Her voice still pierces through my mind.
“Did you call the cops?”
It is a well-meaning question, but to a victim of domestic violence, it serves as an indictment. If you are asking the question the answer doesn’t really matter.
It seems like a logical question–a question meant more to gain information rather than judge. Still, it feels like judgement.
For the second time after leaving, I sat in an office in a county courthouse reliving my nightmare that was a 12 year abusive marriage. After SIX years, apparently, I still needed protection from the person I vowed before God & our families to love forever. The deputy clerk asked the “question” and I starred at her unable to speak. There was no energy to speak. I felt salty tears running down my cheek. I couldn’t speak; there was this lump in my throat. I could hear my heart beat, and found myself comforted by the consistent sound. It was the sound of brokenness.
I stared over her shoulder and out the window and then turned my head to look at Crissy; I wondered if this time was going to take me down for good. The tears turned into a racing heart and I could feel the heat in my face. Suddenly, tears gave way to anger. The courthouse staffer had her eyes locked on me waiting for an answer to her question. “No, I did not call”
While not uncommon for victims to report abuse, every victim has reasons. The entirety of my marriage, I kept thinking it would be the last hit, the last punch, or the last verbal beat down. I prayed every night that my God would fix it. I had nowhere to go. My job was tied up in this marriage. He was everything to me. But, he turned into a monster and I was frequently fearful for my life. Calling the cops, I felt, would make it worse. I wanted to slap that lady for asking the question when the answer, at that moment, didn’t matter, nor was it any of her business as she was just the paper pusher, not the judge.
My marriage was filled with days I couldn’t name many reasons to live. I didn’t feel valuable, I tried to out wait it; I knew if I could just not make him mad, the abuse would stop. I wanted so badly for the man I married to come back, and the monster that slept next to me to stop. Just stop.
I knew reporting my cases of domestic violence would mean, literally, becoming homeless and jobless. It doesn’t matter if that decision was logical, I was not in any position to take more beatings after the cops came and saw no bruises, scrapes or scratches. He knew how to hit me without leaving a single mark.
I hated that lady that day for judging me for not reporting my incidences of domestic violence. Operating under the information I had and the lies I believed, I am not sure I would do anything differently today. But, that was then, and this was now, and sometimes, “when you know better you do better”.
The turn then came for me came when church friends, lifelong friends and finally family told me to leave. This was not a short progress as it took several months. I knew, that for me, there would be no turning back. I had to make sure I understood the ramifications of a decision to leave. Finally, a very special friend and my cousin made that decision for me.
Six years later I still had to deal with this person who wished harm on me.
However, six years is a long time to rebuild that which was stolen from me. I was no longer that person, on this day. Filing for this restraining order was the second time in six years. The first time, I was a mere shell of a person, and had no fight. I didn’t even want to live.
This time, my decision to go file the paperwork was based on one basic truth: I deserved better. So, I decided to fight.
I wish I could say that even six years later going to court wasn’t painful. It hurt on so many levels. I think the day I left I felt more betrayed by God than anybody. I did not then, nor do I now understand why God didn’t just create the heart change I begged for night after night. I thought if I forgave, and (literally) turned the other cheek that we could be an amazing story of restoration. So, when none of that happened, I was, and still sometimes am, confused by God. As the years go by, and I process all of it–not just him, but a lifetime of abuse and neglect, I find myself chalking these things up to things I will never understand.
Ken Gire writes, author of “North Face of God”, about a father begging for healing for his son. Finally, locked in a church and in a standoff with God, this is the message he received: “if I don’t heal your son, if I don’t do this thing you want me to do, can I still be your God?”
It didn’t take me long to answer that question in my situation. “Yes, You can still be my God, please still be my God!”
This book started as a battle cry and high hopes of helping those who are or who have stood in my shoes. The purpose of this book is for those of you who love victims of domestic violence. The purpose of this book is to speak to those of you who don’t understand why it’s not “just a phone call”. I want those same people to understand the importance of inserting yourself into your friends life and wait for the moment. Stay with it. Pray much. She won’t make sense to you. The decision to leave will seem easy to you. But, you can’t trust a beat-down wife to call on her own, if there is nothing left of her then she has no ability to think logically. Let her keep a suitcase at your house. Be part of an emergency exit plan. Pray with her. Play with her. Love her. But please, please do not judge her. It’s not as simple as folks would like to make it.
Domestic violence has always existed in society. It is also true that God takes His hands off of those who constantly ignore Him. It is in those people that true evil exists.
Please don’t misunderstand me, no woman should stay in an abusive relationship, no one should. But matters of the heart and the wallet sometimes are screaming louder than logic. And, with each punch, slap or kick, she dies a little. Then there comes a time she hopes he will kill her because living with him is too painful.
And then there is God.
I know now that I had to be ready to leave. I know now that it was God and my friends who gave me the strength to leave. So, with a a little money, a lot of friends and a little family, I left when he was on a trip. I passed him on the road as he was coming home. I have never looked back.
Recently, society has paid more attention to intimate partner abuse. Those of us who got out have something to offer. While I will take you through my journey of not only spousal abuse but childhood neglect, abuse and finally abandonment, my mission is clear. I want my pain to matter. I want to help you, because you matter. You will find that I have a devout love of music and especially during this season of my life, many times my communication with God was through music. I will often refer to lyrics of some of my favorite songs, the same ones that filled my heart and head when I was throwing my Bible across the room.
If I were standing in front of a group of women and they were asking my advice, I would say, do not pull away from your friends and your family. This is what he wants. Find somebody to trust and tell them, because then it makes you accountable. This was the thing that saved me. I told friends and family and they took over for me, and helped me get out. Make that phone call to people you can trust, you can do that. Don’t be silent.Don’t let him own you. I heard someone say once “the devil loves dark corners”. Step out into the light and trust me the phone at the police station will eventually ring, because you will get strong enough, or one of your friends will love you enough to do it for you. Don’t try to gage how dangerous he is, you really can’t trust your logic. I am lucky to have gotten out when I did.
To those of you who love victims of domestic violence, you have the hardest job of all. Don’t be afraid to make the call on your friends behalf, because she may not be able to, she just can’t see it. Be careful. She has to be ready. Don’t give up on her. Don’t be angry with her. Don’t push her. She is getting enough of that already.
People ask me why I waited so long to leave. I had my reasons and you have yours. They don’t have to make sense. Always try to make decisions based on your safety and well-being and not financial security. Don’t stay in an abusive relationship because you can’t figure out how to do it. You will be amazed at humanity and how most of us hate cowards who hurt women. Don’t stay in silence. Tell a friend.
As far as everybody else, don’t ask if she called the cops, she will shut down and feel judged. If what needs to happen is her removal from the situation, then gently prod and help her in that direction. Remember, it feels like an indictment when you expect her to pull herself out all alone.
Domestic violence leaves life-long scars. Healing comes in lots of fashions, but it does come. As Tony Dungy said “life will never be the same, but it won’t always feel like this”. Love yourself, value yourself and remember you are not alone. I hope you find my journey, while often difficult to read and write about, gives you hope in dark times; I hope it gives you courage when you need it; I hope you get set free.
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I left the courthouse that day with a temporary injunction. We’d be headed to court for sure, I could not even go there in my mind.
The process to file an injunction for protection is not meant to be an easy one–but it also isn’t prohibitively difficult either. This was my second go round, and I had the same friend by my side as we navigated our little county court house. In the state of Florida, there are thresholds that have to be met for even a temporary injunction to be granted. They take into account length of the relationship, frequency of violence and the legitimacy of the threat. That part is crazy to me, but I suppose it is a free country and even violent people have rights.
Last time this happened, I was so stunned I did not get an attorney. In fact, it was by the urging of many friends that made me file the first time anyway. Get you some of those friends, again, you can’t be expected to think logically for yourself.
I met my attorney 3 days before court. I loved him, but I sat across the conference table stunned at my state’s definition of “violence, threats or need for protection”. He told me that he would essentially, in open court, ask me questions about the decade of abuse and mixed with the laws of my state, we could hope the judge would see the need, and protect me.
The day before the court date, I got a call from the court house that said that he had requested a dismissal (due to lack of facts) or a continuance because he could not travel. My attorney told me this is common with abusers, they want to avoid going to court at all costs and will try anything. When I got that call I was almost promised we would not be going to court on Friday. I felt my lungs fill with air again, for the first time in days and even could finally eat. Until an hour later when my attorney called me and told me we were definitely going to court.
So, my lungs emptied again and I found it difficult to catch my breath. Food was no longer an option and I stood in somebody else’s closet (since I wasn’t staying at home) to find something to wear. I had only been to court 2 times before this, once for jury duty and the other time for this same thing. I am intimidated by them. With the exception of a lead foot, I tend to obey the law, I don’t like the police! I was, in a word, petrified, just 8 hours before court.
