Peace by Peace

Plenty of people in this world walk around putting on heirs.  They pretend to be so happy with where they are in their life, when in actuality, their actions tell quite a different story.  Whether it’s nasty behaviors toward most people they come in contact with for no other reason than the fact that they are miserable inside, or judgmental talk about just about everyone in their lives, the hubris seeps out through every pore until you barely recognize who you’re dealing with anymore.   They have themselves convinced they’re living under the guise of honesty, and cannot recognize that their words and actions don’t match their proclamations.  I am a firm believer that our behavior is the best reflection of our true character.  We can talk a certain way, but if our walk doesn’t match that talk, it falls on deaf ears.

I am, in no way, a perfect human being.  I have never claimed to be in my lifetime.  I fall short every.single.day.  But I know who I am – a child of the King who forgives me for my shortcomings and meets me where I am at.  His love is fresh and new for me every day, and I don’t have to every worry about disappointing Him, because His love never fails.

I also know my responsibility as His child – to love Him, and to love others and I love myself.  See that last word – myself – it’s bold and underlined for a reason.  Often times we leave off this key word.  Jesus was asked specifically by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment in the Law was, to which He answered love God, but the second portion of the answer is where we get hung up.  Matthew 22:39 says,” 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  First we are charged to love our neighbor – ALL of them – not just our white neighbor, our Christian neighbor, our young neighbor, our cool neighbor, our nice neighbor, our conservative neighbor, our straight neighbor,  our non-addict neighbor, our sober neighbor….but ALL OUR NEIBHBORS.

And the next part…here’s the deal-breaker.   To love the way God loves, I have to love me first.  This isn’t selfish or haughty, it’s just plain fact.  If I have issues with me, I can’t love like God loves.  If I don’t feel worthy, I can’t love like God loves.  If I have issues with forgiveness, or hate, or self-loathing, or identity, or relationships, or bitterness, or self-control, or selfishness…it is impossible to love like God loves.  Because God does not struggle with these issues, plain and simple.  So until we can lay these issues down at the feet of our Father, we cannot love as we are asked to do, thereby fulfilling the greatest command.

We can walk around thinking we’ve arrived all we want, talking up a good talk, telling all who will listen that we are Christians, but until we’ve laid all down all our junk, we’re nothing more than clanging cymbals in the ears of those around us.  God knows we’re not fooling Him.

My prayer is for a time when we all – us and ALL our neighbors – love ourselves and each other enough to step forward in unity.  We’ve spent far too much time looking at differences.  Far too much wasted time.

Love God ~ Love others as yourself

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Keep On Keeping On

“Someone once asked me how I hold my head up so high after all I’ve been through.  I said, it’s because no matter what I am a survivor – NOT A VICTIM.”

There are many traits about myself that I am not crazy about.  I am exactly five feet tall – no more, no less.  I have the shortest legs of anyone I know.  I cannot run to save my life, literally.  My heart physically fails me many times.  I have physical scars and bruises that aren’t that attractive.  My posture is atrocious.  My mouth gets me into trouble more than I’d care to share.  My upper body strength is shameful.  But all of these pale in comparison to this undeniable, unfathomable fact: I am a childhood trauma victim.

For the longest time I thought this label – this yoke around my neck – was nothing more than a delineation between me and other kids growing up.  Heck, I didn’t even think that for years.  I honestly believed that my life was a variant of normal – that all the girls experienced what I did; this was how Daddys showed their daughters love, and I was so very special and so very loved.

In my teen years, I didn’t want to be different, special in any way.  I wanted to be loved the right way, by the right guy…but at that point I was simply powerless to stop the momentum that had existed for so long.  So instead I made a decision:  I wasn’t special; I wasn’t different; and I certainly wasn’t a victim.

Once everything was exposed, and the ugliness began – the circles of blame and hurt feelings and raw emotions and bitterness – I sealed off that section of myself; blow-torched the edges and didn’t look back.  And it was settled…there was no damage, there was no problem, and there was no discussion necessary, period.  But I was so very wrong, for just because I had issued forgiveness for my Father, I had never ever forgiven myself, and it never once occurred to me that I was in far more need than he would ever be.

