Reflections of a Strong-Willed Child

A writer friend of mine shared an article about strong-willed children last night. I was scrolling my newsfeed during an intense episode of Scandal, using my “viewers discretion” as I’d been advised. I’m not even a mama, but the headline and the image of a cross-armed little girl made me pause. Before I even clicked the link, I stopped the show and reached for my journal because the Holy Spirit is no respecter of Netflix binges. And He had something to say.

The words “strong-willed child” might as well have been profane slurs to me as a little girl. It was a self-deprecating family joke that I never found very funny. People would compliment my Momma on her daughters, and she would laugh then tell them about her “strong-willed child” that mirrored all of her worst traits. Other parents would smile knowingly, and they’d talk Dobson-sanctioned parenting strategies, while I prayed the floor, or at least my mothers skirt, would open up and swallow me.

miss stubborn

The words stung because I couldn’t deny they were true. It wasn’t that I refused to obey, it was just that I always had a question or an opinion about everything. The word “no” left my mouth before I could bring my hand up to stop it. In the role of “big sister” I owned those 18 months of seniority like they’d given me a throne to dictate from. I recognized these things in myself but no matter how hard I tried to stop, I kept getting into trouble. Everything pointed to one character flaw: my strong will.

I hated my strong will. Despised it. I wanted to kill it more than anything in the world. My will became the enemy of God’s will, and I didn’t understand why it just.wouldn’t.die. The “old man” was supposed to pass away, all things were supposed to be new, weren’t they? Where was my “new man”? “Strong-willed” morphed into “rebellious” as a teenager no matter how desperately I prayed to be rid of the thorn in my flesh. This “quirk” of my personality became my besetting sin and the source of unending shame.

Until last night. Before I could even get pen to paper Jesus was reframing “the strong-willed child” in me. The same stubborn streak that did battle with my Momma for all those years has sustained me through some dark days. It supplied me the fortitude I needed to survive family dysfunction, sexual abuse, 10 years in a cult, and seasons of severe depression. But more than any of that, my strong will has been the greatest evidence of grace by driving me to cling to Jesus. What I saw as a fatal flaw He has used to keep my heart tethered to Himself, even when the circumstances dictated that I walk away. I didn’t break.

By the grace of God and with His help, I’ve drawn on that strength to fight the lie that I would always disappoint through undisciplined actions. I grew up. And I’m using the stubbornness I despised for 25 years to my advantage as I continue to seek healing. I can re-write my story and choose to leave a different legacy.

I used to think that being strong-willed doomed me to grow up a mean, bossy, control freak. I have my moments, just like any of us. But they no longer define me. I was a strong-willed child. Now I’m just strong.

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The Rescuer

The Lord gave me this vision ten years ago. Over time it’s come to have much more meaning than it did when I first saw it, ministering to me in countless ways. Today I share it here, with the prayer that the Rescuer of our souls would visit you with healing in His wings.  

I was kneeling on my bed, my head curled to my knees, trembling. My arms were wrapped tightly across my chest as though that would ease the pain and protect me from further harm. Tears poured down my face while I gently cried from fear I couldn’t explain, and couldn’t get rid of.

Gradually, the room around me faded and I was transported to the edge of a small clearing surrounded by thick, dark woods. There was commotion in the center of the clearing. I heard loud shouting and evil laughter. I crept through the trees, closer to the clearing to get a better view. Creatures I could only describe as demons were huddled around something throwing stones and beating it. I looked closely to see who or what it was, gasping in astonishment when I recognized the object of their torture. It was me. I saw myself there, huddled with my face to the ground in the dirt, weeping. I had chains around my wrists and bloodied dirt all over the rags I wore. The demons surrounded me on every side kicking my figure in the dirt and screaming curses that only made me wither further. Watching from the perimeter, I was paralyzed. I willed my limbs to move. I prayed that the form in the dirt would rise up and fight back. But I didn’t move an inch. And my form in the dirt was nearing unconsciousness.

