Chapter 25: My 3 Dads

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“I dreamed I went to heaven and you were there with me; we walked the streets of Gold beside the crystal sea, we heard the angels singing, then someone called your name, and then you turned a young man and he was smiling as he came. And he said, friend you may not know me now but then he said but wait…” Ray Boltz

I was only in the Children’s Home for weeks before I got to go on tour with the other kids who had earned that privilege. We traveled around the country singing in countless churches and eating more “dinner on the grounds” than we can even count. I was adjusting to being at the home after a couple of weeks, however, I was still very shy—perhaps the correct word is scared. Because of that fear, I had very little interaction with anybody, especially any of the male staff members. Traveling around the country for 8 weeks was a lot of fun. As I look back on it now, that first summer tour was the first step, triage if you will, to addressing my gaping, oozing emotional wounds.

It was a simple task, really. But the task was mine and mine alone and one that I cherished. Every night, summer after summer, it was my job to grab a plastic cup from the storage containers on the greyhound bus; find a place to fill it with water and put it on the pulpit. After I got over the sheer terror of “Dad McGowan” calling me to the front of the bus to ask me to get water for him, his request made me feel special and I got that cup of water without fail for well over 6 years. It seems silly, but it was a precious gift for me—to be able to serve Dad McGowan, even if it meant something that anybody could do. He made me feel like only my water would quench his thirst. There was no magic in that water; but there was something greater than magic about being asked to get that water.

Years later I asked Dad McGowan why he didn’t just get a staff member of the sponsoring church to get his water. I was stunned by his reply to that question. He told me that I would not get near him-I wouldn’t even hug him; I would stay away from him. He told me this was a chance to prove that all men were not like the ones I had experienced in my life. He knew that getting him water would bond me to him. He knew my love language is serving and that would allow me to express to him that I loved him, because I did. I never missed getting him his water—and somewhere along the way, he became a Dad to me.

I hugged and loved without reservation after a very short time. I found myself going to him for advice, and it was a sermon by him, that the Lord used for me to ask Jesus to be my Personal Savior. I still remember the sermon Dad preached that night. He preached on the compassion of Jesus—and how when He is our Savior; but more importantly, how He is our Abba Father.

Dad understood the gravity of the kids that he was charged to feed, cloth and protect—but he knew He had to point us to our Abba Father too; a father Who would never leave us or forsake us. I look back on that time now, and wonder how I would have made it through any of what would happen after that day without my Abba Father. In fact, one day very recently, I was reminded of the power, the love and the protection of my Abba Father.

“I am so, so sorry”. You could have heard a pin drop that day at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church. The pastor, my pastor, stood at the pulpit and was leaning on it as if it propped him up; and he let those words sink into the minds and hearts of those listening to him. I think Ray leaned on that pulpit because he was justifiably angry, disgusted and sad. He was preaching a sermon called “The Bruised Reed”. Essentially, he was preaching on a variety of painful subjects and how the church should respond.

Sometime days during one particular week, I was warned about his next topic, I went anyway. Ray was preaching on sexual abuse—a topic that is more familiar to me than even I know. Sexual abuse is part of my story from the time I was 7 years old until I was 14 years old and then again for 12 years by the hands of my husband in the form or sexual abuse the experts call “martial rape”.

I thought these wounds had been healed, and for the most part they are; but the scars were very thin and even the slightest friction could cause them to become gaping wounds, again. This sermon was more than slight friction. As Ray preached about how the church should respond to victims of sexual abuse, he spent a long time addressing guilt and shame that victims experience after being abused.

“So don’t believe the lies. You are His beloved, You are Abba’s child. No more guilt and shame, isn’t that Amazing Grace? Josh Bales

I was sitting in the back of the church that day. Ray stood at the pulpit, fully understanding the gravity of this moment. He told us a story of a pastor’s retreat he attended and how he was 3 out of 7 who had not been sexually abused. He wanted to make it very clear this was not part of his story but his heart broke for those whom it did affect.

After he spoke those words, he stayed silent for what felt like forever, and I was sure the over-head window light highlighted the tears in his eyes. It was then I started crying not only for me – I heard people all around me crying too. If statistics are correct at least 1 in 4 of you reading this has been sexually abused. The realization of that kind of statistic is astounding; I am proud of my pastor for preaching on such sensitive and painful subject.

We ended the service with communion and I returned to my seat with my head bowed and more tears streaming down my face than I ever could remember. Crissy was sitting beside me and I could hear her crying too because she has lived with the repercussions of my abusers for a long time. I knew her tears were for me-as her instinct is to protect me and to be incredibly angry for anyone who didn’t protect me. I couldn’t even look her way though, I just dropped my head as the service ended and could not stop crying. Suddenly, somebody grabbed on the other side and it was Anna, Crissy’s sister in law, and she hung on tight. By that time, Crissy grabbed the other arm and I was flanked on either side of them by the truest form of love a person can receive.

