Monday, May 17, 2010


A little over two years ago I was sitting in a Hotel conference room with five married couples for a marriage retreat. Actually it was much more than a retreat. It was something our Pastor had decided to do with couples in leadership, including him and his wife. The hope was to carry this ministry through out the entire church. Our Pastor felt that our church would not be capable of reaching anyone without strong families and the way to strong families was strong marriages.  It was intense and more than the usual marriage talk about how we can be a better spouse. First it was about learning each other's personal history in a way no pre-marital counseling could ever cover. Each husband and wife had their turn. It was a long weekend. Each couple had almost three hours to share with the group. It involved some homework we had to do before the weekend began. We were asked to create a genogram and then bring it with is to the "weekend".  It looked something like this. When it was your turn to share, the Genorgram was placed on a board where everyone could see and you were asked to explain. The facilitator would stop you and ask questions. Lots of questions!

"Who was home when you got home from school?"
"Did you feel celebrated? Any birthday parties or celebrations?"
"Who did you feel safe with?"

And so on and so on.

I watched couple after couple share their stories, including our Pastor and his wife. I kept waiting for someone to share a beautiful story about their childhood but it didn't happen. Sure there was one person who had an incredible stable home with a stable mother and father but even in her story there was tragedy. My Pastor who I looked to as a Father figure, who I ADORED and thought was close to perfect, shared his story. I was shocked to hear his pain. Seeing his tears of never having a father made me realize why he had become an amazing Father. His pain drove him to love his children like he had never been loved. The stories I heard in that room are stories I will never forget. I no longer felt alone with the past I had. I felt like someone else understood what deep pain as a child felt like.

The truth is I didn't really want to share my story. Everyone had cried when they shared and I was worried that I couldn't get to that place of emotion. It wasn't that I had to cry or that showing emotion was some sort of prerequisite for the group. But I knew that I would have to get deep in order to address some pain that was still causing issues in my life. More specifically, issues creeping into my marriage. If you haven't figured it out by now, we all tend to carry pain from the past. Even with forgiveness, you still have to unlearn certain mindsets. Then take it into a marriage where two people have painful pasts and you have LOTS to overcome.

My turn came. Jeremy asked me to go first so I did. I felt calm and felt like I would be able to communicate my "story" without getting all worked up. The Genorgram is filled with names. It's basically a time line of what has happened in your life. I believe my Genogram started at the age of five. The chart also has dates of significant events. Quickly I shared my chart and then the questions from the facilitator began. But before that he stopped me and said, "Amanda, look at that paper. That is your life. That is your story. It's story that makes me very sad. How does it make you feel?"

Wow! No one had ever asked me that. No one had ever told me that my story made them sad. For the first time I felt a sense of validation. I was thirty two years old and finally someone had acknowledged my tragedy.
I can't share the details of my life story on this blog. I have in the past and it has caused some unwanted backlash. It's never my intention to exploit my parents, aunts, uncles or cousins but they all fall under "my story". There was abuse (several forms), abandonment, rejection. There were more days of pain than joy. I can't recall a time where I felt like a normal little girl. My surroundings required me to be more mature than I knew how to be. Even in that room with my husband and those four other couples, I still held back. I did not share everything. I feared what they would think. I feared they wouldn't believe me. I feared they would think I was taking up too much time. Despite my fear, I still got something out of that day. I learned I am a survivor.

As a wife, a Mom of three and one on the way, I realize today that once a survivor, always a survivor. I've quit talking about my past for a while now because people often confused my pain as unforgiveness. A breast cancer survivor lives but still carries the scars where cancer was cut from her body. She may no longer be dying but she still remembers the day she was diagnosed. I have forgiven those who have hurt me. Even those who refuse to acknowledge what they did to me as a child, I forgive them. But I still grieve for that little girl who didn't have a voice. I still grieve for that little girl in the seventh grade who didn't have lunch money. I still think about the days when she did not know how she would get home from school. I still think about how she would go home to an empty fridge and a sleeping Dad who was still hungover from the night before.

Even though I have beaten the odds, I still carry her pain with me. It doesn't matter what it is in my life that may cause pain, I often feel like I am that little girl. My story is nothing any crazier or dysfunctional than many of your stories. Many of us could sit down and compare notes and gasp at the pain we've endured. That was one thing that drew me to my husband. We both have stories that make it a miracle we are together. Everything we are doing as a married couple and family is something we have not been taught but learned. We are learning. We are self taught. We make lots of mistakes but survivors have a the will to fight. So we fight to have the family we never had.

Currently I am in a lonely season and when I feel lonely I tend to reflect on the little girl I was. I  felt alone my entire childhood. I did not feel I really had anyone advocating for me. Everyone was either sick, busy with their own life or unavailable. I hid my life from school teachers and friends. I stayed to myself and cried myself to sleep almost every single night. Aloneness was something my Pastor asked me to speak to on to our church a couple of years ago. I was shocked after the service at all the women who came to me and said "I would never know that about you. I would have thought you had a perfect life." Or the ones who came up to me crying as they explained they too were alone as a child.

On days like today (Mondays are known for being brutal on my spirit) when I feel the aloneness all over again, I struggle to understand why. I am not alone. I have a husband who is AMAZING and loves me with every fiber of his being. I have three children who are my life. I am not alone. But the scar I carry as a survivor is the feeling of "aloneness". It's a dark place so I try not to stay there and build a house on it. But I do struggle to not feel her pain all over again. The little girl taught me to fight. She taught me to have hope. She taught me to trust in JESUS even when I can't feel Him. But I still hurt for her. I may always hurt for her. Maybe I am the one who was always meant to be her advocate. WOW! What a thought!

I can't rewrite my story but I can write my children's stories. Daily and I do mean DAILY I ask myself what they will say about their childhood when they grow up. This question is hard to ask on days when I fail. I know they won't say it's perfect but I do pray they never say they felt alone. Evey single day I make it my mission to make sure they feel loved. I pray as brothers and sisters they learn to lean on each other. I feel Homeschool is a great way to nurture their relationships and to nurture my own with each of them.

For those of you who have endured pain in your past or maybe enduring pain now, embrace the scars left behind. We may come out of the fire with flesh hanging off of us but the fire is what makes us who we are. The fire is our story and our testimony. Our timeline is that which God can use. Today I am embracing that little girl. Her story is what teaches me to never give up. I grieve the pain she suffered but I rejoice in the ways the Lord redeems. For she has taught me to glorify Him IN the fire.

Isaiah 24:15 

15Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea.


Kelly said...

Sweet friend, I love the way you are able to share your heart and the ways you strive to seek God when things feel dark or lonely. Instead of retreating, you see what He is teaching you in these moments, and it blesses me.

God is redeeming your scars through the life you are building with your family; though the scars mark your heart, you have not only survived but thrived! (despite every reason not to!) What satan meant for evil, God has used for good by giving you the desire and courage to create a family grounded in faith and security for your children. What a legacy you have birthed!

Karen Hammons said...

You are amazing! Your post reminds me of the song "Heal The Wound" from Point of Grace. "Heal the wound but leave the scar. A reminder of how merciful You are." He leaves scars to remind us He heals. Love ya girl!!