When Love Goes Bad…

word: nope

Once upon a time…

I believed a lie…a really big one, and if not for the grace of God it could have destroyed me and my family. This is our journey out of toxic love. Because when love goes bad, it’s time to go.

I want to express love to others. I want to show the love of Christ. God’s word tells us we should do so, yes? But there comes a turning point in a relationship, where, if things are not healthy, the abusive nature of the other person can take over, and in our deepest desire to demonstrate the love of Christ, we can be sucked in to a dangerous and abusive web where the enemy holds us captive. And it is here, if we are not watchful and discerning, that the enemy can come in to our lives and the lives of our precious family members, and do what he does best: steal, kill, and destroy.

How would you define an abusive relationship? What words would you use to describe a toxic person? For me, I had imagined it would consist of some sort of monster, some sort of psychopath, some sort of stranger. I would have never imagined it could be someone that was supposed to be safe, loving…family. Toxic relationships can come in all kinds of packages and their effects can be far reaching, so a little discernment – or a lot – can go a long way. I wish I had known this years ago.

I sit here at this computer and I type these words because maybe…maybe someone will read this and be spared a lot of pain, torment, and strife. This journey from darkness to light has been hard on our family. We’ve learned some precious lessons – some difficult lessons. And these types of things should be passed on so that others will know the truth, the traps, and by God’s grace be spared the agonizing stress.

When I look back I should have recognized the warnings from the Holy Spirit. There were clear signs that this person was abusive, but everything in me wanted to be a “good Christian” and from everything I had read in scripture that meant loving the unlovable and turning the other cheek.

dandelion

cup and spoon

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And so my family and I endured, and we tried to love and forgive and build bridges, not walls. And with every bit of grace we lent, she sucked it up like a selfish drunk on a binge. And it didn’t matter to her that we were hurt…nope, didn’t matter one. single. bit. And as we tried to convey the need for repentance on her part, she would say things like, “I’m sorry you take offense at my wanting to be with you”, to deflect from her inappropriate comments or behavior. Never, to this day have we seen her take full responsibility for her lack of boundaries, cruel comments, backbiting and lies, and utter need for control. Never have we heard a genuine apology or witnessed sorrow for the people that she has hurt and continues to hurt. It’s always the other person’s fault. Always.

Boundaries…ever use ‘em? You should because they are invaluable. Until seven years ago, I didn’t know much about boundaries – probably because the people in my life were people that were discerning and respectful, and as a result, I had no need to set any type of protective parameters around myself or my family. But now…whoa mama. Yeah, trust me when I tell you, that boundaries are your friends, boys and girls…100 percent.

The beginning of my love story with my husband had her in it. Yes, she was there trying to dig, meddle, control, manipulate – and then lie or make excuses in order to escape accepting any responsibility at all. It was then…right then and there…that my husband and I should have recognized that these behaviors were unhealthy and unacceptable. We should have immediately set boundaries and if the behavior did not cease, then separation could be implemented if necessary.

But we were so foolish. Yes, we had the best of intentions, but we had no clue that good intentions or not, if you dance with the devil, there will be consequences…and we just kind of had to find out the hard way.

“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.” (Proverbs 22:10)

When I was a child I used to love to play catch with my mom. She was so sweet to take the time to throw a ball around with me, especially after she had worked the many hours she did at her factory job. There we were on many evenings, outside throwing that ball back and forth to one another. We were together…because playing catch takes two people, not one. Now, if my mom had refused to throw that ball back to me, the game would have ended. But every time I threw that ball, my dear mother caught it and then threw it back to me. This sort of exchange between two healthy people is wonderful, but when you are dealing with real life, and one of the game’s players is a complete narcissist, this catch and release borders on torture.

Stop throwing the ball back. Why didn’t I see the wisdom in this? Just stop throwing the cursed ball back and walk away from this sickness. Hindsight is 50/50, friends.

holding hands

cross necklace

foliage

When someone who is manipulative and abusive engages in drama, you and I have a choice, did you know that? We can either play their game, by their rules, and jump through the many hoops accordingly – or we can refuse. We were told by this person and her mate, that the healthy way to deal with this would be more communication, more talking about our feelings (barf), and basically more of the same psychological mumbo-jumbo that had done absolutely nothing for any one of us except cause torment for my husband and I. We allowed her to dictate the rules and we, the good little Christians that we were, blindly followed along. Until…

Until I hated her.

Until I loathed her.

Until I could have vomited every time she would send me a sickening picture of herself on text message.

Of course this led to bitterness in my heart, and oh, what a dangerous thing that is, my friends. Every single day I desperately tried to forgive her…I really did. But even with all of that effort, I was only able to muster up what would amount to as head-forgiveness; true heart forgiveness seemed to allude me. And with each passing day, the bitterness ate away at my life. I became so sick. And the peace I had known…it left me like an abandoned orphan on the doorstep of a hideous orphanage. I was a sick, anxious, tormented soul.