Certainly, some of the tears were a sign of an awareness that so many years of my life had been robbed by the repercussions of this evil, this darkness. The scars, though healed, oozed a little that day as I realized that some of the pain would never be completed healed; they would need wound care; they would always need to be given attention.

“I used to pray that I could rewrite history, I used to pray that You would take this shame away and hide and hide the evidence of who I have been. But it is the memory of the place you brought me from that brings me my knees, even though I’m free. Heal the wound but leave the scar, a reminder of how merciful You are, I am broken, torn apart so heal the wound, but leave the scar”—Pointe of Grace

As the last of the congregation was finishing communion I sat in the pew and had completed soaked up the tissue that I had and I could see each teardrop fall on the floor of this church that has been such a refuge. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to get from that pew and out of the church without anyone seeing me—or my red, puffy and swollen eyes. I think this is indicative of the shame I still felt—I didn’t want the world to know. But I glanced to the front of the church and saw him standing there, and suddenly I was headed to the front of the church as quickly as I could get there.

I had not known Crissy very long when I met her parents. I still remember when I met her dad for the first time, in 2008. It was at Tio Pepe’s in Clearwater. Crissy had told me for months that I needed to meet her parents as they themselves had their own victory stories; but most of all she wanted me to meet them because there were (and still are) in a word, amazing.

Tom Loughrige is the kind of person that would find a connection with a nail, a bulldozer, a drug addict, a preacher, a doctor or anything in between. It took about 5 minutes for he and I to find a connection. And, it was an important connection for me at that point in my life. We were talking about my hometown. He went to college there and knew all about it and we just talked and talked about Jacksonville—much to Crissy and her mom’s displeasure I am sure. I don’t think Tom has ever met a stranger. He is kind and gentle and probably the most generous person I know.

I finally looked up and now the tears were just falling on my shirt, but I saw Tom standing at the front ready to pray with people and without even thinking about it, I bolted to the front and when he saw me coming, he grabbed me in his arms and tried to get me to stop crying –I was crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. What he said to me are words that were meant only for me to hide in my heart –and I did.

Later that day, it occurred to me that I had two people in my life that annihilated my view on men. I had found two who didn’t want anything from me. I had found two who were and are not only father figures to me but are images of my Abba Father-the one that claimed me that day when I asked him to be my Savior. It occurred to me that not only do I two father figures on this earth, but I have my Abba Father who is Who is chasing me down and who loves me unconditionally. Dad McGowan and Papa Loughridge shine Jesus in everything they do. Both of them love me unconditionally and both of them would protect me. However, the most important thing they do for me is point me to my Abba Father.

“Dad McGowan is in his 80’s now, but recently told me that he never even needed the water, but he knew I needed to get it for him. A few months ago, “Papa Loughridge” told me he was never going to let me fail.

And so, on this Father’s Day, I am not a orphan without a father; I am a blessed with 2 who love me as their own, but most importantly they remind me of my Father Who will never leave or forsake me. And for that reason, I can say nothing else but “Thank You for Giving to the Lord, I am a life that was changed”

“One by one they came, as far as the eye could see, each life somehow touched by your generosity. Little things that you had done, sacrifices made, unnoticed on the earth, in heaven now proclaims. And I know up in heave, you are not supposed to cry, but I am almost sure there were tears in your eyes, as Jesus took your hand and you stood before the Lord, he said ‘my child look around you, for great is your reward.” Ray Boltz

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Chapter 24: I Will Walk On

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“The Wind Blows Hard, the climb is slow, shadows are dark, I stumble on these stones” Walk On 4HIM

We had made it to Thanksgiving of 2009, and while we began work on the business in May, I still found it very difficult to get out of bed in the morning. So much had happened in 3 years. I was facing another surgery, but that was not until April, so all the medicines that were serving a dual purpose were gone.

And I felt the pain, in some ways like I had never before. Crissy and I decided to move to Citrus County to move closer to her family and to headquarter the business. Looking back on the decision now, I don’t remember even praying about it; and maybe somewhere in the back of my mind maybe I wanted to fade into oblivion—a place where nobody knew the story. Maybe I was looking for somewhere that I could be invisible.

I hate moving, and I seriously HATE packing. But, it was time as Crissy’s house was sold and another already purchased in Citrus County. I stood in front of my closet and let the reality of another move sink in; I looked around the room, painted in yellow with furniture from my guest room when I was married. I stood at the closet, sort of paralyzed not knowing how I could begin to pack. I did not have the physical strength or the emotional capacity to face some of the things I would need to pack—like wedding pictures, for example.

