Friday, July 1, 2016

The Wrong Medicine Can Be Deadly

When I was a child, I almost died of a drug mistake.  A pharmacist gave my parents the wrong drug when I was just a toddler, and the results put me in a coma.  Had it not been for my dad being aware and arguing with the doctor when his instincts said something was wrong, I would have died.  The next session in our lives were much like this.  When wrong medicine can do massive harm.

After a few years of us functioning in a fog and PTSD taking a toll on our relationships and life, our church finally grew deeply concerned about us, and communicated to our mission that we were not doing well.  They finally decided to do something about it.

There was only one drawback - the mission leaders, who were not with us, who did not know us, and who did not talk with us made the decision about what was wrong and what we needed....

They discussed it a little with our pastor... who had absolutely no experience with missions, trauma, or member care... and who also made the decision without talking to us.

What happened was that we got called in to a meeting with our pastor and mission leader who informed us that we had marriage issues due to personal moral failure and that we would be seeing a marriage counselor.  We asked if we could see someone with experience in post-traumatic stress care, and were coldly informed that we should not try to blame our moral failure on other things.  We had no options, but we had hopes that the counselor would help us process life and recover, so we went.  He was a decent guy, but he focused on skills we already knew - listening and paraphrasing the other's message back to them.  Nice skills, but not helping us with the nightmares, lack of ability to handle emotions, severe panic at times, and numbness at other times.  We went until the summer travels interrupted the visits.  It had helped a small amount just to be talking on our long drives to this counselor's office.

That fall, when we returned and still were having the same issues, the mission decided to send a retired pastor to assess us.  He sat in our living room one afternoon, and tried to figure out where we were in our thinking.  He deeply offended my husband by telling him that if he gets angry, he doesn't have the Spirit of God and he needs to question if he is a believer.  We sat in shock, staring at him.  Two years ago, my husband was willing to lay his life down not to deny his faith.  He faced the loss of many of his close friends including ones who helped him get home safely.  He received no care for the trauma, and now his salvation was being questioned!!  It was like a slow moving nightmare unfolding.

After this visit, Harry and Dick conferred and decided that I might actually be the problem, and decided to send us to a psychiatrist for an evaluation.  This may have been a good step, if it had been done ethically, but we found out something later that shocked me as a medical person.  They chose a doctor who was the son of someone in the office who they had known most of his life, and they told this doctor what they thought of our diagnosis and what they expected to find.  Then, not knowing this, we went to see him.  He interviewed both of us separately, after assuring us of confidentiality.  He questioned our background, our family up-bringing, sexual history, abuse history, marriage issues, and other very personal details.  At the end, he said that he would write a summary of his findings and send it to Harry and the team that Harry had put together to "help" us, including our pastor, the missions pastor of our home church, Dick, Tom, and Daisy, a woman asked to join because I requested that a woman be on the "team".

Although we had provided the doctor with separate e-mails, he claimed that he had "forgotten", and sent the summary (which was actually about three pages of all the confidential details he had asked about and assured us of confidentiality) to both of us at our joint e-mail.  If that was not bad enough, he told us he was just waiting for our permission before sending it to Harry AND THE WHOLE OF THE "HEALING TEAM"!!!

Whoa!  We immediately objected that this was no summary of what he thought was wrong, but a collection of details he had promised confidentiality on, and that we were uncomfortable with details of our sexual lives, details of my past history of abuse, and other details being sent out to such a wide group.  We were very bluntly told by Harry that if we did not agree to these summaries being sent to the "team", that we would be asked to leave the mission.  It was degrading.  But we didn't see an option but to say yes, under duress.

 (I did phone the medical board and report the doctor for unethical conduct, but that was all I could do.  The board assured me that they could file a complaint and bring it up for arbitration and protect me from any repercussions from it, but I declined to go for arbitration.  They hadn't yet met Christians, and I knew they could not protect me from them.  The laws meant nothing to these people.)

We suffered through the humiliation of our very intimate details being sent to people we barely knew.  The doctor questioned my sanity and said that I seemed to be operating out of fear but he didn't see any reason for it, so he questioned an underlying mental issue.  Don't worry - I was questioning my sanity at this point too!!  All this stress was making our lives and our relationship even harder, and we were not functioning well at all.  Thankfully, my work was a safe place full of caring people who understood grace and believed in me.  I hung on and rested in their firm love of me through this difficult time.

Dick phoned again about six months later and had a solution.  They had a couple who were counselors and they would send us there for a week.  They were experts and had worked in a similar culture and would be great to help us.  I specifically asked that the wife would also be involved in the counseling because I was losing faith in men's ability to listen.  I was assured that both husband and wife would be working with us, and this would be a good place.

What followed was one of the oddest experiences we have ever have.  It did serve to draw us together, but really only out of a deep instinctual desire to protect each other.  We arrived at the house of this couple and were shown to our room.  We were informed that the wife was in school, and we would not see her barely at all.  So much for the promise that she would be in sessions.  We were then told we would have one session a day.  The rest of the time, our host, the counselor, and his wife when she was home, went in their bedroom and shut the door and left us for the rest of the day.  They popped out when food came, ate, did dishes, and went back to their rooms.  We stared at the walls of this fairly empty house - no games, no tv, no books, nothing.  Well, books on psychology, but not relaxing reading!  We took some walks, but didn't want to be gone long.  We had no clue when the next session was.  We stared at the closed bedroom door and were puzzled.

As the week dragged on, we noticed that our host had fairly severe OCD, so we amused ourselves by finding something small to "adjust" and laying bets to how many minutes it would take him when he appeared out of the bedroom to fix what we had adjusted.  We moved the rug slightly off square.  We bumped a picture on the wall just slightly.  We moved the salt shaker from the middle of the back of the stove to the side.  (It really was the only entertainment we had that whole long boring week!)  It never took more than ten minutes before it was exactingly readjusted, but it kept us laughing, and laughter is needed.

Half-way through the week, the psychologist hit on what he thought was the problem.  He found out that a man had been mentoring me for a few years.  Seth had been, from across the ocean, been mentoring both my husband and me.  Still is.  We love him and his wife.  Ah ha!  That was it!  He told me firmly that "all relationships across gender lines that are not blood related are wrong".  (This was a man who was supposed to have extensive experience on the mission field - did he not know that we all grew up with substitute uncles and aunties because we left our blood related family behind???!!)  The problem in our marriage, he told us, was because I had a relationship with another man.  Yup, that was it.  My husband stared at him like he had grown three heads, and told him that he had absolutely no doubt about his wife's integrity and no doubt about this relationship with this man who is like a father to both of us.  Nope.  He knew the truth, and he told us it was the truth.

I was emotionally worn out, and I began to cry.  This he took as evidence that I was wrong, and he offered to help me "break away from this emotional affair."  I declined his help.  He told me he was ordering me not to speak to Seth again and would put that in his report to Harry and Dick.  I could not speak.  I was humiliated!  I also knew that it would be embarrassing for Seth to have that said. It was far better to have my sanity doubted than my purity!  My husband was outraged.  But he would not listen to him.  At the end of that session, we ran from the house, took bikes, and got as far away as we possibly could.  We reached a small mountain lake, just barely clear of winter ice.  Crystal clear and clean.  I stripped down and dove in, letting the ice-cold water wash this awful man's words away.  I dressed again, shivering, and we returned.  He thought I was crazy to have gone swimming in lakes in that area, but he never knew it was only to get the filth of his words off.

