Light of the World

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Like most people the holiday season usually stresses me out.  There is my regular life to manage (2 teenage daughters and their crazy schedules, 2 small businesses to run, 3 dogs, 2 houses to clean and maintain, errands, chores, cooking meals, laundry, church activities, 2 yoga classes) and then you add Christmas (decorating those two houses, shopping, wrapping, baking, parties) and it can send anyone over the edge. I have really tried this year not to get overwhelmed with everything.  I have been trying to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas for me.  In the past I wrote about “living in the light of God’s presence”.  I have been trying to carry that light with me throughout this holiday season.

When advent began three weeks ago and since then, I have been in that expectant mode – waiting in eager anticipation of the coming of the Christ and as my level of consciousness is being expanded and raised I continue to anticipate the next level – more of the Christ-consciousness being realized in me.  And one day, just as the Word was made flesh and walked among us, I will also come in to that full realization and He will be born in me.  I will not know the day or the hour so I am told to stay awake and be alert. And so for me Christmas has become not only the celebration of the coming of the Christ but also the coming of the individual Christ-consciousness in each and every one of us, including myself.  When I rest in His grace and provision and when I live in the present moment, the stresses of the holiday season become a lot more manageable and I am allowed to absorb the truth and the meaning of this holiday season for myself.  It has been a truly beautiful experience.

My priest recently shared a beautiful prayer with us written by Henri Nouwen that seems rather fitting for the topic of this post today.  I wanted to share it with you:

“Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.

May you all experience a Christ-filled holiday this year and may you experience the joy, peace, beauty, and blessings of His presence.  To God be the glory!  Amen!

My Quest In To The Light – Part 8

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I became a single lady again in August of 2008. I enjoyed that time in my life.  I loved my self-care rituals and got so much enjoyment from them.  I was taking really good care of myself – my mind, body, and spirit.  When I moved back in to my house after the divorce I began doing some home improvement projects; painting, redecorating, and fixing up the house and yard.  I gained a tremendous amount of self-worth that year.  I proved to myself that I could accomplish just about anything I set my mind to doing.  I learned how to do all of the work myself (with God’s help).

I was still going to counseling each week that whole year.  I was still attending the Methodist church and I got involved in several of the ministries there and my relationship with God was growing.  I was also still working as the Executive Director of the substance abuse prevention center.  I started working in a small community that was in my service area about an hour away from my home town.  I was supposed to start a grass-roots community coalition to help address the substance abuse issues in the area, focusing on prevention.  I had to garner support and get coalition members from groups such as social service agencies, youth services centers, law enforcement, the court system, local government, and the media.  I was successful in my endeavors and had a coalition put together within a month of when I started the process.  We had monthly meetings and sponsored many prevention activities in the community.  During one such community activity, coalition members volunteered to take shifts to host the event.  A gentleman that was the editor of the local newspaper that was on the coalition showed up to volunteer.  We had the whole day together to talk and get to know one another better as we worked.  It was a nice day and I enjoyed getting to know him. When the event was over we gathered our supplies and cleaned up our space.  Right before I was getting ready to leave, he mustered up the courage (I could tell he was nervous) to ask me out for coffee sometime.  It was really weird because I had this feeling he was going to do that but I was still shocked and it took me by surprise.  I was absolutely NOT looking for a another relationship. I was in a very different (and wonderful) place in my life.  When he asked I didn’t really know what to say.  I didn’t want to hurt his feelings because he was a really nice guy so I told him I did not drink coffee (which was the truth) hoping that maybe he would just let it go. He persisted so I told him that I do drink tea and that I would meet him for drinks.  I think I let a few weeks go by before I relented and met him for coffee . . . and tea.  We did that again a few weeks later and then he asked me out to dinner.  Really? Having drinks and talking as friends is one thing but dinner in a restaurant at night sounded like a date and I wasn’t so sure I was ready for that.  I told him I needed to think about it and I would let him know.  I let three weeks go by before I even thought about it, then he asked me again so I really had to think about it this time.  It wasn’t that he was a bad guy or that I was getting some bad vibes from him, it was that I was unsure if I wanted to “mess up” this good thing I had going with being single.  I really loved my life!  I talked to my counselor about it and she helped me sort out my feelings.  I realized that it was fear keeping me from having the date.  I was afraid I would fall back in to my old ways and start doing things for unhealthy reasons once I got back in to a relationship.  She reminded me that I was a different person now.  That was true!  I had grown so much and I needed to believe in myself that I was capable of having a healthy relationship now.  Plus it wasn’t doing me any good to have these new skills and tools I had learned and not use them.  What was I going to do, be a recluse my whole life and avoid relationships like the plague because I was afraid of making a mistake? That didn’t sound like a good idea.  God created us to love one another and be in relationship with one another.  I was fully capable of having a healthy relationship with a man now.  I just needed to “take the show on the road” so to speak.

