Is It Real?

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I was but a tiny girl.
I peered around the corner at my mother, sitting in the kitchen.
The ashtray overflowed with ashes as a pillar of smoke rose from the center.
Beer cans were scattered across the surface of the table.
Her eyes met mine for five seconds – long enough to pierce my soul with fear.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

She sat in the rocking chair, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Mommy?”
I placed my hand on her hand and turned my empathetic face up to hers.
She shoved me, knocking me to the floor.
I knew I must have done something wrong.
It was my job to keep her happy, and she was not happy.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Nineteen. An adult.
No job. No college. Just obedient toe kissing.
Baking. Cooking. Cleaning. Teaching. Parenting the young siblings.
Twenty-three.
No job. No college. No dating. No parties. No hanging out with friends.
Just more obedient toe kissing.
Wearing homemade dresses. Dedicating my young years to domestic “ministry”.
“It’s for your protection,” she said. “It’s God’s design for girls.”
And she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

“Giving the world a new approach to life!”
Follow these ten steps.
Drink these seven basic principles and drown in them.
They look like Biblical righteousness from where you sit in the stadium, but really they are chains of slavery.
Beat yourself over the head with these 49 character qualities.
And remember that grace is you doing what you’re supposed to be doing… perfectly.
Dating is fornication. Once attracted, you must marry.
Hook, line, and sinker… I swallowed it all.
But God said “I love you” in John 3:16.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Long eyelashes. Hazel eyes. Best friend turned something deeper.
Engaged just 2 weeks after realizing it’s more than friends.
Married 4 months later.
We did it right. We were righteous.
Courtship trumped worldliness.
We waited to say “I love you” until we were promised to each other.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Eleven and a half years of total dedication.
I made myself everything I thought he wanted.
Always quick to forgive. Very slow to judge.
Everyday I strove to trust and give the benefit of the doubt.
Shove the paranoia to the back burner.
Smile.
Hug.
Kiss.
Believe the best.
Ignore the warnings.
Say “I love you” every day and every night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Go to work.
Leave work.
Walk in the door.
Hang up the jacket.
Kiss the wife.
Whisper, “I like us.”
Chat over dinner.
Sit in the living room with the computer, ipad, or phone.
Tuck kids into bed.
Watch TV.
Get intimate in bed.
Fall asleep.
Repeat.
He said “I love you” tonight.

Is this love?
Is it real?

I thought it was all love.
I thought it was all real.

“You mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.”
Reality shattered. There is no fixing it. There is no healthy, loving relationship.

“Your over sheltered life has your thinking and belief system in complete turmoil and bondage.”
Reality shattered. Protection from life is psychologically harmful.

“There is no new approach to life. The greatest approach was given 2,000 years ago through the life and death of Christ.”
Reality shattered. There is no man who has “new revelations” from God.

“All your striving to be perfect has made you resistant to His amazing grace.”
Reality shattered. There is no doing what’s right, because it’s right… perfectly.

“I’ve spent our entire marriage trying to escape you. I don’t think we should have ever married.”
Reality shattered. There was no best friend. There was no “us”.

“Working late again.” Coming home smelling like perfume. Texting pictures back and forth. The list goes on.
Reality shattered. The words “I love you,” “I like your body,” “You’re beautiful”… they mean nothing. Just empty words to hide a lie.

There is no love.
Nothing is real.

But then He whispers.
He shows me that grace is not a list of rules to keep. Grace is Him looking down, loving me just where I am, and wrapping me in Christ’s righteousness.
He shows me that He is a good, good Father. Always providing. Giving good things. Holding. Hugging. Listening. Always patiently listening.
He shows me that His heart knows brokenness. Betrayal, deceit, abuse, devaluation… He’s felt it all.
He shows me that being human means always questioning. It means blood and tears. And He’s ok with that.
He shows me that He is the God who sees me… ME… in the midst of crap I never asked for.

This is love.
This is real. This is the only reality. It will never shatter.

My Broken Hallelujah

lineGod, I’m not even sure where to begin. Do I start at the beginning, in the middle, in the right here and now, or with my hopes for the future?

I have nothing… nothing to hold up for myself to say, “THIS…. This is my good. This is the part of me that got it all right… that knows where it’s going… that knows what to fervently embrace and run with.” Instead, I’m here… wandering in the fog of confusion, surrounded by millions of voices yelling at me, forcefully luring me to come to them and follow their path.

