Saturday, 31 August 2013

Finding contentment..

Nine years ago I became a mother. And, while it has been a roller coaster ride, with more life-changing moments in a decade than most people experience in a lifetime, when that child was placed in my arms, and I stared into her beautiful blue eyes, I felt a soul-satisfying, awe-struck wondering, bone-deep sense of completion. This, I thought, was what I was made for.

Four more pregnancies, deliveries and bouncing babies later.. I still look around at my children, in their various sizes, activities, development stages, and personalities, and I still get that soul-satisfying, awe-struck wondering, bone-deep sense of completion. This is what I was made for. 

I think it was my third child's birth, after my doctor missed the delivery, and the hospital doctor nearly missed it, and the nurses were caught unprepared.. that someone made the comment that my body was perfect for childbirth. My pregnancies are relatively easy (as easy as any pregnancy is), and my deliveries are quick and natural. And when I got pregnant again for the 5th time, and the 4th time in as many years, my midwife commented that I was built to have children. And again, I thought, yes, this is what I am made for. 

But I'm not speaking just physically. As a child, I was considered gifted -- I guess because I started kindergarten, reading to the first graders. Through my growing-up years, I was told over and over again, that I should be a lawyer, or some high-end businessperson.  I thrived in university, with the busy atmosphere of classes, due dates, and social activities. I've always needed a challenge to be my best.  And no where am I more challenged than as a mother of 5 busy little girls. 

I multitask as a matter of habit, keeping track of 5 pairs of little hands, I prioritize in heartbeat - changing diapers, ringing phones, boiling-over pots, and squabbling sisters.. oh and don't forget the baby's crying! I love the daily routines that are familiar, and yet the endless variety of my days, as each child is learning and growing and changing. It's not that difficult --- and yet its the hardest thing I've ever done. I am learning constantly, problem-solving on the go, adapting and changing to meet the needs of the people dependent on me every single day. 

And of course, that apparently wasn't enough to challenge me, according to God, because He also called me to homeschool these wonderful albeit exasperating children. So I add in the preparation and planning required, the self-discipline (let alone the training and teaching!) and the responsibility of their education, to the daily tasks of keeping them clean, fed and safe. 

But I wouldn't have it any other way. I love being home with my children. I love being a homeschool mother. I love being a mother, period. No where else would I find this joy, this contentment. 

This is what I was made for! 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Changes... and hope? Part 5

Continued..

Friends who saw him away from me and then with me were telling me they were concerned for me. They told me that he was drinking more, that he was out a lot. His family expressed their concern for my safety. One friend came to me telling me my husband and tried flirting with her, and when she confronted him on it, said, “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

I asked him for a separation agreement, and an allowance/support payment weekly. He didn’t want to at first, but I pushed and he reluctantly agreed. We had some small savings in a joint account, and he said he would use that account, and put money into our joint checking account for my use. About a month after that, my world was rocked again with another betrayal. He used all our savings, about $1200 worth, on dinners out (involving alcohol) and about $600 of that on his cell phone, in the space of three weeks. I confronted him on it, and he confessed to using a phone sex line, and to meeting at least one woman off that line, though he claimed nothing happened.

I was devestated, and immediately cut off all contact. I told him I was done, and that I would be seeing a lawyer to file for divorce as soon as I could. I also told him I was moving as quickly as I could, back to the city where we had met.

I saw him a few times between that and moving, on his visits with the kids. I did my best to avoid him during those times, though I couldn’t remove myself completely, with a nursing baby. I made sure I was never alone with him, if I could help it.

I moved away, with the kids, and we set up regular visitations, about once a month. For the first month, I didn’t talk to him at all, unless it was about our children. I reveled in the security I felt, and felt confident in my decision. I began rebuilding my self-esteem, and exploring some of my talents I hadn’t used yet. I set goals for myself, and began talking to a counsellor about my future. I started a home business, to gain some self-sufficiency.

The second month, I began talking with my husband a bit more. With the distance, I felt more confident in my interactions with him. Knowing that it was over, I had some curiosity about why some things happened, and we spent a couple of nights, rehashing our relationship. It was enlightening, and freeing.

I found out that while I had been rediscovering myself, my move had been like a wake-up call to him. He began seeing his church pastor weekly for counselling, and confessed to his church what had happened between us. He asked friends to make him accountable. He stopped drinking entirely. He attended every church service he could get to.

It was a bill that came up that showed me the first signs of true change. Before we separated, if we had a bill or needed a few hundred dollars, he would borrow from friends or family. Before we met, he was several thousand dollars in debt to friends and family, and during our time together, he had borrowed more. But this time it was different. He went without. He saved. And he paid cash. I was impressed.

We continued talking, about our past, and about what he was doing. He stopped pushing me to reconcile quickly, though he never stopped asking. He stopped with the “buts” whenever we talked about the assault. He stopped asking me about “my issues”, and if I was doing anything to “fix” myself. He became very open with me, and he respected my boundaries. It was as though God had done a spiritual heart transplant.

