Plenty of Fish

I just spent some time looking through a website for dating….Plenty of Fish.  I heard about it while having coffee with someone. I am laughing and horrified and so aware that I am feeling like a high school girl all over again….you know….the one who walks down the hallway carrying her books….carrying her dreams in her head….carrying her hurts in her heart…..wanting someone to see her but terrified of rejection. THAT girl!

I cannot believe we have come to this. We put up some pictures of ourselves….some look professionally done and others look like the person doesn’t know how to take a good picture……We write what we consider to be a witty opening….”Will You Be My Valentine? Are you Looking for Me? A Cutie with a Booty” (that one made me laugh out loud!

Then we fill out all the statistics about ourselves….5’8″ tall….brown eyes….desire a woman between 34-47…..looking for someone honest, caring, compassionate, and sexy!

Wow! I am reading through these and the fear is sky high! I see men that look absolutely crazy….others who look great but sound absolutely crazy…..some that look lost….a divorced, shy man who has young kids and admits that they are just getting by and things are tough because of the divorce….another that says he has a brain injury and is so lonely…..another who looks so arrogant…..and another that has posted close ups of his biceps and every picture shows off his chiseled physique.

My mind is spinning….I cannot make myself sign up. Online seems like an irrational place….a place where people go to pretend they are real people…a place where we go to look through shop windows and try to find someone in two dimensions when real people exist in three. How on earth could I click on someone’s profile and invite them to a cup of coffee? I would not sleep every night before the coffee. I would have to have my friends do a complete background check…fingerprints would be great, and then I would need three references and would need to find someone that I know that actually knows this person and their story! I would have to find someone from my area, and I would have to actually find someone who knows them first and could introduce us in person……perhaps dating sites need to be like LinkedIn….where you can see how you are connected to people…..then you could date within a real life realm….if everyone in your Facebook or LinkedIn or Pinterest…or Google circles who was single would show up…and it would tell you who you know that knows this person….then a dinner could be arranged…..a background check could be done….their story could be shared and there wouldn’t  be flipping out ……worrying that this stranger was not really who they claim to be!

How on earth could I trust someone to tell me the truth about who they are?

And that is the reality….I think online dating just sets it right up there in front of my eyes….on the screen….I am seeing my ex! I see him in every profile….

I remember sitting at lunch with someone who was telling me their story. She was telling me some very tough things about her ex-husband and she stopped a minute and looked at me….”But if you met him….you would think he was wonderful! You would think he was one of the nicest guys you had ever met!”

That stopped me in my tracks.

It made me think about people and their stories. How will I move into a place of trust? God this is scary! I know that for me…online dating can probably never happen….my story is of such a horrible online betrayal……I know for others online dating has led to wonderful marriages….my own dad found his wife online, and they are very happy. I have heard stories of lots of women who find  online dates and have met wonderful people.

I am the one broken…..and I can see that now. I just need to quit beating myself up over it and realize that for me….God will provide a different way because He knows my heart. He knows what I need.  I need to continue to live into “Try less and trust more!” So online dating is really no different in the end. Someone can deceive you in person as well as online. I am well aware of that!

There are plenty of fish in the sea….I am still trying to figure out how to trust just one of them someday.

I Remember

 

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I am finding that I feel different lately. I am walking through the usual….June and July…….the mess…the remembering….the honoring of all that was so painful that day, that week, that month….that year….and the years that followed…….but I am different now.

I can feel it all and grieve it still.

I can talk with my daughter about that day….the one who walked through it with me…in her tender years….having to recall all the ugly, shameful, fearful moments in that day. We still can feel them as if they were yesterday. The call…..the voice….the stranger from the bail bonds office……..the napkin where I wrote the awful truth that was conveyed on the phone…..the feeling of tumbling down a long hole and wishing the world could somehow right itself again.

But no longer do these feelings drag me to despair. I can look back now and see….really see…the sin and the darkness….the selfishness and the ugliness…..

But I do not fall apart here. I do not long for a restoration here. I do not regret my actions on any of those days. I am able to look back and see the good that God was already working….that He was already planning….

And now…. four years later…..I can rejoice in the healing that is manifesting itself even now.

I am no longer a scared and rejected…..abandoned and betrayed wife.

I am a stronger and more capable mother…….a loving teacher…..a leader….and a woman on the edge of a life so filled with wonder and glory that I hardly know which way God will have me grow……. into more…into much more….in the coming years.

I have battled through fears and doubts and loneliness.

I have come to see myself a little more clearly and a little more gracefully.

I have traveled and served and planned and executed plans……..and I have found a joy that is beyond my wildest imaginations some days.

I sit across from strangers and they become friends. I sit beside men and women I hardly know and invite them into my heart quite easily now. I open my heart and arms to any and all at times and have a much richer life for it.

I cannot help but look back and feel the weight of the twenty-five years I lived. I see their agony and their glory. I have such wonderful memories and such painful ones….all wrapped together and inseparable because of the nature of marriage.

I walk forward the same and yet more….I got to take much more away from this than just grief. I can almost….at times….rejoice in it. I was saved from a fate worse than death…..I was plucked from a marriage that was empty and lost……I was released from a vow that had lost all meaning and instead was eating out my heart. I was rescued by Love…..a love so relentless and powerful that it had the ability to shake me to my core….when I most desperately needed shaken to my core. I was wooed by the creator of the universe because He loves me.

I know it……I have always known it. I am beloved…….

And today is no different. Four years ago….I learned that a man gave up my heart for an empty promise of fulfillment. A man decided for years that our world was not enough and walked away hoping to find more….

But today….I am more….I am loved more than I ever knew….and have been shown a love that is deeper and wider than even a nuclear blast zone created by one man’s sin. I have been pulled into the heart of a God so loving and tender that even a betrayal of everything I hoped for cannot dampen it. I have been wooed by a God so intimate and vulnerable that He allows my sin to be felt and then released by His own actions……He takes my punishment and in its place…..gives me life and love abundantly more than I deserve.