Suddenly, the sound of a great sword leaving its sheath split the air. The demons looked around for the source of the sound and in that moment a clear domed shield miraculously descended over my form in the dirt, deflecting their weapons and effectively shutting them out.

RohirrimAttackOrcsFangorn

In unison, an army on horseback emerged from the trees completely surrounding the clearing. With a great cry they descended on the camp, swords drawn. The startled demons scrambled for their weapons and began to defend themselves, leaving their prisoner forgotten. While everyone was engaged in combat the commander of the army came riding through the camp on a great horse. The pathway cleared by His warriors, He rode straight towards my limp body. He paused only a moment to secure me onto His horse, held in front of him between  his arms and the reigns. Without crossing swords with a single demon, He rode out of the clearing and back into the shelter of the woods. I was no longer watching from the outside. Somewhere along the way, I became the wounded version of myself. With the change in my surroundings I became more alert, triggering the instinct to fight or fly. I tried to wrench free from him with all the strength I could muster. I pleaded with him, “Please let me go! Where are you taking me? Let me go,” I sobbed, defeated and weak. There was no chance for escape. We rode swiftly through the woods and the noise of the battle quickly faded, but the commander never spoke a word.

He obviously knew the forest well, for it wasn’t long before we reached a well-lit cabin that had no obvious path leading to it. The horse came to a swift halt and my new captor swung from the saddle in one quick, efficient motion. There seemed to be urgency in his movements. The commander reached to lift me off of the horse and carry me inside. But I grew hysterical, screaming and shoving his hands away, “No! NO! Get away from me! Don’t touch me! Let me go! Please!” He simply looked into my eyes, his full of compassion, and held his arms up to me, without touching me. Looking back at his steady gaze, I calmed down. I knew I couldn’t jump from the horse, so I let him lower me from the high saddle.

In silence He carried me inside and lowered my weary body to a small bed in a corner of the warm, one room cabin. The commander seated himself on the edge of the bed. I wedged myself against the pillows in the corner, knowing that attempting to get past him would only cause further damage to the wounds that filled my consciousness with more pain every passing second.

Another man was in the cabin. He was older than the commander with white hair and beard, but the same gentle eyes that spoke to his son upon our entrance. The two obviously had a close bond for they did not seem to need words. I sat there trembling, fearing what they would do to me. The older man left the woodstove where he was pouring hot water into a basin with clean towels. He came to the bed, sat down and looking into my eyes, he pulled away the blood-drenched rags hanging from my frame that covered the deepest cuts. Slowly and gently he washed away the dried blood and dirt that covered my wounds. I cried out in pain and tried to pull free but the commander held me with steadying hands and spoke gently, trying to calm me. I was too weak to fight any longer so I leaned back, spent and exhausted. My tears finally subdued and I slept.

I woke to find all my wounds cleaned and bandaged. The chains were removed from my wrists. My rags were gone and I wore a clean, white robe. The old man approached the bed where his son supported my beaten body. He instructed that my wounds would have to be kept clean and re-bandaged. But this time there was no protest. I knew that I was safe. Safe in the arms of my rescuer.

The Girl I Once Was

The girls we once were are coming back to us now…

The girl I once was is coming back to me and she’s not who I expected her to be.

Prior to this year most of my childhood memories were sweet and carefree. My sisters and I love to linger around the dinner table recounting the mischief we got into and the fun we had. We laugh with new friends over old family stories and our parents smile a benediction over us. Despite the fact that we didn’t always have much, we had vivid imaginations and we used them well.

I used my imagination to distance myself from trauma. I know now that this is called dissociation. I was often in a dream world and felt like I was floating outside of my body without any ability to bring myself back to earth. Teachers called me a daydreamer. They said I never stayed focused. In the fourth grade I was diagnosed with attention-deficit-disorder. But the medicine didn’t work, because the deficit wasn’t in my attention; it was in my emotions.