The next push came from a conversation I had with an aunt, about the nature of forgiveness. I claimed to have forgiven my husband. And I truly thought I had. I had given up my right of revenge, remembering God’s Word, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” I asked Jesus to take the debt my husband owed me for pain and suffering. I prayed for my husband, asking God to bless him, like Jesus commanded, praying for my enemies, and blessing those who persecuted me. But I had closed off from my husband, and refused to even be willing to try to trust him. And God pointed out to me that He didn’t do that. He didn’t hold my past against me. He said, Come let us reason together, and promised that He would make me white as snow. He promised that I was a new creature in him, that He would transform my mind, if I would renew with him daily.

I realized that I needed to be willing. Be soft. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, was about being soft, not hard. Not that one doesn’t set boundaries, protecting from future hurt, but that I had set my boundary too far. I wasn’t willing to even let my husband in, instead of simply setting boundaries of courtesy and respect. I refused to recognize his willingness to change, to let him change. I was reminded of the unmerciful servant, who having had his debt erased by the king, turned around and jailed the one that owed him.

I confessed my sin to God, asking him to give me a heart of flesh, not stone, like he promised. I committed to trusting God with my future, and to being willing to try, regardless of the outcome. I asked for guidance in making sure we were protected, and that we could have a healthy relationship. I asked for a spiritual heart transplant. 

But was it enough?  


Monday, 26 August 2013

Going downhill... (Part 4)

Continued..

My oldest daughter had regular visitations with her father, and I began encouraging those to be longer than they were before. About two months before I was due with our third child, she went for a week-long visit. We picked her up, and the night just seemed to go wrong. He was harsh with her, critical of me, and complaining of everything. We had done some shopping, and when we got home, I hurried through the kids’ bedtime routine, to try to keep them out of the way. I knew he was spoiling for another fight, and I was dreading it.

It started as soon as I sat down. We argued about my oldest daughter, about disciplining the kids. He claimed he was going to take over the discipline, as I was too soft, and told me some of what he was going to do, scaring me. I objected, and as soon as I did, he started yelling, saying I didn’t respect him, I didn’t care for him, I was always criticising him, and he could never please me. I was 9 months pregnant, and all of a sudden, I really felt like I couldn’t handle this. I got up, and walked away, in the middle of his ranting. I locked myself in my children’s room.

I heard him in the house, and I thought he was putting on shoes to go out. He wasn’t. He was looking for me. He found the locked door, and it seemed to enrage him. He roared, and the door burst open, hitting me in the thigh. My toddler daughter started screaming, and my older daughter started crying. He grabbed me by the wrists and pushed me down the hallway, yelling the whole time. I could see my older daughter behind him screaming for me, trying to catch up. I could see my toddler screaming in her crib, reaching for me. He pushed me against the wall, and yelled in my face, holding my wrists, pushing them against me with every new rant. I begged him to let me go. I begged him not to hurt me. I thought he was going to kill me.

He finally let me go, and turned to the girls’ room. He yelled at my daughter to get back into bed, and was going to get our toddler. I ran for the phone and called 911. I told the operator what had happened, and that he was getting our kids, and I was scared. He came holding our toddler, and pushing my oldest in front of him, and demanded to know who I was talking to. Then he told me to hang up the phone. He asked if I had called the police. I ignored him, and just kept talking to the operator, who could hear him. I then asked him to give me our kids, and he refused. The operator offered to talk to him, if he would give me our children, and he agreed. I took our kids, and ran with them into their bedroom, crawling on their bed, holding them, crying and shaking.

The police came, and one officer came in to the room with me, and one stayed with him. The officer helped me to calm down, and took me into the other bedroom, so they could look at the door he had broken open. I was able to calm myself and calm the children, and tell the officer a bit of what had happened. He left the room, and told me I could put my children to bed again. I did, and as I left their room, I saw my husband, in hand cuffs, being escorted out by police officers. He looked at me, in shock, and there was a look in his eyes of horror. I looked at him, my heart hurting, both because of what he had done to me, and because he was being taken from me.

I called a friend to come stay with me while I waited for the police officers to return for my statement. They informed me that he would be charged, and I had no say in that. I was also told that everything I said in my statement may be used against him in court.

Many victims won’t press charges, out of fear, out of love. Where I live, domestic assault is an automatic charge.

The court process was surreal. I didn’t have to testify, and he pled guilty to his charge, was convicted of domestic assault, and was given a suspended sentence, with time served (about 7 days), and probation of 12 months, with court ordered counselling. He was released, and part of his probation was a no-contact order with me, except by his written consent.

I had packed a suitcase for him, and some personal items, and I had written him a letter every night while he was jailed. Friends picked them up, and dropped off 2 dozen red roses, with a note, telling me he was very very sorry for what he had done.

Very quickly, contact began, against the advice of the agencies around me. He was there when our third daughter was born, and visited the whole time she was in hospital. Child protection services was the only thing that stood between him and his moving home. Most victims go back to their abusers very quickly. It was like the fear and shock and outrage was a dream, and I just missed him. It was as if I wore rose-colored glasses when I looked back at our history. I didn’t think I was abused, I excused him. I claimed this was an out-of-character moment for him, that he just “snapped” and he would never hurt me on purpose.