We suffered through four more days with this man.  We agreed to say as little as possible to him and nod and agree.  He rarely stopped talking anyway, so it was easy to do.  Then we flew home.  We were done, but "they" weren't.  But for now, we were more traumatized and stunned.  He had also forbid us to talk to Seth again.  Life was just utterly confusing and we began to have more horrible nightmares after our time with this man.  We also began to wonder if all counselors needed to be in the looney bins themselves. We had totally lost trust in getting help and promised we'd never try again.  Thankfully, God did have some good people out there, but it took us awhile before we got there.  Life was going to get far worse before it got better.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Cost of No Member Care

Our mission repeatedly told me that they just didn't have the resources to have a member care person.  Well, officially, they had one, but it was more of an intake person.  They had someone to help people through the process of joining.  Questions about taxes, passports, visas, etc.

They had no one to care for people once they were on the field.  That, apparently, was to be cared for by an on the field person, the team leader.  Sadly, that didn't work for us for two reasons:  1.  We were the local team leaders and 2. We were not on our field.  We lived elsewhere in a relatively safe location and traveled to a very unsafe location because of the nature of our specific work.  So we had no one immediately caring for us as team leaders and we fell under the jurisdiction of a office in a fairly safe country who had no idea of how to care for people in unsafe locations.

Those are just explanations that might give mild insight into the situation, but not solid excuses.  The people who should have stepped in had years of experience and were leaders for years and years.  They were not newbies and should have at least had the experience to know that help was needed, what was needed, and to ask for help from wiser people to assist.  They didn't. 

What happens when there is no member care after trauma?  I guess it could be described as a slow spiral downwards.  We had the immediate of no sleep for a week or so.  Horrific nightmares woke us the minute we slipped into REM sleep.  Our bodies ached and our minds were on hyper alert.  We were exhausted, but everything hurt and the slightest noise set us on edge.  We had a hard time processing logical thoughts because we were so exhausted.  After a few weeks of this, we hit a wall where we could sleep.  The hyper alertness settled, but nightmares still woke us several times a week. The lack of sleep dulled our emotions and we became "flat".  It was hard to muster a feeling besides a vague deadness.  Our eyes looked out of our heads stunned and confused.

As more trauma hit our field, we had a hard time.  Not only did we feel grief for our friends, we felt a deep sense of guilt or pain.  Why did we get the miracle and they didn't?  How do you explain to yourself that you lived and your friends were killed?  How do you process grief that is mixed with guilt?  How do you ask for resources and help when you already got the miracle?  When others maybe need those resources?  Were we whining to keep saying we weren't doing well?  We were alive... others weren't.

As the trauma settled in, we grew more exhausted.  We lost patience with each other.  We still didn't sleep.  I couldn't eat without pain.  Our children suffered, and we could not leave them even to run to the store without them worrying about us.  We stopped asking for help because no one was listening.  We didn't know how to write a prayer letter.  We didn't know what to say.  We felt dead and defeated.  Our church began to have questions about our "fitness" as missionaries because we weren't showing the joy of the Lord.  We weren't living victoriously.  We knew they were judging us, and we were unable to explain how we were feeling.  It was months in now, and most people in the church assumed it was "in the past", and they had no clue that we still dealt with fears, nightmares, and difficulty regulating our emotions.  Then we felt ignored and not valued on top of it.

A year went by, and we say our mission headquarters people again at the next conference.  We asked again for some debriefing and that some sort of member care protocol be put into place in case this ever happens to anyone else.  They nodded, but nothing was ever done.  Nothing has been done to this day.

We never healed.  We tried to do life by sheer force of will and habit.  It didn't work.  We just piled up stress on stress.  Our marriage began to suffer, our family life began to suffer, and of course our director stepped back into my husband's life to tell him that this was all his wife's fault because she was weak.  We literally began to fall apart.  And as we did, the church and mission was quick to step in and judge us for "moral failures".  It was a nightmare of a time, and we longed for someone to listen and help us process, but there was no one.

Surprised by God

If you were here with me, you could sit and laugh with me.  God is doing something that is simply amazing and still makes me giggle.  I've been swamped and busy, so not able to sit back and work through the rest of the story.  I will one day.  I feel it is valuable for me to write out.  Maybe I will learn; maybe others will learn from it.

But now....

Our support was low, so we were asked to raise support.  Oh how we all love that job!!  So we were asked by a friend to come to his church and speak to his pastor.  We did.  The meeting went for hours, until 11:30 at night!!  He did not want to let us go.  But at the end of the day, the pastor had a strange request.  "We've been looking and praying for a women's pastor.  Would you be interested?"  I laughed!  I have never even led a ladies Bible study!  Teens once, yes.  Years of children's work, yes.  Women?  Never.  

Before we got home, we got a text.  Would I consider sharing my testimony with the women's group?  I thought I could do that...  The day I showed up, the pastor was there and introduced me as "the woman he is strongly recommending for women's pastor."  I was a little shocked, but ignored him.  The funny thing is that this is a church of immigrants, and a people group I have never worked with.  
The meeting went well, and the women were wonderful to be with.  Before I got home, my husband had a message from the pastor again saying that the women were very happy and came to him and wanted me to teach their study.  Mild panic.  Mild is a mild word.  It was more like gut wrenching fear.  My mentor was gone - something about celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary.... some people!  So I phoned another friend who used to be a youth pastor and who knew me.  He laughed, and then talked me through some of it.  My husband and I decided I would take the offered one month trial position.

So here I am, three weeks in to being an interim women's pastor in an immigrant church.  I am one of the few white people there.  And yet, I fit so much more in with these immigrants than I do with the typical American church.  I feel at home.

I've been teaching on what I have been taught for ten years.  Who God is.  God is not a task master judging how well we do our faith.  He is a quiet God who sings over us with delight, who is gentle with those with young.  I taught them about our God-image that we have developed over our lives and how distortions in our God image leave us with handicaps in our relationship with God.  Then I began teaching them about us in community.... that God is not enough; He designed us to be in community with others. Also how community is not enough; He puts within our hearts a remnant of dissatisfaction with even the most perfect of relationships because we were designed for relationship with Him, and we were created with eternity in our hearts.  Next week, I will be teaching on God's plan for reaching out and healing is to work with people.  How we need to function both as wounded and those helping the wounded.  Community again, and the knowledge that God is smiling and encouraging our faltering steps towards Him.

In this church, these women have not heard this - it is a good church, but they came out of a first generation immigrant church that is more legalistic.  Every week, they have been in tears....  They are being challenged to rest with God, to know they are loved.

And I go away each week feeling both a sense of bubbling joy and a sense of wanting to sit down and cry.  Joy because it is unbelievable - here I am, a year ago, kicked out of a mission, strongly censored by my church, horrifically slandered by a team leader.  Now teaching, sharing with women in a church.  I suspect I will get called to go on past this trial month.  I am enjoying these women.  Enjoying seeing God work.  And laughing that God has this sense of humor.

But as I teach, as I see them benefit from the lessons I learned over these years of pain, as I hear them talk about how God is talking to them, I myself heal.  God is quietly healing the wounds of being rejected in my heart.

In a week or two, I will hear if we are asked to join this church with me in a pastoral role.  I'll let you know.  I still giggle at the thought.  But I have a quiet sense of calm.  God is working here, and I stand amazed.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

When No One Cared

My husband left early that afternoon for that trip that changed our lives.  It was a routine trip that he had done many times, and we had nothing to worry about.  But it did not end up routine.  I still am unable to blog about all the details of what happened, but he was taken and went missing.

I knew almost instantly because he was going to phone me the minute he got through an upcoming checkpoint - a task normally taking less than five minutes, but I never heard from him again and his phone and his friends phones went silent.  I knew immediately we had serious problems.

