It’s been a year. It’s been a year, and I only realized it this morning. Frankly, that was a little surprising to me, because for most of the spring, summer, fall and winter of 2019, I feel like I registered days and events as they correlated to the days leading up to Valentines Day 2019.
Three weeks since ….
Two months since …
Eight weeks ago …
Last year at this time …
… and so on, and so on.
If you’ve ever had the rug pulled out from under you, for whatever the reason (and we all have!), you probably understand what I’m talking about.
But today, I realized that I’m not doing that anymore!! I’m OK with it just being February 13th, 2020. And while tomorrow is Valentines Day 2020, it is no more or less significant a day than any other Valentines that proceeded it for the last 29 years since I’ve been single-again. It will be a day for me to lean deeply into the embrace of my Heavenly Husband, the One who has been my Rock and Fortress since I left “Mr. T” in 1991. It will be a day for me to show love to my children and grandchildren. It will be just one day out of 365 days in 2020 that I choose to live my life with joy and passion and courage to be all that God has called me to be. Yes, I’m OK … more than OK … I’m happy again! Truly happy!
The twisted-knife-in-the-gut feeling is gone.
The ping-pong-balls-bouncing-around-my-brain feeling is gone.
And the determined focus I applied throughout 2019 to getting out and enjoying my life “in spite of” payed off in dividends! I found healing in the company of treasured friends who carried me when my heart ached beyond what I was able to carry alone. I found peace and spiritual refreshment in the sounds of babbling brooks and the beauty of the morning fog rising off the waters of my favorite kayaking lakes. I found God again … not that He had ever left, ever moved (He hadn’t). But I had – I had withdrawn and pulled in. I was angry and hurt, and I held back in my pain. But as healing came, intimacy returned. He is so kind like that! Never holding a grudge, always ready to throw arms open wide to receive me unto Himself again.
“”Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed.” says the Lord who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10 NIV)
Life is not always blue skies and lolly pops, is it? And when grey clouds gather, we need a tribe of like-minded souls to walk with us to brighter days ahead.
I wonder who else has been or is in the process of recovering from having the rug pulled out from under your feet? Where are you in the healing process? How can I pray for you?
===== 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.
When I started writing my testimony in Week 20, I quoted a favorite passage from “Hinds Feet On High Places” by Hanna Hurnard.
The Shepherd laughed too. “I love doing preposterous things,” he replied. “Why, I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection. If there is one thing more than another which I should enjoy doing at this moment is turning a jellyfish into a mountain goat. That’s my special work,” he added with the light of great joy in his face.
And that’s exactly what The Good Shepherd was doing from the moment I surrendered (re-surrendered) my life to Him on the carpet of my bedroom floor (Week 31) and as I continued with Counselor John, God brought greater and greater levels of healing. At first, the focus was reconciling and reconstructing the broken parts of myself because you can’t deal with the present when you haven’t dealt with the past. Then we worked on learning skills for conflict resolution, and understandably “T” and “She’s” continuing behavior were a daily source of conflict. By Christmas 1990 I was no longer listening to his assurances that “She” was his distant cousin. I became more adamant that “She” leave our house, and he would promise to do so by “x” period of time, but they were always empty promises.
When you grow up in a home “not looking at ugly and horrific behavior” … well almost any ruse to defer or distract will suffice.
Finally I insisted he move her out! But “T” had a knack for keeping me off balance, and his next maneuver was a doozey. That’s when he revealed the “secret” truth; that when he went back to South America in 1984, he discovered he had another child and that “She” wasn’t his distant cousin … but (in his exact words) “his illegitimate daughter”!
“T” said it was guilt that drove him to spend so much time with “She”, and that he was desperately trying to make up for lost time with her. Surely I could understand that! And to prove his integrity, he told me to go ask Counselor John, who confirmed that this is what “T” told him on his 3rd and last visit. (But of course, John was unable to disclose to me himself due to patient confidentiality).
