Tag Archives: #livefreeThursday

Surely You Don’t Mean Me, Lord

In a tiny East Texas town, I stood before my eight 11th grade Sunday School students who were staring back at me with glassy eyes while I expounded on a lesson from Amos. It was at that moment I heard God whisper to me, “You have to do this.” 

Whaaaat??? This is the girl who never babysat. This is the girl who has a degree in accounting. This is the girl who said, “I’ll never be a teacher!” This is the girl who told her dear friend who loved substituting she was crazy. 

My initial response was, “Surely You don’t mean me, Lord!” Eventually, it became, “If You say so.”

I followed my crazy friend’s footsteps by starting out subbing and loving it too. Now I was also crazy. Next, I contacted the area college to see how to get my teaching certificate. I enrolled for the fall semester in the two classes I needed before I could do my student teaching that spring. In the summer before I enrolled in college, I had two close calls to begin teaching with an emergency certificate, but neither materialized. So off to college I went!

This girl was scared to death and so excited at the same time, because God had called me and I had stepped out in faith. The plan was coming together beautifully. Until…

There was a phone call my husband made to buy some used electronic equipment for the plant he worked for from a plant in Louisiana. Did he know anyone looking for an electrical supervisor position? Maybe? The trip to pick up the equipment included an impromptu job interview. I’d only been in college a month when his job opportunity came. Now what?

God was leading us to move in a few short months, before I could finish the semester for preparing for His call on my life and too late to get a tuition refund. Why did He put a kink in what seemed like a perfect plan? I was subbing on the days I wasn’t attending my college classes and loving it.  I was a shoe in for getting a job for the next school year. Didn’t I do everything in my power to obey God’s call?

Instead of being a college student and substitute teacher, I began preparing for a move that was not in my plan. Finding a place to live close enough to my husband’s new job proved difficult. The one place we could find had a horrible school situation for our children, but I had heard of a Christian school and checked it out.

From the time I arrived in the reception office, I felt at home at this school. There were hot pink “Moms In Touch” prayer group brochures on the counter. Everyone was so helpful and made me feel hopeful. Not only did my children have a wonderful Christian school available, they needed me to sub and my degree was enough to be able to teach there the next year.

God really did have an excellent plan in Louisiana that was so much better than what I thought it was supposed to be in Texas. Be flexible, Cheryl!

Meanwhile, the house in Texas didn’t sell. We rented it to our church’s education and youth minister for almost a year. We had little cash to get into a new house, but the rent house wasn’t where my sweetheart wanted to live. He wanted to live in the piney woods further north, so I painstakingly searched for a house in that area. Keep in mind that I had found the perfect school for the kids and me where we were living. Didn’t my husband understand God’s obvious plan for us?

After finding an adequate home for us to buy, I mentioned to our school superintendent one day at church that we were moving north. I was shocked and disappointed to hear they had a campus near there and had two teacher openings for the next year. I didn’t want to leave our new town. It seemed like a perfect place for us. Why did my husband have to be close to pine trees? Why would God move us away, set up a great situation, then make us move almost an hour away six months later?

I remover driving north on the interstate to handle business for the move, crying and singing along with a Twila Paris song on the radio, “Do I trust You, Lord, when I don’t know why?” 

It was easy to say “yes” to becoming a teacher. It was easy to say “yes” to moving to Louisiana for my husband’s wonderful job opportunity. It was easy to say “yes” to a Christian school for the kids and me. 

It was SO HARD to say “yes” to starting over again. But I did it! I had to trust God and my husband, even when everything inside of me was screaming “NO!”

This girl who loved Jesus taught 1st grade to 24 precious students with a degree in accounting and lots of faith that the Master Teacher would show me how to be a teacher. My daughter had been in 1st grade the year before, so I was familiar with the curriculum. I loved those kids and was determined that they wouldn’t suffer just because I had never taught school before and didn’t have an education degree. I had never been so exhausted in my life, but it was a successful year. 

By May, I felt like a total failure as a wife and mother. School took so much out of me, partially because I felt the need to go way above anyone’s expectations to prove I was good enough without a teaching certificate. Every time someone told me how good a teacher I was, I felt the sting of the enemy’s fiery darts because of how much my family had been neglected. 

