Hope for #MeToo

Over the last year or so, we have watched as the veil over the topic of sexual abuse has been ripped open. The imaginary borders encircling those generally thought of as victims has widened. It’s not just the girl in low income housing, left alone with her mom’s creepy boyfriend. It’s not just the woman walking home alone late at night after a party with friends. It’s not just the troubled boy repeatedly taken to the principal’s office to be “punished”.

Victims have come forward from every walk of life. From those in the projects to those on the big screen. From children growing up in at risk homes to child stars supposedly living the American dream. No one is exempt, it seems.

Well, I would like to lift the veil even further and add my voice to the mix. It is a voice of shared experience and shared suffering. But it is also a voice of hope. If you see me smile now, you can know that it is genuine. If you hear me laugh, you can know that it is spilling forth from a joyful heart. Even if you see tears in my eyes, you can know that I cry with the confidence that happiness will visit again soon.

I know what it is like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And, just as the Psalmist said, I experienced the presence of the Lord through it all. I can testify to the goodness and mercy of our Shepherd. I have despaired and doubted and cried out in anguish and fear, but I have always come back to His Presence and I have discovered that it is enough. He is enough.

For those of you who know me, but aren’t aware of my history this will come as a shock. My situation doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold of most abuse victims. I was raised in a godly, stable home with parents who loved me and who loved each other. I grew up in a nice neighborhood with neighbors who were more like family than simply people who lived on the same street. I was sheltered and protected and cared for and loved.

But evil acknowledges no stereotypes and secretly searches for a way to destroy what God has created for good. For me, evil found its way into my extended family, and I was introduced to the ways of darkness when I was only two years old. This particular family member would continue to abuse me until I reached puberty.

This abuse left a mark on my soul. I carried it with me like a child’s ratty blanket. Because I was so young when it happened, my understanding of the world and my place in it was distorted. I assumed, as much as such a young child can, that it was normal. But I also knew in my heart that it was bad. So, in evil’s twisted logic, I was bad. I felt worthless and broken. Though I was blessed with many happy experiences and more loving family than most, these feeling discolored my childhood, like a black and white picture with faint pigments showing through.

Like so many other abuse victims, I became a target for more evil. The mark on my soul seemed only visible to those who would become perpetrators. I was assaulted by an educator in elementary school and attacked by a teenager as a high schooler. But perhaps the most damaging act of betrayal I experienced occurred when I was thirteen years old. I was raped by a friend’s parents.

Just writing it out brings tears to my eyes and makes me sick to my stomach. I grieve for that girl. I grieve for what was taken from her and for what was given to her. That night took away my virginity, any sense of safety I had left, and my last thread of hope that I might be able to earn my worth through the approval of others. Instead, I was given a tangible fear that would haunt me for over a decade. I was given despair and desperation that would seek to claim my life later on.

The family member who initiated my abuse drew me into a valley of shadows, but the people who raped me ushered me into the valley of the shadow of death. I would struggle through that valley for years, fighting an eating disorder, severe depression, and even attempted suicide. I struggled with the goodness of a God who would let such atrocities happen to innocent children.

In Matthew 7, Jesus asks parents if they would give their child a snake when they ask for a fish. The question was rhetorical because, obviously, no good parent would seek to harm their own child. But I used to feel like God had given me the snake. That He had actually chosen this for me. But I know better now.

Maybe I was given a snake, but it wasn’t from God. Instead, as the Creator and Redeemer, He has taken that snake and managed to turn it into something beautiful and glorifying. He has taken my valley and brightened up the shadows to show me Life. A full and abundant life. A life not defined by fear and desperation, but defined by love and deliverance.

I have known brokenness. At times it seemed like I was beyond broken. Like the evil one had taken the broken pieces of my heart and crushed them down to pebbles and sand until it became unrecognizable. But, I have also experienced the loving hand of our Redeemer as he picks up those pieces and uses them to create something even more beautiful.

I still struggle at times. I can feel unimportant and lonely. Sometimes I question my purpose and wonder at God’s love for me. But I have had a glimpse at the bigger picture that Heaven presents and that gives me hope and joy. I have hope that my healing will be complete when I can see God face to face and fully know his love and goodness. And I can have joy even now because of his Spirit shining in the shadows of my life journey.

A wise woman once told me that sometimes you just have to believe that God is good. It can be challenging and it may even require greater faith than simply believing that he exists. But the reward for this kind of faith is a life full of joy and hope, no matter what. And who doesn’t want that?