Well! Even if that were true, it still didn’t explain their not-very-father-daughterly relationship! But then again, maybe I was misreading things.
It sounds so simple! Anyone with eyeballs could see that my husband had brought his girlfriend into our home and was having an affair with her, right in front of my face and in front of my children! But somewhere in my upbringing, I’d concluded that if you couldn’t prove it, you could be wrong. I think that’s the main reason I stayed in my first marriage so long … because I couldn’t prove “M” was having an affair. Same with “T” … I never actually caught him with her (thank God!!), and he had a special talent for always making everything seem like it was my fault, my misperception, my brokenness that was the real issue. The point is, when you grow up in a home “not looking at ugly and horrific behavior” (pretending it doesn’t exist, or dissociating from it) … well almost any ruse to defer or distract will suffice. Even one so idiotic as that “She” was his long-lost daughter!
Besides attending BV Bible Church, I was now reading through and studying the Old Testament with a hunger I’d never known before. It was fascinating to me to read (for example) the story of the Exodus and then review the journey on a Bible Atlas or study book. I was opening my heart to the Word of Life, and I was being transformed from the inside out!
I was also learning new coping skills. By July 1991, I had finally gotten strong enough to give “T” an ultimatum. Like I did with “M”, I told “T” that I was moving out the end of the month unless he removed “She” from the house. That weekend, he took “She” and the older kids to go play soccer while I loaded up our old van with 2 twin beds, an ice chest, a few lamps, our clothes, the CD-player/boom box and my two precious little girls. Our destination was the old rental house on the east side which was currently vacant but had no refrigerator (thus the ice chest 😊).
I had worked my way up to Isaiah by that time. I clearly remember pouring my heart out to God in that dreary old house (in what used to be my step-daughters bedroom because I refused to stay in the master bedroom) and encountering Isaiah 40:11 for the first time. It was so comforting to me, so tender.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young.” ~ Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)
The following night I read Isaiah 42:16 and it seemed as though Jesus Himself was sitting on the edge of the bed with me, speaking so softly to me, promising me …
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” ~ Isaiah 42:16
And from that moment on, I knew that He would walk us through whatever challenges were ahead. That even though I was terrified, I would be safe because He was with me. That He would let nothing happen to me, and that He would work all things together for my good and for the good of my daughters. He would not forsake us!
While camping out in that old rental “T” visited once to tell me he had moved “She” out and ask me to come home … but all he did was move her a few blocks over. Once he realized I wasn’t taking the bait, he quickly moved her back in. For the next few weeks, I drove across town to bring the girls to “She” for daycare while I worked. All the while, “T” waited patiently, fully expecting me to weary and move back. After all, I had always relented in the past.
But as soon as I got my next paycheck, I moved the three of us into a small apartment near the elementary school and near our church. I was 30 years old, and my daughters were 4 and 7. Then, as quickly as I could, I hired Attorney Casey (a GIANT of Christian attorney) and filed for divorce.
It was while living in that sweet little apartment that I wrote “Jenny P” a letter. I thanked her for all that she had done for me, for her willingness to take on the abuse and be the caretaker for my pain, so that “Little Jenny” wouldn’t have to see and feel what she was unable to comprehend and cope with.
With tears streaming and in loving words on paper, I held “Jenny P” close to my heart and comforted her in the way that I wish someone had done for me back then.
And I invited “Jenny P” and “Little Jenny” to come abide in me … to re-integrate with the whole and healed woman I’d become.
[I kept that letter for many years following … until one day I no longer needed record of it. I could let it all go.]
Needless to say, “T” did not like this new woman … the one who wasn’t buying every stupid thing that came out of his mouth, the one who stood her ground, the one who defended her children, the one who had the aid and support of Counselor John and Attorney Casey.
Within just a few months of being served, “T” announced he was marrying “She”. He also said he was going to file for custody of our daughters.
Oh SNAP! Attorney Casey quickly depositioned Counselor John about “T’s” earlier confession that “She” was his “illegitimate daughter”. (Let him try to explain THAT to the Family Court System!!)