I am well practiced at numbing myself, like making an arm or leg fall asleep. When it tries to come back to life it’s all kinds of prickly painful, so I adjust the tourniquet and deaden it again. But the girl I once was is insisting that I wake up. She won’t take no for an answer; she is coming back to me, unbidden. She’s making her voice heard in spite of my attempts to keep her quiet. She visits me in my dreams. I feel her presence when I wake, re-living her experiences in flashes. For the first time, I am feeling what she never allowed herself to feel.

Run Free

The little girl I once was came to me in a dream last night. She’d escaped from her family, away from everything and everyone that hurt her, and she was looking for love. She was orphaned and came to me for help. But rather than embrace her, I have turned on her. I have thought her a liar, refused to listen and ignored her pain because it is inconvenient to me.

She wears a mask of well practiced sweetness and perfection that does not betray her wounds.  I want to love her, it’s not hard to love her. But a child who runs away so young must have baggage, and I know it will take time to reveal and process all the pain. She will not trust easily. But she is mine. She is me. I can’t help it, I want her.

If she is going to be healed I must create a safe place for her to speak. She needs to know that her story is heard and believed. She must be assured that she can speak at any time without restriction. She has to believe that she will not be rejected for the truths that she tells. She must feel that she belongs.

So I hold my arms out to her. When no one else will listen to her, I will make space for her words. When she feels no one will believe her, I will accept her truths. When she is drowning in turmoil, I will pray peace over her. I will cry with her, grieve with her, embrace her.

The girl I once was is coming back to me now. It’s time I paid attention.

 

I am coming late to this link up with Story Sessions. I am inspired by these brave souls and honored to be counted among them. Read their stories, won’t you? And share your own? You deserve to be heard. 

Dichotomy: Part I

Trigger warning for mentions of spiritual abuse.

If you’ve been here very long, you know that I spent nearly 10 years in a spiritually abusive church.

During my internment in this group I learned to believe that the love of God was expressed most effectively through the confrontation of sin among our brethren. We were told that the essence of love was to be warned of our sin and given the opportunity to “bear fruit unto repentance,” thereby proving the sincerity of our redemption.  In fact, the most unloving thing one could do to another believer was failing to warn them of sin, carelessly allowing them to blaze their path to hell.  I was drawn to these people for their transparency, nakedness, and vulnerability. Their teachings were presented with strength and conviction and were the farthest thing imaginable from the “cheap grace, prosperity gospel” I had grown up with.  I dove in without looking back.

the hot seat

What I thought ‘vulnerability’ looked like.

When I say we were transparent, vulnerable and naked, it was in the sense of being found in the hot seat with the “light of fellowship” aimed at our flaws. “Search me and know my heart” took on a new meaning.  There was an expectation of confession. Deeper, hidden sins were expected at the root of the “obvious symptoms.” Those who responded well to correction were embraced. Those who did not were ostracized or eventually excommunicated via manipulation.  It didn’t take long to adopt the pattern of response that would garner the most positive results.

I vividly remember my first confrontation. I was 17. My heart pounded a foreboding rhythm as I sat across from my young friend in her living room. Haltingly, painfully, she “brought her offense” to me.  I had speculated that she had a crush on a boy in the youth group and conspiratorially giggled to my sister a prediction that they would marry. My friend learned of this and felt hurt. Rather than bringing her feelings directly to me, she followed the pattern set before us, consulting with our youth leaders. She was counseled to formally confront me according to the rules of biblical discipline. My examination took place with church elders in the next room, sanctioning the practice and “supporting us in prayer.”

What had started as a case of hurt feelings ballooned into accusations of foretelling, divination, witchcraft and rebellion.

I was angry, indignant, as I listened to the charges against me.  I felt betrayed. How could the whisper and giggle of a teenage girl lead to this? My anger was quickly squelched by the ultimatum laid before me by my friend. The requirement was that I repent, turn from my ways, and by means of a trial period prove my sincerity lest she and other church members be forced to distance themselves. If I continued in my pattern while claiming to be a Christian, they would fulfill the biblical mandate, “with such a one, do not even eat.”

