others through us means that we love others when they are "bad", and that love and loyalty gives us the freedom to say no when we need to. It doesn't make us popular, but it makes us real.

So, yes, I am going to continue writing. I will strive to be honorable and loving and true to my husband, my family and myself as I write. I will, no doubt, make mistakes. That's what that handy little delete button is for. All I can do is my best, and as I know better, I will do better. Thank God. :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Warning...broken heart ahead...

I probably should warn you that this is going to one of those weepy, wailing posts that sometimes pour out of people in broken relationships. So bow out now if you're not in for a downer.

Tonight I heard a particularly ugly bit of slander about my daughter and I. I think one of the most difficult things about a broken relationship is that when we're in the relationship and feeling all trusting and safe, we could never imagine our deepest secrets and vulnerabilities shared with people who hate us, as revenge for not being "the one". The sense of betrayal is brutal. And I don't get it.

What kind of person would say such rude things about a child? What kind of person carries that kind of hate in their hearts? What kind of person slanders the woman who gave a loved one the meds that possibly saved his life, and certainly saved his brain, and then cared for him gladly for months? What kind of person...?

I don't get it, and because I don't get it, I never seem able to see it coming or protect myself from it. I can't protect my child from it either, which hurts most. I feel guilty for ever exposing her to this kind of hatred. I just never saw it coming.

I'm not sure that asking what kind of person does these sorts of things is the right question. I don't ever want to be able to "get it". Part of the reason people have the freedom to do this sort of thing is because, as much as they hate me, they know I am restrained by my faith from returning the favor. Secrets shared with me are kept with me. There are things that should never be kept secret, like abuse, but even abuse can be spoken about with respect and care. My heart is never to slander anyone, and when I receive responses from people that I don't even know who have read what I have written about bullying, people who feel hope, or who are pledging to examine their own behavior for bullying tendencies, then I know that God's voice has been heard, honest and hopeful, in my writing. That's my goal. It's God's call on my life.

I admit that I am not quite in the place at this moment when I want to pray for these people yet. That probably has more to do with having my child slandered than anything else. That's just plain dark. But I can pray that I will get to the place where I will be able to pray for those who are selling their souls for a chance to hurt other human beings.

If you are reading this, and you pray, please pray for me. Having said all of this, I am still really, really hurt. I just want to crawl into bed. It's not about the slander. I mean, really, who cares? It's about the betrayal of one that I love, and one that I hoped, in some small way, at least cared about my daughter and I. Physically I am hurting, and so that makes it all harder to bear.

Still, God is speaking these words to my heart, "They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. " Psalm 18:18-19

My sweet Lord.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

And now a few words from Jean-Luc...

One of the things that fascinates me about our relationships with animals is the fact that we have worked out ways to communicate with them, and to understand what they are communicating to us.

From the pet rats that used to jump up onto the cage bars when they saw me coming, ("Pick me up! Pick ME UP!") to the young jersey bull that spent one summer tethered in the meadow by the house and who used to chase me out of the meadow after every visit ("Don't go! My ears are still ITCHY!!!"), understanding our animals has always seemed to be a fairly natural process.

Recently we had the opportunity to rescue a grey kitten, Jean-Luc. I blogged about Saving Jean-Luc in The Chicken Diaries. It has been a couple of weeks now, and I estimate that Jean-Luc is about 8 - 10 weeks old. He is a bright, curious, playful kitten. The only after-effects of having been lost for a week seem to be the tendency to be a bit desperate for people food when he sees that we are eating, and an endearing attachment to me, the one who pulled him from lostness with a handful of kitty kibble.

I have since moved into an apartment and Jean-Luc came with me. He could easily have been called Shadow, as he is my constant companion in the apartment. No matter where I am, he is. At night, when I get up to go to the bathroom, he follows. When I return to bed, he snuggles back up onto my pillow and goes back to sleep. If I leave a room without him noticing, it won't be long before he is wandering the apartment calling for me. I understand his concern. He has been abandoned. It is not easy to learn to trust again.

Today, I was on the couch reading, and Jean-Luc came up to where I was sitting and crawled into my lap. I pushed him aside, as he was blocking my book. He was in a affectionate mood, and walked up to my chest, rubbing his cheeks on my face and purring. He walked back and forth under my chin, pressing his warm, soft body against my throat and face. There are few sounds as inviting to me as the purring of a contented cat, and as he rubbed his cheek on mine I heard him, loudly and clearly, as if he was issuing the invitation in black and white.

"Enjoy me." It was very simple. Two words. "Enjoy me". It was not enough to sit on my lap and be absently petted while I remained lost in my book. Yes, he wanted to be touched and petted, but he wanted more. He wanted me to enjoy him, to feel his soft, thick fur on my face, to hear this deep, rumbling pleasure, to smell the faint perfume of his coat, to receive his affection and to enjoy him.

Needless-to-say, I put the book down and gave myself to this lovely experience with this lovely creature. In a few moments he was wrapped around the back of my neck asleep and I could continue with the book, but for a brief time, we connected. We had a moment. And it was enjoyable.

It made me think of one of my favorite verses in the Bible.