Since I had sealed off that portion of my life, I had never truly walked through how that experience changed me, formed me into the adult I became.  I entered a marriage still broken but functioning, in complete denial that the events of my trauma would ever touch another relationship.  In the early years of our marriage, my husband did make a valiant attempt to reach me, but he never possessed that capacity to fix what I had no cognitive knowledge was so vastly distorted – no one man could have taken on that task without my support and professional assistance – of this I am now keenly aware.

Also, because I had not examined how I was impacted by my trauma, my choices of relationships continued to be impacted, as our marriage stumbled and ultimately faltered, from a combination of both of our shortcomings.  I sincerely believe it took this event – the destruction of my marriage – to bring me to my knees, emotionally, spiritually, physically – before God and finally seek the answers within myself that had always been there, but that I had not been prepared before then to reveal.

As I’ve spoken of before, this heart work is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it is the most critical work I will ever do – for the health of myself and those around me.  I cannot be the best me I can be without finding the cause of my pain, identified or not, and choosing to walk through that.  Simply identifying the issues, past and present, but refusing to make the necessary changes is not going to bring about the healthiest version of you.  It is in the walking it out that you find who you really are, who you were meant to be, and the you that God desired for you to become.  This is the critical piece.

I also believe I’ve discovered there is no completion to this work; it is a process we must continue daily.  Though I have come a long way in deciphering why I make the choices I make, and where some of those bad choices have taken me, there are still choices to be made – each and every day.  Though I can now recognize behaviors that seem familiar and safe and remember that those aren’t working for me any longer that takes a conscious decision each and every time, choosing the better path laid out before me.

I would still contend that I am not a victim, but rather a survivor.  In fact, I loathe the word ‘victim.’  The implication is helplessness, hopelessness, and weakness.  I am certainly none of these things.  I am strong, wise, and loved.  I have a pep in my step that has been missing probably forever.  I walk with my head up instead of looking down because of unworthiness.  I am a Princess, and I won’t be diminished by titles lobbed at me by this world.  And while I can’t grow any taller, I can lengthen my gait by keeping on this new path, this healthy path, and realizing that when I stumble, I can reflect on where I’ve come from to get me on track again.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

I have this gift – it can be viewed as a blessing or much, much less, depending on your perspective.  I never forget anything.  Even the tiniest of things with no significance to some, I remember.  Yesterday was a date of some great importance.  Two years ago yesterday, my supposed ‘normal’ life was altered forever.  My 22 year marriage stopped existing as my spouse informed me it no longer did.  I wasn’t asked for my input, there was no discussion, there wasn’t even an argument – just the announcement of the end.

As I reflect on these 2 years, my initial thoughts are that it seems so very long ago.  While the words still sting like a fresh wound, I hardly remember what I felt in those first moments.  I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing – but other than my tears, I have no idea what was in my head as the longest relationship of my life was ended in 5 words.  It’s funny how I can remember September 11 like it was yesterday – where I stood, paralyzed by fear, glued to the television as the images came across, the gasps and the tears as the first Tower fell, the longing for my family to be whole and home immediately so I knew they were safe, the complete numbness as the second Tower fell, the inability to turn away from the news coverage for days afterwards.  But this inner destruction, this attack on my person, my family…happened right in front of my face…and yet the feelings and emotions were lodged so deeply inside that it seemed that they might never see the light of day.  Instinctual mode broke free and took hold, and my motions became robotic – protect my children, show no weakness, do not become broken.  Going through the motions, really…not feeling a thing.

Time is the enemy of numbness.  Just like going to the dentist, eventually the Novocain wears off, and the residual pain breaks through.  This is when the real work begins…learning to feel those feelings, meet them head on, one at a time, acknowledge their value and purpose, realize that you can survive the process and come out on the other side, stronger and wiser.  But it is just that…work…and it’s hard and painstaking, and you have to want to get through it and see what you’re made of.  For me, that meant a lot of soul-searching and a phenomenal therapist who never once judged me, told me what I felt was wrong or inappropriate, and helped to guide me through everything I was experiencing.

The biggest piece, though, was that I was ready to get healthy and whole – for me.  You can’t experience any kind of traumatic event and then walk it out for someone else.  Sure, you can try that – but the results come back hollow and meaningless – because you’re trying to walk your journey to please another, and that never, ever works.  You can’t live your life to please someone else, and you certainly can’t sift through your junk to suit their needs.