I quit. Told my principal I wouldn’t be back the next year. She asked how she could help. It was too late. I never asked for help at all that year, though I was drowning under the weight of my unrealistic expectations of myself. Everyone said the second year is better, but I couldn’t take that chance. She said she had seen real leadership qualities in me and had felt I would be the one to eventually take her place. I was shocked and flattered, but no job was worth sacrificing my family. God had someone else in mind, I was sure.

Apparently, I had misunderstood what God had asked me to do with my life. Or maybe the timing was wrong. I didn’t really know what to make of this mess, but I was sure God was at work. 

That next school year, I managed to get a grip on my home life, attended a daytime ladies Bible study, and subbed in either the classroom or cafeteria at school. I missed being at school all the time, but I enjoyed not being so stressed and burned out. Ladies at church didn’t seem to want to sing cute songs with motions. Part of me was craving being with kids and fulfilling the call I believed I received. What was I supposed to do?

My certified, experienced, mature, pastor’s daughter replacement seemed fabulous at first, and our son was in her class. Then things began unraveling. One of the boys in the class was constantly being picked on by her. The students were way behind in the curriculum. Principal observations went well, but not much teaching was going on when no one was looking. My son came home crying many days, saying how mean she was. It was a hard time, and I felt so guilty.

Eventually, I was asked to help with an improvement plan. I was to observe her for a week, teach with her observing me for a week, then observe her again for a week. Reluctantly, I agreed, putting my ability to tangibly love my enemies to test. Afterwards, nothing really changed, but she did enough to keep her job. A personal matter brought about her resignation in January.

Next, they asked me to take over the traumatized classroom just until a replacement could be found. They needed a lot of love and to catch up academically. I agreed to fill in temporarily. The first day I was back in the classroom, I knew I had to stay. Those precious kids needed me and I needed them. After talking it over with my husband, he agreed I could come back if I didn’t let it drive me crazy and have to work all weekend. 

With more realistic expectations and writing  my lesson plans on Thursday nights, I was back where I belonged. They were such a sweet class, and I loved leading them in silly songs with hand motions. I was doing God’s plan HIS WAY instead of mine, and it led to so much joy!

My principal retired and I ended up taking her place. Our little campus was turned over to a local church a few years later and most of us moved back to the campus where the kids and I began. Once again, I was in the classroom, but taught 4th this time. In my 40s, I was required to complete my masters in education for our accreditation and state approval. I was put back into a leadership position again as I prepared to graduate. God blessed me so much during more than twenty years in Christian education. 

God did mean me when He called an accountant who was a stay-at-home mother to become a teacher. It was quite a roller coaster ride to get there, but I really did have to do this. And He was faithful to walk with me all the way.

Oops! I Did It Again!

Worry, worry, worry…rehearsing over and what’s wrong and how I think it should be fixed. Just like a hamster running around and around on a wheel going nowhere, here I am doing it again myself. As though there is no God and I am the queen of my universe. If only…

Why doesn’t God do something?

Why won’t they listen to me?

Why do I fall for the same old tricks again?

In my former life, I was an accountant. My favorite subject in college was auditing. You know, being the white collar detective to find out what’s wrong, what’s out of order. The unpopular ability to be able to spot what’s wrong a mile away. It’s a blessing when you’ve been summoned to solve the mystery, but it is more of a curse when it’s used to be the great fixer.

When I easily spot what’s wrong, I forget to be thankful for what’s right. When I get the big idea I can fix what’s out of order, I forget Who’s God and who’s not. When I offer my unsolicited help, I forget that it’s often hurtful to those I love. 

How can I possibly move past my obsession with trying to be in control? How can focusing on the negative be turned into an attitude of thankfulness? How can the ability to spot problems go from being judgmental to being an intercesser?

There’s only one way to get a better perspective. Worship God for Who He is! 

Worship lifts me out of my circumstances, because it’s all about God and not about me anymore. It reminds me that God is in control. It relieves me of the feeling that I must carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. It refreshes my faith that I can trust God to do what is best.

Sometimes, it’s putting on worship music. Sometimes, it’s spending some time in Psalms. Sometimes, it’s saying things like “Thy will be done.” Sometimes, it’s thanking Him for what is wrong and how He’s going to use it for good. 

