Filled

My cup is empty.

The suffering of yesterday is too heavy, combined with the pain of today. I wake up empty, my strength failing before my feet hit the floor. I struggle through each day feeling worthless and ugly inside and out; forgetting His Truth and remembering their lies. I approach the world hiding. Hiding behind a smile, the silent desperation of feeling surrounded and alone all at once.

This morning, I considered not getting out of bed at all. Then I remembered something I’d read to my children last night:

“God breathed life into Adam and Eve. When they opened their eyes, the first thing they ever saw was God’s face.

And when God saw them he was like a new dad. ‘You look like me,’ he said. ‘You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made!’ 

God loved them with all of his heart. And they were lovely because he loved them.”

-The Jesus Storybook Bible

They were lovely because He loved them.

We are lovely because He loves us.

His love knows no end. It’s fierce. It’s unfailing and absolute. This means our loveliness is absolute. Our worth is absolute. Our value is not determined by past or present hurts, past or present sins…past or present perceptions.

This feeling of empty doesn’t have to win. It doesn’t have to overwhelm and deaden us on the inside.

It doesn’t have to exist.

Hold fast to what is true. To what is real and bright. To the lovely, not the empty. This is who we are. Lovely…and loved. Let that fill your cup.

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If You’re Reading This, It Was Meant For You…

I’m just going to trust that God has a plan for these words He’s put on my heart…

Everyone has problems. Life is messy. So overwhelmingly so that you can begin to feel insignificant; your problems feel unimportant…like no one really, truly cares. No one cares enough to really listen, to really hurt alongside you. If you feel this way, may your heart be comforted by this truth:

The same God who created the universe with its swirling, starry sky and its deep crystal oceans…He cares about YOUR. INDIVIDUAL. LIFE.

Your struggles.

Your tears.

Your hurts.

He cares about each and every one.

He cares enough to really listen, to really hurt alongside you.

…and He also cares enough to empower and heal you.

No hurt is too great.

Our God is greater.

…and He is for you.

So, lay it all down. Just pray. If you can’t find the words, don’t worry…just be still.

He knows the aching of your heart.

Simply trust.

Then watch Him work.

 

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An Uncensored Prayer

Father,

You already know. In the depths of my being, you hear the words I can’t bring myself to say.

You understand what breaks me; what has broken me. You are here. In my hiding away, in my pretending…you patiently hold my hand and wait. You’ve always been here, and ‘thank you’ could never be enough.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just keep making the same mistakes. I can’t seem to get past this and I don’t know how to fix it. You’ve spoken perfect truth into my life but I can’t seem to own it. I don’t know how to see myself as worthy of your love; as worthy of any love at all. Please. Help me. Help me understand what it is that you could possibly see in me…because all I hear is the echo of their voices. All I feel are the hands that hurt me.

God, I’m so tired. I’m at my end. I’m angry and I’m afraid and I’m screaming on the inside; it hurts so much that it’s burying me alive. I know you have a plan and I know you’re in control…but I’m shaken. I’m lost in the heaviness of the past and the present combined. You’ve trusted me with much, but I don’t feel trustworthy. I feel like a failure. I feel alone.

…but you’ve shown me that I can’t trust my feelings. You are all I need. You are clear, constant truth.

I love you.

For meeting me in my brokenness, for embracing me in my fear. For never giving up on me. For all you’ve done and all you will do. For being who you are, and for loving me despite who I’ve been.

Thank you for reminding me, here in the stillness, that nothing is truly lost with you. That no matter how big I screw up, or how deeply damaged they’ve left me, you can use it. The pain that almost destroyed me, the disgusting shame, the scars that have slowly faded, and the scars no one can see…you can use all that was meant to harm me for good. You turn the battle around on the enemy and rescue me. Not just rescue, but redeem. You are for me, no matter who is against me.

Because of you, my scars don’t define me. My past doesn’t determine my future.