My blood ran cold and my head spun. This was no idle threat. Just weeks before we’d excommunicated a friend of ours, carefully navigating the legalistic steps of “biblical church discipline.” I knew I was in danger of losing the first real friends I’d ever had. This was not a time to exert my will. I wondered if I was so deluded that I’d become demon possessed. I wondered if I was a witch. At the very least, I assumed my friends and leaders must be able to see a great blind spot in my life. So I tearfully pledged repentance and promised to work harder to overcome rebellion. I became utterly humbled, and for many years lauded that encounter as the nearest I’d ever been to Jesus in the flesh. Because only Jesus would get himself dirty enough to save one as close to perdition as I.

That was only one of many such confrontations, both conducted for me, and sadly, by me. I regret to say that I participated in these inquisitions as eagerly as I sought them for myself. Over the years I grew anxious if my friends did not point out my faults. I believed that any failure to confront me indicated they no longer cared and were content to let me slide right out of grace.

The truth was that many of them had grown weary of this fruitless charade.

Over time, I began to recognize what was happening and knew I had to get out.  I was the first among my friends to leave the church. I didn’t know who I was or what I believed. A crisis of faith became a very real crisis of identity.  I draw my sense of being from the people around me and suddenly I had nothing familiar in proximity. Who was I? Did I really know Jesus? If not, who was I serving? It was months before I felt I could hear from the Lord in the wilderness, alone. But I was determined to stay by His side, wrestling, until I came to some kind of reconciliation with Him.

This poem epitomized where I was. It became my desperate prayer. But would it ever be answered?

This story isn’t over yet. Part II coming soon.

from Dichotomized, released 01 February 2013, Emily Joy Poetry.

Heart Treasures

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” – Luke 2:19

I’ve always marveled at that. Each Christmas season, when I hear the retelling of the birth of Christ with the angels, and the shepherds and the manger and the hay; I love Mary’s response to it all. It prompts me to reflect on the year that has passed, selecting my treasures and pondering on them. I wonder if maybe she made a habit of holding on to those treasures. Later in the Christmas story she is told that a sword would pierce her own soul with the fall and rising of her son… did she ponder on her treasures, holding tightly to them in those dark hours when her soul was bleeding?

I’m taking a life inventory this week as part of my Story 101 e-course. As someone with a writers’ soul I observe and capture moments vividly. Each one of these, bitter or sweet, I can see, smell, and almost reach out and touch. These are my heart treasures.

  • Heard my Father speak my name in a sunlit graveyard
  • Smashed a porcelain tea set just to hear the pieces shatter
  • Watched fireworks from my treehouse, held in the arms of a childhood crush
  • Had my hand held for the first time walking on the levee of the Mississippi River
  • Danced with abandon in front of my church as a little girl
  • Cleaned toilets with strangers in a tiny Mississippi town
  • Called the authorities for a friend who overdosed
  • Watched my favorite art teachers fall in love while we cleaned the ceramics studio
  • Collected beach glass on the Mississippi river for a found-art sculpture
  • Sold my sculpture for over $300 and became an artist
  • Hiked in the Andes Mountains
  • Never went back to Peru
  • Chased pigeons on the National Mall in DC
  • Let my grandpa brush and blowdry my curly hair
  • Flew a kite in Hurricane Katrina’s winds
  • Learned the scent of death in a New Orleans home only 2 weeks after it had 10 feet of water standing in it
  • Broke the news to a homeowner that she had 6 feet of water fill her house for weeks
  • Cried with her when she told me her dog was locked inside
  • Danced for Dominicans while covered in dust and paint
  • Shivered in a frost covered pasture to watch the most spectacular meteor shower of my life
  • Spread 1,152 pastel Easter eggs across a friends lawn on Thanksgiving morning
  • Established and annually celebrated “Pranksgiving”
  • Read Hinds Feet on High Places
  • Cried with friends whose arms ached for babies
  • Cried with friends when they read positive pregnancy tests
  • Stood next to my best friend during the most God-honoring wedding I’ve ever been a part of
  • Left a church by myself – twice
  • Read Captivating
  • Examined the anatomy of a kiss
  • Drove alone to New Orleans to be the only person who showed up for a gifted songwriters performance
  • Stood under a waterfall
  • Tamed wild kittens
  • Found and believed in my “eye” for photography
  • Saw the sunrise from my swingset; over and over
  • Trembled as I held the phone to my ear and heard the words, “It’s cancer.”
  • Sang hymns with a broken voice to my daddy in the ICU
  • Learned to love wine
  • Rode the ferry on the Mississippi just to ride it
  • Sucked the heads of countless crawfish (respecting my roots)
  • Was hired into the state job of my dreams during a hiring freeze
  • Forgave the first boy to break my heart
  • Went on my first date at 21 years old
  • Stood in the room while my grandfather slipped away with Jesus
  • Dropped out of high school
  • Got my GED months before my friends graduated
  • Moved out of my parents home at 19 years old

