I bought a bracelet last week with the word “Grace” on it. Who cares, right?! It’s a fairly common word. Used so commonly, in fact, that it’s become a little cliche. To those who have experienced the reality of grace, however, it’s more than just a word. Grace changes everything.
Though I’ve experienced grace in many forms, the specific reason I wanted to wear “Grace” in a place I’d often see is a hard one to talk about. In fact, I haven’t talked about it with anyone outside of the walls of my own home. Yet, I have a feeling I can’t be the only one who needs to “wear grace”…
I am a survivor of abuse. I was abused by boyfriends when I was in my late teens and early twenties but the abuse started long before that, in childhood. My mother had a difficult life. Her daily stressors were the sort that would cause anyone in that situation to feel drained and frustrated. My father was an alcoholic. My younger brother severely disabled, needing around-the-clock care. Mom was angry and over-tired. Yet, regardless of reason, her reaction to life’s stress was an unacceptable choice…
As a child, I remember pleading with family and friends for help, but no one would believe me because, to them, she appeared so meek. Harmless even. In reality, she was a master manipulator. Behind closed doors, her words cut deep. Her constant screaming left me on edge. Her insults and threats made me feel worthless and alone. All of her feelings of disappointment and resentment in marriage and in life were redirected towards me. I was never good enough, smart enough, pretty enough…Never enough. I worked hard to earn good grades and did the best I could to help around the house but it didn’t seem to matter how much effort I put in…she was never satisfied. She allowed her discontent with her circumstances to rule her life and her parenting. Never taking time for herself or accepting help that was offered, she fell apart emotionally and physically and took her children with her. I dreaded waking up each day. I’d dream of the day I’d turn eighteen and be able to leave home. My sense of identity was formed at the hands of a verbal abuser. My childhood, a secret hell.
Fast forward to today and, through God grace (there’s that word again 😉 ) and a lot of hard work, I am free from a life of abuse. I married a kind, loving man whose words and actions are chosen with care. I have four beautiful children, three of which have special needs (again…God’s always got a plan that He’s preparing us for). When I became a mother myself, I made a decision: Not my children.
I’m not sure if my grandparents had abused my mother. My family’s history is a blur. What I am sure of is the fact that abuse is a vicious cycle; a generational sin. Children who are abused run the risk of becoming abusers themselves because, when you’re raised in an environment of torment, you know nothing else. Abuse is your “normal”. Discovering what healthy relationships look like is a learning process. Herein lies the painful truth that abuse is ingrained in me. My parents laid the deep roots of my being in a foundation of verbal violence and recklessness. There are parts of me that are selfish and wicked because I was trained to be selfish and wicked. My words, before leaving my mouth, are often infused with a harsh coldness. The same disrespectful tone my own mother used with me. I find myself having to pause before I speak and put a great deal of concentration and energy into forming patient interactions with my children. At times, I am overwhelmed with shame, hot tears streaming down my face, as I pray desperate prayers for wisdom. There are days that I feel like a failure at parenting because I had no positive examples to set me up for success as a mother. I have no idea what I’m doing!
It’s because of God’s grace that I’m able to say with confidence that I am rewriting my family’s legacy for my own children. In His power, the cycle stops with me. Abuse is a choice. A choice that, for many adult survivors of child abuse, has to be consciously made one moment at a time. As humans, our sins will always try to follow us from one generation to the next in a constant battle. As Christians, we are more than conquerors. His grace promises us that, even if we’ve been raised by an abuser, we have the power not to become one. The victory is in our hands!
Abuse tells me that I cannot be the mother my children deserve. Abuse whispers to me, when I’m frustrated or exhausted, that I don’t need to stop and choose my words carefully. Abuse tries to convince me that I’m entitled to my temper. Abuse shames me into believing that I can’t possibly be worthy of love; that I can’t love well.
Grace speaks the truth to my soul that, though I can never be a perfect parent, I can be the parent my children need. Grace stops me in my tracks and awakens me to the power of my words and their influence on those around me. Grace reminds me that, just as God gave up His only Son to show the depth of His love for me, I need to show that same love to my children as I sacrifice my time and my energy to parent them; as I show them kindness and patience when they’re struggling with their own sin. Grace gently nudges me towards self-care, so that I can care for my family. So, in the moments when I’m feeling overwhelmed or defeated, I’ll look down at the “Grace” that I’m wearing and remind myself to shower it over my loved ones, my interactions with those God places in my day-to-day life…and myself.