The Why: My Heart For Haiti

I’ve always admired missionaries; anyone really, who’s willing to leave the comfort of home and serve the lost and forgotten in places the rest of the world would rather forget. I always longed to be one of those people myself, but I grew up believing I had no place in that world because I wasn’t good enough. I was raised to believe I was a worthless burden and continued to be treated as such well into adulthood. My believing that that’s who I was meant I also believed there was no way I could bring any kind of goodness to anyone. I prayed constantly that God would free me from the abuse and, in exchange, all I’d ever ask for is a healthy family of my own. Today I’m able to say, out of His deep love and tender mercy, He’s given me all I’ve asked for and more.

With that being my background, when I went on my first trip to Haiti, I fully believed I was doing it for my daughter, who had joined our team. In my mind, I was simply giving my child, who has a heart for serving others, the opportunity to learn and grow in that passion. I had no idea that God was going to use my plan for my daughter to reveal His plans for my own life. During that first trip, I had all the joy that comes with serving the kids at the orphanage, but I also had a deep terror knowing that I was being called to more. (Leaving my own family at home is torture, every time.) I could see the same pain in the eyes of those children that I’d lived with my whole life. The more I learned about their stories, and the more I discovered about how they see themselves, the harder God pushed for me to commit to action- Because He’s not a God who sees devastation without building something new out of the ashes. If not for Jesus, my past is just an evil mess. It’s just pain and darkness. But, because He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, my past is now a weapon against the evil that seeks out the souls of the children in that orphanage. My experiences put me in the position to reach these kids for Christ through the power of “Me Too”.

…And that is my heart for Haiti…

God has instructed me to take the trauma I suffered, combined with the trauma training I’m engaging in now, and use it to draw these kids to Himself through relationship. Through connection on an individual basis. Through prayer and play and teaching and suffering alongside them.

In the past, even as a Christian, I had suffered a pain so deep that I felt the need to take my life. And the root of that pain was loneliness. I felt so utterly, completely, hopelessly alone that I wanted to die. There is nothing quite like the pain of feeling unseen, unheard, and uncared for.

Most of these children feel that, in some capacity, every single day.

Knowing what that feels like, and the possible results of that going unchecked, I refuse stand by and do nothing. Especially when God’s commanded I take the leap of faith and dive into the messiness of their situation.

All of Haiti is traumatized. Traumatized parents raising traumatized kids, generation after generation. Much of the reason for this being that the research and knowledge on trauma and it’s effects has not been shared or is unavailable there. If we go in and teach on trauma, educate the staff and caregivers of the orphanage, and help them apply what they’ve learned to how they interact with the children in their care… it would change the lives of the 130 children who live there, who would then grow up to change the way they’d interact with their own children. There’s a ripple effect of healing that could be felt across the entire country, if a few people would simply take the time and effort to invest in caring for God’s people there in this specific way.

Of course it seems like I’m not doing much now… but my hand is in God’s and He’s guiding my steps, one at a time. I’m likely to never see the ripple effects God’s plan for trauma care in Haiti will have, and that’s okay. Faith means trusting in what I cannot see; leaning not on my own understanding. Being in a faithful relationship with Jesus means I walk out on the water, even if my own storm is raging, and trust that He will not only catch me, but will use the storm to further His Kingdom in the lives of those around me.

To Him be the glory.

My heart for Haiti is aligned with God’s heart for all of His children: To see them. To serve them. To love them…because that’s what He did for me.

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When Healing Doesn’t Come

Every test on spiritual gifts I’ve ever taken has resulted in the same answer for strongest gift: Faith. So, when something shakes my faith…it shakes the core of me. It takes me down. Not for long, but it hits hard. Like an ocean overtaking me, there’s a pain inside that colors my whole world dark. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can really only cry those tears that burn from the inside out with one question: “Why?!” 

I let my guard down very rarely, if at all. A lifetime of abuse and trauma have built walls I have yet to learn how to tear down. (I’m working on it. Baby steps.) I don’t trust people. But I trust Him. Not because He is God and I should; because He’s earned it.

