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Army of Angels

Mommy, will you ask God to send his army of angels, again, tonight?

When she was young, every night – without fail – Erin asked me that question. One night, when she was scared, I asked God to send an army of angels for protection, and that was it. For years afterwards, every single night, she wanted those angels to come back.

Back then, we lived a few miles away from a waste management plant, which we referred to as the poo-poo plant. As you can imagine, the odor from that facility is something fierce. If the wind blew just right, we could smell it from our house. And forget the days immediately following Thanksgiving or Easter. Goodness! It was rotten.

Erin BugDriving past it, one day, I mentioned the particularly awful smell that was being emitted from it, and to our surprise, Erin perked up. “There’s no such thing as a poo-poo plant,” she adamantly proclaimed from her car seat.

It took me a few minutes to make the connection, but then I got it. From her innocent perspective, I realized for all of these years when I said “poo-poo plant,” my sweet little Erin Bug, as we still affectionately call her, had pictured a plant – like a bush or a flower – literally growing, well, poop. All I could do was laugh. No wonder she was so put off by our ridiculousness. You’re absolutely right, Erin, there is no such thing as a poo-poo plant.

Children see the world from a different perspective and it reminds me that what we say matters. How important are the words we use, the words we choose?

I believe our words are very important. They are powerful. Proverbs 12:6 tells us words have the power to destroy and the power to build up. They can either cause confusion, hurt and anger or they can show love, support and understanding. How are we using our words? Are we using them to love or to hate? To tear down or to bless?

The tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21) and at our death, we will give an account for each one we have spoken. “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37). Words are so important that we will be held accountable for them before God.

When I used the words “poo-poo plant,” they meant something completely different to Erin than what they did to me. And when we prayed for an army of angels, our words meant that we were asking, specifically, for lots of protection.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d love to know what her little five, six, seven, ten year old mind saw. What did it look like to her? And how would it feel for her to know that God sent his best of the best to guard us?

Imagine it for a minute: God’s soldiers, the strongest of all the angels, fully dressed in military uniforms with the grandest collection of artillery and combat gear available, massive white wings and golden halos – and they’re all standing guard to protect Erin, her family and her home. Believing this, she felt safe.

And how many did she see? Hundreds? Thousands? All of them surrounding our house – outside of her window, at each door and maybe even some on the rooftop watching for the enemy? There’s no way any bad guys were going to get past them, no sir.

In my adult mind, I will admit, I saw something completely different. But then again, she was approaching our prayers in childlike wonder, with childlike faith.

Throughout scripture, we are told to have faith. In fact, “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). What’s more, Ephesians 6 tells us that faith is part of the armor of God and is like a shield with which we protect ourselves from the “flaming arrows of the evil one.” So by Erin asking for those angels, and believing wholeheartedly they were there, she was speaking powerful words that pleased God, while displaying complete, childlike faith.

Just as importantly, she believed in the power of prayer. Erin believed, and still believes I might add, in prayer so strongly that, as she got older, she was the one who would always be mindful to say, “Don’t forget to pway,” as she scampered off to her room.

Coming from your child, those are some of the most powerful words you’ll ever hear.

Louis

Erin believes in the power of prayer so much,
she even taught Louis to pray.

Be a Tumbleweed

Of this I am sure: everything changes; nothing stays the same.

During the past several months, I have had more than my fair share of moments to process through some hard stuff. You see, the world as I knew it changed dramatically last year, and it will never, ever be the same.

As such, my heart has never before, and I can only hope it never will be again, been quite this raw. I’ve felt every feeling a heart can feel at a great level of intensity and I’ve experienced every single human emotion. Feeling deeply can be both positive and negative; however, I understand now how incredibly important it is to feel even the hard stuff rather than ignore the emotions that arise.

Change happens to all of us. I see it in my conversations, every day. Some embrace the newness with excitement, while others hold on tightly to the ways of yesteryear.

In my professional career, those who are unwilling to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology get left behind. The institutions, systems and professionals that chose to move forward are the most successful, and sadly, those choosing to remain stagnant are beginning to suffer the consequences.

If everything in this world changes, then what about God? Is he progressive? Does he embrace the fast-paced world in which we live? Does his stance on humanity evolve? Or does He remain the same and remain steadfast throughout eternity? I believe the answer is both yes and no. Now, before you go jumping to conclusions about this statement, allow me to explain.

A friend of mine recently described to me how these huge tumbleweeds, some taller than homes, roll around in the west Texas sun and become so dry and brittle that once lit, they go up in flames and turn to ash in a fraction of a second. Compared to logs that burn slow and steady, while providing heat and light for an extended period of time, tumbleweeds produce a big, bright glow but for a moment, and then darkness returns to the night sky.

Our lives on Earth pass as quickly as a tumbleweed burns. How are we showing up and what are we doing to help? What is our legacy going to be for those we leave behind?

Issues of our grandparents’ generations, such as women’s suffrage, the Holocaust and slavery are now replaced with marijuana legalization, transgender equality and refugees. How did God’s shape the past and how will His will be done, today? Are we aligning our hearts to the will of God?

People on both sides of every issue quote verses from the Bible to prove their points. This has forced me to stop and meditate on the heart of God. Is the God of today the same God of yesterday? Does his stance on refugees, bathroom issues and equality ever change, or does He change the hearts of His people to be more aligned with His heart? Or for that matter does He even care about what we feel are the biggest issues of our time?

I believe God does care. He cares about the issues of every generation and uses these battles to refine the hearts of His people. Imagine if black Americans were still in the bondage of slavery and had the stigma of using a separate water fountain. Would He want his children to remain outcasts in their own communities?

Although we can say nothing stays the same and tolerances of today are norms of tomorrow, God’s heart remains the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He protects His people and purifies their hearts; however, He does allow us, as individuals or as generations of people, to go through hardships necessary for us to grow.

I believe the most appropriate response to any issue we face is always love. To show the love of Jesus to all people and in every situation. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul said the greatest virtue of any man is love.

Love is mentioned throughout 1 Corinthians. One of my absolute favorite passages is found in chapter 1 verses 1-3: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Moreover, God himself is love. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “the one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

We are also told to give up our friendship with the world and to become friends of God. I was convicted of this several years ago and decided to turn off the TV and spend more time reading and in prayer.

We also know that God’s word warns about calling that which is evil good and that which is dark light. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen that happen from the mainstream media, and those that follow them on social media, more than in my entire lifetime.

Speaking the truth in love is a delicate balance, however, and one that many fail to master. The tongue can be a deadly weapon, which is why we are told to “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

That’s Offensive

If we are living our lives according to the will of God, our lives and our words will offend those of the world. In fact, we already are. We are called bigots, hate-mongers and worse, simply for speaking His truth. In fact, 2 Timothy tells us that, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The world does not approve of God’s message.

His message is clear – the Bible doesn’t beat around the bush – and those who hear his truths are often offended. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.

God does not change; He remains steadfast, predictable, faithful. He does, however, allow the changing world in which we live to perfect us. Issues facing our society, and our individual lives, are used to bring about his will and to make us more like Jesus.

As believers, our lives on Earth are much like that of a tumbleweed. They are short. They are fierce. They are bright. But only if we allow them to be.

We have an opportunity to make a significant impact in the world but only for a short period of time. Once the window of opportunity is gone, we can only hope we brought light to the world that sets fire to the logs and continues to glow.

If you want to make an impact on the world, rather than debating with strangers on social media or arguing your point during your office coffee break, do something different. Turn off the TV. Log off of social media. Take action in your community and in your home. You only have one chance to be that big, bright light in this cold, dark world. I say, be a tumbleweed.

 

Paid with Love

In the age of instant access, social media, and 24-hour news stations, everyone has their own unique expert opinion. How many times have you been on social media sites and seen people publically shame one another over their actions? The gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo that was shot when a 4 year old child’s life was in danger and every single move that each of the presidential candidates made during the election received severe criticism from those on the other side of the fence. Hate is spewed online every minute of every day, and if we let it, that hate will seep into our hearts.

With all of the criticism, I am reminded of the cartoon, which depicts a man, a woman, and a donkey. In each of the four possible scenarios, the man is criticized.

mule

This image is pretty self-explanatory, so there’s no need for further commentary, other than to say no matter what decision we make, someone, is going to criticize us; it is inevitable. But wow! Does it ever open my eyes to how anything we chose to do or say will be met with an attack.

Love is not like this. Love does not attack, belittle, or harm others. 1 Corinthians 13 gives the best definition of love, when it describes love as patient and kind. Furthermore, it says “love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but love rejoices with the truth (emphasis added).