I had a team of people who wanted to be there but I figured rolling into court with 30 or so people may have been over-kill. So, I had my brother from another mother Keith (who I knew in the Children’s Home) his wife Rebecca and Robyn from my church.
I showed up before any of them, even before the attorney. I sat in the hallway where all these people at odds with each other sit, with an 85 year old deputy there to keep them apart. True story.
I was pretty sure he would not be there, but sitting there alone, even for a few minutes, allowed the pain of this to all set in. I sat quietly and cried as I replayed scenes from that part of my life over and over in my head.
Finally, my attorney came, pulled me into a room and asked me what I will call the most difficult 25 questions of my life. They were brutal, the answers needed to be descriptive, it was awful. But it was necessary.
Robyn was waiting for me when I walked out of the room. All she did was rub my back in a clockwise motion and with each strike of 12 my heart calmed down a little. Until the 86 year old deputy (I think he had a birthday while I was there) called “all parties for Watson”. My feet felt like 1,000 pounds, but I stood up, walked into that court room and was ready to do business.
He requested to be at the hearing by phone and as the judge dialed his number and his voice came over her speaker phone I thought I was going to throw up–he didn’t answer. So, my attorney began to “profer” for me–which is a fancy way of making an opening statement on my behalf. The judge listened patiently, and then indicated she was going to try him one more time. This time I literally plugged my ears like a kid because the sound of his voice sent chills down my spine. I did hear the judge say ” you asked for this and I agreed to call you, but this is the second time you didn’t answer so I am going to hear the case”. I think I started to lose the bluish color I had accomplished and again, could feel air in my lungs again.
Then it came time for the hard questions. My attorney asked if she wanted him to read the emails, she indicated they were not suitable for open court and that she had, in fact read them. Even she couldn’t abide the evil that was meant for me.
When I heard the judge ask my attorney “I am going to grant the order for protection, how long are you seeking”. I think my attorney was as stunned by that as she was asking it. He told her for as long as she would. Then, just like the Lord does, He made sure we knew He was in the room. She said “I never do this, but I am granting the order of protection indefinitely, until I say so.
It was difficult not to fist pump my attorney as the deputy in the court room (that is where they keep the young ones) brought the form over for me to sign. I felt like a million pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. I waited for my copies then took some of my entourage to lunch.
Very much like the judge needed to speak for me, I was reminded that this is the place of God in our lives, especially the Holy Spirt, who stands in gaps and speaks for us. I walked in there with the prayer (from one of my favorite Bible stories in I Kings 21) “the Kings heart is in the hand of the Lord”.
Here is the thing, the order of protection is a piece of paper that (as many deputies told me) “a bullet could penetrate”, but as Crissy says “it is a very VALUABLE piece of paper. But, should things gone differently for me that day, I would have been disappointed, but I would to have landed in the same place I did anyway. Grateful to a God who has my back no matter what.
Driving home, I played over and over the Shane & Shane Song “Though you slay me” the words go like this:
“Though You slay me, I will bless your name. Though you take from me I will give you praise, though you ruin me, still I will worship sing a song to the One Who is all I need”.
There have been times during this process and there will be times again, when I feel ruined. Though relieved after that decision, it still didn’t take away the bone grinding sadness that domestic violence brings.
I still had to somehow figure out how to live a life worthy of redemption. Going to court that day was just one step in the right direction. It was a step in understanding that I deserved better and that my value as a human being had nothing to do with him. This was just the very first step in trying really believe my value. I didn’t know that step would be a long, arduous process, and that he wasn’t done at all.
Brave. Strong. Insightful. Courageous. Tenacious.
Those are just a few of the words invoked by what was meant to be a (published) rambling of thoughts. I had no idea any of this would strike such a chord. It is crazy that a “throw away” kid with traumatic childhood would find an audience with victims of domestic violence. This isn’t the way I planned it. I have spent my whole life telling God He could use the orphan story. That story doesn’t hurt as much and I can tell it to you with great humor; and you, well you have to obey all the Bible verses that tell you to be nice to orphans. This, well this was not on the list of things God could use. It just hurts too much.
Afraid. Petrified. Exhausted. Anxious. Overwhelmed. Grateful.
That is what I really feel. Those are the words that really describe me. I am honored (and just a tiny bit overwhelmed) by the response of the two domestic violence blogs. To date, those blogs have received traffic from all around the world. So now, well now, I have to attempt to continue to tell you the story. You see, I don’t want anybody to think that this story is over. I don’t want anybody to think any of it was easy. I don’t want anybody to think that these years didn’t leave life-long scars. But, I want all of you to know that this is a story of hope- straight up unadulterated hope. This is a story about hope and love and all of its cousins. This is a story about friends. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a friend. I have more friends than one person should ever have and they all have a part in this story. So, for those of you who sent me messages calling me all those nice words, thank you; but I am nothing absolutely nothing without God and the friends He called to play a key role in saving my life.
So, for those of you who sent me messages asking very specific questions about how I got out, this is for you. It all started with the power of friendship and people who really are all those nice words, brave, strong and all it’s cousins.
My very first and very best friend was my sister Lisa. I vividly remember her going to school-I was devastated. Who would play outside with me? Who would help me forget the horror that was our lives? Lisa is 3 years older than me so it is a vivid memory to have at just over 2 years old.
My exit from my domestic violence nightmare started because I told her. I still to this day call it “drug-induced” courage. She & my friend Mitzi were in a hospital room with me after 2 major surgeries in five days. It just came out of my mouth. She and Mitzi were there with me because he wasn’t, and really refused to be there. Something about hospitals making him panicky. Somehow everything was about him.
I knew as soon as it came out of my mouth that this story would never be the same. I am told that Lisa confronted him in the elevator the next day, and for some reason he never wanted me to be around my sister after that. She and Mitzi, no doubt, had no idea what to do, and I am only now realizing the weight of this kind of information. But the cat was out of the bag and there was never any undoing and of that. So, that is how all of this started. I told my oldest friend and one of my dearest friends that my husband was hurting me.
That was in 2004 and I didn’t leave until 2007. Neither of them really knew what to do with this information. But, what they didn’t know was that I was one by one telling all of my friends, old and new; Christian and non-Christian. And, what I didn’t know is that all of them were making plans for me. They were rebuilding value in me; they believed in me; and not once, not even once were any of them pushy or judging. Looking back on it now, not one day went by when somebody wasn’t checking in on me. It was a super secret plan to get me out and most of them didn’t even know each other.
It was easier to tell specifics of the abuse to new friends. It seemed safer to me. Looking back on it now, I wanted to protect my oldest and dearest friends from the pain. But, when it came time to leave, I made just a few phone calls. But not before Mitzi changed the entire game, it was the single request I was determined to honor no matter what happened. The pursuit of fulfilling this promise kept me alive. I am not sure anybody knew or understood how close I came to finding a permanent way out of this horror.
When it all got to be too much, I would make excuses to go to the closest big city and stay at a hotel. We lived in a small beach town outside my hometown so it was a safe distance. I oftentimes would go to a hotel, turn off my cell phone and sleep for days. I still do that sometimes. But this time Mitzi came over to the hotel to see me. By this time I had lost and continued to lose a copious amount of weight and I was sick all the time. I would find out later that was connected to 4 autoimmune diseases-no doubt brought on by stress. But Mitzi was concerned, and she confronted me with it.
Her timing was perfect. Somewhere deep inside I wanted somebody to notice that I was NOT ok. Mitzi knew I was not ok. She had one request of me. It was not that I go to the doctor. It was not that I stop taking handfuls of medication to make it through the day. It was not even that I eat. She had one simple request for me, and she was willing to do whatever she had to do to make that happen. She walked out of that hotel room with a promise from me–she asked me for a new address.
I woke up the next morning a little sick to my stomach. Mitzi is not the kind of friend to not hold a person accountable. Let me stop right here. Get tons of these kinds of friends. They can incite anger in you but only because you know they are right. And they don’t care if they make you mad, they are willing to pay that price. Don’t let him take that kind of friend from you. She will be a key piece in your story.
It was going to take an army of these friends to pull this off. You have no idea the award-winning schemes we pulled off. It was imperative to get out—alive.
It was spring of 2007 and I stood in my apartment at a closet door. It hurt to breathe.
“Though you slay me, yet I will praise You; though you take from me, I will bless Your Name; though you ruin me still I will worship, sing a song to the One Who is all I need.”—Shane and Shane
It was one of the smartest decisions I ever made. When I decided to leave, I knew that I had to also leave my hometown. There were a few places that I could have picked but none better than my college hometown. The weeks leading up to my exodus were filled with secret phone calls and wired money transfers from my cousin in Canada. I had at least 5 suitcases scattered throughout the city at friend’s houses. We worked hard and planned wisely, the plan was ready to execute.
