As I lay out my plans, I have found it helpful to have someone who will ask me the questions I don’t want anyone to ask me. I have a coach and a spiritual director who does a great job of seeing into my carefully concocted plan and finding the areas that I am avoiding because it might cause me to regroup and take new action. As much as I dread these questions, they get at the meat of what God intends for my plans and away from how I envision things. Some may call this an accountability partner, other wise counsel, or maybe just a concerned friend. Whatever title you give this person, make sure you have someone who will tell you what you don’t’ want to hear—and this applies especially to relationship building!
Living alone often can amplify the negative voices in our head because we have no one to counter them. Our feelings of discouragement, sadness, or incompleteness may overcome us at times. Being honest about our struggles isn’t always easy, especially if we already feel alone and unwanted. It may be difficult to believe that we are capable of change or that our lives will improve. We may be afraid to admit to someone else what is going on because we fear judgement, when in reality; the people around us already know something isn’t quite right. They may not know how to tell us, or they have tried to tell us and we couldn’t get what they were saying. We thought—you don’t know how lonely I am, you don’t know what it is like to not have that special person, you don’t know….fill in the blank.
As my baby boomer generation gets older, I am increasingly hearing stories of parental abuse and neglect of people my age and older. I remember my parent’s generation—a generation that planned for and expected to care for their parents. Today we buy expensive long-term care plans so that we won’t be a burden to our family or out of fear that our children won’t be there to care for us. Frequently it is women who feel especially trapped in these somewhat abusive situations just so they can maintain a relationship with their children and grandchildren.
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) provides statistics that indicate this is the largest population of over 65s in a decennial history. By 2050 approximately 20 percent of the US population will be over 65—at least 19 million will be 85 or older. They define abuse and neglect as “intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or person in relationship with the elder.” They claim that most of those in such situations are women; women who won’t report out of fear that they will further be hurt or cast out by the family. I contend that abuse and neglect is not always intentional—it often is the result of children too busy or too concerned with their own lives to consider the needs of their aging parents.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12 ISV
I have seen friends of mine do everything they can to care for an aging parent. It is not easy for them and it requires a good bit of personal sacrifice on their part. They take parents to the doctors, they help with groceries, they take care of their cars, and they worry every day about balancing care for their parent and care for their family. They often neglect their own care because there just isn’t enough time in the day, week, or month to do for themselves. God promises a long life for these care givers but if the truth be told, they aren’t so sure they will have enough energy left to enjoy their later years.
And sadly I have seen people, mostly women, taken advantage of by their children. I have spoken with so many women lately whose children see them as glorified unpaid babysitters, as maids, as drivers, and free landlords. Many of these women find themselves alone because of divorce or the death of a spouse who did not leave them funds for the future. These children have lost respect for their parents because they are aging. Many of these women are living on very limited fixed income and some are unable to work because of health issues or because they are caring for a sick spouse. They endure foul language and abusively critical comments from their children and they take it so that they can maintain some semblance of a relationship. Sadly, much of what I have seen is coming from their daughters who most of us would expect to be the loving compassionate caring ones. It pains me to see children living life well and neglecting their parents or ignoring their parent’s financial needs.
To honor someone is to respect an individual and to treat them as if they have value and worth.
I wish I still had my mom around to care for. I may not have done as good a job at showing her my love and respect as I could have. I did try to care for her in my own way by taking her out to things I knew she enjoyed, by having her over, or by learning how she cooked certain things that I might carry on the family tradition. My sister was the real care giver. She gave up her job, a huge sacrifice for her own family, to care for my mother. She was the one there when she passed over. She was the one that took care of the funeral arrangements and made sure mom looked good! I know that if she had outlived my father one of us kids would have taken care of her. It would have been hard, but today I would give anything to have that opportunity.
So what can we do? Start by talking to your friends who may be in an abusive or neglectful situation. Be gentle in how you ask questions as they will likely be defensive and in denial. If you can help them for a period of time, offer your home until you can help them find a new safe place. Maybe they just need a few dollars to make it through the month. Give it to them in a way that is helpful. Give them a grocery card. Better yet, take them grocery shopping and pay the bill. They can’t fuss too much in line. Make a fuss over them! Be there. Listen. Hear. Most of our friends just want to be heard and to feel valued again. Find out where they can get help in your or their area and direct them. If it is a full-on physically abusive situation, contact NCEA or local government organizations and report the situation. You could be saving a life.
