August 29, 2009

Thanks for Peeing in Payless Joshua!

My car broke down yesterday, and the children and I just barely made it home. You know, God truly does work ALL things together for our good, even when your 3 year old pees on himself and the floor in the shoe store. That's what my 3 year old did yesterday and it forced us to end our school shopping for the day. But I had to make one more stop at the supermarket and then we were going home.

About a mile away from home while driving on a winding road, I noticed that the steering wheel felt very stiff, like it wasn't turning at all. I tried moving it from side to side as I drove and it was hardly moving. When I got to a light, I put the car in park and tried to turn the wheels, and the steering wheel barely budged and felt extremely tight.

At that moment I realized that something was very wrong with the car. I began to pray and asked God to please let us make it home, begging Him to get us home, we were so close. I knew that I would run into a problem with the two sharp right turns I'd have to make and potentially going up a very steep hill that my kids call "the roller coaster."

When I got to the first right that I had to make at the bottom of the hill, I had so much difficulty swinging the car around that I was in the lane of oncoming traffic at the bottom of the roller coaster, and cars usually come flying down that hill. I mustered up as much strength as I could and fortunately got the car turned and into the right lane before any cars showed up.

The next challenge was going up that first climb of the roller coaster. I wasn't sure if the car would make it up or if the hill would cause the car to exert too much effort and die midway, causing us to go sliding quickly backward down the roller coaster. I had been praying since I noticed the car was in trouble, in between asking God why, why now and why so many tests all at once for me all the time. The kids were scared as we climbed the hill, I guess I was a little nervous too, but I floored it and we made it to the top. Whew!

Last task was to get the car into the long driveway. It's narrow and has vegetation on both sides. I tried to swing in, but the steering wheel was almost completely stuck at this point, so I kept going straight, but at a slight angle. I had to back up first, then using all the strength I had I turned that wheel and got the car out of the weeds and onto the pavement. I was then able to make it to the front of the house and park it. I began to cry for a minute and then got myself together.

I called my dad and told him what happened and he talked me through the possible scenarios and walked me through looking for the culprit the next day. It turned out that the belt in the car had come off. That was great news because one of the possible causes for what happened could've been related to the engine. If so, it would've been a major and expensive repair. The belt was an easy fix and should only cost around $50. Hallelujah!

God is so amazing at using the everyday things in life to create the everyday miracles that we need, everyday.

I don't like when my 3 year old pees on himself when we are out in public, or at home for that matter. But I am appreciative that he did it yesterday. If we had stopped at one more store than we did, we would've broke down far from home.

The timing for the breakdown was perfect for another test of my faith as this is a busy time. My 7 year old daughter starts school on Tuesday and we were picking up the things she needs for school the past few days. The school is not within bussing distance, so I have to drive her. I have to get my 5 year old set up for school as well as he will be starting with his sister or a few days later. I also have a job interview scheduled for next week.

And last but not least, in less than 2 weeks I have to take the ever dreadful drive to New York to see my lying husband in court for trial as he attempts to persuade the court that he has been my victim of verbal and physical abuse for the past 10 years and should be awarded custody of the kids he doesn't take care of and whose birthdays he didn't give a crap about this year.

Needless to say, I need my car.

The devil sent yet another attack my way, but like Neo in The Matrix, I'm starting to see how this whole thing works. When the bullets fly, just hold out my hand and tell him, "The devil is a liar. God said, 'not so.' No weapon formed against me will prosper." Isaiah 54:17 Then I can watch as the bullets fall to the ground one by one.

The dear friend that we are staying with told me that I can use her car for now and hopefully I should be able to get the car repaired on Monday. This same friend told me that when God does amazing things in her life that only God can do, she says, "God's just showing off."