I began counselling myself with a local women’s shelter outreach worker. She showed me the cycle of abuse I lived with was typical – the continually escalating controlling behaviour and disrespect, the outburst of violence (yelling, physical assault, continually escalating with each outburst), the remorse and promises, usually with a gift of some kind, and then the honeymoon, of feeling like it will finally be better, until he starts criticising and demanding again. It shocked me to read that, and recognize the behaviours described there as my life. To see the phrases I had heard over and over again as being classified as verbal abuse was like a slap in the face.

I acknowledged that I was an abused wife. I was humiliated, ashamed, and so very very angry that I let this happen. I felt guilty that I had exposed my children to this, that I had lived with this for so long, and that I had submitted to this, thinking this was “normal”.

Over the four months that I began to recognize my situation for what it really was, I began seeing red flags in my continuing relationship with him. He was pushing to reconcile as quickly as possible, using my faith to justify it. “God hates divorce,” he would say, “and He doesn’t want us separate. ‘What God has put together, let no man tear asunder.’” He kept asking if I knew “what you did wrong that contributed to this”, or if I acknowledged “your part in all this”. He would say things like, “I was wrong, and I take full responsibility for my actions, but you kept pushing me, and I felt rejected by you, and that’s why I lost control.” There was always a “but” involved.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Moving and more... (Part 3)

Continued:

Over the month of January, we had some heart-to-heart talks. We realized that we were very isolated, and we needed more support around us, and that he needed a better job, so we decided to move about 8 hours north, to where I had grown up. We stayed with my parents for two months, while he found a job, and we found an apartment. 6 weeks after moving into our new apartment, I discovered I was pregnant again.

He was ecstatic again, but almost immediately withdrew from me. About a month after, he lost his job, and while he found one quickly, he was very moody. This time, it was worse. We began fighting over everything from what we did on the weekends, to the money I spent on groceries, to disciplining the kids. He also became very critical of our oldest, his stepdaughter, my daughter, and we fought over that too.
We met with the pastor of the church he had decided we would attend. (Yes, he decided, even though he had said we would talk about it, and visit several, it was the only one we went to, before he said that was “home”). I shared some of my concerns, and he gave his “reasons” for his actions. The pastor told us to talk more, and that he was praying for us.

Most Christian pastors have no training to deal with domestic abuse. A lot of abused women leave the church because pastors make the mistake of encouraging those women to stay in the marriage, out of fear of them leaving, not wanting to encourage divorce. They also fail to recognize that no amount of “submission” will ever be enough for an abuser, and that abusers deceive very very well.


The verbal abuse escalated as my pregnancy continued. I found myself in tears more often than not after one of our fights. My nightmares returned, and I found myself longing for the days when I was a single parent. I began dreading his return after his work day was done. I would meet him at the door, and gauge his mood. If he seemed in a good mood, happy to see me, I dawdled finishing supper, and encouraged the kids to interact with him. If he came home venting about his boss and his coworkers, I hurried, and put the kids to bed early. I watched, and managed around his moods, like I did around my toddler daughter. I offered snacks, and encouraged naps, taking the children out of the home on the weekends if needed. I didn’t dare complain about the kids’ behaviour, as I didn’t want him having anything to do with disciplining them, fearing he would cross the line with them too.  

Monday, 19 August 2013

For better or for worse.. (Part 2)

Continue on for part two of my story:

I wondered many times if I should leave. I thought about where I would go, what I would take if I did leave, and how I would get there, without a vehicle, without money. We had no money, and everytime we did, I couldn’t use it. He drove me to get groceries, and if I spent so much as 5 dollars at the corner store, I had to explain why.

I was tormented at night with nightmares that he would leave, and just not come back. Or that I would have a police officer at my door telling me he’d been killed in an accident on the road. I felt guilty, because in my dreams, I felt relieved that he was gone.

We went to his church every Sunday. (I had attended a different one while we were dating.) We smiled and shook hands. No one knew what went on behind closed doors. I would stand and make sure the kids wouldn’t run off, while he chatted with his friends, about people I didn’t know, places I had never gone to, and experiences I wasn’t a part of. I knew no one, I had no friends, though I tried to make some, and I felt very alone.

Abusers like to isolate their victims, to make their victim dependent on themselves for social interaction, and for financial support.

Christmas was hard for me that year. I had had a tradition with my daughter of getting a new dated Christmas ornament for her every year, and when I asked my husband for the money for it that year, he refused. He said it was silly, and that we couldn’t “waste” our money that way. Yet, a friend could call him, and he would drive an hour to meet him, and go out for drinks, defending himself with the excuse of “needing a break” or “guys’ night out”.

I remember sharing with my sister-in-law over Christmas dinner, that I would be surprised if we made it past Christmas. I thought that he would leave me by then, scared of the idea, and almost hoping for it at the same time.

On December 27, we were on our way to a family Christmas event, and we were hit by a truck. It wasn’t a very serious accident and no one was hurt, but serious enough that our van was wrecked. After we were all done with the police and sorting out getting home, my husband and I talked clearly that night. He confessed that he was just about ready to leave, but that the accident we’d had scared him, and he realized what he could have lost. He said he was committed to trying harder, to yelling less, to being more considerate of my needs too.