Here’s the thing…the Bible tells the parable of a man who was about to be thrown in debtors prison but was shown mercy by the person he owed the debt to. However, when someone who owed him money couldn’t pay, he, instead of showing the mercy that he himself had been shown, threw the man in prison. The Bible says that because he refused to show that man forgiveness and mercy, he would be tormented. (See Matthew 18:23-35)

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to forgive someone who never asks for forgiveness?

Unforgiveness and bitterness in a saved person brings torment; I can attest to that. And it took me a whole year to work through all of that junk, and all glory to a merciful God, He gave me the grace to do so, and to forgive this woman. But that year was a horrible year, and you know what? The truth of the matter is, I could have spared myself all of this torment if I had only recognized, from the beginning, the signs of a toxic person and then set appropriate boundaries. If those boundaries had been violated, and separation needed, then so be it. But instead, I “played ball” with her for far too long and it affected every aspect of my life – and those of my family members too.

And then came light.

horse

road with wet leaves

Teacup with saucer

There is a spiritual side to all of this. You see, lurking behind the scenes is the very real enemy of my soul (and yours too). If we turn a blind eye to this other reality – the reality that exists in the spiritual realm, where a very real enemy desires to sift us as wheat – if we fail to engage in this battle, using only carnal weapons – we will fall… and we might not get up again. The spiritual warfare aspect of something like this can be quite intense at times – it definitely was for us. But it has drawn our family so close to God and we have learned so much about who we are in Christ and about our power and authority over the enemy. There is no doubt in my mind that this woman’s demons would love nothing more than to destroy me and my family. You can think I’m crazy if you want, I don’t care. You can try all day to psychologize all of this…go ahead, knock yourself out. But after years of having terrible things happen to us every time we had contact with this woman, and God literally and physically stopping us from attending family functions that she would be present at; and after counseling with an incredibly wise man of God, my husband and I know that we can have nothing to do with this bitter, lying, manipulative person until there is genuine repentance and true change that only God can bring about. And if that happens, God will let us know and will open those doors as He sees fit. But I will no longer allow the enemy to guilt me into a relationship with this person, or with anybody else for that matter.

“He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart. Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation.” (Proverbs 26:24-26)

Sometimes the best way that we can love someone is through prayer. And so I pray.

Because a healthy, godly relationship takes two people who are both yielded to God and willing to humble themselves when necessary. If there is a lack of balance and one person has the sole responsibility of holding up the entire relationship, while continually being beat down by the other person, then we can be sure that the relationship has moved into the stage of being toxic. Period.

But it doesn’t mean we should hate. On the contrary, we should choose forgiveness, while remembering that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be healthy to have that person in our lives. It may be that some day we will be able to reconcile and have a healthy, flourishing relationship; however, it may be that that day will never come. God knows, yes He does, and we can trust Him to lead us.

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shoes

tree foliage

So…

Let us love, big.
Let us forgive much, from our hearts.
Let us pray without ceasing.

But let us also beware.

“A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer… He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.” (Psalms 101:4-5,7)

Satan wants you, friend, and he may be trying to get to you through someone else. We should remember to always be “wise as a serpent, but harmless as a dove.” (Matt. 10:16)

Maybe you are going through something similar? If so, draw near to God and seek His wisdom and direction. If you are dealing with someone who is a liar, manipulative, controlling, unrepentant, and never accepts responsibility for their words, actions, and hurtful behaviors toward others, then please be careful. There is SO much more I could share about our experience but a blog post isn’t the appropriate spot for such a lengthy piece. However, I will leave you with this: we live in a world that is love-starved. And there are many different ways that we can show love. Sometimes love is spending time with someone, but sometimes it is separating from them and letting God use that separation to break that person in ways that will lend to their eventual restoration; sometimes love is long talks, but other times it is silence that only has a voice that God hears. Love can be gentle, but at other times tough love is the better way. One thing is for sure: God is love and we can count on Him to guide us on the right path. We need Him because “there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Prov. 14:12)

So, today let us love and forgive – but let’s do so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, remembering to exercise discernment in all areas, and with all people that we allow into our worlds and the worlds of our precious children.  And ultimately…let us praise the One who will give us everything we need to do this thing called life.

Surrender’s Cross

Cross

Once upon a time…
There is a way, and its broken paths lead directly to the Cross.

I am on a pilgrimage. Yes, and this path I am on leads to a Cross that is central to everything…and I’m learning to part with my fears here. And you know what?…Surrender has everything to do with this journey. The need to do so presents itself around every bend and I am faced with a choice to hold on or to let go. And on Sunday, while an old country preacher preaches to my achy heart, I bend.