Even though I fall short, and have an “Oops!I did it again!” moment, all I have to do is stop fretting and start worshipping the One who is worthy of all my praise. 

Suzie Eller #livefreeThursday

Giving Up On Reaching My Dad

Remembering since I was just a tiny girl the words I heard from my father’s lips, “You’re Daddy’s Little Girl,” makes giving up trying to reach my Dad so painful. You see, he’s made so many choices to stay in his own world and reject his family that I cannot continue to have contact with him any longer.

As far back as I can recall, it’s been an emotional roller coaster with my father. He started out being my hero, and I was his princess.

I was the first born to my parents in 1960, and they were so excited. A colicky baby from the start, I needed to be held almost constantly. Dad was a welcomed sight to Mom, who was worn out from taking care of me all day and quickly handed off the miserable baby to him when he arrived home after work. She speaks of many nights that I slept on his chest.

My world was rocked quite a bit when my parents came home with a baby girl when I was 3 1/2, and suddenly there was competition for Dad’s affections. I think my charming skills were turned up a notch, so I felt pretty confident I remained the real “Daddy’s Little Girl.”

Convinced he loved me more than Mom did, which of course was not true, I remember trying to escape from my dreaded four-year-old vaccinations by running to my Daddy in the waiting room. Surely he wouldn’t allow any doctor to hurt me. I was devastated that he helped Mom hold me down back in the examination room to get my shots.

Things start to get spotty after that memory. Dad began working late and coming home drunk. Although I was pretty sheltered from what was really going on, I did notice we had to move from our large home to an apartment. I had to change schools in kindergarten and had to give away my beloved Barbie house my aunt made for me.

My baby brother born at the end of my kindergarten year, but I don’t remember anything about it. Things must have been really rough at that point, because I was 6 1/2 and should have been very excited. I have a brief memory of my first grade teacher and classroom. In November, my Dad brought my mother, sister, brother, and me to live with my grandmother in another city.

Abandoned by the one who claimed that I was “Daddy’s Little Girl,” I didn’t know what to make of what was happening in my world. One day, while he was visiting us, Dad asked me to fill out a questionnaire he wrote out. It asked who I thought was responsible for their divorce and other totally inappropriate questions for a young child who had lost her home and her father. What was his purpose for this manipulative activity?

As devastated as I was, my mother was completely overwhelmed with being dropped off at her mother’s house to raise three children on her own. It seemed to me that Dad was the only one who cared about me, though he rejected us, because Mom wasn’t able to talk to me about how I felt. So the deception began…

We were so poor that my precious mother, unbeknownst to me, washed one pair of frilly socks every night for me to wear to school. Dad only sent Mom $150 per month for us to live on, and she had been a stay-at-home mother since I was born. It was so hard for her, but I still thought he was the one who really cared.

While we were still living with my grandmother, I remember him driving up in his new Ford Thunderbird with electric windows. He had left Mom with an old, red Dodge Dart that bled it’s color on the rag when it was washed. Dad would take us out to eat at fancy restaurants when we visited him on weekends that we could never afford on Mom’s small salary and tiny child-support payments.  We loved visiting with him and being spoiled.

It was nothing but a con. A ruse that lead to me thinking I was so special and “grown up” that I looked forward to  being the “bartender” at Dad’s office parties on Friday nights and even making a drink for myself. Living a life on weekends that my mother would never allow set me up for years of sexual abuse at his hands.

I don’t even know how I coped with this double life during those years. I think I never allowed the two worlds to intersect and was close to having multiple personalities. The two worlds did  collide, however, when my sister told me of Dad’s advances towards her one weekend. We told Mom as soon as we got home and never had to go visit our father again.

Although it sounds sickening, once I was safe a few years, I missed the “wining and dining” part of my life and hated never getting to see Dad except for holiday gatherings at his mother’s house. I began seeing Dad on a very limited basis as long as I had an escort. I didn’t feel threatened any longer and thought no harm could come by having a more normal relationship with him. Actually, I believe my memories of the abuse were suppressed to the point I had no recollection of them.

Through the years, it has been a very strange relationship. This is how alcoholic families are sometimes. No one really ever talks about what’s wrong. Everyone just pretends all is well. What’s in the past is over, so you just forget about it. You don’t tell anyone who may be hurt by the truth, even if the perpetrator gets by “scot free.”

