Boundaries

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This is part 3!  Part 1 can be found here and part 2 can be found here.

To recap, once you know you’re in a relationship with an abuser and you’ve realized you need to hold them accountable, the next step is developing some healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are healthy and keep us physically and emotionally safe.

It’s so important to teach children about boundaries from a very young age. They don’t have a ton of property they own but they absolutely own their own bodies and have a right to decide how to use them. Don’t force a child to be affectionate with someone if they don’t want to be. Once your children are old enough to be independent in the bathroom they absolutely have a right to privacy! I’ve heard stories about dads who remove locks from bathroom doors because he doesn’t want to allow his children any privacy! Remember, abuse is all about power and control.

Abusers hate boundaries!

To protect yourself from an abuser you MUST enforce boundaries. They will do everything they can to convince you that you shouldn’t have boundaries or that your boundaries are unfair. This is further proof that you are dealing with an abuser.

I was watching re-runs of the Office last night and in the episode Jim was in Florida for work with some co-workers and his wife Pam was back at home. He befriended a woman but one night she came to his hotel room in a t-shirt and shorts with a story that they were fixing the heat in her room.  She wanted to hang out in his room while she waited. Jim said yes, but his guard went up immediately when she hopped right onto his bed. She continued to test his boundaries by taking a shower in his room, coming out in a robe and then snuggling up close to him under the sheets. That was the last straw and he finally jumped up and told her he was married and that her behavior was unacceptable. Before he finally confronted her we could see him growing increasingly uncomfortable and this is how we know someone is violating our boundaries.  We can feel it!

Other examples of boundary violations include financial “gifts” that people give expecting control in return. It is not a boundary violation for a parent to threaten not to pay college tuition if a kid can’t get his grades up, but it IS a boundary violation to only pay a kids college tuition if they go into the program of the parent’s choosing.

If a kid wants to be a teacher and the parents only will pay for med school, the kid has to decline the money and pay his own way or take out loans to get out from under the abuse.

As an adult, we leave our father and mother and become one with our spouse, therefore starting our own family unit. Your parents do not have a right to make demands of you and your new family that do not align with your values on your time, money or children. You have to say no to financial gifts that come with strings attached.

Back to my story with my abuser; one day he lost his job and arrived home drunk and he and his wife got into an argument and he took off on foot. Once again, many people were very worried about him and tried calling to check on him and he waited until the wee hours of the night before letting anyone know he was ok. I was finally at the point that I could no longer just accept his apology and pretend everything was fine.

I made it clear that I believed he needed to go through an intense, in-house rehab. Of course he had all these excuses for why he couldn’t go.  The truth of it was that he didn’t want to go. He wanted to apologize for getting caught again and then go back to hiding and lying.

When abusers are caught or know they went too far they often go through “compliance” for a bit to try to win you back. In their heart, they KNOW they have no real intention of changing but they know they need to be on their best behavior just long enough to get you to let down your guard again.

My abuser said he was sorry and started going to AA meetings and to a religious counselor with his wife. This is the same old song and dance he had been doing for years and I didn’t believe him. I had no reason to!  If someone is a repeat offender, they absolutely should understand that they have to EARN your trust back.  If they demand you to move on right away, that is PROOF that they are not changing at all.

So I stuck to my boundary. I told him he was not welcome at my house anymore unless he went to rehab or I saw some real changes in his behavior.

So a couple months passed and not spending time with him proved to be very good for me! I was less anxious, sleeping better and felt I was a better mom and wife without him in my space. He texted me one day and immediately my mood darkened. He said he had been sober for 8 weeks now and he was going to counseling and AA meetings, so couldn’t he come visit? That wasn’t my deal. He was trying to get me to break my boundary. I held firm.

So how do you know when someone is really changing? How does the church sometimes hurt instead of help when dealing with abusers?  I’ll cover that next.

You’re in an abusive relationship, now what?

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My last post was about figuring out you’re in an abusive relationship, read that post here. If you are in danger, please, please get help from the professionals. My experience is not so much about abusive partners, but relationships outside of my home, so that is the depth of my experience.

Get help if you are in an abusive relationship here.

Abusive relationships can happen with parents, siblings, bosses, friends, co-workers, neighbors or people within the church. Sometimes adult children can even become abusers to their parents. (Abuse is all about power and control of another person and starts in the person’s heart/mind)

I’m going to speak from experience here and talk about my particular case, though I will not be naming who the person is.

Some time ago, after my middle child was born I became upset with this person for a lack of communication issue. It was a completely forgivable offense on his part but I needed him to know that it put me in a difficult position and I hoped he would just apologize and we could all move on. Instead, he told me that none of it was his fault, started blaming others and told me he shouldn’t have to apologize to me.

My husband immediately came to my defense and this person started yelling at both of us, in our own home, in the presence of our children and telling us that we think we are better than everyone else, and going off about how he’s so tired about having to walk on eggshells around us with our perfect life. Then he took off.

This left a huge mess. Some people were crying and others were scared.

I thought I was doing the “right thing” by calling him and apologizing. I was wrong, and understand that now. This is just another way I was enabling the behavior by trying to diffuse what had suddenly become a very dramatic situation. So when I apologized to him, he didn’t soften his heart at all. He took it as another opportunity to further ridicule me. He said “Fine. I’ll come back but you know you really (expletive) me off and you need to know that I will not put up with that!”

So he returned and instead of coming in the house, he sat in our driveway in the car for 15 minutes. My husband had made dinner and everyone was pretty much not sure what his next move was so my husband decided to go talk to him.  (This is a power move too.  He knew that his presence in the driveway was intimidating and he was going to sit there until someone else came to him)

As soon as my husband got out there and asked him if he was ok he got out of his car and started swearing at my husband and throwing things around in his car in a rage. Then he drove off again. My husband was convinced he had been drinking and we should have called the police, but we didn’t. He turned off his cell phone leaving other members of his family completely stranded. My husband had to drive them home, 45 minutes each way, leaving me home with a 3 year old and 3 week old baby.