But I’ve tried so many paths. At impressionable ages, I was led down twisting trails, told what to believe and what to strive for. I left these pathways for one of my own. I wasn’t going to let someone else choose my way. I would find it on my way.

Sometimes I was sure I was getting somewhere good, but most times it was just way too foggy to even see where I was going.

You see, I’m broken… so very broken. I’m broken in my mind, in my heart, and in my soul.

I was taught that you wanted me to follow long lists of rules to be holy. I was taught that a position of authority was a free pass to blissful manipulation. I was taught you needed me to meekly submit to this type of authority before you would truly be pleased. Until then, I was rebellious and deserved to be stoned.

I came to see you as a manipulative God, ruling your subjects from your royal throne, laying down law after law and withholding love unless they were followed. I strove everyday to be able to hear you say, “This is my daughter. She is holy because she holds my standards high in her heart.”

Then came the slow realization that these standards I strove for were not even your own. They were standards set forth by a man, claiming to be your favorite minister. They were standards enforced by the authority positions over me. And I could never, absolutely never, uphold these standards perfectly.

Then I did it! I broke away from these chains wrapped around my ankles. I was free… free from the chains of legalism. And you began your work of healing. You showed me that you love me, no matter what.

But as these fallacies and half truths have slowly been picked out of my mind and heart, they’ve left holes… holes that need to be filled with truth. And I don’t know where to get this truth, God. How can I ever trust another teacher? How can I read your word and hear just you and not the words of others?

I need you to take my broken pieces. Sweep them up, every sliver, and piece me back together in the image of Christ.

Sort through the twisted wires of thought patterns in my mind. Untangle them and connect them correctly.

Fill in these holes with you and your truth.

I come to you broken, Father. I love you. I trust you. I know that you are sovereign and full of grace.

Here’s my broken hallelujah.
Your Daughter

A Metaphoric Nancy Drew, Pt. 2

Metaphoric Nancy Drew pt 2

*This is part two of the series, A Metaphoric Nancy Drew. You can read part one here.

 

“Nessa Brach?”

“Yes, this is Nessa,” she had answered, wondering who the caller was.

“Don’t trust him, Nessa,” the voice warned. “He’s not good. He’s pure evil. Get away from him as soon as you can.”

“Who? Who’s evil?”

“The Leader. Dr Landon.” By now, the voice was panicked. “Stay away from him.”

She heard a rustle and then silence. The caller had hung up.

Nessa sat on her bed staring at the wall for what seemed like an hour. “Well, that was weirder than snow in July,” she thought.

She pulled her laptop onto her legs. Maybe she could look up the number the call came from. Then she could find out who called.

211-123-4567. Andrew McCoy.

But the caller had definitely been a girl… maybe around twenty. McCoy. McCoy. Why did that sound familiar?

A door slammed downstairs, and she could hear the clip, clip of her mom’s high heels across the kitchen tile. Mom would know. Nessa slid off her bed and scurried down the stairs.

“Hi, Mom. Here. Let me help you with the groceries.”

Her mom looked at her in surprise. “Thank you.”

Nessa smiled as she slid the loaf of bread into the bread drawer. “Mom. Who’s Andrew McCoy?”

“He used to work for Dr. Landon. Why?”

Nessa opened the refrigerator and slid the jug of milk onto the top shelf. “No reason,” she lied.

“You know,” her mom continued. “His daughter Skylar was Dr. Landon’s secretary a couple years ago. I guess she started ‘loosing it’ and accused Dr. Landon of some nasty things, so Mr. McCoy resigned to take care of his mentally sick daughter. I don’t think anyone has heard of them since.”

Nessa thoughtfully poured herself a glass of Coke. “Mom, why did Dr. Landon take an interest in me? I didn’t  even know the Institute existed until I came here from Dad’s a year and a half ago. I wore clothes Dr. Landon would never approve of and listened to music that he deems evil. Why did he ask me to be his secretary when Aubrey left six months ago? Why me? And why did Aubrey leave anyway?”

Her mom stopped unloading groceries from the last bag and looked Nessa in the eye. “I don’t think all that matters, Dear. What matters is that the Good Leader saw great potential in you. He changed you for the better. You were so depressed and rebellious before you met him. He saved your life, Dear. That’s all that matters.”

There it was again… the “you owe the Good Leader your life” line. Nessa raised her glass slightly. “Thanks, Mom. I’m going upstairs to study.”

She was glad her mom didn’t ask her what she was studying. She had plenty of research to do, but it wasn’t for any of her college classes. She had to find out more about Skylar McCoy. This research project just might be more interesting than a jar full of fireflies to a six year old boy.

