On This Day…

Twenty-five years ago tonight, I thought I had met the love of my life.  We dated, I moved 1000 miles away from everything I’d ever known to join his ‘Brady Bunch’ family, and we married exactly 13 months later.  Twenty-five years ago tonight.

I was twenty-one years old; he turned twenty-four that very night.  What did we know about love?  What did we know about forever?

It’s funny how wise you become later in life.  I wonder, though, do you become wise simply with age, or from the sum total of your experiences?

I was thinking all day, if I knew then what I know now, would I have made a different choice?  Thankfully I believe fully that nothing happens by accident.  No matter how negative things seem to end up, the purpose for their existence far exceeds our understanding.  Praise Jesus!

Without this day, twenty-five years ago, I would not have my three incredible children who give me purpose each day.

Without this day, I would never have learned my worth, because I never would have questioned my value.

Without this day, I would never have found myself, because I never would have realized I was lost.

Without this day, I would never have picked myself up, because I never would have recognized I was under someone’s heel.

Without this day, I would never have been free to find real happiness, because I never knew how truly unhappy we were.

Thank God for this day.

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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!

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!

Daddy’s Hands

Cigarette smoke still gives me an instant migraine.  I don’t think that’s an accident.  I’ve gotten migraines since I was 8 years old…the exact age I was the 2nd time my Father started molesting me.  I remember it as clear as it was yesterday.  He was sitting in the chair at the kitchen table.  I was in my pajamas – the ones my Mother had made for me…hunter green…now my favorite color.  T-shirt material, ribbed edging, bloomer bottoms…proper.  He called me over to sit on his lap.  I don’t remember where my Mother was, or my brother for that matter.  But I remember ever single word my Father said to me…8 years old…38 years ago.  I was so pretty…don’t get fat like your Mother…a little rub here…a squeeze there.  But all Daddy’s did this, right?  Right?

I remember the day I finally told my Mother what had been going on with my Father…1 month shy of my 18th birthday.  I had just come in from a date with a boy I’d been seeing.  My Mother was sitting on the couch, and I was sharing with her the good time I’d had.  She was sharing too…that things weren’t going so well between her and my Father.  Her words…’I don’t know about your Father and I.’ I followed with, ‘I don’t know about Dad and me either…’  I instantly wanted to suck the words back in…but I couldn’t.  Her look of terror said it all…”What do you mean?”  “Nothing…”  I tried to play it off…but it was out…no unringing that bell.

The 10 years in-between are a blur of confusion about what was happening, why no one was helping me to make it all stop, growing into a teenager with feelings and emotions that conflicted with everything that was happening TO me, wondering toward the end if I was actually still a virgin or if my Father had taken that right FROM me, and lots of embarrassment for what I felt, physically and mentally, all the time.

When I think about it, I never HAD a childhood.  The story is that the actual abuse started when I was 5 years old.  I do not recall that portion at all.  Apparently my Mother found out when I was 6 years old, and my Father was made to attend counseling through various facilities because he was in the military.  My Mother said she continued to ask me if anything was happening, and I would always say no.  Either at some point, she stopped asking, or I stopped telling her the truth…either way, 2 years later, hunter green pajamas, bloomer bottoms, no more questions.

Times and places are really irrelevant…in the house, outside of the house; when my Mother was home and when she wasn’t; in my bedroom or in their bedroom; piano room, truck, Army depot, dirt road, bathroom…all a nauseating whirl of cigarette smoke, sweat, danger of being caught, trying to evade…but no ultimate escape.

I remember vividly the day the Sherriff called the house and asked if I wanted to prosecute my Father.  I was just shy of 18…and my Mother hovered over me, waiting to see if I was going to have her husband thrown in jail.  I answered no.

I remember going to court – Plaintiff, the State of South Carolina, with my Guardian Ad Litem seated at the table with me, versus the Defendant, my Father, with my Mother by his side.  And the Judge speaking so very harshly to my Father, and him looking so small and terrified, and the Judge telling him if he were walking on the same side of the street as me, he was to cross to the other side of the road, and if he saw me in a store, he was to leave.  And I left that courtroom feeling so badly I wanted to vomit, like I had done something horribly wrong.

And I remember therapy after therapy after therapy – a group for victims, a group for perpetrators, a group for families…I remember how in group therapy there was no one else whose Father had molested them – it was an Uncle, or neighbor or stranger…not a Father…like they’d never ever heard that before.  And then in the family group we all met together – Dad, Mom, my brother and I…and THEY were ready for Dad to move back home…and I was not.  And then it was all about my pajamas being too short, and I walked around the house ‘asking for it’ – and I just couldn’t hear that anymore.  That was August…I remember because it was time for college, and my original plan was to live at home and commute to school – only about 15 minutes away…but after that group, I suddenly decided to board at school, and never lived at home again.

I was convinced that my Father only molested me.  He had a sickness – that’s what I told myself.  I never once believed that he snatched children off the street and messed with them.  There was no evidence that I could see to support that claim.  I was an easy target to feed his sickness, as simple and as easy as that.