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I went on the date and had a nice time getting to know him and letting him get to know me.  He asked me out again and I met him for dinner again a few weeks later. That was a special date for us and an official beginning of our relationship. I told him if he would like our relationship to progress we would need to take it slowly and he agreed.  He was also coming out of a painful divorce.  Physically and legally he was divorced, but mentally and emotionally he was still in a relationship with her.  I would find that painful truth out the hard way several weeks in to our relationship when he broke up with me to go back to his ex-wife. The breakup only lasted a few weeks and then he came to his senses and realized how unhealthy she was and that he couldn’t fix her or change her so he ended it for good and asked me to take him back.  I told him we would have to start over, take it slow, and he would have to start seeing a counselor about his unresolved issues if we were going to be able to have a relationship.  And so we took it slow.  It was 3 months before I let him hold my hand and six months before our first kiss. I wasn’t kidding around!  I wanted to make sure I was doing things for the right reasons this time and the relationship was staying healthy. We developed a friendship first that was based on mutual respect, honesty, and open communication.

He started attending church with me at the Methodist church.  I loved going to church together.  We saw each other whenever we could.  I was busy with work, family, and home improvement projects and he was busy with the same things (he bought a new house after his divorce) and he had two young children from his previous marriage that he saw on Thursday evenings and every other weekend.  That made it difficult to find time together because we lived an hour away from each other and didn’t have much free time.

I met his children four months after we started dating.  I like kids and I have a degree in child development so seeing them was always fun for all of us.  We played together and had a good time when we were together.  They enjoyed it when I would visit because I always had something fun planned for them.

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As we continued to date I realized that I was capable of having a healthy relationship, especially after how I handled the breakup.  I told him if he needed to go then I would let him go, that I was sad but I wanted what was best for him.  I was not worried about being abandoned anymore. Then I set boundaries when he wanted to try again.  I was proving that I could indeed have a healthy relationship.  I could make healthy choices and set boundaries, take care of myself and not care-take others, and have a relationship with God and a man at the same time. I was given the opportunity to do all of those things and I learned that I was capable of it.  It was another great time of growth for me.

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A full year after we started dating he asked me to marry him.  I accepted on the grounds that we would have a long engagement.  We dated for three years before we got married and we will have been married for five years this September.  We have been through a tremendous amount in the eight years we have been together, including him selling his house, moving to my home town, getting a new job; me quitting my job, purchasing a 5,000 sq ft historic home, writing a 100-page business plan, opening and operating a bed and breakfast, starting an event-hosting business and an online home decor and gift shop; starting a financial services business; and going through a very long and painful custody battle to win custody of his two children from their biological mother who unfortunately is mentally unwell.  There have been a lot of difficult times in the eight years we have been together. Some times I would slip back in to fear and self-doubt and make myself sick because I took my eyes off of God and I listened to the lies that I used to believe about myself.  But because I had grown mentally, emotionally, and spiritually it wouldn’t last long and I recovered quickly.

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I knew early on in my relationship with my husband that no matter what happened between us we would always be able to sit down and talk it out. We have always been able to communicate about anything.  That has gotten us through our hard times, along with our faith and our commitment to each other.  He loves me for who I really am and he lets me be myself.  I do the same for him. This relationship is very different because we are different.  I know I would not have been able to accomplish all of the amazing things I have done recently had I been the person I was in my previous marriage.  My faith and my new found relationship with God, the healing that occurred and the tools I learned through counseling, and the healthy relationship I have with my husband are the things that have allowed me to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time.  I have recovered that “singing, dancing, care-free spirit” I spoke about in my first post. Now she is a grown adult woman, a wife, a mother, and a business owner who knows she is strong, capable, worthy, and so grateful.  When I look back to see who I was and where I started and how far I have come I am in awe at the great things God has done for me.  Each day I grow closer to God through prayer, meditation, yoga, studying & reading, attending church services to feast on the Word (thank you Father John), and then practicing what I am learning out in the world. I finally know who I really am, that I belong to God, that I have a purpose, and that I am truly loved.  God is my Source.  I am whole and complete in Christ and nothing can change that.  I am timeless and eternal.  I am connected to God and all of life and always will be.  I am free to live and love. I rest in these truths.  I rest in the light of God’s presence that I have attained thus far and I will continue my journey forward deeper in to His light. To God be the glory. Amen.

My Quest In To The Light – Part 7

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I decided to enter into counseling after my life became unmanageable.  I had a mental and emotional breakdown of sorts.  When I came to the counselors office for the first time I was carrying some pretty heavy baggage.  Each week during my session she would teach me new tools to help me unpack my bag.  We dug through the big bag of pain, confusion, and unhealthy thinking that got me in to the mess I was in and she helped me make sense of it all.  It was difficult work, but it only took two sessions and I was committed. I was bound and determined to heal.

I was still married and living with my husband.  I was still attending the baptist church where we met. I was still working at the substance abuse prevention center.  There were many things that remained the same in my life, but inside I was changing. My thoughts were changing.  My beliefs were changing.  My actions were changing.  With each week that went by that I was doing the work of healing – seeing my counselor, journaling, reading, praying, acknowledging the painful events and feelings from my past and healing them and letting them go – my bag was getting lighter and I was being transformed.