The proverbial last straw, as some may call it, came one dark night about 3AM. As was common in my household, he was up at 3AM drinking and partying. I often heard him on the phone talking to girls on x-rated phone lines. I learned to block it out after awhile. Usually, he would eventually come to bed, and that was the beginning of the nightmare for me on these nights. Most of the time I was able to lock myself in another room and let him sleep it off. This time, however, I was asleep. Suddenly, I felt a cold metal object pressed firmly against my head. As soon as the thought connected in my mind, suddenly there was a bright flashlight pointed right in my eyes. He pressed the barrel of the gun so hard that I began feeling blood trickle down the side of my face. Operating on pure instincts (and knowing he was going to unsteady on his feet), I threw him off of me and ran to another room and locked the door. I fell asleep sitting up in front of that door. The next morning was filled with “I am sorry” or “I will stop drinking” or “it will never happened again”; and I just played along with it. I decided to green light the exit plan. I only needed one more thing to happen before I could leave. I needed him to leave for a few days. And, just like that, he left for south Florida. He promised change when he got back, he promised more support. He promised it would be better.
The next day, I was sitting in front of a divorce attorney with money that Emily, my cousin, sent to me. As soon as I retained her and I signed the papers, I left town. I needed to stay in the states until he was served. He was back from south Florida, so I went to Tampa under the guise I was seeing friends. As soon as I found out he was served with divorce papers, I jumped on a plane to Toronto. Cell phone would not work there, and the sheer distance protected me from him. I stayed in Toronto for several weeks and flew back home just in time to sign the papers. It was then time for me to go back to the house and get the rest of my stuff.
Lisa (my sister) and George (brother in law) took me over there to get the rest of my things. I was not looking forward to seeing him, I knew it would be hard, and that is a bit of an under statement. I had already taken my wedding ring off—he had not. His son was there, and my heart was broken as I helped raise that kid, but I knew there would be complete separation. I was losing both. After almost all of my stuff was loaded in the U Haul he pulled me outside, pulled his sunglasses off and cried as he told me how sorry he was. My mind would go back to that moment the years following, and even now my heart responds to typing that as if it were happening right now.
I don’t remember much about the 3- hour drive to my new digs. Somewhere in my heart I knew each mile meant being released from the bondage of domestic abuse. I would learn, the hard way, much later that miles only made it more difficult to be abusive, it did not stop him from being abusive.
After 3 hours, I arrived at my new digs. Michelle, one of my life-long friends arranged to get me an apartment. When we arrived, she had friends of hers from work with her and they had all brought something for me. The things they gave me ranged from forks to a couch. It was a sweet time as community stepped up to help. People I didn’t even know—those who had only heard the story—helped in any way they could. Lisa and George were still there too. Viv was there—I had known Viv since I was 15 years old. None of them wanted to leave. They helped me make my bed, they helped me put things away and Chris—Michelle’s husband, set up my TV so that I could watch football the next day. I was grateful, but I wanted them all to leave. They did finally leave.
I stood in the middle of that tiny apartment stunned at the events of the days and weeks before this day. I was over-whelmed by all that had to happen and externally grateful that my people managed to pull it off.
After they were all gone, I threw my blackberry across the room and went to sleep. I slept until 4 pm the next day. I had 24 voicemails on my phone. The days and weeks and months following that were brutal.
After a few months and his first post-divorce attempt to hurt me, I stood at the closet in my tiny apartment clinging to the door- frame for dear life. I was slightly bent over because that was the only way I could breathe. It felt like then and sometimes still does now, like somebody ripped my heart from my chest. I had just walked away from everything. And now, now I had to figure out how to do life in an apartment 1/3 of the size of my house. I had to find a job. I had nothing. My friends here needed to continue with their lives and I needed to figure out how to restart mine. Living alone and feeling rejected will take the life out of a person. It will drain the light out of your eyes. It will, literally, break your heart.
Two weeks later I was in a hospital fighting a virus that attacked my heart. It was way too broken to fight anymore and so was I.
After my lonely stint on the cardiac ward just weeks after arriving in my new city, it become abundantly clear to me that I needed people. The day George & Lisa moved me into my apartment, I sat at a light at McMullen Booth & Drew. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the big church on the corner, and made a mental note. The sign was right on the side of the road–and hard to miss. “Calvary Baptist Church–For Life’s Journey”. The light changed, just two more blocks to go before we arrived at my apartment complex, the one that I would affectionately call “The Ghetto”…it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t a half million dollar house 3 blocks from the beach either. It was close to a hospital, both a medical hospital and that big church on the corner of McMullen & Drew.
I am not shy, and not afraid to go places by myself. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is go to a restaurant with a book–all by myself. My world is full of words and processing, and talking…more than I should sometimes. So, when it came time to visit Calvary, I wasn’t afraid. I slipped in the back of the church, walked out afterwards without speaking to anybody. I noticed in the bulletin that there was a Bible study on Wednesday’s–another mental note, and a decision that would change everything.
It took me a few weeks, but one Wednesday night I went to the Bible study, I had a huge wall built up–nobody could have possibly known that my life had been turned upside down, or could they?
Having been brought up in a children’s home, I learned some manners, being on time was not one of them. I’m not usually late, but just on time. This time, my timing could not have been more perfect. I walked into the room filled with women of all ages, there was one seat left, I took it. After you read this part of the story, you tell me that God is not sovereign over the little things.
The class started and the sweet lady (with an unbelievable southern accent–weird for this part of Florida) talked, a lot. Turns out she was the teacher. After the lesson, we broke out into prayer groups and I mentioned I was going through a divorce and looking for a job. I still remember her prayer, a sweet one of healing wounds and reconciliation. Then, out of nowhere, the question that would not only secure me a job, a family, and ministry–“what do you do?”. I did not answer with “head-hunter”, business owner or sales professional. “My degree is in Biology, I’d love to get back into teaching”. Less than 2 weeks later, I was hired at Calvary Christian High School. Now I was going to a hospital for the hurting everyday. That teacher, by the way, Cheryl Rice, the pastor’s wife of the big church on the corner. You would never know it though, she loves Jesus with wild abandonment and loves people almost as much.
For 3 years, through law-suits, surgeries from injuries from my abuse, hospitalizations, a repossessed car (violated divorce settlement) and a crisis of faith I had not only Cheryl but many friends walked me through this crazy and painful journey. Divorce creates a loneliness that you can only know if you have been there. None of these friends tried to fill that void, but they spoke truth to me and ministered to the hurting part of me, not the person who couldn’t cry and operated in fight of flight 24 hours a day. Divorce with abuse is even more confusing. Healing comes so slow, and the pain, well it makes you want to die.
That first year was brutal. I couldn’t even walk into grocery stores without memories flooding back. You see, despite all the abuse–and all that came post divorce–there is loss, there is grief. There is sadness–gut wrenching sadness. Walking into that classroom everyday saved my life. I always describe those early years as time “I wouldn’t mind not being alive, but I wouldn’t do anything to hurt myself”. But, I was, I did. I stopped eating.
Cheryl also taught at Calvary, and everyday she would bring me cheese and crackers for lunch, because that’s all I would eat.
The wounds from the slaps, punches, and knock- downs heal eventually. It’s the indelible wounds left on your very core that takes time–and a support system to heal. Healing for me came with a small decision to reach out and obedience on the part of not only my friend Cheryl, but many like her, who just loved me well, and kept me alive. I would need all of them, in year two when it was all too much and suddenly I found myself in the hospital after a complete nervous break-down, with no will to live.
“How long have I been in this storm, so overwhelmed by the ocean’s shapeless form, the water is getting harder to tread with these waves crashing over my head” Lifehouse
I was sitting in my little (dark) apartment at 2 AM one spring night in 2008. Nights were (and still are) the hardest times for me. It is the time that the ghosts of pains past come with a fury seeking to devour my heart and soul. So, it was not unusual for me to be awake at 2AM on any given morning, despite having to stand in front of a Chemistry class at 7:45 the next day.
Here is an excerpt from my blog at the time. I hated writing about this stuff (still do) but I think it is an important story to share. This was written almost a year to the day that my divorce was final, lest anybody think there is some amazing bounce back time for a divorce, let alone an abusive one.
April 17, 2008
The Sacrifice Is In the Living Part… I have been reading the blogs from the past year, I was really glad I wrote about it, but I am not going to lie, it kind of sucks seeing it all in print. There were a few days about a month ago when I found myself thinking I would survive this after all. Then pain, as if often does, found it’s way back into my heart and began terrorizing my mind, and robbing my sleep. I have spent the last few days feeling every emotion describable. By far the most prevalent emotion has been one of resignation. Breathing is of a premium for me; trauma has a way of taking your air from your lungs; every breath is shallow because that is all you can do. I really don’t care if I take my next breath, I would be really ok with just not being here.