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What My Wild Child Has Taught Me About Peace

Christmas. It’s a time of giving. It’s a time of remembering just how much has been given to us. A time for peace on earth, silent nights and joy to the world. It’s also a time for shopping sprees and Christmas parties. For cookies and candy canes and bright lights and noisy toys. Peace and chaos. Joy filled silent wonder and sugar induced tantrum hysteria. Not only is it the most wonderful time of the year, it is the most contradictory time of year. It is also a great metaphor for our current stage of life.

There are moments in our family of four when both girls are quietly playing and my husband and I can cuddle on the couch for a bit and watch the lights on our tiny Christmas tree (placed high on a shelf out of reach of busy hands). There are also times when we are making a craft together or looking at a book and my heart feels like a Norman Rockwell painting. But these are few and far between. More often than not, I am chasing after the toddler who has grabbed a sticker off the floor and is making a mad dash to her room so she can eat it before I get to her or trying to calm my three year old down because I accidently gave her the pink fork (green is apparantly the only acceptible color for eating utensils).

Peace and chaos. Joy and tears. A little circus with Christmas spirit! When we first found out we were expecting, we chose a circus theme for the nursery as a cheeky acknowledgement to what our life would become. Little did we know just how much of a circus our household would actually come to resemble. We have a three year old who could earn an academy award for her skills in the dramatic arts. And now we have a toddler who I believe is actually a cross between a monkey and a feral cat.

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My time is now spent handling meltdowns like a lion tamer, being entertained by a clown and a monkey (and making sure they don’t burn down the big top), cleaning up after each act, and managing the entire show as the ringmaster. And I can’t forget to feed those hungry performers.

While things may be wild, and our days are far from peaceful, we have finally settled into a chaotic routine of sorts. And we laugh a lot! I am finding out that chaos can be fun and peace looks quite a bit different than I originally thought. But it has taken a while to reach that point, and there are still many days when I feel like joining a real circus. The initial days of transitioning to a family of four were very difficult for all of us, even traumatic at some points.

After the we went through with our oldest’s birth and early days, we were looking forward to an easier newborn experience. The actual delivery and hospital stay exceeded those expectations and we were even able to take our bundle of joy home a day early. But as days went by, it became clear that our bundle of joy was more like a sack full of rabid squirrels. She was wiggly and uncooperative and fussy. And then the screaming started. We had entered the nightmare of colic and would camp out there for five very long, very loud months. My soul was desperate for one thing and one thing only; peace.

I prayed for it. I cried for it. I demanded it. And during one moment of particular desperation, while I was walking around the house with a screaming, arching infant, I received a verse of Scripture. It was whispered to my soul. “Peace I leave you. My peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives.” (John 14:27) There is something about the power of God’s Word that becomes something almost tangible at times. In that moment, I did feel peace, even though my baby continued to cry no matter what I did.

Time after time, this verse came back to me during moments of chaos and desperation. I’ll be honest. There were many times that I was tempted to throw those words back at God and tell Him I wanted the kind of peace that comes with a quiet and calm household. There was even a time when I cried in anger and told God that I was a better mother than Him because if I had the power to heal my baby’s discomfort I would do it in a heartbeat. But, through it all, God, in His mercy, showed me a deeper peace. A greater peace.

For five months we dealt with the desperation of having a baby with colic and reflux. Those were some of the longest and darkest days of my life. My heart hurt after we had tried EVERYTHING and realized we would simply have to wait it out. Every time she would burp and scream. Every time she would arch her back and cry. Every time she grew hoarse from a combination of screaming and acid buildup in her esophagus. This verse played in my head and touched my heart on repeat.

And at five months, things started to get better. The screaming turned to crying and then the crying turned to fussing and things grew much more bearable. And then she got mobile and we quickly realized that our days of quiet calm and order were over for the foreseeable future. Our screaming, colicky baby is now a very happy, VERY busy toddler. She is our wild child and fills our days with the kind of chaos that can only come from a baby who wants to do everything her big sister does…and more.

