Chapter 31: The God Who Sees Me

1441318_10151754657612204_1830487226_n

“She is yearning for shelter and affection that she never found at home, she is searching for a hero to ride in to save the day, and in walks prince charming and he knows just what to say, momentary lapse of reason and she gives herself away..”  Does Anybody See Her?– Casting Crowns

Everybody wants a family.  Everybody wants to feel loved, everybody is searching for heroes.  Some people have none of those and so it is hard for those people to find a reason to keep breathing.  I am so glad that is not my story now.  And if it is yours, it doesn’t have to be.  Most of you have been following my story from the first blog I posted.

We were settled from the move from Clearwater to Citrus County and by settled I mean DirectTV had come so I could watch the Jaguars play. It was almost Thanksgiving 2009.  The move from Clearwater, to Citrus County was bitter-sweet.  It is only about 90 miles, maybe even less—and I had at least that many thoughts going through my head as I drove back and forth during the move.  I stood in the driveway of Crissy’s house in Clearwater and loaded the remaining things in my gray Ford Escape.  Mile by mile clicked by and I realized that my emotional state and motivation for making the move was reflective in the name of the car I chose to drive.

Somewhere a long the way I realized that I needed time– time to heal from the inside out.  I realized there were no programs, medicines or meditations that would fix what was broken.  I needed to be a wall flower, I needed to stop talking.  I needed for people to not know the “story”.

Settling in the new house brought it’s own set of problems as I had moved 3 times in 4 years.  I was comfortable, in fact, very comfortable at my church in Clearwater and I knew I would miss this church that had served as a triage for my heart and gapping wounds.  They were first on the scene; they loved me well—they served as a shelter for me, so it was hard to leave.

Led by one of the finest men I have ever met, Calvary is a big church with a single mission, and that is to do life together.  I am reminded now as I am writing this about the first time I saw the sign on the corner by that big church, and it’s theme “for life’s journey”—and that is a perfect way to describe the role of Calvary in my life.  More specifically, the Rice’s (pastor’s family)  walked some dark roads with me. I often think of the chorus of this song when I think of the Rice’s and the role they chose to play in my life.

“Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see? or does anybody even know she’s going down today?  Under the shadow of our steeple, with all the lost and lonely people searching for the hope that it is tucked away in you and me, can anybody see?”

I spent a lot of time with them, they would come pick me up for football games; we would go out on the jet ski, watch sports, and I even busted a romantic evening that Willy had planned for Cheryl one time.  It was around Christmas time and she agreed to feed me if I helped her grade papers.  We got to the house just in time to watch Willy add a third plate for the meal he had made for them; and I think I even remember him blowing out a candle!  It was hilarious.  The Rice’s just did life with me, as they continue to do with their ministry and as they did before I came along.  Both of them shattered my paradigms and Willy was one of the first people to help me understand that the men who had harmed me in my life were the exception, not the rule.  When I got out of the hospital I went directly to their house and he hugged me and there was and still is power in what he did not say.  He laid the foundation for those who would come behind him after my move from Clearwater.

009 2

“She is running a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction.  She is trying but the canyon’s every widening the depths of her cold heart.  So, she set out on another misadventure just to find she another two years older but she is three more steps behind”

The new house brought great opportunity for me to sequester myself and completely shut down; and it was an opportunity I took often.  We began to work the business,  and I threw myself into it full boar but after work I would shut myself in my room and try to stop my brain.  It seemed as though the move set me back a few steps as flash backs became more frequent and the demons seemed more intense than ever. Having been triaged by my team of people in Clearwater, the glaring wounds had stopped bleeding long enough to get me to the Intensive Care Unit, where I would be watched closely—but only by family and only in small amounts of time.  There was something very purposeful about keeping my world small; so that I could effectively deal with 3 decades of trauma.

Eventually, I came off of life support, but my Citrus County team had a lot to do as I moved my way through the pain and to a rehabilitation phase; it was in this phase that some of the darkest moments occurred.

I was better, and because I was better, my brain started dealing with some of the deeper issues; without my permission, I should add.  The night terrors got worse, I would often wake up in the middle of the night curled up in a corner of my bed with my arms up and protecting my head.  It took 5 minutes sometimes to remember that it was 2010 and not 1978, 1987, 1994 or 2007.  I was safe; and ironically that made my life miserable.  