I also never questioned as a child that my Mother knew what was happening to me.  That day when I opened up to her, she seemed genuinely shocked to find out what was going on.  She reacted immediately to get us to safety and get me what I needed.  Several people in my life have since tried to imply that she had to know…there’s no way a mother could not know something was going on under her roof.  My response to that is simple:  my Mother died way too soon for many things – to see me marry, to meet her grandchildren, to enjoy an adult relationship with her children.  I would love to have a conversation with her and ask her many, many things.  This question is not one of them.  I know she loved me to the best of her ability.  I know she parented me with the best skills she possessed.  I also know she did not abuse me.  As a parent and the child of abuse, I know I have spent my life hypervigilent to make sure my children will never know the pain I experienced at the hand of anyone…ever.  Does this mean my Mother missed the signs?  Absolutely not.  My Mother struggled with her own issues of self-worth, self-doubt and depression.  The bottom line is that I choose to focus on the positive things she did to raise me right, and once it became known to her what was happening, she got us all out of that situation immediately.

Lastly, I am asked constantly how I could have forgiven my Father for what he did to me.  My answer is the same to basically everyone who asks…how could I not?  I was raised to know and love Jesus Christ as my Savior.  We live in a fallen world full of sinners just like me.  My Father was no exception.  As I mentioned, he had an illness for which I was the unfortunate target. On the one hand, I am grateful that no other person had to experience what I did as a result of his illness.  I am equipped with God’s love and mercy, and have walked through much of the damage caused by those years of abuse.  On the other hand, I had no way of knowing the depth of that damage, still reaching me some 38 years later.  Though I’ve forgive him and he’s gone on to glory, I still have scars from what happened.  I work through these as they come up, and I thank God for the testimony when I reach full and complete healing!  My Father passed away just a few short years ago, and I was fortunate to be by his side in his remaining days.  We shared some precious time together, and I learned priceless things about him that I would never trade.  Not uncommon, I did learn that my Father was also the victim of sexual abuse at the hand of several strangers as a teen.  This is not a justification of his behavior, but more insight into the damaging effects and repetitive cycle abuse has on people.  I am consciously choosing to stop this cycle with me.  It stops with me…

Those who read my writing know I typically put it all out there when I share.  My hope in sharing this immensely personal account is that one person…somewhere…will find the courage to either tell someone they are being hurt, or stop hurting someone TODAY.  No judgment, no blame; just release and healing…

Faithless Fathers…and Forgiveness

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Today is Fathers Day – a day to celebrate the fathers in your life, whether it’s your Dad, your Father-in-law, your children’s father, your brother, a good friend who exemplifies fatherhood – today is all about Dads.

But for many, today is also about loss; a father that passed away this year that you’re missing especially in this moment; a parent you’re estranged from and can’t seem to understand why that relationship doesn’t right itself; longing for a dad that was never there, absent from your life for as long as you can remember, leaving a hole wider than the ocean and more painful than can ever be overcome.

It can also be a day of hurt; for relationships that weren’t quite right, father relationships that were so damaging and destructive that the scars, though not always visible, run so deep just the mere mention of that relationship, that person, that time, can send us into a tailspin that leaves us reeling for days, questioning our foundation yet again.

My relationship with my father was complicated at best.  I share my story freely in the hopes that if one person is helped by what they hear, one girl finds the courage to speak up, to break the cycle, no girl will ever have to endour my childhood and continuing adulthood.

I am convinced that my father was not a sexual predator…he had an illness.  I am also convinced that I was his only ‘victim.’  From the time I was 5 years old, continuing until just shy of my 18th birthday, my father had an incestuous relationship with me.  It was as complicated and as simple as that.  I could go into a million details of why I didn’t tell, if my Christian mother knew, now if I think my mother knew, how I felt, etc., but those points are not really relevant to my post today.

What is relevant is that after the ‘telling,’ after my non-believing father was outed, I had two very simple choices: to forgive or to not forgive.  This is the part that always seems to completely baffle people, mostly Christians, which in turn baffles me.

When we are wronged, no matter what the situation is: cut off in traffic, short-changed at the grocery store, lied to by our children, assaulted by a family member…we have the same two choices.  One, while in the short-run might make us feel better, as life progresses, can only lead to more pain and anguish.  The other, while seemingly more complicated in the beginning, leads to a life of peace, freedom and weightlessness not afforded by any other choice in life.  It is that simple.

While the issue of whether my mother knew or didn’t know will always remain a question because of her untimely passing, the best gift she ever gave me was my faith.  My faith is my rock on which I wake up each morning, regardless of how miserable the day before has been.  My faith is my constant, no matter how much ugliness this world heaves at me, and believe me, as of late the world has been working double time.  That only makes my resolve doubly strong.  This incredible blessing called faith my father did not experience during his living years, but just days prior to his dying, and for that I truly mourn his loss – his loss of the joy at knowing each day who he could rely on; his lonliness for the majority of his life without a constant companion by his side; and mostly years and years missed with a Father who loved him more than life itself who waited his whole life to hear him utter,”Come…”

I am often asked how I could possibly forgive the man who did such horrible things to me.  My answer is quick and painless:  How could I not?  My Father taught me well.

If you are hurting today, missing your father for any reason, I pray you call upon your Father…He’s waiting for your call.