Undeterred, “T” began using my daughters as pawns in a chess game, sometimes exhibiting very bad behavior towards them in the process. But I was now documenting things, bringing them up during Mediation. And tensions continued to rise.
One Sunday morning, on my weekend with the girls, one of the Pastors pulled me out of the sanctuary to tell me that “T” was had come to take my daughters out of Sunday School. Thankfully, their Sunday School teacher was one of my dear friends and she refused to let him take them, instead sending for me. By the time I cleared the church foyer, I could see “T” and my friend out on the front lawn – “T” had already gotten my oldest daughter into the car, but my friend was still holding onto my youngest daughter to keep him from taking her too. I confronted him. I tried to get my daughter from him (there were now 2 women fighting him). He was so strong, and somehow, I’d ended up on the ground around, holding onto his leg while he held my daughter and my friend held him. It all happened so quickly … I did the only thing I could think to do to make him let go … I craned my neck up and I bit him in the _alls.
As you can imagine, by now we had attracted quite a crowd … and as soon as “T” released my daughter, others stepped in to keep him corralled until the police arrived. After explaining that “T” tried to remove the kids from church without permission, and of his threats to take the girls away from me and leave for South America if I ever dared to leave him, the Police urged “T” to leave the premises and encouraged me to take more formal actions regarding custody (as they were limited to what they could/couldn’t do).
That Sunday, my daughters and I went into hiding for a few weeks. First, we stayed nearby with friends from our Church, and then I drove us a few hours away to stay with my cousins J&C. In the safety and sanctuary of their home, I wrote an approximate 20-page statement chronicling my marriage to “T”, the arrival of “She”, and all that had taken place since. With that, I filed for sole custody of my two daughters.
We spent the a total of 3 ½ years in the court system. When “T” dragged one of my daughters by the hair across the floor – we went back to court. When “T” upset them with claims that mommy “made daddy have to pay money to see them” – we went back to court. When “T” quit paying child support – back to court. “T” threatened me – back to court, got a restraining order. “T” violated the restraining order, kicking/banging and threatening me through the door of my apartment (while my daughters hid in their bedroom) – yup, back to court. And so on, and so forth.
It was a process, a long and painful one … but by his own actions and by his own behavior not only did “T” loose custody of our daughters, but eventually he lost visitation rights.
By the time my girls had hit their tweens, “T” had lost all power over me.
“But now, this is what the LORD Says –
he who created you Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
The flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
And because I love you…”
~Isaiah 43:1-4 (NIV)
Within these 13 posts (starting with Week 20 and ending here in week 32), I’ve done my best to truthfully reconstruct my journey “from Jellyfish to Mountain Goat” …, not for the accolades of man but testify of and give glory to the power of God to rescue, deliver, and transform!
And what He did for me, He is well able and willing to do for you. It may not happen overnight, but if you will fix your eyes on Him and entrust yourself to Him, He will get you through whatever needs to be gone through to get you to the place of joy and peace that He has prepared for you. He is faithful! He will not forsake!
Bethel Music, Kristene DiMarco
Slow down, take time
Breath in He said
He’d reveal what’s to come
The thoughts in His mind
Always higher than mine
He’ll reveal all to come
Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing
In the years that followed, more ugly truths came out – but those stories belong to others and are not mine to tell.
Instead, I shall share with you of His promises to the broken hearted, of His ability to go to the deepest places and bring healing, His strength to snatch the captive right out of the teeth of the wicked, of His willingness to breath life on dry bones! He will finish all that He’s begun – stay steadfast and trust Him!!!
I’ve been honored by your following along with me these many weeks. I hope you’ll join me again, for in my next post I’d like to tell you about veiled rememberances that surfaced years after my divorce and the onset of a new set of recurring dreams and nightmares that plagued me from my mid 30’s to mid-40’s, and how God delivered me from them.
But for now, please comment and share with me one or two of your favorite Bible passages – the ones that keep you going even when the night seems blackest.