But what was I to do?  Phone Dick?  The man who demeaned me at every turn and labeled me as unbalanced and talked behind my back?  I hesitated, waiting, hoping that my husband just met a friend and was talking and forgot.  Dick would belittle me and use it as another example of my instability and weakness.  So I waited.  I phoned others who I knew could pray and be silent.

Two hours later, Dick phoned me.  He had heard an hour before, but decided to phone all the other people on the team and tell them first and me last.  I was only the wife after all.  I still remember that call.   "Hi.  We just heard from (a friend who saw) that your husband was taken.  I've told everyone else on the team.  If I hear anything more, I'll tell you.  Oh, do you have (another friend's) number, I need to tell her.  You do, thanks.  Ok, bye."

That was it.  Nothing more.

My whole life had been spent in the "missionary family".  I already knew without a doubt that this was a distinct possibility and had already battled it out with God before I headed into this ministry.  I had also had the expectation that if such an event happened, I would have the immediate support of my missionary family and we would get through it.

I remember the overwhelming silence after the phone clicked down and Dick moved on.  He never even asked if I was ok, if I needed anything.  No expression of sympathy.  No prayer.  No nothing.  Still, that is Dick.  He is likely somewhere on the Asperger's scale - never been one to do interpersonal relationships well.  He thinks he does them well because he can teach on the "how" of them, but he doesn't actually do what he teaches, just teaches it.  But nothing.

Still, I remember the distinct thought that people would be coming.  After all, we are only two hours from the head office for our mission in this country - from people that will be working to help get him back.  Someone will be here in no time at all.  We also have a local team; they will be here in ten minutes, for sure.  So I quickly cleared up the living room of some games I was sorting, and made tea and set out cookies.  It was the last logical step that my mind was able to accomplish before the fog set it.  I then phoned a few friends, but they were out of town, and I told them to check on me when they got in, but that my team and my mission would be here soon, no doubt, and we would be ok.

Instead Silence.  No one came.  No one even phoned.  Two hours away, and my head office, who were quite aware that my husband was taken and his life was in serious risk, did not either phone me to see how I was or drive over to be with me.  To this day, I can not understand that, and it left a wound that may never completely heal.  I still flinch at the memory and struggle with it.

The next four days were a marathon of pain and hard work and strategic silence.  Everyone needed me.  Getting them out was my job.  The mission did phone the next day and ask for my help with another person.  Then they phoned me the next day and told me that they did not want their name involved, and my husband's best chance lay with the government, so I should phone them and ask them to help get him back.  So I did.  I don't think they ever phoned me again during that time.  I was entirely alone.  Dick phoned a few times.  He told me what was happening over there, which was that no one knew anything.  Once he told me he was turning his phone off and taking a sleeping pill so he could sleep.  Thanks.  I didn't sleep.  Besides trying to get my husband out, I also had to assume that my husband was being tortured and I had to block all methods he had of accessing data that would endanger others.  I worked night and day, and when there was no work, I sat.  I organized prayer support, and I sat quietly.  My church stepped in and the school, but no word from the mission.  Three days later, someone from our local team did come by and provide some support, but from our head offices, nothing.  On the third day, I got a two minute phone call from "Harry", the director to tell me they were thinking of me.  I said thank-you.  I was too busy and too numb to call him out on it.  Besides, he was Dick's good friend and Dick had already stated in his letter that he had shared freely with Harry all he thought about me.  I assumed that my mission did not support me because they thought I was worthless anyway.

Thankfully, God was still there when His people failed, and he had a few people who stepped in totally unexpectedly when people failed.  A widow who lost her husband in conflict phoned me and helped me process the next hours.  A good friend came over and wrapped his arms around me and held me since his wife was out of town and couldn't.  Another friend stopped by and brought snacks.  Others stepped in with food.  People were there after the first 36 hours.  But not the mission.  I guess two hours is a long drive...

And after four very long days, God worked a miracle and returned my husband to our family.  Then began the next season in a very twisted and complicated story with our mission.  My husband wanted me to fly and meet him and spend time with him and his friend who had been with him, but separated.  They needed time together.  Harry, the director of our mission, told me that I should not go, that my kids needed me, and that if I went I would be being a bad mother.  My husband insisted, and I flew to meet them.  I left my kids with my mother who flew in.  But we had to pay for our ticket ourselves and do all the arrangements.  The mission still did nothing, except tell me that my kids needed me and I should just wait until my husband came home.  My husband was furious with them by that point and bluntly told me to tell them that he needed his wife and I needed him, and that was that.  So I left.

Now my husband had already had one night in transit and Dick was able to phone him that night and gather all the critical information to ensure others were safe and all, but on our first night together, Dick phoned at 11:30 at night and was on the phone with my husband until after 1.  That was after being on the phone with his friend all afternoon.  He had no clue of decency, of the fact that we hadn't slept in four days, and that we needed rest and each other.  He continued to phone and disrupt the few days that we had with the four of us trying to recover.  He wanted to talk to help himself process it and decide what to do later.  When my husband refused to take his calls, he began e-mailing me very rude letters insisting that I "make" my husband take his calls.  It was disturbing.

After a week, we came home, and sure enough, Dick flew in and wanted to see us both that first night.  My mother forbid him to come to the house and insisted that the kids get first dibs on their dad.  Then we began the process of a team debreif - what happened and what will the policies be next.  In that team debrief, there was a lot of criticism of us that we did not do enough to reassure people and talk to them during our first 48 hours of freedom.  They felt that because they were all concerned (even though never stopped by our house to show that concern), they each wanted to talk to my husband themselves to reassure themselves.  We had issued a statement that we were ok, but it wasn't good enough.  They were upset that they didn't get to talk to us personally.  No one was there to advocate for us that we needed some rest and recover time.  After a day of talking policy and procedures, Dick was ready to move on to strategic planning for the next six months.

At no time was there ever a personal debrief.  At no time during, after, or in the months to come, did anyone from our mission sit down with us as a couple and ask how we were.  At no time was counseling or trauma debreif offered to us.  At no time did anyone come have a cup of coffee with us and listen.  We actually made the two hour trip hoping to meet our home team, be heard, and be with "family".  We went to an evening event, walked in, and someone came up to my husband, slapped him on the back, and said, "Hey, heard about your adventure!  Four days - that's nothing; so and so spent three weeks in jail in Turkey!"  We were stunned.  We still were not sleeping from the nightmares that would plague us for six months every night, and then decreased to only three or four times a week.  We still have them.  The case in Turkey was a totally different situation,  That man had no fear of death.  It was awful, and he faced separation, but it was not the same.  No one seemed to care more than a few more slaps on the back and an occasional, "Good to see you; we were praying!"  We left feeling ignored.  No one asked how we were doing.  They didn't even sit still long enough to ask.

We came home, and existed for the next several weeks.  We couldn't function.  Thinking through cooking a meal was too much.  I stared at the washing machine once for ten minutes and couldn't figure out how it turned on.  My husband would come home, we'd put the kids in bed at 8:30, and go to bed ourselves to stare at the ceiling.  If we slept, we had nightmares and woke again.  But our brains were too tired to do anything but sleep.

After three months, we asked our mission for help with some debrief counseling.  They told us that perhaps our insurance would cover it, and we should check our policy and if it did, we could arrange it and bill insurance.  We hung up.  Life took so much energy to even write a shopping list; there was no way we would figure out an insurance policy.  We just lived, trying to manage one day at a time.

