Author: eowyn895

Words Have Meaning

Words Have Meaning

When we first joined our church in 2016, I asked the pastors for intervention and help in my marriage. For the past few years, the church leadership team (comprised of a few pastors and several elders) have been more than willing to listen to us, challenge us, fast with us – and while they and I have butted heads more than once, I trust their love for God and His Word, and I trust in their sincere affection for my family. (This mutual edification is – unfortunately – not the typical story I hear from other spouses who seek the Church’s aid in their marriages.)

In speaking with three of the families serving in our church’s leadership, I was both heartened and saddened to see how ‘normal’ Christian marriage relationships can work.

I saw honesty as each spouse admitted ways in which they’d failed the other. I saw both beautiful humility and sincere concern for the others’ heart, balanced with a realistic look at their own imperfections and deep need for the Holy Spirit’s work.

But a “generally healthy marriage with temporary low points” has not been my experience. My years of wedlock have been hovering at a consistent “low” of sadness, with positive seasons being the exception.

My uncle often says “Words have meaning,” and I’ve taken that advice to heart as someone who wants to choose her words intentionally.  After all, a word’s definition/usage evolves with time and culture – so, dialogue is absolutely essential to explain the speaker’s ‘meaning’ in order to rightly understand the conversation itself. 

One of these changing words is abuse, and focusing on its meaning has already seen very difficult, growing-pains-kind-of discussions between myself, counselors, and church leadership.

Christian counselor and author Leslie Vernick writes:

“Some people object to singling out certain behaviors or attitudes as abusive. They say things like, “sin is sin.” Or “We’re all sinners.” I don’t disagree – all abuse is sin, but I think it’s critical that we get more specific. 

For example, all cancer is illness, but lung cancer is a much different illness than a common cold and as such requires a much different treatment plan. When a doctor tells his patient, “You’re sick,” he’s correct but imprecise.  If the doctor doesn’t also tell his patient he’s sick with lung cancer, the doctor is not telling him the whole truth.

In the same way, when we tell someone “you’re a sinner” that’s true, but if we’re not truthful with the kind of sin patterns that he or she has been blind to, then he/she won’t get the help necessary in order to stop. Not all sin is the same, nor does all sin have the same consequences on other people that abusive action and attitudes have.”

// Abuse treats someone as if he/she were an object
to control and use rather than a person to love and value. //

Leslie Vernick

“Abuse.” Sigh. 

I don’t want to use the wrong word. 
But I need to use the right one. 

Been trying to look back over my marriage objectively, as one pastor asked me to do, to see if it has really been as “hellish” as I currently think. Has my marital sadness been a result of an emotionally abusive husband? Or has it just been… sad?

Leslie Vernick again:

“A disappointing relationship is one in which there are a letdown of expectations in a relationship. It’s not what you thought it would be. There isn’t obvious sin, disrespect or indifference, but there isn’t as much romance, talking, sex or connection as you wanted.

difficult relationship is one in which there are many stressors pressing in on the relationship that make it challenging. This may include blended family issues, in-law or ex-spouse issues, health challenges, difficult children, financial setbacks, job changes, frequent moves, as well as personality and cultural differences. If the couple handles these with mutual effort, compassion for one another, honesty and respect – usually difficult does not become destructive.

destructive relationship is one in which the personhood of the other is regularly diminished, dismissed, disrespected and demeaned.  There is a lack of mutual effort at maintaining and repairing relationship wounds. The is a lack of mutual accountability, but rather one has power over the other either physically, emotionally, financially, mentally, spiritually or all of the above. There is a lack of accountability or responsibility accepted for harm caused to the relationship, and relationship wounds are denied, minimized or blamed on the other.

In a destructive relationship, you don’t just feel it’s hard, you feel like you’re dying inside.”

Yes. I’ve increasingly felt like I’m dying inside. So does that mean my husband has been emotionally abusive? 