Part of the problem with the day and age in which we live is that people have forgotten how to extend love to others. Their first, and often only, response is quite the opposite.

When faced with the choice of possibly saving the life of a toddler and that of a zoo animal, the choice to save the life of the child, the human being, was made. I doubt there was much time to think about the consequences or how the entire world would respond – it was probably more instinctual than rational.

Does it really matter if the mom was watching her child or not? Does it even matter if the child was a brat or a perfect angel? Even if a mom were to throw her toddler into the cage with a lion, would it really matter? Who do we protect: the small human child or the animal? To me, it’s a no-brainer.

For the record, this is not what I believe happened.

But the public outcry was astonishing! This woman received death threats, because someone saved her child. Even people who were claiming to be Christians were taking part in this public stoning. How different would this world be, if everyone chose to follow the Golden Rule and treat others how we want to be treated? How they deserve to be treated?

Now, I have no idea what that mother’s beliefs are, and it really doesn’t matter. What I do know is this – as Christians, we are called to love one another. The Bible doesn’t beat around the bush when describing how we are to treat our fellow man. It’s not a suggestion or an option. In fact, we are told that of all of the gifts we may possess, the greatest of all is love. Would Jesus have shamed the woman, the child or the zookeeper in the way in which the media and the world did?

The Bible does not sugarcoat what will happen to us as Christians, even when we show love to the world. We always have been and always will be persecuted for our choices (refer back to the donkey cartoon). And what I know to be true is that the enemy loves to attack, when we are walking in obedience and doing God’s work. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,”  (Ephesians 6:12).

When I decided to share my story of how God protected me, last year, I was viciously attacked by some. I was actually told, “I hope you rot in hell.” Wow! Really? I read more hate-filled words from two people in one day than I have in years.

The good news is that God also responded.

He spoke to me through hundreds of comments, text messages, instant messages, emails and phone calls. He spoke to me through both women and men who told me how much my story helped them – some because of what they have gone through in their past, some because of what they are currently experiencing and some because it forced them to take a look in the mirror and evaluate their own actions and how their choices have affected others.

He also spoke directly to me by giving me a vision. He showed me the image of a giant who was being attacked by midgets. These midgets were shooting something like spitballs at the giant. The message was crystal clear – the enemy will attack but I will protect you.

Although those attacks are bothersome, they are nothing more than a slight annoyance, as nothing and no one can get in the way of His plan for our lives. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).

God can, has and will continue to take every negative, bad, ugly situation I have ever endured, and I trust that He is, has and will continue turning them to good for His glory.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11). This is a promise I cling to, daily. Hope. The promise of a better future. The understanding that He can use me, my heart and my story to give others hope and to show them His love.

The definition of love from 1 Corinthians continues like this, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” This speaks of the love my Father has for me.  He loves me enough to never quit carrying my burdens. I can have confidence in the knowledge that nothing I will ever experience, no matter how hard, will ever compare to the blessing he will return to me.

And because He loves me, and because he has called me to do so, I choose to respond with love.

How do we respond with love?

We love them. We pray for them. We forgive them.

The world would tell us that we should go on the defensive and attack right back. Some may even look to Exodus and quote, “An eye for an eye.” But the true meaning behind that verse is not that if someone strikes you, you strike them back. It is meant to say that justice should fit the severity of the crime; excessive harshness and excessive leniency should be avoided.

In fact, Paul tells us in Romans that we should not take revenge, as that is reserved for the Lord. The Lord will hand out the rightful punishment to those who choose to mistreat us. Believe it or not, He may even decide to repay them with grace. Whoa!

What the Bible does, however, tell us to do is to repay our enemies with LOVE and the PRAY for them (Matthew 5:44). Pray for them? Seriously God?

I dare you to ask Him if he wants you to pray for them and see how he responds. Pray for those who have mistreated you. Love those who wish you harm. And let your light shine in this dark world, so that they may see the love of the Father through you.

We are also called to forgive. Forgive as the Father forgives us. This does not mean we must forget and act as if the transgression never occurred, because that is not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness is actually a gift we give ourselves, when we choose to let go of, instead of holding onto, feelings that lead to bitterness, resentment, anger and hate. When we forgive, we are freeing up space in our hearts for something better.

The ultimate act of love was when Jesus sacrificed his own life to pay for our sins. He, himself, said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” After the attacks, the persecution, and the moment in which his very life was being taken, Jesus showed mercy to his enemies. He prayed for them. And he forgave them.

This is the choice I made, when I was attacked. In addition to reaching out to my prayer-warrior friends, I chose to be happy. I chose to love. I choose to forgive. And I chose to extend grace.

The choice is yours to make. But, the next time someone treats you unkindly, I encourage you to remember that the repayment of love is much more satisfying, much more freeing and much more Christ-like than any other choice. With forgiveness comes freedom.

After all, our debts – our transgressions – have already been forgiven and paid for with love.

 

 

He’s My Child

From a very early age, my son Nicholas had a servant’s heart.

He was always taking care of people and checking to ensure they were comfortable. As a tiny little two year old, he saw me sitting on the couch, one day, without a blanket. So he stood up, picked up the blanket beside him and walked it over to me, covering my lap. When we would go to restaurants, he would stop at every single table and shake hands with the guests – we thought he’d be a politician for sure. And he saved his little sister’s life on more than one occasion, but that’s another topic in and of itself.

So it came as no surprise to any of us that, after applying to a mission outreach program called Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in December of 2015, he was accepted. As a part of YWAM, young people go through various Discipleship Training School (DTS) programs to learn more about missions, discipleship and serving, prior to their actual mission or Outreach.  Once their training is complete, they go to various countries throughout the world and although, we knew where Nick’s DTS would be, we had no idea where he would go for Outreach.

Nick was set to do his DTS in Kona, Hawaii, in April 2016. A few weeks prior to his departure, he called me to excitedly tell me he found out where his mission would take him. I could hear the excitement in his voice, when I answered the phone.  “Mom!” Nicholas said, “Mom, you’re not going to believe where I’m going!”

I was excited for him and was prepared to hear him say, Africa (which has been on his heart for years), China, India or any other number of places. What I wasn’t prepared for was what he would say next. And it took a few moments for my brain to process what he said.

I’m going to Korea.

I immediately became nauseated. Korea? My son is going to Korea? And he is excited about it?

All I could think of was North Korea and how dangerous of a place that was. A million emotions overcame me all at the same time and I couldn’t begin to tell you how the rest of our conversation went. My world began spinning and my heartbeat raced. No! No! Nooooo….

Big, huge tears welled up in my eyes as I was drove. Having just let a Pathway’s graduation in Dallas, I went from a place of overflowing joy to a place of extreme despair, and I began to panic.

For me, that moment started the process of having a much deeper understanding of just how powerful God is and how very much he loves his children.

*****

When I was pregnant with Nicholas, I carried a lot of guilt for choices I made in my life prior to conceiving him. I feared my baby would suffer the consequences of my actions and knew that bringing a child into this world as a single mother gave him an unfair advantage, before he was  even born.

So I prayed. I prayed every single day for that baby. I prayed hard, and I prayed often. In my prayers, I asked God to send angels to play with my unborn child and to sing to him in the womb. Some may think that’s a crazy thing to do, but I knew God would hear my pleas and answer my prayers. I truly believe He did just that.

I also prayed that my baby would be born healthy and happy, and I even made a deal with God. Now, I know God isn’t too much in the Let’s Make a Deal business, but I thought I had a pretty good offer. I proposed to God that if he would protect my child from my mistakes, that I would give Nicholas to Him. I would hand him over to God and allow Him to use my child for his good.

All of these years later, I see clearly that God held up to His end of the deal – Nicholas was indeed happy and healthy – and now God was going to require me to live up to mine. He called Nick to missions and ministry.

Nick was the most amazing baby and toddler any parent could ask for. He was an absolute joy to have, and helittle nick was so full of love that others could feel it, when they were in his presence. That big dimply smile never left his face. His laughter was truly contagious. And anyone who ever encountered him would testify to the fact that he was a big, bright light in this world.

I can’t tell you how many times I was told by school teachers, daycare workers and Sunday School teachers that if they had a room full of kids like him, their job would be so much easier. He was simply a very happy little boy.

Sadly, this world is full of evil. At some point during his youth, the enemy began targeting Nicholas. As all of us who walk by faith know Satan attacks and tries to destroy anyone who is valuable to God and who is called to do His work. He knows all of our weaknesses and threw the one thing that could destroy Nick right in his face and taunted him with it.

During Christmas break of his freshman year of high school, Nicholas found his biological father on Facebook and sent him a friend request. A bold move for a young teenage man. But instead of being accepted by this man, Nick was rejected. Within minutes, his “father” blocked him.