It makes absolutely no sense….but in the end….this day was meant to crush my spirit…..break my heart….and remove me from love…….

Instead this day has crushed all doubt…….broken open my heart……..and removed from me a wall of separation that kept me from fellowship and deeper relationships. What the enemy desired for evil….my God uses and will continue to use for good….because

He loves me!

 

Shark Infested Waters

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I am so thankful for the friends in my life. They are people who can interject clarity into any issue. Women are so important in my life….

I didn’t always know just how important they were.

A friend was the first person I talked to on the phone…..and she heard my heart and came to be with me….not to fix me….just to be with me and hear me and see me in this place.

God sent more friends….ones that brought communion and ones who sat with me when I cried. He sent friends to bring me soup and others to send cards of encouragement.

I have new friends….ones that are closer than I ever imagined friends could be. They have become family.

It seems every time I turn around God is surprising me with little treasures from friends.

Tonight I was at dinner with a friend….a parent whose child I teach. She is a treasure. She told me about reading some of my blogs and about her reaction to all that had transpired in my life. I sat there dumbfounded as she told me she cheered when she saw my name change to Ms. Shriner. She was so affirming and so happy for me as she saw me get stronger and come through all the trauma. I was speechless because for me…that name change was so covered in shame….so difficult, and I felt like such a failure. It was a breath of fresh air to know that others saw it as a victory and a celebratory event…..not that my marriage had ended….but that I was healing and making decisions and becoming someone with a voice again. What I felt was shame-filled and gave me a desire to disappear in a Christian community instead was received as life-giving and affirming. No one had looked down on me….instead they were all standing with me….supporting me….loving me in all my difficult places.

But now I am further along in healing, and I have begun to realize how little I know about men as I begin dating again. I never realized how little I know about people in general until I woke up from a long sleep of twenty-five years and began having to look around and figure out who I was again.

This is scary.

There are actually moments where I feel unhinged. I feel like someone who quite possibly will never figure this out. There are moments when I cannot stay in the safe little world of teaching and mothering and cannot stay in the safe little place I took myself in my marriage. I see that I am not safe, and I make decisions and those decisions lead to other decisions and suddenly I am out to sea without even a life raft.

I see on some days that every time I open my mouth….open my emails….open my heart….I am deciding to be unsafe.

This world is full of people ….sinful people. All of us are sinful. I find that we are all swimming in shark infested waters. Each time I interact with someone I am deciding to either be selfish or giving.  I am deciding to be truthful or untruthful. I am deciding to be open and vulnerable, or closed and guarded.

I don’t like this.

I have been brought to this point kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to be here. I was under the impression that my life would be lived out in simple monotony…..teaching….finishing the job of parenting…..living in a marriage that felt empty most days…..perhaps finding new strength and new meaning in years to come….someone in a shell…created by her own selfishness and inability to face sin…..and choosing to remain safe rather than reach out and up for salvation.

I didn’t decide to open up and learn about this new and confusing world where everyone makes decisions and everyone is either moving closer to Heaven or closer to Hell. I didn’t see myself in the grey world cued up for a ride up to the High Country….on a bus to somewhere that is too solid for my feet to stand upon (see C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce). I am not ready….I shout it daily.

I have gone on coffee dates…..I have met men…..I have talked….I was vulnerable! I just cannot seem to feel safe….my insides scream and this seems MUCH too difficult for any mere mortal.  No one is supposed to have to go through this at fifty.

I have had someone invest time in me….seem interested in me…..talk to me tenderly and yet…..reveal his sin to me. I am learning to walk and trying to trust….but the mountain only seems to expand and get bigger as I ascend each hilltop, another looms out in front of me. There is no end of trauma and triggers…..doubts and times of panic.

It is only after talking to a friend that I am able to move forward in vulnerability. She remembers these feelings too. She remembers the trauma and the triggers and the fears. She is able to take them to her husband, and he comes for her there and calms her fears. I have to begin being vulnerable enough to voice my fears. There just is no way around this…..I have to walk through it instead.

So I will gather my wits and senses and head to counseling. I will head to a friend’s house. I will call another friend. I will journal. I will speak my feelings to someone close to my heart. I will cry. I will panic. I will think things through, and I will try to make myself safe.

And God will come and show me how unsafe I really am….and will allow me to run to Him once again…..bury my face in his shoulder and cry about how unfair it all really is!

Goodness….I am thick-headed and stubborn. When will I learn that I never make myself safe…..and when will I just simply begin to rely on the only safe One to come and tell me where to walk?

No Blinders to Shade my View

I feel like such an ugly person today.

I am the woman who thinks that porn and chat rooms and Ashely Madison and PornHub and all the darkness out in today’s society….is normalized….is growing more normal….is terrifyingly normal in our world.

I have to ask men, “So…what is your relationship with porn?” as I date because I know….I have first hand experience…real life….I lived through a marriage with a spouse who was a full fledged sexual addict. And no one….not even me….had any clue! I was as naive as the next girl….maybe more.

Today….with my eyes wide open….I have seen and heard from women who come from good marriages and are good Christians….that sons are affected…their sons and it grieves their hearts. I have heard from women whose husbands of 10, 20, 38 years have been living in this darkness and living another life on the side and they didn’t know….they had no clue. I have heard women tell me about being raped…..having their children molested……enduring verbal abuse…..physical abuse…..and just feeling so empty and disconnected for years……never figuring out the causes or the root problem until….either he was arrested….or he decided to give up and divorce them. Then the pieces fell into place and the world began to take focus and all the little red flags that seemed so harmless came into view and then….and only then….after the trauma of discovery and destruction of their lives….did they see what sexual addiction really is and how pervasive and wide spread it is in society.