My counselor encouraged me to begin working on some self-care rituals each week – to being to focus on my own needs instead of the needs of others.  I had neglected myself for so long. She wanted me to see how it felt to take care of myself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I needed to find ways to take care of myself in all of these essential areas.  Obviously  I was seeing her to take care of myself mentally.  I was also reading a lot of great books on recovery, codependency, and inner-child healing.  I began to watch Joel Osteen on television and read some of his books to help take care of my spiritual needs.  I enjoyed his positive, uplifting messages.  I began to declare prosperity and victory over my life.  My journaling also became a spiritual ritual for me, because I am able to discern things through the Spirit when I write.  I discovered the amazing rituals of yoga and meditation.  They helped calm my nerves and served as mental, spiritual, and emotional care-taking tools.  I had found several wonderful ways (that I thoroughly enjoyed) to take care of myself, but I did it all in secret.  I was so afraid that if my husband found out that I was indulging in any of these “sinful acts” he would get angry and make me stop.  So I did everything in secret.  When he would go to bed, or leave for work in the morning, or before he got home from work in the evening, if I was alone I was fully participating in a self-care ritual.

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Inevitably I had to have a conversation with my counselor about the fact that I was doing all of the self-care rituals in secret ( I couldn’t get anything by her).  She was glad to hear I was making progress in the self-care department but she was also concerned about the fact that I felt like I had to hide all of it from my husband.  I was still so afraid of rejection, afraid of being myself.  But I finally got to the place where I was strong enough to see if I could be myself in the relationship and still be accepted by him.  I needed to be brave for once, prove to myself that I could do it, and I was also very curious to what would happen.  If he could accept me then we would have some work to do as a couple but we could probably salvage the marriage.  If he could not accept me for who I really was then I realized I would need to leave the marriage. So little by little I began doing my self-care rituals while he was at home.  It was very difficult for me and it usually resulted in a disagreement and then him yelling at me, chastising or belittling me, and I could always count on him shaming me. The self-care rituals were just the beginning of the changes my husband would see in me.

I decided I did not want to attend the church that we had been going to.  I did not agree with the doctrine and I always felt worse about myself and about life after a sermon.  I needed to find a new church home.  I was so scared when I told my husband all of this. He was angry and confused.  He told me he was glad I was baptized as a teenager or I would be going to hell.  I guess he knew I was serious and that things were changing in our marriage when I did not go to church with him the next Sunday.  After he thought about it he decided he would go to another church with me and so the next three Sundays we went to three different baptist churches – his choice.  Then we went to a non-denominational Christian church that was exactly like the baptist church we had originally come from.  None of these churches were going to work for me and I let him know.  Then he let me know that he was not willing to attend any other churches in town so we were just going to have to go back to our original church home.  The next weekend I went to a Methodist church and he slept in.

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I loved the Methodist church.  The minister was a kind, intelligent, open-minded woman. The congregation warmly welcomed me with open arms.  The music and the message were encouraging and uplifting.  It was a wonderful (and different) experience for me. The next day someone from the church brought a coffee mug filled with goodies and information about the church to my house.  I knew then that this church was something I wanted to be a part of.  And my husband was livid.  How dare I be happy about a choice that he did not make for me!  How dare I do something with out him!  How dare I attend a church being led by a woman!  He did not approve of my choices, but he was still there. He had not abandoned me yet.

So if I hadn’t stretched my luck with not getting abandoned my participating in my self-care rituals out in the open and beginning to attend a church of my choosing, my counselor and I thought I could take it a step further and see what would happen if I stopped care-taking my husband.  If I was going to be able to salvage this marriage I was going to need for it to be healthy, which means that each partner in the marriage is responsible for his/her own feelings, wants, and needs – and there are healthy boundaries in place.  It was difficult at first, but when he got in a bad mood or was angry and yelling about something I just let him be and went about my business.  I did not fumble all over myself trying to fix things and make him better.  When he pouted at home because he did not get his way at work I listened and then just let him be.  When he got angry because his dinner wasn’t on the table after work or his laundry wasn’t washed, dried, folded, and put away I just let him be.  It was difficult and scary, but I knew I had to be brave and start setting some boundaries.  I needed to stop emotionally care-taking him and allow him to be responsible for his own feelings. He must have begun to realize that my counseling was changing me.  I was not the same woman he married.  He was under the impression that the counselor was “talking some sense in to me”.  Well she was, but it was not the same “sense” he was hoping for.  He was angry with all of these changes in me. He hated my self-care rituals, he hated that I wasn’t going to his church anymore, he really hated it that I stopped taking care of him, he hated it that I was developing an identity apart from him – and that I was becoming happy.  And so he had to put an end to all of that. He told me I had to stop going to counseling.  I told him I had to stop being his wife.  After I realized (after countless attempts at showing him who I really was and each one being met with contempt and shame) he would not ever be able to accept me for who I really was, it took me about six weeks to muster up the courage to tell him I was leaving.  And I knew why I was doing it this time, and it was for healthy reasons.  I finally figured out that I didn’t have to stay in a relationship where I could not be loved and accepted for who I really am.  That is true self-love and it is not a sin. Now in all honesty, it was not fair of me to not show him who I really was before we got married, but I was now and he did not like the “real” me.