Some men hear me describe what happens, and their response is something along the lines of: “Well, I’ve done that. At my worst, I’ve acted that way – you know that’s normal, right?”

You at your worst is my husband at his best. Let that sink in.

I wonder if it’s difficult for godly people to call out another’s actions as “abuse” because they recognize aspects of themselves in the One abusing.

Bob Hamp of Think Differently: Counseling illustrates a point in his lesson on “Understanding and Responding to Abuse” – he states that the abuser/victim scenario is really one of misplaced responsibility. The abusive party won’t take responsibility for their action/inaction, and instead put that responsibility on ANYONE or ANYTHING else. Here is my rough transcription of Bob’s teaching:

// No abuser thinks of him/herself as an abuser. Somebody who is a control freak doesn’t think they’re a control freak – they just think they’re right.

In the same vein, no abuser looks in the mirror and says, “Ugh, I wish I could stop abusing the people that I love!”  

Usually what happens in their thought process is something more like this:  “If only [the victim] would stop that, then I wouldn’t have this problem – see, my problem is really a little problem, and everyone else provokes that problem to be bigger.” 

The [abuser] has a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ in their mind:

“Look, okay, I’ve got a struggle. But I could get over that struggle if YOU would just ________________’
… if you would just meet me at home with a kiss, if you would just give me more sex, if you would give me less criticism, if you would give me more support, etc.

I’m not an abuser, I just have a little problem that everyone misunderstands. In fact, the person I most want to understand DOESN’T understand – and you won’t give me what I need to not have a bigger problem. Therefore, it’s YOUR fault that I am the way I am!”

I can’t describe my marriage relationship as one whether either spouse occasionally is rude, or selfish, or shouts – once in a while, or maybe for a stressful season – then the offending spouse eventually realizes that they’ve hurt the one they care about, apologies are given, forgiveness is extended, and the couple ends up a bit stronger.

No, it’s quite different when there is a pattern of hurt that does not alter when confronted – a cycle of harm that doesn’t repent when called to account. There is a repetitive, habitual element to it. I think that is what abuse is — treating someone as if they were an object to control and use, rather than a person to love and value. 

I have deep grief when someone I love seems unable to grasp God’s unconditional love, extend it to others. While every Christ-follower must wrestle with that truth during their lifetime, it surely can’t be normal or acceptable for abuse — for regular mistreatment — to comfortably reside in a heart shared with God’s Holy Spirit.

Emotional abuse. Maybe those words still don’t sit quite well with you, and I understand. But:

No matter what we call it – conduct that is
chronically destructive, unrepentant, and self-centered
is NOT compatible with Christianity.

I encourage you to watch the full Facebook video from Think Differently: Counseling on ‘Understanding Abuse’. This video speaks specifically to those who are observing the dynamics between an abuser and a victim . An elder’s wife told me: “When I saw that the length of the video was actually an hour, I almost didn’t watch it. But I’m so glad I did take time for it. It’s really key to what we need to hear in your situation. This is the difference between a professional counselor who can discern — look at the underlying issues, and knows how to help — versus well-meaning lay people who look at a situation and call it for what it LOOKS like, and counsel accordingly.”

Portrush

Portrush

I wasn’t at all sure I felt at ease when I first arrived – it was very gray outside, bit rainy – the houses seemed empty and faded, and the ocean has a loud voice that’s quite different from the coasts I’ve visited thus far.
 