I would love to say I have heard just as many success stories. I have not. I have yet to hear one. I have only heard of delayed hopes….of trying to work through ….of supporting and praying for restoration and repentance….of thinking you were through the worst and then….BAM! It rears its ugly head again and now he has decided you are not worth  fighting for anymore.

Porn is not the only portal into this world……there are chatrooms for those “honorable” ones who would never debase themselves with mere images on a screen. There are those that would only visit prostitutes because obviously those people choose this lifestyle and like it….or those that go to strip clubs…massage parlors…..or simply cheat with whomever will talk to them in the real world and get pulled in by their lies and seduction. It is a myriad of multifaceted destruction…..sex addiction. It plays no favorites….priests and teachers…..bankers and financial accountants…..scientists and artists….doctors and lawyers…..there doesn’t seem to be a preference or a job that helps a man or woman stay out of the pit….

There seem to be no end of the women who would cheat with a man….and men who would cheat with a woman. There seems no end of people who would film rape and sex and deviance and darkness…..and no end of people who would consume this “free speech”.

So here I sit….having been forced to see with no blinders on to shade my view……

I am at once heartbroken….and hopeful.

I see that my heart is broken. My heart aches for the way my life was destroyed…..by the way my daughters have been hurt…..They lost a father, and I lost a husband to this plague. I am heartbroken thinking about how they will find men to marry who are pure and honorable, and who will choose not to give in to the culture on this. I am heartbroken thinking of the people who feel the need to be in these films and those who desire to make these movies. I am heartbroken over the prostitued, the abused, the used and objectified……the empty….the seeking….the lusting masses who are searching for something more and deeper and fulfilling in a way that this cheap sexual exploit can never, NEVER give them. The meaning they so earnestly try to find using their flesh….only comes through truth, goodness, and beauty. They will never find what they are looking for inside a woman….or in the arms of a man.

I am hopeful because I know my God. He will find a way out of this….for me….for my daughters….for those who truly seek Him with their hearts and minds. I know that even if the whole world should consume this lie…..even if every man I know and every woman I know succumb to this evil…..my God will still find a way to make something beautiful of this mess. I will not seek to find a man who is perfect….but I will not settle for a man who is perfectly OK with evil and darkness. I will find a companion to fight this battle alongside…..someone who abhors using others for selfish reasons….someone who believes heroes still exist, and that they are ordinary people who love and cherish their spouses and raise their sons and daughters to know what that looks like.

What a long month I have ahead…these are the weeks that try my soul and grieve my heart. I remember…..I remember, and I refuse to give up. Sexual addiction will not define my life…..but neither will I ignore it and pretend it does not eat away at the very moral fiber of our homes. I will become brave enough to speak up and honest enough to tell people what I experienced and what others have told me.

It is only in darkness that evil thrives….light reveals and illuminates. I will choose to be a light here….not because I enjoy it…..or because I feel the need to tell people about my pain…..

I will choose to be a light so that others can see and avoid and teach and plan and come together to heal each other and refuse to let shame and darkness destroy their lives.

God come for us here! Come and reveal all that is hidden….give men and women the courage to speak up and repent and turn away from this evil. Help families to bear the burden of this broken sexuality that has devoured so many. Help us to walk together in love and hold one another accountable to love as you would have us….selflessly….generously….firmly…..living in ways that please You….not out of obedience only….but out of an abundance of our love for You!

Quicksand

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                   So I am reading another book….this one is titled:                     Boundaries in Dating by Cloud and Townsend.

 I am only in Chapter One…. and already a zinger hit my heart…… Henry Cloud was at a conference for psychologists when one of the speakers said that in his thirty-five years of practice, he has learned from experience that where there is deception, there is no relationship.

Truthfulness is everything.

Trust is everything and when it is broken, it is the only issue to work on.

 He goes on to tell the story of a betrayal in a relationship. The spouse decided to confess and there was repentance but then the offended spouse found out that there was more to the story and that things had really been worse. There was more and….. well…… Henry Cloud says the second betrayal of lying was worse than the first and the relationship now felt like quicksand.

Where there is deception, there is no relationship.

 

Ugh!

I remember the quicksand. I remember the feeling that everything was shifting under my feet, and I was in danger…real and ever present danger. I recall the thirst for truth and unchanging strength. My heart was crying out for a man that would come and make truth the only thing we would work to restore….not images…..not explanations….not trial outcomes….not hiding….not reputations….nothing….but truth. I wanted someone who loved me enough to make working on trust….the most important thing.

I now look back….four years into healing….and see that only true repentance can bring on a thirst for truth to such a magnitude. A woman coming out of a sexual addiction D-Day need not fret about whether her spouse is repentant….just look to his actions. He will be telling truth like there is no tomorrow…spilling every little detail to everyone who matters…..making no excuses for his behavior or choices…….making sure he becomes transparent will be his greatest desire. If he is found hiding….you will know instantly if you are in quicksand. Your heart will feel its full weight as it tries to drag you under.

I have found myself struggling for four years to come to grips with all the lies….. I too desired repentance and restoration. I asked for the whole truth and was given bits and dribbles and falsehoods and tiny scraps, and I know how much this spouse’s heart was ripped asunder every time a new lie was revealed.

Where there is deception, there is no relationship.

I know it to be true! I have lived this and it is extremely painful to get over. Not only did I grieve the lies, I then had to grieve what I thought were the goodness and love. I had to face the lack of truly knowing my spouse in any meaningful way. I was forced to face the lies and the liar. I faced down the fantasy I built that I thought was reality and then….. I had to face my lack of truthfulness. I didn’t speak up about my feelings as clearly as I should have. I needed better boundaries and finally at 50, I am only just beginning to learn them.

Sexual addiction, immaturity, lust, lying, selfishness…..whatever you want to call it….. is so heart-wrenchingly painful.

Where there is deception, there is no relationship.