On December 31, he was on his way home from work in the rental car we had gotten, and he was T-boned by a driver who ran the stop sign. I got a very confused phone call from him, and then heard nothing. I had a 6 month old at home, and no way to get to the hospital, where he was being taken, and no way of finding out if he was alive or dead. I called my brother-in-law, who drove the hour to the hospital, and updated me every 2 hours or so. I hung on to the phone like a drowning victim to a rope that day. I realized I still loved him, and I was committed myself to making this work.


He was released from hospital with a concussion and some very bad bruises and seatbelt rash. We felt as though our marriage had been given a second chance.  

Friday, 16 August 2013

Back to the beginning: Part 1

I thought in exploring my needs and wants in a relationship, I should go back and revisit what started this all:

As a teenager, I went to the classes, heard the lectures – abusive boyfriends, unhealthy relationships, etc. My friends and I swore we’d never be one of *those* women, who let themselves get beat up physically and emotionally by some stupid guy. I was too strong, too confident to ever let myself be abused.

I met him in September, in church. He was the first guy I dated, who claimed to be a Christian. He shared my background of Biblical values, with at least a nodding acquaintance with the name of Jesus. He was charming and very considerate. I fell hard, and we saw each other nearly every evening for three months.

Of course, we each had our baggage. I had a daughter from a previous (failed) relationship. He was on probation, with a criminal conviction for assault. I was cautious, I thought, but I was satisfied with the steps he had taken to “fix” his issues: counselling and anger management. It seemed like he had learned to control himself.

There were a few issues during our dating. A scary incident with my daughter almost ended everything 6 months into our relationship. He patiently waited and pursued, though. Another incident in a parking lot ended a date, and again almost derailed it, but he was extremely apologetic.

40 % of offenders assault their victims again within 30 months of the first conviction. (American Bar Association, http://new.abanet.org/domesticviolence/Pages/default.aspx). If violence has happened in a relationship, it’s more likely to happen again.

He proposed within a year of dating, and I joyfully accepted. We set the date 4 months away. Shortly after we were engaged, I discovered I was pregnant. He was ecstatic. I wanted to tell our parents right away, and change our date until after our child was born, but he wanted to wait until after the wedding to tell them. We compromised, and we told them about 2 months before the wedding, but we didn’t change the date.
Abusers generally want to impregnate their victims, as it’s a sign of their power and control, but abuse generally escalates during and immediately after pregnancy.

We were married.. and things started with a bang.  On our way to our honeymoon, a 5 hour drive, and he started fighting with ne. I pretended to sleep just to avoid the discomfort, but it did create a tone that was to mark our marriage.

Within 4 months we moved into a new apartment and welcomed our daughter to our family. He was working a split shift warehouse job, that made ends meet (barely) and we had a tiny 2 bedroom apartment, and we were happy, I thought.

We were happy, for about 2 weeks. Then, something changed. It was gradual, just little things. Because his job started so early, he would come home and sleep, and he told me to keep our kids quiet. Since we had an infant, that was easier said than done. He would yell at me, telling me I wasn’t a good mother, I wasn’t a fit parent since I let our baby cry, and I was selfish and wasn’t thinking of him, letting the kids disturb him. He would storm out after an argument, slamming the door, sometimes hard enough to knock the pictures off the wall. He’d zoom out of the parking lot, tires squealing, leaving me with two children, no where to go and no way to get there.

He’d come home a few hours later, apologetic and remorseful, usually with some treat for me – a flower, my favorite kind of chocolate bar, a hot chocolate. He’d blame it on being so tired, stressed at work, or some other excuse. I accepted his apology and of course he was forgiven, and I promised to try harder.

And the cycle would repeat. Sometimes it was because supper wasn’t ready when he got home, or his laundry wasn’t dry, or the kids’ toys were all over the floor. Sometimes it was because I was too demanding (I asked him to talk to me or play with the kids) or because I wasn’t paying enough attention to him (he wanted me to watch movies with him instead of doing dishes or folding laundry). Each time was the same. He would yell and blame me as the reason he wasn’t happy. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t doing enough, I wasn’t trying enough.

As the fall turned into winter, our fights got worse. Once, he told me to go into our bedroom and shut the door, so we could “talk”. He grabbed my wrists and held them down while he yelled at me. I stood up for myself and told him that if he ever touched me like that again, I would call the police. He stormed out, and didn’t return for several hours.  

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

My marriage manual...

I was asked what I wanted in marriage, or how I saw marriage as it's supposed to be. This has been difficult for me to figure out, as I never really wanted marriage to begin with. Add to that my marriage being not good from the start, and well.. what do I know about marriage??

Now, like everyone else, I'm sure, I've seen happy marriages. I've seen married couples who've grown old together, and still seem in love. They're cute. And I know it's work -- just living with someone else is aggravating at times. But I've never seen a couple who made me want what they had.

To me, the cons of marriage have always outweighed the pros. So why did I get married in the first place? I wanted security, a family.. and to please my parents. I was already a single parent when I got married.. and I was pregnant on my wedding day. There was a lot of unspoken pressure to marry, and marry quickly, I think. I thought marriage would give me security - financially, emotionally.. that here was someone who I could talk to, could count on because we were going through things together.