Well there are so many amazing things God is doing and has done for us since we began our life of freedom. It helps take the sting out of some of the pain. God's been showing off in a lot of little ways and it is a tremendous boost to our faith. I make sure that I tell the kids all the good things God does for us and how He does it, so that their little faith can grow too. They are going to grow up seeing the "Lord's goodness while we are here in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13

It will also help them to know that their heavenly Father is not like their earthly one. God cares about what happens to them. 1 Peter 5:7 He is good and will never leave them, forsake them, or abandon them. Hebrews 13:5 That He will always take care of them and always love them and "nothing can separate them from that love." Romans 8:39

We still have some major needs that we are believing God for, so I'm excited to see how God is going to work it out and "show off" for us as He moves mountain after mountain out of our way.  
The Lord has truly made a believer out of me.

August 26, 2009

The Cup of Single Motherhood

"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." Matthew 26.39

I love my children, but most days I never experience one moment of peace. Sometimes it feels like there is a conspiracy amongst them to ensure that I never get a break and so they run a tag team to run me down and wear me out. When I finish fulfilling the requests of one little person, another one is right on his heels with his or her own request or demand, and this continues all day long. When the three older kids finally go to sleep, and I think I have a little while to read, rest or write, then the newborn awakes screaming for another round at his personal 24 hour milk bar. After a night of broken sleep, I wake up tired and do it all over again, all by myself.

I have been added to the ranks of single mothers.

Being that I was committed and married to the father of my children, I never even considered there would come a time when I’d be a single mother and would have to raise them on my own. I intended to do the ‘til death do us part’ thing. Only problem with that is the way things were going, it might have been my death that caused us to part. I believed that it was best for children to have two parents, but because of my husband’s abuse they might’ve only had one ~ him. My leaving stopped him from being the death of me, but my kids still only have one  parent now ~ me.

I don’t pretend to be the first single mother ever, there are and have been billions upon billions of them. For a time my mother was one and so was her mother. In fact, almost every woman in my family has been or is a single mother. Most of my friends are single mothers, regardless of their ethnicity, education, employment or lack thereof, level of income or whether they have a relationship with God or not. It's like a cancer to mankind ~ men who want all the pleasure of making babies, but none of the pain to raise them. Men who care nothing about the vulnerable tiny humans they create. Men who are too cowardly to fully commit to caring for someone else for the rest of their lives, be it his wife or his child. To this kind of man, his child is nothing more than a 30 second nut and I don't mean pea or crazy.

So why should I be spared the experience? I'm not special or different from any other woman. I'm learning personally for the first time just how difficult that job really is, with 4 little kids. It is hard no matter how many kids you have, but of course the more you have the harder it is.

We all know that being a good mother is the most demanding job on earth. Being a good single mother kicks it up a notch and makes the calling feel impossible some days. At the end of the day I can feel every muscle in my body crying out, with the ones in my back screaming the loudest. My head is usually aching after a day of repeating myself over and over again and hearing, “Mommy he hit me, she pushed me, he took my toy, she called me stupid, he just peed on himself and the floor, he just threw up, come wipe my butt, she broke it, I’m hot, I want juice, I don’t want to…"ad infinitum.

I want what’s best for my children like most mothers do, so I sacrifice every day for them in a myriad of ways. I chose to breastfeed my children well into their first year of life because I believe it was best for them. Although it’s a wonderful experience, it calls for a major sacrifice of time & freedom on my part. I can’t do a lot of things because I am nursing and need to be with my baby 24/7. I can't come and go as I please because I have young children. No fun nights out for me. I hear about events or gatherings I'd love to attend, but I know they will come and go and I won't be in attendance.

My pastor once said that, “Sacrifice is giving up something you love for something you love even more.” As single mothers we give up a lot of things we love or would love to do, for what we love more ~ our children.

My husband wouldn’t give up abuse or anything else he loved to do, for me or his children. He loved himself more. Even after I left him I asked him to get help so that maybe in 6 months to a year we could reconcile and be a family again. I asked him to really show me that he loved me this time by his actions, not just his words, and get into a batterer’s program.