Now, years later, we look back and wonder what our lives would have been like with proper member care.  Honestly, it never crossed my mind that one could face that type of a crisis and have NO member care provided.  I expected someone with us during the crisis.  I expected at least to be called in to the main office and to meet with a member care person and be heard.  I expected some sort of debrief and trauma care.  But we had nothing.  Then the very fact of being completely ignored in trauma became in itself another trauma actually harder to recover from.  The first was perpetrated by evil men, and there was some sense in that.  Evil will fight against good.  The second was perpetrated by God's own people, and it was hard to comprehend.    Looking back, though, we wonder... had appropriate member care been given, could we have avoided some of the pain of dealing with years of PTSD?  I think the answer is a resounding yes.

Then only weeks after this trauma, our field was plunged into the worst season of trauma after trauma after trauma where you could not even catch your breath between them.  We lost so many friends that it was hard to count them; we cringed turning on our computers and reading the news in case it brought more news of deaths and missing.  We had no more time then to even deal with our own trauma since we were so caught up with others.  Nights brought nightmares and days brought grief.

And our churches began to drop us because we weren't "doing much" and we weren't getting our prayer letters done on time.  Money got tight, sleep didn't come, more deaths hit, and we just weren't functioning well.  Again we asked our mission headquarters for help, and this time they said that they would find someone, but months went by and we never heard from them again.  We felt entirely alone, and began to feel judged even by the church we attended in our "over here" location because Christians are joyful and victorious, and we sure didn't look it.

When no one helps, that itself becomes a secondary trauma.

Harder to heal from.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Then Things Got Strange

As we continued on in this new project, like I feared, things got worse.  I don't know if it was the increased work load, the detailed work focused on little things and not people (outside of my husband's energy-giving sphere), or an attack against us, but things got worse.  My husband would work a full day at the office, come home, nap on the couch until a late supper, and then work for another five hours on the new work.  He would be up early in the morning because that was when people on the other side of the world were up, and on his computer in our bedroom talking away and working.  It didn't do good for our relationship.  I began to parent alone again - entering the awful world of preteen boys all alone.  If the kids disturbed him or were loud at home when he was on the phone - which he so very often was for so very long - he was angry with me for not having them under control.  I had two boys with ADHD attempting to navigate school with varying degrees of success, and I was working a part time job to supplement our income.

We were far too busy.

I tried not to complain.  After all, I was also deeply invested in the work my husband was doing and was willing to sacrifice to see it done.  But I also wanted a husband and a father for our kids.  We hadn't learned to take time out for each other and for family.  A new couple joined us at the office and instead of being a help to us, they came with their own agenda and their own pressure because their sending agency wanted them to do things their way.  That ended up splitting the fledgling church that was in our city because they had to "plant" a church.  Working with an existing fledgling church and helping grow it would not meet the demands of their agency, so they pulled people out of the one to create another that they "planted".  This caused division and trouble among the little group.  They also came into the office and grew very close to one family of the two that worked with us and spent much time with them.... and not the other.  This also caused more problems.  My husband was the "hearer" of the problems and maintained a fairly calm demeanor at work, but then would come home and vent his emotions at home.  One day, I again tried to ask Dick, as our field leader, for help.  He told me at first that I must be lying or exaggerating because my husband "does not get angry".  He told me that my husband had lived with them for a year once and he had never seen him angry, so either I am lying or it is something wrong with me because he never gets angry at anyone else.  This began to erode more and more at my confidence and my sense of self that I hardly knew what to think any more.  I knew he was wrong, but there was no way to talk to him.  He either accused me of being too emotional  or being too logical.  He continued to tell me and my husband that I was "damaged" from my past and that I am weak.

In desperation, I went to our pastor, and my husband agreed to go with me for counseling.  I was actually really optimistic.   This was the first time he had agreed to go to someone besides Dick, and I had great hopes that things would being to work out if only we could talk and get some godly counsel.  The first session, the pastor listened to us talk.  At the end, he handed us this two page list of references.  Bible verses.  About 120 of them.  He wanted us to look them all up; they were references to different sins, and list the ways each of us were sinning according to these verses.  We were both stunned.... but we wanted to cooperate, so we tried to work our way through them all on top of our busy lives.  List after list of sins, we waded through.  When we went back, we mentioned that it was a lot of verses.  His comment was, "Some people would think it is not enough."  On the bright side, it did get us talking, because on the way home every week, we would talk about how odd this pastor's method of counseling was - that he seemed to have no idea of what to do other than condemn people.  But, the problem was, we couldn't stop going without looking like we were rebelling, so we went, but there was little value in it.  He was a good preacher, but not a counselor.

At some point in here, because Dick was still checking on us, and he heard that we were going to our pastor, our pastor wrote him and suggested that we have a break from ministry.  I really do not know what triggered Dick to do this because it only came across my attention later, but Dick wrote my pastor a letter and told him not to listen to me.  It was two pages long of some of the worst slander one has ever seen.  I am tempted some days to change names in it and post it on here because no one would believe it otherwise.  It was vile.  On and on he went, and just when you thought he was done, he added a page of postscript that was more vile than the letter.  He told him that I was lying, that I exaggerated, that I had a psychological disorder that he and another counselor (who when I asked her about it said that not only did she NOT say that, but that she would never because she didn't think it true, neither was she qualified to make such a statement!) both agreed that I had.  That this disorder was shown by my logic and skill in thinking.  He said it likely came from my past of severe abuse, and that I will never be normal or be able to be lived with and my poor husband will just have to endure it all his life; there is no other hope despite a miracle which he doesn't even think is possible.  He told my pastor that I am likely pathological liar and should not be listened too.  He even went so far as to mention all of my family members and drag their characters down stating "I do not even know how her mother lives with her father".  Then he quoted a letter from his wife saying how I do not even care for my own children and my poor husband has to take all the responsibility in our household.  Interestingly, his wife had only visited our house once in the last eight years, and we had visited her once.  When she visited us, I had just fallen on the stairs (yes, really, really - the ER asked me a few questions about that too!!  But I tripped running up them and took a flying fall into the next ones!) and had broken my clavicle and cracked my shoulder blade.  So, no, I wasn't doing much to care for my kids and my husband was very kindly taking most of the responsibility for the kids.  When we visited her for two days, I had just recovered from a pinched nerve in my arm, and my husband was doing most of the child care to give me a break and because he was about to leave for a three week trip and wanted to be with the kids.  I didn't see her point.  (Later, under questioning, he admitted that his wife had never written that, nor seen it, but that he made it up "from conversations we had had together".)  Then, to make matters worse, Dick sent this letter to my husband "to see if I have it right before I send it to the pastor"!  

It is hard to explain how I felt when I stumbled across that letter.  I had always had the passwords to my husband's e-mail accounts and at times would look for a letter or so in order to write prayer letters, and I came across this jewel.  I think my blood ran ice-cold.  I knew before then that Dick was a bad influence on my husband and had the feeling that things weren't being handled well, that I wasn't being listened to with any respect, but I had no idea!  At the time, I was still believing that my husband loved me, but was over worked, suffering from burnout, possible PTSD issues, and his moods were out of control due to the above and his uncontrolled diabetes issues and lack of sleep.  I needed this to change, for sure, but I believed it was possible, and I believed that people would help us in that.

Then this.  Wow.  I didn't even know how to react.  No one would ever believe me if I accused the team leader of something like that.  He was already saying I was illogical (and too logical) and paranoid and a pathological liar.  And honestly, I had no clue who to trust or where I was safe.  Was the pastor saying these things about me, too?  Is this what he was telling my husband about me behind my back?!  No wonder my husband was not being respectful of caring towards me!  I basically shut down.  I couldn't think.  I didn't dare ask for trust or for help again.  Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to copy the letter and save it.  That step saved me later because it gave me the ability to say no when I finally got strong enough to stand up to some of this.  (Years later, when I showed this letter to a few counselors working with us, even they could not hide the shock on their faces.  Two called it blatant spiritual abuse, and one who knew him, called him a misogynist.  But at the time, I had no one to carry the pain of that letter with me or to stand up and loudly contradict it.)