I think if I were to do it again -- and that is a big if! -- marriage would have to be more than just security. I'm not afraid of being a single parent now, and if being an unwed mother was bad in my parents' eyes, being a divorcee is worse, so I no longer feel pressure to be or stay married. I have children now, and while I'd like more (I always did want a large family .. weird I know.. ) I'm ok if I don't.

So what would a marriage need to be like for me to want to be married?

I think it comes down to one thing: I want to feel special. I want to feel like I'm worth something to someone, that I'm important -- important enough that they would give up something just to be with me, to spend time with me. I want to feel as though I'm worth sacrifice.

Obviously, I want to be treated with respect. I want to be heard, and for my opinion to be valued. I want someone to think that my wants are important, and that they remember them, because they like me.

I want to be pursued.

I don't think I'll be able to settle again for less. If someone wants to be with me, they will have to prove it.. and the thing is -- I've learned I'm worth the effort.

Now I know this all seems very me-focused, but I do want to give to someone else too. I want to be someone's best friend, to share their dreams as they share mine. I want to be able to cuddle and just be together, without needing to do something or even talk together, but just enjoy the company while doing our own things. I want to be able to talk for hours, about everything, and anything, and nothing at all. I want to be able to point out my/our kids' funny or adorable sayings and actions and have inside jokes and shared memories. I want to work together on projects that benefit the family, and trade ideas and build off one another. I want to look forward to waking up next to them.

I want us as a couple to be better together than we would be apart.

I do miss being held. Not that I was held often. I miss looking up and sharing the delight over a child. Not that he paid attention that often. I miss feeling excited about seeing him -- the last time I felt excited over seeing him was while we dated.. knowing he was coming home during our marriage brought fear, not excitement.

I think I miss what I thought marriage was going to be, not what it was. And I think I've been missing that for a very long time..

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What does it mean to be beautiful?

What does it mean to be beautiful, both in the eyes of others and in the eyes of God? Through some study and meditation, I believe there are three ingredients to true beauty: Holiness, Righteousness and Humility, otherwise known as purity, integrity and modesty.
True beauty is discovered when one realizes their identity and value in Jesus Christ. When one is sure of their identity, and builds their life on that unshakable foundation, one has a confidence that shines. When you know who you are, and when you see yourself as God sees you, you are truly beautiful!
Every human being has value — value as a human being, a creation of God. This intrinsic value is not based on what we’ve done or said, or what others think of us or assign to us. It’s just there. Just because God made you, you are valuable! Every believer has value — value as a child of God. He chose you, He saved you — obviously there is value in you, or else why would He have sacrificed so much for you? We were created for a specific purpose and a specific function. We are valuable and beautiful, because God made us that way. He declared us “good”!
The first ingredient of beauty is purity. True beauty shines pure. Emotional, verbal, physical, sexual and spiritual purity are required to have true, God-given beauty. Purity is an ingredient of beauty as it reflects God’s holiness. We are called to be holy as God is holy. Our body and mind is a temple of the Holy Spirit,  and as such should be treated with respect. We can’t sully our bodies with abuse of drugs, laziness or  over-indulgence. We can’t poison our minds with negativity and bitterness, pornography and violence, or humanistic philosophies. And we can’t defile our spirits with chasing after things of this world rather than “living in the light of eternity,” as the song says.
Holiness is the ultimate purity. It is more than just cleanliness, it is sanctification. We are cleansed of “all unrighteousness” and therefore blameless before God. We are to present ourselves as living sacrifices in worship to God. How can we do that without being holy? And this is a very doable thing: If it were not, God would not require it of us. He is incapable of leading into temptation, but instead He “delivers us from evil.” He promised that there would be no temptation too strong for us to bear,  and that there would always be a way out. We are called to be pure. As purity flows through our lives, we shine with God’s beauty, and become truly beautiful.
The second ingredient of beauty is integrity. True beauty shines real. Our actions must match our beliefs and attitudes. Integrity is an ingredient of beauty as it reflects God’s righteousness. We are called to live rightly as God is righteous. Do we say we believe one thing, and then act differently? Do our mouths spout off platitudes of discipline and devotion to our friends or on our blogs, but if people were to observe our days, the majority of them is spent in front of a computer screen, ignoring the things (or people!) screaming for our attention.  Our appearances must match our heart, and we need to be real!
Honesty is a major part here. We need to be honest with ourselves and with others. God looks at the heart and He knows what we really believe, no matter how much we try to deny or fake it. And no matter how much you try to fake it, it will show. People can sense when someone is being fake. You can come across as fake, even if you don’t mean to, because we can be really good at lying to ourselves. If we will be honest, God can lead us to be righteous. It is a commandment not to lie, and to live a lie is a sin against God’s righteousness.
Integrity and righteousness go hand in hand. The Bride of Christ will be clothed in “linen of righteousness”. Righteousness is not merely “good deeds” but the willingness to live rightly with God, the genuine desire to obey. Integrity is a part of someone’s character, not just their behaviour. In being righteous, and godly, we are genuine in seeking His kingdom, not our own whims and wants.
The third ingredient of beauty is modesty. This may seem strange, that true beauty is modest. But its true. Modesty shines as Jesus shone. God is a gentleman, and true beauty requires this gentle Spirit. We are called to live humbly, meekly, with modesty. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Gentle spirits and modesty do not mean weak. Humility is not weakness. It takes more strength to stand firm, unresisting, fighting the urge of fight or flight, than to react to provocation. Jesus was a meek man, but no one would have called him a weak man. His anger cleared the temple. His strength so impressed the captain of the Roman guard, that upon Jesus’ death, the captain declared that he must have been the son of God. Modesty is a strength that comes from our confidence in God. Modesty is uncomplaining, gives rather than demands, serves rather than commands, and gives up the need to control others. It is self-control, not arrogance.  Modesty comes from a confidence in who we are and how much we’re worth, so that we don’t need to flaunt our assets or prove our attractions.
When one thinks of modesty, one thinks of modest dress. Modesty has more to do with attitude than appearance. Women can be covered from neck to toe, and be more provocatively dressed than a woman dressed in more skin-revealing clothes with an attitude of modesty. Modesty has a confidence that has no need to flaunt or embellish. We are called to be modest as it reflects God’s love. Love has no need of boasting in itself. Love is genuine, aware of others’ opinions, but not willing to bend to peer pressure. Modesty in love leads rather than follows.
Modesty is a form of humility. Modest beauty knows who really is deserving of all the credit — God! Modesty gives all glory to God. After all, we did nothing to create the face, body, talents or skills we may be gifted with.  True beauty is modest, and a reflection of God’s glory. Modesty is an attitude of service, service for the sake of serving God and others, and not for any reward. It is service done in secret, and letting God reward them. Modesty shares, and is generous, not self-serving.  It is a respect for others, and a respect for oneself.
Beauty is found in confidence in God. When we know the value God placed on us, how can we devalue ourselves? How can we declare “ugly” and “worthless” what God declared “good” and “very good”, and worth the biggest price: the sacrifice of His Own Son?  To do that, calls God a liar. We can be secure in His love. Believe it, young lady. Rely on it, young man. God loves YOU! He loves you more than you can ever imagine. And because He loves you, you can be confident that there is nothing you need to enhance, to dress up, to prove, to give away, or to flaunt in order to demonstrate that you are beautiful, to get the attention every human being craves. God loves you because He made you. And that’s all you need to know. True beauty shines out of this confidence, reflected through purity, modest and integrity. May we all be beautiful in the sight of God.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Marriage and mayhem...