 

I think about where I deceived him…. Was I kind or dismissive when inside I really felt hurt? Was I passive when I should have given more responsibility to him? Was I hiding my heart when I should have put it vulnerably on display? Was I hiding who I was….because I feared abandonment? Was I more afraid of being alone and having responsibility for my children than his actions toward me? I can’t rightly see because I know what these actions really were without the veil of secrecy now……. so of course  I see differently today.

 I cannot accurately capture the feeling of the gas-lighting and secret behaviors and crazy making things that were said. I can’t quite capture the feelings of fog and doubt and self-questioning that happened every day. I can only barely touch the withdrawal that my heart experienced over time and the way I became someone dead even to myself. I became someone walking and breathing and living to get to the place of dying…… not someone living and breathing and walking together with someone in love and passion to get to the place of life and life more abundantly.

Where there is deception, there is no relationship……. I would add….there can be no love….. only shadows and promises …..

 

It gives me a lot of comfort actually to know that my feelings of emptiness were spot on! I felt the lack and the scarcity because there was lack and scarcity. I felt the lies because there were so many, and they destroyed any real relationship. I was not imagining it, nor was I feeling that way simply because I was unloving. I can look back now and see that my heart loved…… a dream……a shadow….what I thought was real…. But it loved!

So as I move into dating…. If I feel deception, I will know where to work and where to disengage and break things off. I needn’t fear……. I can trust more and try less. I can move in strength and not in fear.

Where there is deception, there is no relationship.

It is a difficult truth to experience…. but I am richer for having walked vulnerably through it instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending. I am getting to the point finally where I can confront untruth or boundaries or feelings in more and more honest ways so that my heart can have love without deception and can engage in true relationships that lead to life and not death.

I am finally at the point where I can face myself….without deception….my flaws and my beauty. I can face that I won’t love everything about someone….and they won’t love everything about me. But in the midst of this…….without deception…..I can face myself and someone else knowing that I can feel safe, and known  and loved only when I am honest enough to be truthful……because without truth…..there is no relationship!

Anything but Graceful

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When you are coming out of a very manipulative and traumatic relationship….doubts and fears can spring up at any point. Working through them honestly and vulnerably is essential.

I have watched women before me who have done this so gracefully. It is amazing to be on this side of it…….watching myself from the inside…..knowing that I feel anything but graceful.

When you have a lump in your chest the size of Montana…..and you are sure that trusting is something that is foolish…..

When you are sure that someone else would make this all look so easy…..and you might be fearless if you could just find….some elusive perfect scenario…..

When you cannot face one more coffee date….or one more moment worrying about if you will be fooled or betrayed or found wanting

Or worse yet….if it was really just you….your faults…..your selfishness that made a happily  ever after unreachable….

I read a book this week…
America’s First Daughter…..

The heroine, Patsy, ….Martha Jefferson Randolph……was portrayed as somewhat cold hearted….she couldn’t cry……she couldn’t tell her husband with passion what she wanted and desired. She stayed behind a wall of intellect and cold, feelingless decisions….She was strong when she needed to be soft…..at least that is what I see in it….because that is what I was accused of….

I am cold…..I am unable to be warm and passionate….

My inner voice declares it, and I have heard it from more than one source in my life…..more than one person who knew me……

So when I read about Patsy I can relate.

But I finally sit here…..seeing her as someone strong….someone who had to make difficult choices and had to hold herself together when things were falling to pieces around her…..and I see…….

She isn’t passionless….

She is someone looking for safety….to be safe…and known….and loved.

I am the same.

I needed those things in order to show my heart. I needed to feel safe. I know when I feel safe I can show up, and when I don’t feel safe….I close myself off and return to that place of safety behind the wall.

I can be strong….terribly strong.

I can be passionless….terribly cold and intellectually driven.

I can be unknowable. I can present myself as completely unfeeling to the world at large.

But in my deepest places….like Patsy Jefferson…..I am simply a little girl who desired to be safe and known and loved who lived through a childhood and marriage in which she had to be strong and in control and very giving.

And now….whenever I feel even an inkling of that….even a hint of weakness or out of control…..of depression…. or selfishness…..passion gone wild…. or lying…. or anger…….anything that resembles out of control at all makes my stomach ache and my heart hurt. I get panicked in my head and my nerves begin to shake.

I feel out of control….or that I have to take control….or like I need to hide.

I remember the feelings….the feelings that suffocated….

The long stretches of having to feel like the world might fall apart. I felt as though if I lost control the world would end…..as if I held everything together through the sheer force of my will….

I felt like others were weak and unable to be trusted. I felt as if they could not make good decisions or couldn’t make right decisions or strong decisions. I didn’t feel like they were always mentally stable  or strong enough to handle any adversity. I felt as though if something fell apart…so would they. I felt as though if one more adversity struck…..if one more bit of bad luck….any more job losses or bad financial decisions…or people who overlooked  when there  should have been a promotion or people who didn’t recognize  potential or greatness in them….then they would not recover and would never get to fulfill their dreams …..

I look back now and know that it was all gaslighting…sheer manipulation..…..all the falling apart and depression and financially bad decisions…all the needing to be great and desire to get noticed  and honored …..all the needing me to be great…all of it was just an effort to cover the fact that desires were out of control….that there was a descent into the madness called lust and addiction happening every day.

So now…when a man  cannot handle everything with strength and grace and an even temper….when he has any struggles….

My heart lurches, and I cannot swallow….

When I am in the car and there is any tension at all over driving directions….

when someone is not completely financially settled…….

When there is any anger at all………..

When there is any regret at all……….

When he is not successful in every way he has ever dreamed of…….

When a man doesn’t feel perfectly in control….calm….able to handle the world alone….and able to do it without anger or stress or lying or cheating….

I feel panicked.

I feel like I may have to go back…to that place…the terribly cold place where I have to be in control. I get to that place where I am panicked and afraid and feel as if no one will ever be strong enough to protect me and take care of me and allow me to be soft and feminine and trusting.