"They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me." Psalm 18:18-19

I remember the feeling I had when I first read this and realized that God delighted in me. Imagine that. I know that He walks with me daily and has all kinds of emotions about the things I do and the way I live my life. It is a new thing, though, to think that sometimes when I reach out to Him, when I worship Him and just want to be with Him, He enjoys me. I ask Him to be pleased with me, to protect me and take care of me, but do I ever ask Him to enjoy me? Do I even need to ask? I'm thinking that I may not need to. He is never too distracted to notice me, and His delight in His children is profound.

I knew Jean-Luc was out in the cold, alone and hungry, before I ever met him. I looked and looked for him. I rescued him because in his smallness, in his weakness and vulnerability, my heart was moved and it was my joy to save him.

My God sees me in the same way. His heart is moved by my vulnerability. There have been many times in the past when my confession of weakness has simply provided ammunition to those who needed to justify their own terrible behavior. Vulnerabilities were things to be laughed at, to be spread about in gossip, to be used as proof of my unreliability and justification for abuse.

This is not the heart of God. With God, I can come before Him in all my smallness and weakness and if I am seeking Him with love, I can confidently invite Him to enjoy me. Just as Jean-Luc consistently gives himself to me, a gift of love and sweetness, so do I have a self to give to God. In fact, my self is pretty much all I have to give to God. It is all He asks for. It is what pleases Him most. It is what He loves.

Enjoy me. Two simple words, but they express a trust and love that is so profound, it can change the way we look at our world, our people and our God. God saves us for one very simple reason. He delights in us. If that doesn't inspire us to joy and devotion, what will?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Celebrating Grace's High School Graduation

So, Grace graduated from High School yesterday! What an amazing day!

Picture by Bonnie Gilmour

Aside from the fact that in all the turmoil of the past few weeks, we had misplaced our camera, everything went really well. My sister, Dana, came to the ceremony and let me use her camera, and a dear friend and mom of one of Grace's dear friends, Bonnie Gilmour, took some pics for me. Which was just as well, because my photo taking abilities were hampered by the weeping. I broke down a couple of times while we were in the gym waiting for the ceremony to begin, and then once the processional music started, all was lost. I was feeling so many emotions, I didn't even bother to try to identify them. Sometimes all we can do with our feelings is feel them.

I am so proud of my daughter. Along with her diploma, Grace won two awards for academic achievement, in Contemporary World and History & Citizenship. She also sang in the choir that performed before the ceremony started. Several people told me that they could tell who's daughter she was just by looking at her, because she looks so much like me. It always blesses me to hear this, as I think that she is beautiful. And to prove that her inner beauty is as remarkable as her outer beauty, she also likes hearing that she looks like me. Dear, sweet child.

Even though I woke up this morning tired and feeling down after such an eventful week-end, my heart is still so full. I am sitting here, overwhelmed and without words to describe what is going on inside of me.

It took Grace's dad and I a long time to conceive Grace, years ago. We thought infertility was going to be a tragic part of our lives. I grieved deeply and continuously at the thought of never being able to mother a child. When we discovered that Grace was coming, it was a complete and joyous surprise. I jumped up and down screaming and Mark, her dad, sat at the table and smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen him smile. And that's saying something, because the man smiles...a lot.

After years of hoping and dreaming, I had great expectations for what mothering would be like. People tried, as people will, to bring me back down to reality, but in my heart I knew that this would be beyond amazing. I promised God that I would raise my child to know that He loved her beyond her wildest dreams, and that she would have every chance to reach out to Him, to know Him, and to choose to follow Him.

Sixteen years later, this one thing I know. Of all the hopes and dreams I have imagined for my life, raising Grace has been the one thing that has met with every hopeful, wonderful, joyful expectation I had. In fact, it is better than I could ever dream it would be, and I dream big. She has brought her dad and I a world of love that overwhelms us at times. She has grown into a young woman of faith and insight, compassion and strength, with a sense of humor that makes her one of the most fun people I know to spend time with. She made me laugh so hard once in the bulk aisle of the IGA, I almost peed my pants. Good times.

She is quick to forgive, and humble enough to admit when she is wrong. She strives for godliness in character, and her faith in Christ is best revealed in her love and care for others. Plus, she let's me write about her, which I am eternally grateful for.

Raising Grace has been the a wonderful thing, and I look forward to all the years that God gives us in this wonderful mom/daughter relationship.

Darn. Where'd I put the tissues...?

Friday, June 3, 2011

For Michael & Sandy - Thank You!

This blog entry is an open letter to Michael and Sandy, dearest soul friends and fellow travelers on this road of faith, life and learning ~

I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am to you both for all that you have allowed God to do for me and my family through you. I am most grateful for your presence with me on this discipleship walk. The whole time we have known each other, more than 20 years, we have been on a journey to discover this one truth - that we are utterly powerless to accomplish anything of eternal value and that without God's power, nothing that means everything to us can ever be done. No longer are we on what we have perceived as an endless path of trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing.