Still, my husband and I continued to work on our relationship, and Seth continued to mentor us, and we got to a relatively stable place and then even moved on to a good relationship.  We began talking more, sharing our hearts, taking time for each other, and life was good.  Then my husband was excited to start working in a new ministry... a culmination of the project he had taken on before.  He was so excited.  I was thrilled for him.  I went on a trip and began a new ministry myself of writing.  Life was good.  Seth was over visiting, and we had a relaxed and wonderful time.  A few weeks later, my husband packed to go on one trip that changed our lives.  We just didn't know it would when we packed his bags that last evening.  We were so happy with our family life and all we had struggled through to get to this point of peace.  Life was about to change, and we spent that last evening sewing some aprons together for a friend who wanted some.  (Shh... don't tell, but my husband can sew quite well!)

A Too Busy Life

Moving take a lot out of you!  Still working it all out...  but it is good here.

Back to the story..

We went on like that for a few years.  Dick consistently speaking bad of me to my husband, my husband up and down with good times and bad, times of managing well, and times of emotions and sleep all out of whack.  We lost more friends.  Just a few at this stage, but a few good ones. Seth and his wife continued to mentor us both.  I began to come to some peace with God and work through a lot of the pain of my past and began to grow and relax in my relationship with God.  I had a job I loved with old people besides my ministry.  Life was often stable with occasional bad times.  After two years attempting to make friends in a big church, we changed to a smaller one.  It was a good church, and we settled in and made friends.  We noticed that their theology was slightly more restrictive than ours - they weren't at all sure if the Holy Spirit had any role in the world today and were pretty sure that miracles only happened in the time of Acts for a reason then.  We ignored that because we were quite used to functioning in community with believers that have varying beliefs than ours.  We liked the church, liked the preaching, and had found a home for our hearts.

We had a few decent years.  Life went on well.  Ministry was going fairly well.  Then we went back into our default mode of working too much,  My husband brought work home; because his work involved so much virtual work, there was always someone up at any hour of the night that wanted to work with him, and he has a hard time saying no.  Family life suffered.  His travels took him at times for five to six weeks long trips.  Dick encouraged longer and longer trips because it was more cost effective to do even more "while you are there".  Seth warned that this was not good for the family, but Dick himself was gone from his family for extended periods and saw no problem with it at all.  If I said something, he complained to my husband about his "weak" wife.  The longer trips with the increased danger as the situation "over there" got more intense began to wear on my husband again and he began to be more and more short tempered.  I asked once to speak alone to Dick when he was visiting.  I was hoping to discuss this increase in exhaustion that my husband was showing and see if there could be some balance.  Even things like a day or two off after a month long trip for some family time and allowing us to decompress.  But Dick was too busy.  Despite my repeated requests for some time to meet with him and several trips a year that he made to our office, it took him over a year and a half to give me ten minutes of his time.  Then he agreed that my husband should not work so much, but did nothing to change his ways of constantly throwing more at him and needing him for about ten hours a day his first days home.  Nothing changed.

Then an important event occurred in our lives that I still think is key.  We were doing reasonably well in our marriage but just overworked.  Then we took on a very key project for my husband's country.  We ended up with this project because the person doing it before - their marriage almost ended.  I remember thinking when we agreed to take it on that "ack, that will put us on the front lines of the enemy's attack", and I wasn't sure I wanted it.  But it was critical, so we took it on.  I remember that we called our pastor over for a cup of coffee that week and shared with him what we will be doing.  We asked for prayer because doing this project would subject us to attacks of the evil one and asked for prayer, especially for our marriage and family life as we do this.  Our pastor looked straight back at us and said something that I still remember with absolute clarity.

"That is the scariest thing I have ever heard; people blaming their problems on the devil."

I remember it because I was stunned.  It felt like we had just been slapped.  We were not coming to him with problems.  Yes, he was aware that we had issues at times in our marriage, but we had been doing well for quite some time, and we were not going to him with problems,  We were simply asking for prayer protection over our family as we ventured into a new field of ministry.  We were asking because we had just seen our coworker who previously had this project have his marriage almost fall apart during his time with it.  But that was his response...  and we were stunned and speechless, feeling ashamed and scolded.

Needless to say, after that we did not go to him for little things.  We did not go to him and say, "We've had a rough week, can you pray with us or talk with us."  We felt already judged before anything happened.  We really didn't have too many other people to go to either.  Dick was still the same old Dick - running around too busy or too busy typing away at his computer not really aware of the people in his life to really pick up on issues and relationships.  We hadn't seen or heard from our head office two hours away except for three times a year: the Christmas party, a summer weekend retreat, and the board meetings.  We had Seth, still faithfully mentoring us from a distance, and we had our kid's school which was a community of caring people that we had friends in, but friends who were very removed from what we were doing that it would have been hard to explain what we were facing.  They, however, did end up to be the most supportive group we had.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Those Early Years

It was about eleven years ago that we moved, again, across the world with four small kids.  We ended up in one room in a stranger's house and faced the immediate tasks of finding a place to stay, settling in, and getting set up on a limited budget.  Our first house guest came shortly after, and I think he had no clue that the household only owned two towels, so the one we gave him meant that we all shared the other!  But we were happy - reasonably so.  There was so much to do!  We went from being members of a team to being leaders of spearheading a new team.  We were all settling in this new place, and we were in charge of orienting everyone while we were still new ourselves.  It was, in many ways, a happy time - working closely together with the other families, raising kids together, living life together.  But it was also a hard time.

Now that I look back, I wonder what a good debriefing coming off a difficult field may have done.  We will never know.  We walked off that field having lost a few friends.  We walked away from many of our dreams.  We walked away having confronted many of the experiences of our childhoods there, but without the ability to talk about it.  Memories.  Trauma.  Deep grief.  All these emotions we had experienced as children living in this place, and we had just come face to face with it all again.  We walked away safe, and left friends in danger.  (In fact, it was only the fact that I gave in to my husband's choice of a good-bye restaurant, not mine, that allowed us to walk away at all.  While we were eating, we heard a large explosion, and soon the news came - it was that other restaurant...)  Shortly after we moved, we lost more friends to violence over there.

It was our first months in our new home that my husband slowly began to change.  Nothing major or drastic that you would say, "This is big" or "This began recently."  It was a slow thing, hard to notice.  He began sleeping less.  That less became less and less, until he often would not come to bed until after 3am.  He wasn't doing anything wrong, just watching sports or late night talk shows.  He couldn't sleep.  He gained weight.  He became more irritable.  His temper flares that he had always occasionally had, grew much worse, lasted longer, and came more frequently.  He grew silent in-between, sitting hours without much interest in life.  At work, he still functioned well and appeared outgoing and happy, but at home, he was drained and not sleeping.

I worried.  I tried to get him to sleep, but he would lie in bed and toss and turn.  He could barely be dragged from the bed in the mornings.  He quit having breakfast with us because "it is the only time I do get to sleep."  I began to parent alone.  He withdrew more and more.  I worried that he was depressed.

I began to worry about his health.  Diabetes runs rampant in his family, and I worried about his blood sugar levels and if that was affecting his mood.  He would get extremely grouchy if food was not ready the minute he wanted it and tell me he was "shaky", but he resisted all attempt I made to get him to go to the doctor or eat better.