He held my hand through the fire.

When Dad came home drunk again, Mom took our her rage on me, and I hid in the basement crying with my baby sister…He was there.

When my boyfriend dragged me to the middle of a field, took my clothes from me and abandoned me, naked and alone in the dark of night…He was there.

When my next boyfriend shoved my face into a pillow and raped me…He was there.

When my Dad died of cancer…He was there.

And when I later found out that my family background- my entire origin story- was formed in the midst of unspeakable evil…He was there then, too.

God is the only One who NEVER. LET. GO.

His presence and His word have been the only constant in my life; all that is trustworthy and pure. He holds the entire world in His very capable hands so, if He’d really wanted to, He could’ve left me where He found me. He could’ve turned and walked away when He saw me making bad choices over and over, or when He found me drowning in the choices of others; the ripple effect of sin visible from Heaven. But He didn’t.

He held tight to my hand and whispered His love to my heart until the fire was behind us. He brought me through it all. Not only that, but He has (and is) using every bit of that pain to create a new, beautiful story of redemption and victory; one that enables others to reach out to Him in hope.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been angry with God. Very few times, when something big and painful has happened, have I felt like His hand has come out from beneath me and I have no place to land. I may not have liked what happened. I may have been devastated…But I didn’t blame Him. I trusted that He was there and, eventually, He’d use all that the enemy had planned to hurt me, for good. (Genesis 50:20) 

This past week…I found myself back in unfamiliar territory. Through hot, angry tears, I silently fell at the feet of The Faithful One and laid the pain in my heart before Him: Betrayal. I felt like He’d betrayed me. I took a step of faith, pushing fear aside and trusted that He would answer with a resounding “Yes!” in response to my belief. I had claimed healing…and healing didn’t come.

Where do I go from here? From this place of despair and loneliness; when I can feel the walls around my heart growing taller? How do I get back to my greatest spiritual gift?

I remember.

I choose to remember the truth that the same God who walked me through the fires of life, is still right here next to me when the answer isn’t what I’d expected. The truth that He’s still fighting for me, even when the enemy is trying to convince me that He’s given up. The truth that, every other time my faith was shaken…He brought me from darkness to light. The truth that, even though my mind is filled with fear, my heart knows that He’s never failed…and He’s not going to start now.

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What Now?

What am I supposed to do now?

The more I learn, the less I know you. The less I believe you ever loved me.

I want to scream in your face, let you know just how broken you’ve left every part of me; how you’ve pulled the ground out from beneath me…but I’ll never see you again.

So much lost; just an empty space filled with silent screams. Peace slipped out the door and now all I do is chase it, longing for memories of you to disappear. What felt like connection was just a sugar-coated lie. The truth is blackness, seeping in. You were supposed to protect me. Now I see that all I needed was protection from you.

I said goodbye; mourned and cried over an image of you that’s been shattered. Reality tore apart the truth I clung to; the truth that was never truth at all. Your lies and betrayal just get deeper and darker; I get sick at the thought of you being any part of what knits me together.

When you died, I thought I’d lost a part of myself. Turns out, I don’t know who I am…because of the monster you were.

What am I supposed to do now, Dad?

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Haiti And The Heart Of God

It was my third mission trip to the mountains of Haiti, where an orphanage full of children hold pieces of my heart that I know I’ll never get back. My specific reason for traveling there had been to continue my work individually with a group of children who not only have special needs, but have experienced trauma above and beyond our deepest fears and nightmares. I thought I was at least a little prepared for the week, having begun research on working with those affected by trauma and gearing up for official training on the subject. God had reassured me that, though I still have much to learn, the most important thing I can possibly do is to love them. To hold them and make sure that they begin to understand that someone sees their pain, understands their emotions, knows of their past…and still believes they are destined for greatness. One main goal was to start to build the bridge of hope and trust; to prove to them that I value them and am committed for the long haul. To begin to share bits of my own personal story of trauma and meet them in the pain. There are few words more powerful than, “You are not alone.”