Nick was crushed.

My vibrant, joyful child spiraled downhill so fast it made my head spin. Four months fast to be exact. In four months, I watched my child go from being a practically straight A student – who throughout his school career had been voted Mardi Gras King, Student Council President and National Honor Society President by peers and teachers – to a student who was struggling to make a single passing grade and who cried every single day. He also began fighting with his sister and with me. A lot.

One day in particular, when Nick lashed out at us, Erin felt I was taking his side and ran up to her room, got in her bed and began crying. I sat down beside her, stroked her hair and told her that some really big things were happening in Nick’s life. I told her, as his family, we had to make our home a safe place for him. “Everyone needs a safe haven, and for him, it needs to be at home.”

Nick was beginning to be bullied in his gym class at Captain Shreve High School, and his coach was turning a blind eye. He was bullied for being a devout Christian, he had just been rejected by his biological father and now he was having thoughts of ending his own life.

Without telling any more of Nick’s story, I’ll just say that I knew I had to get him help. The professionals were able to help get him over the big hump of depression, but it was a youth trip he attended over the summer that was the catalyst for change in his life.

Nicholas found himself once again safe in the arms of Jesus. He withstood the peer pressure at school to stand firm to his faith – his beliefs. He made a bold decision to bear the cross of a Christian young man in high school.

So it came as no surprise to me when, after Nick’s first mission trip to Honduras, he decided world missions would be a big part of his service to God. But never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that Korea would be a part of God’s plan for him.

*****

As soon as I hung up the phone with Nicholas, my heart beat quickened. It became so difficult to breathe that I felt physically ill. Tears were streaming down my face. I needed a break.

After pulling my car into a deserted gas station along the 1-20 corridor, I got out and threw my own little fit. Well, maybe it wasn’t such a little fit. It was actually a rather large one – a full fledged temper tantrum. Right there in that abandoned parking lot, I yelled.  A lot.  At God.

I felt like the entire world was caving in around me. How could God do this to me? After all I have been through in my life! Now, He is going to now take my son and send him to a dangerous place where I cannot protect him? These were just a few of the many thoughts running through my head.

So I asked Him. I asked God, “Why?” Over and over again I asked, as I threw rocks into the field before me. “Why my child?” and “Why my son?” I yelled at God, “You could have picked anyone in the entire world to do Your work!  Why does it have to be my child???”

And then He answered me.

Right there, in that dilapidated parking lot, God spoke to me. His voice was undeniable and the words he said to me were so very powerful. He said, “Oh, but Amy, Nick is my son. He’s my child. He’s your gift on Earth, but he is my child. And who can take care of Nicholas better than Me?”

Wow.

In that exact moment, an unexplainable peace came over me. Those words, that promise, changed my entire perspective about parenting, and they have given me peace over and over again, when fear or worry have tried to creep in.

Looking back, I can only laugh at myself. How arrogant was I for believing I could ever actually protect my child – either one of them – without God’s help? He is the one who gifted me with both Nicholas and Erin. He is the one who, like Erin asked me to say every night during our prayers, sends his army of angels to surround them, daily. He is the one who loves them exponentially more than I could ever imagine. That’s who was going to protect my gift.

I am comforted by God’s promise and know He’s got this. He loves Nick and Erin more than I ever could. God hand-picked Nicholas to do His work. He is Nick’s father, He is Nick’s daddy, and He loves Nick with the perfect love that can only come from our Heavenly Father.

God Confirms His Message

While overseas, God spoke the same message to Nicholas that He spoke to me. God told Nick that He was his father. Then, he repeatedly confirmed this message.

When Nick was little, bless his heart, I sang You are My Sunshine to him every day. If you’ve ever heard me sing, you’d know that it probably wasn’t the most pleasant experience for a small child. But his mommy singing that song to him is something he still remembers.

One day during Nick’s first DTS, he asked God to communicate His posture towards him. Nick told me he became frustrated, because after a rather long period of time, he still couldn’t hear God’s voice. But he continued to pray and had faith an answer would come.

All of a sudden, Nick heard You are my sunshine, my only sunshine… And he knew immediately that God was speaking to him, using the very song that was sung to him as a toddler to answer the question of how He feels about Nick. By using this very song, in essence, God was telling him, “You are my child. I am your father, and I love you.”

But if you know God like I do, you know he wasn’t through, yet. He had a little more showing off to do.

Nicholas, with tears in his eyes, walked from one building to another where he had to cross through a small passageway connecting the two. As he did, he heard the music some of the other students were listening to.

They were listening to No Longer Slaves, and as he walked through, the only line he heard was I am a child of God.

Are you kidding me!?! Seriously? Of all the songs they could have possibly been listening to and of all lines to be playing at that exact moment, that’s the line he heard?

What’s more, that particular song also confirmed God’s message to both me and to Nick.

From my mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name.

Nicholas was chosen to do God’s work, while he was still in my womb. I made a promise to God before Nick was ever born, and God held me to that promise.

nick missionNicholas teaching about keeping the faith during difficult circumstances.
One of his mission trips in 2016.

The song continues…

I’ve been born again
Into your family
Your blood flows through my veins.

Any of us who call on the name of Jesus are born again and can claim our rightful place in God’s family. Nicholas took that step at the tender age of six. And while in Korea, God asked Nicholas to call him “Daddy” over and over again, until he truly believed that God is his daddy – not just a father – but a sweet, loving, tender daddy.

And what a wonderful daddy He is! He’s Nick’s daddy, he’s my daddy and he’s your daddy. He loves us so much more than we could ever imagine. He loves our children, our gifts on Earth, so much more than we could fathom.

And finally,

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God.

For Nicholas, being freed from the bonds of fear is what allowed him to step into his calling. For me, being freed from the fear of unworthiness has allowed me to step into mine. We are all God’s children, and we are called to use our lives to glorify Him.

Are you willing to Let Go and Let God?

Are you willing to let go of worrying yourself into a frenzy over your loved ones, your children, and have faith knowing God is in control?

July 2, 2016, Nick left Hawaii and flew to Nepal, and then to Thailand, and finally to
South Korea, which by the way, is very different from North Korea.
Silly Mom!

 

A Lifetime Ago

Ben was the type of man that young, naïve girls always fall for. He was charming, charismatic and intelligent. He had a rare drive and determination. He was a visionary, politically-minded and talked a really good talk, and moreover, he had already lived a full, fascinating life by the time we began dating.

His dedication to fitness and exercise was inspiring. In fact, he was in such good shape and so physically attractive that he was a local model featured on billboards, in television commercials and in various publications.

We went to grade school together and were, in fact, in the same 4th grade class. So when Ben and I met back up in our 20s, I felt a sense of safety with him for having known him my entire life.

I fell for him immediately.

Abuse comes in many forms, from physical, mental and verbal to sexual, all are terrifying. I know all too well how abuse affects a person, because I experienced each one of those in my marriage.

Looking back, I clearly see the warning signs that flashed all around me. The first time he was physical with me was at his apartment, while we were dating. He and his roommate pulled me into their debate. They described a situation, not telling me which side each were on, and asked my thoughts. My response indicated that I agreed not with the side Ben was debating but with that of his roommate. After being asked my opinion and freely expressing my thoughts, I ended up being corned in his living room, while he yelled at the top of his lungs at me. I quickly left his apartment and ended our relationship.

That was the first time.

I didn’t quite recognize Ben’s actions that night as physical abuse. I mean, he hadn’t even touched me. But the fact is, preventing someone from leaving an area against their will is considered physical abuse. It’s called false imprisonment, and it’s against the law.

As often happens in abusive relationships, he later came to me with tears in his eyes profusely apologizing and promising to never do anything like that again. On his knees, he begged for my forgiveness. And I believed him. That was the beginning of a vicious seven-year cycle.

A Pivotal Moment

The night before our wedding, I made a desperate call to a loved one about wanting to call off the wedding. “Don’t you dare call off that wedding,” she said. “You have family from all over the country in town.”

The next day, as my daddy walked me down the aisle, he whispered to me, “You know, it’s not too late to call it off.” Bless my sweet daddy. Many times, I wished I could have gone back to that moment and taken him up on his offer. We would have run right out of that church and never looked back. But I didn’t. Instead, I continued walking and whispered to him, “I can’t. I have family from all over the country in town.”

How many times do we make decisions that harm ourselves to gain the acceptance of others, conform to what society thinks we should do or keep our loved ones from feeling embarrassed? Simply put, how often do we put the needs of others’ or their happiness above our own?