The trouble is, eventually, the layers of pain and anger ignored all of those years begins boiling under the surface and erupts. That happened when I was all stressed out by my little girl who had a strong will. All the while protecting myself and my father from what would happen if anyone really knew the truth, I inflicted emotional pain on my own child who was probably only acting out the frustration she felt from my pressure to give my children a safe and loving home.

While dealing with my past to keep it from ruining my present, I allowed memories to resurface and be healed by God. During this time, I even spoke to my father, who told me he was sorry for what he had done to me. I worked through forgiveness, and felt peace for the first time in years. Would we ever be able to have a real relationship again? We did maintain a holiday relationship as long as my paternal grandmother was alive, because she held the fragile family together. He didn’t even attend her funeral. I haven’t seen him in many years.

What hasn’t changed is my father’s lifestyle. He has been addicted to alcohol, pornography, and sex all these years. When he brought us to my grandmother’s house in 1967, he had been married to his second wife while he was married to my mother. He had multiple affairs before his second marriage ended, with women the same age as his daughters. Even recently, he has pursued relationships with teens. And those are only the things I know about, so why would I continue to reach out to him?

Mom and Dad met at church. He sang in the choir and was a deacon at the church they attended when they were married. He even felt called to be a preacher at one time. Even now, with his immoral choices, he says he believes that “once saved, always saved.” Dad has left a trail of carnage of ruined lives, but he claims that he is a believer. I know he’s not. He’s as deceived as those he’s charmed.

I’ve been praying for Dad’s salvation for many years. Whenever I read an inspirational blogpost or email from my pastor, I forwarded it to him. Usually, he would reply in a positive manner and thank me for sending it to him. I liked having an opportunity to influence him somehow to stop living for himself and give his life to Jesus and still stay safe from his web of deceit.

Our communication was pretty sporadic. I would wish him a happy birthday, and he would do the same for me. I was his friend on Facebook but had to unfriend him to avoid seeing him pine away over losing the love of his life, who also happened to be in high school. We would text message on occasion, as well, but that all ended this past fall.

After the death of my step-grandfather, his step-father in August 2015, I had some brief contact with Dad by text message about the funeral. He was unable to attend the funeral because of some heart problems, as he also claimed when his mother died. My mother and I drove three hours to the funeral to be there for my uncle. Unfortunately, the lack of relationship with my father kept us from seeing my uncle during the years between the two funerals. My uncle was thrilled to see us and invited us to the family meal after the service and to my grandfather’s house to finish catching up with each other.

Keeping the truth hidden all these years from my Dad’s family about the sexual abuse came to an end that day. My mother and I finally felt free to tell my uncle and aunt about what happened so many years ago. He was so hurt that I didn’t feel comfortable telling him so he could have stopped it. I felt more free, since I was no longer protecting my father at my expense. Why did we feel the need to keep that secret?

For whatever reason, I have not heard from my father since the day of the funeral. I don’t know why. When I sent him a text on his birthday in November, it was ignored. His email address has changed, so I couldn’t reach him that way. He didn’t contact me on my birthday in December. Apparently, after all these years of trying to do what I felt was helpful to bring him to Jesus, God let me know it was time for me to stop.

God is mighty to save. I cannot save my father. God is able to reach him. I have been cut off from having any communication with him. God can change his heart. It’s pretty sad that Dad doesn’t love us enough to stop living for himself, but it’s not up to me to make him change.

Giving up on reaching my Dad means, as I am learning in Al-Anon, I must “Let go and let God.” I will keep praying for Dad and trust that when I say, “Thy will be done,” I can rest safely in the arms of my Heavenly Father, who will never leave or forsake me.

#livefreeThursday

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Swings at the Wrong Enemy

Why was I so angry with my mother? This should have been such a sweet time for us to savor. Selling her home and moving in with us, Mom’s retirement gave her a well-deserved break from many years of giving herself to meet the needs of others. What was so exciting was this was her intentional choice to live where she had few responsibilities and obligations for the first time in her life. As my husband told her, staying with us was a “no brainer” to rest up and save money until she knew her next step.