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Two years after I started counseling I ended my marriage.  I moved out of the house during the divorce proceedings and stayed with my mom and step-dad.  I continued to attend the Methodist church and got involved in several of the ministries there.  I became good friends with the minister and she became an encouraging supporter during my divorce. I developed a healthy prayer life there and a much closer relationship with God.  I got a promotion at work- the Board of Directors made me the director of the agency (which came with a substantial pay increase).  I was able to move back in to the house after the divorce settlement.   I was getting mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthier.  I continued to see my counselor each week for a full year as a single lady.  She taught me so many important things throughout our three years together.  Some of the most important and impactful things that transformed my life were:

  • Love is not earned. True love is freely given.  I am loved because I exist.
  • God is my Source and dwells within me.  I don’t have to look outside of myself for love, acceptance, or approval.  I am worthy whether others approve of me or not.
  • I cannot be abandoned.  I am forever connected to God and all other beings through Him.
  • Self-care is not selfish and self-love is not a sin.
  • Healthy boundaries are vital to self-care.  I am responsible for me and nobody else.
  • Live in the present moment. Regret and depression mean you are spending too much time in the past.  Worry, anxiety, and fear mean you are spending too much time in the future (that is where I lived).  There is only peace and connection to God in the present moment, for that is where He dwells.

I continued to grow and become healthier with each week that passed.  I liked my single life and was very comfortable with living alone. My path had led me to a beautiful place of health, strength, and stability.  The light was finally streaming in.  This was the place that I had longed to be for such a long time.  But God wasn’t through with me yet.  My journey was going to take yet another interesting turn.

 

 

My Quest In To The Light – Part 6

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Growing

I felt God speaking to me about not giving up, not settling for where I was, and that life didn’t have to be this hard, that He had more for me.  I knew I had to find some relief and healing from my pain.  I worked in the substance abuse and mental health field for 10 years so I knew all of the counselors in my town and was not comfortable having any of them take me on as a client. I racked my brain to think about where I should go and what I should do, then I remembered a wonderful professor I had in college that also had her own private practice.  I was able to track her down and schedule an appointment to come see her.  She remembered me from college and thought I was a good student. She agreed to take me on as a client.

Before my first counseling appointment I found a college text book on my bookshelf called “Another Chance – Hope and Health for the Alcoholic Family” by Sharon Wegscheider Cruse.  I had kept it from a class I had taken with my counselor 11 years prior on “Addiction and the Family”. I have no idea why I kept it, but it proved to be a very important book for me when I found it again.  In the book is a chapter on spirituality.  It was a fascinating chapter, and as I read it again I saw it with new eyes. When I read it 11 years before in college it meant nothing to me, but now it meant a great deal.  After I read it I wanted more than anything to get help and to heal. God was calling from within me, “I am here.  I have always been here.  I did not leave you or abandon you.  I am sending help to heal this pain once and for all.”  That chapter on spirituality was the first thing I read on my recovery journey.  I made a copy of it and put it in a binder, along with many other healing notes, papers, worksheets, articles, and photos I have collected along my healing path.  But that chapter on spirituality is marked as “the first”.

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The day finally came for me to have my first appointment with my counselor.  I had to drive an hour and a half one way to get to her.  I listened to my favorite music and cried the whole way.  The healing had already begun and I hadn’t even seen her yet.  I got there a little early so I parked my car in a church parking lot across the street from her office.  Those few minutes of waiting in the car seemed so surreal. I was anxious and nervous.  I wondered if this was the right thing to do.  I tried to talk myself out of going through with this, but then I prayed to God that He would give me the strength and courage to see it through.  I believed I owed it to myself to see if she could help me. I had been in pain for long enough and it was time for a change. I knew I couldn’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results, and I didn’t know how to do things differently on my own yet.  I knew I needed professional help.  And I knew that I needed to do this a long time ago and I never did it.  This was happening now and I chose it.  I made this choice.  That had never happened before so it was a big deal for me.  I had never chosen to do something because it was what I wanted. I had never chosen to do something to take care of me.  Every major life decision I had made up to this point was to make someone else happy or to gain some neurotic acceptance and false love.

I arrived at my appointment and my counselor was waiting at the gate.  She remembered me from so long ago in college and she was happy to see me.  We embraced and she led me to her office, a small building behind her home and gardens. There was a worn, old, comfortable sofa in the room so I had a seat.  She pulled out a notebook and a pen and took notes while we talked. She asked me how I was feeling right now and where it was in my body and how it felt in my body.  We always had a “check-in” to begin our sessions to ground me in the present moment and help me connect with my emotions and be in my body.  I immediately began to cry, the pain wanted to come out so badly.  After we discussed my feelings I told her I needed help in fulfilling the decision I had made to marry the baptist and I needed help in keeping my commitment.  I told her I was unhappy in the marriage but knew I could not get out of it.  This was my second marriage for goodness sake, I had to make this one work.  I believed that I was the problem and if we could work on my issues and heal my pain I should be able to keep my commitment.  After we talked a while more she helped me realize that there were many different options that I had, besides just settling for staying in an unhealthy marriage.  She told me that after we discussed all of the options and several other issues I would be able to choose the option that was best for me.  She always gave me homework before the end of each session.  I had to journal about each day of my week and bring my notes to discuss for the next session.

After I did this for several weeks we were able to identify that I had an issue with codependency. I was care-taking others (mainly my husband) to earn my worth.  I really didn’t know anything about codependency so before I went home from that session I stopped at a bookstore (I am a sucker for a good self-help book) and purchased a book called “Codependent No More” by Melodie Beaty.  Most codependency books are about the alcoholic and their codependent spouse. You know the one who enables the alcoholic, covers up for them, takes care of all of their responsibilities, and completely neglects and abandons themselves?  This book was about alcoholism and codependency so I had to read between the lines.  I was not married to an alcoholic, but my life had become unmanageable because I was care-taking my narcissistic, narrow-minded, bully of a husband to earn my worth and value and I completely neglected myself.  I purchased the book and hid it in my purse for fear that he would find it and be angry.  He believed that I was going to counseling so “that lady could talk some sense in to me so I would start acting like the “good baptist wife” I was supposed to be.”  Little did he know that we were discussing all of my options and I was smuggling books in to the house that would help me understand things more clearly; certainly not something he would approve of.