I soon learned that there is no preparation for hearing stories of the devastation of those you love. Though I’ve been through abuse, rape and other physical and emotional trauma myself, nothing could have prepared my heart for what I’d learn about the people of Haiti. Stories of the past experiences of these precious children hit my heart with violent force and, even after my return to the states, have left me with pain that weighs heavy and often overtakes me. To go back to “life as normal” feels impossible. In a matter of moments, everything had changed. I had changed…and there’s no going back.

I have moved through the past few days in a fog. I go from desperately praying through tears, to becoming numb and not finding the words or strength to pray at all. The enemy’s been whispering temptations to fall into old habits of coping with this level of pain. More times than I can count, sudden urges to drink the pain away or put up walls of seclusion from family and friends have felt impossible to resist. Yet, I’m held by a God who is using this very pain to draw me to Himself. And so I remain still and focused on The One who’s called me from darkness to light.

I’m finding it hard to sum up this trip for those who’ve supported me; to express in words what happened and how God worked in and through me. All that I keep coming back to is the reality that, in feeling this ocean of pain for these children, I’m being given a small glimpse into the heart of God. The pain of His people stirring more and more compassion within and transforming me into someone whose past no longer defines her, but glorifies her Savior and brings healing to the hearts of others. This gift is beyond words and worth every sacrifice. I’m humbled that a calling like this would be placed on my life; infinitely thankful that His grace is taking what was once death and destruction and replacing it with victory. My heart will ever belong to Jesus…The One who loved me at my darkest.

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The Time Is Now

This place was one of those places I couldn’t stand to be. My hands would shake and my chest would hurt. I’d become paranoid, looking over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure he wasn’t there. This place was a reminder of my rape and assault; it’s beauty had been lost. Today, I decided to take it back. I worshiped as loud as my voice would let me on the way and, when I got there, I stood on this ground that had once symbolized my defeat and declared my victory. For, no measure of darkness can overcome what Christ has redeemed.

It’s time to take the pieces of my life back and watch God restore my soul.

Indeed, the “right time” is now. – 2 Corinthians 6:2

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Abuse and The Blame Game

“There appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering…we sacrifice those who suffer so we can maintain our illusions of autonomy and safety.”  -J & L Holcomb

It took me over a decade to tell anyone other than my very closest friends that I’d been abused. Part of it was, of course, that it’s a very private and painful experience. But if I’m being honest, the biggest reason I didn’t want anyone to know was because of the reality that I’d be shamed. Me. Not my abusers. I knew I’d carry the weight of what had been done to me. Not just the pain, but the blame. People rarely admit to blaming the victim but their cold comments, the looks on their faces, their body language, or their overall lack of response speaks volumes to those brave enough to break the silence.

I get it…we as humans want to believe that, at the core, everyone is good; that society is good. It’s just too scary and disturbing to look at the possibility that many of us, maybe even those we know and love, are capable of detestable things. So, we buy into the lie that, somehow, those who have suffered abuse must have done something to deserve it or something to welcome it; some major lack of judgement or some sin they’re being condemned for. So much goes unsaid and so much is assumed, rather than asked about, all because the topic of abuse makes most people uncomfortable. If there’s one thing our society is determined to be, it’s comfortable.

Here’s the truth, whether it makes you comfortable or not:

A victim of abuse is NEVER to blame for the actions of his or her abuser.

To abuse is a choice. To be abused is not. 

It’s that simple.

If someone comes to you with their story, be conscious of your words and actions. Be aware, and in control of, your responses. Craft them with compassion. Understand that the greatest gifts you can offer are your belief in them, your ability to listen to them without judgment, and your presence. To be in an abusive situation is horrible but, to feel alone in the midst of it is an unspeakable burden to bear.

We need to place blame where it belongs, solely on the abuser; to help victims of abuse move forward towards healing by giving the life-changing gifts of love and acceptance. Whether through sitting down to listen, sending a card, dropping off coffee and a hug on the hard days, or taking an active (but safe and appropriate) stand…you have the power to be a light in the darkness.