No longer in fight of flight, it was time to work it out.  It hurt, it hurt like crazy—and I would still fall into a cycle of shutting down.  I did what I needed to do when the demons would present themselves in the way of flashbacks or a huge variety of health issues.  I would work on it, as much as I could on my own.  My rehab team was led by my doctor, who’s jaw dropped when I asked him if I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One would think that that diagnosis was obvious, but not to me, I didn’t understand why I was still dealing with some of this stuff.  Life continued to happen and in that process something happened that would help me not only work it out with fury, but quietly and without anybody noticing, some order was being restored (although I hesitate to use restored, I am not sure I ever had it) as I had the opportunity to “do life” with Crissy’s family, including her older brother Glenn.

I had reason to spend a large amount of time with Glenn for 3 years.  Some people reading this blog know him and you know that he is 6’4 of ridiculous talent with a heart as big as his stature.  He drove this LOUD truck and every morning when he would roll into our driveway for work, and a little piece of me felt safer. There was something very comforting about having him there when we knew that there were still threats to hurt me; there were threats to kill me.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year Glenn loved me well— he always referred to me as his sister, and he still does—and he talked me off a lot of bridges.  His tender way of calming down a situation is really difficult to describe.  But he was there, everyday—and for each bridge, each cliff, each step he had advice and a plan.  He poured into me and suddenly I realized that I had a brother, and another example that my experience with men was the exception, not the rule.  He built value in me. There were all kinds of times he had to assure me that I was not going to be homeless, that his family was with me to stay, no matter what.  It was and still is a sense of safety that I have never known, and even in these dark times God continued to show up in the way of Willy, Glenn and many like them.

155887_486302827016_8250723_n

That year trickled by and as it did, my body began to respond to night terrors.  My brain began to respond to ignoring deep pain. All of it classic PTSD symptoms.  The pain I felt during that time was necessary; but abundantly confusing; I just could not understand why I could not just move on; so I continued to beat myself up on that.  But, I found that my rehab team in Citrus County were rebuilding in me; and oftentimes they would ask me to stretch longer; run further; and lift more weight than I ever had before.

Hanging in The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a painting simply telling the story of Hagar.  Hagar, as a result of her decisions, found herself in a vast open space; she had nowhere to go; she had no support. Save her son Ishmael, she was alone and would be forever. But, suddenly she heard a voice, a voice that said “I am a God Who sees you.” (Genesis 16:13)  It is one of my favorite stories in the Bible and it occurred to me that He, in fact, also was my God; and He sees me.  Understanding and believing this truth was a defining moment in my story.  And, He made himself abundantly clear by providing so many people Who saw me and who heard me. Some could argue that Hagar’s decisions got her to where she was and she deserved to stay where she was without God or a community who served as triage, ICU or rehab. But God doesn’t operate that way, though if you know the whole story, you know that there were consequences to her decision that are still here with us today.

1914456_134365352203_607130_n

So, believing that He saw me, and that He knows my name was huge, and I finally got released from my rehabilitation team, because it was time for me to figure it out how to move on with my life.

If I had a microphone and everybody who ever has dealt with trauma of this magnitude, I would say this to you:  it is a fight worth fighting.  At some point you will feel like the pain will never go away.  I would tell you to start with triage; find the people who will stop the bleeding.  Find Intensive Care friends & family who will watch over you with a fervent vigilance—make your world small for that period of time.  And then, pick the rehab team; you will hate them sometimes. But know this, they see you; and they want to help you from going down today.

Using that same microphone I would encourage those of you who love people like me to step up, be loud and take the chance of them hating you.  Getting out of dangerous marriages or relationships is a huge step, but it is one in a series of steps.  Look for her.  Hear her.  Prevent her from going down today.

As 2010 came to an end, I found myself at Mayo Clinic and what I would find out there was life changing.  But that is a story for another day.

Advertisements

Chapter 30: How I Left

This blog will be uncharacteristically short; but I feel the need to strike while the iron is hot.  To say that the events of the past few days have been triggering for me is a vast understatement.  Every time I see the video of him hitting his wife brings back the shock and awe of being squarely punched in the face–and suddenly dropping to your feet to clean your own blood off the carpet.  That was one of the last times I got hit.  It was then that I began developing a plan to leave.  I would like to share it with you.  I understand that this plan could get into the hands of an abuser and they can be looking for these tips; but that is a risk I am willing to take.