But as soon as I turned a corner along the walkway and saw a little bench set beneath the yellow gorse flowers, something shifted and I felt genuinely happy to be there, not wary any more. (Actually, the only thing I brought back for myself from Northern Ireland were those little yellow flowers, pressed in the pages of my blue journal, and now set in a locket.)
I sensed that the houses and cottages along the way weren’t empty and faded after all – they were stalwart and strong and weather-worn from years of relentless sea-gales, and I liked them for that. The ocean was certainly loud, and I wasn’t nearly acquainted enough to brave putting my feet in the water this time – but the roaring wasn’t threatening, just bombastic and rather a show-off in its powerful beauty. The gray gave way often enough to fair skies and rainbows, and the ferocious wind that came and went wasn’t so much miserable as it was mischievous. I preferred the volume of fewer people & dogs walking along the Ramore Head – preferred it to the more congested bits of Belfast. (Though, to be fair, I didn’t wander long enough in Belfast to get a good grasp of her character, and I ought not judge this time around.)
I had very hard conversations with the Lord as I walked the Giant’s Causeway – hard for me, anyway, because I had heavy questions. His answers surprised me in their grace and simple love. So I darted to-and-fro in the big lichen-y rocks and found all manner of tiny beauties and colors, and I knew He delighted in the rambling as well. 
 
I was right proud of myself for driving on my own. Other side of the road and everything. Hooked up the iPhone and sang along with Gordon Lightfoot and America, pulled over many a time to walk a bit in the grass and just breathe. I hadn’t tasted air like that before, though it put me strongly in mind of my uncle’s small farm in southwest Louisiana – damp, a bit livestocky, old, green.
 
I want to go back to Portrush, and take more time along the coast when I go back. Hoping to go back, that is. A few weeks ago my soul was in pieces and the sharp edges needed examining – Northern Ireland was a safe and beautiful place for me to take refuge, start putting those pieces back together.
Raking Leaves

Raking Leaves

I put on a hoodie, earphones, and gloves, then began to rake the yard. I’ve been waiting for the big tree to drop its entire load of leaves before tackling this chore, and with the recent rain, it was an undertaking that I knew would take some time and much effort.

It wasn’t just a layer of bright yellow leaves – there was another layer of brown, then black, then decaying leaves. Silver trails from slugs and snails, moss-covered broken sticks. It was slow going. I took a break three times in the course of an hour and a half, staggering inside to fill a glass with water and sit on the kitchen floor, legs stretched out and my head leaned back against the kitchen cabinets. I drank, and breathed, and drank, and breathed, and closed my eyes. Then I would take a deep breath, finish the rest of my water, and go back outside to either rake a few more piles or stuff the leaves into large black plastic bags.

I knew there was something God was teaching me in the labor and the solitude and the monotony of a difficult and taxing activity. I asked Him to help me be intentional and attentive.

Later that evening, after a shower and a quick bite to eat, I visited a friend’s church. She had felt led to invite me to the worship service, and I felt – again – that there was a moment that God wanted to have with me in that place. 

During the songs, I ended up on my knees with my head pressed on the backs of my hands, which clutched the pew in front of me. I sang as I prayed, prayed as I sang. And when I finally just opened my mouth to say the most honest words at the top of my heart, all I could repeat was: “I want to be unmarried. I want him to go away, out of my life. I want him to be far away, gone.” And I didn’t really know what to do with that emotion.

After everyone was in bed that night, I told a friend that I had confused emotions about that prayer. She encouraged me to take those emotions to Jesus – name them, say them out loud, and find out what they were all about.

It’s a beautiful time when it happens: I fell asleep talking to Jesus, able to name and finally understand the meaning behind my repeated prayer for separation… and then I woke up a few hours later in the utter stillness and quiet, and the Lord finished telling me what He’d been whispering in my heart earlier that day as I raked the leaves.

At my friends’ church, I’d prayed about being away from my husband over and over with raw desperation, because of Fear.
“What are you afraid of?”
“I’m afraid that his behavior will seem like change, and it will be just enough to make them tell me to stay with him.”
“Why does that make you afraid?”
“Because I don’t want to be married to him.”
“You’re afraid of others telling you to stay in your marriage?”
“Yes.”
“They can’t tell you to stay in your marriage. That is your choice alone.”

And I felt peace.

There was another post-midnight revelation:

I’m raking up these dead leaves, and it makes me think of all the layers of marriage-deadness that have accumulated in my life over the past ten years.