Help me Lord. Help me here to give up control. You alone take care of me. You alone are my protector. I cannot rely on a man to be perfect. No one is perfect…..I am not able to control my world. I am not able but you are! I am not able to control anything or anyone….

You are able to handle my finances….my circumstances….my housing…my food….the world and all that is in it.

I need not fear! With You as my God….I need never fear. Even if I marry. A husband is not my protector….surely he will try, and he will be honorable, and he will make wise decisions if he is a godly man…..but he of all people must look to You!

Help me to give up control here….and trust more even as a I try less.

A Legacy of Words

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                                            Luke 6:45                                               The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

                                       Psalm 19:14:                                           Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer

I am hardly at the beach an hour before I feel the need to wander outside onto the porch and sit watching the rain mist up the ocean. The roar of the waves…the salt…..the humidity…… and the colors are all surrounding me with peace and tranquility. I hear the thunder and see the lightning….they remind me of a dear friend who loves storms at the beach. She sees them as God’s reminder that He controls and watches over even the wind and the waves….He is big enough to be in her heart and in the storm at the same time.

I sat back and cracked open my book….it is called America’s First Daughter….a novel about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter. I love Monticello…..I have the privilege of touring it yearly so as I began reading and it picks up in his bedroom and study, I can picture them vividly. I can see the red leather chair and the bed in the alcove. I can see the writing stand at his desk and even picture him sitting in it….his intellect bright even in his old age.

Then I came to the following line as his daughter ponders Jefferson’s drawing of his tombstone.

Alas…memories are made of more than inscriptions in stone. They’re made, too, of the words we leave behind. And my father left so many.

Oh my goodness…that hit like a ton of bricks. My daughters have a legacy of words. Their father left so many. He will not be remembered only for his legacy of actions…..actions which were at times sweet and so loving and life giving….which also at times were positively heart wrenching…..

He will be remembered for his words.

I imagine those words….the volumes and volumes of conversations…..bubbling up in his heart and alighting in his brain. I see them moving from his intellect to his fingertips where they steal out and bleed all over a keyboard. His personal evil….his desires….his darkness spilling out into the world around him readying themselves to destroy whatever they touched. Darkness and evil have a way of doing that. It destroys and kills and tries to separates us from hope.

My girls’ legacy of words will not be ones that give life. Their legacy currently is one of pain and consequences too numerous to name and too dark to believe from a man who should have held their hearts so tenderly. Their legacy has the power to destroy.

But I look out on this ocean….this storm…..and I am reminded….He is working good even here!

God is taking this legacy and turning it into something beautiful. Their broken hearts will open more readily to His call and His healing because of this wound. They will walk forward into light and a love so deep that this ocean would seem like a drop of water comparatively.

My children will not be left fatherless…..they will not forever feel the sting of that legacy. They will be given…..richly and completely……a new legacy based on His eternal word.

My God…..I am forever indebted to you for your Word. Your words have the power to heal this mess. Your words take that broken and twisted legacy and turn it on its heel. Your words take their broken and grieving hearts and whisper love and peace and faithfulness into them. Surely this is too marvelous for me to understand! I sit here four years after that fearful moment……remembering the legacy…..working through the words…..the actions….the betrayals…..the seemingly never-ending pain……

And I have peace.

 He has come and shown me what a husband does when a wife is hurting. I have been tenderly loved. I have been completely cared for. I have been lovingly shown my sin. I have been wooed and lavished and given more love than I ever imagined anyone could ever give me.

God, come to my daughters……let your words come to them to comfort them as only a father can. Lavish them with your words and your legacy. Pour into their hearts the healing that can only come through Your son. Fill them with the Holy Spirit so that their hearts are renewed and given strength to walk this road. Carry them when they falter and rejoice with them as they come running to You for healing. I am praying and trusting that You will make this right. You will give them a new legacy. And the legacy of Your words will prove even stronger than stone and will fill their memories with beauty borne out of suffering. Don’t waste a tear…..or a moment of their pain…use it all. I am trusting all this in Jesus name! Amen!

Dear Daughters:

Dear Daughters,

Before you choose a husband….think very carefully about your choice.

You are choosing…to love, cherish, honor and obey…..forever….till death do you part!

Is he someone like Joseph?

Nativity

Look at this picture…..no….really look….with your heart!

Is he someone who will be Godly? Will he listen to the voice of God when things look impossible? When he thinks he should divorce you quietly….when he thinks you are awful and horrible and are shameful….will he treat you kindly…..and then will he listen to God’s voice?

 Mary was innocent….and she looked guilty. He didn’t stone her, and he didn’t treat her with contempt….

He was going to divorce her quietly…..but divorce her none the less. It was right and good that he should put her away….she had done the unthinkable….but even then his heart was soft enough to do it with dignity and grace…….until he heard the voice of the angel in his dream.

Is he strong enough to follow the promptings of God when things look impossible?

Does he listen…..and is he strong?

 You will need a strong man in today’s world to be a husband. Is he strong enough to withstand the onslaught of pornography, easy sex, women who would tempt, and movies and books that would draw his heart away?

Is he strong?

Can he keep his desire for success in the proper balance and seek after wealth only so much as it is needed for a stable family? Will he be strong enough to pour his heart into his wife and into his family instead of into himself? It will take strength to overcome himself and pour himself into others first……it takes strength to walk away from the world and all that glitters in order to spend time with family when you feel like you have lost yourself.

Is he tender?

When you tell him you are having a baby….what will his reaction be? Is he tender enough to care about your changing body and the life within you? Will he look forward to the challenges of fatherhood and the responsibility of raising his children? Will he have the strength to discipline himself and offer wisdom to you and his children so that your family can rest in his strength and his tenderness?

Will he be able to navigate your emotions?