The entire 2 years haven’t been rosebuds and raindrops.  Divorce, I have found, is a very despicable word.  I never realized just how ugly people who once loved each other can become when pushed to their breaking points.  Battles over possessions, property and payments cannot be made kind.  And when children are involved, one parent has to be annihilated to make the other one more appealing – there is no simpler way to put it.  The number of times I have sat in that Family Court in the last 2 years has embarrassingly made me an expert on something I take no pride in knowing about.  And I can say this in all truthfulness – God stands outside that Courthouse, as the feeling of evil upon entering envelopes you like a heavy wool blanket each time and you know you need to be washed clean when you leave.  Love was never intended to be this way…ever.

As I’ve moved forward in my process of healing, I’ve decided that I have a small responsibility in his healing too.  Not in his process, his choices, or his actions – but solely in how I choose to treat the man I once loved.  If I continue to treat him with disdain in my heart, and yet intend to show Jesus to strangers, aren’t I being a hypocrite?  How can I show any less than the love of Jesus to him?  This is certainly not to say when he is hurtful I am just to accept it openly.  That person is gone – the one that allowed herself to be quashed for years, silenced by emotional abuse that I was embarrassed to reveal.  But I do not have to allow myself to be baited by his hurtfulness.  I am stronger now, and I am secure in who I am.  I won’t be confused about that ever again.

So what does all of this mean?  Because I am healthier, I can lead my children in a much better way.  They don’t have to be confused or afraid of what is happening in their own home.  We all are prospering – a word I wouldn’t have dreamed to use even a year ago.  Each of the kids has a path they are on, and they are making their way.  And their Mama?  For the first time in a long, long time…she’s happy and making plans to enjoy the days in front of her.  I am done looking back…my ‘new’ is ahead and it’s waiting for me to discover it.  I can’t wait!

That Still, Small Voice

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2

I love my showers.  In the winter, the scalding water warms my chilled body down to the bone, where the snowy cold has robbed me not just of my body temperature but many times of my spirit.  In the summer, the cool water seeps deep into my pores, chilling me beyond what air conditioning can do in the most refreshing of ways.  What I love most about the shower is the silence, the peace, the solace – time for reflection, a collecting of my thoughts, my only true haven.

My showers lately have been different – noisy, distracting, befuddled.  I haven’t been able to connect with that place of peace I need so desperately as of late.  Miscellaneous noise and others’ junk whirl overhead like a swarm of bees, robbing me of my soul connection.  I have allowed it to continue – I make no qualms about this – but I haven’t known how to stop the distractions…until today.

Today, as I watch the water spin down the drain, that still, small voice I’ve been missing for months whispers my name and demands my attention.  The voice only I can hear speaks into my being, and suddenly all the confusion and lack of clarity I’ve been experiencing for the last few weeks becomes transparent – gossamer even – and I know what I must do, and how to get to where I need to be.

For the first time in weeks, I feel light again.  Upon deeper inflection I realize though I’ve made great strides in the recent past, I’ve chosen the wrong road of two presented before me.  And while I thought I’d chosen well, I chose the easier of the two paths, which typically would cause great disappointment in myself.  But today I resolve to make a better choice, with the new information, and leave my weapons on the ground – I’ve been beaten down enough.  Even this revelation is a huge one for me, and I find myself a little giddy at my progress.

I intend to reach out to that voice again tomorrow.  I really hope she’s not a stranger…I’ve got plans for us!

Let Freedom Ring

“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you.  You will suffer for ten days.  But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you a crown of life.”                                                                                                                                                                     Revelation 2:10

Even after living in Connecticut for 24 years, I still consider Charleston home.  My roots, my heart, my soul are all stored deep in the south – I don’t believe that will ever change.  The news of the Emanuel AME Church shooting Wednesday evening rang through me like a shockwave.  Someone, an intruder, had violated MY HOME…killed MY PEOPLE…damaged MY TOWN…it feels just that personal to me.