No one else is going to put your needs above theirs, so why are we willing to do that for them? I’m not talking about the Christ-like acts we do on behalf of others; I’m talking about the life-decisions we make in an attempt to help others feel more comfortable in our presence.

Everything inside of me was screaming Stop! But because I was seeking the approval of others, not wanting to disappoint them and attempting to prevent my family from public humiliation, I proceeded to marry a man I knew was dangerous. Literally speaking, I sacrificed my entire existence in an attempt to gain the approval of my mother.

The Escalation

Abusive relationships always escalate. My abuse quickly escalated, once we were married. It led to being held down on the bed with him sitting on top of me, nose-to-nose, yelling so loudly that neighbors could hear him inside of their homes. He roared the most vile, disgusting things I had ever heard in my life. Abhorrent, disgusting, evil words that stung my soul.

This is where I learned the skill of dissociation to escape from the reality of what was happening. My fight-or-flight survival response allowed me to transition to out-of-body experiences, where I was no longer in the moment but instead went somewhere far, far away.

Eventually, I completely and totally detached from my life. There is a certain photograph of me from the year 2000, taken while we were living in Florida, which was four states away from my friends and family. In this picture, I’m leaning against our front door and looking off into the distance. It’s a snapshot in time that truly is worth a thousand words. I no longer recognize that person. Her eyes were sad and hopeless, and she had become an empty shell of a person. She was completely lost.

The violence continued to increase. It turned into being picked up against my will, tossed over his shoulder and carried back to wherever I was running from. It grew into being pushed down stairs, thrust down a hill, shoved across the room or thrown into a bush. It led to being picked up or dragged by my hair, having my head slammed in doors, being held down with my neck beside a butcher block of knives and, during our separations, having my clothes violently ripped off and being forced to have sex.

But he never hit me. No, he never hit me. Bruises on my arms and wrists, blood on my face and chunks of hair coming out of my head, but he never hit me.

That’s what Ben told me. I’ve never hit you. And you know what, he didn’t. Not once did he ever hit me.

Why Do We Stay?

How many times did friends and family implore with me to leave? Countless times. Countless times countless people offered their homes as a refuge for me and my children. They offered to help me get out. They offered financial assistance. But I stayed, and each time I did leave, I went back.

Why? Why would anyone continue going back to a place of terror?

Women (and men) stay in abusive relationships for a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation, religious beliefs, social/family pressures, financial security, low self-esteem or a desire to be loved. Some even believe what they are experiencing is normal. Abuse often starts small and gradually increases in intensity and frequency. Our boundaries get pushed further and further back and we begin to accept more and more, until one day, we look up and no longer recognize our lives.

“That couldn’t happen to me,” people say. “I’d never put up with it.” However, research proves anyone can end up in an abusive relationship. Blaming the victims for being abused is a huge part of the problem. It reinforces their shame.

Victim-blaming is dangerous. The US Department of Health and Human Services cites, as a barrier to ending domestic violence, the brute fact that “peers, family members, and others in the community (e.g., coworkers, social service-providers, police, or clergy) minimize or ignore the abuse and fail to provide consequences.” Instead of condemning the abuse, people around the victims often simply admonish them with “What do you expect if you choose to stay?”

Many times, victims of abuse think they can change the abuser, because “he didn’t really mean to hurt me.” We remember how good they can be, when they aren’t abusing us, and we cling to those moments, hoping things improve. Oftentimes, we end up like yo-yos, going back-and-forth, leaving and going back, breaking up and reconciling. This is exactly what I did.

My final separation came one night after a physical altercation in my home. The yelling woke up my three-year-old daughter Erin, and she made her way into our room. Ben quickly picked her up, and she went ballistic. She was screaming, crying and even sweating from the stress of the situation. She was pleading for me to get her, but he refused to give her up. Stretching her little arms out as far as she could, she was calling out for her mother. On speakerphone, the 911 agent told him to give that baby to her mother! He finally did.

I ran to Nick’s room, put them both in the car and took off. I drove for hours, not knowing where to go. At some point, I called my pastor and his wife, and I’ll never forget what he said to me that night.

Amy, if you stay in this marriage, I fear I will be officiating your funeral soon.

Boom. Okay. You have my attention, now. The thought of my babies growing up in a home with him WITHOUT me – that scared me more than anything he could have ever done to me.

So after years of being a yo-yo, I left for good. After seven years of marriage, I finally left. That was fourteen years ago.

Getting Out

Abused individuals come from all walks of life. They are rich, poor, strong, weak, women and men. And society blames them for not getting out.

Those who are abused cling to the positive traits their abusers possess in hopes they will eventually get better. They ignore the bad and focus on the good. They stay as long as they do, because they truly love the person – or at least their illusion of the person. And getting out of an abusive relationship isn’t easy. The courageous ones actually leave. They make a decision, develop a safety plan and follow through.

After I finally left, he threw me around one last time.

I was getting my master’s degree at the time and was dropping off my kids at his apartment, so I could go to class. The kids begged me not to leave them with him, which infuriated him and caused him to turn his wrath on me. Their older brother took them into his apartment for safety and after who knows how long, things calmed down enough for me to communicate to him to help pack their things, so we could leave.

After years of unpredictable behavior, you learn certain methods of lessening the chances of another outburst. I had come to be very precise about my body language and facial expression. I was standing several feet away from his apartment, looking down at the ground with my hands behind my back in an attempt to be as non-threatening as possible, when out of nowhere, I heard Ben yell, “F@CK!!!!,” as he started charging at me. I was standing against a brick wall and threw my hands up to protect my face in self-defense. He picked me up and threw me across a concrete walkway into some big, prickly bushes. He grabbed my cell phone and threw it across the courtyard, shattering it in the process.

That was the last time.

After every other physical alteration, I dropped the charges against Ben by using the spousal privilege that “protected me” from testifying against my husband. This time, I did not. This time, I wanted to ensure domestic violence was permanently on his record.

Leaving Ben was one of the most terrifying, but ultimately most rewarding, things I ever did. In the weeks and months following my leaving, I realized this huge black cloud that had been covering my entire existence was starting to very slowly dissipate; however as it did, I became even more confused.

I realized I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I didn’t know what I believed. I didn’t know what I liked. I didn’t know what I did or didn’t know. Now, I recognize what I was experiencing as the after-effects of gaslighting.

****

Fourteen Years Later

It’s hard for me to believe that the things I described was actually my life – just the tip of the iceberg of what I endured during those seven years. It’s hard for me to believe that I allowed those things to happen. But the cold hard truth is that it was me and that I did allow every single event, after the first time, to happen. I taught him that he could abuse me and get away with it.

We teach others how to treat us by choosing what we will and won’t allow in our lives. I chose to stay, just like my husband chose to abuse me.

We all have a choice. Each of us is responsible for our own actions. Abusers are responsible for their abuse. However, without a person willing to be a victim, their abuse has nowhere to go. Victims are responsible for their choice to stay.

It took me years to truly grasp this concept and to not just require but also believe that I truly am worthy of love and respect. Today, I understand that what I allow, I condone. I understand that I deserve better, am worthy of better and can get better. In fact, I know that I deserve nothing but the very best in every one of my relationships and have very strong boundaries around what I will and will not allow in my life.

Fourteen years later, I am thriving. I have peace in my home, close relationships with my children, healthy friendships, restored relationships with family members and a career that I love. I live my life out loud and with intention.

I choose positive. I choose joy. I choose love.

And being the beloved daughter of the King of all kings, I know He wants only the best for me.

If you or someone you know is being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).

 

Lessons from a Road Rage Incident

Lessons from a Road Rage Incident: Part One

“That man cut me off in traffic!” yelled Rick, “He saw that I was turning, and he turned right in front of me – and from the wrong lane!” Seven hours earlier, the driver of a black Suburban had made a right turn from the wrong turning lane, the left one, and cut off Rick in the process. Then, the other driver had the audacity to yell at Rick, telling him that HE was in the wrong.

“When I pulled up to the stop sign, I was in the right turning lane and he was in the left turning lane,” Rick explained “but he had on his right turn signal.” As traffic cleared, and as Rick predicted, when he began to turn right out of his neighborhood and onto a four-lane highway, the other driver, who we will refer to as “Suburban Guy” also turned right. This nearly caused a collision right then and there. If Rick had not been paying attention, he would have been hit. Rick allowed Suburban Guy to proceed ahead of him, but not without incident.

What ensued next is where it gets tricky. Two grown men are now driving side by side down the road jeering at each other, each in an emotional game of right-fighting as they operate their own motor vehicles. In one instant, the normally calm, cool and collected Rick became so overcome with emotion that he put not only his, but also others’, lives in danger.