Finally, in desperation, I did what I now regret.  I have pondered this one over for years wondering if the choice itself was wrong or if it was just a total failure of member care.  Or both.  I went to Harry - the head of our team in the country.  They lived only two hours away, so I went over a weekend, and asked to talk to them.  I shared with them that I felt my husband was struggling with emotions after returning from our last field, that I was concerned that he may be depressed and that I wondered about the effects of untreated diabetes, and that he was being a typical man and refusing to see a doctor or counselor.  I asked if they could help by requesting that we both see a counselor or encouraging him to get a medical check up.  I did share with them that besides the depression, he was having some times of anger, and I was concerned for him because this is not like his typical self.

Harry and his wife sat and listened.  They thanked me for sharing, said they had no clue what to do, but that they would pray for me.  I left frustrated.  How could they have no clue what to do?! They were field leaders of a fairly decent size mission - surely they knew something about helping struggling missionaries?!  I never heard from them again about the subject for about four years.  Interestingly, before I left, Harry's wife was talking to me in the kitchen and made a comment that still sticks in my head, and I turn over and over at times wondering how it fits into all of this.  She said, "It is interesting how our men can be like that - all fine and all at the office, but when they come home, they are totally different and get angry so quickly.... but there is nothing we can do about it, I guess."  For years, I have wondered if that there is the reason Harry never responded to help in any way.  But I don't know.  It is only a guess on my part.

I was exhausted and disillusioned.  Keeping up with four young children, a part-time job, part-time ministry, and trying to be there for my husband, trying to guard my heart against how he would wound me when he was struggling - it all wore me out.  I wondered where God was and why my life turned out this way.  Everyone else seemed to have a perfect Christian life, and I had tried so hard and made good decisions, and my life was falling down around my ears while I tried to hold it up.  I was worn out!  I wanted God to step in and save the day.... but He was silent.  It just wasn't fair.

Finally, I tried again, and went to Dick for help.  He was my husband's best friend and confidante and mentor.  He was also our team leader from a distance.  Surely, he would be able to have some influence and help.  Dick listened carefully and then told me that if I kept a cleaner house, made better meals, smiled for guests more, and slept with my husband more that "I am sure he would be fine.  You just need to respect him more."  Then Dick did what is inexcusable - he began to talk to my husband about what I had told him and began to tell my husband that his wife was not good enough.  I wasn't good enough because I didn't fit into the culture well enough, I didn't clean well enough, I didn't do well enough, I wasn't enough.  Dick became my husband's "ear" every time he was upset and Dick began to tell him how bad I was.  My husband shared my past of abuse with Dick without my permission, and Dick decided he would "counsel" me about it.  At the same time, Dick wrote a letter to my husband and to another person accusing me of making up my history of abuse "for attention" because "if she really had been abused as a child, she would have told her parents."  His lack of knowledge of sexual abuse was absolutely astounding, and when I questioned him on it, he defended himself saying, "Well, I am from (this type of church and community) and we don't have any child sexual abuse in our community."  As well as suggesting that I had made it all up for attention, Dick also asserted to my husband that I was probably "too damaged" from my past abuse to "ever be normal" and sympathized with him that he would just have to "endure" me for the rest of his life.  Dick's logic never ceases to amaze me - either I could have made it up OR I could have been damaged by it, NOT BOTH!  But Dick also often criticized me for either being "too logical" or "too emotional".  Logic, especially in women, was seen by him as a great fault.

I have asked myself why I allowed myself to be jerked around so much by Dick and the best answer I could think of was that I believed him to be in a position of authority over us and that I had a God-given duty to be under his leadership.  I think an argument could be made for that in a normal and healthy situation of a leader over us, but Dick was operating out of his sphere of leadership and out of God's heart for the hurting, and if I had recognized that earlier, I could have stepped out to a healthy place earlier.  Dick's actions amounted to at the least great ignorance and a misguided attempt to help and at the most, abuse, plain and simple.  I did not recognize that at the time because I was in over my head with all that was going on.

I am not sure what would have happened then, but God decided to send in the most unlikely help.  A friend we had known for several years came to visit.  Seth did some training with our group, and because we were the leaders, we hosted him (and gave him one of our two towels!).  He was ok.  Quiet at times, even though there was obvious conflict in our home at times.  It wasn't until one day we were in the car, and we were all talking about traveling and life on the move.  He said that he doesn't do one thing because he struggles with a sin, so learns to set borders for himself to keep himself safe.

I was stunned.  I had only grown up around perfect Christians.  Ok, there was that list of "acceptable sins" that one could commit - irritation, impatience, frustration, the garden variety sins.  This was off the list.  He was crazy.  But it had me tipping my head to one side to listen better.  If he admits weakness..... what will he do in response to weakness in others???  Later that night, I asked to talk to him, and we began to talk.  He has a horrible habit of not staying on topic and asking endless questions, but we began talking.  When he went home, his wife wrote me, and the two of them began to mentor me.  I often think that if they knew that night what they were getting into, they would have run screaming, but they didn't know, so they stayed.

I seriously thought I had enough on my plate right then, but God didn't.  He decided that it would be a good time then to deal with the pain in my past - from abuse, from grief, and from some trauma.  I did not agree with God then, and embarked on a few months of fighting Him over His timing choices, but gave in.  I told God one thing only - if He was going to bring up my past again and ask me to work through it, then He had better take me through it the hard way, no shortcuts, and show me the way out because I had no intention of coming out alone - I was bringing other women out with me!   It still interests me that God chose to work on my healing in the middle of a very unsupportive spouse and an abusive team leader - both speaking evil over me about my identity and worth.  Years later, as I begin working with abused women, I wonder if God was trying to prove to me that He will be enough to heal hearts, even in the middle of marriages that are not nor may ever be healthy and in the middle of a culture that does not value women.  Even there, God is enough.  I had to learn to listen to the quiet voice of God singing in delight over me and let it drown out the other noises that threatened to destroy me.

This began the next few years of me processing my past, working through it, all with the calm, quiet presence from the other side of the world of Seth and his wife, and all in the middle of the chaos that was happening at home as my husband spiraled farther and farther into depression and anger and likely post-traumatic stress symptoms.  I always loved my husband, and I had some understanding that his actions and attitudes were not who he was, but a result of what he was suffering and unable or unwilling to face.  Still, it was a rough time, and to this day, I am surprised that I made it out half sane and that my children survived as well as they did.  I told them a few years ago that I was sorry for all they went through and wished I could have given them a happier time.  They looked at me, smiled, and said, "but mommy, you were always there for us, no matter what, you were there, and we knew you were safe."  They had more confidence in me than I did in myself those years, I think!

Monday, July 6, 2015

See Dick. See Jane. If I Really Had Seen.

Well, sorry for the delay there.  We moved.  Yup.  New location.  New mission.  New church.

Still grieving friends from the old.  Still relief in the middle of the grief.  We have only just arrived and are sorting our way out around here.  It is overwhelming.  We'll get there.

So, back to processing the story....  back to where "Dick" comes into the picture.  Where life gets really confusing...  because as much as I have tried to sort through all what happened, I have no explanation for Dick.  I just can't explain him or his actions.  I can make some educated guesses, but there is no clear reason.  I can draw on what other people have said, what I have observed as I have been aquainted with Dick over the last 30 years.  (It wasn't so much that I knew him, but that he was part of my larger community on the field from the time I was a young teen, and I was aware of him and aware of the conversations about him.)

I have never heard any woman say anything positive about Dick.  Not once.  Well, except that he is very smart at some things, considered an expert in one subject.  That is all.  Nothing more.  From the time I was 12 until now.  Women feel awkward around him - I've heard them say he just doesn't relate to women, that they feel like he doesn't like them, that he has a poor view of women in general.  I've heard many things.... other women perhaps trying to sort out reasons for what they sense from him.