I know my prayers lately have been shallow. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines, feeling defeated. I’ve lost my focus, Lord, but today I pray you’d light the fire again. Burn into my being your truth; the truth that sets me free. The real, raw, beautiful love that you stand for…that you are. That you’ve created me to live in and give away. Help me take the memories and the troubling thoughts captive. Help me see the enemy’s lies for what they are. Help me to see past my circumstances and remember that you’ve equipped me for this battle. We’re in this fight together and, when I can’t fight anymore…I will obey, as it tells me to in your Word, and be still. I will lay down my pride and rest in you, knowing you will fight for me.

Search me, Jesus. Reveal me. Show me who you’ve created me to be. Show me how to let love in. Soften my heart and, at the same time, help me be courageous so that I can stand and fight again.

Amen.

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You Can’t Have Her

I know you think you’ve won. You inspired the evil that took what she didn’t offer. Sin is your craft and you are excellent at what you do. You planted the seed, fueled the selfish thoughts until you had someone she trusted convinced to betray her…until someone raped her.

It feels like you’ve won the battle. You seem to be winning many lately. Your downfall, however, it that you too quickly forget Who has already won the war. She’s her Father’s daughter. Her Father has you beaten.

You don’t own her.

She’s already given her heart to Him so, no matter how far down into the darkness you drag her, you can’t take away her light. He gave up His own life to save her from you, from your life’s work. He took the nails to protect her from the sting of death. You may have damaged her, but He is the Healer of all wounds.

You won’t destroy her.

I know it enrages you; I know it eats at you, to know that you’ve ultimately lost. I know you’ll keep trying to use this moment, covered in shame, to take her down. This moment will tempt her to believe your lies. The lie that she’s not worthy of love. The lie that this was somehow her fault. The lie that she deserved this pain. Don’t fool yourself…Even a whisper of His truth can drown out your loudest screams.

You can’t have her.

He watched you fall like lightning from Heaven. Through Him, she has authority over you. (Luke 10:18-19) Though today you’ve left her broken, crushed beneath the weight of it all…He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) You will not have the last word in her story…it’s already been written by The One who has claimed forever victory over you.

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Wearing Grace

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!

…BUT…

Grace.

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.

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To The Ones Who Abused Me

I can hardly put it into words, the depth of this pain. Everything within me shudders at the thought of even being here in this moment; walking into this darkness, approaching the past. The truth is that you haunt me. You invade my thoughts, uninvited. I carry the shame of a thousand sins I didn’t commit. I’m suffocating beneath the weight of all that your words, and your hands, have done.

You left me there, in the dark. Naked and alone. Too afraid to move, I couldn’t escape the reality that I was in too deep. I blamed myself. I went numb. Any sense of who I truly was had been stripped away. Overwhelmed by fear, in that moment I knew that if I didn’t find a way to leave you…you would kill me.

These memories imprison me. This fear of approaching the subject of you, and all the ways you hurt me, has kept me from experiencing the freedom to fully live. Instead, I’ve been slowly dying. A silent screaming, nightmare having, sobbing in the shower kind of emotional death. I wondered for the longest time if this was all I’d ever feel. This despair.

Years have passed since my escape and, though I may be just an afterthought to you now, I’m left struggling to pick up the pieces. I’m shattered. The very fabric of my being torn apart at the hands of your rage. I have a life now that is beyond anything I’d ever dreamed was possible. A family who brings joy to my aching soul. Yet, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that I don’t deserve it. The tapes that you recorded for me replay in my mind, assuring me that I’m damaged goods. That, one day, it will all fall apart. That nothing good can possibly come from someone like me.

All that is within me longs for justice. For peace. A peace that God’s been holding out to me. It’s within my reach. Yet, I’ve been avoiding the call to be obedient. The call to bless those who curse me. To pray for those who abuse me (Luke 6:28). I’ve been choosing to allow this fear to reign in me. In a place that He’s already called His own. Though there’s no way to erase what you’ve done to me, there is one way to rebuild myself. To create new life where you’d once created chaos. There is healing; mending in the midst of this brokenness that can only come if I do the one thing that feels hardest right now…

Forgiveness.