I have often referred to her as a feral cat and now she more reminds me of a baby orangutan, complete with the red hair! If there is trouble to make or mischief to be had, she will find it. I am constantly running from one crash to the next. And her older sister has decided to get in on the fun so now I am double teamed with messes and “incidents”. Now we have twice the laundry (sometimes more than that depending on just what kind of trouble they get into), twice the meltdowns, and twice the trouble. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I finally got around to looking up my verse in it’s full context and what I found brought an entirely new perspective to my idea of peace. You see, Jesus’ words in John 14 are given to His disciples just hours before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. Jesus offers His closest friends peace just moments before they are launched into the most traumatic and chaotic experience of their lives. He knew what was coming. He knew how much the coming hours would lack peace. On the contrary, the battle for every human soul ever in existence would be taking place in the ultimate War against the evil one. If anything screams chaotic desperation, it’s war. And this war was aimed directly at peace, peace between God and mankind.

I’m sure the disciples wondered what Jesus meant when He spoke peace to them in the Upper Room. Just as I did during those dark moments of motherhood. But Jesus added to these words later on when He said, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We aren’t promised a life free of trouble, or free from trouble causing children. We aren’t promised quiet, easy babies (they are called unicorn babies for a reason!). We aren’t promised an exciting and fulfilling career. We aren’t promised a life on our terms. As a matter of fact, we are guaranteed trials and disappointments. But we are promised victory. Victory over a fearful spirit. Victory over an anxious heart. Victory over death itself. Jesus has the authority to grant us peace because He defeated the very thing that brings chaos; death. Through Jesus, we have hope. And it is because of this hope that we can live in peace. Even in the midst of double, epic meltdowns!

*All photographs taken by S&A Photography

My Husband, Our Hero

Fathers and daughters have a very special relationship. A daughter is her Daddy’s princess and he is her hero. In many cases this hero/princess relationship is a beautiful metaphor illustrating the love a father has for his daughter and her for him. But in our family, this relationship can be understood in a completely literal sense. You see, our little girl’s Daddy saved her life.
I first noticed my husband’s daddy superpower when I was hospitalized during my pregnancy. He was so attentive to my needs and yet still had time finish the nursery and prepare for her early arrival. And when I had an emergency c-section, he was right there to make sure she was being taken care of. His were the very first set of eyes she saw. During her stay in the NICU, he was at her side when I couldn’t be and he swaddled her and held her and whispered to her and loved her. I didn’t think I could love him more.

 And then, we brought her home and his daddy superpower kicked in during the everyday tasks of taking care of a high needs newborn. He sat up with her in the middle of the night when she was too uncomfortable to sleep. He fed her bottles while I was struggling with my milk supply. He sang to her and read to her and loved her even more.

 And then, he saved her life. She wasn’t even a month old yet and had been fussy and uncomfortable all afternoon. I handed her to him and went to take a much needed bathroom break. When I returned, I heard him saying soothingly, “Come on, baby. It’s okay. Breathe, baby.” And I knew something was wrong. I ran to them and watched in horror as my baby struggled to get a breathe. 

 “Get the bulb syringe,” he said. She had experienced a massive spit up riddled with thick mucus and it was stuck in her nose and throat. I grabbed the syringe and tried siphoning it out. It didn’t work and she started to turn blue. I ran to get my cellphone and called 911, praying the entire time, “Oh, God! Don’t let my baby die in his arms!”

 When I came out he was giving her CPR. She was so tiny and he was so gentle and it broke my heart. I had the dispatcher on speaker and he was beginning to ask my husband what steps he was taking. He wanted to make sure he was doing everything appropriately. Then, she whimpered. Oh, that sound filled me with such joy and sorrow at the same time! She was ashen and scared and too weak to actually cry, but she was breathing! 

 By this time, the emergency crew had arrived and started her on oxygen. She was too tiny for a mask, so we held a little tube up to her nose. She started regaining her color and became more active. I held her in the ambulance while SuperDad packed a bag and drove to the emergency room. 

 Once she was admitted, we settled in for a long night of tests and anxiety. She looked so small in that hospital bed! We were back to the familiar sounds of the heart monitor and other hospital equipment we had experienced in the NICU. And her daddy never left her side. He watched over her and held her and whispered to her and loved her even more, grateful for her life, thankful for each breath she took.


 After 24 hours, the doctors diagnosed her with severe reflux. They explained that she had experienced an Acute Life Threatening Event (ALTE for short) caused by a massive reflux episode. they sent us home with a refresher course on infant CPR and instructions to follow up with our pediatrician. 