 

Read more from this series:

A Metaphoric Nancy Drew, Part One

 

*photo credit

Two Powerful Stories of Freedom

freedom from the church and depressionEvery once in a while, I come across an article or story that just sticks with me, and I just can’t get it out of my head. I find myself pondering on it as I go through my day. Here are a couple of that I can’t help but share.

 

I can across this personal story by Maren Stephenson over a year ago, and I haven’t forgotten it since…. A story of a religious Mormon couple who dared to question their faith… a story of their journey out of a pointless religion.

“I don’t believe in God,” my husband whispered in the darkness of our bedroom.

Before I could process what I was saying, forbidden words slipped off my tongue. “You are more important to me than the Church,” I said.

I wondered what my pioneer ancestors would say if they could hear me…. (Read More)

I hope that one day they ask the question, “What if the church is a fraud, but God is not?” I hope they begin a journey to finding out who God really is and who they are because of Him. But for now, I’m glad they found their way, and I am proud of their courage to defy religion.

 

I came across this brave story this weekend. You’ve probably heard of Ruth’s blog Living Well, Spending Less, but you may not have known her background. She is not your “ho-hum, always had a perfect life” blogger. Her story is one of tremendous trials and black, black days. But with the help of her earthly father and her Heavenly Father, she made it through. She tells her story on her blog.

Eleven and a half years ago, I woke up in a panic, unable to breathe, with  some unknown object blocking my airway.  The only thing that mattered was  getting it out as quickly as possible.

I soon found out—as the alarms began sounding and my ICU hospital room  instantly filled with a half-dozen stunned doctors–that the thing I had just  pulled out of my throat was the ventilator keeping me alive…. (Read More)

What a story of the sweet amazing grace of an all-sovereign God!

 

*photo credits: temple, prescription

Your Story: A Girl’s Just Gotta Twirl

twirl
 

Ginger is a dear friend of mine. She has walked the journey through the shadowy darkness and broke through the other side. She blogs of her experiences, as well as many other things, over at Just One of the Boys. Today, she shares with us a glimpse into her journey…

I remember twirling in my fancy dress as a little girl. Time seemed to pause just for me as I spun around and around on my tip-toes. My ruffled dress and I whirled about the room so fast that everything around me simply faded away. That dress transported me to my own little world where I could be a ballerina, a fairy princess, or Cinderella at the Ball. I wanted to dance in my special little place forever…

But what happened to the imaginative little girl that I used to be? Her heart had been bursting with endless hopes. The dreams that she held so dearly knew nothing of limits. Her little world was full of light – a beautifully magical place where good always prevailed over evil, no real harm could befall her, and where Prince Charming was coming to rescue her, dressed in his shining armor.

Dark shadows crept toward her, and she gradually stopped twirling. As she was confronted by these ghosts, she let her dreamland slip away. Over time she sadly gave into the idea that she would never be a fairy princess. When she stood still, darkness crept in to surround her.

Amy's flower girl

Other girls laughed at her. She buried her desire to once more twirl around and around. She tried to fit in…and failed miserably. “You’ll never be good enough,” the Shadow of Inferiority hissed.

“I’m not hungry.” The lies that she told herself over and over again were so ardent that she actually started to believe them. The lower the number fell on the scale, the closer she thought that she would be to perfection. She thought that she was almost there, but perfection never came. “Just a few more pounds. Just a few more inches,” lied the voice of Self-hate.

She felt in her heart that something was not perfectly right, but he seemed like such a nice guy. He sought her out. No one had ever paid her this much attention. He said that he couldn’t imagine life without her. Surely, this had to be her long-awaited Prince. The Shadow of Deception felt too good to be true.

“It’s your fault. You made him angry,” the Shadow of Abuse deflected the blame at her.

Crashing through her little home, The Storm of Infidelity left a trail of devastation in its wake. Once more she allowed her heart to listen to the vicious lies in her head. If only she had been prettier. Maybe then he wouldn’t have betrayed her trust. Maybe then she would have been good enough. If only…

As the shadows of Divorce and Loneliness threatened to surround her, she realized that she no longer had to be frightened by the ghosts of the past.  Wondering why she had ever stopped dancing through life, she worked to slowly unravel the darkness that had been her constant companion all of these years. She found courage that had sparked deep within her. She could now face the darkest of shadows without allowing them to overtake her. She gave herself the freedom to cautiously begin to twirl once more.