Which of these snatches would you like to hear the story of? What are some of your hearts greatest treasures? Share with me. 

Letter to my 18 year old self

Springtime 130_edited-1

Hey mahlove.

Do you have a few minutes? Take a deep breath. Take a few. Settle your heart. Why are you in a hurry?

You have time.

I know you are anxious to be on your way right now. You feel ready for all the pieces to fall into place so that life can start. And you might be ready. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but be patient. You have a lot of life to live. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

Do not waste time.

Just because you have time doesn’t mean you should let it pass you by waiting for all of the “missing pieces” to fall into place. You are waiting on love, waiting on adventure and waiting on “life as it should be” to come in and sweep you off your feet. But don’t take “waiting on the Lord” literally. You want to learn photography? Pick up the camera. You want to travel? Go! Don’t wait for anyone to do it with you. You might find you enjoy your own company. Start living. Love and adventure will find you in ways you can’t anticipate along the way.

Do not be afraid to dream.

You are afraid to dream because you don’t want to be disappointed. You don’t want to dream outside of the will of God. Bekah, listen to me. He gave you that wild imagination. He gave you the vision. You won’t be disappointed as often as you think – rather your dreams will change. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you didn’t hear God. Hold your dreams loosely. You will know the sweetest freedom in understanding that every dream has a season. Let them go when you need to, but keep your hands open and learn to recognize when new ones are given. Embrace your dreaming heart. Let yourself hope.

Heartbreak does not make you a failure.

Despite what you have learned, being disappointed and/or brokenhearted does not mean that you have done something wrong. You have not somehow ruined the will of God for your life. It doesn’t mean that you “didn’t guard your heart well enough.” Heartbreak is a part of growing up. Through it you will learn so much about yourself, what you need and even what you want {it’s okay to want some things}. Lean into heartbreak — you will be glad for it.

Your heart and emotions are not dangerous.

I know you believe your heart is deceitful and your emotions can’t be trusted. Let me give you something to think about: They are being redeemed, just like every other part of you. They are not excluded when you are made new in Christ. We have an enemy that deceives us and he will use our hearts to do it, but that is why God gave us His spirit to dwell. The law says your heart is deceitful. You are not under the law. Your emotions are good, even healthy. God gave them to you and through them you will know His heart. You will feel His compassion, justice, joy and many other things through your emotions. There is nothing to fear because He is Lord of you and He is making all of you new

You don’t know it now, but He delights in you.

Your Heavenly Father smiles on you. Take a moment and reflect on that. Don’t dismiss it. Silence the arguments in your head explaining it away, convincing you it couldn’t possibly be true. You are spending so much energy trying to please Him – take a moment to delight in Him. Let him love you as you are, rather than arguing that you are not enough, not “as you should be.” You are covered by His grace and He sees you as beautiful. If you let Him love you, loving Him in return and obeying Him will not only be easier, it will be infinitely sweeter.

I could warn you of pitfalls or even people to avoid, but then what stories would you have to tell? There will be struggle, and pain, and humility, and deep, abiding joy. Do not be timid. Embrace life in all of its abundance. It worth it. He is worth it all.