No one slept that night worrying about him, which is what he wanted.

I got a text several days later where he “apologized” for his behavior but pointed out that someone else in my family told him that my “postpartum hormones” were likely the cause and that he had no idea postpartum hormones could cause me to behave that way because his wife had NEVER had that issue!! So…basically, “I’m saying sorry because I know I have to, but really it’s all your fault, and in case you’re wondering someone else agrees with me about that too!”

This is abuse! He completely justified his behavior to himself! Instead of taking responsibility for his actions he made excuses and pretty much made it clear it was all my fault. And threw in another family member as evidence, causing me to then be upset with that person too!

But it’s effective. I had to ask my husband and tell a few other trusted confidants my story to ask if I was in the wrong or was he? Truthfully his behavior had been so outrageous that I was embarrassed to tell many people about it.  

Conflicts can occur in ANY relationship.  There is NOTHING wrong with telling someone that their actions upset you or caused you strife.  His reaction to my confronting him was the problem.  This had NOTHING to do with postpartum hormones.  We can own our tone.  I may not have expressed my frustration with the best tone, but that in NO WAY excuses anything he did next.  And women, we need to be very careful of people that will criticize us for bringing up any kind of complaint when we are pregnant or post-partum or have PMS.  Abusers absolutely will use this as an excuse to confuse us by telling us we are over-reacting, over emotional, etc.  Anything to take the blame off of them.  Its abuse.  Plain and simple. 

Now I made a huge mistake in letting him off the hook. I believed that I was doing the right thing as a Christian because we are told to forgive others, as we have been forgiven. This is absolutely true and it’s a requirement, BUT, and this is a huge BUT…forgiveness takes place between the victim and God, not the victim and the abuser!

To forgive someone it means that you go to God and give it up to Him. You don’t try to get revenge against that person and you don’t go around bad mouthing them to anyone that will listen. It means in your heart you have no malice towards that person, and you wish them well. That is forgiveness. Christians and even the Christian church get confused sometimes between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness as a Christian is REQUIRED, but reconciliation is not.

So the first thing you have to do once you realize you are dealing with an abusive person is to hold them accountable.

Once again, I will reiterate that this is specifically NOT in reference to those being physically abused. It may be dangerous for them to try to do these things. Also, if this person is your boss, you may not be able to hold them accountable so I highly recommend carefully looking for a new job.  If they catch wind that you are looking to leave they might do everything in their power to discredit you and tarnish your reputation.  Get out!!

By allowing my abuser off the hook so easily he did not have to go through the process of genuine repentance, and it’s no surprise that the relationship continued to deteriorate.

I told my abuser that he was forgiven, but I really wasn’t over it. His actions and even his apology were very hurtful and he seemed perfectly content to act as though things were completely fine, as though nothing had ever happened. I was not fine. Whenever he was around I started to feel very uneasy. And that feeling is very much an indication that everything is NOT ok!

Remember how I said that my husband and I both thought that this person had been drinking? Well he completely denied it and held tight to his denial. I wasn’t until a month later when he was caught red handed, that he finally admitted it. I absolutely believe 100% he would have NEVER told the truth about this if he hadn’t been caught. He felt completely justified in his lying because of that internal justification he was going through. Further proof that he was NOT convicted on his own and coming clean as a choice.

My sin, and yes, I do believe it was sin on my part that didn’t hold him accountable, allowed him to continue in his sin. And it started to take its toll on me.

Whenever he was around over the next year I became very anxious and uneasy. I was afraid to confront him about anything, which is exactly what he wanted. So when he was at my house and not following my rules with my kids I would speak to my kids about the behavior instead of confronting him directly. I would get so frustrated with him but I had no outlet.  I often took it out on my husband because my husband was “safe”. Instead of telling this person it was time for him to leave, and confronting him when he continued to get my kids all riled up and completely ignored my authority, I would tell my kid “Guys, I said it’s time to say bye!” I started to dread seeing him at all. I became anxious a lot of the time and at holidays and birthday parties, I became really uptight and had a hard time even enjoying these moments.

This is the result of forcing “forgiveness” before the proper conditions have been met. True forgiveness is a wonderful thing and can restore the relationship to a better one than existed before. The uneasiness and anxiety I felt around him were proof that this had not occurred.

So to recap, it’s crucial when dealing with an abusive person to label it for what it is, and hold the person accountable. Next, you need to create and enforce boundaries to protect yourself. I’ll write my next post about that. 

Abuse, forgiveness and reconciliation

It’s been about a year since I spilled my heart out writing about my separation from my dad. There’s not really a great word for that I guess, so separation will have to do.

In the time that has passed, I’ve continued to feel that my decision was the right one. I’ve also done a lot more soul searching and growing and felt inspired to write about the things I’ve learned.

Let’s start with the word abuse. What does that mean to you? I used to believe it meant physical or sexual abuse. These were the things they mostly taught us about in school. I had no idea that verbal and emotional abuse were even a thing. (Parents, talk to your children about these things and from an early age)

At the very heart of abuse is the mind. It’s a mindset of gaining power and control over another person by whatever means are at the abusers arsenal. That includes physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse. Oftentimes in the worst cases it includes ALL of the above.

It all starts with the abuser believing they are entitled to some form of control over their victims. While many abusers use their physical strength to over power their victims into submission, others will manipulate by other means. Often, this doesn’t happen immediately into the relationship but it builds slowly over time. For example, if you are dating someone and they start trying to convince you that something is wrong with all of your friends or family. They don’t do it overtly, but slowly over time they begin pointing out all their “faults” under the guise that they are just trying to “protect you” from these people. It’s less to do with the people and everything about getting you isolated so that they become the person you rely on for support.