 I’d like to say that she never had another episode and that her reflux was easily managed after that initial scare. But that night was the beginning of a unique nightmare filled with anxiety, tears, and many sleepless nights. She did experience more ALTEs, although none were ever as terrifying as that first one and she was able to catch her breath with minimal stimulation. And she is still on medicine for her reflux and she will be two at the end of this month. But she is growing and healthy and doesn’t let it stand in her way one bit.


 Seeing my husband take care of her then and interact with her now, I can’t help but see a reflection of our Heavenly Father. He swaddles us in His never-ending love. He holds us close with His grace. He whispers to our hearts through His Holy Spirit. He even sings over us! (Zephaniah 3:17) He was there that night, during one of our darkest times. And He’s been there every night after. Through every reflux episode and doctor’s visit. Through all of our tears and panic. Even through our daughter’s obvious pain and discomfort. He was there. 

 And that is the secret to the daddy superpower. My husband was able to be our daughter’s hero, because he is filled with the mighty power of our Heavenly Father, the Hero of heroes. So, to all the other daddy heroes out there, Happy Father’s Day!

Mixed Blessings

 It has been quite some time since my last post, and I must say that it is quite ironic that my last post was about weariness. The past several months have been such a test of endurance. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more exhausted, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised (understatement of the decade) to discover we were expecting again. I believe my exact words were, “Are you kidding me?” I now find myself 29 weeks pregnant with a toddler entering the terrible twos who has already figured out how to sass and has a glorious temper to match her glorious red hair. In an effort to remain completely open and honest, I must confess that this has been a challenge for me. I am simultaneously filled with gratitude for this unexpected blessing as well as guilt for finding this stage of life so difficult.

 I want to be one of those moms that float through pregnancy and radiate joy and peace. I want to engage my toddler in stimulating activities that encourage her free spirit and love of learning. I want to greet my husband with a clean house and a full plate when he arrives home from work.

 But the reality is that I have spent many days discouraged by a difficult pregnancy, alternating between despair and even more guilt. And my toddler gets to exercise her free spirit by entertaining herself while Mommy lays down or learn something new on her own while playing outside or looking at her books. And my husband has taking to cleaning up the house on his own time and fixing hot pockets or soup while I choke down a cracker or lay down again.

 This pregnancy has been filled with sickness, fatigue and emotions. My morning sickness hit around 8 weeks in and has decided to stick around. The first few times I got sick in front of my daughter, she would pat my back and say, “Ohhh, Mommy.” Now, she just laughs and says, “Again?” At least she is being entertained. I’ve also begun calling it baby sickness because it has become a constant state of being. I wake up sick. I go through out my day sick. I go to bed sick. It has become my new normal.

 I’m also getting used to simply being tired all the time. It isn’t unusual for me to go to bed after I put my toddler down at 7:00. And I’m pretty sure I could sleep at any given moment of the day. I’ve just never been able to try it. I have discovered that children have a sixth sense that enables them to tell whenever someone is relaxed and comfortable and they believe it is their duty to make sure that relaxation and comfort do not last. I lay down on the couch and hear her stomping down the hallway with a book, “Read it?” I sit down to eat something while she is entertaining herself on the floor and barely get the fork to my mouth when she says, “Help you?” I close my eyes for a brief rest and hear, “Wake up!” 

 So between the constant nausea and unbearable fatigue, I have found myself emotionally drained. And these raging hormones take all of that and turn it into a recipe for disaster. I get irritable. I get discouraged. I cry because I’m tired. I cry because I’m sick. I cry because there is a booger in my toddler’s nose that will not come out.

 But, throughout all this misery, I have discovered something beautiful. God meets me where I am. He blesses me with an amazing husband who can pick up where I leave off. He blesses me with a darling girl who can always make me laugh. And, while she may be high maintenance, she most always has a smile. He blesses me with messages of grace placed in unlikely places. And that is what has carried me through. 

 I love my unborn child. I am excited that my little girl will have a sister to grow up with. I am looking forward to being a family of four. But I have also seen that joy can coincide with discouragement. Blessings can be a challenge. And peace can hide in the chaos. God has chosen to use this time in my life to show me bigger things. And while I would love to have a marriage or a pregnancy or even a life filled with happiness and rest, I have learned that growing with God brings a much deeper joy, even when things get uncomfortable.

