We’re on the home stretch folks! Thank God, for this is wearying and yet I’m so grateful that I can write from the place of Hope and healing, instead of from the brokenness during which all this took place.
In my last post, I wrote about my forced agreement to let “T” bring his second cousin up from South America as our live-in Nanny, and how subtly and completely her arrival altered the dynamics of our home and my marriage. “She” joined our home approx. January 1987. I ended in approx. 1990 (maybe late 1989?) when after a particularly heated argument, I accidentally blurted out that I wanted to see a marriage counselor. (not!)
Amid the utter insanity that was going on in our home and marriage between 1984-1990, there were some amazing things taking place as well.
- After the family secret of incest was revealed in 1985 and while my dad was still in the hospital recovering from a ruptured aorta, I took my Pastor with me (“T” and kids were attending a small Baptist church with me at the time) to visit my dad and ask him about the accusations against him. He did not deny it and broke down crying, sharing a few details of his own loss and pain as a boy. It was the first and only time I’d ever seen my dad cry. That day, I had the honor of leading my dad to Jesus Christ. It’s one of my most precious memories! He may have done a lot of things wrong during his life and wounded many people as a readout of his own pain and brokenness. But he is still my dad, and one day I will meet him again in Heaven … no longer wounded and broken, but wholly ransomed and restored to the man that God created him to be! That will be a great day!
- My dad died in June 1987, when my youngest daughter was about 8 months old. During the last 6 or so months of his life, I’d begun to feel a stirring of anger over the abuse and pain he’d caused my sisters (I was still blocking off my own memories at this time, but I think the fortress walls were starting to crack, triggering this increasing anger at him for what he had done). My parents had split in 1985(?) and on one particular day I was supposed to go visit my dad, but I was feeling frustrated and didn’t go as planned. A few weeks later I got a call that he had driven himself to the hospital during a heart attack. That delay in seeking immediate help cost him his life. One of my sisters and I were able to see him as they rolled him into surgery – lips blue, ears tinged with purple. I told him I loved him, he replied as he always did “I love you too hon”. Guilt over not visiting him a few weeks earlier consumed me, and I often visited his grave and cried while asking God to tell him how sorry I was for abandoning him in the end. One time, through my tears I noticed a lone man at another grave, mourning deeply … and holding a gun. I got up, slowly approached, and began to tell the man about the love of God. He relinquished his gun to me and I offered him a ride home. With pistol in the trunk of the car, I drove him back to his apartment and returned his gun on the condition that he would go to church with me on Sunday. He agreed, and the following week (and for several after that) my two daughters and I gave ‘Tennessee’ a ride to church. Such a God thing! For only God would think to redirect my grief by giving me the opportunity to help someone else walk through theirs.
- My mom often told me how her dad used to “ball up his fists and hit her mom” (my grandma) when she was growing up, and that he also used to take his anger out on her. As a young girl I recall watching my mom slap one of my sisters across the face for backtalking … she hit her so hard she knocked her off her feet. [Note to self, don’t argue with mom – and I rarely did growing up]. So perhaps it isn’t a great surprise that I also struggled with anger in my parenting. One evening, while my daughters were still very small, I got very agitated that my oldest daughter wouldn’t cooperate with bedtime routines. I grabbed her by the shoulders and started shaking her, screaming at her … and right in the middle of that the Lord whispered to me … “This is how it goes Jenny, one generation passing it on to another – and you will pass it on too, unless you change”. It broke me! I wept and cried out “Change me Lord! Whatever it takes, whatever it costs me – I will gladly pay it but let this spiritual inheritance of violence and abuse stop with me!” I won’t say it’s been easy, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight … but God honored that prayer and has helped me do the work required for healing and to sow seeds for new generational inheritances for my daughters, step-children and grandchildren.
- By the time we’d moved to the better school district, the extent of how far I’d fallen and how lost I was spiritually was evident by the chaos I was tolerating in my home and marriage. I was either going to lose my mind, or I needed help. One night while “T” was out with “She”, I finally hit bottom. I remember sprawling out on the floor of our bedroom, nose to carpet with arms extended and palms turned up and crying out “Help me Lord! Please save my marriage … I know you can! But more than that, I want to go home! I’m lost, so lost I don’t even know how to get back to you! Send me someone to help me. I open my hands and give you permission to take away whatever you must (even my marriage) but bring me home. I want to go home!” The following week, I made a wrong turn running errands and stumbled upon BV Bible Church. I wasted no time in attending with my daughters and was soon finding strength in this lovely community of Christ followers.
- Through my daughters, God was teaching me about Himself as my Heavenly Father. Since I grew up under conditional love, I naturally perceived that God’s love was conditional … isn’t that why the Bible is full of rules that “good Christians” are supposed to live by? I remember very clearly when my heart finally understood His heart … I was walking past the bedroom where my two little darlings were sleeping, and I opened the door to look in on them one last time for the night. Breathing softly, their hair draped over pillows and faces alike, my heart nearly exploded with love for them. I could have stood watching them for hours and then it hit me …. “Lord! Are you saying that THIS is how you love ME? This all-consuming, condition-less, heart-exploding, deep connectedness and love unrestrained … this is how you feel about ME?” “Even more”, He replied. That wrecked me, and completely altered my view and understanding of God as my Heavenly Father. I finally understood that I was and always had been loved, regardless of choices I’d made or what rules I kept or broke. He loved and adored me just as I was, where I was, and He wanted healing for me even more than I wanted it for myself!