Secular and religious counselors have different explanations for the errors in thinking that drive this mindset. However, the end result is much the same.

The secular theory that we all have a set of morals that we feel we should live by parallels with the Christian view that we all have been born with this sense of right vs. wrong. The secular view says when we behave in ways that go against this inner feeling of morals, we start this justification process of internally justifying in our head what we did to avoid the feelings of guilt. In Christian terms we would call this guilt from our transgressions or sins.

In Christianity when we feel this guilt, we have two choices. The first is that we start justifying our actions in our hearts and minds. Something like this…

“I didn’t mean to get so mad at her. She seems pretty upset, maybe I should go apologize. But I wouldn’t have blown up at her like that if she hadn’t disrespected me! Who does she think she is! I was right putting her in her place a little. Maybe next time she’ll think twice about asking me questions like that!”

So he started off knowing he was wrong for losing his temper. Then he started listening to the voice in his own head telling him he had every right. He was justifying his actions. The Bible tells us that the more we do this, the easier it becomes. It’s called hardening of the heart.

The second choice would be to allow ourselves to feel convicted. We messed up and we feel bad because we know we messed up. Instead of trying to justify our actions to ourselves we allow ourselves to feel convicted and take responsibility. It looks like this…

“I really shouldn’t have blown up at her like that. I can see I really upset her. I hate feeling so lousy, I should go apologize and make sure she knows I care.”

When we allow ourselves to feel convicted and take responsibility we are humbled and absolved of the guilt we feel. This is called softening of the heart, and likewise it makes it easier and easier to respond this way in the future.

We are all guilty of messing up in our relationships. It’s a part of life and a part of loving. Their is conflict in even the most healthy relationships. In Christianity we view this as a result of living in the fallen world, in our fallen selves.

In abusive relationships, eventually the abuser has such a hardening of their heart that they are NEVER able to empathize with their victims. They’ve justified their own need for power and control for so long that they don’t really even need to justify it any longer, they truly BELIEVE they are entitled.

So how do you know if you are in an abusive relationship? Obviously if there is physical abuse of any kind that is NOT ok and you should plan a safe exit strategy. I will link some resources at the bottom. Other forms of abuse are not always obvious.

Think about your last several conflicts with this person. Did you feel like your grievances were heard? Were they able to admit fault in any part of it or does everything wrong in the relationship get blamed on you? Do they take responsibility for their wrongs or are they always making excuses or blaming others? Again, we all do this from time to time but abusers do it ALL the time. Notice how they act in other relationships, this can be a big clue.

I had a boss once that was a narcissist/abusive personality. I observed her around her own daughter one time and it absolutely confirmed all of my suspicions. Her daughter was a grown woman with a family of her own and her mother was treating her like a child, chastising everything the daughter said and did. I was humiliated for this grown woman being treated this way by her mom!

Abusers will use whatever means they can to keep their victims compliant. It could be a financial “gift” they hold over your head to convince you that they need to make decisions in your life. It could be something embarrassing they have on you that they threaten to release. It could be piling on the guilt, threatening suicide, whatever! It’s all about them getting power and control and that is abuse!

We think about it so often in terms of the abusive husband or boyfriend but these people can be parents, adult children, siblings, friends, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, doctors and even leaders in the church!

The first step is to identify them. Label what is happening and believe it. Other people often don’t see the abuse, especially if it’s not physical. Abusers are great at hiding the abuse and unfortunately the church is not always great about recognizing it. I’ll write about that in another post.

Abusers are so great at the art of manipulation they often have their victims convinced it’s all them.

I’ve dealt with abusers/narcissists like this in my life and can say with certainty that sometimes it’s very obvious and other times I was so entrenched in it that it took decades to see this person for who he really was and even then I didn’t want to believe it.

Once my eyes were finally opened I could never go back.

Each abuser is different in how they act. Sometimes abusers WILL apologize! Sometimes they will even experience genuine remorse. My abuser had apologized over and over and over again over a span of at least 10 years. He sounded so sincere and he sometimes cried and promised he would change. But time after time again he always responded to things the same way.

I thought I was “helping” him by always forgiving him and allowing him to be a part of my life. I’ve since learned what I was doing was in fact “enabling” him. We often think of this as an act of love, but it’s actually just the opposite because the abuser isn’t held responsible and required to really change.

In my next part I’ll talk about what to do next when you realize you are in an abusive relationship.

If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, please go to the following website to get help.

 

Empathy

So much has changed in our world in the last 10 days. I really don’t want to add to all the noise but I also think this is a message that people need to hear right now.

I’m privileged. My life hasn’t changed much during all of this and I feel very fortunate that I’m able to be home with my kids and that I have the resources to provide them with food and with education.

I feel so much for our brave healthcare workers that are going to battle without armor and have to find child care for their children and also worry about bringing this virus home to their families.

I feel so much for the small business owners that will not ever recover from this.

I feel for the service industry who relies on tips and for whom even unemployment will not be enough for them and their families.

I feel for the police, ambulance, firefighters, military who never know what that next call will be but go running to it all the same now as they always do.

I feel for teachers who are being asked to work, even when they have their own children at home to take care of. I feel for the parents who are forced to work at home and care for their children. I feel for the children that are now being put into abusive or neglectful environments, some of which may not even survive this.

I feel for the children who are missing their beloved teachers and friends. The seniors that are missing out on their rights of passage. The kids who won’t get to compete in their last season of sports.

I feel for our friends who won’t get to take their kids to Disney. I feel for the immune compromised (which includes my mom). I feel for the elderly. I feel for kids who already have to deal with cancer who now have even stricter rules about visitors.