No friendship.
No affection.
No tender care.
No equality.
No understanding.
No words of kindness.
No mutual pursuit of holiness.
No conversations about the goodness and mystery of the Christian life.

Dead leaves, dead leaves, the symbols of thousands of moments that I dreamed and prayed for, prayed to share with a man who loves me deeply because he loves Christ even deeper. All the dead moments, layered in decay, and I strained my body and became short of breath as I raked them into piles and gathered them, slugs and dirt and dirty water and all, into my arms and shoved them into bags.

They were heavy bags. A few leaves // a few moments weighed not much at all, but when pressured into a smaller space I was amazed at how heavy they became. I dragged the bags across the yard, and I thought about how I have been dragging the dead weight of my marriage for many years. A neighbor gave us the bags, asked us to save the leaves for him so that he can use them as compost for his garden.

What is dead weight to me has purpose for life and growth.

These past few months have been torturous in their day-by-day, painfully slow speed. I am desperate to get out of this place of waiting. But just as I took breaks to rehydrate and rest from the intense workout of raking, I understand now that God has set the length of this season because He loves me, and He is caring for me.

He knows I cannot push through the entire process quickly, because I am not strong enough inside – any more than I have the physical capacity to rake up all the dead leaves in record time and move on. God knows I need times to push myself, to be challenged, to feel the pain and lose the breath, get weak in the legs, and take off the gloves, go into my warm home, drink cool water, rest myself and close my eyes, until I feel I can go back outside again.

He wants this cycle of contending and respite for my soul, too.

He is a good Father.

Your Good Daughters

Your Good Daughters

Proverbs 2 Prayer:
 
Oh my Father – if I accept Your words and store up Your commands within me, turning my ear to wisdom and applying my heart to understanding—

indeed, if I call out for holy insight and cry aloud for supernatural understanding, and if I look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then I will understand the fear of YOU and find YOUR knowledge. For You alone give wisdom; from Your mouth alone come knowledge and understanding.

I am believing You hold success in store for me when I am upright,
I am believing You are a shield to me when my walk is blameless,
that You will guard my course when I am just and protect my way when I am faithful.
 
Then – THEN – I will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter my heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to my soul. Discretion will protect me, and understanding will guard me. Wisdom will save me from the ways of godless people, from humans whose words are perverse though they seem fair, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.
 
YOUR wisdom will save me also from an adulterous spirit, from the wayward spirit with its seductive words, who would have me prove unfaithful to the partner of my youth and ignore the covenant I made before God. Surely that spirit’s words lead down to death and its paths to the realm of the dead. None who listen and follow after it return or attain the paths of life.
 
Thus I will walk in the ways of Your good daughters and I will keep to the paths of Your righteous warriors. Let me be upright so I will live in the land, I want to be blameless so I can remain in it; but I know that if I am wicked I will be cut off from the land, and should I prove unfaithful, I will be torn from it.
You Shall Embrace A Son

You Shall Embrace A Son

Little black sugar ants are apparently a “thing” in this part of the US. I have just swept and and run a Swiffer mop over the floor beneath our dining table, an area that only stays clean in the night and wee hours of the morning when no children are present to eat. In a few minutes I’ll spray some diluted peppermint oil around the baseboards and put down some ant gel. The kids don’t mind the ants – my son squishes them and my youngest daughter puts them on her arms and gives them all the same name (‘Lucy’).
 
Cleaning the floor has become a bit of a mania the past few days, as I’ve reached the final couple of weeks before Baby Boy’s due date, and am quite willing to go into active labor whenever it’s convenient for my body to do so. I’m at the stage where I spend at least a couple of hours a day lying on a flat surface in stiffness or just-achey-enough pain to either sleep fitfully, or lie there Googling things I already know, like “when will my water break” or “what do true labor contractions feel like” or “what is pregnancy really.”
 
It’s my fifth pregnancy – he will be the fifth baby I deliver. And yet when I speak with people there is a hesitation on how exactly to answer the question “Oh, how many children do you have?”
 