Today I’m walking paths of uncertainty and my feet are unsure. I want to look at the sights along the way but I’m distracted by the strangeness of this journey. Yet there is beauty here that will not let the eyes of my heart look away. Still, sometimes I just want to skip this part – this Cross – and move right on to the resurrection – the new life; the Sunday rather than the Friday; the empty tomb instead of the full Cross.

Last Sunday I went to our little country church and I worshipped God with my fellow Jesus lovers. We sang sweetly and we bowed our heads and we raised our hands in adoration to my cross-bearing Savior. When it came time for Pastor to preach, I began to feel sick and decided that it might be better if I go out to the car, while my family continue in the service. As I began to collect my purse and keys, one of my children distracted me and when I finished quietly explaining to my child that, yes, we could go to the park for a picnic after church, God impressed upon my spirit that I should stay.

And then…

old church house

church pew

orchid

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And then God spoke to my miserable soul through the voice of that old country preacher and my spirit knew immediately it was for me. Me. God loves me so much that He spoke to me that day, and this is what He said…

“When you fear, you are not surrendered. You hold onto everything so tightly, and you fight so hard with your knuckles white and your heart tense. Surrender now, and you will feel the exhale.”

(“Oh yeah, I forgot about the surrender thing for just a minute there. Yes, right now, I surrender, Lord. Speak on preacher. Speak on God, through Preacher. Speak, for Your servant hears.”)

The Preacher continues, “The time is now for surrender. Should you hold on and refuse, surely Satan will level you. God’s ways are best. Be bold and courageous and surrender all to Him. And if you are holding back something – anything, I want you to stand up right now and I’m gonna cry out to God for you.”

{{Gasp}}

I hate anything and everything that draws attention to me, but God says, “Stand up, now.” So I stand up, and like the woman who came to Jesus with the issue of blood, I bury the pride, and trembling, I reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.

(“Lord, this coming to the cross and surrendering are one in the same, aren’t they? It’s what I’ve been missing, isn’t it?”)

Immediately I sense something important has just happened in me and God reminds me of the man with the withered hand from Mark 3:1-6. Jesus told him to extend his withered hand, but what if the man hadn’t done so? What if he had been too embarrassed and held back?

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slippered feet

Bush with flowers

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Missed blessings and thoughts of them remind me of my own pride and I know that today some of it was obliterated as I stood for that prayer. And my heart has been changed in knowing that I need to come…with all of my imperfectness, and simply touch the hem and present to Him my own “withered hand”, my own “issue with blood”…and be healed.

I am a student and God is my Teacher. But the truth is, I overthink everything and my brain gets worn out. Part of this journey of surrender – the Cross – has been laying the many thoughts I have and simply leaving them there at the foot of the Cross; it’s my surrender – my sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor to my God. And He lovingly accepts it and He lovingly accepts me, because ”I am accepted in the Beloved”. Yes, I am, and I thank God for it.

We are all on a journey, wouldn’t you agree? Mine may be different than yours, but our basic needs are the same: we need God and we need each other. So, today I offer to you what God has given to me…lessons, precious – tried in the fires of adversity and experience. And you may not think it is much, but what I have I give. Here goes:
If you are scared, friend, come to the Cross. I always wondered what that meant – coming to the Cross. It was one of the many things that I tried to understand intellectually, but always fell short in reckoning these truths as reality in my experience. Here’s what the Bible says, “ I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live…” This is a done deal – the co-crucifixion – and it should be our reality. Why is that important? Because it’s ALL been taken care of there on that cross! If you are a child of God, you are all wrapped up in that love and when God gave us salvation, He didn’t stop at eternal life…no, He made way for healing, deliverance, peace, and so much more! So, when we can grasp not only the sacrifice, but also the love, and through His Spirit live it out, we can be set free – truly free. Not being afraid anymore sounds sweet, right? Calvary love is perfect love, and perfect love casts out fear!

And then…when Friday ends and Sunday comes! Blessed resurrection…Jesus died – I died, but He rose again…and that resurrection life can be my reality too! I want to walk in newness of life, don’t you? I’m tired of defeat and I’m tired of seeing you defeated too. Where is the power, people?

It’s here: it’s Sunday power after Friday crucifixion. Death, then life.

sun shining through the branches of a tree

tree stump

2 leaves

So, today, right now, let’s remember that our Redeemer lives, and His life is ours. What a beautiful gift has been given to the undeserving, the unloving, the cast aways, the lovers of self, the gluttons, the fearers, the faithless…us. You. And. Me. So when life just feels like it’s just a little too much, rejoice that the tomb is hollow and it is empty, and the grave clothes bear witness to death turned life.

Shalom Aleichem (Peace be upon you).