There is just so much sadness. Some of it is big sadness and some of it little sadness, but it’s all sad.

I feel for me too. I know I’m not on the front lines and as I already explained, I have a lot to be thankful for. But that doesn’t mean this is easy.

The truth is that I was already going through somewhat of a tough season before all of this hit. I love these children dearly but the winter months and flu season meant we were already sort of living in isolation and Ethan is a very high needs baby. I love that I GET to be home with these children but I felt myself envious of my husband sometimes as he left for work and I had yet another day of a fussy baby and a preschooler that didn’t get enough of my attention and a house that I felt like I could never keep organized and clean.

What made it worse was the guilt I felt over my own feelings. I’d tell myself how lucky I was to be able to be home and how quickly this time goes and how I should “enjoy every minute”. I had zero empathy for myself and felt like I should just be positive.

What finally DID help me was acknowledging that what I was doing every day was hard and it was ok for me to feel sad, overwhelmed, frustrated. It didn’t mean that I didn’t love my kids and it didn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate things. It just meant that I’m human and part of being human is struggling. I had to sit down with my husband and tell him that I needed more time to myself. I needed to talk to him and good friends about my feelings and stop feeling guilty for having them.

We are a society and culture that doesn’t do sad. We would rather distract ourselves and do anything to “feel better”. We are a society addicted to alcohol, drugs, pain killers, pornography, shopping, food, going from one relationship to the next just to avoid sitting in our sadness for a bit. We don’t do sad.

Our family watched Inside Out recently. I highly highly recommend that movie to everyone right now. It illustrates perfectly why we can’t just be happy all the time and why we need sadness too.

Our kids need us to empathize with their pain. They are sad right now. Their lives have changed in major ways too and it isn’t helpful to them to tell them that they shouldn’t be sad about missing their friends because some kids have it much worse. We shouldn’t feel guilty for our own feelings and we shouldn’t make our kids feel guilty for theirs either. There’s so much psychology into this that I won’t go into, but if we don’t help our kids learn healthy ways to deal with unpleasant emotions, we are setting them up for addiction later in life.

“I know, this IS sad guys. I’m so sad about it too.” Can let them know that their feelings are valid.

It IS hard. Even just trying to go about our daily lives, feeling completely helpless over all the suffering going on in the world and with people we care about IS hard. And someone else having it worse than you doesn’t make your own feelings irrelevant.

Its important to give ourselves the space to grieve but then to find ways to bring joy into our lives still. Show your kids these things as well. “We’re going to see if our elderly neighbor needs us to get them groceries because they are probably scared to go to the store.” “We are going to spend our money and use our Amazon Prime membership to send games and toys to children in the hospital that are not allowed visitors right now. Can you imagine how they must feel during all of this?” We are going to pray for all the medical workers during this extremely difficult time.”

It’s a hard time right now for everyone. It’s harder for some than others, but everyone is a little sad and a little stressed out right now. Be kind. Be empathetic. Don’t make pain a competition. We are all in this together and we need each other to lift each other up.

To all the parents at home with kids right now, I feel you. You’re trying to create a sense of normalcy when they can’t even play with their neighbors in their back yards. You’re trying to be calm even while the world is a stressful place. You’re trying to be there for them. It’s so easy task. I’m sorry. I’m here.

For us Christians with Easter right around the corner, let’s remember that none of us gets through this life through our own good works. So as we accept the grace of others, let’s extend that very grace to ourselves and to others.

Running Love

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Just 8 weeks ago I was in the hospital trying to have a baby. Tonight I went for a run. It was one of those ideal days for a run. 65 degrees and sunny. The leaves are starting to turn and the sun starting to go down this time of night means it peaks through the trees casting everything in a golden yellow.
I had my headphones on with good music pumping through my ears because truthfully it helps me get through this 1.5 mile run that I so desperately crave throughout the day. Yet when I’m actually out there running it doesn’t feel easy. Not yet.
I ran through my pregnancy to 36 weeks and 6 days and most of the time I was running 8:30 pace. The first time I ran one mile, at 6 weeks postpartum, i ran 8:30 pace! The same as I ran almost 37 weeks pregnant!

I’m a bit faster after nearly 2 weeks of running 3 times a week, slowly having built up to a whole mile and a half, but honestly, it still doesn’t feel “natural”. My body just feels awkward like I forgot how to run and I get side stitches and it feels hard to run under 8 minute mile pace. But…it’s ok. I actually read that it can take up to a full year for your pelvis to shift back into position and you can have relaxin (that hormone that loosens all your joints) for just as long. So it’s going to take some time. And this being my third pregnancy, it seems it will take longer this time than the previous two. I signed up for the mommastrong website to try to regain some strength and one of the things they tell you is to figure out how to “win ugly”. Basically, you may look terrible trying to get back into shape with your face red and grimacing but if you can get over all that and do it anyway you’ve won ugly. That’s what I felt like I was doing on my run tonight.

I love running. Especially this time of year. I love the feeling of my heart pounding. I love taking in so much oxygen and I love the freeing feeling of just me being out there in the streets getting there with my two feet. I love the release of the sweat pouring out of me and I love how without all the noises and distractions around me my brain can just focus on my own thoughts. I love how most of the time it feels so effortless. I can look at the trees and smell the houses that have a real fire going in their fireplaces and those that are grilling out. I love seeing people out in their yards, mowing their lawn, kids playing, people out for an evening stroll. Something about it makes me feel so connected, yet far enough away to just be an observer.
I love my life and my family. I pour myself out to them day and night and I’d never trade it. Often though, it leaves me completely exhausted, depleted. There is always someone with needs that I need to meet. Not too many moments for uninterrupted thoughts. There’s constant noise and some of it is joyful (laughing, playing) and some of it is, well noise (bickering, screaming, crying). There’s always laundry, dishes, toys everywhere and most days lately I’m not even close to staying on top of it. That’s why I crave running. It keeps me sane when life is chaos. Even when at the moment it feels like another thing I’m failing at.
I know with each run I’m getting a little closer than I was before to those “effortless” runs. Even if these runs right now feel awkward, I still love feeling my heart pounding, feeling the sweat pour and being able to have my thoughts uninterrupted. And I’m always so happy to see my children when I get back because believe it or not, I actually miss them. Less than 12 minutes of running and I miss them. It’s good for them too because I come back relaxed and happy.
These days with an infant go by fast, but they are also all consuming. It’s a level of shear exhaustion that has so far gone unmatched in the other stages of life with children for me. Running helps me to see glimpses of myself again as a person, not just as mom.