 Is he strong enough to feel the full brunt of a woman’s emotions and still hold himself together? It takes a strong man to fight and have opinions in the midst of a woman’s heart. Can he see your point and still have his own and not feel the need to denigrate yours or give in to yours if he feels it is not the way?

Will he be there after the children come?

 This is a tricky one. Sometimes….you cannot wait to share his world….and you only find out later that he doesn’t want to share it with children….that he isn’t mature enough or loving enough or giving enough to actually desire to be a father. Sometimes…he is a boy in a man’s body. Sometimes….he only wants to play at being a man. Then….you have wasted your love and wasted years trying to fix someone who is not willing to change.

Be sure of him before you marry him and have children.

When you lay exhausted…..having traveled through the years ……will he be sitting there beside you….full of questions and thoughts and desires and dreams….but sitting there none the less….anxious to protect your heart and your children from anything that would come in and try to harm them? Will he be someone of character who after the storm has raged….will be seated watching the baby….while you rest? Will he sit closest to the door so that no one could harm you, and will he fill his thoughts with how to care for you best and how to shoulder the responsibility in a way the pleases God?

If he is not all these things….if you do not know whether he will remain respectable and wise and kind and tender and strong…..walk away now.

It is better to be single than to remain in a relationship with someone who is not a man.

A man will be strong and tender….he will not make you feel like you are not worth his time….that you are not worth his sacrifice….that you are not worth protecting.

And he will never tell you that you have ruined his dreams by having children.

Find a man like Joseph…..one with enough honor to do what is right and enough tenderness to listen to God even when everything feels impossible.

So daughters….before you choose a husband…..choose wisely. Look for a man like Joseph.

Brother

My Brother….

It is his birthday…..and he is not here. He is overseas serving our country…..

It is not extraordinary for him to be serving. It is just what he does.

I am so very proud of him. He has been a good big brother….and I love him more as I learn more about him.

My first memories of my brother are from when I was very little…so little we shared a room. His bed was on one side of the window that overlooked the street and mine was on the other. He would talk to me….and help me feel safe. One particular memory I have is of him letting me sit up with him….to see if Santa was real. We tried every which way we could think of to not fall asleep….but we did.

I remember swimming in creeks and watching my older sisters dress him up in yet another Halloween costume so they could all go out and get more candy.

I don’t remember the day he left to live with my dad. I think my little girl heart was so broken that I didn’t want that day to be real. I just have a vague, empty ache where that day should be in my memory.

Next, I remember him coming to visit after I had moved with mom to Florida. I remember how much older he looked and how strong and handsome he was. I loved that my brother was able to be all of those things. He swam in the chilly December pool and was entering the military after his high school graduation.

I remember a phone call that came while I was in college….just to check up on me. I remember talking about music and being a Christian and just how life was going. I clung to that phone call. I wished I could have found a way to let my brother know how much his call meant to me.

I recall visiting him when I lived just outside of Pittsburg as a wife and mother of two young girls. He was living in a house and had a wife and two girls of his own. I desperately wanted to renew our connection and grow closer.

He even came with his family to visit us in the small town of Ambridge, Pa. for Easter dinner that year. I LOVED just having him walk into the house!

I love having a brother!

When my life fell apart a few years ago….he was someone I needed to talk to. I needed to hear his story….his life….our life through his eyes. I recall some of the most striking things he said……We could be dropped off anywhere on the planet Leslie. We would survive. We are tough and resilient. He told me that my dad regretted losing me and always, always wanted to see me again. He told me it would be OK. Life was going to be OK.

He began to call me more often and then….he invited my girls and me up for a visit…..to his house…..for 10 days……!

I remember getting off the plane…..my brother and his wife waiting to pick us up….his smile and welcoming eyes. He took us out to lunch, and we discovered that we both like avocado! Yay…I am a little like my left-handed, avocado loving brother!

That trip was a HUGE part of my healing and moving forward. Until I took that trip, I was just a little lost……just a little too alone in the world.

My big brother, his beautiful wife, and my dad showed us nature to its fullest in western New York…….we hiked and saw deer and went to Niagara Falls on the Canada side. We ate out and celebrated the 4th of July by releasing lanterns and wearing crazy light up headbands that I continue to keep and use yearly. We shopped and made traditional Hungarian Walnut rolls from our mom’s recipe. We got to do some bird watching, ride horses, and he even taught my youngest to ride an ATV when she was too afraid to try on her own. We waded in a creek and collected large stones to line a garden path…..He let me weed in his garden …….we swam in his pool and ate meals nightly that he made out on the grill. …sipping wine and looking at the stars……EVERYTHING my soul needed to start moving toward healing.

I especially recall one evening after everyone had gone to bed…..we stayed up talking…..about life and trauma and moving forward. He looked at me finally and told me in no uncertain terms that if life ever fell apart…..I could live with him. I was NOT alone. I would NEVER be alone. There was NOTHING that could happen that would leave me homeless or destitute……

He would always take me in.

Even reading and writing those words now…..brings me to tears.

I don’t know if he realized what he was doing for me…..but a little piece of my heart was so healed in that moment. I will forever hold that moment in my soul as one of the most lovely…..healing moments in my life.

I am not alone…….so long as I have a brother….I am NEVER alone. He would come for me and he would help me find my feet again. He would not let it all fall to pieces and just leave me to pick it up by myself.

I left his house so much stronger because I had a connection…..with a good man….who loved me…..for no reason other than the fact that I am his sister.

Happy Birthday…to a Good Man…….

I love you Big Brother and I think you are brave and strong and courageous and giving and fabulous. But I also know you as someone who loves the One…the Great I Am……..and I know that we will spend eternity chasing dreams and laughing over all our memories from here……

What a delight to be loved and to love…and know that even death cannot swallow this!