“I know you didn’t bring me out here to drown, so why am I 10 feet under and upside down? Barely surviving has become my purpose cause I’m so used to living underneath the surface” Lifehouse
I listened to that song over and over that warm April night in that dark apartment with the broken air compressor in the refrigerator. I didn’t even have the energy to call the apartment complex to ask them to come fix it.
“if I could just see you everything would be alright, If I could see You this darkness would turn to light”
As I sat at my computer using a stolen WiFi (true story) signal I began chatting with my friend Crissy. One can never know when a moment or a series of moments will change your life forever. Like Cheryl, I met Crissy at a Bible study at church. On this night we used instant messaging to chat back and forth the lyrics to this song. I found that she and I share a musical passion. I think it is fair to say I had walls built all around my heart and Crissy knew to get through to me she was going to have to work for it, and work she did. She sat up countless nights like this one chatting with me and giving me her mama’s advice. I remember thinking what a cool mama she had. I know now that staying up into all hours of the night was uncharacteristic for her, but she wanted to be there—and there she was.
That summer Crissy and I were inseparable. I found out very quickly how deep her faith is and I needed that at that moment. She never judged my self-effacing behavior. She wanted to walk along side me, and walk she did. Still, my desire to not be alive far outweighed my desire to live. Nobody knew how serious I really was about “not-living”—had it not been one of the most selfish things in the world I would have checked out of this world.
“I would walk on water, and you will catch me if I fall. And I will get lost in Your eyes and I know everything would be alright.” Lifehouse
I knew that I had a choice, to choose to live or choose to die. It was a hard and sometimes daily decision. I would go to work and teach 6 classes then went home, took a handful of meds that would make me go to sleep and stay on my couch from 3 in the afternoon until whatever time I woke up and walked the 10 feet to my bedroom. It was a spiraling darkness, a huge dark pit. As I have said before divorce is painful and leaves you feeling empty. I had never lived alone, ever. I’d forget to pay the electric bill or my rent because I just wasn’t used to doing that. I am fortunate that I had Crissy at that time because she had her eye on me, and stayed up into wee hours of the morning talking music to me.
“Hello, good morning how are you, I could use a fresh beginning too. All my regrets are nothing new.” Switchfoot
When I got my divorce, I didn’t ask for much. I didn’t want a 50/50, I just wanted out and fast. This meant that I was going to poor for a while, well for a good while. I was being robbed for the 600 square foot apartment in the ghetto. That apartment was part of the problem. Crissy understood this (later I would find out by counsel of her mama) and in a leap of faith asked me if I wanted to move in with her “for a couple of months” so that I could save money. I know she was scared to ask and I was shocked at how fast I responded with a resounding YES. So, I began the new school year with a new address and a whole new set of problems related to my divorce. I finally felt safe; and who knew that meant things would get worse before they got better?
…there is so much a left behind even more that waits in time, everything so undefined, I am standing on the edge of my fear and I see it clear; this is my resolution I’m letting go…breathe, it’s my resolution.” Nick Lachey
As it would turn out, I would need way more than resolve to stop the downward spiral. I would need pastors, friends, family and doctors, lots of doctors.
“The broken clock is a comfort, it helps me sleep tonight, Maybe it can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time, I’m still waiting though I still have my doubts, I am damaged at best, like you have already figured out”—Lifehouse
My second year at CCHS started out much differently than my first. There was new leadership, which always brings with it change, which is hard, even if the change is good. I taught the same classes as the year before, I was still teaching 3 chemistry classes, 2 anatomy classes and 1 college level business course. The kids were awesome, but that was something that didn’t change and those kids are still some of my favorite people in the world. I loved teaching them, I loved interacting with them and I loved teaching science. The schedule though, the schedule was relentless. I still say that it was the most difficult job I have ever had. My first class started at 7:45, meaning I had to be at a staff meeting at 7:15.
Sleep was (and still is) my biggest issue. Every time I would fall asleep, I would wake up, terrorized. I could go for days at a time but eventually it would get to me and I would finally fall asleep, usually on the weekends and would sleep for 20 hours straight. I had managed to see a counselor in Tampa just a few times during the first year I was in Clearwater, but it didn’t really help. My reality was pretty rough and at times it just was more than I could take. When I moved in with Crissy she suggested her counselor in St. Petersburg, I saw him one time before the giant crash.
“The broken locks were a warning that you got inside my head, I tried my best to be guarded, but I am open book instead. I still see Your reflection inside my eyes, they are looking for purpose, they are looking for life.
I am falling apart, I am barely breathing, with a broken heart, that is still beating, in the pain, is there healing?” Lifehouse
I walked into Dr. Petit’s office one afternoon after school. I barely remember the day. I know I sat on his couch and spewed 35 years of trauma on him like I was giving him driving directions. There was no connection to the words and the deep, deep pain of my heart. I agreed to see him on a regular basis, drove back to Clearwater to commence with my life, as sleepy as that often was.
When I could not go to sleep, I would often turn my laptop on and write. Here is an except from my blog on October 20, 2008 at 1:19AM:
The blog was just entitled ANGRY
I am angry and I am working on a way to let it out. I am angry…. at God, where were you, where are you now? I am angry at him, you took who I am from me and made me insecure, untrusting and a bunch of other things I can’t even list here. We could have been something beautiful, yet you monopolized on my good traits and exploited my fears. Unless God decides I will never be that person again. I thought you were my redemption, a chance at a good life, and you took that all from me. I am so, so angry.
I am shocked when I look back at it now that I was able to identify that emotion. It wasn’t one I had ever identified as an appropriate emotion, but apparently there was plenty of it. He had not managed to leave me alone and it had been almost two years. He would, very much like he does now, go away for awhile then show up in some big way whether it was having my car repossessed because he failed to pay or some toothless law suit claiming I was doing things I wasn’t. Then there was the IRS audit. There was just no rest, and I was so, so tired.
“I am hanging on another day, just to see what You throw my way, and I am hanging on to the words You say, You said that I will be ok” Lifehouse
I was settling into Crissy’s nicely, I felt safe. I felt less alone. I still would come straight home from school, sneak into my room, and stay there leaving only to go the bathroom. And as the days piled on top of each other I began to feel less and less like I had a grip on any of it. It was so weird and I was so hard on myself as the time I had given myself to move on had long passed. Why now, why is it all crumbling down on me now?
Here is another excerpt from my blog during those first few weeks of that school year:
I can’t sleep. I am living in somebody else’s house, my world is spinning as I truly set myself up to live the rest of my life. And I am good with that, but I want to be careful not to try to do it all on my own, because I know that will be like a crazy person running in place. It is my sincere prayer that God will meet me here and that He will help me not do this on my own. It is after midnight, I am getting tired…
I ended that blog with “Is all this pain for nothing? God Forbid, God, please help it to all make sense, or take me, take me now”
I am not sure how I ended up in the Principal’s office the next day. But on that day I told him I did not want to be alive. The night before, I took an anti-anxiety pill for every time I saw the clock change. We figured out it meant I took 9 of them over a 7 hour time. As it turns out, it wasn’t enough to be dangerous, but we didn’t know that. The bell rang and I went back upstairs to teach my last class of the day. As I left the school that day my boss called me in his office. My friend Cheryl was sitting there. Apparently, we were on our way to the hospital. I did not fight them. I was completely at the end of my ability to fight. I was just so, so tired.
“She turned her head as if to hide, there was just nowhere to go, cause standing tall on every side the mighty fear of letting go, she said ‘My God I am so ashamed, I still believed he could change’ but he pulled me down like gravity. He broke my will, but it’s deeper still, deeper still….the Love that heals me is Deeper Still” Bebo Norman
I keep asking myself if you are ready for this part of the story. I wonder if this is where most of you will stop reading. This is the part where it gets real, it gets sad and it’s just the beginning.
I had been thinking about heaven. I had been thinking about heaven, a lot. Life’s normal hits don’t stop because your ability to deal is gone. One of my biggest supporters, who I had not known very long, lost a battle with breast cancer but not before leaving an indelible print on my life. Before helping me leave, she taught me the concept of “reason, season, lifetime” friends, and how that was really not a bad thing. She was so happy for me when I got a teaching job. She told me I would always be a kid at heart. On these days I didn’t feel like a kid at all. I felt beat down and left for dead. So, like I said, I was thinking about heaven a lot. I had lost so many people already, my uncle, my aunt, my mom, and my dad. I was homesick
“You are in a better place I have heard a thousand times and at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced with you. But the reason why I am broken, the reason why I cry, is how long must I wait to be with you” MercyMe
Living on this planet really was becoming unbearable for me. I loved my life between 7:15-3:00 when I was in the classroom or in my friend Cheryl’s classroom, everyday after school. When I did go home it was straight to my room with little to no communication with Crissy, because one thing living with her brought was accountability. I wasn’t so happy about that part.