Having blurted out the desire to see a counselor, and now obligated by “T’s” agreement to do so, I asked the Pastor of BVBC if he would counsel us. Instead he referred me to a local Christian Counseling Center. “T” only attended 3 sessions with me, and then he bailed out … he was that confident in his ability to play anyone. No matter, for even in those few sessions I recognized that Counselor John could help me, and so I continued without “T”.
During one of our first few sessions, Counselor John asked me to write a list of my earliest childhood memories of being hurt. I came back with a short list that started at 4th grade when the teacher told me I had a nose like a Swede. He pressed for earlier memories and I explained that I honestly couldn’t remember much of anything prior to 4th grade … but there was the family story.
The family story is that I was three years old and had climbed up the kitchen counters and somehow gotten my hands on one of my mom’s glass serving platters. I had dropped it and it shattered into pieces on the kitchen floor. The story is that I followed my mom around for several days afterwards crying, pleading, and begging her … “Please mommy! Please don’t stop loving me.”
Counselor John suggested we start there and using a form of hypnosis asked me to talk him through as much as I could remember. Since I couldn’t remember, instead I described to him what I knew the house looked like pre-kitchen fire (when my mom almost burned the house down), and I tried to imagine my 3-year-old self climbing up the blue counters to get to the upper cupboard. I imagined myself opening the cupboards to take out a platter. I imagined dropping it, and he asked me to look at the shards. And just like that, it was as though I were catapulting back through space (imagine the Starship Enterprise making a hyper-space jump) and I was in that kitchen.
What I encountered when I “swooshed” back to that kitchen of linoleum countertops and blue cupboards was a terrified little girl who was in such utter pain of soul and spirit that it just broke me. For the few seconds that I could stand to be in that place of recessed memory, I knew instantly that this pain not from breaking a platter! This pain is from something altogether different. Something I didn’t want to know about. Something I never wanted to experience again.
The pain I encountered there was unbearable – I knew in a heartbeat that this was not the kind of grief associated with a broken platter, but something much deeper, much darker. It really scared me, and so as soon as John brought me out of hypnosis, I told him that I was never going back there again!
“The terrors of death have fallen upon me, fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” Psalm 55:5-6 (NJKV)
That experience was shocking to me – and it was the first time I ever considered the possibility that maybe I didn’t have the wonderful childhood I always thought I had. Furthermore, it unlocked the memory of my recurring childhood dreams and nightmares – those I had so carefully tucked away into the farthest recesses of my psyche.
Over the next few weeks I told John about those dreams, now vividly remembered in full color, and eventually he convinced me to try again to go back to my 3-year-old self in the old family kitchen. In a following session, I once again relaxed into a REM-hypnotic state and imagined myself wandering through my brain to find her. Imagine my shock when instead, I encountered an older girl, probably 9 years old (this would have been right about the age when I told my mom about my recurring nightmares). She said she was guarding and protecting the little girl, and she would not grant me access to her. I know this sounds crazy – it sure did to me! When John brought me out of hypnosis, I said something like … “If you tell me I have split personalities, I’m walking out of here and never coming back again”. Instead, he gave me a book that explained Dissociative Amnesia and Dissociation – survival and coping mechanisms common to small children who have suffered great trauma or abuse. We named my 3-year-old self “Little Jenny” and my 9-year-old self “Jenny P” (for Protector). John also helped me to understand that the coping mechanisms I’d employed as a child (which in many ways saved my life) were not working so well for me as an adult. Duh!
It was time to acknowledge my past (all of it) and learn some new coping skills!
Dissociative amnesia is one of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders are mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, consciousness, awareness, identity, and/or perception. When one or more of these functions is disrupted, symptoms can result. These symptoms can interfere with a person’s general functioning, including social and work activities, and relationships.
Counselor John was a God-send to me. He loaded me up on Scriptures which I later memorialized as “Love Letters” and gently led me back through all the old wounded places in my life … but this time he encouraged me “to see Jesus there with me in the midst of it”. And as Counselor John had promised, over time those old wounds lost their power to hurt me … they became more like old photographs of a time long ago. I could feel empathy for the people in the photograph, but the pain wasn’t mine anymore – I’d released it to Jesus.
Once I’d begun learning new coping skills, Counselor John began to coach me on how to confront the abuser that was my husband. I wish I could say it took just a few months, but it takes a long time to rebuild a backbone once you’ve become someone’s puppet. So, the insanity at home continued, while ever-so-slowly I was being changed from the inside out, until it all came to a head in 1991 when I finally left “T” just a few months before what would have been our 10-year wedding anniversary.
Friend, if you are walking out of -or perhaps you are still in the midst of- something soul trying, please take a moment to download this PDF file (Love Letters) that includes the same comforting and hope-filled Scriptures that Counselor John shared with me all those years ago. Print them and internalize them. Study them in different Bible translations to pick up on different colors and nuances. Carry them in your purse, pocket, or briefcase so that you can refer to them often. And most importantly, allow (give permission to) the Love of God to envelope you, to “be your shield and the lifter of your head” (Psalm 3:3)
All sketches and watercolors posted on this website are the sole property of the author and are for exclusive display on the website PuttingHopeToWork.com.