Part of just right living is to consider not only what is good for you, but how you can share your God-given gifts and talents for the betterment of others. NCEA has suggestions on how you can become more involved in your community. Maybe your church would want to hold seminars on this topic to raise awareness and to consider how they can help elders in and out of their congregations.
Let us not live just for ourselves but let us live that others may know God’s transforming love because we have shared it with them.
There are a number of reasons I am skipping the Fifty Shades movie. Yes, I read part of the book, until it became too sad and painful to continue. I am not a prude. I love sex; good fun adventurous sex. I, however, abhor abuse. I abhor someone taking advantage of my vulnerabilities. I abhor pain inflicted in the name of love–physical or verbal.
I was raped as a young girl. I was raped as a young woman. I was battered in the name of love by two of my husbands. I was verbally abused and talked into things I wish I could undo. It was not fun. It didn’t get easier the more I complied. I also was in a number of emotionally twisted relationships that evolved into the kind of sex in this movie. It was not fun. I was not happy. I was naive and wanted to be loved and so I went along with it. A movie that replicates and romanticizes a similar abusive relationship rips off the scars that have taken many of us years to heal. And it sends a message to women still in these kinds of hurtful relationships that it is a good thing.
We watch with outrage as sports figures and their abusive relationships are paraded in front of us. Celebrities take to the screen to say “no more,” while they line up to endorse the same sad harmful relationships played out on screen. Real people are fired for what this man does to this young woman. Nowhere in this book or movie do we hear this is wrong—that this destroys women’s self-esteem and sense of worth. Rather TV show after TV show glorifies the bondage toys that are flooding our market and laugh that although they would never do this; they can’t wait to see some other women be emotionally and physically tortured.
The kind of relationships I was trapped in made me feel like I belonged as they left me in fear that I would be alone if I didn’t comply. I won’t go into vivid details here but I can tell you that those men manipulated me, they broke my spirt, and they caused me to make decisions that I regret. I regret allowing sex to take the place of love. I regret allowing men in power to make me think I had no choice. I regret staying in these situations far longer than I should have and for thinking this was the best I deserved. I allowed them to use me for their perverse need to be in power and control.
Today I am free of that bondage. I was freed from sexual and love addiction with the help of the good people at The Meadows. More importantly, I was set free through my understanding that Jesus loves me far more than these hurtful men. I was made new and able to leave the past in the past and forgive myself for my behavior. I was able to accept God’s forgiveness for believing when others told me that I was not important to him. I came to believe that I have worth and value on this planet. God transformed me into a person who respects herself and has earned the respect of others through this healing process. I learned to say “no” and to protect myself.
If you are in a relationship where you find your partner making demands on you that leave you troubled–tell someone. I didn’t for many years. If you find yourself searching for sex in the hopes that someone will love you, find a counselor who will help you to see your value. You are valuable! If you are afraid your partner will leave you if you say no to what he/she is asking–leave before you are hurt. Don’t allow the secrets they ask you to keep about your relationship destroy who you really are. You ARE stronger and more powerful when you walk away.
As women we need to encourage each other to look for and to expect the best in all of our relationships. As Christian women we need to pray for each other and to inspire each other to seek the face of Jesus in our relationships. As humans, we need to remember that we are created in the image of God and to treat one another as valuable treasures. We need to turn our hearts and our minds to the things that motivate us toward that which is positive and purposeful. We need to speak truth to each other and to listen to the words that might change our lives. We need to speak the truth to one another and we need to listen when we hear words that could change our lives.
I hope that in sharing our stories we will bring truth to what this movie really represents—violence against women. Were we to hear this woman’s story in the news I doubt we would celebrate what happened to her. This is not a story to celebrate—it is NOT entertainment. It is glorifying what many of us have spent years fighting against—oppression of women. Let us stand as survivors and encourage and celebrate healthy relationships. The kind of relationships where the love is great and so too is the sex. Let us honor the joy of sexual pleasure rather than sexual bondage.
Today I pray you will skip the popular movie and spend and evening encouraging and loving on good friends. I pray you will know true love and joy. I pray you will seek the best God has for you in all your relationships.
I believe in a God of second chances because I have seen that in my own life. I know forgiveness through first-hand experience. I know the freedom that comes from confessing my negative and harmful behavior. I know what it is to live a new life every day because of that forgiveness and a second chance to do it better the next time. My spiritual journey and growth are constant factors in my life as I continue to pray about ways to improve my behavior and actions. Some days are better than others, but when I mess up, I know where to go and I know I can start over.