I scour social media to get the latest on the offender, his whereabouts, input from President Obama, outcries from the families, reactions from the community – but I know one thing I don’t have to ready myself for – more violence in retaliation.  That is not how MY HOME works.  I love the response of my people…banding together in churches and sports fields, to PRAY.  These people have been through this experience and worse before, and they know who to turn their troubles to, and who not to blame.

Being raised in this community, the difference of race was out in the open, always.  My Mother’s best friend was African American, half of my classmates were African American – heck, the first boy who ever loved me was African American…it was there, and you were either going to deal with it, or you were going to be the problem.  Sure, ignorance existed back then too, but we kids didn’t tolerate it, at least my group of friends did not.  If someone had the gall to actually say something ignorant out loud, they got stared down mighty quickly by about 10 people more than ready to ‘bring them to Jesus,’ and then they were allowed the grace to retrieve their dignity and simply move on.

I understand I can be fairly naïve about many things, though I am not naïve enough to believe my experience was the sum total of race relations in South Carolina, with its Confederate Flag whipping in the wind and the good ole boys making deals in back wood bar rooms.  But these references, as I’ve heard mention, as well as a few others in the last few days, are not the origin of racism, of the hatred displayed Wednesday night.  This story, unfortunately, is not new.  And as the pieces of the puzzle still unfold and we hear from the offender himself, a variety of conclusions can be drawn.  One point is transparent:  this young man messed with the wrong town, the wrong people – the evidence is clear.  His repayment for such unthinkable acts?  Riots, looting, burning my precious city down?  Quite the contrary…prayer, worship gatherings, vigils…inviting Jesus right back to where He was forced out by gunpoint.

I worship a God worth dying for.  I have that right because men and women have given their lives for me to serve this country I call home.  They gave their lives for Dylann Roof without him ever asking or approving as well.  I read an amazing quote last week that I really loved…basically it said Jesus died for you knowing that you might never love Him back.  Jesus died for Dylann Roof, knowing he might never love Him back…he was worth the risk.  Jesus certainly died for Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson, and though they may have feared what stood before them Wednesday night, they had the promise of eternity with God ahead of them and freedom from this broken world, and we must try to focus on that positive picture.

Please continue to lift up Charleston in your prayers – for healing and wholeness, and continuing to let God reign.

Broken…Not Together

Anger pierced the corridor like a sabre.  Glancing blows leave mortal wounds too deep to triage in the moment.  “Dumont!”  The name echoes through the chamber and I pop up, diligently and deliberately, cautious not look left or right – obedience is the only option.  “He won’t participate,” I say, numb, “even if you tell him he can.  He won’t.”  She looks at me as if to say “Are you even alive in there?”  I am – but barely.  I do what needs to be done in this room, no more, no less.  I have been here so many times before – all I can be is numb.  Anything else hurts too much.

We speak, very briefly.  Show her this document, answer that question.  Now wait and he’ll come in, but don’t go far.  I know the dance – believe me – I know.  I stand in the corridor, alone, stoic, jumbled with my huge binder – I have been here before…too many times to recount.  That binder is comfort and pain:  comfort in its organization and sanity; pain in its constant reminder of the next step and the last.

Just like that, we’re done.  He doesn’t agree to anything, as usual.  Courtroom B-1.  Roll call, and then waiting.  He whisks by and I don’t look up; I stare at the ground, subservient again.  I sit far and apart from him; his brother has appeared from somewhere…he needs someone with him at all times; not for moral support, but to keep him in check.  Roll call bellowed out, and then we wait.  We are moved to B-3 suddenly.  They complain – “Who is the Judge in that court?”  He feels bias against several Judges…or is it they are biased against him?  I can’t keep up.  I jump up and exit, not even listening to the argument.

In B-3, I take my seat.  The Judge reviews the file, and asks me a few questions.  I answer, politely, precisely.  Motion for Contempt – back Child Support.  He hasn’t paid anything in 1 year.  His argument – he didn’t agree to anything.  He doesn’t owe anything.  Now, he states he didn’t sign the Divorce Decree; after 1 year he finally admits he walked out of the hearing.  We all already knew that.  He becomes belligerent.  The Marshall moves to his table.  He can’t stop speaking.  The Judge instructs him to be quiet – the issues of today’s scope are narrow – he never really understands this point.  He goes on and on – the Marshall draws closer and closer.  His brother tries to calm him, to no avail.  I am given a last opportunity to add anything I need.  I readdress that he has never paid anything.  That he lives on proportionally more than the 4 of us do.  And that he had put in an appearance previously, that no one scammed him into getting divorced that day last April.