“Help me Lord because I still don’t understand Your ways, the reason why I wonder if I will never know; but even if You showed me the hurt would be the same, cause I am still here so far away from home” MercyMe
Heaven seemed like the only solution to the pain. There was not enough medication in the world to take the ache from my heart and the emptiness from my soul. I felt like it was never really in the cards for me to live a happy life. I had been living trauma for 35 years, why would anything change now? More importantly why would the entire body of trauma, childhood included hit me NOW?
“Grief is like an ocean: it’s deep and dark and bigger than all of us. And pain is like a thief in the night: Quiet. Persistent. Unfair. Diminished by time and faith and love” Unknown
Living with Crissy brought love, safety and stability into my life. Her friendship came complete with a whole family who claim me as their own. The only other time I remembered being that safe was in the children’s home. But everything seemed to get worse with that safety. I would learn later being safe allowed for the inevitable—a complete nervous breakdown. Nights were still hard for me and even though medicine didn’t take the pain away, sleep gave me a rest from it anyway. I was constantly desperate for sleep. And that is what I told the ER nurse when Cheryl took me to the hospital that day. Cheryl was the absolute best person for this task and I look back on it now and know how the Lord had her hand picked. She stayed with me until they took me back, and then in the stainless steel room (seriously, no sharp objects) she sat with blankets wrapped around her grading papers. We laughed because they put a green bracelet on my arm. I asked them what that meant –“it means you are a flight risk”—to which I responded, “but green means go”. They didn’t think it was funny, Cheryl did and I still do. We waited for awhile for the doctor to come ask me all the questions to find out how “bad” I really was—then immediately diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, complete with a 5 day stay in the hospital. I am not even sure I understood what that meant at the time. I was kind of stunned by it all. Just 24 hours before I had taken 9 pills just to go to sleep. I really wasn’t trying to kill myself, but I have no doubt that I would have accomplished that at some point, just to get some sleep. After the doctor left the room “they” came to take me to my room. I was fine with all of this. Until they took my phone, then I cried. There was no connection with the outside world and when the doors closed they were loud and LOCKED. And this, well this, was the culmination of a complete nervous breakdown. It had to happen at some point. Heaven still seemed like a better option for me, but if I had to be alive why not be alive locked in a psych ward with people MUCH worse off than me? Here is an excerpt from my blog that I wrote when I got home:
“I cried as they took my vitals, not because of the phone but partially because I was scared, but mainly because I knew this was rock bottom. I really don’t remember much after that.”
The first night they gave me some pill that absolutely knocked me out. I was allowed visitors twice a day and my only request from Crissy was two of my favorite things, some PJs and my Bible. After her first visit I just walked around like a zombie because whatever they had me on absolutely sent me into another dimension. I think that was the point, anything to literally, give my mind a rest. It was a bit of an out of body experience though. It’s just like the movies where all the patients line up for their medication and then have to prove that you swallowed it. I remember the feeling of release, I was locked in that hospital, so it didn’t matter what responsibilities or additional pain waited for me out there, when I was locked in that building, I was at peace. A very strange peace—it was the time I just gave up the fight. It was all too much. It was time to let the professionals help me now. Another excerpt from my blog:
That night I slept well, I was so tired from decades of trying to do it alone and for the first time I didn’t care what anybody thought. Here I had no expectations, here was the time to break down.
And break down I did indeed.
“And I close my eyes and I see Your face, if home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place. Lord, won’t You give me strength to make it through somehow? I have never been more home-sick than now. MercyMe
Sometimes I can remember the white haired little girl who just wanted to be with her mama. Mostly, though, I remember the little girl who grew up way faster than most. That little girl was a monster slayer. So, when I ended up in the hospital staring at walls and trying to write with a dull lead pencil (true story) I figured maybe the monster had finally gotten me. This kind of thing will send even monster slayers to their knees. And that is where I found myself one night in the not so quiet night in the hospital. I was trying to come up with words to pray and this song came to my mind.
“Pencil marks on the wall, I wasn’t always this tall, You scattered some monsters from beneath my bed. You watched my team win you watched my team lose, watched when my bicycle went down again. When I was weak, unable to speak I cried Elbow Healer, Super Hero, come if You can, and You said I AM.” Nicole Nordeman
So, I begged for God to come fix my gigantic skinned heart and mind. It was a child-like prayer–because that was all I had. I knew then that my God would get me through this; but not without a whole lot of work. After all I was dealing with 35 years of trauma. That kind of trauma deserves some respect, some attention. But it was so hard. No amount of medicine can heal that kind of brokenness.
“One tear in the driving rain, one voice in a sea of pain, could the maker of the stars hear the sound of my broken heart? One life that is all I am and right now I can barely stand, If You are everything You say You are won’t You come and hold my heart?” Tenth Avenue North
So I would pray, and as the nights went on and I was less medicated, the hospital became a pretty scary place to be. I had no idea what was waiting for me on the outside. My friends had managed to keep it from me. But they all knew the day of reckoning was coming and they had to tell me, they could not keep it from me any longer.
“You saw my mistakes, watched my heart break heard when I swore I’d never love again. And when I was weak, unable to speak, still I would call You by name I said heart-ache healer, secret keeper, would You be my Best Friend? And You said I AM”
When the nurse walked me through the (now) unlocked doors and outside Crissy was there waiting for me. It was October so the temperature outside was nice. I was pretty sure I smelled ocean air too! I jumped in the car and told Crissy to hurry and leave before they changed their mind! I knew they wouldn’t change their mind, but my wit was about me and after all I was gonna sleep in my own bed, what could be better? More importantly, nothing, absolutely nothing could ruin this moment, right? WRONG
While I was in the hospital I wasn’t allowed to have any electronic devices. No phone, no computer, no iPod…nothing. One night Crissy was looking in my computer for phone numbers when she noticed I had some email. For some reason, to this day she still can’t tell you why, she clicked on those emails. She could probably tell the story better than I, but what she found were 7 emails that were threats to kill me in whatever way you could imagine. Cris had pulled Michelle, Kris and Cheryl into the fold on this one. None of them said a word to me while I was in the hospital. They didn’t even tell the doctors.
The emails were horrible. Let’s just leave it at that. Within 24 hours of being released from the hospital, I was at the police station–right across from the hospital filing for an order of protection from..you know, somebody who vowed to love me forever.
“You saw me wear white by pale candlelight as I said forever to what lies ahead..when I am weak, unable to speak still I will call You by name oh Shepard, Savior, Pasture Maker, hold on to my hand, You said I AM”
Filling out the paperwork that day was horrible. Again, this is not an easy process, and it shouldn’t be. But I was scared, I was not ok, this was the last thing in the world I needed. But, the little white haired girl came out swinging. It was time to slay some monsters.
I filled out the paperwork and we were told to come back to the courthouse in a few hours. I was granted a temporary order of protection and was given a court date. I would have to see him at the hearing. Perfect, just perfect.
I had not even been home 2 nights before the pestilence of the night started. I didn’t know what it was, at first. It was all so confusing, at first. It was all so, so hard, still. We figured out that I was having PTSD flashbacks because Crissy could hear me from her room across the house. I had no ability to tell the difference between when I was 7, 17 or 35. My body reacted as though it was present. And I was confused. I had problems sleeping at night before, but this was different. This was, in a word, horrible. There was nothing to do but work through it. It created a lot of problems for me as I would wake up 10-12 times a night. Crissy finally just stayed awake with me and would make sure I went back to sleep before she would go back to her room. Like I said, you never know how much the power of a friendship will change your life. I was amping up my visits to my counselor in St. Pete. We all knew this was temporary but it sure didn’t feel that way when it was happening.
“Lord I am weak, unable to speak, still I will call You by name, Creator, Maker, Life-sustainer, Comforter, Healer, My Redeemer, Lord and King Beginning and the End and You said I AM”
It seemed like an eternity before we were going to court, so I didn’t think about it much. I could not let my mind go to that place, your mind can only handle so much evil in one sitting. So, I managed to not think about it. Until the day before the hearing?
The day was finally here. It was time to go to court. This was not the first time a court stepped in to protect me from those who decided to hurt me. Up until this time, I had managed to bury the pain, and the sealed off portions of my heart that I had decided nobody would ever see. Going to court with me, was my posse, and they flanked me on all sides. We filled a whole row in the court room. We were not sure he would show, and since my name is at the end of the alphabet, I had a long wait.