Jesus gave us a prayer to pray (Matthew 6:9-13) and as part of that we pray: “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us (NLT). The Message version translates the prayer to: “Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.” I like this version because it reminds me that just as I am forgiven through Jesus, I must forgive those around me. This commandment isn’t something to take lightly and in some cases it may be very difficult for us to do. But with forgiveness comes freedom to move forward in our lives and a first step toward breaking the ties to the hurt and pain someone may have inflicted on us.
It took me a while to forgive my father for his behavior toward my mother. I had to come to understand that in his time there was no one to teach him that it was wrong. I had to forgive him for ignoring me and putting me in a position to seek out another male figure that would later abuse me. I had to find a way to let God deal with the person who hurt me and to stop letting them influence my behavior many years later. I have forgiven my mother for not being who I wish she was and accepting the wonderful things she passed on to me—including how, as a Christian, to forgive those closest to us. I have had to learn how to forgive those who have hurt my daughter and allow her to forgive them and show me how to forgive as well. That one is probably the hardest but I am thankful to see her model a forgiving behavior passed on from her grandmother.
With forgiveness comes a requirement for change. If we are inspired by the words of Jesus to seek forgiveness and to forgive others, then we must also be willing to make changes in our lives that will keep us from making the same mistakes. The Message version says: “keep us safe from ourselves and from the Devil” (Matthew 6:9-13). It may mean that we remove ourselves from people who are not good for us or who might influence negative behavior in ourselves. It may mean holding others accountable for the way they treat us and setting appropriate boundaries. It may mean that we who forgive also mentor and pray for those who hurt us when they seek our forgiveness. And when we see change in another, then we must be willing to give them a second chance at living a new life. We must release them from the bond of shame and allow them to become the new person Christ has made. If we only remember the fault and don’t see the transformation, we end up carrying a burden that no longer exists and we hold back those forgiven and transformed.
Forgiveness and second chances are probably two of the hardest things for us Christians to live out in our lives. We want forgiveness for ourselves and we see it in our lives, but we refuse it to those closest to us. When we refuse to see that God has created something new in the forgiven, we miss the blessing of Jesus lived out on earth. Who are you holding a grudge against that you have not forgiven? Who do you say you have forgiven but have not reconciled with? Who do you know needs your forgiveness and your help in building a new life forward? How can you model what Jesus told us to do for another? Who needs you to give them a second chance?
One of the hardest and seemingly easiest commands Jesus gave us was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus understood that if we carried resentments and bitterness in our hearts, it was ourselves we were hurting. He also understood that if we shared our resentments with others in our lives that negativity would lead us to destroy each other with our hatred and anger.
We have a choice, spread our angers and resentments with those around us or
share a grace and hope that encourages others toward forgiveness and love.
We have all had our hearts trampled on at some point in our lives. Some of have been wounded in ways unmentionable. Some have been hurt by people we trusted and whom we thought loved us. Some have been mistreated at work and taken advantage of. We have all had people disappoint us or fail to live up to the standards we expect. We have all been “wronged” or slighted by someone, even if unintentional.
Consider that some who hurt us are wounded children who have yet to face the trauma in their lives and still suffer. Perhaps the person who hurt you is replicating a behavior foisted upon them. Maybe they were never taught how to treat another with respect and love. Even the monsters may not know why they do what they do. It is possible that they have not yet been blessed to know forgiveness and a supernatural love in their lives.
I’m not saying that people who commit atrocities against another shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions– they should. What I am saying is: you should not carry their sin or negative behavior with you and allow it to destroy you as well. Rather, pray for a changed heart for yourself. Pray that you will see the person who hurt you through God’s eyes– with sadness and hope for redemption. And pray that through your loving Christ-like behavior they will be inspired to seek forgiveness and transformation. Pray that others will be changed in a positive way when they witness your behavior.
When anger and resentment bubble up in us, pray that we see the wounded
child God sees and pray that we act with love and grace toward them that
they may see God’s love.
Let this be the day you begin to let go of the anger, bitterness, and resentment you have toward another. Let this be the day that you see God in them rather than the behavior that has wounded you. Let this be the day you stop complaining about all the wrong things they have done or do, and ask God to show you who he sees. Let this be the day you stop feeling persecuted and realize the freedom God wants for you to have in your life. Let this be the day you reflect back God’s love to all in your life. Seek justice and when you do, pray for the one you impeach so that you will be set free from the bonds of their actions. These are the first steps taken to move through the fire and into fresh air. Breathe in all that is good and breathe out all that could trap you.