Hours later, he was still discussing how wrong Suburban Guy was, “You can’t turn right from that lane. Once you realize you have made a mistake and are in the wrong turning lane, you wait until the other driver has turned, check to ensure traffic is clear, and then turn right.” He then turns the situation into a personal attack on Suburban Guy by saying things like, “Who does he think he is?” and “He thinks just because he lives in ‘this’ kind of neighborhood, he owns the roads” in his passionate rant retelling the story of the day’s encounter.

Whose life was altered as a result of this incident? Rick’s? Suburban Guy’s? Both of their lives?

Because of Rick’s defensive driving, no accident occurred and no one was physically injured. However, what I can tell you is, six weeks later, Rick was still affected and still discussing that chance encounter. He was still passionately telling of how he was wronged at the hands of the driver in a black SUV.

Rick was emotionally hijacked in the moment, and weeks later, he still chose to hand over his happiness to a complete stranger. That stranger owned him, emotionally.

What is an Emotional Hijack?

In 1966, Daniel Goleman coined the term “amygdala hijack” in his book entitled Emotional Intelligence: Why it Matters More than IQ. Today, the amygdala hijack is commonly referred to as “going limbic” but officially referred to as an “emotional hijack.” It describes the emotional response that happens in our limbic system, when the hippocampus communicates to the amygdala that a threat is imminent.

Emotional hijacks are the “fight or flight” responses that occur, unconsciously, in our brains in a fraction of a second. It is the overwhelming emotion that results in actions that, under normal circumstances, would not occur. It’s this survival mechanism that causes us to react to stimulus before our rational minds have time to process the situation.

When a heckler yells out during a political speech, “Liar!”, when passengers begin fighting on an airplane, when an individual commits an act of violence at a peaceful protest, when a police officer mistakes a cell phone for a gun and shoots and when a father stabs his son over a video gamedummy jack disagreement, emotional hijacking has occurred. All of those events have actually happened and people are very quick to make judgments, telling you how “they” would have respond, if it had been them in any of those situations. The problem is that they are processing the events from a state of being (somewhat) rational, and their amygdala is not experiencing that event in the nanosecond of time when one becomes emotionally hijacked.

Emotional Hijacking in Everyday Life

You may be thinking, I would never do any of those things, so how does this translate to my life? I’m so glad you asked.

When a coworker gets credit for your work and you are overcome with emotion resulting in either “telling them off” in the office, feeling the need to tell your side of the story to anyone you encounter or even quitting your job, you’ve been emotionally hijacked. When you see your husband having lunch with another woman, when your child breaks your grandmother’s vase, when a fellow shopper takes the last 65” TV on Black Friday, or when someone cuts you off in traffic, if you are not managing your own emotions, you risk being emotionally hijacked.

Emotional hijacks basically equate to freaking out or overreacting to a life event and are a result of past experiences and emotions that have negatively affected us, leaving an imprint on our brains and becoming triggers for future events. They may also be a result of over-stimulus or being overly stressed out. The police officer who sees a cell phone and thinks it is a gun has been in numerous situations where an actual gun was pulled, and his limbic system takes over. If you have ever lost your cool and snapped at a friend or loved one, you’ve been emotionally hijacked.

As I was explaining this phenomenon to my friend Rick, several weeks later, we went on to discuss how, by driving down the road yelling at the other driver, he himself experienced an emotional hijack. What could he have done differently to remain calm and keep the joy he wants for himself?

 

Preventing Emotional Hijacks

Emotional hijacks are preventable. Just like any other negative behavior, steps can be taken to regain or maintain control of your emotions. The first step is always an awareness of the phenomenon, but if you have read this far, you’ve already taken step one. Congratulations!

Claim It/Name It/Tame It

As the old saying goes, you have to name it to claim it, but when dealing with emotional hijacks, consider a three step approach – claim it, name it, tame it.

Claim It
After becoming aware of the fact that you are susceptible to being emotionally hijacked, and I dare to say have been emotionally hijacked at some point in your life, if you want to prevent future embarrassing outbursts, you must admit to the fact that you have emotional triggers.  Claim the emotion as it occurs and acknowledge that you created it – no one else created it for you – you and your brain created it. Although someone or something may trigger you, ultimately you own the emotion. Your brain through your past experiences has shaped your emotional reactions.

Name It
After acknowledging that your emotions are, indeed, your emotions, you must name the emotions you feel. The most emotionally intelligent individuals are the ones who use a wide vocabulary to describe their feelings. This goes beyond sad and mad to rejected, frustrated and aggravated. What exactly are you feeling when your limbic system is triggered? Name it.

Tame It
As soon as we name the emotion we are feeling, our brain immediately begins to calm down. In essence, by acknowledging your own feelings, your brain feels heard. Enough space is created to allow your brain time to reevaluate the situation, consider alternative actions and proceed rationally. The great news is that you don’t have to practice taming your emotions in a real-life situation – you can recount past experiences, reflect on how you could have reacted instead and rewire your own brain to respond appropriately to triggers moving forward.

Grace and Space

It may sound silly, but you can even speak to your brain. Let it know you appreciate it for looking out for you, but you would like it to respond to triggers with less emotion, moving forward. Then, when triggers do occur, give yourself grace and space.

Grace
Understand that you are human. Every one of us has an amygdala, and yours is working to protect you.

Space
Count to three, breathe deeply or take a break. Even giving your brain a moment to process before acting will often result in a more rational response.

If you begin practicing these techniques, you will become even more aware of your emotions, and you will notice that this awareness occurs earlier and earlier in stressful situations.

 

Lessons from a Road Rage Incident: Part Two


Besides being emotionally hijacked, what else happened as a result of Rick’s road rage incident? Early on, I mentioned Rick was still ranting about Suburban Guy hours, even weeks later. His day was completely ruined because some jakeleg chose not to follow the common courtesies of driving.

Have you ever been in a restaurant and the server acted as if you were inconveniencing her? How did you respond? Did you go tell all of your friends about the horrible service you received that day?

Has someone ever offended you in casual conversation? Were you drawn into the media’s sensationalism of riots, protests, officer-involved shootings, unfair court judgments or restroom usage rules?

Every day, we see people who are not only emotionally hijacked, but who also freely give their joy, peace, happiness or energy away to others. They become emotionally charged and stay in a state of anger, frustration or bitterness over things that may not have even happened to them.

As I was explaining this piece of the puzzle to my friend Rick, I used another road rage-type example to him. “Imagine you are driving down the interstate and this Ford F-150 cuts you off. I mean, it almost hits you. You are just driving along, minding your own business and out of nowhere comes this truck, barely missing you, moving into your lane.” As many miles as I drive, each year, this happens to me, almost daily.

“So what do you do?” I ask my friend, “Do you carry that anger with you all day, telling everyone you encounter at work, calling your best friend to tell him, mentioning it to me over coffee and then filling your neighbor in on the details when you get home, just for good measure?”

If you carry that negative emotion with you all day, who is truly suffering? In this example, I went on to paint of picture of Suburban Guy, hours later, “enjoying an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins with his three-year-old daughter, completely oblivious to the fact that he entirely altered the course of your day. Meanwhile, you can’t seem to let go of the fact that you were cut off in traffic by ‘some guy driving an SUV’ and your entire day is ruined.”

Again, who is suffering here? Is it the Suburban driving buffoon? Or is it you?

You have chosen to allow something, that very well could have been a simple mistake – but who really cares if it was or wasn’t – to completely ruin an otherwise peaceful, happy day. You willingly handed him your power, and now he is in complete control of your emotions.

Just as we are in complete control of our own emotions, meaning we get to choose how we feel, we are also in complete control of how we respond to situations, meaning we get to choose how we react. Do we get mad and stay mad, or do we take a deep breath, call the guy an idiot under our breath, and move on with living the peaceful life we want?

The same is true of what we watch on television, what we read on social media and what we listen to on the radio.

We have a choice.

For the most part, we get to choose what we watch, read and listen to, but we have absolute control over how we chose to respond. If you want a more peaceful world, all you have to do is turn off the television, log off of social media and change the radio station. Better yet, participate in what Zig Ziglar calls Automobile University, but that’s an entirely different topic.

So, who is going to control your emotions? You or some stranger you encounter during the day? You or that family member who gets under your skin? You or the obnoxious coworker who chews her food too loudly in the next cubicle? Who is going to control your emotions, today?

You get to choose your emotions, whether positive or negative, you have a choice. You get to determine whether, hours later, you are retelling the story of the Suburban Guy who cut you off in traffic or whether you are enjoying a bite of ice cream, perhaps creating a special memory, with someone you love. Choose wisely, my friend.