My mind wondered to that Duval County Court House where the state of Florida told my mom she no longer had custody of me. Well, actually, they didn’t tell her, she was a no show. They couldn’t even mail her termination of parental rights, nobody knew where she was. I was flanked on that day too by my pastor and his wife who were determined nobody would ever hurt me again. After 7 years of abuse from whomever/wherever I finally told somebody, I told Mrs. Dunning. I was 14 years old. They walked out of the courtroom with me and kept me for 18 months; really saving my life and giving me a chance to have a somewhat normal one. It was a safe-haven for the white haired monster slayer–that kid needed some rest, and love and I got both.
After leaving court that day, I had a few rough nights. All of it came rushing back with such clarity, such detail, and unbelievable sadness. I have often likened it to a filmstrip, a filmstrip on repeat. I was back at work and somehow had to figure out how to function in a world of vast innocence; those kids brought hope and light into a very dark time for me. On top of all of that, I had to find an attorney. I think I had $85 in my bank account. True to form, I had a friend with a check- book. Crissy walked into the attorney’s office with me and we hired an attorney who made me tell him stories. I could easily tell him the stories, because they filled my nights. He wanted to know how it all started. I am sure some of you are wondering the same thing. I have been called many things for writing this blog and all of it catches me off guard when I run into people I don’t even know are reading; brave, courageous, strong—and maybe that is true now, but it wasn’t true then. And for that reason, this blog has been the hardest for me to write. But I land back at the purpose of this and I am willing to visit the pain, again, if somebody can be helped. So, this is how it started.
With your back against the wall you would be amazed at the amount of things that can run through your mind, all at once. That is where I found myself the very first time I got hit. And my life would never be the same. That moment—the one where everything changes- can ‘t be explained. I don’t know how it is for other victims of domestic abuse, but for me I was absolutely stunned. He was saying a bunch of words and as soon as he hit me I heard a pop and felt warm blood trickle down my face. That eardrum-to this day-has never been the same.
I really can’t explain how confused I was. And it didn’t stop. It only ended when I was locked out of the house with the clothes I had on-and nothing else. I made my way to the curb of the driveway-because he told me to get off his property. My friend from across the street came over with some ice and took me over to her house. The bleeding in my ear finally stopped and by that time he was knocking on my neighbors door asking for me. And for reasons that I cannot explain, I followed him back to our house.
I think some people are born to handle conflict better than others. I was not built for conflict, not then and not now. Always willing to just deal with hurt on my own, I think somehow I thought that maybe this was an isolated incident. It never occurred to me to call the police. I just shut down. So, I don’t remember much more about that day. The next day I woke up with a huge bump and bruise on my head. Must have hit my head when he threw me across the room. No doubt I had a concussion, which also may be why I don’t remember much else.
After that day I started to fade away inside. So many people had invested in my life and had done a good job of instilling confidence in me after so many had robbed me of my childhood. On that day, the first day I got hit, everything I thought was true didn’t seem to be true. I searched for whatever I did or said that turned him into a monster. I was so embarrassed, so ashamed. Born an over-achiever, I decided that trying harder to be a good wife would work-that somehow I could control the anger, the fury of another person. I was determined to change him. I was convinced it would never happen again. I did not tell anybody. My neighbor never spoke of it again to either of us. I believed him when he said he was sorry. Somehow at the end of conversations about it, I felt sorry for him. His tears seemed genuine to me; I hate to see people cry. I avoided thinking about it in whatever way I could. Out of church with no support system, I threw myself into work. I worked hard, and all the time. I wanted him to love me; I wanted him to be proud of me; I wanted to be valuable to him. So, I forgave, I never mentioned it to him again; until years later when I found my voice and my value and then I reminded him of this day. But, for the most part, I let him off the hook. I did not hold him accountable.
And, in a courtroom in Clearwater, Florida 12 years later, I did the exact same thing.
“Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk, because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt. Because of you I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me because of you, I am afraid.”
Here we are, at the point in my story where I want to stop, stop the madness, stop the remembering, stop the writing. UGH. Where were we?
“I was sure by now that you would have reached out your hand and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day, but once again, I say ‘Amen’ and it’s still raining” Casting Crowns
It was November of 2008 and I was back in the classroom after my 30 day hiatus that CCHS was so generous to give me. My new attorney and I were successful in court, and I remember the day that we got that word, December 2, 2008. It was a day after my birthday, Happy Birthday to me! The year of 2008 had not been my friend, but looking back, maybe it was in the end.? Anyway, our victory was that the motion to dismiss the case or to move to St. Augustine was dismissed. Now we still had to go back to court to get the judge to actually rule on the order of protection. And I caved.
That is really the easiest way to explain it; and probably the most popular occurrence in these situations. Seeing him that day in court unearthed something in me. You would think those emotions would be hate, anger and fear. And I certainly had fear, but mainly I was hurt; I was hurt to my core. And I wanted to fix it. The pain was too much and going through the process of going back to court seemed similar to climbing Mt. Everest. So, I decided I needed closure. I dropped the petition for a restraining order…and I did that for a few reasons. None of them advisable, and all of them without any of the wise counsel I had all around me.
It is difficult to put into words the pain. Human beings are wired to avoid pain at all costs, and it always means something is wrong…right? So, I called him. And I asked him if he would be part of a telephone counseling session with Dr. Petit. Of course he agreed (it meant dropping the petition), and the date was set. The judge threw out the petition (after all of that) and I had questions and I wanted answers. Some how I thought that would ease the gaping wound still left in my heart and on the very deepest part of my soul. He was a no show on the call. I was devastated. I am not sure what I thought that 1 hour phone call would do; but I can tell you what not having it did–sent me reeling and it was like 3 steps forward and 5 back. By now it was almost Christmas and I planned to spend that Christmas in Maine and in Toronto, and that might have saved us from another involuntary hospital visit.
The first year after a divorce, you have to get through all the “firsts”–the first birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I made the mistake of not planning well for the first year. I spent my first Thanksgiving with a very dear friend of mine in PA, and that was fun, but I ended up in the ER after having a seizure in front of her whole family. That was good times! Apparently, you get one free pass on seizures, I never had another one. We think it was stress, who knows. The first Christmas was in Jacksonville and while I was with my sister and her family, that was just stupid. Jacksonville is my hometown and very close to my heart, but I needed separation from every inch of that city–and my family and friends were spoils of war for a little while.
I decided this time I was going to be far from Florida, far from memories and far from stress. And for the first time ever I had a white Christmas! Gabe and Beatrice were just over a year old and it was so much fun watching them. I have an awesome family–well what is left of them. My cousin Em is probably my very best friend on this planet. She held my heart that Christmas by doing nothing but making me laugh and feeding me insane amounts of homemade food. Her mama, my first cousin, loves me like I am her daughter, so I was in good hands. Before Toronto, I spent a few days with Cris and her parents in Maine. I was loved so well then by these two groups of people–kind of like now. They all saved me that Christmas. Christmas carols, hot chocolate, funny stories and snow, lots and lots of snow–that is my memory of Christmas of 2008.
“Welcome to the planet, welcome to existence, everyone’s here everyone’s here everybody is watching you now. Everybody waits for you now, what happens next? What happens next?” Switchfoot
I will always say that teaching is, by far, the hardest job I have ever had. Unless you have stood in front of hundreds of kids who’s educational futures depend on you; you can not imagine the amount of energy necessary to stretch the young minds and hearts of high school students. Work sits on your dining room table, it is hiding in your laptop, on your voicemail or text and in the supermarket when you run into parents.
It was April of 2009 and we were in the home stretch to finish out the school year. I oftentimes fell asleep 45 minutes before my alarm would go off to go to work. If any of you have ever experienced any form of insomnia or sleep deprivation, you know that you are not capable of making logical choices, or engaging in conversations. You are especially unable to hang toe to toe with high school students, in any arena.
Most people like to think that if you experience a hospitalization like I did that everything should be “all good”. In fact, the opposite is true. Think of a hospitalization like that as triage, meant to stop the bleeding. Think of the time after that as corrective surgery after corrective surgery. Each surgery unearths more things to be fixed. Trusting the Surgeon is hard if not impossible as there is just so much to fix.
“It has been said ‘Time heals all wounds’, yet for the untreated or poorly treated wound, time will infect, then scar. For the unset or improperly set bone, time will knit, then lame. Treat the wound properly, set the bone aright, then time becomes the servant of healing and ceases to be its enemy. As it with the body, so it is with the soul, the interaction, the conversation, the relationship” Dr. Tom Petit
CCHS continued to be a strong pillar for me. Parents, students and leadership did everything they could to help me. At some point it became obvious that I still needed time. I needed sleep. And the kids needed a teacher.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart” Psalm 72:26
This part of this story is so hard to write because my world got turned upside down, again. But, it was exactly what needed to happen. Because the administration of CCHS loves and cares for people over rules and sometimes logic–they let me take the rest of the year (which was about 30 days) to rest.