Always cherishing our relationship, I did have some qualms about her giving up her independence, her home, her friends, her ministries, and her church family. If this didn’t go well, what would happen to the close friendship we had developed over the years we’ve been apart? Would she be resentful after making her decision? We are both strong-willed women who think our way is the best way. How would that work in the same household?

Unfortunately, things were actually worse than I had feared. Mom’s health was wavering and, she began to be fearful. Anything that came up was the worst case scenario in her eyes, and her faith was stuck in the quick sand of her anxiety. My reaction was not helpful at all, since her inability to deal with her new circumstances triggered my old habits of feeling responsible for rescuing Mom. Given the choice of fight or flight, my knee-jerk response was to fight for her.

I whined and carried on with God about the situation. I memorialized the old days of feeling like I had to carry the burden of my mother’s serenity on my shoulders as the first born. Resentment was welling up inside of me. I had dealt with the sexual abuse at the hands of my father during weekend visits over 25 years ago. Now I was struggling with choices Mom had made with my father and two step-fathers, who were all alcoholics. The truth that she had not been an innocent victim of these flawed men flew in my face and had to be confronted, or so I thought.

When I began healing from my childhood sexual abuse, part of the process involved actually remembering what had happened. None of the denial or trying to pretend it wasn’t all that bad. Once I had wallowed enough in pity, I had to make the choice to forgive and move forward. Now, being with Mom every day had caused the difficulties I had faced growing up in a home where you never knew what might happen to bubble back up to the surface. I couldn’t sugar coat the memories and pretend all was well with us. Her choices had hurt me and my siblings, and I could no longer deny the truth.

My brother, who has been sober for 25 years, suggested that Mom and I attend Al-Anon Family Group meetings. He’d been telling us both that for years. I didn’t understand why it was so important to him, since we did not live with alcoholics any longer. He asked me if I wanted relief or freedom. Reluctantly, we started attending Al-Anon meetings about a month ago. As God would have it, these meetings were exactly what Mom and I BOTH needed. It turns out that both of us were behaving in patterns developed while living with alcoholics. What we had not learned in many years of walking with the Lord, attending church, participating in Bible study, and even serving in leadership positions was waiting for us in the Al-Anon program.

The Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Well, that’s enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life. I cannot change my mother. I cannot change my past. I cannot change me, for that matter, which is the first step in the AA Twelve Steps. I can have the courage to ask God to change me and leave the rest to Him. I can pray for wisdom. I can detach myself from feeling responsible for the serenity of others. If I take on someone else’s search for peace, it’s my own fault. Peace is what only God can give, and I’m not God.

My father wasn’t my enemy. My mother isn’t my enemy. When I think someone else is my enemy, I’m just taking swings at the wrong enemy. This morning, one of my devotional readings highlighted this passage in Ephesians 4: 25-27 (NIV), Paul says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Talk about good timing! This is just what I needed to hear to get the breakthrough I was seeking. When I suppressed my memories of sexual abuse, I didn’t put off falsehood. When I coddled my “fragile” mother, not wanting to upset her, I didn’t speak truthfully. I was angry about all of this for years, though I thought I covered it well. Unknowingly, I gave the devil a foothold. The REAL enemy was invited in by me and was hiding behind my parents. How many other relationships in my life have been affected by this scheme?

You know, this is how the devil works. He tricks us into thinking everyone else is our enemy, we believe lies that we are entitled to be offended, and he laughs when we take our swings at people we love. God calls us to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV). Now I understand that forgiving those who have offended us, before the day is done, is actually spiritual warfare. It slams the door on the devil’s foot we allowed inside by our unresolved anger. That’s the way to knock out the real enemy!

Suzanne Eller’s Live Free Thursday

 

 

It’s a Matter of Life and Death

Cross_in_sunsetWhat in the world is wrong when you have everything you’ve ever wanted and are still miserable?  That’s where I found myself at the ripe old age of 29. Being happily married to my first date and having the privilege of staying home with our two children in our newly renovated first home just didn’t cut the mustard.

I was going downhill fast, thinking I was going crazy, dealing with a  strong-willed 4-year-old daughter and a bulldozer 3-year-old boy.  My gynecologist who had delivered my two children in two years advised me that the chronic pain I had been enduring was probably the source of my misery, so after a hysterectomy, I’d be fine.  I clung to that hope.