  

Rest for the Weary

 I am tired. Bone deep tired. Mind numbingly weary. Body aching exhausted. I wake up and force my body to move. I push myself beyond endurance just to perform routine tasks. I long for the days when I was simply tired, with brief spurts of energy. Now I am completely exhausted, with brief spurts of simple tiredness. Am I sick? Do I have a physical condition? Do I have a deficiency of some sort? No. I am a mom. Motherhood is so much more tiring than I expected. I realized the newborn stage would come with sleepless nights and days spent in a foggy haze. I looked forward to the days when my sweet girl would sleep through the night. I foolishly thought that more sleep led to more energy. And it does, to some extent. But what stamina I gain by sleeping better is drained by the energy sucking parasite that is my red headed toddler. Her laughs warm my heart. Her hugs make my day. But her liveliness wears me out. Seriously. If my daughter were a fruit, she would be a lemon, with the biggest zest for life (see what I did there?) and the brightest spirit, but her sour moments (I did it again) can catch me off guard.

 Puns aside, I realize that my weariness is not unique. And, especially around this time of year, rest is in short supply. But aren’t God’s children promised rest? Isaiah 40:31 promises that ,”Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” David knew that his soul could find rest in God (Psalm 62:5) Jesus himself says, in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

 It is clear that rest is available, even promised. But how do we access it? What does God’s promised rest look like? I have images of laying beside a sparkling stream or snuggling next to loved ones by a fire. Or even something as simple as sleeping in uninterrupted by toddler squeals and the pitter patter of her feet (as much as I love them). God’s promises are always bigger than our expectations. Could his rest be deeper and more meaningful than my desires?

 Matthew Henry’s commentary offers some wise insight and some perspective. He points out that the rest we are promised is a rest from the terror and power of sin and a rest in God and in His love, a rest that was “begun in grace and perfected in glory.” This last phrase resonates with me. How often does my own weariness result from my own rejection of God’s grace. I strive to be the best mom and the best wife and the best friend and the best Christian and I can point out all the ways I fall short. I am exhausted in my shortcomings.

 I cringe as I remember hiding my daughter’s favorite book because I was tired of reading it. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) I think of the sharp words I expressed to my husband out of my wearied irritation. And God reminds me, “grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love”. (Ephesians 6:24) I am ashamed by each thank you card that remains unsent and each phone call that remains uncalled. God offers, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philippians 4:23) I am aware that I should volunteer more, encourage more, witness more. And as the shame builds, God whispers, “for it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:8)

 I wonder how much energy I waste with the expectations I place upon myself. Guilt is meant to be constructive. Allowing it to fester into shame makes it become destructive. And it destroys my own zest for life. It causes me to miss out on the praiseworthy moments, forgetting to live a life of thanksgiving. 

 When Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” I don’t think he is saying the Christian life is an easy one. The fact that there is a yoke involved implies work. And no burden is easy to carry. Rather, Jesus is “gentle and humble in spirit.” Because of pride and stubbornness, I am a lot harder on myself than Jesus is. He doesn’t expect perfection because he is focused on perfecting. 

 I will embrace the strength of grace. 2 Timothy 2:1 encourages us to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. Physical exhaustion is an inevitable part of life in this fallen world. But I don’t have to add to it by holding onto shame. By accepting grace, I can be motivated by conviction rather than being crippled by guilt. And that, dear friends, puts my mind and my heart at rest.

Two Men Stood Before a Door

Two men stood before a door,
An invitation in each hand.
Inside a feast was being held
For the Host was a generous man.

Each guest sat in a golden chair
At a table filled with dishes.
Upon each head sat a glowing crown
Sparkling with jewels and riches.

The first man stepped up eagerly
Grasping the card to his chest.
His entrance met with open arms
As the Host made way for His guest.

The second man turned away,
“I have many things to do.
The meal will take up too much time.
I’ll return before they’re through.”

When he returned, the line was long.
The Host, greeting every guest.
“I’ll see if there’s another way.
I’ll search around to see what’s best.”

When he returned the door was closed
The meal well under way.
He knocked, then yelled and pleaded,
“Please, tell me it isn’t too late!”

The door was locked, the party loud,
His voice small among the den.
He began to search around the place,
Seeking another way in.

He failed to find another door.
The windows were all too high.
He made his way back to the front
And sat down with a sigh.

With tears he thought of what he’d done.
Why had he waited so long?
He wished he’d entered earlier.
Now the opportunity was gone.

But inside the feast was wonderful,
The first man thought with bliss.
An invitation from this benevolent Host
Was much too good to miss.