“Welcome to the fall out welcome to resistance the tension is here the tension is here in between who you are and who you could be between how it is and how it should be.” Switchfoot
I have worked, in some form, since I was 12 years old. It didn’t matter if I was selling boiled peanuts, thriving in a start-up business or teaching school. I had never spent one day in my adult life without a job–without a purpose. That day, I was stunned. And, for some reason I didn’t have my car and had to have Crissy come pick me up. I was unable to see that they were helping me–I wanted to vanish in thin air. I threw my stuff in a box, slipped out of the back of the school and waited for Crissy to pick me up. Still unable to cry, I just felt, so lost, and so confused. What now? What will distract me? Where will I find purpose? What will people say? What will they think? What was the administration doing?
“Dare you to move, dare you to move, dare you to lift yourself up off the floor. I dare you to move, I dare you to move, like today never happened, today never happened before” Switchfoot
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is that of Jacob and his wrestling match with the angel. Sometimes I feel like Jacob when he said “I will not let go until You call me blessed” Like Jacob, I am pretty stubborn. His fight was a long and arduous fight, but Jacob got his blessing–and a life-long limp.
Fights like that leave scars and I don’t think I realized I was engaged in a battle to live–not giving up until I received a purpose for all the pain and trauma. As long as I put that job, those kids, that purpose in front of what was necessary for me to live–I was in sinking sand.
I did not want to let my ministry go–I wanted to go there everyday. People who choose to fight these fights will never be the same–people who fight these fights don’t want to ever be the same. I will go to my grave eternally grateful for this time in my life. There is so much to say and hindsight is perfect. But, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you CCHS, you know who you are.
Next up, getting better and for the first time, maybe ever, living with only one expectation. Breathe. Yet even that proved sometimes impossible and my heart was literally failing me. Everybody that knew and loved me knew we were in a critical period; and I gathered an army and we marched up the hill. There was just so much to conquer.
I woke up in the recovery room, and I was really confused. There aren’t really words to describe the pain—the deep pain that sat on my chest and the unrelenting nausea. At one point, I remember the nurse telling me that they had given me everything they could give me for nausea. I was in and out of it—but I remember the sounds of the heart monitor beeping and suddenly there were 5 or 6 people standing over me and calling my name. It seems my heart didn’t want to continue working—looking back, I am not surprised by this.
Once the machines stopped beeping they let Michelle and Crissy take turns in the recovery room. Michelle grabbed my hand and kept squeezing it and using her other hand to wipe away her tears. They had been at the hospital for hours. Every time Crissy came back I asked her over and over: “where is Bootsie?”.
Remember when I told you how cool Crissy’s mama was? Yeah, well that is Bootsie, and I wanted her in the recovery room. She had to go back home and wasn’t able to see me in recovery because the surgery took longer than they thought and my plummeting heart rate meant that I did not leave the recovery room for hours and hours. I sobbed each time Crissy told me her mom had left—apparently asking 10 or 20 times, not remembering Crissy’s answer each time.
The moment I met Bootsie was almost as important as the time I met Crissy. I had heard plenty about both her parents and how they had, themselves, not had the best of childhoods. Bootsie and I had something in common though—neither of us knew our father’s at all. Both Tom and Boots are salt of the earth kind of people—you know those kinds of people that just love others and that love is only secondary to their passion for God. They loved me, almost from the beginning, and their house in Crystal River was immediately a solace for me—I could walk in their house and straight to the refrigerator and get whatever I wanted—because they are just those kind of people. I still have the first (of many) books that Bootsie gave me, “Streams in the Desert”—it is one of my greatest treasures.
I had learned to love them quickly, and before I knew it I was a part of the family. So, that day in the recovery room, in a very child-like way, I wanted a mom—and for the first time ever, we all saw some evidence of healing in this heart of mine. Conventional wisdom would indicate that a person like me could never love like I loved these new people in my life—especially a mother figure. All I know is that day she is the only person I wanted in that recovery room. I settled for two of my best friends, though. ☺
I finally stopped asking for people who weren’t there and they finally got the nausea to go away. I was finally able to be moved to a room—and I tried hard not to look at the drain tubes from the two large incisions from the surgery. That night was horrible, I was so sick and in so much pain. I can almost remember the moment when I lost my fight-which was too bad because I was going to need it to recover from all of this.
I spent a few days in the hospital; I was finally allowed to leave. I had zero fight in me—zero fight. When I got home, I rarely left my room. I needed help to even sit up in bed, and I had another steady diet of red kool-aid, it was impossible to get me to eat anything. The exception to that was when Cheryl brought her pumpkin cookies—which is like a religious experience in it’s self. Friends from church would come see me and when they did I would shuffle from my room to the recliner, but that was the extent of my interaction with the outside world. All of this started because of a dark shadow on a basic screening from my last physical. I was done, I was finished—there seemed to be no way out of this one, and if there was—well I didn’t know how to find it.
We had made it to October of 2009, almost a year to the day from my stint in the psych ward, I was at home recovering from major surgery, and nothing, absolutely nothing seemed to get better from one year to the next. I needed help to do everything. The medications I had to take required a physics degree to not mix and match, some with food others without. I was in pain with each breath and I could not bring myself to look at the gaping scars from the surgery solely meant to save my life.
We were studying John at the time in our life-group and for the first time- ever, I understood what it meant to have a crisis of faith. Everything I ever thought to be true, suddenly were questions in my heart and in my mind. How would a loving God continue to throw darts at me? When was it going to end? Would my heart ever heal from the pain of a divorce? Would it heal from the reality that this person wanted to kill me? Did it matter that I loved God with all of my heart and all of my being? The nausea I felt from the drugs and the surgery was only matched by the stomach turning nausea of cliché’ Christianity.
If God is good all the time and all the time God is good, would somebody please explain this to me? If His plans were to prosper me and not to harm me, would somebody explain that to me too? I lay flat on my back, staring at the ceiling, because that was the only “comfortable” position. So I lay there, taking pain meds as often as the doctor would let me, and it did it’s job, it numbed the pain—both physical and emotional, but I was haunted by these questions. And God and I had lots of talks; well I talked a lot. And, I landed in one place. But before I tell you that part of the story, let me take you back about 25 years.
I was 10 years old and I had my head buried in the lap of whatever “dad” we had at the time. He was a good one, I think. He and my mom brought Lisa and me into the living room to talk to us. It was cold, and I remember that because we had one space heater in the whole apartment and that is the only warm place in the house. “Your mom has cancer”. Never in my life will I forget those words. I think it was the time I turned into the world’s youngest adult. As ill equipped as she was to be a mom, she was still everything to me, I guess it is that way for all mother’s and daughters. But I had a handful of memories of her—teaching me multiplication tables; drilling me on spelling words; and her dancing after her one limit drink on Christmas Eve. They were so few, but so precious to me, they still are.
All I heard when I heard the word cancer was that she was going to die. It was 1981, the only answer to her type of cancer was radical; and that is what she did. I watched her recoup from that surgery and I would walk into her room every morning to watch her chest to see if she was still breathing. I was so afraid that this horrible disease was going to take her from us—and even though she was rarely present she was still my mom. My most precious memory to this day was on time she actually acted maternal when I was sick. She rubbed my forehead and pushed my white blonde hair out of my eyes. After many months she recovered from that surgery; but it left marks on me; marks that still are with me to this day.
So, on a warm Florida August day in 2009 when I FINALLY decided to get my first screening for the same type of cancer (5 years after the recommended time given the nature of the cancer—very genetic), it was just another test, another painless procedure that was over in 10 minutes.
And then 7 days later my phone rang and suddenly I am 10 years old again—except this time it was my name and “cancer” was being mentioned in the same sentence. There was not a certain diagnosis, but we all knew we weren’t going to take chances.
It is 2009 and the surgery is not as radical, but the approach to the disease is just as aggressive and it meant major surgery for me—actually it meant 3 major surgeries for me. And that–that was when I could not agree to “God is good all the time and all the time God is good”. It was just way too much. Like a robot I signed up for the surgery, which involved 2 doctors and a cardiologist on stand-by—because you know my heart was damaged from a virus—another gift from my 12- year marriage.
Crissy would beg me to come out of my room. I refused. I shuffled from my room to the bathroom and occasionally to a recliner for visitors. I was done. I had not yet figured out if all that I had learned and believed about God was true until one night, literally in the middle of the night, I got my answer. It came from music, of coarse.