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We slept in separate rooms at night and I relished that time to be alone and read.  When I began reading the codependency book I was fascinated, astounded, and shocked at the contents.  I was finally getting an explanation and a better understanding of why I felt the way I did, why I acted the way I did, and why I made the decisions I did. There was a checklist of codependent characteristics in the forth chapter that was particularly eye-opening for me.  There were 234 items on the list and I had marked all but seven items.  So now I was convinced I was codependent.  My eyes were wide open to the fact that I had these issues.  I was no longer in denial.  Now what?

I continued my counseling sessions, my journaling, and reading codependency books. These healing rituals were taking me down a very unfamiliar path.  It was one of possibility, opportunity, growth, and self-discovery.  I would have a tremendous amount of healing and growing to do and some difficult memories and feelings to revisit, but I was loving where I was headed.  I was finally headed toward the light.

 

My Quest In To The Light – Part 5

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I did a lot more thinking than I did praying about whether or not to go out with the baptist.  I think I might have asked God to help me discern what to do and I told Him that I would just go out on one date with him to see if I liked him or not and if I didn’t that would be the end of it.  I was waiting for God to send me my “soul mate”, that one guy God had been preparing just for me.  We would meet and be perfect for each other.  We would fall in love and get married and live happily ever after.  I was hoping the baptist was the answer to my prayers, then I wouldn’t have to keep searching for this perfect man that would take away my pain, give me value and worth, and finally make me happy.

One of the main problems with my theory, however, was the fact that I had serious issues.  And I know now that people that have unresolved issues attract other people with unresolved issues.  When two people get together that have issues, there is not much “happily ever after.”  There is usually a lot of unrealistic expectations, disappointment, and more pain.

I accepted the offer to go out on a date and we started getting to know one another. But I was only showing him who he wanted to see.  I figured out what he liked and I became that.  I could not risk being abandoned again.  Come to find out later he was only showing me who he thought I wanted to see also. We spent a tremendous amount of time together after we went out on that first date. Seven short months later we were married. We moved out of our apartments and into a rental house to start our new life together. We adopted a dog together and talked about having children in the future.

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During our entire relationship we attended the same baptist church where we met.  We were very involved in our Sunday school class and I met a lot of really wonderful friends that I still have today through that class. We went to church and Sunday school faithfully every weekend.  Sometimes we would even go to Wednesday night services. I felt like I had to believe the same things and worship the same way he did.  It was my “duty” as his wife and if I didn’t I would be rejected. He was a literalist and believed that the entire Bible was literally true and all of it happened just as it was written.  He believed that you had to accept the entire bible as the ordained word of God and accept all of it – or none of it.  He was a very black-and-white thinker. He had a lot of other rules too, one being that only men were qualified to be ministers and preach the word of God.  Women were inferior and were here to serve men.  Because I was still trapped in my shame and fear I did not question him or any of the church doctrine and in the beginning of our marriage I did not even bother to ponder what I truly believed.  I had not done that in any of my relationships.  I just accepted what everyone told me.  I prayed because I was supposed to.  I worshiped because I was supposed to.  I accompanied my husband to worship services, meetings, and church gatherings because I was supposed to.  It was my duty as his wife.  I was so afraid of being abandoned again.  I was so afraid of my marriage failing again. I just wanted him to love and accept me so badly that I did not question anything.  If I had different thoughts, beliefs, or wishes I would be rejected by him. I knew that I would never be able to be myself and be accepted in this relationship.  So I did what I thought I was supposed to do.

We both had a lot of issues we brought in to the marriage.  And he showed me who he really was after we got married.  He was rather narcissistic, controlling, and very judgmental.  He had a bad temper and liked to yell. He also loved to spend money we did not have, which put a lot of stress on us financially.  And I was afraid of him. He reminded me alot of my abusive step-father.  To say the least this was not a very fulfilling, enriching, life-giving relationship. I was trying to get my need met, my neurotic need to be loved by someone outside of myself to have worth, and the relationship was crushing me. At first I didn’t care, but God has a way of waking us up out of our darkness and reminding us of who we really are, reminding us that there is more to life than this; that He will never leave us or let us go, He will not let us settle or stay here in our pain.  He has more, and bigger, and better for us.