With great affection,

Rebekah Hope

PS: Listen to this song. You’ll get it.

 

What word of advice would you give to yourself at 18 years old?

Awakening – And coming out of hiding

“Something inside is awakening. Like a dream I once had and forgot. And it’s something I’m scared of and something I don’t want to stop.”
~Sara Groves, Awakening

I am coming to realize that prior to this winter I’d spent the better part of a year numb in my emotions. Perhaps more than that. Somewhere along the way I picked up this idea that my anger is unacceptable in every circumstance – even though it was caused by injustice. There was nothing I could do about that injustice so I had no choice but to ignore the anger and hope it would dissipate over time. I believe that my sadness equated unforgiveness and told myself that I must “get over it” in a hurry before anyone noticed or had much time to comment on it.

I don’t think I was really afraid of anyone noticing my change in mood – I know I wear my emotions on my sleeve so some observance couldn’t be avoided. It was the demand for an explanation that I feared. Because every reason for my change in countenance sounded like a lame excuse — after all, He bore all of our iniquities and by His stripes you are healed, so why all this drama? I’m incapable of effectively hiding almost any emotion – so I developed a new tactic: Get over it. Which amounted to this formula of shedding a few tears, praying a few desperate prayers, then “medicating” with busyness or entertainment. This is how I lived – for years. In fear of the consequences of my emotions. It shows if you look over my journals the past few years. You don’t have to look far. Two years is encompassed on about twenty pages.

It shouldn’t surprise me that I was told I’m too emotional. When I did have an emotional outburst it was an eruption because I’d spent so much energy trying to contain it all. Those outbursts were quickly deemed inappropriate and quelled back into submission. Now my emotions are beginning to thaw — slowly, unlike the tornadoes I’ve previously experienced. I’m afraid it’s going to be the global-warming of my life that will change climates, erode boundaries and leave me permanently altered. I’m terrified, and I don’t know how to prepare for it. I’m giving myself permission to feel, but it quickly gets out of my control. I fight, and sometimes lose against the temptation to revert back to my state of non-feeling.

“If we lose our ability to feel physical pain, we’d be in a very, very bad way. Pain is an important part of surviving and thriving in this world. It’s from God. Emotions are the same way. They aren’t untrustworthy products of the fall anymore than any other part of our bodies. They are gifts, guard rails, barometers, etc., that help us survive and thrive in a world that is both full of wonderful things and many terrors too… I love Jeremiah, Elijah, Nehemiah and maybe especially Habakkuk for how they feel so much, so honestly and how God doesn’t go do the “churchy” thing of telling them what not to feel, but meets them each, in different ways.”
I wish I had a link or even a full name for this quote but it’s by someone who goes by DanaKX – she commented on this post by Elizabeth Esther. 

I know this is true. I need to remember it. I have a friend who is a microbiologist in the leprosy (Hansen’s disease) field. Through her I know well the effects of nerve damage on a body. Yet, I have a hard time relating this truth to my emotions. It seems indulgent and self-centered to care for your emotions in the same way you would a physical wound. But I know that if I don’t deal with these things now it will stunt my growth from here forward. Without healing, I will stay in this endless cycle of emotional dysfunction that will effect every relationship. And that is not what I want. I want to thrive in every area and one day be able to minister from this place. The desire to honor God with my life has not gone away.

In order to heal I must acknowledge that there is pain. It’s taking me a while but I’m finally learning to do that. I’m trying not to look so much like a deer in the headlights when someone asks me, “What’s wrong?” But that question induces momentary panic. I feel like I’ve been caught someplace I shouldn’t be – my countenance does not speak of victory in Christ Jesus. I have yet to be able to produce anything other than an awkward, evasive response that leaves the inquirer more unsatisfied than before. But even that is progress for me – I’m no longer denying, lying, and covering with a smile.

So here’s to recovery through uncovering. He’s always been faithful to me.