Here is the one I have held on to from July 1991-present:
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” Isaiah 54:4-5 (NIV)
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.
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.
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 toredirect 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)
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.
This side of heaven, life will always hold a mix of joy and pain. Some will be the result of our own doing, and some beyond the realm of our control. I’m not sure which is the harder to bear.
“Be on your guard against false prophets (i.e. deceivers); they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are really like wild wolves. You will know them by what they do (not what they say) … A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit. … So then, you will know the false prophets by what they do.” ~Matthew 716-20 GNB (edited)
“False Prophets” come in many shapes, sizes, and disguises. Some are lovers or spouses. Some parents, some teachers. Some are classmates or colleagues. Regardless the packaging, all False Prophets all have one thing in common … they are bullies and masters of deception. They speak one thing with such power and authority (and often eloquence) that most people overlook the fact that they are actually doing the complete opposite. Their actions don’t line up with their words!
Who have been the False Prophet’s in your life?
By 1985, some of the sparkle and shine had started to wear off our marriage. Arguing had escalated to fighting, often just to the cusp of violence. “T” never hit me – he never needed to take it that far, for the threat (sometimes blatant, but usually just a subtle reminder of what he was capable of) was enough to get me back in line.
There were happy days. I was not quite 21 years old when my step kids (ages 13 and 10) came up from South America. What did I know about parenting at 21 years old? Nothing … poor kids! But they still love me, so I guess I wasn’t all that terrible a step mom (lol). And “T” and I had two beautiful children together, both girls, born 1984 and 1986. In so many ways, these two little miracles were a lifeline for me. God used them both so profoundly to literally save my life! But I’ll write more about that in the next post ❤
As I said last week, shortly after birth of my firstborn “T” went back to South America to visit family. Upon returning he began to suggest, with increasing intensity, that we needed a Nanny. Suggesting escalated to badgering, and eventually to the constant droning that just wears a body down. Before I gave birth to our second daughter, I had agreed to his bringing a second cousin up from South America to live with us as Nanny under a few conditions. It was early 1987 when “She” moved into our home. “She” was 18 years old, “T” was 40, I was 26, the step kids 17, 15 and 9 (age approx.), my precious daughters 2.5 and 3 months old.
“She” spoke no English and so like it was when my step kids arrived, “T” was the primary interpreter while she learned the language. Immediately “T” began framing up the unfinished room on the first floor, and with her assistance they knocked it out in no time flat. By the time I went back to work full time, “She” was in her own room.
At first, “She” was helpful to have around, helping with laundry and cooking and of course the kids. All the children seemed to like her, and she was very helpful to “T”. If he had a project to do, “She” was always right there to help him do it. They were practically inseparable, but of course that made sense – she was grateful to be here in the USA and they were cousins. Why wouldn’t they spend time together?!?
“She” was young and fit, with the body of an 18-year old who had never born children. I was in my mid-20’s, had given birth to two children, and was about 20 lbs overweight. “T” began harping about my weight again, about my post-pregnancy body shape and flabby stomach. An exercise regimen ensued, but that just added more fuel to the fire because as much as I wanted to please him (mostly so he would get off my back), I also resented that he couldn’t just love me the way I was. Why did his affection for me have to be irrevocably linked to my body weight and shape?
I remember one Saturday morning, with all of us sitting around the kitchen table for breakfast, I had dared to put one (1) spoon of sugar into my cup of (very strongly brewed Colombian) coffee. “T” came unglued! He utterly and completely shamed me for choosing a spoonful of sugar for my coffee instead of choosing to have a few wedges of a cut-up orange that was on the table. They aren’t even the same thing (you can’t put an orange in your coffee!), and the coffee tasted like mud! After some screaming and yelling, I eventually left the table furious and in tears. To berate me like that in front my kids! To make such a fricking big deal over a stupid spoonful of sugar! And to do it in front of “She” (who just sat there with a soft smirk on her face). There was no pleasing him!