Well, I have the boy-who-eats-more-every-day, the blonde Valkyrie who sings about everything, and the cherry-mouthed redhead with round sea-color eyes. But there is another daughter who is far away from me in every sense possible, and she would have been one year old this month.
I looked at my daughter’s photos for the first time since last February – the photos we took of Baby Girl in our little bathroom before we wrapped her in brown satin fabric and rested her away in a little hand-painted box. She fit in the palms of my hands, a gentle heart-shape.
 
In my college days I took several semesters of figure drawing, and before we drew live models we spent weeks studying and sketching the human skeleton, the muscular system.
 
Looking at her fairy limbs, I am still in awe of the fine bonework, the tiny turn of a wrist with tiny fingers as frail as breath. Her jawline and wry curve of her mouth are an exact match for her older sister’s grin.
 
Seventeen weeks, in the safest and warmest and most loving environment on this diseased, war-ridden earth, and she was simply gone, with no explanation.
 
Fast-forward to the present. A few weeks ago I woke up with an anxious feeling that, in a matter of minutes, turned into the most terrifying panic attack I have experienced in the past year. I only started having them about fifteen months ago, but this one was so profound I decided to go into the hospital to make sure that I wasn’t actually having some kind of heart attack. (I wasn’t, everything checked out perfectly healthy. But now “anxiety” is on my chart, which is kind of discouraging.)
 
I went up the elevator to the Labor and Delivery floor. I felt somewhat apprehensive, never having come in before, but when I spoke with the nurse over that little phone and the doors swung open to admit me, I thought I would do all right.
 
I stepped into the hallway and approached the nurse’s station to explain my reason for coming in, and when I opened my mouth to greet them, I heard the tiny strained cry of a newborn. And my throat shuts up.
I am back in the Asian hospital on the Labor and Delivery floor – they have never written a death certificate for a seventeen-week old baby and they want a birth weight – the only scale they want to use is the one for living babies – I am standing in the hallway while my husband and our friend walk into the colorful glass-lined nursery and approach confused nurses in white satin hijabs – I thought I would do all right, and then I hear the tiny strained cry of a newborn. And my throat shuts up. I flee down the stairwell back to my hospital room and throw myself sobbing and screaming into the arms of a friend. “She will never cry, she will never know sorrow, she’ll never be sad,” she comforts me, but all I can reply is “But I am sad. I am sad. What will I do?
 
Present day: Last October, I was in a very broken place where healing had just had the opportunity to begin. We had decided to not return overseas for the time being, and had relocated to a new home in the Pacific Northwest. We began attending a church where, from the very first moments, my husband and I both felt a refreshment and balm to our tired spirits. I had only just begun to wonder if maybe – one day – we could dare to have another baby. The fear and trauma of miscarriage, burial, and funeral had only just ebbed enough to allow the minimal possibility of another pregnancy. It’s so different for every mother.
 
The Scripture for Sunday morning’s sermon was announced, and an elder stood up to read from 2 Kings. The present series was centered around the kings of old Israel, which ones had honored God and brought their kingdom into fruitful and blessed times, and the majority of the other kings who followed their own pride and vices and dragged the kingdom into ruin and disorder. I listened quietly, familiar with the passage they’d announced: one of the stories of the prophet Elisha, where the Shunnamite woman and her husband built a guest room for him on the roof of their home for his many travels. The elder began to read, and then he reached this verse:
 
“At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.”
 
There are no words that I can share with you save one, and that is ‘significant.’
 
When that phrase was spoken, I felt something significant, and looked up, looked around to see if anyone else had been affected in their chest like I had.
 
I struggled with this sensation for a while. I struggled with it when I took the pregnancy test in November. I struggled with it when we told our parents in December. But then I ended up in the emergency room with unrelated pains one night when this new baby was about 15 weeks along (a difficult time, as it was approaching Baby Girl’s time of death) – and when the nurse was running the precautionary ultrasound over my stomach, she asked “Did they tell you if it’s a boy or girl yet?” I immediately answered “No, but I think it is a boy.”
 