Here is how I left.

I waited until we had a time of peace, though hard to find, I finally got a period of time where there was peace, and he was out of town.

I opened a checking account in my own name and began putting money in it.

I bought gift cards for grocery stores and places like Walmart so that I could have some provision in the early days and weeks of going it alone.

I packed bags and put them at different friends houses all over the city; took enough that would keep me clothed but left enough so that he would not notice.

I left the country, literally.  My friend put the trip on her credit card so he could not see where I went.

I lied to him about where I was, this bought me a few days while I was waiting for him to get served with papers.  I remained calm and like nothing was different.

I told my attorney I essentially wanted nothing but out.  I did not want a long and drawn out divorce.

I secured pictures of all the bruises and cuts from over the years, that, incidentally I had emailed to a friend.  I was ready to use them as evidence if I needed to do so.

I made a doctor’s appointment I didn’t need and I told him.  He is a mandated reporter.  He told me I had 24 hours to leave or he would call the police.

That same doctor took pictures of the gun sized bruise and cut on my head.  They are still on file in his office.

When I came home I moved 250 miles away.  I went to where I had some strong support but it would be difficult for him to get to me.

I borrowed money, having no idea when I could pay it back, to make this happen.  He did not put me on any checking accounts, he always gave me an “allowance” which I did save but it would not have been enough.

I worked for him so I started to secure employment in my new city; fortunately for me I have a skill set and a college degree that did not make this hard for me, I understand that is not true for everybody.

I held my precious golden retriever’s head in my hands and cried as I tried to tell him what was going on.  That last night he slept, literally, with his hand in mine.

I picked friends that would hold me accountable to the plan.  Once in action it could not be undone.

I walked around the house with the day’s edition of the newspaper (to prove the date) and took pictures of all the valuable stuff in the house.  Turns out, I would not care about that “stuff” but that is a good way for him to claim those things have never existed.

I took screen shots of bank account balances, again, I never asked for any money but I didn’t know that at the time.

I was medicated.  When I went to the doctor he gave me meds for anxiety and nausea.

I said goodbye–to each room in our “dream house”–the one 3 blocks from the beach.  But the truth is, there wasn’t one room in that house without a violent memory.

I took my DVDs, but I left them in the box so he wouldn’t notice they were gone.

I wrote an operations manual so that he could run the business.

I called his mama, who I love to death, and had what I knew would be my last conversation with her.  I remember her specifically asking me how it was with him out of town, my words to her were “peaceful, really peaceful”.  She laughed but I knew then that I was going to run from the darkness and into the light, I was going to get peace and I was going to get it at all costs.

I had (and still do) code words to say to my friends that means “send the police”

I kept (still do) the GPS feature enabled on my phone and changed all passwords that he would know how to track me by my phone, but my friends could (still do).

I refused to look in the rear-view mirror.  I definitely did not think leaving him was going to be as hard as it was and continues to be.  It has been 7 years and he still is a threat to me as I was granted an indefinite order of protection from the man who vowed before God and our families to love me forever.

When I got back to the states, I made a doctors appointment to prove to my doctor that I did leave and to receive the results of blood tests he ran on anybody who was in a situation like mine.  I tested positive for one; it attacks my mitral valve every year.

I changed my cell phone number.

I gave him a PO box for the little bit of money that I did ask for; I used a friends address for my drivers license that first year.

I had people that checked on me everyday–they knew I needed protection from him; but they also understood the depths of pain that I was walking, wading, crawling, swimming and sometimes drowning–they knew how deep those days were.  In fact, somebody still checks on me everyday.

All of this sounds easier than it actually is.  I hope some of these tips will help anybody who needs a plan. Get people.  I can not say that enough, get people.  You can do this.  You got this.  You are so worth it.  More on my story here.

Chapter 29: The Problem With Forgiveness

 
forgiveness
 
I was sitting in the balcony in a huge church that I had attended a million times. I had not been married long, but the hits, slaps and punches were already in the history books.  Michele, one of my friends from college, drove to Jacksonville to attend a Steven Curtis Chapman concert with me.  Michele and I have always been close, but like most people, we lost touch over the years, but for some reason we managed to get together for this concert. I did not tell her what was going on at home, and I wouldn’t tell anybody for a long time after that.  
 