And as the months rolled by, I began to get increasingly agitated by “She’s” presence. Something had changed/shifted in the home, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The Family Room was downstairs, and that was where our TV was. More and more often, it would be time for bed and instead of coming to bed with me, “She” and “T” would stay up late (I mean really late) to finish watching a Spanish-speaking show that they just had to see the end of … or they would need to talk privately about something in her room important, with the door closed of course. This was happening a more and more often. Naturally I complained about it, but “T” would just explain to me that “She” was lonely, missing her family in South America, and that he was just being a good cousin trying to make her feel at home here. All very reasonable answers, but regardless something didn’t seem right about it.
[Years after my divorce my mom told me that on a visit soon after “She’s” arrival and when I was out of the room, “T” kissed “She” on the lips right in front of her and then gave her an “I dare you” kind of smile. “Why didn’t you tell me?”, I asked. “Because I knew you wouldn’t have believed me”, mom said.]
I think it might have been 1989, just before my oldest daughter started 1st grade, that we moved to a 4BR house in a better school district. My two precious daughters shared the bedroom closest to ours. My step daughter shared a bedroom with “She” (as they were just a few years apart in age), and my two step sons shared the 4th bedroom. The house was configured in an L-shape, and there was a 4-season room build just off the kitchen that encompassed the master bedroom window, so that if you looked out the master bedroom window you were looking into the 4-season room. This became our new Family Room. There were many nights that I went to bed alone, leaving “T” and “She” huddled together in the Family Room under a shared blanked on the sofa (back facing the bedroom window) while I waited in our bedroom, eventually falling asleep alone.
I was now Office Manager/Exec Assistant at a small marketing office and had developed a personal friendship with one of my employees who happened to be a single mom. She often came over on the weekends she didn’t have her kids, and after a late night of card games and a few beers, it wasn’t uncommon for her to spend the night in my daughter’s room. Then she stopped spending the night.
[Many years later my friend told me “T” tried to sneak into bed with her one night. Once refused, he routinely stalked her down the hall whenever she went to use the bathroom. She felt very uncomfortable at our house, and she stopped coming over.]
And what about my condition for having a Nanny, in which “I” was to be the “Woman of the house”? Well, clearly “T” and “She” had a different idea. Subtly but surely, my role was being challenged. She was a threat, that much was evident, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. She was his cousin, almost 22 years younger than him. Why would she want to ruin things for us? It just didn’t make sense. There were a lot of things that didn’t make sense! Like what was happening to my laundry?
Some of my favorite pieces of clothing were mysteriously disappearing. By instinct, I knew that “She” had them and I demanded that she produce them … but of course “She” denied everything and pleaded bullying to “T”. Realizing I was getting nowhere fast, I snuck into “She’s” room (the one she shared with my step daughter) and found my clothes folded tucked neatly between the space of her bed and the wall! Gotcha! I was not crazy! Vindication at last! I tromped down the hall, waiving the newly discovered clothing, certain that now “T” would see that I was being harassed and mistreated by the Nanny who was supposed to be following my rules of conduct.
Nope! Didn’t see that coming! They both lit into me like nobody’s business! How DARE I accuse her of such a thing! How DARE I sneak into HER bedroom! “She” had a right to privacy!! I was NEVER to go into “She’s” bedroom again, under ANY circumstances whatsoever! If I did, I’d be SORRY!
“But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers overflowed, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!”. ~Matthew 7:26-27 GNB
Which is probably why I didn’t do the logical thing when I woke one night to “T’s” sneaking out of bed, stealthily opening our bedroom door, and tip toeing down the hall. I followed suit, pausing our bedroom door until I heard another door open/close. Any sane person would have marched down the hall and opened the door to find out what he was doing in “She’s” bedroom at 2 am (with his daughter in the same room!!). But I’d already knew what hell I’d pay if I did that! Next, I thought about going outside and peeking in through the outside window … but oh Lord – if they caught me?!?!? I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I sat at the end of the hall way with my back against the closet door that bridged the master bedroom and that of my two daughters, and I waited. “I’ve got him this time”, I said to myself. “He’ll be the one catching hell when I catch him red handed exiting “She’s” room!” But he didn’t exit after 10 minutes, or 30 minutes, and eventually I just wearied … knowing that even if he did reenter the hallway and find me sitting there waiting for him, somehow, it would still end up being my fault for “spying” on him. By this time, I’d given him so much control over me that I just didn’t have the strength for this type of confrontation and what it would evoke.