But you know what? He wouldn’t do it. He loved himself, his freedom and the single lifestyle that he wanted, more than us. It was easier to let us go than to let go of his problems. In his mind I was his problem. If I’m gone then he’s cured of abusing me and therefore wouldn't need help. I think it was something about me breathing that bothered him.

So instead of opening a door to a life of joy, love and peace for his family, he pulled out a chair for me at the table of brokenness and poured me: sorrow, blood, sweat, tears and struggles, into the cup of single motherhood and I must drink it all. Right now, the taste is strong and bitter.

As I said before, I want what’s best for my children. For a long time I thought what was best was a family with both parents in the home. By the time I left I realized that what’s best is one parent in a home where there is peace and safety instead of two in a home of violence and fear.

So I will courageously drink this cup that you have served me dear husband. I will stand up and hold it down. I will take care of my kids and become even stronger than I am now. I will do it as other women have done it, and God will help me through it. You're still gonna have to answer to Him about all of this, He sees all and knows all, you haven't gotten away with it. "Those who bring trouble on their families inherit only the wind." (Proverbs 11.29)

I believe in time my children will "rise up and call me blessed" (Proverbs 31.28) because of the sacrifices I made, and their love and the love from my grandchildren will be the honey that makes this bitter cup sweet. And I will come to the end of my life in peace.

August 20, 2009

"Edith Bunker, You Were Abused Girl."

I'm not gonna even front, I used to enjoy All in the Family. Archie Bunker was a rude, racist, bigoted, ignorant man. But that's what made him funny. Those of us that don't harbor those feelings can sometimes laugh at those who do - depending on how they are presented.

We laughed at his stereotypes of and interactions with Blacks, Latinos, Jews and everyone that wasn't a WASP. We laughed at him calling his son-in-law a meathead and giving his daughter constant grief for marrying him. Those things were funny.

We even laughed as he berated, humiliated and put down his wife, forever calling her a dingbat. But was that funny? Should we have been laughing? It never even dawned on us what was happening right before our eyes and that made it palatable, laughable and acceptable.

But the truth is, Edith Bunker was verbally and emotionally abused. Archie was mean to her and his words were nasty. Mike and Gloria were victims too, but they usually argued back with him. They also didn't have to live there and take it and eventually they were able to move out on their own. But Edith was his wife and Archie was her life.

There is nothing even remotely funny about emotional or verbal abuse and it is nothing to be taken lightly. It is just as serious as a black eye, busted lip or broken rib. Those things tend to be more shocking to us because they are visible injuries.

We shouldn't be any more comfortable with verbal abuse than we are with physical, yet we overlook it so often. Is it because it happens around us and in front of us so much that we are completely desensitized to it?

If All in the Family were on today, Archie wouldn't be calling Edith a dingbat, he'd be calling her a B!T@H, and people would still be laughing. Anytime my husband ever called me a B!T@H, I never laughed, it was never funny. It was mean and hurtful. It cut my spirit and hurt my heart.

I consider emotional and verbal abuse to be the "gateway" forms of abuse, at least that's what they were for me. They get you acclimated to being smacked mentally before the first physical strike ever comes. My husband began with emotional abuse, just being mean and rude and nasty for no reason - even in response to kindness at times.

I remember buying him a bottle of water. I had only known him for a couple of weeks. I was buying him some lunch and when I got to the bottled waters, I didn't know which one to choose. I had seen how he was so extravagant and spent money like water and seemed to like whatever was the most expensive, so I chose Evian. I personally didn't like it, but it was that hoity toity water and cost more than the others. When I came back with his lunch and he saw the Evian, he said, "I don't drink this $h!T." On another occasion it was a corned beef sandwich, and the response was almost identical, "What is this $H!T? I don't eat this $H!T."