Days turned into weeks, weeks eased into months, and the months flowed into years. She gathered a strength and assuredness that can only come from staring down the darkness. With a new radiance, a smile graced her face for the first time in years. A deep and meaningful happiness welled up in her soul. She learned more about her true self as she grew as a woman, and she found that her real life journey far exceeded anything in a fairytale.

When the wounds of the past had started to heal, someone new entered her life. More than just a brave prince, he was a kind and selfless spirit. As their friendship developed, and then grew into something deeper, she found that she did not have to stop twirling for him, or anyone, ever again. He, too, was on a path of healing, and their separate lives began to mesh into one beautiful dance. She now had a partner, a friend, a Beloved – and the ability to keep twirling as life moves forward. Shadows will come and go over time, but she now felt confident that they no longer had the power to hold her back from pirouetting joyfully through life.

The little girl grew up, and as she fought, lost, blossomed, and triumphed, she began to twirl once more – and she vowed to never stop.

I vowed to never stop…

“Those who look to Him are radiant, 

and their faces shall never be ashamed. ~ Psalm 34:5

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*Photo credit: Top photo – by Joanne Funk. Post Header & Bottom photo – by John Zimmerman

A Letter to my Pastor

writingDear Pastor,

Five years ago our little family was in need of direction and healing. God lead us to you and to the church family you shepherd. You probably don’t know that the words God spoke through you and the circumstances (both good and bad) that were taking place within the church were like stiches sewing together the rips in our hearts and in our marriage.

Your words and your leadership added water and sunlight to the seed of faith within us… the faith that God truly is 100% sovereign in all things… ALL things… even when it doesn’t make sense. The faith that God is not a list of rules and do’s and don’t’s that’s thrown for a loop when we mess up… but rather a God who is in control of all things and who works all things for good and for His glory.

Yes, it’s been five years. The rips are healed… though there’s still some light scars. The seeds of faith have sprouted and began reaching high toward the heavens.

And yet, I’ve never said much more than “hi” to you. You don’t see our family at Sunday school early every Sunday morning. You don’t see us on Wednesdays and Sunday nights. In fact, we’re probably present only about 70% of the time on Sunday mornings.

Why? Why are we ghosts flittering in the doors barely seen and back out again before anyone notices? Short answer… I don’t know exactly.

Long answer… it could be any of these or all of them…

I can’t speak for my husband, but me… I’m scared. Scared of committing myself to a thing… a church… a group of people… a leader. I’ve seen the danger of cult like religion. I’ve seen people who love Jesus place their hearts in the hands of the leader. I’ve seen these people lose their love for Jesus as their hearts turn to stone. They faithfully follow the standards of their group’s leader and judge those who do not. They religiously read their Bible. They claim to have revelations from God, but they are conclusions of their own. I’ve seen these people, and I’ve been one of them.

I love God with my whole being. I’ve sought Him like a crazy person these last five years. And what I’ve found has taken my breath away. I’m scared that by committing to the church… to faithful attendance… to participation in Bible studies… to fellowship with other believers… I may lose this personal thing I have going on with the God of my soul.

Then there’s the fear of people… the fear that I will be found guilty of something… I’ve no idea what. I may be judged. I’m more of a black tea person who likes to percolate the deep concepts of life. Small talk… getting to know you talk… it’s hard. I stumble over my own words. It’s like I can give an entire speech on the incredible sovereignty and grace of God in the workings of life, but I can hardly manage to ask a genuine “how are you?”. The friends I have managed to make at church tend to leave about the time we get past the up front hellos. I’m scared to lose another friend.

I also have this strange fear that any time I even smile at a man in church, I will be found guilty of flirtatious behavior. In the religious circle in which I spent all of my teen years and half of my twenties, speaking as a friend to the opposite gender was just not right. People were punished for it. In those so important years when normal people were learning how to appropriately interact with the other gender, I practiced the standards of looking the other way when a man or boy my age walked by. I did not smile. I did not speak. And when I did, I always felt guilty. How can I comfortably interact with my family through Christ with this weird fear and false guilt always at the front of my mind?

Then there’s just the plain old fear of commitment to anything other than my family. I get easily overwhelmed with life as a wife and mother. How could I possibly join another family and the commitments that go along with it? Could I really give? Do I even have anything worth giving?

It’s just easier to not to…. to not commit.

So in case you were wondering… there it is.

Sincerely,
The little lamb that slinkers past you on the way out the door

 

*photo credit