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!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You came to mind today and I realized things have been quiet on your blog as of late! Hope you are doing okay and would love to hear how things are!!!