Fast forward a few months, and the absence of pain made no difference in how I was feeling. I was a “donkey on edge” and couldn’t figure out why.  There was no real trouble in my life. I should have been happy. Lots of women stay home with their children and many deal with strong-willed children. What was wrong with me?

A search for the source of my problems began. My childhood was pretty tainted with the divorce of my parents at the age of 6, sexual abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father,  and living with an abusive, unfaithful alcoholic step-father. Maybe growing up in such dysfunction was why I was so despondent. Look no further than the new Oprah Winfrey show to see that all of your problems can be linked to your past.

Reaching back to find what I needed to go forward, I looked inward to fix myself. At that time, the mid-1980’s, self-help books flooded the shelves of bookstores and libraries. I had always been successful when I put my mind to do something, so it never occurred to me this time it might be different.

At this time in my life, I believed in God and knew He could be the solution to my emptiness, but I refused to turn to Him. Like a 2-year-old, I wanted to do it myself. He would come in and change me, and I wasn’t willing to be changed. None of this was my fault, after all.

Spending time in meditation, talking to my “inner child”, wallowing in my sorrows, playing the blame game, talking to my family and friends, trying to “pick myself up by the bootstraps”, nor any other thing I tried to do on my own worked.

Thankfully, I discovered shame to be at the root of how I felt. It didn’t matter how much I had accomplished, I just didn’t measure up to my own expectations. I couldn’t do enough to ditch the shame I carried. That lead to reading John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, which pointed to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for recovery.

Desperate for relief, I began to explore the 12 Steps, which began with admitting I was powerless over my shame and my life was unmanageable. I also saw that only with God’s help would I ever find freedom. My depression was caused by the anxiety in my heart from trying to be my own god. “I did it my way” had to be replaced by “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.”

Sin was the root of my sorrow. My own sin, not those who had hurt me. As a young girl, I had walked the aisle of my church, said a prayer to give my heart to Jesus, talked to the preacher, was baptized the next Sunday, then set out to live my life to the best of my ability. This was a little girl who was being sexually abused on weekend visits to her father’s house looking to feel clean, not a surrender of control to Jesus and trusting in His righteousness.

A pastor told his testimony of having a two-step salvation experience, much like mine. He repented of his sins as a child and of his righteousness as an adult. It was sin for me to live my life on my own power, on my own terms, without the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells me that anything done without faith is sin. My best is considered as filthy rags in the sight of a Holy God.

Believing I could be a “good Christian” without God’s power seems so absurd, but that’s what I was doing. I hadn’t given up any control of anything to God, except for where I would spend eternity. There was no abundant life in me, only death that comes from the sin that separated me from my gracious heavenly Father who longed to set me free from the chains that bound me.

When I wrote the prayer of submission to God, the weight of sin and death fell from me immediately. I was overwhelmed by His grace and love. The shame that had consumed me was carried by Jesus on the cross. Admitting I had been spending my whole life working for the righteousness God had freely given me set me free from despair. I forgave those who had harmed me, and asked God to forgive me for spending so many years pushing down the pain without asking Him to heal me.

It is a matter of life and death. God gives us a choice. “Years I spent in vanity and pride” led me to desperation that would have ended in death. Life begins when I come to Jesus daily “just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me.”

#livefreeThursday

Suzanne Eller’s Live Free Thursday

Guilt-Free Me or Pharisee?

Imagine this little girl returning to her home, where she lived with her mother and two younger siblings, after a weekend visitation bearing the guilt and shame of being molested by her father each night she was away. How does a second-grader live in a world where she was expected to be the “good little church girl” while dissociating herself from the “bad Daddy’s little girl” who was being abused?  What could she do to wash away the feeling of not being good enough to be loved by either parent? She felt like she disappointed everyone, because she just wasn’t enough. Never enough. Love seemed so illusive, and the pursuit of it so exhausting. And if she couldn’t do enough to please those she looked to for affirmation and acceptance, dare she believe a holy God would love her?