By God's unfailing grace to us, we have come to understand what we thought would be a torturous reality, but which has turned out to be like water to our parched souls - we are helpless. Yes, we are smart and resourceful and strong and creative and perceptive...but we have sensed that our lives were made for more than the mere trinkets that come by our own gifts and abilities. We were made for life. For freedom. For love. And we are helpless.

The very thought of our helplessness used to feel like a millstone around our necks. Maybe sometimes now it still will. But we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if we are ever going to catch a glimpse of the abundant life that has been offered to us, we must accept it. We are helpless.

Our God, on the other hand, is not only all powerful, but He is overwhelmingly and intimately loving. Our helplessness is not the end, because God has met us in our weakness. In fact, the weaker we will admit to being, the more powerful He is able to be in our lives. So this is truly an exciting time!

No longer do we try and fail, watching our lives, our families, our loves pay the price. Now, instead of trying and failing, we are journeying. We are children in the hands of a attentive Father. We may fall, but there is no more failure. Which parent, when watching their child take a first step, calls it failure when the small one teeters and lands with a soft "poof" on a diapered bottom? We never did that to our babies, and if we rejoiced in our children's efforts, how much more does our Father in Heaven rejoice in ours? The wonder of it all is that as we discover and accept our own helplessness, the next great revelation is that it is okay that we are helpless! Now, when we topple over, it will be growth, not failure. We are growing because we are alive, not dying a little more each day as failure haunts our steps. We are alive!

My friends, the coming days will be ones of growth, and we all know that there will be growing pains. I know that we will do just as we have always done, encourage and lift up each other in prayer, word and deed. I love you both, and pray for you daily as I know you pray for me. There is a reason why the first thing God does after giving us Himself is to give us people to journey with. In the very deep, the inner court of our hearts where we meet God, we are utterly alone with Him. But He has made an outer court, which is shared with our family in Him. There are days when we don't feel as if we will make it to the inner court without the love and encouragement of others who tenderly guide us in. You have done that for me repeatedly. Thank you, my friends.

"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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2Corinthians 12:8-10

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Learning as I go...

Readers that know me well will be aware of this, but for those of you who are new friends (Hello!), I feel it is important to make it clear that I am learning as I go, in this blog. When I used to teach Sunday school and Bible studies, I maintained that I was learning as much from the classes as anyone. And I wasn't just trying to be humble. Good teachers are good learners. The learning doesn't just happen in the days and weeks before the lesson. When we ask God to fill us with His Spirit, and to teach through us, we do it with a recogntion that we, too, will be students in this process. It's really a wonderful thing.

Lately I have been talking a lot about boundaries. Guess what lessons are on the table now? I am sad to say that, in an act of boundary setting/honoring, I have had to move out of my home. My husband and I are separated. One of the sad things about setting healthy boundaries is that we are not in control of how others will react to us. We cannot even try to control them. If I am allowed to set a boundary that I feel is neccesary for my personal health and well-being, then others are allowed to not like it. And to not want me in their lives.

I won't be writing about my marriage in any detail, and I certainly won't be talking about our "issues". This is not the place. The most important reason that is true is because anything I write would be one-sided, and that's not fair or honoring to my husband. The changes that are occurring are tragic, and yet they are important and healthy. I don't know what the future holds. I do know that my future is in God's hands.

He has provided abundantly. In the past few days, I have been overwhelmingly encouraged by the love and support of friends and family. I have moved into an apartment with a friend who will be a part-time room-mate, and who needs someone in the apartment on an on-going basis. The apartment just happens to be a block away from the school that my daughter and I will be attending next fall.

My focus in the next few weeks is my daughter's graduation from high school. I am deeply grateful for this remarkable child. Grace is and always has been a joy to me. I am also exhuberantly proud of her, and as her mother, I want the upcoming weeks to be a time of reflection and remembering the journey that has brought her to the day when she dons her cap and gown, hooks arms with two of her fellow students and marches through the ceremony that will signal the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

In a sense, the next few weeks may require that I set boundaries to protect this time with Grace. Sometimes it can be hard to set boundaries when we are caught off-guard, are feeling especially emotional or are too busy to see the violations coming. Preparing ahead of time for the possibility can be helpful.

Thinking about what might come, and devising ways of handling it ahead of time can help us relax and not spend sleepless nights worrying that something or someone might pop up and make things more difficult. It is important not to let this process slide into worry. The point is not to increase worry, but to lessen it by being prepared for the possibility that something may come up.

We can begin our preparations with prayer, asking God to give us wisdom, courage and patience. This is the process I am in now. Because my life is in turmoil at the moment, I need to make the decision to focus on what is important right now, and that is Grace. I cannot be a wife to someone that does not want me to, but I can be a mother to my daughter and share this transition with her. Whether it is helping her choose her prom dress and making sure it arrives when it is supposed to, or taking her to her first job interview, these are days that we will remember forever. I want Grace to remember them with joy.

Life can be bittersweet sometimes. In the days to come, I will be experiencing extremes of both bitter and sweet. Whatever comes, setting healthy boundaries means that the decisions concerning my life are mine to make. I thank God for this gift of respect and freedom, and because He is so gracious as to grant me total freedom, I freely choose to follow Him.
My Zimbio