We used to sit around the oval kitchen table in a certain order – “T” on one end, and I on the other. And then “She” started sitting in my spot, while I sat next to my daughters to help them with their meals. Of course, I loved helping my daughters with their meals, but I really resented the way that “She” seemed to own the other end of the table. If seemed as though I was visiting an alternate reality where “She” was “T’s” wife and I was the Nanny.
Once both my girls were in school, “T” and “She” decided that she should run a neighborhood daycare business out of our home. The family room was restaged, and “She” soon took in 3-4 other children in addition to our two little girls. And naturally, “She” became friends with their parents, as did “T”.
[When we went to court, “T” subpoenaed them to testify about what a terrible wife/mother I was – at least based on all the stories they’d heard about me from “She” over the years.]
Apparently running a daycare business is exhausting, because “She” then started needing to get out a little in the evenings. And who do you think she went out with? You guessed it! Here I am working 40-50 hours a week, so that I can pay a wage to our live-in Nanny who also is making a tidy income running a business out of my home, and if that isn’t enough … I’m babysitting the kids while “T” and “She” go out to the movies or other play dates.
I want her gone! He wants her to stay!
I say she’s taking my place! He say’s I’m just imagining things! Making something out of nothing!
I’m going to leave if you don’t get rid of her! He says if I ever try to leave him, he’ll whisk my two daughters off to South America and I’ll never see them again! (the nail in my coffin!)
They decided to take up Salsa Dancing. They go out at least once a week. I tuck the kids into bed at night, and watch my husband get dressed to go out on the town with the Nanny. The world has gone crazy! I’m going crazy! Feels like ping-pong balls are bouncing around in my head!! He says this, but my eyes see that! Or at least I think they do. He says I’m imagining things …. maybe he’s right, I have no proof. He says he loves me and only me. No! Surely this can’t be right! They are “too friendly” all cuddled up on the sofa together in the evenings! That’s not how cousins behave! It doesn’t make sense! We argue more and more, but nothing changes.
“T” decided to build a dance studio for the two of them in our garage. He framed up an approx. 8-10 space that could only be entered from the side door to the garage and proclaimed that this was where he and “She” would practice dancing for an upcoming competition. They were not to be disturbed. Period. To this day, I do not know what was in that small looked room – for even though there was a gap between the top of the wall and the garage ceiling, I was too afraid to climb up and look inside for fear what would happen to me if I was found out.
I was living in crazy-ville, and our fighting increased. During one particularly hot argument he turned to me and yelled “What do you want!?!” The words that escaped my mouth were a shock to my own ears … “I want to see a Marriage Counselor!”, I shouted back.
I am pretty sure God sent a very frustrated angel with a cow-prod to me that day, who somehow managed to jab those words out of my mouth, getting into the atmosphere before my brain had time to process what was taking place! It’s funny to me now, because the moment I heard those words, I’m pretty sure I clasped my hands over my mouth! (What? Oh dear God, who said that?!?!? No the heck I do NOT want to see a marriage counselor! Thankfully, he’ll NEVER agree to that!)
“Fine!”, he said.
In the NKJV, Matthew 7:27 reads “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” I wept when I read that during my morning devotions the day after I’d drafted this week’s post. Yes – the rains descended on my life, and I stayed in the house that I’d built. I needed that house! Then the floods came, but I stayed. Then the winds blew fierce and boisterous and pounding incessantly so as to cause great damage, but still I stayed. And finally, my flimsy little house (the “happy life” I needed so desperately and compromised everything to create) collapsed! “And great was its fall.”