So, turning to the church, she did what any little girl who went to Sunday School, when she wasn’t at her father’s house for the weekend, would do in her situation. She made a profession of faith in Jesus, because she knew she was sinner and needed a Savior.  Baptized shortly afterwards, she thought she would experience her new life now. Beginning again at eight years old is a somewhat baffling concept, even to an adult.  She may have thought Prince Charming had come to whisk her away to the land of happily ever after. But that’s not what happened. No one told her what to expect in her daily experience. Sadly, the sexual abuse continued. The dissociation protected her from memories but not from guilt and shame. Though she was glad to know she wouldn’t go to hell if she died, she was on her own in this world.

Striving to be perfect to please God and everyone else led her to a life of being a great pretender. Keep up the façade or risk being rejected. There is no safe place. Never let them see you sweat. Don’t make any waves. Smile, the show must go on. God helps those who help themselves, so get your act together. Fake it until you make it. A Christian believing these lies of the enemy will end up becoming a Pharisee. Judging everyone else by your own standards, measuring yourself by others instead of God’s Word, and refusing to show any signs of weakness are symptoms of being a hypocrite. Guilt doesn’t make room for grace. Shame keeps you in shackles. Exposure requires excuses. It’s like trying to balance too many spinning plates at the same time, which can lead to disaster or deliverance.

Thankfully, that little girl, who grew up to be a woman and had her own little girl (and boy), dropped her spinning plates, came to the end of herself, and cried out to God. She faced the giant of guilt and shame, covered up by the “Pharisee,” and found that God had already won the victory. His strength is made complete in our weakness, so she didn’t have to muster up her own power. He loved the best and worst parts of her and delivered her from the kingdom of darkness into His marvelous light. Her guilt and shame from what was done to her and by her was covered by the blood of Jesus and could never be repaid by her attempts at perfection. When God exposes a flaw, it is done with love for the purpose of healing and restoration, not to heap guilt and shame on His child. Freedom from the enemy nipping at our heels to paralyze us with our past gives us peace. I can be the “Guilt-Free Me” because of His mercy and forgiveness, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

#livefreeThursday

Our Family Puts the “D” in Dysfunctional

As our family held hands in a circle of love, the smells of turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, yeast rolls, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie made our mouths water. One by one, members gave thanks to God for their many blessings, while squirming little ones hungrily waited for the big amen. That’s when the unexpected happened. Right there in front of the simmering stove, my sister began to pray, “Lord, we thank You for allowing us all to be together and for how good You have been to us, even though our family puts the “d” in dysfunctional.” That’s when we all lost it… Needless to say, it took a while for the roar of laughter to die down and the praying to resume.

Would I trade our family, with the generations of divorce going back to our grandparents, the alcoholism, the adultery, the sexual abuse, the step fathers, step mothers, and step siblings, the domestic violence, the break ups and make ups, the laughing to keep from crying, the running from God and running back to God, and all the other sordid details? Absolutely not! We KNOW what real love is, and what grace is, and how blessed we are to not be locked up in some rubber room somewhere. Our God has brought us through hell on earth and seated us in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He has delivered us from the claws of the enemy so many times.  Of course, there were times we would have rather had a Cleaver family existence, but it’s amazing to see how God uses abandonment, rejection, abuse, and rebellion to bring us to the foot of the cross.  He redeems everything we give Him, even the worst family situations you can imagine.

It’s doubtful many other families would spend their Thanksgiving mornings dancing in a Soul Train and singing to the top of our lungs to some fabulous seventies funk music. We had so many people in our three-bedroom house that year (almost 20), my brother had to bring an RV for his family, and there were plenty of people on blow-up beds everywhere in the house. Oh, and that was our favorite year of Black Friday shopping ever. We had a comp night at a fancy casino hotel and my mother on a blow-up mattress to boot. Someone gave us their comp points in the restaurant and our dinner was free. Bell men helped my sister and sister-in-law cart up our discounted treasures when the trunk was full the next morning.  Priceless memories were made seeing those two sisters strap purchases on the roof for the trip home. We still laugh until we cry (or wet our pants) when we remember that Thanksgiving weekend. And, true to our family, the quote from my sister’s prayer is repeated often.

What is family?  To me, it’s where you are loved no matter what.  You laugh, cry, pray, sing, dance, eat, and shop together. You trust that God makes all things work together for good, which leaves little need to be wishing you were in someone else’s family. Though we don’t all get together often, when we do, it’s a pretty amazing experience. I thank God for my dysfunctional family, because God has made it one that is truly delightful.

#livefreeThursday