Yeah, two things that don't normally go together, right? But they have in my home.

I may have mentioned before that my marriage has been abusive. It has been, and with the coming of my last child, turned that way again. It was a slow, gradual change, that started right about the same time that we conceived her.  At first, it was subtle -- silent moments, ignoring me, fits of anger, overly harsh criticism - of both me and my daughter - and while I wasn't happy, I didn't name it abusive. I did start trying to correct it though. I asked for conversations, I offered books to read aloud, and I asked for what I needed... and didn't get it.

As time went on, things grew worse, and more than just verbal and emotional. The first major incident of physical abuse (this time around) was about 4 months into my pregnancy, and scared me witless. I packed up my kids, and took them and my pregnant self to my brother-in-law's place. They calmed me down, and both my husband and they convinced me to go back.. but things were never the same.

Come 6 months into my pregnancy, I started back with the counselling program we had used the first time. I asked him to join with me, and he did.. sporadically. There was no consistency, and by my 7th month, my counsellor was advising me to ask for a separation then.

I waited until after our baby was born, and when she was a couple weeks old, I sat my husband down and asked him to either get very serious about this counselling program... or get out. He said he would get serious.

He didn't. He dabbled. He did a bare minimum, and not much changed. I waited 1 month, then 2.. then 3.. and finally I couldn't take it anymore. I asked him to leave, and 2 weeks ago, he did.

So my marriage is in limbo. Physically, emotionally, even financially, I'm in a better place. I feel safer, I feel more on balance, I feel more positive since he's been gone. He has been attempting to work harder with the counselling program, so time will tell.

I am slowly recovering my emotional health, and I am planning for my future. I'm also, oddly enough, discovering what I need and want in a marriage, should I ever have one again -- with my estranged husband or with someone else. Divorce isn't what I needed or wanted, but I'm now at a place where I would rather be single than have what legally was a marriage but in reality never was.

I'm in a unique place. As a parent I'm dealing with training pants.. and training bras. As a homeschooler, I have spent time and money on materials to help teach a Christian worldview about relationships and marriage, about love and courtship, about purity and choosing a partner to my daughters, and I find a lot of that coming back to me, in my considerations about my own future. I will be sharing some of those thoughts in the coming days...

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Even Though

Even though my world is crashing
Even though it’s all undone
Even though my heart is smashing
Even though my dreams are gone
Even though it hurts so much
Even though there’s so much pain
Even though I don’t feel your touch
I know you remain
Yet will I hope
Yet will I receive
My God is here and He will help me
This truth I will believe
I can’t see you through the darkness
I can’t feel you in the fog
I can’t hear you in the silence
I can’t stop here in the bog
I can’t go one more day
I can’t do this yet again
I can’t figure out the way
I know you remain


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Submission: an ugly word

Dictionary.com gives this definition of "to submit": "to give over or yield to the power or authority of another."  