Are you listening to the voice of a False Prophet (FP)?
May the Lord Jesus Christ give you discernment to comprehend truth from the lie, to recognize the disconnect between what your FP says and what they do.
Are you building your house (your life) on sand?
May the Lord help you to be truthful with yourself (and others), so that He can then help you bring about change.
Little did I know it, but in that miraculous cow-prodding moment, God flipped the game! It didn’t happen overnight, and I still had a long way to go to being strong enough to confront “T” and take my life back. But it was a game changing moment, and within the next few weeks I would meet the man who would help me deal with not only the insanity of my current life, but help me deal with my past.
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.
Throughout the eight years that I have been blogging, I have shared snippets of my life nestled in posts about faith, hope, and what the Lord has taught me over the years. Then, this spring, I encountered a young woman crying outside of a Big Box store (week 14) that changed the direction of my current blogging. She told me of a recent rape and of the haunting fear she had that the world was falling apart (judging by the nightly news, who could blame her). We spoke, we prayed, and when her dad arrived to pick her up I gave her my phone number and referred her to my blog so that she could read through my story and be encouraged that while some terrible things also happened to me, they did not define me.Neither did her experiences have to define her … God was big enough to walk her through this season and bring her out safely on the other side.
But upon returning home and browsing through some of my older posts, it occurred to me that I’d never really shared my whole story, but rather just bits and pieces. And so starting in week 20, I began writing a chronological summary of my testimony and transformation. Here we are … 9 weeks in and hopefully only a few more weeks to go. Yet before I pick up the story where I left off in 1984, I need to add a few disclaimers:
• Out of respect for the privacy of other people involved (including siblings, children and grandchildren) I am being very selective about what scenes and details are included. Some things just don’t need to be memorialized in writing, but are better shared over a cup of coffee in a spirit led conversation.
• Furthermore, I am trying not to involve family members to any significant degree. Again, some things just don’t need to be memorialized, especially if sharing them would bring discomfort or embarrassment to people that I love. My family members have their own stories to tell, their own testimonies to share. Rather, I am trying to focus on my portion of the events that took place and document my testimony of transformation and healing.
• Finally, I have spent a lot of emotional energy distancing myself from these events. Or more truthfully, releasing and forgetting them. As I have sought to reconstruct details and timelines, I’ve thrilled to discover that my memories are a little blurry. Isn’t that amazing! There was a time when these events were hard-seared in my mind and psyche … and now I’m having difficulty remembering details and timelines! What a gracious and kind God I serve! How grand is His love for me! How immeasurable His ability to go into the deepest places of soul and spirit, identify unhealthy growths of sin and shame, and remove them with the skill of a surgeon!
So with that understanding, I shall continue…..
It was 1984, I was 24, on my 2nd marriage and raising three step-children, and pregnant with my first child. My precious daughter was born that May, and she was to me the most amazing miracle I’d ever experienced. Still is!
For the most part, I was happy. The happiest I can ever recall being, because I finally had a family of my own and someone who would love me forever and always. By this time, “T” and the kids were attending church with me, I was actually leading worship at our little Baptist church (yup, they were desperate!), and my oldest two step-kids had accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. It felt like my deepest prayers had been answered, and while there were some issues … for the most part, I was happy.
Now is where things really start getting kind of fuzzy for me. For it was shortly after the birth of my oldest daughter that my world really turned upside down, and then started spiraling downward. Try as I might, I can’t quite recall the order of events … rather the next few years just sort of clump together in what I will call the pre -“SHE” period
I was not enough
• After the birth of my daughter, we scraped up the money for “T” to fly to South America for a few weeks to visit family. Shortly after he returned, he started pressuring me that we needed to get a Nanny to help with the house and kids. I refused, but that did not stop him from continuing to bring it up on a regular basis with increasing intensity each time.