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Forgiveness

I’m looking through you, where did you go
I thought I knew you, what did I know
You don’t look different, but you have changed
I’m looking through you, you’re not the same
Your lips are moving, I cannot hear
Your voice is soothing, but the words aren’t clear
You don’t sound different, I’ve learned the game
I’m looking through you, you’re not the same
Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?
Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight
You’re thinking of me the same old way
You were above me, but not today
The only difference is you’re down there
I’m looking through you and you’re nowhere
—The Beatles

My decision to share such a personal part of my life publicly was not an easy one.  I’ve kept this journey mostly to myself and a few close friends and family.  After all there is no need to air my family drama for the whole world and I still do not intend to do that.  My main purpose in writing about it and deciding to share it is because I have a feeling there may be a few others who are currently going through something similar or will be one day and maybe my insights and mistakes can help them. Also, its therapeutic for me to write about it.  I will be telling my story in a way that does not relive the drama and does not defame anyone because I don’t think that would be very helpful. Also, I believe in the Commandment to honor thy father and thy mother.  Its a commandment that I personally struggled with a lot in 2018 in trying to figure out what it meant in my situation.

So I’ll take you back to a Saturday in March, 2018.  My house was totally quiet.  Both girls and my husband were all upstairs napping and I had just sat down too.  My phone rang and it was my mom and my heart immediately started to pound in my chest and I got that awful feeling in my stomach.  Something was wrong.  I just knew it in my bones.

Several days before that Saturday my dad had called me to wish me a happy birthday.  I took the call and it was fine.  He was happy and nice, but I still remember quickly passing it onto my kids because I just had a hard time talking to my dad.  The truth is this had been building and building for years and had been growing worse and worse by the month.  I prayed and I prayed and didn’t know what else I could do.  That Saturday, we were supposed to have dinner with them to celebrate my birthday.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.  No, that’s a lie.  I was dreading it.  We picked a restaurant so that we would have an easy out.  I felt more in control if we were somewhere public.  It had been that way for a long time.  I dreaded the visits, the phone calls, the holidays and the kids birthday parties because there was this dark shadow of uneasiness that loomed every time I knew I’d have to see my dad.  This Saturday was no different until that phone call came.

The rest of the night is a total blur that was spent mostly not sleeping but a few minutes here and there when exhaustion finally overtook me.  Lots of crying on my part, and not just crying but big, heavy sobbing.  The evening and the wee hours of the morning were interrupted constantly with the buzz of my phone going off and my heart pounding each time trying to mentally prepare myself for what they were going to tell me.

The next morning, I realized that I was done with this.  It was all just too much.  And I couldn’t mother my children when I was so wrapped up in this chaos.  I had finally had enough.  If he wasn’t going to do something different, I was.  I was tired.  I was angry.  I was emotional.  I was a lot of things.  So I told my dad in no uncertain terms that he was no longer welcome in my life.  His reply of “Done.” seemed to agree.

I wish I could say that the next several months were full of peace and healing but they were not.  Just because I wasn’t speaking with him any more didn’t mean I was escaping the constant chaos.  My mom and sister were still in his life and it was over the next couple months that my mother and father eventually separated.

From March to July I had frequent heart palpitations.  They always seemed to hit me when I was finally sitting down and relaxed and then my chest would just start pounding in a severe and uncontrolled manner that would scare me and my husband.  They only lasted several seconds and then they went away but it was happening a lot.  I’ve had these before, so I knew what they were. I’ve noticed they tend to be more frequent during times I’m under a lot of stress.  I had more during those several months than I’ve ever had in my entire life.  And it wasn’t just that.  I wasn’t sleeping.  A lot of times it was because there was something going on and I still felt like I needed to help.  Other times my mind would just focus on things when I was trying to sleep and not let go.  I started having vivid flashbacks to things from my childhood.  Mostly painful memories with greater detail than I had remembered before to the point that I was questioning my entire childhood and having a hard time thinking of any “good times”.

My mom started proceeding down the path of divorce and she has Multiple Sclerosis and hasn’t been able to work for several years due to the progression of her disease.  I was trying to help her find a place to live that she could afford with her disability income and the money she might get from a sale of their house.  I was trying to come up with the best long term solution for her and I was incredibly stressed out by all of it.

Besides feeling like I needed to help my mom, I was also the full time caregiver of our own young children and trying to keep up a house and a marriage.  In short, I was at the verge of burn out.  I knew I was doing too much, but I also felt a lot of responsibility.  At church we’ve talked a lot about how its our duty to be caregivers to our parents.  I was also trying to heal from the pain of my estranged relationship with my dad.  I wanted to talk to a therapist, but when would I go??  It would cost us $30 per session out of pocket and my oldest was starting Kindergarten soon and I’d rather put those funds towards her gear/clothes for school.  In short, I was my very last priority.

I made another mistake and called my dad.  Why? I started to doubt my own convictions and feelings and thought maybe I’d give my dad another chance.  I’ll talk later about how misplaced Christian guilt can play into us feeling like we need to reconcile with someone much sooner than we actually should.