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? To voluntarily give someone else power or authority over yourself is something that no human being wants to do, nor do we do well. Yet, this is what God calls every single believer to: submission.

Submission is a dirty word, today. To submit has images of punishment, of slavery, of powerlessness and without choices. But what is submission really?

Submission at its core has this concept of giving up one's own desires, wishes, self-interest, in favor of the interest and desires of another. That instead of doing what we want, we do what someone else wants, even, and especially, if it costs us something. 

A true believer is called to submit to God. We who desire to follow Jesus are to give over to His power and authority. Most of us can accept this. After all, shouldn’t the Creator of the Universe, the One who made us and knows us inside out, the One who gave His life for us, be trusted to know what’s best for us? Working this out daily may be tougher than accepting it, but still, for the sincere, submission to Jesus is not something we actively fight against, knowingly. Instead, it's something we actively fight for. We daily "pick up our cross" to follow him. 

Psalms 37:4 says, "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (NIV) Part of submission includes a desire to please.. to "take delight.. in the interests of some one else.  When we submit to God, there is a promise: that He, God, will give us what we most truly want. The desires of your heart are soul-satisfying, ultimate and deep. The desires of your heart include the childhood dreams, the things we crave and are afraid to even admit we want -- and it's those that God promises to give to us, when we submit to him. 

God also calls us to submit to human authority. Here, part of submission includes the notion of honor. Paul in Romans calls the Church to submit to the human authorities, as they were placed there by God, and to give what is due to them, whether honor, deference, or tangible dues. He also declares that "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things, there is no law." If we are really submitted to God, and have His Spirit guiding us, we will automatically submit to human law, because no one rules against the products of living by the Spirit. 

But, what about the call to the Christian woman: to submit to her husband. This is a much, much, harder to accept and accomplish. Especially in this world of feminism and “equality, we rebel against this actively, and almost, angrily. 

Why should a man be over me? we argue. What makes him any better than me? I can do just as much and more than he can! We justify ourselves: well, if he would lead better, I could submit better. If he would just do his job, I would do mine.

Feminism has deceived even the Christian woman into thinking submission is an outdated, old-fashioned model of marriage, and that it leads to at best, discrimination and loss of identity, and at worst, abuse. None of this is true. Submission is the model God put into place for the best. It allows for the best way for a woman to shine, use her gifts to the fullest and be protected, spiritually, physically, financially, mentally, or socially.

So why do we argue and resist God’s best plan so much? I believe it’s because we have been lied to about true submission. Some of those lies include: that submission means he’s better than me and somehow I have less value than him, that submission means I don’t get a say, I’m not allowed to have opinion, and that submission means I have to do whatever he says, even to the point of abuse.

All of these lies come from a wrong understanding of submission and a wrong understanding of leadership. Submission does not equal slavery. Submission, real submission, means less responsibility, and more freedom.  Leadership doesn’t equal dictatorship, but rather, it means less self-interest, more responsibility and service to others. As someone who has been in an abusive marriage, I’ve struggled with these concepts. Sin has corrupted marriage, like everything else, and both my husband and I had wrong ideas of marriage, leadership and submission, which caused our marriage to derail.

In looking at marriage and submission, I am awed by God’s plan and provision for women. He even provides for the failures of the human race, by declaring that He is “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5, NIV). It is incredible to me, that in my time of need, as I am without a husband, and my children without their father, that God Himself fulfills that role.

The truth of the matter is that submission, real submission, means that because I have worth, because I am valuable, I need to be protected. Peter calls wives “the weaker vessel”, but I don’t think he meant “weaker” as in less able, I think he meant weaker, as porcelain is weaker and more fragile than common stoneware. We wouldn’t dare handle porcelain teacups without due care, but stoneware often ends up chipped and worn because we are less careful with it – it can handle the rougher treatment. In my submission to my husband's leadership, I am recognizing, and he does as well if he is leading properly, my true value as something that needs protection, and doesn’t need the rough handling of the world. His leadership then is self-sacrifice as the go-between, between his family and the world, and my submission is the support and help and rest he needs to face that battle. 

Another definition of “to submit” is “to present for the approval, consideration, or decision of another” or “to state with deference; suggest or propose”. Part of submission is giving of suggestions and opinions. So that by default means that submission cannot mean I don’t have a say in my marriage. It means the opposite: that I am required to give my opinion and suggestions to my husband. How can I submit if he has nothing to approve? Submission without giving something to submit isn’t submission, that’s non-participation. You might as well not be married then. A real leader welcomes and needs the input of those under his care, and those under his care must, if they expect him to do his job well, let him know what they need. 

Leadership doesn't mean "final say" and submission doesn't mean "compromise always". True leadership and submission in marriage is not a dictatorship and "giving in". There should never be a need for one to give in to the other unwillingly. Instead, in cases of disagreement, partners in marriage work through it till they come to a mutually satisfying conclusion... and are in unity. Submission will always equal unity. 