It felt like stinging smacks. I couldn't believe he reacted like that. He didn't even thank me for any of it. He just found fault, zeroed in on it and reacted abusively. But I didn't recognize it back then. Looking back in hindsight after having experienced that behavior for 10 years, I can see how that was a preview of what was to come.

He would curse at me for things that were no big deal. My eyes would water and I'd ask him, "Why did you say that?" He always had some reason or another that made sense only in his mind.

Well over the course of almost 11 years, my husband cursed to me, at me or flat out called me curse words thousands of times. It was just who he was. I went from asking him why and crying about it, to getting angry about it, to just accepting it and living with it.

Was he like that all of the time? No, of course not. That would've been too obvious and I would've bounced immediately. He was also nice and seemed to be so enchanted by me in the beginning telling me, "Girl, you're gonna make me fall in love with you," as he hugged & kissed all over me.

So I thought when he'd flip and be mean or nasty that it was because he had been in the rap music game too long and those attitudes had rubbed off on him. I told myself he wasn't really that way.

Well I didn't know any better, I had never been in an abusive relationship before.
I didn't know back then what I know now. The heat was turned up very slowly and I almost boiled to death.

I thank God that I was finally able to detect the temperature of the water.

The Parable of The Boiled Frog

August 18, 2009

One Reason I Stayed So Long

One of the main reasons I stayed in my abusive relationship for so long is that I was praying and believing God to turn the situation around. I had been praying for my husband to change. I prayed for him to become born again, to come to church with us as a family, to pray with me and the children, and to become the man that God created him to be.

I saw some of these changes over the years and it gave me hope. He did get born again, he gradually began to come to church with us and he began to pray with us every night. I felt that if I gave up before the abuse ended, that I would not get the victory that I had been praying for all those years. I thought I had to keep hanging in there and keep enduring and that one day it would all be over and I would've saved my family from becoming another broken statistic. I couldn't let all those extra years of pain be for nothing.

While I waited for the change to come, I continued to work on me. I kept adjusting myself in an attempt to make him happy. I tried to figure out what I could do to learn to live with the abuse. I tried to be like Edith Bunker and thought that when he began his verbal assaults that I could just smile, laugh, pretend that it didn't hurt, and not say anything back besides, "Oh, Jeffie."

But it didn't work.

I thought if I could just be like Jesus Christ, the perfect example, then I would definitely be able to handle it in love and forgive him while he was hurting me. If I could just turn the other cheek as the battery waged against me as Christ did while his accusers smacked him, punched him, and spit on him, then victory couldn't be far behind.

But I failed.

I thought I was being a bad person and even worse a bad Christian because I reacted in anger when he began to curse me and I would curse him back. When he hit me I instinctively came to my own defense and hit him back. I felt like a complete failure. I couldn't win this battle.

The thing I didn't realize until the very end was that I had every right to be angry at how he was treating me and that unless my husband wanted to change, then there was nothing I could do. There wasn't even anything God could do. God is all powerful and can do anything, but His kryptonite is man's will. He has given mankind free will, so that we would love Him freely, not on command, order or because we have no choice.

My husband was making the choice to remain abusive and that rendered God who is all powerful, powerless. All God could do was help me to save myself and our children, and He has.

I put this montage together a couple years ago. When I first showed my husband, he actually cried. I couldn't believe it because my husband usually stayed very flat in his reactions to anything I did that was good or positive. It's like he didn't want to encourage me in anything. He couldn't even compliment me when I returned from the beauty salon.

But the tears he couldn't hold back as he looked at the slide show of his beautiful family were more of a thumbs up than anything he could've said.

I guess a couple years and another child later, he has forgotten those tears as he has forgotten the family that I truly thought that somewhere deep inside, he loved.

The family that I thought he would fight all the demons in his personal hell to save.