• We started arguing more. He was super focused on physical fitness and appearance and was always criticizing me because I had put on so much baby weight and didn’t loose it quickly. Of course, I resented being objectified and so the more he criticized me, the more I pushed back. And pushing back against “T” usually didn’t end well, so over time I relented and traded going to church on Sundays with workouts and family soccer games to stay fit. God knew my heart, surely He would understand … especially because it seemed necessary to keep my husband happy and our marriage peaceful.
The family secret revealed
• It was late 1984 or perhaps early 1985 that my dad had been rushed into the ER to try to repair a ruptured aorta. With a very low probably of pulling through, my mom and siblings gathered at the hospital to await the news. Miraculously, he made it! But while in ICU over the next few days, one of my sisters refused to visit him. This really bothered me, and I told her so. That’s when she told my mom about the abuse she had suffered at the hands of my dad as a young girl. That conversation led my mom to talk to my other two sisters, who both told a similar story. Then they asked me…. had dad every approached me sexually? Of course not! (I had the perfect childhood. Remember?)
The ugly side of “T” • A subtle threat of violence:
o One evening while telling me how frustrated he was with the maneuvering of the mother of his youngest child, he made a comment about arranging for her to have an accident. [Lesson: don’t mess with “T”, he can be dangerous]
o He was relentless when he wanted something. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I remember being in our bedroom, and he backed me up against the wall, got about 3 inches from my face with one hand on either side of my head, and yelled on and on and on. I remember trying to get away, managing to get the door opened part way, and with fingers holding onto the door frame and trying to pull myself out while screaming “let me go, let me go” (as if one of the kids might come to save me??). It was pointless … he was stronger and wouldn’t let me go. Eventually, you just had to agree with “T” or it would never end. [Lesson: don’t mess with “T”, he is relentless] • Integrity is not a virtue:
o I think it might have been after “the secret” came out, but I could be wrong. Anyways, he began to challenge and mock me about my integrity. “I bet you’d even turn in your own brother if he robbed a bank.” (Yes, I think I would … because it’s against the law.). “I bet you’d even turn in me if I broke the law.” (Yes, if you broke the law, I probably would … because you broke the law). The implication was that my adherence to the law was somehow disloyal to family, and as a result I was in the wrong. Family was supposed to trump everything, even the law. • It’s just sex
o Somewhere along the line, I don’t exactly recall where/when, he began pestering/pressuring me about giving him permission to have sex with whomever he wanted. His logic was simple: It was ME that he loved, but if I couldn’t satisfy him sexually, he wanted me to give my blessing to his finding sexual fulfillment elsewhere. Of course, I refused. If he truly loved me, he would only want to have sex with me. But on and on and on and on he went. Weeks. Months. And again, when “T” wants something, he is relentless. To my utter shame, eventually I agreed on the following stipulations:
1) I would NEVER know about it.
2) It must be far away, to ensure my children/family would NEVER know about it.
3) He would give me the “ILLUSION” of a happy marriage.
(What a load of crap!)
o While my family was torn apart by the revelation of incest, “T” didn’t seem all that terribly bothered by it. In fact, I remember his commenting once that “Some people would consider it a kindness for a father to teach his daughter about how to be with a man. That it would be better if her first experience was with her dad” and so on. This was fairly soon after the revelation, and I remember yelling “That’s disgusting! Don’t you ever say anything like that again to me! Ever!” He didn’t … but between the subtle and not-so-subtle threats of violence, the shaming for not putting family over lawfulness, the forced permission to let him have sex with whomever he wanted, and now this … What had I gotten myself into?!?!?!
Just bullet points, but I think you can begin to get a feel for what my life and marriage looked like during this season.
I would like to tell you this was the worst of it, but it would be another 4 or so years before I hit rock bottom and left.
But in the mean time, God used the blessings of my two little girls to begin teaching me about His love for me and slowly reshaping my perception of who He is. I’ll write more of that and continue on in my next post.
Have you ever given (knowingly or unknowingly) another person the power to determine your value/worth? I’d love to hear a little of your story.
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.