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At the end of the first year of our marriage I got very seriously physically ill and had to be hospitalized.  During that time I was having a tremendous amout of anxiety over the loss of control of my body and the fact that is wasn’t working properly and the doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me.  I began having panic attacks.  I think a panic attack is the scariest thing I have ever experienced.  It is like being anxious or nervous about something and then multiplying that feeling by a thousand. My husband was not very supportive during my time of illness so I had to ask my mom to come to my house to take care of me. I was quite a mess physically, emotionally, and mentally back then.  I was spiritually numb during this time. It was a very dark time for me. There was a lot of darkness and separation. I didn’t really have much of a relationship, my own relationship, with God during this time. I think I was afraid that if I really worshiped God instead of the man that I was with, the man would get jealous and abandon me.  I didn’t know how to do both – worship God and have a healthy relationship with a man. I worshiped the man and pretended to worship God because that is what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t know who I really was and I certainly did not know God during this time. I was living a lie and doing a lot of pretending. I had no healthy boundaries.  I was also very co-dependent.  I began to caretake my husband in order to earn my worth.  If he was upset about anything I believed it was my job to fix it and get him in a better mood.  I tried to do everything for him, to earn his love and acceptance.  I jumped through hoops to make sure he was always happy and well taken care of, but there was nobody taking care of me.  It would be an understatement to say that I was burning my candle at both ends. I was married to a man that was not very nice to me, attending a church I did not like or agree with, I was caretaking him night and day and completely neglecting myself, I had no boundaries and allowed everyone to take advantage of me, I was working a stressful full-time job, and I was still filled with so much fear, shame, and pain from my past.  Eventually it was all just too much for me and I ended up having a breakdown.   I hated my life, I hated myself and who I had let myself become. I hated how I felt every morning when I woke up and every night when I went to bed – there was always this dull feeling of fear and anxiety hanging around in the background and I carried that feeling with me everywhere I went.  I finally had enough of all of this.  One day while I was sitting at my desk at work I realized that I needed to reach out for help.  I could feel God speaking to me about not giving up, not settling for where I was, and that life didn’t have to be this hard, that He had more for me.  My journey was about to take me to a place way beyond my limited thoughts from the past.  My journey was headed toward a road to recovery and healing – a road toward the light.

My Quest In To The Light – Part 4

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I was a young, single lady with a college degree, a great job, my own apartment, a new church home, and a broken heart.  I did a lot of grieving over “what could have been” after the divorce.  The director that hired me retired about a year after I started.  The board of directors hired a nice man that had worked in mental health and prevention for several years and had conducted some of the trainings I had to attend when I first started my job.  When he came to work at the prevention agency we got to know one another and realized that we had a lot in common.  We made a connection.  I was still broken-hearted over my failed marriage but I was even more afraid of all the freedom leaving the marriage had afforded me.  I could not be alone with myself.  It scared me to be alone and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

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The prevention man and I started dating not long after he was hired.  Being with him took my mind off of the pain I was trying not to feel.  I assumed that God had sent him in to my life to love me and make it all better.  This was my second chance at being happy, if he could live up to the task.  We went to the non-denominational church together and enjoyed volunteering together whenever we could.  He let me be myself and never made me feel like if I didn’t do what he wanted me to do he would stop loving me.  He accepted me for who I was (even though I didn’t have a clue of who that was at the time).  So I put him on a pedestal. And worshiped him too. I was quickly realizing that I could not have a relationship with God and a man. The man in my life became my god and I worshiped him to try to get something from him – love and acceptance.  I was trying to earn his love. And I felt loved by him, but then I became afraid of losing it so I became desperate – needy, clingy, and very controlling. I was so afraid of losing control of him.  If I lost control I thought he would reject me and the love (and my worth) would end.  But in fact the opposite happened.  My crazy, needy, controlling behavior became too much for him and after three years of dating he ended our relationship. There was no talking him out of it. No amount of begging and pleading would change his mind.  It was over.  My worst nightmare had come true.  I had actually been rejected and abandoned.  He didn’t want me anymore.  I believed I was unwanted and unlovable.

Looking back now I don’t blame him for ending it. It was the best thing for both of us and definitely a hard thing for him to have to do because I do believe he did love me (as best he could), I just didn’t love myself and my behavior drove him away. And it hurt like hell. I literally felt like I was living in hell – mentally and emotionally.  The amount of emotional pain seemed almost unbearable sometimes. And then out of the blue I got mad. I was so mad at him for doing this to me.  I was mad at God.  I was mad at myself. I have never been an angry person.  I have always been a quiet, timid, peaceful person. But now I was mad.  And somehow that anger helped me get over him and let him go and accept the breakup.

Because there was no man in my life I started praying to God again.  I asked him to heal my shattered heart and to send me someone who would really love me and not hurt me this time.  I needed someone or something outside of myself to take away all of the emotional pain I was in and make me feel loved and worthy again. I needed God to fix me. I was so empty, so lost and confused.  I was so full of shame and fear. I was so weak and needy. I had absolutely no idea who I was or who God was.  I needed help.

I stopped attending the non-denominational Christian church after we broke up because he was still attending there and was very involved.  I started attending a large baptist church my mother attended.  They had a large singles Sunday school class and my mom recommended I get involved with them and make some friends.  After a painful divorce and a devastating breakup I was reluctant to let anyone else in, but I was also in way too much pain to keep it all to myself and to risk being alone.  So I got all dolled up, plastered that fake smile on my face, and went to Sunday school each weekend, pretending to be perfect and hoping that would be enough to attract someone else in to my life.  I really didn’t get anything spiritual out of Sunday school, but I pretended I did just in case that was attractive to someone.

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There were many opportunities after church on Sunday afternoons or evenings when the single adults would get together for activities or to watch movies, play games, and get to know one another better. I had a lot of fun during those times connecting with my classmates.  After a few months of attending the class, one of the guys asked me if he could take me out some time. I told him I would have to think about it and pray about it and get back with him.  There was a lot more thinking about it than praying about it and I have learned now that sometimes thinking about things can get me in to an awful lot of trouble.  My journey was leading me down a very familiar path.