So, I’m making the choice…I forgive you. I’m walking away. Holding on to all of this anger, this fear, and this despair is only destroying what’s left of me. I’m leaving what you’ve done in the hands of God, in exchange for freedom; in exchange for hope. Forgiving you doesn’t make what you’ve done okay, but it makes me available to live my life. To truly experience His grace and mercy. Forgiving you gives me the freedom to love and be loved again. Your sins are no longer my sins. Your shame is no longer my shame. You have no power over me.

I’m letting go of you and I’m grabbing on to joy. When those moments of pain and fear come back to haunt me, one moment at a time, I will surrender them to The One who will hold you accountable. One moment at a time, I will have my life back. I pray that you somehow overcome whatever hurt has caused you to abuse the ones you love. I pray that His light would shine into the darkness of your life. I pray that, one day, you’ll choose forgiveness too.

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The Sunday Morning Battle

My hands are shaking, my heart racing. The truth is ugly. A crimson stain in the snow. Yet, I find myself here at the altar. His light is crystal clear, warm and inviting me in…but the darkness feels stronger when I look at those around me; the church. I fight hard. The tears burning behind my eyes. The sense of judgement is overwhelming. What if they saw the real me? The one I’m dying to throw at the feet of Jesus.

Every Sunday is a battle. Outside, I hold it together. I walk through the door in a rush of preparedness. I’m prepared to smile, prepared to act happy, prepared to pretend. What I’m never prepared for is the overwhelming feeling that God is calling me to more. More than the standard of soul-crushing burdens hidden behind our Sunday best. He’s calling me to let go.

I’m a survivor. Of abuse. Of rape. Of nightmares turned real. I’m also a Christian. A believer. Of grace overflowing.  His love covers the deepest of scars, the deadliest of sins. His people are not always as quick to accept what they don’t understand.

There’s an unspoken rule amongst many churches, one that we don’t like to admit exists: Come…but come clean. Come at your best. Leave your scars and your dirt, all that brings discomfort, at home. Walk through those doors wearing a mask of joy and show the world what a “good Christian” looks like. Don’t let them see you break down. Keep your pain private. To be holy…be strong.

…but I’m not. I’m not strong, at least not right now. I’m struggling. I’m broken. At times I’m barely able to breathe, the PTSD taking hold as I try to function in the crowd. Flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety attacks, migraines, insomnia…the aftermath of being treated like an object has left me searching for light in the darkness. I’m in survival mode day in and day out and hardly breathe a word of it to anyone. Especially not anyone at church. Why? Because of the hush. The silence that follows stories like mine. Jesus himself spent most of his time with the hurting. He chose to befriend the outcasts; those who carried the burden of shame. Those who had suffered the unspeakable. He suffered with them. He suffered for them. He suffered for me…and, if I didn’t need Him, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be at the altar…broken.

The looks and the whispers that follow my open suffering…they fuel the fear that keeps me so guarded on Sunday morning. Yet, I know I’m not alone. I know that almost every person in every sanctuary is hurting. Every one of us has a dark side. Every one of us has been wronged. We are all there because we need Jesus. So, why hide our deepest hurts?

One in three women in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One in three. Many of those women are found within the walls of the church. Abuse knows no boundaries.

He calls to me in the midst of suffering, reminding me that He understands. He has paid the ultimate price, but not so that I could be silent. I am resolved. No more hiding. He’s called us to come as we are. Christ didn’t give His all for some perfect version of us…He loved us at our darkest.

So, whether they be tears of joy or of sorrow…I will cry on Sunday morning. I will lay down my deepest hurts and lift up my highest praises. I will bring my real self through those doors and I will not be ashamed. I will come alongside the hurting. I will not let judgment hinder me from being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who may also be one in three. For, only when we come forth bearing our chains, can they ever be broken.

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