The concert was great, as his so often are; but at intermission, something happened that still continues to impact me.  Steven Curtis Chapman began telling the story of “The End of The Spear”.
 
I had never heard of the story of the 5 man mission team that traveled to the jungle of equator in 1956.  It was their mission to evangelize that part of the world.  All 5 of them were killed in the most horrific way you can imagine. As Steven told the story he told us that one of the sons of the missionaries went back to the tribe, for the same reason, to evangelize the jungle.  That son, Steve Saint, discovered the identity of his father’s killer and he chose not to retaliate; in fact, chose to tell him the good news of the Gospel.  He chose to fulfill his father’s mission—to reach this jungle for Christ.  Steve Saint would say later that “people would always want to know how I could forgive my father’s killer.  My response has always been that my father loved these people so much that it was his choice to die for them”.  
 
I sat in my chair and the tears would not stop.  I was in awe of the story of forgiveness. I was awe of the story of sacrifice, and yes, I was in awe that Steve Saint, along with others went back to the jungle.  Right about the time I stopped crying, Steven brought out the tribesmen that killed the missionaries.  He did not speak English, he needed an interpreter and I needed to be sedated.
 
I could not wrap my head around that kind of forgiveness; that kind of sacrifice or that kind or redemption.  I bowed my head so that I could stop crying and tried hard to stop my whole body from shaking.  One thing was clear to me; I needed to forgive. 
 
I felt like I was not only being called to go to the jungle of my horrific life at home, but also called to be an active participant in reaching my husband, who was just as lost as those tribesman; he became my tribesman.  I do believe that night I legitimately forgave him.  I wish I could tell you my motives to forgive him were as unselfish as that of the Saint (and the other 4 families) family.  I wanted my house to be a home, not a jungle where brutality was more common than not.  I wanted the redemption story.  I wanted to stop being hit.  And, so I would pray every night for God to clear the trees, clear the fog, and make our house a home where love flowed freely and I was so loved and protected that there was no need to forgive.   So life continued to happen and forgiving didn’t change it and then the years flew by, quietly and without me even noticing.
 
“One day, you’re 17 and your are planning for someday.  And then quietly, without you even noticing someday is today.  And the someday is yesterday, and this is your life. “ John Green
 
 
Many years passed and the jungle only got thicker, it only got more complicated and one by one the vines of bitterness and resentment threatened to take whatever was left of me.  I stayed, with a great hope that God would change the story, if I just forgave; if I just prayed enough.  I made excuses for him and the violence would start with something as simple as forgetting ketchup at the store, failing to get a stain off of one of his shirts, or not bringing enough money into our business. Every hit, took hope from me; it took my future from me; it took  my heart from me as the pain filled every single chamber.  I just kept walking through the days, hiding the bruises and trying to be good enough to be valuable to him.  And, as I failed in doing that, I continued to turn on myself, holding myself to a standard that could not be reached.  My life became more confusing as I didn’t understand why God didn’t just make it stop.  It was at that time I understood the problem with my understanding of forgiveness.  You could build a wall if you had a brick for every time I forgave him; and well I sort of did build a wall. There were parts of my heart that still haven’t recovered; walls are still coming down.  But I had a lot to learn; I had a lot to learn about what forgiveness really meant.
 
“I felt alone and undiscovered, and old enough to understand, just when I’m supposed to be learning to love, You let me doubt again.” 70×70 Chris August
 
The longer God didn’t answer my prayers and redeem my story the harder it was for me to continue to forgive. I began to understand that forgiveness is not about the other person, but that forgiveness was an act of obedience—a transaction if you will —between God and us.  It was at the point that I truly was able to forgive in the very strict sense of the word; but that also meant understanding the difference between “forgive and forget” and stripped down forgiveness.  I would much rather the “forgive & forget” cliche answer, but some offenses bring life long consequences and for him, even though I forgave him,  he lost his marriage.  The process of forgiving wasn’t then but it is now a sweet transaction with God; and a miracle all at the same time.  I would not reach my tribesman for Christ, or get the redemption story I wanted—at least not here.  My life was still in danger in the jungle of our home, and the jungle was becoming more dangerous, more difficult to navigate, and dark, the jungle was so so dark.  
 
