Today was one of those days where I felt like my pastor’s sermon was written just for me. I always take something away from the sermons, but every now and then, a particular sermon really touches me. Today was one of those days. The words resonated with me so deeply that I literally struggled to keep tears from streaming down my face. I was able to contain it to just watery eyes. My husband, who sensed that the sermon was exactly what I needed to hear at this time in my life, kept squeezing my hand and patting my leg. He knew. When the sermon was over, and the congregation started singing from the hymn book, I was barely mouthing the words. I was still in my own thoughts. The timing of Larry’s sermon seemed like a gift from God. I truly believe that the timing and content of that sermon was a way of God saying to me, “I have been with you through this and will continue to be with you through this.”
I have had a roller coaster relationship with my parents for as long as I can remember. I’ve had a lot of good times with my family but I’ve also been emotionally abused my entire life. Especially by my dad. The bad times outweigh the good. I’ve forgiven my parents for a lot of things that I think most people would not. I just always thought I had to forgive because it was family.
As I get older, and every year a little wiser, I realize that life is too short for toxic relationships. I’m not a child anymore, but my dad continues to treat me like one. He still calls me “stubborn” if I make a decision that isn’t what he wants it to be. He still tries to control and manipulate me. He has threatened to call my employer on two separate occasions. The first time was before my now husband and I moved to Virginia. I landed a great job, a huge promotion for me. I was excited. It was also the first time I was moving out of my family house, and in with my boyfriend. My dad just couldn’t be happy for me. He threatened to tell the company not to hire me. He acted like my fate was in his hands. Like I wasn’t an adult who could make my own decisions. It had to be his idea. How dare I try to have any independence or control over my own life. The second time was six months ago, when he threatened to tell my current employer that I am unstable and they ought to be warned.
My dad has tried to destroy my relationship with my now husband several times. He and my mom once drove through the night from Long Island to Virginia when they found out my now mother-in-law was visiting, claiming they needed to talk to her about her finances (and also about my boyfriend’s finances) and “protect me” from them, because according to my parents I was somehow getting “screwed over” by them. My dad made up a ludicrous story that a private investigator contacted him asking him questions about how my boyfriend bought the condo / where he got the money. Total craziness, you’d think it’s the script for a movie. They ended up refusing to see us, even after I tried to make plans to meet them alone so I could try to calm them down. They left in a rush, but not before taking a photo of the outside of our condo and texting it to me saying it was hideous and looked like a communist building.
For a few years, my parents haven’t even felt like my parents to me. I’ve felt like a stranger in the family. I’ve tried to fit in with them, but I just can’t. I can’t be like them. When I tell friends about all the dysfunction and memories I have stained in my mind from over the years, they find it so, so sad. They remind me that every family has its share of problems, no family is perfect, but many of the things that have been done to me are inexcusable. I’ve tried so hard with my parents. They’re not perfect. Neither am I – far from it! But I have tried so hard to be a good daughter. Have they been good parents? Have they treated both of their children fairly and with equal love? My answer to those questions is, sadly, no.
I’m the type of person who has a great memory. I remember nearly everything, especially when people hurt me. I’ve recently even had some repressed memories come back to me from years ago. Things that I pushed down, too painful to keep everything at the surface. My brain was protecting me somehow by putting some of the memories in storage. Because, it’s just too much. I remember that I was in high school and I said a curse word in casual conversation, which prompted my dad to reprimand me by grabbing a steak knife from the kitchen, pinning me down on the couch, holding the knife up to my face and telling me next time I curse he will cut my tongue off. I remember I was in college, suffering from an eating disorder due to extremely low self-esteem. I was sitting on the couch one day watching TV with my brother. My dad came home with a big pudding cup from the deli. He told me he got it just for me. I had an eating disorder, so I didn’t want it. I told him thanks, I wasn’t hungry, he could put it in the fridge, or he could have it if he wanted to. He got so made that I said he could have it if he wanted to. He threw it at me, got pudding all over me, the wall, the couch, even the TV. My brother laughed. My dad stormed away. He never apologize to me later.
The sermon this morning really helped me make sense of the feelings I have been wrestling with lately. I so badly want to just flip the emotional switch on my parents. I just want to be done, to end contact, and start living without fear of what they will do or say to me next. I don’t deserve to be threatened, manipulated, controlled, ridiculed. I never deserved that, and I wish I could go back in time with the self-love and life experience I have now and tell younger Rosalie to stand up for herself.
My pastor, Larry, spoke about the Apostle Paul: “The Apostle Paul knew that not all divisions can be solved; not all conflicts can be reconciled; not all people can live in peace with one another; but that knowledge did not stop him for living toward what he wrote, namely, that we live because others flourish as well.”
Forgiveness is not unconditional. Those who are close to us will hurt us. And some things are too heavy to be reconciled. After Christ, Paul is the most important person in the New Testament. To hear that specific interpretation of scripture today, I felt validated. I felt overwhelmed in the best way. I felt the timing was a sign from God. Did I even catch Larry looking right at me? Ok, maybe that’s my imagination. But God was in that room with me. I can deal with these demons in my life now.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So, I am stepping out of this cycle of dysfunction with my parents. I won’t allow it in my life anymore, and my life will be better for it.
My mom hasn’t spoken to me in six months and counting. That was her choice. From now on, I am not letting others determine my happiness. Happiness comes from within. I can only control how I interact with others, and how I react to the way others treat me. And I can only give people so many chances (including family members). In fact, my personal definition of family has changed.
I emailed my pastor and told him the sermon meant a lot to me. I told him why. Part of his response was, “Wow, Rosalie….this is both beautiful and sad, but I think your instincts are good. I, too, am glad you were there.”
My instincts have been ignored for too long. I am finally learning to trust my instincts.
I’ve been reading old sermons on my church’s website today. These are some excerpts from Larry Hayward’s sermons that resonated with me on many levels – my current emotional state, my relationship with God, and mainly the way I feel I have been going through a pruning in my own life.
I have “a sense that God is always present, has always been present, will always be present as figurative whisperer in the ear saying, “You will get through this, [Rosalie]” leading to a quiet confidence on my part that “This, too, shall pass,” and even that enduring it might produce character.”
“I was being pruned, severely pruned, branches and relationships and friendships and history and self-confidence and sense of call were being trimmed back or removed altogether. I wasn’t sure how I had gotten there, but as unpleasant as the pruning was, I look back and now give thanks that it occurred not apart from but under the aegis of God.”
“Jesus is making the bold promise that whatever happens to us – particularly in the way of being pruned – happens in the context of our relationship with God.
Thus, whatever it is in Our lives, Our behavior, Our past, Our present, Our thoughts, Our dreams, Our memories, Our hatreds, Our prejudices, Our anger, Our bitterness, Our fears, Our obsessions, Our relationships…
Holds us back, Harms us, Leads us to harm someone else, Blocks us from being the person God has created and Christ has redeemed us to be…
is something that God himself works hard – often with us –
…To cleanse, To prune, To carry off, To cast away, If necessary to burn…
What this says to me is…
–If it is God who removes that within our lives which is damaging
–If it is God who prunes that which is destructive
–If it is God who abides in us and God in whom we abide even when pruning or removal is occurring…
It is better to pass through the unpleasant experience of being pruned in the arms of God rather than alone.”