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When Grief Gets Complicated

My grandfather died three days ago. The news crushed me. Questions like, “I’m sorry for your loss.” and, “Do you need anything?” came from a handful of precious friends but, mostly, there was silence. An echo of the loneliness I often feel in response to all things family. At first, I’d wished I had more support. Then came the question that made me want to transition back into the realm of near-invisible: “Were you and your grandfather close?”

Yes…and…no. It’s complicated.

It wasn’t so much the question itself that bothered me; I was thankful someone was thoughtful enough to take interest. It was knowing that my answer would stop the conversation in its tracks that made my chest ache. It would result in awkward silence, and I just didn’t have the emotional energy for that.

My biological family is dysfunctional. Extremely dysfunctional. Generation after generation of verbally abusive motherhood stopped with me, but the women in my family remained hostile and manipulative behind closed doors. The men made the choice to either pretend that everything was fine, or to drink their problems away. To the outside world, we were so…normal. A seemingly vanilla family that says and does all the right things on the outside, while slowly burning alive on the inside.

When my own firstborn came along, I drew boundaries. Painful, yet completely necessary, boundaries. I refused to carry on their legacy of abuse. I demanded respect or separation. My family chose to pretend that the issues that tore us apart didn’t exist. They chose to keep up the manipulation and the verbal abuse. So…I walked away.

One harsh truth about drawing boundaries, about escaping an abusive family, is that often the decision also means walking away from some good relationships along with the bad; walking away from sweet memories and stolen dreams. My relationship with my grandfather went from cherished to non-existant in the blink of an eye. In doing what I had to do to protect my own children from abuse, I lost one of the most important relationships in my life. One of the only people who were safe. Grandpa was, in many ways, more like a Dad; in many ways, my rock. He was steady and strong, while gentle and kind.  He was predictable and sweet; comforting in his consistency. He had loving nicknames for me and proudly hung up my childhood drawings on his refrigerator…

He was what family was meant to be…and now he’s gone.

I didn’t get to say goodbye. In fact, because I had chosen to protect my children from the abusive members of my family and all of my relatives came as a package deal, I didn’t get to say anything to him for the past eight years. Eight years went by without a single interaction and then, one day, I got the call. It was done. There were no take-backs, no do-overs. All I had left were distant childhood memories, photographs…and regrets. Do I regret drawing healthy boundaries for the sake of my own children? No. Do I regret not making sure that my grandfather knew, really knew why it was that I’d left the family? Yes. I should have told him face-to-face instead of sending a letter (which very well could’ve been opened by grandma and thrown away). I should have called to tell him that none of it was his fault and that I loved him, just one more time. I should have…but I didn’t. I was too scared of being sucked back into the nightmare that was my experience with family. I was afraid that if I spent even one more second around their chaos, I’d become more like them. That toxic environment threatened to take from me all that I’d worked so hard to create. My own sense of self. My calmer, more peaceful demeanor. My strength. My victory over generational sin. I was afraid of all that I’d lose when, in reality, I was going to lose either way. I lost one of the only sane, healthy relationships I’d ever had. I lost one of the only good things I had to hold onto from my biological family. I lost part of myself.

If I could do it all over again, I would still make the same decision. I’ll always carry regrets about certain things not said or done. It’ll never get easier to answer questions about family. The awkward silences will never disappear. It’ll always sting to see others enjoying loving relationships with their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins…grandparents…but I wouldn’t change my decision, because my decision saved my life. It saved my children’s lives. From the devastation and decay of abuse. From the pain of separation. From the eternal, toxic poison of mistrust and manipulation.

Relationships, no matter how pretty the package, are messy. Maybe not as messy as mine, maybe more. Family isn’t always joyful and filled with sweet, loving memories. Family isn’t even always remotely functional. Sometimes it’s a complete disaster with a terribly unhappy ending. Questions about family can’t always be answered with a simple yes or no. Sometimes it’s painful, confusing, and sad. Sometimes it’s complicated…and that’s okay. That’s human. We just need to find a way to be human together. To fill the awkward silence with compassion, even when we don’t understand. To offer the comfort, the freedom, to just be.

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