We traveled a lot so my closet and drawers were filled with t-shirts from those vacations and trips. One of the t-shirts caught my eye, a white one from Hawaii, and I noticed something on the bottom of the t-shirt that I had never noticed before. It was faint, but not hard to distinguish, it was a bloodstain, and I knew exactly from whence it came– because that event had been (and sometimes still is) one of the flashbacks I have in the middle of the night.

The flashbacks, in my opinion, are the worst part of the whole thing. I think it is important for you to understand what a PTSD flashback is. It is not a faded memory, it is not intentional and it is, in a word, torture. Mine almost always come in the middle of the night, or when there is a familiar smell or if I go to parts of the country where we were together. They are worse than reality because when you are conscious your mind has a check valve—sort of God’s design to protect us from the pain, I think. I don’t know, all I do know is that I remember way more about events during a flashback then when I am awake practicing mindfulness.

So, I stood there in front of that closet, and before I knew it I found myself back in the kitchen slammed against the refrigerator in St. Augustine, Florida.

I can’t remember what started it this time. I think it had something to do with coffee. It might have been because I had forgotten to set the timer on the coffee maker the night before. I had not been awake very long—and I am not a morning person—so it could have that I snapped back at him about something, again, I don’t remember what started it. The only reason I know it had something to do with coffee is because I still had the coffee pot in my hand when he slammed me against the refrigerator. It smashed into a million pieces when I dropped it in an attempt to protect myself. He had his forearm pressed against my neck.

Our agreement was when he lost his temper—that I would either leave or lock myself in another room. I think, like anything else, people negotiate and parlay painful events; relenting whatever you need to do to create a solution that might mean it will never happen again. This was how we got to that agreement. Maybe that is common in domestic abuse situations, I am sure we didn’t make it up.

I felt him pull his forearm off my throat and realized that I had been unable to breathe. I was dizzy and a little confused, but I did remember the rule, so I literally ran to another room in the house and locked the door. Just seconds later, though, he began banging at the door telling me if I let him in we could talk about it. I did not open the door, but he did, after a running start and all 240lbs of him came flying through the now broken door. When I realized what was going on, I kept backing up as if at some point there was going to be a magical opening in the wall and I could escape. When my back finally touched the wall, he was 2 inches from my face screaming at me. There was no time to move, duct or avoid this fist that landed squarely in the middle of my face. Blood went everywhere.

I had never been punched in the face and I don’t even remember it hurting, there was just, so much blood. The next thing I remember was standing in Publix with 4 full size cans of carpet stain remover to get the blood out of the white carpet in that room. I got home, went back into that room and got on my hands and knees and started cleaning my blood of the carpet. He stood at the door and watched me and then asked me if I would look at his hand to see if he had broken it when he slammed through the door. There were no tears, they would not come—and certainly there was no logic. So, not only did I clean my blood up off the floor, I looked at his hand, told him to put ice on it and finished cleaning by getting the splatters of blood off the wall.

Logic would have told me to go to the police station instead of Publix, logic would have told me to break his swollen hand when he put it in mine to see if he was going to be “okay”. By the way, believing I had value would have told me those things too. But, my brain was in fight or flight—very common in these situations—so before you judge me or anyone else in a domestic violence situation, remember that. Also remember what I try to write in every BLOG, value is worth more than any amount of money in the world. If you or somebody you know is in a situation like this or was in one; the healing starts when you help her realize she deserves better. Like a deep laceration, healing comes from the inside first.
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“No end in view, at times I feel alone and the signs are few, but at least they all say home…I chose to take this road called faith…”

I pulled that t-shirt out of the closet that day and starred at it for what felt like hours. By that time I remember Crissy popping her head in my room—I don’t think she knew I saw her. I wasn’t crying, just kind of stunned. I think a person is given a tear budget, and mine had long been used, even back on that day in St. Augustine, the tears would not come.

Crissy had worn out the floor in that hallway by my door, with each flashback in the middle of the night she was holding vigil either outside my room or calming me down until I could go back to sleep. I would learn later that she would stand outside my door until she was confident that I stayed asleep—to this day I really don’t have words for that kind of love for another person. The loss for words only matched by a failed effort to describe my gratitude.

I wondered then, as I often do now, “when will it be too much?” One thing I knew for sure though is Someone had walked a much more difficult road for me; and was beaten and killed so that I could be healed by His stripes. And because of that, I knew my only choice was to walk on.

“Because of Love there was an awful hill You climbed and because of Love I will live my faith one step at a time. The course is set, life is hard but yet, I will walk on. Around each bend until the end I will walk on.”

Chapter 24: I will Walk On