The Judge proceeds to deliver his sentence, and again he interrupts.  The Judge is now intolerant, and tells him to quiet himself for the last time.  He begins to sob uncontrollably.  The whole exchange is horrible – to witness – this man, this father, this once husband, falling so far from who he once was…

When the Judge is finished, I rush from the court, as I am now virtually holding back tears.  I am basically running down the hall, looking for refuge from them as they will be behind me any moment and I don’t want them to know I have broken – that my heart has broken once again for this situation that once was a marriage, a life, a family.  I make it to the Court Services office, to the far back table, and collapse in tears…face in my hands, sobbing.  How is it that, 2 years apart, I am still so impacted by what this man does and does not do?

I am reminded, however, that one person cannot carry a relationship alone.  And, more importantly, God needs to be the center of any relationship for it to really work.  You can be the best person, the best Christian, but you alone cannot fill in the gaps for your spouse.  You will constantly fail without Jesus.  We are all broken human people.  And that’s ok – God made us that way.  The purpose for that, once again, was so that we would lean on Him, in our personal lives, in our parenting, in our relationships – we need Jesus to complete us.  He is the only one who can.

I love this new song by Casting Crowns…Broken Together.  It talks about how if we each come together, admitting our brokenness, and approach Jesus, we can be made whole – TOGETHER.  Unfortunately that couldn’t happen in my marriage.  But my next relationship certainly will have a lasting foundation I can count on.  Because I am broken – and so will my next someone be.  And together with Jesus, we’ll be awesome!

Wounding with 80 Grit

“When people hurt you over and over, think of them as sandpaper.  They scratch you and hurt you, but in the end, you are polished and they are all used up.”

Even though we have the ability to walk away from the people in our lives that cause us pain, some of those relationships cannot ever be completely ended for various reasons.  Because I share 3 glorious children with their father, that relationship – or some loose interpretation of the word, will always be in place.  I have chosen not to speak ill of him in their presence, a practice he chooses not to reciprocate.  Over time I have learned I cannot control his actions any more than I can control the direction of the wind.  What I can control, however, is my reaction to the choices he makes.  This is not to say for the briefest of moments that when word gets back to me that he’s spoken harshly of me in front of them, disparaging me once again in their eyes, that the all-too-familiar feeling doesn’t sweep that tiny mound of confidence I’ve started to rebuild right out the door, faster than I can possibly rebuild it.

We do this dance – the tearing down and rebuilding – on a regular weekly basis now…the only problem is he is completely unaware of the angst I go through each and every time.  Oh, I am quite certain he is expecting some ‘direct hit’ – just like lobbing his move in “Battleship”…B-6…HIT!  But the personal attack on myself I do privately – and he is certainly no longer privy to the score I keep, a much more gruesome account of battle scars, personal shortcomings, life-long ineptness and the like.  At the end, it looks much more like a replay of ‘Shark Week’ than ‘Battleship,’ as I huddle in the corner assessing the damage, trying to determine which areas can withstand another hit and which need attention – STAT!

The lingering question, mostly to myself, is why I continue to log unknown conflict time, particularly when the causalities remain so costly to my well-being.   If he chooses his actions, and I choose mine, why do I continually choose this self-inflicted kill-shot each and every time?  What is my reward?  Otherwise, why can’t I simply let him say and do what he is going to, and let that roll off me without a care?  Obviously somewhere inside the core of me, I must be gaining some twisted prize from the battle with this demon, over and over again…right?

And then I think about that quote…the sandpaper disappears, and the one who’s hurt is polished.  It reminds me of one of my favorite Bible verses, 1 Peter 1: 6, 7:

‘In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.’

This relationship – it’s really just another trial, another test of my faithfulness before God.  And my reward, not for the self-deprecation, but for staying the course, is worth more than any gold here on earth.  So the next time I start worrying about what he’s saying about me, to whom…I just have to remember the truth of this verse.  My real reward is with Jesus – always has been…always will be.  No words of man will ever change that fact.