Be set free.
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:14-15
These days I am rather transparent about the life I have led and the choices I have made. I share my experiences because many of them, by the Grace of God, are now behind me. I share my secrets so that others might believe that God still loves them. I share my stories that others who struggle may know that a new life awaits them. I share my story so that others don’t make my mistakes, and if they have made similar mistakes, they know it is not the end. I share hope.
All too often those of us who come through the refining fire refuse to share our stories. I think it is selfish not to tell others how God has changed and redeemed your life. I also believe, that the secrets of our mistakes that we keep hidden, could be the stories that save lives. Yet, many still continue to hide behind some veil of shame refusing to tell others this wonderful thing God has done in their lives. Yes, there may be pain in talking about the past, however, that shared pain may just be what another needs to hear as they struggle with the choices in their lives.
Have you lived through an abusive relationship and are now on the other side living free from fear? Your story of courage and freedom may be what someone else needs to hear for their freedom and to save their life. Share your fears and how you were able to get away and are free to live with joy today.
Have you had an abortion and lived through the tears to finally find forgiveness. Would you do it differently today? Your story could save the life of a child today. Your story could help another woman avoid the pain and loss you experienced.
Did alcohol or drugs once control your life? Did you live with someone abusing alcohol or drugs? Have you found recovery and a new day? Get over anonymity! Share your healing story that another drunk or addict might ask to go to a meeting with you.
Were you once so far in debt or without money that you weren’t sure if you could feed your kids? Have you ever been without a home or a car? Are you out of debt and in control of your finances today? Let go of yesterday and share how you did it with someone like me. Teach us how to work a plan.
Is suicide a part of your family? Have you lost, or nearly, lost someone because of mental illness? Is depression something you have struggled with? Is there hope today that you never had before? Tell your life-giving story that someone who wants to die might live. Share so someone who has lost a loved one might come to understand and feel freedom from guilt. Save a life today.
I could go on with examples. We all have a story. Even those of deep life-long faith have a story. Let your testimony be real. Make what God has done in your life something you don’t think twice about sharing. Share your secrets—especially if you are drowning in your secret today. Reach out and share with someone you trust that they may walk with you. Don’t let your secrets destroy you.
Pass along the gift God has given to you. Multiply his mercy and grace. I encourage you to read The Parable of the Buried Treasure found in Matthew 25. Invest in others. Don’t be the one whose gift is lost.
I grew up in an era of sweeping things under the carpet and hiding our real lives from our neighbors and friends. It didn’t matter if the whole neighborhood heard the fights and saw the bruises—we did not discuss it. And many of us thus were taught to be hiders of truth as well. We even learned how to hide the good things like promotions and awards that we should have let our friends celebrate with us. Today I still hide the truth to protect those I love; except those stories will soon come to light on these pages as the God who saved me from shame and healed my brokenness prompts me to share more. My desire today is to be taught and to share what I have learned that others may learn too.
Things are different for people in today’s society with social media peeking into our lives every day. We post pictures of our trips and adventures. We post cryptic messages when we are angry or sad. We blast at people who have hurt us. We take self-portraits of our moods so everyone knows if we are happy, sad, or drunk! What we don’t do is talk about how we were abused as children or spouses. We don’t talk about addiction in our family. We don’t talk about abortion or the child we gave up for adoption. We hide our divorces in our new marriages. We hide if we are living with someone or in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. We hide if we want or have a relationship with someone of the same sex. We don’t talk about the missed suicide or the suicide that we deny occurred. We hide that our family is struggling with financial burdens or is crying every night because they don’t know how to help their ADD, autistic, or mentally ill child. Those things we still hide from one another.
I have a new truth today. My truth is that God loves me. He sent his son Jesus to save me from my sins and to give me hope in a new life. This God has inspired me to openly share with you the many many sins of my life, and his redemption of that life. Those things above—he let me walk through most of them. God didn’t heap burdens on me that I might fail in life or feel worthless. He taught me to give him my burdens and to let the Holy Spirit help carry them. He gave me you to lift me up when I thought I should die. I want to learn more from him so I spend time in the Word of the Bible. I spend time listening to your stories and I am motivated because I see the potential for change and growth in our lives.
It starts with speaking the truth. Share your burden with someone today. Ask for prayers. Send me a request—it would be an honor to pray with you. Pray for me too. This journey I am entering is not easy. It has painful moments. But I have hope today, hope for you and hope for me. God bless you and bring you truth and hope.
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25:5
“No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.”