“Scattered words and empty thoughts, seem to pour from my heart. I have never felt so torn before, it seems I don’t know where to start. But it is now I feel Your Grace fall like rain, from every fingertip washing away my pain. I still believe in Your Faithfulness, I still believe in Your Truth, I still believe in Your Holy Word, even when I can not see, I still believe” Jeremy Camp, “I Still Believe”.
So, where did this leave me? I still had questions. It became apparent to me that I was going to be a voice to counter-act cliché Christianity. The words, which were memorized, repeated in my mind. I found my phone, found the song, and listened to the rest of it.
“Though the questions still fog up my mind, with promises I still seem to bear, even when answers slowly unwind, it’s my heart I see You prepare. But it’s now that I feel Your grace fall like rain, from every finger tip, washing away my pain.”
You know that “shuffle” button on your iPod/iPhone? Yeah, for hours in the middle of the night, I played this song over and over. I don’t have time to tell you the pain that brought Jeremy Camp to write this song; but I knew these were words coming from somebody that understood pain, and actually admitted throwing his Bible across the room, and questioning God on every level you can imagine. I was in good company.
By now, I was sobbing and I couldn’t move to get a tissue or anything to wipe away the tears; and I pictured the tears like Grace like rain, washing away, at least the pain that made me feel like I was going to die. Jeremy ends the song with these words:
“The only place I can go is into Your arms where I throw to you my feeble prayers—in brokenness I can see that this was Your will for me, help me to know You are near”
That night, I wasn’t sure how, but I knew that I had to figure out how God is good when life isn’t. I had to figure out how to tell a world looking for a fairy god- father in the sky, that it isn’t that way at all. I had to figure out how to tell the world that this world is not our home, and if we expect it to be comfortable all the time, we will be sorely disappointed. I had to figure out a way to tell the world that given abandonment, divorce, a cancer scare, and much more to come, that my Jesus loves me like nobody else ever could. There was still plenty more pain in store for me; but that next morning I got up and decided to fight. It was at the moment I knew that I had to figure out a way to tell this story to all who would listen. I knew I had to figure out how to demonstrate God as loving, and just, and at the same time confusing—but most of all, good.
Thanksgiving was coming and I finally was up and out of my room after my surgery. The drains were gone, the wounds were healing and it was time for the second part of the journey, which was nothing more, really, than a weekly doctor’s visit in preparation for the second surgery. And, o, here is where I should probably mention that somewhere during this time I moved from Clearwater to Citrus County, but that probably deserves it’s own blog.
Recently, it has become abundantly clear to me that these were days full of Grace. I read back some of the stuff I have written and it seriously feels like it happened to somebody else. With that being said, my days then felt without purpose. After I stopped teaching, I fell into what I can only identify now as a black – hole of loneliness. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was embarrassed to some degree because the general public did not know the back- story of my early exit from the school year; nor did they need to know. It really wasn’t about them. It wasn’t about anything but people who loved me looking out for me and making a very difficult decision on my behalf. Even though it was 6 or so months between leaving school and my surgery, it is all a blur to me. And the words that come to my mind is that my life felt so absolutely without purpose.
I had only known 3 vocations in my professional career. Teaching clearly had been taken away as an option. My only other job was as a research technician in the paper industry, and well, no, just no.
Could it really be an option? No way. But, I was not healthy enough to work a regular job; I was always ill; and we are talking high temperature pneumonia in both lungs kind of ill. On average, I fell asleep around 2 AM every night (still very true)—so I had to find something that I could do from home. I was paid through the end of my contract, so I had some time to figure it out; or as it seems fight what now seems like such an obvious decision.
“What if you are just a vessel and God gave you something special? It ain’t yours to give away, it ain’t yours to give away” Unknown
NO I AM NOT DOING THAT AGAIN. I SPENT A DECADE BUILDING A BUSINESS HELPING PEOPLE FIND JOBS, IT DID NOT END WELL. In my mind, the whole demise of my marriage was because of that business. How in the world could I possibly think of working that industry AGAIN? It was 2009, just a year after the stock market crash. Unemployment was in double digits. There was no way this made sense. It was an insane idea. It was an absolutely insane idea. And it clearly was NOT my idea, or thought—this came from that Still Small Voice that can’t be ignored. Unless you want to be Jonah—I didn’t want to be Jonah.
Still though, every time I would go there in my mind, I could see the 1995 version of myself. The version of me without injury; the version of me who felt indestructible; the version of me that had no fear—that was who I saw when I remembered 1995.
I didn’t hate working as a research technician in the paper industry. I did not like the corporate politics, and (I can only identify this now)—I felt as though my life was without purpose. Not yet married, but living together, I told him how much I hated my going to my job everyday. A few months prior to all of this, we had an idea for a recruiting business and was working it part-time. One day when I was ranting to him about how much I hated the corporate politics of what I was doing he said “come work for the company”. I was 24, and I had no fear. ‘What would I do?”, I asked. To which he responded “you will call people on the phone and get them better jobs, or find clients who want to hire you to find people”.
I used to say my “no fear” approach to life was a survival instinct. I now value myself enough to say I view it as one of my greatest gifts. And, here is where I issue a blanket apology to all my friends who get embarrassed when they are with me because I will talk to ANYBODY, no fear. ☺ Poor Crissy, possibly the shyest person in the world, though I think she is used to it by now.
So, with a degree in Biology and the confidence only a 24- year old person could have, I agreed. I look back on the wording of his offer and it is apparent to me that he knew I had to feel like I was living a life of purpose. He only stood to gain if I were successful; and the evil in him knew what words to use to so encompass my life, and be the controller of it.
Sometimes I think this is was the decision that turned me into a piece of property for him. Because, as it turned out, I was pretty good at calling people I didn’t know and asking them if they wanted better jobs. I was even better at calling companies who needed help finding employees, and selling our services. He didn’t teach me anything. I read books, listened to tapes, but mostly just learned as I moved along—and winged it—not different from now, really. And, honestly, it is a skill-set that is a gift, not mine to give away.
Before I knew it, the company was at $1M. There were some in between stages. But, things moved quickly. I went from only me recruiting and selling to a small staff of recruiters and project managers. It then became my job to sell our services full time, a job that sat squarely, on my shoulders. He did not help at all; he came into the office at lunch- time to yell at people, cash the checks, go to lunch and then go home.
My team’s hard work and success paid off. Finally engaged, we moved from a rented town home to the very first house I ever could call my own. Finally married, years passed and abuse began, but the bank accounts grew, material possessions grew, and at our height we were at 30 people working for us. September 11, 2001 came and went and with it, our business began its decline. Not different, as it would turn out, from me.
I was still chasing purpose and trying to earn enough money so that I wouldn’t get hit. Ultimately, we were so successful that we moved from our house in Jacksonville to what can only be described as a dream house, 3 blocks from the beach. And the wheels continued to come off; I was going down in flames. Everything about me was tied to a dollar amount on a P&L to him. At one point, I was hospitalized with what I know now was a viral infection in my heart. It was scary and it was one of the only times I ever thought he actually loved me. But, the doctors could not figure out why such a young person was vacillating between the ICU and the Cardiac Intensive Care Ward. I was barely 32 years old.
He was never one for visiting hospitals. So, I vividly remember a phone conversation with him. “If it is the business that is making you so ill, our marriage is more important to me than the business. It would break my heart if something ever happened to our marriage”. I still will describe that night as one of the best nights of sleep I have ever had. But he didn’t mean it. I got out of the hospital and things went right back to the way they were. Except I was injured now; I was distracted; I was broken. I was dying, literally. Incidentally, the virus in my heart? You guessed it, from him.
Now then, you can understand why God and I wrestled with His prompting of me to start a better company in 2009 that would (in my opinion) do nothing more than remind me of those times. The Call was to build a company with integrity; one with dedication; one with excellence; one with PURPOSE. I tried every way I could around it. But one thing was still true, I was still chasing purpose, and before I knew it, purpose found me.
So, the decision was made, the paper work was completed and now it was time for a name. One day Crissy and I were in the car and we decided that the very next song that shuffled on whoever’s iPOD would be the name of the business. Well, that is what we did, except we named our business after the group not the song—but the lyrics of the randomly shuffled song, still gives me chills.
‘Cause of Who You are and who I am in You
You make all things Pure,
‘Cause of Who You are and who I am in You
You make all thing True,
You make all things New, all things New”
Watermark, “All Things New”
There was absolutely no arguing the next step—but could He really make all things New? Could He make all things Pure? Could He redeem this? I was done fighting it; and in November of 2009, in a new house separate from anything that was familiar; I was at the helm of a baby company, with a mission to chase and complete purpose. Harmed, scared, and tired, some how I knew, I was going to have a front row seat to a redemption story. God, however, had a different time line than me.