I don't know what it is.

It actually began before we were married, when Dick first met me.  I heard him on the phone talking to someone that he didn't really know if I was going to be ok, that he would rather have a local woman for my husband (as if he had the power to chose my husband's choice of wife!).  He also tried that with my parents - phoning them to ask if this really was a good idea; if a girl with very little cross-cultural experience was going to be the best fit for my fiance.  It showed how very little he knew about me before he judged me.  At that time in my life, I had already lived for extended periods of time in five countries and spoke at least two languages - true, not fluently, but enough to get by in day to day life.  My father was stunned and asked Dick if he had even spoken to me about my life.  Dick seemed to back off some then, but he was always awkward around me.  I thought it was me.... later I learned that most women feel that way with him.  What I do know was that Dick and his wife "Jane"  (I know, I know, my creativity with naming people does go no farther than "See Dick.  See Jane.  See Dick run.") ....  Well, Dick and Jane seemed to see my husband as "their son" even though he clearly had a family who loved him and many others invested in his life.  As psuedo-in-laws, they resented me coming into their lives and ruining the hopes they had of matching him up with a local person "so he could do the work better."  This disappointment with me lingered over the years.

In our early marriage, we had very little to do with Dick and Jane.  We visited them maybe twice in six years.  Life was pretty good.  We had some difficult adjustments to work through,  Marriage is rough.  Cross-cultural marriage is tough.  Figuring out a cross-cultural marriage while living in a third culture is even tougher.  I would not recommend that last one.  But we survived.  We survived the birth of a baby, the death of another, and then the births of three more in quick succession.  We survived a move, living as students going though Bible school, We had a good life, not without conflicts, but a good life.

Then we finished, and went back out to the field.  Re-enter Dick.  Again, that odd vibe from him.  Thankfully, he went home for our first year on the field for his break, and we had little to do with him that first year.  The second year, he appeared, and he and Jane would come by to visit.  Thankfully, they had moved a few hours away, but would come for breaks to our house.  As guests, they were unusual, but my family is used to many types of guests and we have seen it all.  But we noticed that the more Dick and Jane spent in our home, the more conflict there was.

Dick saw himself as sort of a "lay counselor".  He thought he was good at counseling, so he would attempt to work with us.  Most of the issues then sprung from us not being smart about taking time to rest and have a Sabbath.  Our work was in our home, we shared our home with my parents as well as the work, and we also ran a guest house for people coming to town for breaks.  For four months, we also shared our home with another family of five.  As well as that, I was involved in some crisis medical care.  Then there was the teaching Sunday School to a group of kids who needed a lot of care because they had survived trauma.  And a teen girls group.  And the homeschool co-op.  We were just too busy.  My husband thrives on people.  I handle people, and need my recovery time.  I needed recovery time with him, and he didn't quite grasp that yet.  

Into this, Dick came and attempted to counsel.  If there is one decision I could go back on in life, it would be this one - allowing him to try his "counseling".  Dick has no intuition, no concept of relationships outside of book learning, and no understanding of women.  I remember one night clearly when Dick sat in our living room and told me, "Well, no wonder your husband is upset at you so much; you don't keep the house clean.  I mean, look at those bookshelves - the books are all jumbled and messy on them."  This was in the play room that nine children regularly occupied.  They still haven't learned to put all the books back spines out lined up by size as Dick does.

I remember being completely bewildered then as well.  Huh? We had not even been discussing housekeeping or books.  Another time he scolded me that it was 8:30 and my kids were still up and told me that I was not a good mother.  Again, in front of my husband.  My husband and I had made the conscious decision to live slightly more in tune with the people we worked among.  They typically ate at 9 or 10 and were awake at midnight.  Dick and Jane's kids were in bed by 7.  We put ours in bed by 9 even when they were little and let them sleep in later - much like my husband's family and that culture.  We still do.  It was not bad parenting; it was conscious parenting.  That way, when we visited local friends and they served us dinner at 9:30, our kids were not screaming in sheer exhaustion.

Dick and Jane also frequently criticized my boy's level of energy and why I could not get them to just sit down and be quiet.  Since then we discovered we have two boys with ADHD, but two boys who are delightful, loved, and respected wherever we go.  But as toddlers, they did have energy.  Typically, boys have more energy than girls at that stage anyway, and we had three right in a row.

I didn't catch on to it then, and to be honest, my parents didn't either, but later we saw.  Dick constantly cut me down to my husband.  I was not good enough, and if there ever was a problem, Dick was quick to tell my husband that I simply wasn't enough, that I didn't do enough, that I wasn't right enough. 

If we had caught it then, we could have put a stop to it, but we were both run too ragged to see it.

Another interesting event happened later which showed Dick and Jane's view of me.  My husband and I were at their house one weekend, and my husband was involved in a serious crisis.  He was able to sneak a quick phone call to them to ask for prayers and that I be told.  They decided not to tell me, not until it was over.  I was his wife.  I had the right to know.  My husband asked that I be told.  They decided that they were the "authority" here and would not tell me "because we didn't know if you would be strong enough".  Another sign that I should have picked up on, but they were the leaders... they were older....  my mind came up with a million reasons why I should continue to work with them even though alarm bells went off in my head every time I was near them.  Submit to those in authority, follow the leaders, etc...

I was too trusting to see them cutting down who I was to my husband...  and then it got worse.  When we moved away from a bigger group of co-workers and to a place we were more alone, we were in a place where my husband's person he confided in and sought counsel from most became Dick.  Then the problems really began.  Would I say Dick caused them?  I think that would be too strong of a wording.  I think Dick took existing problems and exacerbated them.  I think that his influence began to slowly warp my husband's mind and turn his thoughts against me.   But that is another post.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Accepted, No Longer Rejected

Yesterday and today were big days in our lives.  We cleared all the hurdles, jumped through all the hoops, and went through all the testing, interviews, and more testing and have been formally accepted by our new mission board.  We then formally withdrew from our old mission board.  That withdrawing will not actually take full effect for another month, but it is done.

We both felt a palpable sense of relief.

I don't think we are ready to say that our previous mission agency is a bad mission agency.  We would clearly state that it has some serious flaws which under the right leaders can cause it to be weak in some areas and under the wrong leaders can cause it to be damaging and harmful.  Our first two years were spent under a few right leaders.  Our last dozen under wrong leaders.  We're wiser now and sadder.  

Today, though, we lay that aside and quietly celebrate freedom.  Freedom from the judgement we have lived under for 12 years.  Freedom from the stress.  Freedom from the quiet, underhanded attack on our marriage.  Freedom from a gag order.  Freedom to relax again.  There will be a time I pick this story up again in the next days and sort it though in my mind and on paper as a way of leaving it and yet weaving it into my life story so I am integrated and not scattered, but today is a day for quiet relief and a quiet, but determined joy.  

We have been accepted, no longer rejected.

Yesterday, we sat through the hours long psych evaluation summary.  Something I was tense about even though my better judgement told me not to be tense.  Ten years of two mission leaders telling me I had serious psychological issues and possibly mental illness (neither with any training whatsoever to even dabble in making such statements!) had made me tense at being assessed once again.  The difference in this testing was that it was done by a professional and by a professional who was not related to and "briefed about your problems" first.