Psalm 25: 3 New Living Translations
I grew up believing in Jesus—I went to church and I prayed. We lived in a time when being a Christian was a proud thing, until you did something awful and then that was pretty much that! And if someone else brought evil into your life, they were out of there too. As a young woman I lived somewhere between these worlds. I was disgraced by the behavior of the men in my life and I was disgraced by my behavior as a result of these actions. And I tried to hide all of it.
Following the sexual abuse I was taunted by the boys in the neighborhood. I was an innocent child thrown into a world of sexuality, before I knew what that meant. One day I was the princess being carried around on a makeshift throne. It seems the next day the boys were trying to take advantage of me at every chance. I was now free game and the attention I was getting set a thinking pattern for me that said, “Sex brings attention—sex must be the way to go.” Those I once trusted now became my foes. My belief system faltered because I no longer had the same compass leading me. Some translations of this verse say: “Do not let anyone that hopes in you be ashamed. Let the people that say false things without a reason be ashamed.” I was ashamed to be a Christian who felt tarnished and who also was now drinking, drugging, and sleeping around while trying to convince others that I was still this “good girl.” I simply lost my way.
Through my teen years and those as a young woman, I made a lot of bad choices for myself. I had ‘relationship’ after ‘relationship.’ And yet I kept a foot in the church door. I went to church on Sunday. As a good Catholic, I went to confession, only I never confessed my sexual acting out. I taught Sunday school and brought a number of my hurting girlfriends to church and laid a foundation for their belief in Christ today. I went through the motions and in my heart I clung to the belief that somehow God understood. Somehow, one day God would make this all right for me. What I didn’t realize was that it was up to me to make it right by first accepting it was wrong. I needed to look at myself and quit making excuses and blaming others and literally lie in front of the cross and ask the man who died there for me to help me. I needed to be forgiven and changed. I needed to stop living ashamed and disgraced. With each step toward him, he pulled me closer. As I was willing to let go of the blame and the shame, he brought me new dignity. It has taken a very long time to get here, and I’m still working on it, but I no longer have shame in this story of my life. I have peace that today I am wiped clean and can share this with you so that you too can know this peace and joy.
Are you living with the shame and disgrace of past behaviors? Are you afraid someone will find out? Do you want to stop being that person? I suggest then that you do what I did and recognize that God already knows so you can’t really hide it from him anyway! Tell him your pain. Tell him your disgrace. Give him your tears and let him wipe them away. Visualize Jesus holding you and telling you he loves you, NO MATTER WHAT you did. Read Psalm 25 or find one that speaks to your hearts and pray it every day until you feel whole again. Share your healing journey with someone you trust. Ask them to pray with you. And then share your grace with someone else that needs to hear.
Be healed. Be restored!
“Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.” Psalm 15:2
As a young woman, I carried the shame of being sexually abused with me into nearly everything I did. Pia Mellody, founder of The Meadows, developed the concept of “carried shame,” that which we bring into our adult life from events that occurred in your childhood. These are the events over which we had no power and that sets the stage for negative behavior in our adulthood. Until we can acknowledge this shame, we are somewhat powerless over our behavior. Without validation for what has happened to us, we may think we are worthless and therefore not allowed to be in respected or valued.
The shame I carried with me stemmed from my abuse and the reaction of those who knew back when it occurred. My memories are fuzzy, but I do know that in that era the victim was usually held at least partially responsible for what happened. It didn’t matter that I was only 8 years old. And there was nothing really done to the perpetrator other than to separate them from the child. To this day I am not sure if anyone really understood, including myself. I do know that I went from being one of the girls that the neighborhood boys treated like a princess to the butt of their jokes and sexual harassment. From then on I came to believe my body and my life was of little value. And for the next 40 years I acted that way too.
And then, at The Meadows I found out that this was not my fault. I was not protected by the people who should have protected me. I was a naïve young girl, desperate for someone to notice me, who was noticed and taken advantage of by someone we all trusted and admired. I did not understand how that period of time had polluted my thinking about myself. And in the desert of Arizona I found that God loved me and would rescue me from the shame others inflicted upon me. I could make the decision right then and there to accept God’s love as an incredible gift and to remove the hooks that held me to this carried shame. The shame was that of the man who hurt me. It was the shame of the parents who neglected me. It was the shame of the friends who turned their back on me. It was not mine anymore. God created a new person that day. I began to walk without shame, having sought forgiveness for my own behavior and a willingness to live a different lifestyle.
I was freed.