So I allowed a “brief” meeting a few weeks later for him to see us and my kids at our house.  I was incredibly nervous about it the whole day.  My dad came over and even though the words being exchanged seemed right, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he didn’t seem different and nothing felt different than it had before.  He had sworn that he was changing, but I immediately just didn’t see it.  I felt uneasy the entire time and couldn’t wait for him to leave.  Yet I had a hard time telling him it was time for him to leave.  I always felt like I was walking on eggshells around my dad. Even as an adult at my own house with my own family. I just was scared to say/do anything that would upset him because I never seemed to see it coming.

Then, just a couple weeks later I would see that the relationship was just never going to be what I wanted it to be.  He was who he was and I couldn’t change him to be the father that I wanted.  And I could no longer accept him as he was.  The only person we can change is ourselves and that’s what I had to do.  I told him once again that he was no longer welcome in our lives.

I wish I could say it was easy and went over well.  The truth is that neither of those things happened.  It was very hard. Yet, for the first time in my life, I had no doubts.  I knew I was doing the best thing for myself and my family and possibly even for him.  Now that its been 9 months, its getting easier.  But its still not easy.  I couldn’t see his family at Christmas because I knew he would be there.  That was tough.  A lot of people that know me also know my family and its been hard to know how to handle things when and if his name comes up.  You don’t want to say too much, but I also don’t want to give the impression that everything’s fine when its not.

In other regards things have been much, much easier.  Once I got through the initial phase and started living my life again, I realized how much of an affect he had on me previously.  I wasn’t just less stressed out, I was HAPPIER, I was a better mom, a better wife, a better friend because I wasn’t spending so much emotional energy on him.  I didn’t go to therapy.  I did do “self” therapy and when I broke my leg and had to stay off my feet I had a lot of time to do some reading.  I read some great books and several religious blogs that have really helped to heal my heart.  And taught me that I’ve been an enabler for many years.  I’ve prayed a lot. I’ve even found the new skills I’ve been developing have been helping me in so many other relationships like in my marriage and with my kids.

Christmas time was a huge joy this year without this dark shadow looming over me.  And I’m not angry at my dad anymore.  I’ve forgiven him in my heart and I pray for him every day and truly hope that he lives his best life possible.  I want only good things for him.  Yet I do not wish to have him be a part of my life ever again.  That may seem harsh to some.  I do believe that all people are capable of changing and that nothing is impossible with God.  Yet, I also believe that God gives us free will and in order for people to really change, they have to want to change and they have to soften their hearts enough to let God in.  My dad could change, but I don’t think he will.  I don’t think he wants to and that’s ok.  Its his life and he is free to live it the way he wants to.  Its up to me to say that we are not going to be a part of it as it is today.

So is all this Biblical?  I believe that it is.  I’ll use several examples from the Bible to explain my views further.  Here’s what the Bible says about forgiveness:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. –Ephesians 4:32

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.–Matthew 6:14

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.–Luke 6:37

I could go on and on.  Scripture mentions forgiveness so many times that its not hard to find example after example.  Forgiveness is at the very heart of Christianity.  The fact that Christ took on the sins of the world and died so that we may be saved.  Many Christians, myself included get caught up in these vicious cycles because we are trying to do “the right thing” and forgive people as we are forgiven.  The problem is that you can’t just pick and choose verses and apply them without understanding the Bible as a whole, and therefore getting to the heart of God.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate things.  Reconciliation that happens before a true change of heart happens just enables a person to hurt you over and over again. Just because they’ve apologized and promised never to do something again it doesn’t mean they have really changed.  Often times, these patterns play out over and over again over several years as the relationship continues to deteriorate to the detriment of both people.  The person who promises to change is only saying the right things but not actually doing anything different.  So here is some more Scripture to think on.

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.–Revelation 21:18

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].–Ephesians 5:11

Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals. –1 Corinthians 15:33

Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.–Proverbs 25:26

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.–Matthew 18:15-17

So clearly there are also instructions on how to keep from people who can harm you.

In my own situation, I had been hoping all these years that my forgiveness and support was going to ultimately lead to change in my dad.  Unfortunately, that was not happening.  This was proven to me over and over and over again.  And to what end?  I was emotionally fragile and hurt and exhausted and he was the same exact person doing the same exact things.  Basically I was enabling him to keep hurting me.  Had I understood the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation sooner, maybe things would look much different now.  I can’t go back, I can only move forward.  I want to share a Biblical story here that I believe illustrates this point I’m trying to make:

In the story of Esau and Jacob, twin brothers, we see that Esau lost his birthright to his brother Jacob through some trickery and family deception.

Esau becomes so angry with his brother that he wants to kill him.

At his mother’s urging, Jacob flees to a distant land. After 20 years, while Jacob was learning some tough lessons of his own, God tells him it is time to return. There’s a lot more to this story that I’m leaving out to be concise. When Esau and Jacob eventually do meet again,

“And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept.” Genesis 33:4

20 years is a long time to go by without seeing or talking to your family. In Jacob’s case, the time away was beneficial to him because he was tricked and cheated and faced plenty of hardships that ultimately led him to humbling himself before God and his brother. Jacob’s transformation was so astounding that God gave him a new name, Israel.

Jacob wasn’t ready to be the person he needed to be without that time spent learning these tough lessons. He had made his brother so angry at him that he literally wanted to kill him. It’s hard to think about “abandoning” family members when they’ve hurt you for whatever reason because we feel like it’s our duty to help them. Sometimes people can’t be helped but need to learn tough lessons themselves and experience pain and hurt on their own to help them be the person they are meant to be. When we continue to reconcile and keep bailing people out, it deprives them of the chance to learn the tough lessons they need to learn. And for Esau, carrying around that kind of rage was not good for him either. Just as it isn’t good for us when we keep “forgiving” people that hurt us but still feel that anger and carry it with us all the time. Sometimes time and distance is truly needed to let you forgive others with a true heart and also finally let go of the anger that you may not even realize you’ve been carrying around for sometime.