In a marriage of God’s design, the wife who submits to her husband is freed from the sole responsibility of decision-making for the family, and protected from the world’s demands, free to pursue her heart’s desire and develop her gifts and talents – which development will only benefit the family, especially her husband (look at Proverbs 31: he had no lack of gain because of her!). The husband is freed sole responsibility of decision-making for the family, from feeling threatened and dishonored, and won’t have to constantly fight on two fronts: the world and his wife. Submission creates partnership, creates a team, a "one-flesh" arrangement that maximizes the strengths and protects the weaknesses of both people, and leads to ultimate satisfaction. 

The key to submission is trust. If the husband properly takes his role, loving his wife as Christ loved the church, then nothing he does will be without consideration of the best interests of his wife (and family). He will not make a decision without thinking of her. A wife can then safely submit to her husband, because she trusts that all his decisions will be with care of her, and it is easy for her to submit. If the wife properly takes her role, honoring her husband as leader, as the Church honors Christ and helps with His mission, then nothing she does will be without consideration of how she can best help her husband (and family). She will not decide anything without thinking of the effect on him. A husband can then safely lead and protect, and rest in, his wife’s care, because he trusts that she will be behind him 100%, never hurting him, and he won’t be watching his back while he is trying to forge ahead. It is then easy for him to lead on, and develop his gifts and talents to further the family. And she can safely help and support, resting in her husband's care, because she trusts that he goes before her 100%, never hurting her, and she won't be afraid to open up while moving ahead. 

Submission creates a partnership that is strong, united and confident. When both have the best interests of the other, mutual submission happens. And ultimately, that’s what marriage is all about. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Changes and challenges

I really should be more consistent with this. Oh well.. one of these days, maybe I'll get my act together.

So many changes. My baby girl joined us April 14th, and her arrival was soo different than what I'd planned for. First of all, she was late (I'd been expecting/hoping she'd be a week or two early!).. 3 days past my due date, in fact. Second, she was born in a hospital -- had been planning a home birth -- but due to an ice storm that damaged power lines and downed trees, we had no heat, power or running water in our home. Can't have a baby without those things! Third, and this I still don't quite understand, I didn't realize I was actually in labour! I had 4 children previously, and I don't recognize labour? Wha.. ?  But it's true. Mostly because I'd been having contractions for days, and when contractions started on the 13th, I didn't really pay much attention to them.

It worked like this: we had no power in our home, and we have several small children. We were wanting to go to my mom's for the time it would take to restore power -- a little longer than typical at our home, because of specific storm damage. But... due with a baby, so we couldn't go just then. Like I said, I'd been having contractions, so I called my midwife and asked if we could turn the what-I-assumed-were-false contractions into the real thing, through some kind of augmentation.. breaking waters, stimulation, etc.. so we could have this baby and then go someplace safe. She agreed, given that I was already overdue, and because of the circumstances, and told us she would meet us at the hospital at a certain time. So we packed our kids off to relatives, and headed out.

I was still contracting, and noticed they were getting stronger, but didn't really think much of it. We were on the road by 11:30 Saturday night, and walked into the hospital at midnight. By then, I had an inkling that maybe augmentation wouldn't be necessary -- the contractions were making it hard to walk! My midwife took one look at me and smiled. She knew..  Things kind of sped up then. I got undressed and settled in, and the contractions were coming fast and furious, about a minute or two apart. I tried to focus on some music on a playlist, and cracking jokes with my midwife between contractions. I didn't keep track of time.

Every delivery is different! Some have been so overwhelmingly fast, I never felt anything but pain. With my 2nd youngest, I had enough breaks between contractions to feel her moving into the birth canal. With this one, I had the overwhelmingly fast contractions, but not so overwhelming I couldn't feel her move! I felt the smooth move down, and then felt her shoulders stick a bit -- a first! Definitely my biggest baby. But I only pushed for a few minutes, and we had a beautiful baby girl, 8 lbs 4 oz... at 1:35 am! Only an hour and a half after we had arrived at the hospital. One of my fastest labours ever! And she was almost a pound bigger than my last biggest baby.

My midwife was amazing. She put orders on my chart that I wasn't to be disturbed unless I needed something. And that I was feeding on demand, so there was no nosy nurse wanting to insist I feed her on some artificial schedule. She slept that night for almost 4 hours... then nursed for almost 3 hours, lol. We stayed over Sunday, and Monday night, where she slept again for a 4 hour stretch before feeding again.. lovely sleeper (which has continued!) We did hit a minor hiccup, when the hospital almost didn't want to release her because they thought she might have jaundice, but again, my midwife went to bat for us, and signed the papers after a blood test, because she had no worries. The child was eating fine, after all.

So.. discharged from the hospital, went back to the house, and while our newborn slept in her carseat, I proceeded to pack up clothing for 5 children and 2 adults, along with all the baby paraphernalia, for a week! Then we picked up our kids, showed the baby off to various relatives, and hopped in the van for a 7 hour ride to Grandma's!

The only downside to the hospital stay? Both baby and I came down with a cold... but we were fine, and she was back up at her birth weight before the week was out.

Today, she is a happy, healthy, smiling, cooing, rolling over almost-4-month old, adored by siblings and parents alike. And she sleeps 6-7 hours at night! This is a happy mama...