August 16, 2009

God's Little Helpers

The past 7 months have been the most difficult in my life. They have been painful, stressful, backbreaking and heart aching. What my young children and I have endured, I wouldn't wish on anybody. Things got so bad and hurt so much that my faith became very weak and I felt my strength to go on, almost gone. I couldn't see an inkling of a plan here that I wanted any part of. I didn't see my life making any sense or having any purpose or value. I even recall saying to God that if this is all my life was going to be, that I would prefer if He'd just get it over with quickly instead of making it slow and agonizing.

I can't lie and say that I am completely happy now or enjoying any of this. But I can truthfully say that I'm seeing God's hand in this situation in a good way. The enemy has used my husband to attack me and hurt me for a long time and continues to use him to throw darts my way. But God said that no weapon formed against me would prosper (Isaiah 54.17) and He would cause all things to work together for good for those that love Him. (Romans 8.28)

Throughout this tragedy of a life we've been living, God has still shown us so much mercy. He's reached way down into the pit that I believed I would never get out of and touched me with His overwhelming love. That love has come in the form of the people that He has brought us to and brought to us.

The domestic violence shelter we were placed in when we first walked out of our life of abuse was called Genesis. That was our new beginning. We met some wonderful people there who offered us kindness and comfort in those early days when our wounds were still fresh. Some days I cried so bad I could barely breathe because it felt like I was just punched in the gut. Their encouragement helped me through the days when I considered returning to our nightmare to avoid feeling the pain of freedom.

We have been shown love by our family. My sister who offered to share her home with us after we left the shelter. My mom and youngest sister helped me with caring for my children as I went through the last few months of my pregnancy. My mother and father for helping us financially when my husband who swore he would always take care of his kids decided it would be more fun to withhold support from his family. My aunt Cynthia who made it possible for us to take a mini vacation from our problems and spend a weekend with family at our reunion this summer.

Our spiritual family at Christ Tabernacle in NY has continuously lifted us up in their prayers which has continually provided us with God's grace and favor, bringing the provision that we need when we need it. Providing words of comfort and encouragement.

Obviously God doesn't drop things from the sky, have them magically appear out of thin air, or make money to grow on trees. He uses people to bring us the things that we need and the things He wants to give us in "good measure, pressed down and running over" (Luke 6.38). And so many people have listened to His voice and come to our aid.

I would never have seen things this way before because we tend to associate a cup running over with material wealth. But our cup is running over with goodness as He continues to pour out His love on us through new friends we have made at Turning Point a domestic violence organization and Life Church - our church in PA. Through these wonderful people we have received shelter, food, things for our new baby, and above all the loving kindness that only God can give.

Although this is a season that God knows I would not have ever wanted to go through, God through his infinite wisdom has brought a lot of good to us. We would never have met the people that we have met had we not gone through this and we would not have received His love and mercy in the way that we have.

In the 23rd Psalm, David says, "Surely goodness and mercy (or love, in some versions) shall follow me all the days of my life...". I know that most days I wish the goodness were in front of me so that I wouldn't experience any pain. But if we didn't ever feel that pain, then there would be no need for us to trust or have faith in God. But as His word says, it follows us, and it's not at a distance either. It follows us up close and is right on our heels. The obstacles are right in front of us. The pain is right next to us. His goodness and mercy are right behind us. And His loving arms are all around us.

To our family, especially my oldest son Anthony who has suffered along with me for so long; my friends Lou, Shei, Denise, Elan, Nani & Kela & Austin, Liz, Zory, and all the praying sisters; our Christ Tabernacle family, our Genesis family; our friends at Turning Point; the staff at St. Luke's hospital; the friends and co-workers of our friends (Rachel, Lucy) and anyone who has shown us love by something as simple as offering up a prayer & supplying something as big as a bed, you may never know how deeply your actions have affected our lives for good, but I want to tell you, THANK YOU & GOD BLESS YOU ALL, from the bottoms of our hearts.

To all of God's little helpers in our lives, the ones we know and those we may never meet, thank you for sending His big love our way.