So how do you know when and if its time for forgiveness and/or reconciliation.  Well, forgiveness and reconciliation, as I mentioned before are two separate things.  Forgiveness comes from the heart.  Its letting go of the pain and hurt and anger that someone caused you and letting God handle it.  Forgiveness is freeing, for YOU.  It lets you move on with your life without carrying that anger.  It also means you have no ill will or feelings of wanting revenge toward the person that hurt you.  I have no ill will toward my dad.  I pray for him daily, as I said.  In my heart of hearts I want him to be happy and live a good and long life.  I also do not desire to tell everyone that knows him or me all the things he has done to hurt me.  Its helpful for my own healing to confide in the people closest to me about the situation, and maybe someday to a counselor or other person that I trust.  However, I’m not taking any pleasure in going around and trying to bring down his name.

Reconciliation on the other hand means a restoration of the relationship.  Maybe to what it was before the separation, maybe with some new boundaries to keep yourself safe as you wait to see if the changes are really there, or hopefully to something even better.

Reconciliation does not always happen, nor do I think its always the right thing for either or both parties.  So how do you know if you are ready to reconcile with someone and give them another chance after years and years of hurt? How do you know that someone really has changed or if they are just saying what they say to re-gain your trust.  The answer lies within the heart.

Some people when faced with consequences for their behavior will be motivated to go into “compliance”.  They will say they are sorry and they may even break down and cry and really sound sincere.  And sometimes they really ARE being sincere in their remorse.  Yet that doesn’t mean they are actually going to change.

For true change to take place, its not enough to just feel remorse or regret.  They actually need to lay down their old life and their previous self and become someone entirely new.  It happens.  I believe with God all things are possible and a true transformation CAN absolutely occur.

If you want to know what this really looks like, I think a perfect example is reading about Jesus’s disciples before the crucifixion and then after. Their complete transformation shows they are completely different and it’s proven time and time again through their persecutions and eventual executions. They don’t waiver or once go back to their old habits.

Most people unfortunately don’t change. Even if they claim to find God. The person may go through a period where they know they are being watched and will do the things they need to (compliance) but soon start to slip back into old patterns and behaviors.

Its really hard for us to see inside another persons heart and know if they are truly changed or if they are just trying to “win us back”.

History can be a great indicator for us.  If a person has repeatedly repented and then gone back to the same behaviors over and over again, it is wise to not be wholly convinced that THIS time they truly mean it.  They need to show us over time that they truly are different.  This is in the way they talk to others as well as what they say to you.  Just like the disciples, the transformation should be so evident that everyone can see it. No matter how they are tested they will never go back to old patterns of anger and manipulation.

A person that is truly changed is not going to say one thing to your face and then complain about you and your unwillingness to forgive to anyone that will listen. A person who truly is changed is not going to try to rush your healing and demand or plead or try to guilt you into a reconciliation because it benefits them. They are not going to give you excuses for their behavior or simply just “apologize for all the times they’ve hurt you.”  They will be willing to call out each offense in painful detail.  They will understand that years of lies and hurt have damaged the relationship to such a degree that a mere apology and promise to change are not going to be enough anymore.  They have to prove over time that they are changed.  And they are willing to go the distance.  Whether that takes one year or five or 20 years.  They are patient with you in allowing you time and space to heal.  And if you’re never open to a reconciliation they are willing to let you go because they truly care about you and what is best for you.  Most of all, they will not use God or God’s grace and forgiveness to manipulate you into a reconciliation because they think its time.

I will link some great online resources I’ve found explaining in greater detail what I’ve learned.

As for my dad, I don’t think we will ever reconcile. He continues to reach out to me through letters and to me it’s very evident that no true change has taken place. Not only am I choosing to protect myself from further hurt from him, but I’m choosing to protect my children as well. That’s my duty as their mother.

How would it make them feel to allow them to develop such a close relationship with him only for them to realize when they are older that he was not the person they thought he was all those years? And what if he hurts them the way he hurt me? And how do I tell them that they should never allow people to treat them a certain way when I’ve allowed my own dad to treat me that way for years?

It’s a tough thing to do and I’ve had a lot of really low lows in the last year and longer. However, I firmly believe this trial has been for my good. I’ve learned through this trial that my one true Father loves me beyond measure and alone can heal my brokenness. And I can be a help to others going through similar situations.

If anyone wants to talk further with me about this, please reach out and let me know. You are not alone in your journey. While for me, this person is my dad I know the same rules can apply for a spouse, friend, boss, co-worker or any other relationship that brings you down and takes all the emotional energy from you. We can’t change other people, we can only change our behavior to keep them from continuing to hurt us.

links to online resources:

To Forgive Doesn’t Automatically Mean To Reconcile

 

What is Repentance?

How Can You Tell if Someone is Sorry – For Real?

 

How Can You Tell if Someone is Sorry – For Real?

Understanding the Difference Between Compliance and Change

Genuine Repentance

 

 

“To every thing there is a season; and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”

–Ecclesiates 3, 4

Its been 7 weeks today since I broke my fibula.  Before I get into how its doing and all the ups and downs that have been happening, I need to say that its been so much harder than I ever thought.