My Quest In To The Light Part 3

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I was still searching.  Searching for someone or something outside of myself to make me feel whole, make me feel worthy and loved.  And I found him.  And then I made him my God.  I worshiped him.  I did everything and anything he told me to do. I had finally found my savior and I was too afraid of being abandoned or rejected to do anything else.

I went off to college and he went to boot camp for the U.S. Army but before we parted ways we were engaged.  My freshman year of college I did not pray or think about God at all.  I did not attend any church or think about spirituality or religion.  I just lived in my own little world, completely isolated and cut off.  After my freshman year of college I moved back home for the summer.  I got a job as the housekeeper for a large Presbyterian church.  I was responsible for cleaning the entire four-story building, an annex of classrooms, and a gymnasium building each week.  My favorite part of the job was cleaning the sanctuary because it was filled with beautiful stained-glass windows. I was in such awe of their beauty.  My relationship with God had changed a bit after I got that job.  Being in that environment every day I couldn’t help but have God on my mind at least a little bit.  I started praying again. But it was more like talking to God like we were acquaintances while I was cleaning. I started listening to Christian music with earphones while I worked and it refreshed my spirit.  It is interesting as I look back now how God was always so patient with me and just waited until I decided to return, to pay attention to my spirit once again.  Being in that church environment, listening to that music, beginning to let God in again fed me and refreshed my starving soul.

When my fiance got back home from training that summer we were married in that big, beautiful Presbyterian church.  A week later we were living in Watertown, NY, his first duty station with the army.  That is far, far away from home and family for me.  Moving away was something I never thought I would or could do.  We were there for a year and lived in a tiny apartment in a high rise building.  We never attended a church while we were there.  I took classes at the local junior college to continue to work on my degree in Family Relations and Child Development. I got a job at the mall and worked when I wasn’t in class.  He worked most all of the time and we didn’t see each other very much.  I do remember praying back then, asking God for safety and protection, and for Him to provide for us.  I was scared alot being in a strange place so far from home.  I was always asking for things when I prayed.

We moved back to our home state after a year.  We decided we were not cut out for the military lifestyle.  Thank God that was over.  We both got jobs and enrolled in classes at a local university to finish or degrees.  We rarely saw one another for the next three years. It was kind of like having a roommate, except I worshiped him and did everything he asked or told me to do out of fear of abandonment.  It was not a very happy time in my life.  I was not going to church or praying.  There was no time for that with work and school, and besides I had him to worship.

After I graduated from college we moved back to our home town and I got my first professional job in substance abuse prevention, mainly providing prevention education to students, parents, and teachers. He still had over a year of college left and he commuted from home to school each week.  I hardly ever saw him and when I did he was usually not very pleasant to be around.  Neither one of us was happy.  I could not understand how after all of those years of worshiping him why he wasn’t making me happy?  Why didn’t I feel whole and complete?  Why didn’t I feel worthy and loved?  I felt just as empty six years after we got married as I did the day before I met him.  How could that be possible? I though being with him was going to fix everything!  Well it didn’t and I could see where the relationship was headed.  Because I was so afraid of being abandoned I took matters in to my own hands and filed for divorce.  Since the marriage wasn’t making me happy and fixing things for me I was not going to stay.  I needed to move on.  After I told him I wanted a divorce our marriage came to a violent end.  His own fear and anger got the best of him, and I saw the worst.

I moved back in with my parents and went to work every day, usually in tears of grief.  I moved in to my own apartment a few months later.  I was a single lady again.  I had a professional job, my own place to live, and a lot of freedom for the first time in my life.  I do remember praying during my divorce; praying for forgiveness, for guidance about what to do next, and for Him to heal my broken heart.  I started attending a non-denominational Christian church and got involved in the children’s ministry as a Sunday school teacher and a Wednesday night youth leader.  I made some friends in the church. I was beginning to grow a bit spiritually, but I was still so full of shame and fear.  I was still so afraid of not being accepted by other people and was so disconnected and isolated.  And then it happened.  I still did not know how to have a relationship with God and a man. My journey was about to take another turn in the wrong direction.

My Quest In To The Light – Part 2

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My journey continued on in middle school where I still struggled with my self-worth.  I was picked on a lot by other kids at school because I was very tall and thin. Apparently anyone who is “different” gets a label – and gets to be tortured daily in middle school.  I was learning that it was not acceptable for me to be myself if I wanted to fit in, if I didn’t want to be rejected by my peers. Then I began to believe, “If I wasn’t good enough to be accepted as I am by a bunch of middle school kids then how in the world could the Most High God accept me?”

My mom took me to church off and on during middle school and she would attend with me.  I was baptized in the Disciples of Christ Christian church when I was 12 -years- old. I had to take a class with the pastor before I could be baptized.  I cannot recall the things I learned but I do remember that it didn’t make much sense to me and I was just supposed to accept it so I could be baptized. If I wasn’t baptized I may die and end up going to hell. Being submersed in the water by my pastor was somehow supposed to magically protect me from that. So I did it.  I didn’t fully understand it but I did it anyway because I was afraid of God.