Marvelous to Behold

photo (13)http://drkellyflanagan.com/2016/06/21/the-parable-of-the-mass-shooting-that-didnt-happen/

I read a lovely post today from one of my favorite bloggers….talking about potential….the potential of others to influence our lives…..

I am finding that one of my gifts is seeing potential….As a fifth grade teacher…I peddle potential on a daily basis.

Yet it was a  quote by a guy named C.S. Lewis that stuck out to me……

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

It made me think deeply about some people I have met lately….I hear the stories of my hair dresser and another friend in my head…..

I sat in the chair at the hair dresser’s shop and listened. I listen a lot better now in my life…it is a result of opening up and being vulnerable. Everyone’s stories are much more interesting to me now. I just cannot seem to hear enough. I love knowing that everyone has a story and a purpose and is loved by God. I can appreciate some of the gifts he has given me…..I see potential….I see who they are….the real them….the truest them…..I don’t always see the broken them. I am working on that. Seeing both is important and healthy.

But this woman…my hairdresser was beautiful. She began telling me her story….of desire…..the desire to find an honorable man, a man to care for her heart……

That certainly resonated with my heart.

I asked a simple question as she told me about her plan to get on Match in a few months.…….”So….What would you be looking for on Match?”

She told me she was looking for someone she could respect and look up to…..someone with a vision and a purpose. Someone who had a passion for his work and a direction in his life was what she was searching for. She wanted financial stability……a lack of rage and anger…….kindness and a man who would see her heart………

Those were all things I am looking for.

She was a little rough around the edges…..her language was colorful…..she has worked hard and had a life that showed her determination to succeed even in the midst of having a father filled with anger…..and a divorce that rocked her world. She had a first husband who had been an addicted man and a relationship in which her partner ended his life in suicide because the economy had taken worldly things and made a wreck of them…..and on top of this…her father, whom she loved despite his myriad faults, was dying.

Her heart was beautiful. I loved hearing her goals and hearing her talk about what she desired in a man.

My heart was immediately reminded of another person I had met recently…..a friend. He is someone who knew he needed to find a profession to fill his soul……and who seemed to be looking for a relationship with a woman who sees him. He was looking for meaning in his life and a woman to bond with deeply who would respect him and support him in his work. He was looking for someone to love him deeply and connect on the deepest levels with him. His language was colorful, and he was rough around the edges…..

But they were searching for the same thing…..

And they each thought it would be found in a person….a mere mortal. I do not think either of them sees themselves as worthy or beautiful or as a god-like creature.

It is amazing to me…..this quote from C.S. Lewis can change how you see others….

My two friends are going to be worthy of so much more than they ever imagine. If I were to see them unmasked…..as they really are….wholly Holy…..I might be tempted to fall down and worship them…..my mortal senses would be overcome.

In the Power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to glimpse a little of their true natures. She is a beautiful, tender, and giving woman. She loves so deeply and desires to be so giving and open and vulnerable. She took care of my hair and my needs so completely. She desired to serve her father and bring her family together to honor this man even though he has not seen or cared for her heart in all the ways she needed growing up. She was grieved by his impending death and was ready to do anything needed to connect with her father at the end of his life. She honored his second wife as well as her mother….holding the good that both of them had brought to his life without bitterness or hatred. She loved them all and desired that all of them love him in the end well.

My other friend loves his work…..he desires that people eat food that will heal their bodies and not hurt them. He desires to connect and reach someone’s heart. He loves his wonderful parents and his sister and desires that she be taken care of in ways that would honor her and reach her heart in the midst of illness. He is able to see the injustice of a husband that isn’t caring for his sister’s heart, and he is able to see the injustice of  animals that are not cared for kindly in a world that should honor the lives of the animals that provide food for us. This man holds a moment of silence before a meal and works with the natural rhythms of the earth and all God created it to do. He is not afraid to take risks and is successful in his field.

My thought was that these two souls…..need to really see themselves. Each of these people doesn’t necessarily see their greatness…..and because of that is having trouble seeing the greatness of those around them.

Recently my counselor gave me homework…..the job of finding out what I bring to a room. My goal growing up was to be invisible. I wanted to be absolutely unseen…so no trouble could come to me….no heartache….no danger. I needed safety and caring and decided as a young girl that being invisible offered all that to me. No one can expect too much and no one could hurt me too much if I was invisible. I would simply be a fly on the wall. I wouldn’t miss anyone, need anyone, desire anything, or take too much.

I could simply be.

Well ….figuring out what you bring to a room is difficult homework when you have been invisible for so long.

I began to have to take stock of seeing my beauty…..what are my spiritual and physical giftings? I have to be prepared to use them and bring them to bear for the Kingdom. Knowing you gifts means being ready to use them and hone them and offer them to the King at a moment’s notice. No longer am I able to pretend I am invisible…..I now have to see clearly what I am able, called, prepared, and made to do….and then do it…..for the Glory of the One who made me.

I am not to be prideful….to pretend that I have no gifts or that I somehow created these gifts through my own doing. Instead…in humility….I have to acknowledge my gifts and use my talents to make my gifts shine even more brightly through discipline, hard work, humility, and generosity. I have to make more of them and offer that more to the King…..the One who made me…..so that I can glorify Him.

It is a strange and humbling thing to walk out of invisibility into who He made me to be. I have no idea……where and how and to what end I am learning all this. I am simply aware that it is happening.

I no longer struggle moment by moment with a notion of worthlessness and invisibility…..

I am now grappling moment by moment with ideas and thoughts such as “How do I serve Him more?…How do I use the gifts He has given me in His kingdom here on earth? How do I begin to shine more brightly by allowing Him to use my gifts with the aid of the Holy Spirit?

I hope these two individuals  see themselves in that light. I hope they see their greatness…..their gifts…their holiness that can make them Whole…….and that they shine like the light of a thousand suns. Each of these wonderful people have sin in their lives….just as I do….but they were made for greatness.