*****

One of the things I ever did for myself was make the decision to attend a training program that teaches Emotional Intelligence tools.

To learn more about the training I attended, visit PathwaysCoreTraining.org

 

That Makes Me a Princess

 

Recently, I began watching a series on Netflix called The Crown. As someone who rarely watches TV and even cancelled her satellite service over a year ago, this was a big deal.  My kids will tell you that I never watch TV. I feel there is always a better use of my time than to sit in front of a television. But I’ve always been intrigued by royalty, even taking electives in college to learn more about them, so this was one show I was excited to watch.

As a young girl, I greatly admired Princess Diana. I viewed her as the epitome of style, elegance and grace, and she embodied what it meant to be a lady. She was quiet, yet strong, and she held herself with dignity and respect. Every fiber of her being exuded class. This is the type of woman I wanted to be.

I’ll never forget dressing up as Princess Diana for a sixth grade school project. I wore a gold dress and a lace shawl, and my mom curled my hair and let me wear makeup.  I don’t remember what I spoke about or what information I included in my project, but what I do remember is how I felt – like a real, true princess.

It came as no surprise that once I began watching The Crown, I was hooked almost immediately. To watch those who were born into royalty or, as in the case of Queen Elizabeth, had circumstances that led to them inheriting the throne, I couldn’t help but think about a couple of things that had already become truths in my heart: 1) we teach others how to treat us and 2) I am a princess, too!

You see, after realizing I had allowed so many people to treat me with disrespect throughout my life, I became aware of just how much truth there is to the fact that we do, indeed, teach others how to treat us. The years of abuse I accepted in my first marriage is proof of the fact that I allowed this treatment to continue. I did that. I allowed it to happen, because I did not demand that it stop. For seven years, I taught my husband that he could continue verbally and physically abusing me without any real consequences for his actions. And that is exactly what he did.

It was up to me to teach people in my life how to treat me, but I accepted what I felt worthy of receiving. For years, I viewed myself as “less than” or “not good enough” or “unworthy” or any number of other negative labels. I had a tainted view of my own value, of my own self-worth.  I allowed friends, coworkers, and even family members to treat me with less respect than I deserved, and I quietly accepted this mistreatment.

A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with one of my accountability partners about self-worth. Mark and I discussed how my life and my choices were affected by having had low self-worth for so many years. That led to the topic of other women and how so many of them believe the same lies I used to believe. They don’t believe that they deserve better, so they allow the mistreatment to continue. Mark’s reply was, “How awesome would it be, if we could intervene BEFORE life happened to these women?” Yes, how awesome!

My daughter recently sent me a screenshot of a text conversation between one of her friends and her friend’s boyfriend. In this text, the young man had written words that showed exactly how little he valued this young lady. Some pretty harsh, mean-spirited things were written to her.

Erin wrote below that screenshot something like, “Mom, if a guy ever treated me like this, you would kick his butt, right?” I laughed when I got her message and had to carefully consider how to respond. I’m not in the habit of kicking anyone’s butt, but she did a good job of making her point. I simply responded that she would not be allowed to date that young man and that it is her friend’s responsibility to teach young men how to treat her; what she puts up with is what she will get. Thankfully, my daughter knows her value. Her friend, on the other hand, is already showing others that they are allowed to mistreat her.

Unfortunately, most women view themselves as my daughter’s friend views herself and not in the same regard as Erin. In fact many women don’t know any better, because they have been taught, and actually believe, they deserve the treatment they receive. Women are taught by how society – through television, movies, and magazines – treats women, and some, like me, begin to devalue their worth because of bad relationships. Sadly, others even learn this lie from their own parents.

In The Crown, Queen Elizabeth accepts nothing less than respect from everyone she encounters; however, it didn’t start out that way. When she first became queen, she was intimidated by others who tried to manipulate her for their own agenda. She found a mentor of sorts in a professor who reminded her of who she was, and so, once she stepped into her destiny, believed her worth and accepted herself for who she was, things changed. She behaved differently and in turn others treated her differently.

What about you? I challenge you to take a moment and consider how others treat you.  Think about what you were taught about your value, how you teach others to treat you, and how you truly deserve to be treated. And then, take it a step further.

Think of yourself as royalty. What type of treatment would you accept from others if you were, indeed, a prince or princess? How would you carry yourself? How different would your conversations be?  And then think about your interaction with others. What types of behaviors would you accept and what behaviors would you disallow? How would you feel about yourself?

I’m here to tell you that you don’t just have to think of yourself as a prince or princess, because you are one. Any of us who call on Jesus as our personal savior and who truly believes in Him are already members of the royal family. Not just any royal family, but The Royal Family. We belong to the highest kingdom of all: God’s kingdom.

Believers are referred to as children of God several times in the Bible.  Here are just a few examples:

But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” – Matthew 9:22

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” – Mark 2:5

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13

By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3:10

Jesus is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. The greatest. The highest. The most significant of all. And WE are sons and daughters of the one true King.

As a Beloved Daughter of the King, I AM a princess.

When I dressed up as Princess Diana for that middle school project, I truly felt like a princess, if even just for one day. I stood a little taller, I walked with more confidence, and I spoke with more authority. I felt like a classy, elegant, beautiful young lady, and I acted outwardly how I felt inwardly. Funny how that happens.

Once I finally made the connection that I am a princess every single day of my life, not just for one day as part of a school project, I finally began to accept nothing less than the life and the treatment my earthly father AND my Heavenly Father would want for me: a life full of love, joy, peace, respect and dignity. I don’t have to play dress up to feel worthy of adoration. My Father, the King, adores me. He adores His daughter. And that makes me a princess.

 

 

It Had to be You

“Life isn’t fair. As I sit here typing these first few words, I do so with a heavy heart. I feel discouraged and saddened by the events that have transpired in the last few hours, days, weeks. But looking beyond the events that cause this sadness, I am reminded of promises made by my Heavenly Father and I feel the light of His goodness shine through.

God’s desire for us is to live a glorious life; a life full of JOY. We have hope in God’s promises that allow us to live for his glory, even through the darkest of situations.   As we begin this journey, together, I pray that you will remember that each and every day is a gift, and we have the choice to receive or decline this gift.”

I wrote those words just weeks after my husband of two years died. Michael had a vibrant personality and would bring laughter and light to any room. His greatest pleasure was to bring a smile to another’s face – family, friends, strangers – it didn’t matter. He received so much energy from making others laugh. Even if for just a moment.

Looking back, I understand the significance of his actions.

Michael wanted to experience peace and joy for himself. He constantly fought the demons that lurked around him. The darkness. The emptiness. The defeat. If he was able to bring a smile to someone else’s face, he could, for a moment, forget his own struggle.

Many times, those closest to him were the brunt of his jokes. I can’t count how many times he told clerks at checkout lines that the debit card I was using was stolen. Or he would yell out in a store, “Amy, you can’t put that in your purse!”

And then there was the time when we were at Bass Pro Shop, and he asked them to page my daughter Erin. She was there with a boy for one of those middle-school dates to the Boardwalk, and it was his chance to make me laugh. He didn’t just ask them to page her, but he took this prank a step further. He had them page “A-Aron”, the nickname he gave her after watching the Key and Peele Substitute Teacher skit. That child died from embarrassment, although she played it off quite well.

Later that same night, Michael called Erin on her phone and asked her if she and the young man she was with wanted to go boating. Of course, they did. We had been talking about buying a boat for a few months, and since we were at Bass Pro, why not test drive some boats on the river?

Bass Pro sits along the banks of the Red River and is the anchor store for the Louisiana Boardwalk, a quaint little shopping center with riverfront dining and local entertainment situated across from downtown Shreveport. It’s also conveniently nestled amongst the Shreveport-Bossier area casinos, and is Louisiana’s first lifestyle venue. At night, you can see the lights and water show from across the river, as you stroll along the cobblestone paved walkways. Both sides of the river are some of my favorite places to sit and think at night.

Of course Erin wanted to take a boat ride that night! Ah, the innocence of young minds. But this was no ordinary test drive. When she arrived and asked when we were going out on the water, Michael grinned his big, toothy grin and said, “We’re on the water, now!  Come join us.”  Nick and his girlfriend Camille, and Michael and I were already on the boat, and that boat was parked safely at the outdoor showroom of Bass Pro. Imagine her initial disappointment. However, she and her date Alf climbed aboard and off we went. We pretended to be boating, we checked all of the features of the boat, and took turns “driving.”