When it first happened, I felt guilty because I was crying in the car trying to decide what to do.  Tears were streaming down my face, Taylor in the back seat and I was trying to think clearly and make a decision.  Do I take her with me to the ER?  Do I try to wait for an appointment?  There were naps to be had and kids to be picked up from the bus stop.  The tears just kept coming as I thought about how I wouldn’t be able to do that 6 mile run I wanted to on Saturday and how I didn’t even know how I was going to take care of two little kids on my own until my husband returned the next day from his work trip.  “Its just an ankle!” I told myself, “Its not life or death, buck up buttercup.  Ankle’s heal.”

Had I known just how hard, physically and emotionally the next 6 weeks would be, I probably wouldn’t have even tried to stop myself from crying.

My biggest mistake though was that I was trying so hard to be positive.  I know people who have and are still going through things much much harder than this, so I felt like I just had to be thankful that this was all it was.  Yet having a broken leg while trying to care for two small children is REALLY, really hard.  But I was bound and determined to get through it with a grateful heart and a smile on my face.

I thought the lesson I was supposed to be learning from all of this was to be more appreciative of the things I took for granted.  Its true, just before it all happened I was feeling completely overwhelmed of everything I had to do with my oldest starting school for the first time and my husband traveling and me trying to redo our master bedroom by myself.  So life told me to sit down.

I hate being a burden to anyone, especially my family.  I see myself as the server of our family, not the one getting waited on.  Not only that, but I hate being an emotional burden just as much as physical one.  I didn’t want to bother everyone with my sorrows.  So if I felt like complaining I kept it to myself.  I didn’t let them know everything I was feeling inside.  Truth be told, I didn’t even allow myself to wallow in self pity.  When the negative thoughts came, I could always come up with an “at least…”

But that made it so much worse.  I had no outlet for all the things I was going through.  My normal stress reliever (running) was taken away from me.  For the first couple weeks I was not allowed to bear weight at all.  This is a HUGE challenge when you are taking care of a two year old by yourself all day and your house is full of stairs.  I did the best I could, but I couldn’t not put weight on it at all when I had to somehow get my toddler upstairs for her nap.  The scooter I used (that I was so thankful for) put tons of pressure on my lower back and by the end of the day I was in horrible pain and would just lay on a heating pad.  I wasn’t sleeping well because there just isn’t many comfortable positions to sleep in with a broken ankle.  As a stay at home mom, I’m used to getting in 5-6 miles on non-running days just by playing with my kids and cleaning the house, so to go from that to needing to sit around all day, was not easy at all.  My body was used to being in constant motion–and I liked it that way.  I realized after all this time that my former job of sitting at a desk for the better part of 9 hours a day was not really meant for me.

Once my two weeks were up, I was told it was ok to start walking in the boot, but that I should rest as much as possible and let pain be my guide if I was doing too much.  There’s so much I could say here about pain tolerance and athletes and how this may not be the best approach for everyone.  I did my best to stay off it as much as I could but after two weeks of not doing hardly any housework I was pretty eager to jump back into action.  The problem with the boot is that its really big and heavy and the height of it didn’t line up with any of my shoes.  My running shoes were too short, and I wasn’t even going to attempt to walk in heels on my healthy foot.  My Dansko’s felt the best, but my healthy foot was slightly higher than my leg with the boot so after two days of walking my hips were waking me up in pain at night.

Finally I found a product on Amazon that you wear over athletic shoes that is adjustable that can raise your shoes up to the height of the boot.  It seemed to help my hips, but my right knee (the one I injured training for the Riverbank last spring) started to ache.  This was all leading up to my appointment at 5 weeks post fracture that would leave me in tears again.  When I was told that my fracture wasn’t healing at all.

Ok.  I had had enough.  I was trying to keep my composure.  But inside I was raging.  What the what?!  How could 5 weeks of doing NOTHING all be for naught?!  This was a serious low and I could no longer hold it all inside.  I had a tearful conversation with my husband where I finally allowed myself to let it all out.  And he listened with empathy.  And I felt a little better.  Then a conversation with my long time friend.  These people get it.  Its hard.  No, its not the hardest thing to go through.  Plenty of people have it worse, but that doesn’t mean that this is a walk in the park (I’d LOVE a walk in the park BTW).  Its hard and sometimes it feels good to unload some of that burden onto people who love you and care about what you’re going through.  It doesn’t mean that you’ve lost sight of perspective.  I still can find plenty of things to be thankful for.  It also doesn’t mean I’m turning into someone who is always down on their luck, always looking for the negative no matter what the situation.

That weekend I was in a grumpy, mopey state.  And that’s ok too, we live in a culture that tells us we should never be sad and provides plenty of distractions from our feelings (literally) in the palm of our hands.  I rested, and I got angry and I felt sorry for myself, and then when Monday rolled around it was a new day.  I got up, I took my boot off and appreciated the small things and set my sights on my short term goal.  To be able to walk with my girls on Halloween for trick or treating.  I’m happy to say that that goal was accomplished!  1540841930483Someday, I’d like to run a marathon again too.  In the meantime, I look forward to just being an active participant with my family.  Maybe I’ll be able to do a short, easy run by Christmas.  We’ll see how it goes.  Having short term goals helps me to realize the small victories and celebrate them as they come.

So maybe part of the lesson I learn through this experience IS to appreciate things as they are more.  I’ve also learned that its ok to rely on your support system too.  That a good cry can make you feel better every once in a while.  And to always hold onto hope that a better season is just around the corner.  And I will praise God in the good seasons and in the bad.

I also think it benefits our kids to see how we handle the tough seasons.  Alex just melts my heart every single time she prays and she asks God to heal my broken ankle.  I realized that I had not prayed for my own ankle even once.  I felt like it was such a minor thing to pray for.  Now I’ve started praying for my own ankle too and not feeling guilty about doing so.

If any of my friends or family is ever going through a hard time, please know you can talk about it to me.  Its ok to be sad sometimes and its ok to talk about it.  And don’t forget to pray for yourself too.

“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”

–Jeremiah 17:14