And it is. It certainly is a boy, and I’ll see him shortly.
 
I realize that no family’s story is the same when it comes to that first baby after miscarriage. I also realize that there are different reactions when people hear about personal encounters with the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word. I don’t know quite what to make of it myself, except that I believe it’s a chance for me to Trust Him in a way that stretches me on a daily basis. And I want to give Him glory for being the good God who is enough for me – on the darkest and most uncertain days, and on the most beautiful and peaceful days.
“The Water Was Rising”

“The Water Was Rising”

I tuned the radio to the local Christian station, where the DJ was in the middle of announcing an upcoming phone call with a man whose family had lost everything in the recent flooding, brought on by torrential rainstorms mere days after our arrival in-country.

When the recorded phone call was played, I heard a calm, Southern accent explain: “It was nighttime, and the rain kept coming down. It had been raining for hours. The electricity finally went out, and I found a portable radio – I turned on the radio to your station and just listened to the music. And you know, there’s just something… when the water was rising up to the house, just rising up slowly, and I knew we couldn’t do a thing about it…” – his voice broke – “… there was this peace, this peace I felt as I just sang hymns of praise to Jesus. We lost everything. But we had peace.”

I screamed out a sob, driving on the tollway feeder road.

It was the kind of choking sorrow that is so terrible in its silent wind-up, wrenching as it claws its way up your throat. It only lasted about a minute, but the catharsis was a true release. The picture of true helplessness – I pictured the man and his family, powerless against the brute force of Nature as they watched the dark waters swirl up closer and closer to their home in the deep hours of twilight.

And I understood. I understood the crushing weight of impotency, the paralyzing knowledge that something Awful has occurred, is occurring, and will occur, and I am without a single defense. As soon as we’d seen the ultrasound of our baby girl – still, small, and unmoving – the water had begun to rise. And those waters rose at an agonizing, slow pace until I was wheeled back to the operation room to deliver her. The waters began to slowly recede when we walked away from the mound of fresh earth and bright flowers at the cemetery.

But I also understood what the radio man meant by ‘Peace.’ I don’t know that the Lord has ever heard my heart more clearly than when I sang songs to Him during the rising flood. It was horrific and terrifying and heartbreaking. The ending was inevitable (unless He had chosen to intervene) but instead of panic and trepidation, I had been… sustained by Jesus. Held. Peaceful, in a very strange way.

Three months after her burial, now.

There are still sad moments, waves of depression that I feel creeping in around the corners, and I know they will come in, and crash, and then recede. But there are also sudden, deep pits of sorrow that open up under my feet without warning at time. Triggers are sometimes what you’d expect – on our recent family trip to the East Coast, we were driving through a charming downtown area – I was admiring the wisteria and red brickwork, and I stopped at a red light as some pedestrians made their way across. A family walked in front of our van, the mother with short-cropped red hair (like mine) and a very pregnant tummy with children laughing around her. I felt the lightness drain from my face like wax.

We attended a church service where the graduating students were being recognized. There was a beautiful and sweet slideshow of the young men and women, first as babies, then as high school seniors. I thought about the time, coming sooner than we think, when we’ll be putting our kids’ baby photos alongside their own senior portraits. And in the shadows of the church auditorium, I cried for the photographs we would never have of baby girl’s senior year.

For the past two years I have sung almost every night in my children’s room before they go to sleep. Even now, if the thought strikes me, I have to pause and collect myself before singing lullabies to them – because I will never hold Baby Girl and sing her to sleep.

And I tell myself – it seems to match up with the science – that at 17 weeks gestation, her tiny ears were developed enough to hear – oh, friends, you should have seen it: her ears were so very, very perfect and small – the tiny curl of the helix and lobe was one of the most beautiful and precise flourishes I have ever seen.

And I tell myself that perhaps I did, indeed, sing her to sleep.