Michael found the fish-cleaning area and invited Alf to the back to teach him how to clean fish. Alf was a good sport and immediately joined in on the fun.  Exaggerated movements and precise instruction on how to clean, skin and properly store the day’s catch were part of the Boardwalk’s entertainment for us that night.boat

This was the Michael the world got to experience. Fun, memory-making, adventurous. We even bought that boat a few weeks later. But even with all of the rides we took on the boat, I imagine that night will stand out in all of our memories as the funniest and silliest thing we ever did on it. There was no shortage of laughter that night.

But Michael wore many masks. He would mold into whoever he thought he needed to be in any given circumstance. The doting father, the loving husband, the funny friend, the crazy coworker. This is who the world saw. They saw a man who would say or do anything to make others feel special. Pretending to clean fish with Alf was to make all of us laugh. Every one of us. This is who he longed to be. This is what he wanted to feel on the inside. But sadly, in reality he was lonely, hurting, and broken.

Behind closed doors, Michael removed the masks. Anger. Frustration. Bitterness.  Hopelessness. The hurts of his childhood flourished. They enveloped the entire room, and life with this man was anything but fun.

Once, during a family counseling session with our pastor, my son Nicholas described it like this:

“Mom, Erin and I would be in the kitchen talking. When we would hear his truck pull into the garage, everyone would panic. Were all the lights turned off? Were all the right doors closed? Where is the cat? What kind of mood will he be in?  These are the thoughts that would go through our heads. And as soon as he walked through the door, we would all know immediately which Michael would show up.

Would Erin and I go to our rooms and stay there for the rest of the night or would we all stay in the living areas as a family? It all depended on Michael. And we all knew in a matter of seconds how the evening would go.”

Nicholas went on to describe how without even a word being spoken, the energy would shift. Our pastor used the word “authenticity” to describe what our stories told were missing in Michael. Yes! After all of this time, that’s the word. That one little word summed up what was absent from the man of our house. He lacked authenticity. He was so concerned with trying to cover up his own pain, he could never be still. I’m not sure I ever knew the real Michael. Heck, at times I wonder if he even did.

Living in an unpredictable environment takes its toll on you. It sucks the life out of you. It begins to affect your mood and your relationships. And then finally amongst the unpredictable actions, the one thing happens. The last straw. That one little situation, nestled between a host of bigger and far worse incidents, that sends you over the edge. And that’s exactly what happened.

And so, I made a decision.

I devised a plan and kept it a secret. I recruited the help of friends and family to pull it off. And then the day came.

I left my husband.

*****

Being a victim of spousal abuse and rape changes who you are at your core. You see the world through a different set of lenses and learn quickly that people, men, cannot be trusted. I became a very strong, yet bitter and cold woman. I kept everyone at an arm’s distance and guarded my heart with a vengeance. I played self-defeating games, such as “get them before they get you.” If someone I was dating dared get too close to me or try to win my heart, I would run far and fast, leaving them in a trail of dust behind me.

Ironically, my coping mechanism was running. I ran at least five times a week anywhere from two to ten miles at a time, most weeks. Although, I tried many times to join group runs or running clubs, I preferred to run by myself.  Once again, how ironic? I was running in the same manner as I was living life. Alone.

So in the fall of 2013 when Michael, after months of asking, finally convinced me to go out with him, I begrudgingly agreed.

We had been high school sweethearts. Well, kind of. We didn’t date long in high school, because, as a young 15-year old, the chemistry that existed between us scared me. That and the time I was sitting in my car at his house, waiting for him to come outside, and overheard his dad yelling. That really scared me. So, our relationship in high school was short, albeit impactful.homecoming

Most people in Michael’s adult life called him Mike. To this day, I still refer to him as Michael, because that is how he introduced himself to me that summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school.

I was on danceline at Southwood High, where he played football and baseball. We had both just completed our summer practice for the day, when I saw my 6th grade science teacher, Mrs. Prokopf, walk up. I ran to her yelling, “Mrs. Prokopf!”  She had been one of my favorite all time teachers, and I couldn’t believe she was at my school. I just wanted to hug her; I had no idea she was there to pick up her son from his practice.

That hug changed my life forever. When I stepped back, up walks this handsome soon-to-be senior sporting the number 7 on his football jersey. He is smiling at me.  He told me a thousand times that he fell in love with me in that exact moment.  And then he would joke and tell me that perhaps it was my legs that he fell in love with. Michael went to his grave telling me that nothing else ever mattered after that one, life-changing moment, where the entire world would cease to exist outside of the two of us. His friends would joke with him and tell each other, if you want to talk to Mike, you do it now, because when Amy gets here, he won’t know you exist. They were describing what we came to call our “bubble moments”. These were moments in time when it indeed felt like we were the only two people on Earth.

Our first bubble moment was during half time of one of my football games, after we had broken up and after he had graduated and gone off to college. He was attending Northeast in Monroe, Louisiana, on a baseball scholarship and had come home for the weekend. He decided to go watch his old alma mater play a football game. I’ll never forget seeing him walk up to me under the stadium at Captain Shreve High School.  He looked at me and I could feel my heart beat change. Time stopped. It was as if God himself ordained that meeting.  And perhaps he did.

I was late returning to my place in the stands for the first and only time of my danceline career. And I wasn’t just a little late. I was over five football minutes late, which was more like fifteen minutes. A huge violation. Although I thought I was going to be in big trouble with Ms. Gephardt, I really didn’t care. I hadn’t seen Michael in months and the consequences, whatever they were, would have been worth it.

Michael continued to vie for my attention for years after we broke up, and with the exception of one movie date after our football encounter, I continued to ignore his advances.  He told me that for a span of 25 years, he held on to the feelings that started when he was 17 years old. And me? I unfairly compared every single boy I ever dated to Michael and how he made me feel.

So after marrying and divorcing different people, we found ourselves meeting again in our 40s. We talked every few months for about a year before he finally convinced me to give us another try. He sent me a text to see if I was still working for the pharmaceutical wholesaler, because he was on their property for a meeting. I was. He asked me to come out to the parking lot to say hi to him, and so our second bubble moment happened.

When I opened the doors and walked out to the parking lot, I saw him leaning against his truck sporting that same toothy grin for which he became known. I can’t tell you how long we stood out there talking, when I finally had to peel away and go back to work. And I can’t tell you what we talked about in that conversation. But what I can tell you is that from that moment on, we were a couple.

While we dated, I never saw the dark side of Michael. I can remember describing some of his rants as passionate, but they never crossed the line into anger, and those rants were few and far between during our nine-month courtship.  However, what I can tell you is that something in the pit of my stomach told me that this relationship wasn’t right. I broke up with Michael twice while we dated, and after the second break-up, he came to me wearing his heart on his sleeve with a list that was two sheets of paper long detailing the reasons why we should be together. I thought perhaps it was me and my trust issues getting in the way, so when he came back again, I listened to him.

Michael’s list started with him telling me that he knew I was the one for him the first time we met after practice that summer at Southwood High School, and it ended with promises of how he would treat me for the rest of my life. Three days later he proposed.

I didn’t want to get married and had several conversations with my three closest friends about my feelings. Dee Dee, Delene, and LeAnne all urged me to pay attention to my gut. But Michael was so convincing, not to mention the fact that my parents and kids adored him, and so after breaking off the engagement twice, in May of 2014, we married.

On our wedding day, I saw the first hint of something different. We were driving to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for a family vacation, when an old male friend from high school sent me a text message telling me he heard I was engaged to Michael and warning me not to marry him.   Michael’s first wife was his cousin, and he didn’t want to see me go through the same thing she did.  I told Chris it was too late; we had just gotten married. I didn’t tell Michael what Chris said to me in that message, but when he saw his name on my phone, he understandably became upset.  But his anger was more than the typical, “Why is another man messaging my new wife.” Michael was driving a motor vehicle, and this anger caused that car ride to be one of the most frightening of my life.

My kids and I had planned a family vacation before Michael ever proposed. So, when he did, we decided to just tack the wedding onto that trip and go as a family. Two days into this honeymoon/family vacation, he showed this side of himself, again.

olde-pinkMichael got mad, when I asked him to lower his voice, while we were eating at The Olde Pink House in downtown Savannah, Georgia. He was talking loudly on his phone in what was a quiet, old restaurant and tavern that is famous for ghost hauntings. He threw what was the first of many temper tantrums and refused to eat or speak to anyone – that is, until we went outside. Once outside, he yelled very loudly and spewed more cross words sprinkled with profanity than I care to recall. He took off his wedding ring, threw it to the ground, and walked away leaving me and my kids alone in a strange town. He had the keys to the car in his pocket, and I had his phone and his wallet in my purse. We were both screwed.

