For as long I can remember, I’ve been choosing to do certain things, because if I didn’t do them I thought I was being selfish.
It’s a lie that’s been a part of my being ever since I was a little girl living with an abusive father. A lie that has beaten me down, silenced my voice, and stolen my identity. A lie that has kept me enslaved. A lie that at times I believed was God’s will.
Yesterday sitting in marriage counseling, my husband and I talked about the expectations that family has placed on us over the years and the boundaries we’ve tried to put up that they’ve trampled down.
Several years ago, I’d ask my husband’s Mom to call me before she came to visit. I’m not the kind of person that likes unannounced visits, especially if I’m running around in my pajamas cleaning the house, or when our family is sitting down for a meal together. I operated a business out of my home,as well as took care of our two young children. My schedule was important, and I looked forward to the time when my husband would come home when we could have time together as a family. But even when I asked his Mom to call, she usually never did. A couple of times I’d look up and she’d just be standing in my den. It drove me nuts and made me really angry.
Then when my daughter was abused by a cousin who lived just down the road from us, my husband’s brother who we’d told about the abuse, brought the abuser right onto our property riding on the back of his truck. It was clear he didn’t take what we’d told him had happened to our daughter seriously. We eventually put up an automated gate to keep his family from coming unannounced, but it wasn’t long before we gave in and gave them the code, only to have to change the code again, because they’d give it out to someone we didn’t want to have it. We got so tired of our boundaries not being kept that we moved to another town.
But the crazy thing is, even though we knew we had to do these things to keep our sanity and safety, I continued to believe I was being selfish. I believed if I had enough of the love of Jesus in my heart that I could have somehow dealt with my husband’s family more lovingly. I also believed if I’d been more of the person I should have been that maybe God wouldn’t have allowed my daughter to be abused.
My life’s pattern has been to beat myself up for everything that goes wrong and take on the responsibility for everyone else’s happiness. It’s been a heavy load to carry. But finally I am able to see it’s not one that God wants me to carry.
My husband’s mother is now very sick with cancer. Her physical health is starting to diminish and it won’t be long, unless there’s a miracle, before she will need constant care. It’s almost to that point now. She’s been living with her sister for over a year and last week this sister asked me if I’d keep his Mom for two weeks. We had to say no, and I’ve been feeling bad about it ever since. I know physiologically that our family cannot take on this burden. My husband and daughter both suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD. I struggle as well, and the thought of taking care of my mother in law has overwhelmed me to the point of not being able to sleep. Part of my anxiety is coming from all the anger I still feel towards her for not keeping boundaries, and the incredible pain she caused not acknowledging the abuse our daughter suffered. Another part is emotionally I do not believe it is possible for our family to take on any more. Two counselors agree adamantly with us that this is too much to take on. When I shared the guilt I was feeling with our marriage counselor yesterday he challenged me to not agree to do anything if I was motivated out of guilt to do it. He said most of the time I should do the opposite, and that all of the time I should wait and think about things before I commit. Hearing him say this caused me to realize how many of my decisions have been made out of fear, guilt and codependency. And it’s a pattern in my life I desperately want to change.
The only way to change this pattern is to know the truth that God isn’t a child abuser.
For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17 NLT
The beauty of these words blow me away. God is with me. He has saved me from sin and death. He delights in me and even in my present state, He is glad to be with me. He loves me unconditionally. His perfect love for me casts out all of my fears. He rejoices over me with singing.
He’s the total opposite of the father I grew up with who left me to suffer alone from the shame and pain of his abuse. He’s the total opposite of the pastor who manipulated me to meet his own needs.
God isn’t calling me to serve Him out of fear. He isn’t placing any demands on me. He only asks that I receive His love and trust Him.
This is what I long to do, but I need His help to even do this. All of my life I’ve been so afraid of giving up the only control I have; my own. I couldn’t stop my abuse, but I could protect myself from further emotional pain by trying to keep my abuser happy. I could numb my emotions and carry myself away with my imagination and pretend it didn’t happen. I could clean my room and make things look better on the outside and deny how everything was a mess inside my soul. I could masturbate and give myself a few moments of pleasure. I could control my emotions so I’d appear like I had everything together. But my own control has been a sham. It hasn’t done anything but bring me more pain, because inside there’s a desperate little girl longing to let go and trust that someone really does love her.
The One who loves me has never left my side. He wanted me to know it when I left my adopted father’s room and saw the Footprints poem on the wall.
When you saw only one set of footprints it was then that I carried you.
This verse of the poem echoed through my mind during the day and returned at night when my adopted father’s hands and body brought me harm again. I’d turn over on my side when the abuse was over and feel my body being rocked back and forth. I’d imagine I was floating on the ocean drifting back and forth on the waves.
I believe now that the waves I imagined after my abuse were God’s arms gently rocking me back and forth, and the sound of the sea His voice singing over me. The water surrounding me an ocean of tears He’s cried over all of our pain. Even today as I think about it I can feel the calming of my soul. I get a visual picture of a loving Father with tears in His eyes and a smile on His face as He sings a song of His promise over my life.
…Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalms 30:5 NLT
Having God as my Father changes everything. He’s given everything for me. His desire is that I willingly submit myself to His will out of gratitude and not obligation. Out of love and not fear. Out of trust and not codependency. That I place my life in His arms and believe that wherever we go it’ll be for my good and His glory.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.