I love the CS Lewis quote because even though we are all different…..even when I meet people who are seemingly so different from me…….from the taxi drivers in New York to the man on the subway begging for food…..from my hair dresser to the people I love in Guatemala…….I can begin to appreciate their greatness and look beyond the sinfulness of this broken world. I can begin to see who they really are…..and pray into that for and with them.

It is the same in my fifth grade classroom. I see my students for who they are becoming and are made to be.

I love that I bring something to a room. I am not made for nothing….I am made to reflect the glory of a King so great….a Love so big….that He can take even the broken  vessels of clay and turn them into the most magnificent works of beautiful art.

Thank you, God for giving me eyes to see and ears to hear. Your works are marvelous to behold!

When Image is Everything!

IMG_7943

Learning to communicate…truly communicate is difficult.

Learning to communicate around trauma can be heartbreaking.

When I am in counseling, I am always learning things that teach me how to communicate:

Get a CLUE……Curiosity…..active Listening……..Understanding…..and Empathy………I begin to understand the basics of real, open, vulnerable communication. This is the kind of communication I had never ever experienced growing up or in my marriage.

I learn these and practice them. I feel good about learning them….I even find it easier and easier to practice them in my daily life. I can now listen….and not try to fix something all the time. A daughter can come to me and rant about their horrible day…..they can voice their negative emotions…..and I won’t automatically just try to erase the bad…..cover it up….look only for the good….manage their emotions and then offer them a fix for the solution that negates their feelings.

Now I can sit and listen….really listen and then ask good questions so that I can learn how their heart feels…..I can ask them to tell the story, give details,  offer to hear even more of their emotions……

And then I can understand where they are coming from….how they feel in that place….

And finally I can walk in their shoes and feel WITH them. We can truly connect!

But when the story is around our shared trauma…..

My heart stops, and I just want to see the good and cover the bad and run and not hear more and find a fix for all this brokenness.

But I can’t.

I have to learn to listen and be curious about how they walked through the same story……I have to ask them their story and hear it….really hear it and begin to understand what the same trauma has done to them….in a different way because I walked it as an adult. Then I have to understand the bigger picture with them….pull in what was really happening in our lives at that moment…in his life….in my life….in society….in school….in our marriage….in their family…… with sisters….all of it.

I have to help refocus and fill in gaps and answer questions and relive the moment.

And there is the trouble.

When someone you loved…..was living a double life……whose motives were split up between goodness and evil….EVERY memory can be swept away……

Today we discussed how the good memories are the most difficult. The happy birthday party from when she was nine…….the balloons and under the sea theme….the papa who was King Triton……the happy, safe, wonderful feelings of having a daddy who cared for her heart and was there making her day so , so, so very special…….

They are all smeared with trauma.

Now we have to re-see that day and feel all the love and beauty…. and ……….now doubt and evil.

We look for the real motives….Was he unselfishly enjoying his little girl…..or showing off and being “the good dad” as  image management? Was he full of love and strength and valor……or vile desires and selfishness and horrible thoughts? Was he really wishing he could be somewhere else, doing something else…..with someone else? Or was he fully in the moment, wonderfully playing the role of father because he cherished his little girl?

My gut tells me it was both. The evil was completely mixed with the good. They were both present. Conversations from chat rooms tell me that it was both…..each moment he desired to be and do and become both the evil and the good man.

And that hurts the most!

I didn’t know that until today. I didn’t realize why that hurt the most….but today it became clear.

Those good and bad….evil and good mixed……make me cry the most because…….

He truly loved us.

He really was feeling the love and pride and desire to be a father, and he cherished that role as well as the role of husband….

But he loved the other more.

He didn’t feel the desire for the good man deep down in his heart overwhelmingly crowding out the evil…… the love he felt for us and for his role as father and husband did not help him desire to leave the evil behind and walk away…..and ….he did not use that love to be brave and honorable and open and vulnerable. He decided that his “good man” image was more important than leaving behind the “evil man” who lived in his heart. His love didn’t drive him to the cross to confess…..instead the evil man decided addiction was more important and managing his image was easier than falling at the feet of the One who could have saved him.

And that hurts so much.

To know that someone loved you…..and your children….his children….but it didn’t impact his choices…….he didn’t let it reach his heart deeply enough to bring sin into the light…..

To know that his image…..the role and looking good was more important to him than actually being good…..is the MOST hurtful thing of all.

It makes my heart grieve….because the damage that lie caused was unbelievably painful, and my girls and I will continue to suffer from the consequences for a lifetime. IT will lessen….it will diminish…but it will never go away completely.

When a man’s image of himself is that he can manage his own sin alone, in secret, without dying to himself and inviting light into his soul……

When image is everything……..love becomes nothing.

When image is more important than repentance……love cannot take hold of your heart.

I desire to be open and vulnerable and real and filled with light.

I will not maintain an image.

I am asking God to come and break me open and see my ugliness and love me still. I am asking for a man to come and break open my heart and life…see my ugliness…..and love me still.

I am trying to open my life to my children, show them my sin, show them how I seek repentance…..and love them with all I have in my heart.

My image is meaningless unless it conforms to Christ’s. If others cannot see Christ in me…..if I am only a shell…a good picture…a seemingly good person….but I know that sin has hold of me, and I am hiding it…………love cannot flow out of me……and love flowing out is the most beautiful thing a broken person has to give.

Thank you, God for breaking me open. Thank you for allowing me to see where I was managing my sin. For showing me how I was trying to “do” everything…..manage everyone’s image of me……and guard my heart so it couldn’t break. Thank you for allowing me to show my ugly parts…..my sinful parts…..and my broken parts……so that you can love me even in the midst of them. Thank you for your extravagant love…..that through these broken places…..can now flow out…..overflow….into a needy and dark world.

Less of me….more of Him…..I need no image but the image of my Savior opening His arms to take my sin as His own.

a life in process, beauty all around us, and finding our place in the world