When I was 14-years-old my mother remarried.  My stepfather was a very angry man. He was so full of rage and we never knew when or how it was going to come out.  When it did come out it was terrifying. It was a scary time living in the house with him.  He made my mom stop going to church so I didn’t go either.  I felt a lot of abandonment at that time in my life. I had no real friends at school and both of my parents were newly remarried and had their own interests. I really felt like I had nobody.  This was a very sad, scary, lonely period in my life.  I was even more afraid now (because of my stepfather’s angry outbursts) and I was learning that people should not be trusted.  I definitely did not trust or believe in myself. And I wasn’t praying to God because I was afraid of Him and did not trust Him either.

When I entered high school I had very low self-esteem. I was a doormat and a people-pleaser.  I let people use me and take advantage of me because I wanted them to like me. I got really good grades, followed all of the rules, and tried to plaster a big, fake smile on my face, pretending to be happy while inside I hated myself and my life. I was not going to church.  I was not talking to God.  When I turned 16 my step-sister got me a part-time job “in town” and I suddenly got very busy.  I was going to school during the day and working in the evenings.  I did not make any time for church, prayer, or God.  At that time in my life I was searching – searching for acceptance and attention.  I was searching for a way out of my violent home.  I was searching for someone or something outside of myself to fill me up, make me whole, make me feel worthy and important.  I just wanted to feel loved. The summer before my senior year of high school my search came to a screeching halt.  He walked through the door of the gas station where I was working and asked for my phone number.  A year later we were engaged.  My journey would take me to places I never thought I would go.

My Quest In To The Light – Part 1

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I am on a spirit journey.  I am headed toward living in the Light of God’s presence. I am not where I was when I started this journey but I am not where I want to be either. I have started this blog to help me on my journey and to share my lessons and insights with others. We can always learn something from one another if we are willing to do so. I have kept a journal since I was in middle school. Writing out my feelings and what I am learning has always helped me heal and grow. For these first few posts I wanted to take a look back at where I have been in the past to help me understand where my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs came from and to help me move forward more freely. I think this might also help me identify and heal any past pain that may be hindering my growth. Why did I believe those things that I did when I was younger? Where did they come from? What do I believe now?  Where would I like to be spiritually in the future?  To answer those questions for myself I need to go back to where it all began for me.

I grew up in a small rural community during the 70’s and 80’s in the buckle of the “Bible Belt”.  I grew up believing that love was earned and that there was a limited supply of it. I believed that in order for me to be accepted and loved I had to be perfect.  If I messed up there was something wrong with me and I would not be acceptable, not lovable.  I was so afraid of being rejected and abandoned.  I was a very quiet, polite, shy little girl in public. I was very sweet and kind. At home or by myself I was lively and energetic, always singing, dancing, and being silly. I loved unicorns, fairies, mermaids, rainbows, butterflies and anything that sparkled or was magical. I loved to draw, color, and paint.  I was a very creative child.  I was closer to Spirit then and gravitated toward the mystical. And I talked to God a lot. In the beginning I did live in the light.

When I was a child I attended two different churches.  My parents took me to the small Disciples of Christ Christian church in my home town.  There I was taught that God loved me. Period.  It was a loving, kind community of people that loved God and each other.  I enjoyed going to that church. I have a lot of good memories there of participating in Christmas pageants, Sunday school class, being baptized, and singing praises to God. I felt loved and accepted there.

I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother when I was growing up.  My parents divorced when I was 8-years-old.  Sometimes my mom had to work on the weekends so we would go to church with my grandparents.  They attended a very small baptist church literally out in the middle of nowhere. The people were friendly and kind to me but they were strangers. There would always come a point in every service I attended when they would give us an opportunity to come to the front of the church and confess our sins and accept Jesus as our “Lord and Savior.”  I was 9-years-old on the morning I went up to the front.  I was crying my little eyes out as I walked down the aisle. I was carrying a lot of pain from my parents’ divorce.  At this church I learned I was a sinner and unacceptable to God as I was. There was apparently something so terribly wrong with me that God could not love me because I was so sinful.  He had to send His sinless son here to earth and have him executed to cover my sin and make me acceptable to Him. I didn’t like going to that church.  I didn’t like how it made me feel, like there was something wrong with me. Not my behavior – me. It made me question everything I knew organically in my spirit about God and who He was.  It made me question everything I knew about myself and about love.

This was a very confusing time for me and I didn’t know what I should believe.  I was being taught that God is Love and that He loves me unconditionally at one church and that I am a sinner in need of a savior to be acceptable in the eyes of God at the other. I was very confused. I began to let go of Truth and became imprisoned with fear and shame. I was afraid of making a mistake and being unacceptable and unlovable. I was afraid of being abandoned and rejected.  I was afraid I would die and go to hell and be separated from God for eternity. I was so ashamed and afraid. I was taking steps into the darkness.

Spiritually I was fragmented as a child. I wanted to be that singing, dancing care-free spirit that I was born to be. The one that loved God and knew He loved me.  I wanted to be that girl that listened to the spirit of Truth and brought joy and beauty everywhere she went. I was being taught that I was sinful and should be ashamed. I was being taught that I should be small, disconnected, and afraid.  I was being taught that my worth was dependent upon my behavior and achievements. I was being taught that if I wanted to be loved and accepted I had to earn it. I listened and believed.  My journey was just beginning.