The session was actually a delight, and fun to go through.  It confirmed what I had thought about myself and even answered some questions I had about who I was.  For example, I am an introvert.  I've known this forever.  I recharge alone and dislike large gatherings with people doing small talk all at once.  But I am not anti-social.  I am not hard to get to know.  I am warm, outgoing, funny, and love to form deep connections with people whether in the short term or longer term.  My tests showed that while I was introverted in low key, reserved, quiet way, preferring space at times, and seeking intimacy and one on one with individuals, I am extroverted in that I am demonstrative, easier to know, and self-revealing.  That explains me so much more than the simple label "introvert", because I will be the first person to walk up to you in a crowded room if you are alone and begin a conversation with you and really want to know about you and let you know me.  The counselor said that that type of a result shows that I am quick to share my heart with others.  That is me.

This report was good for us to go through piece by piece.  If you hadn't lived in my twisted judging authority structure that we found ourselves under for the last twelve years, you would not be able to fully understand the relief going through this report was for me.  Another time, I will actually include statements that were made about me and to me because I feel that it is important to tell this story so that we may learn together.  (Just this last week, we sat around a kitchen table with another missionary in another agency who has faced a twisted situation like ours.)  I believe we are not alone, and I believe that we need to be aware of the signs of unhealthy, dangerous leadership and be prepared to take proper steps to be protected.

Today, I don't want to do that.  Just to sit in the quiet relief this was.  To be told that I had extremely high ability to handle stress, great coping skills, a robustly healthy mental health status, and had extremely high emotional intelligence.  My weakness was the risk of feeling a high sense of duty and becoming over-committed. (This I also knew!)  To have on paper the professional assessment that yes, I had been abused as a child, but there were no issues of concern at all that they could see.  I am not now saying this next thing to boast in any way, but simply to contrast what had been said repeatedly about me for the last twelve years.  My husband's and my reports were side by side and we went through both.  I scored consistently more stable, well adjusted, and at less risk factors than he did.  This in the face of two leaders saying they didn't want me because of my "mental issues", "being emotional", and "her not being able to handle stress or be strong."  I actually did expect to score higher than my husband.  He is a first generation believer who is amazing and awesome... but he encountered Christ as a late teenager, and there were a lot of patterns and foundations that were laid in his life that are different than someone with the privilege of growing up in a home where Christ is taught.  The fact that he scored as high as he did on many of these tests shows just how much God has worked in his life, and I am proud of him.  

Today, we sent those reports to our home church.  A church missions board who has been requiring me to get counseling for my mental issues for the last year without any independent assessment that I had any, only on the recommendation by our country office that I had them.  A missions board who has treated my harshly and judgmentally for the last year and a half because they simply took communication about me behind my back without verifying it in any way or even allowing me to answer to my own defense.  (The unique trick people have of accusing you not only of having serious issues, but also of being 'defensive'.  There is no way to object to that accusation without by default confirming it in peoples minds because they say, "See, she IS defensive.").  Now these reports go back to them.  Page after page detailing my relationship with God, with others, my trust in Him, and my mental health, my personality, and the final counselor's personal assessment of me.  Our new mission read it and accepted us within the hour.  I pray that our church mission board reads it and feels some remorse.... not that I want an apology to take away the pain, but that they think before they act like this again.  Every person deserves the chance to be heard when accusations come up against them.  Not to do so is not Biblical.

So today, is a quiet day.  Quiet because I am an introvert.  My husband, who over the year away from a damaging leader has learned to value and defend his wife, is celebrating louder.  He went out with a good friend who has stuck by us.  I celebrated by smiling, sitting quietly and smiling. Later I will celebrate with friends, but there was much I had to suffer silently these last ten years here, and there is a sense in which I wanted to celebrate silently at first.

It is over.  God has defended.

My life verse since all this began was Psalm 3:3 "But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head."  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sit Down, Grab a Cup of Coffee, Put Your Feet Up, and Let Me Begin...

I am going to sit down and explain (for my three readers!) where I am now and what happened.  I need to do this to be able to explain where my heart is right now and what I am struggling with.  It is complicated, and I have to go back over some things to explain, but I will try.

We've been here for several years.  Working outside our target country while living here a distance from there.  It worked.  We enjoyed being overseas while we were there, but it was also a difficult time.  Life was harder than we expected it to be due to some political events.  Then we moved here suddenly.

We moved here two hours from our mission's headquarters in this country.  They didn't meet us until a few months after we arrived.  We didn't notice this as abnormal at the time.  Then we met.  They seemed nice.  We transferred to this office, did paperwork, and went home.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  Perhaps an intake discussion - a post field debreif.  Especially considering all the events that had happened between us beginning to head out to the field and our move from there to here.  By that time, we already had been through several critical incidents and several deaths of friends.  A debrief would have been beneficial.

But we were ignorant of what would have been "normal", and we went on.  We began to struggle.  Each of us differently, and our own personal struggles caused more struggles for each other.  Early on, I made the trip back to headquarters and sat down with "Harry" there and asked for some help.  I said that we were struggling and we needed some help.  He thanked me for sharing and said he had no clue what to do, but that he would pray for us.

In retrospect, again, we see what was missing...  Harry was the leader, and a leader of a fairly decent size mission should have some access to member care.  There should at the very least be a member care person on staff that he should have been able to refer us to, one who would have recognized the need for debreif and a listening ear.

But we were ignorant of that and tried to struggle on.  I began to wonder where God fit into my personal life... not in the sense that I didn't believe in Him, but that I wondered where He cared for me, or if He did in a real sense at all.  If I was just a "tool" for Him to use, but not someone He deeply cared about.  That was all I was, it seemed, to my mission, and to the church.  When you understand my past of childhood sexual abuse happening almost as soon as my parents joined missions, it became an aching question I had before God.  Am I valuable to You in who I am or simply someone for You to use?  My husband's own struggles during this time made him a very unsympathetic person to my insecurities and struggles and his feelings came out as frustration and anger.  He was dealing with his own fears, past, and struggles while trying to lead a team and without support of any good friend near him.  It was a rough time in our lives.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  We're interested to hear that our new mission believes that their member care person should actually sit down with their missionaries by skype or in person a few times a year and ask how they are doing.  Even when we gave clear indication that we were struggling, our mission never reached out to us.  We made the drive to our headquarters a few times a year to go to prayer meeting.  I think someone from there came to visit our team once or twice a year - usually for a board meeting, lunch, and that was all.  We felt alone.

During these first years, we also lost more friends.  Grief became a constant companion.  My husband traveled several months out of the year leaving me alone with four young children.  Danger existed. It always did, but having grown up in it, we were not aware of its toll on our lives.  Us being unaware did not remove the toll.  It slowly drained energy from us.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  A visit or at the least a phone call to help absorb news of deaths, debreifs after long trips, cups of coffee and checking in with us would have been expected member care.  It would have gone a long ways to helping us be able to cope in a stressful ministry.

Those first two years, we went to a large church.  We did ask to meet with the pastors and elders and introduce ourselves.  We waited two years, but they were too busy.  During two years, only two people in the church ever invited us over for coffee or dinner.  My husband is a hyper social person, so for him not to even be able to make friends was incomprehensible.  We felt entirely alone.

There were some bright spots in those first years.  We had a friend, "Seth", who had just been there over the years.  To be honest, I hadn't really thought much about him except that he was one of those people who had been around a long time - I had seen his name on e-mails and paperwork.  He came to visit, and I think he was the one person who paused long enough to know we were struggling.  He began to be a listening ear, walking alongside of us, and praying.  In contrast to all that we had experienced so far, this meant more than we could express.  Seth allowed us to be ourselves with him - no "missionary on a pedestal" situation at all.  We could completely fail and screw up, and when I got enough courage to look up and see his face, he was quietly smiling.  His quiet faith held us during the rough years and still means a lot to us today.

That was the setting.  Into this came a leader with serious blind spots, but without the wisdom to realize this, more critical incidents, and some interesting choices by the church.  But that is for another post.