The kids and I decided to walk around downtown in an attempt to make the most of it, while I tried to figure out my next move. Do I go home? Do I get a rental to the hotel and hope he comes back?  Do I get an annulment? I wasn’t sure what to do. I was shocked.

Later, Erin told me that in that moment, Nick looked at her and said, “not again” referring to Michael’s behavior and comparing it to what we had lived through so many years before.

Some thirty minutes later, we happened back upon Michael as we were walking through the Colonial Park Cemetery.

Between my first marriage and my marriage to Michael, the kids and I experienced peace in our home. And two years into my marriage with Michael, all three of us craved the peace we lost when he became a part of our family. Every single day, Michael yelled. Every. Single. Day. He yelled about anything and everything. I walked on eggshells. I retreated back inside of myself and refused to share my feelings about anything, in fear of not knowing what would set him off. And this was just fine with Michael. He never asked me about me, probably because he was so focused on himself. I specifically remember counting, one time, how long it would take him to inquire about me and my thoughts and/or feelings about anything.  Two weeks later, with still not a single iota of utterance about me taking place in any of our conversations, I finally brought it to his attention. He hadn’t even noticed.

The daily yelling takes its toll on a family. But it wasn’t just yelling. There was door-slamming, shaming, criticisms, throwing, ignoring, and even graffiti on the wall of our third car garage turned workout room. In permanent marker, he wrote on that wall all of the tapes he played about himself.  Initially, I was not pleased with what he had done, but after a few moments, I grabbed that marker and turned every single thing he wrote into a positive affirmation.

Life was bizarre during our time with Michael.  Someone recently likened our marriage to the 90s movie Sleeping with the Enemy. Things would disappear, like the time my phone charger went missing.  I work from home and he knew I had conference calls almost every day. He took my charger and hid it in one of his drawers, so my phone would die. He would stand over me as I wrote emails, analyzed reports, and held or attended Webex meetings.

He watched me, as I talked on the phone with my mom. He stood nearby when I went into Erin’s room to talk to her. And he insisted I be at his side constantly, even when he was doing mundane tasks, like mowing or organizing a closet.

He hid the remote control to the TV, and I didn’t find it until I moved out. I found it placed behind a picture frame on the top shelf of the shelves in our kitchen. He threw away my daughter’s prom mug, because she left it on the table. When my son was on his 6-month mission trip, he threw away the check that came in the mail from a ministry that supported him. A friend of mine found the check, along with some other things, in our outside trashcan.

He complained about lights being on and doors being open. He was especially hard on Erin about this, and one day, he went into her bathroom and unscrewed all of the lights. He drained our checking account several times with no explanation to where the money went.

When I was in a cast from torn ligaments, he moved the only pair of shoes I could wear on campus so far out of my reach that he thought I would not be able to get them in my condition. In that situation, my will prevailed over the pain. These are just a few of the many, many strange, passive-aggressive things that happened in our home over the two years we lived with Michael.

Michael threatened suicide frequently. I came home from work one day to find him sitting on his workout bench with a noose laid across his lap and a suicide note beside him. Another time, I found empty pill and beer bottles strown across the kitchen. So it came as no surprise when, after I left him, I received a couple of suicide texts from him.  While I was in Alabama on a business trip two weeks after leaving, I had to call the sheriffs out to do a wellness check on him one night, and two nights later I sat on the phone with him, for what felt like hours, talking to him, while texting a classmate of his from Pathways, who called the sheriffs for me. We probably saved his life both of those nights.

He went to the hospital for suicidal ideation or threats of suicide, but the nurse who worked with him stated that they would not be able to help him, until he was honest with them and with himself. He said all the right things and played the system. He refused medication or professional help. They had no choice but to discharge him.

He began stalking me at my apartment and showed up unannounced on more than one occasion. I had not even told him where I was living. He admitted the detective work it took to find me. He looked at the purchases I made in the days before leaving and determined the area of town where I must have moved to.  Then, he rode around in his truck until he found my BMW, which my daughter now drives. He went to every apartment until he found my patio furniture and plants, and he took pictures of the car, the patio, and the front door, along with the apartment number and building where I was living.

He tried to do and say the right things every single day of our separation. But we had been here before, so I was not convinced things were any different. I made a list of requirements that must be met before we could have conversations of reconciling. Amongst those requirements was the demand that he seek professional help and counseling.  I also set a minimum time limit on our separation. By this time, my friends, my mother, and my daughter were all advising me to never reconcile with him.  I wanted peace in my life, but I also wanted to see him get healthy. I continued trying to work with him, so he could get the help he needed.

I agreed to have a conversation with Michael about our marriage, our house, and our future. I asked Erin to leave the apartment for a couple of hours while we talked, and he arrived early for our meeting. I let him come in, as Erin was leaving to go to her boyfriend’s house for a visit. Michael and I started with small talk, which quickly led to the discussion of our marriage. He wanted me to come home.

I decided to show him the list I had typed and printed with my requirements and he quickly scanned the paper, zeroing in on the separation time-frame of a five-month minimum. Michael didn’t like what he saw. Boy, did he not like it. In that instant, he responded in such a way that I instantly ended our conversation and asked him to leave. I asked him again.  And I asked him a dozen more times to leave. Finally, he did. But after leaving, he came right back. He wasn’t going to leave peacefully.

Banging. Yelling. Texts. Phone Calls. They all came in such quick succession, and it was frightening. After noticing that a slat in my bedroom blinds would allow him to peek in and see me, I hid in my bedroom closet. I was on the phone with Erin, who was begging me to let her come home. I refused. My quite whisper was of resolve and I insisted she stayed put. She did.

Moments later, when he went back around to the front door to bang some more, I ran from the closet to the bathroom and closed the door. I turned my phone to silent just in time to receive a text from my friend Liz. She was asking a question about a girls trip we had planned, and so I answered her question, and immediately followed it with a message that stated I was currently being terrorized. Via text, she prayed a hedge of protection over me. I believe Liz’s prayer may have saved my life. She also insisted I call the police. I did.

The police came out and searched the area, and then asked me a boat-load of questions. They also advised me to go to a hotel or to a friend’s house for the night.

Mistake Number One: I refused.

I told them that he was gone, and I would be fine. During this time, I also received a text from another friend, and I sent her screenshots of mine and Liz’s conversation. So, when the police left, I gave her a call. I was sitting on my back patio and decided to go inside to talk to her.

Mistake Number Two: I didn’t lock the door behind me.

When Dee Dee answered the phone, she heard a gasp. A bone-chilling gasp.

He’s here, I said.

Who’s there? Michael?

Yes. And the phone went dead.

Michael busted in through the back door, right as I sat down at my kitchen table. He took the phone away from me and moments later, he pulled out a gun.

Fast forward through the specifics of the next few moments and we hear beating on the front door. My friend had called 911, and those officers who left just minutes earlier were back again.

Michael yelled demands for me to look at him. I refused. God protected my eyes and my memory.

The gunshot sounded like a firecracker dud. God protected my ears.

Even though my husband lay lifeless about a foot in front of me, nothing was on me. Not a drop, not a splatter on me nor my clothes. But my bed, five to seven feet away, had remnants of that event splattered on it. God protected my body.

And I was still breathing. God protected my life.

Erin arrived at the scene no less than ONE MINUTE after Michael fired the gun. God protected my daughter and her memory.

*****

God has a purpose for my life. Because of this night, I refuse to run from His plan any longer. Even in my darkest moment, He was right there with me. In that moment, I could not feel God’s presence. I longed to feel him, but I didn’t. I cried out to him pleading with him to save me, but He wasn’t there. I cried, “Jesus” no less than one hundred times that night and, “God help me” equally as many. But I didn’t feel him. All I could feel was darkness. Darkness filled that little apartment bathroom.

Some days later, when I looked back on the events that had transpired that night, I saw, with amazement, that God was indeed there. He never left me, not for one second. He protected me. He formed a hedge of protection around me that protected my eyes, my mind, my ears, my skin, and my life, but even more amazing to me is that he protected my precious daughter. He put the right cars in her way, made traffic lights turn red, and even had her and her boyfriend playfully disagree about taking pictures immediately before she left his house to come home, just so she would not get home even a second earlier. He protected both of us.

In the months that followed, I heard many encouraging words from friends and family, even from some of Michael’s family. The same message was told to me over and over:  It had to be you. It couldn’t have been anyone else.

No longer will I be like Jonah and run from my purpose. I have a story to tell, and it’s a story of hope, love, peace and joy. It’s a story of overcoming. It’s a story of victory. It’s a story of Him and his Greatness. And this is just one part of my story.