And as I look back on it now, I realize I didn’t need to look very hard to find an example of true forgiveness.  A blameless man, hanging on a cross, giving His life for all sins that had occurred every day before that day and every day after  He hung on a cross in the middle of two tribesman; one of whom He would forgive despite His own agony.  So, I did the only thing I knew to do, I sat at the foot of the cross in my mind and asked Him to continue to put forgiveness in my heart, but also wisdom in my brain.  I understood that there would be long roads ahead, but I also understood that God would take care of the rest. Because of my flawed understanding of forgiveness,  I thought for so many years that God would change the story because I was “forgiving”—yet that is not the story He chose to tell.  He was telling then as He is now, a story of miraculous intervention and one of ridiculous healing  It was those transactions that helped me understand that we forgive because it is obedient, we don’t forgive so that we can get a certain outcome.  It was that misunderstanding of forgiveness that made me stay so long.
.  
I am now forgiving without expectation of redemption.  This kind of forgiveness can not be explained as it flies into the face of human logic, but all I can say about then and now, is that God chose to work a miracle in me as I did not get bitter.   Everyday, my heart pumps blood, sometimes efficiently, sometimes not so efficiently.  Once or twice a year I scare everybody because my heart, the physical one, is literally broken as a result of violated marital vows.  And, so it is that I get the opportunity to forgive, almost every day.
 
This is my story and I am fortunate that I got out of that marriage alive.  Posting this blog makes me nervous.  It makes me nervous because I was very fortunate things worked out for me—meaning I got out alive.  My false, flawed ideas of forgiveness could have gotten me killed, or I would still be there.  The problem with forgiveness, I think, is our understanding of what forgiveness means.  
 
Forgiveness is an awesome privilege when we understand that our motives need to be clear when we forgive.  True forgiveness, I think, is also a total surrender to God for the outcome of any given situation.  Forgiveness is not a magic pill; but it is balm for the soul.  I believe when we truly forgive we are also totally surrendering to God; and whatever he deems next in our lives.  He wants us to have an abundant life.  He wants us to thrive.  He wants us to live a life that advances the world in a positive way.  Ironically, the 22 years before I got married gave and still does give me a lot of experience with this forgiveness thing.  But as I wrote in “How Can I Help You to Say Goodbye”—not forgiving haunted me after my mom died.  She never knew I forgave her; and I am not sure I had.  But, because of that, I think I stayed as long as I did for all the reasons I listed above, I did not want to lose another person in my life.  So, I was willing to lay down, be trampled over and in doing all of that learning what it feels like to be picked up and carried though such horrible times.
 
My life is extraordinary these days.  I am thriving and dreaming—the later of which I have never been able to do.  The power of forgiving brings light in your hours, clarity in your thoughts, and laughter in your soul, sometimes for the first time ever.  
 
I left out the coolest part of this story.  When I moved where I live now, I was still in the deep dark “dealing with it” stage.  We are in a small county (by population) and Steve Saint’s family goes to our church.  I got to meet Steve Saint and a tribesman that could have very well been the same one; it was a tender moment for me as I shook his hand; and then Steve Saint’s hand—I held on for a little longer when I shook his hand; I wanted to tell him how he and his family had impacted me so many years ago.  Maybe one day I will tell him.
 
It seems everywhere I look Domestic Violence is way too common.  That makes me wonder what I can do to prevent, to help or to minister.  When I understood true forgiveness there was power in that decision.  There was an a transformation of my heart and my soul.  Writing a blog like this makes me a little nervous because I don’t want domestic violence victims to stay in situations just because forgiving is “obedient”.  It is obedience, but it should never be used as an excuse to stay in a situation- whether it be a friendship or a marriage-that brings harm to you.  
 
Everywhere I look there seems to be an increase in domestic violence.  I don’t know how we can stop it completely, but what I do know is that it is time for us to rise up.  I love the lyrics of this Jeremy Camp song:
 
“We are, we are in desperation, we need to reach this generation, we are speaking louder than before.”
 
I have said for almost a year now that I am a reluctant messenger of this cause.  That is no longer true.  What about you?
 
“Won’t you stand up, stand up, stand up won’t you stand up you boys and girls, won’t you stand up and use your voice.   There’s a comfort. There’s healing, high above the pain and sorrow.  Change is coming, can you feel it, calling us into a new tomorrow.” Sugarland