Lessons from Cinderella

 

I went through a phase, in my Christian walk, of avoiding many secular offerings. These days I still avoid a lot of TV shows and movies (mainly because I find certain genres too triggering). But now my ability to trust God and my desire to understand His heart toward the world, and toward me, is stronger than it was prior. The growth I’ve experienced in my faith has lessened the ‘avoid out of fear’ and turned it more into a ‘everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial’ (1 Corinthians 10:23) standpoint. And so I don’t restrict myself from something that draws me in, yet I will definitely take note of any occult references, secular humanism, and glaringly obviously lack of Jesus in most of what the world puts forth. It is to be expected, so why get upset over it? If I were to do that I’d be upset 24/7 because those things are everywhere.

A few times God has used some bit of dialogue, from a movie or overheard conversation, to hammer home a point that I needed to take to heart. To effectively peel another onion layer in the ongoing recovery from past child abuse. If Elijah could be fed by blackbirds (unclean animals that were to be avoided) then perhaps God’s people of today can also be ‘fed’ life-giving food from an unclean source as well.

And that is good, because one of the side effects of being physically unwell for several years is that I have a lot of what I call ‘couch time’. I prefer reading but there are days when even holding a book in my hands is too much. On those days I watch what I can find on Cable or Netflix. And so: I recently caught an adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella while channel surfing.

I was immediately drawn in.

Cinderella was one of my favorite fairy tales as a young child–one that I pored over again and again. At the time I didn’t realize that my own siblings and extended family members were abusing me, (by preschool age I had already learned to blame myself for that treatment). Which is why the idea of Cinderella being magically rescued out of an abusive home life, in which she was literally trapped, captivated me. It was so close to my own story–though I didn’t fully make that connection until recently.

My own family members gave me several unkind nicknames in my childhood, just like ‘Cinderella’ was the result of a mocking nickname. My bedroom was squalor filled and rodents were very real to me (though I did NOT befriend them). I was put into a caretaker role of the adults around me at a very young age and later when I was nearly an adult, both of my parents ensured their own financial and other securities, at the expense of my own. But just like a fairy tale– just in the nick of time I found a handsome prince and we set out on our own, purposely making our path very different from the lives we knew as children. To quote from another movie (Pretty Woman) — when the prince climbed the tower to rescue the woman, the woman rescued him right back. That’s pretty much the story of my life and marriage. We rescued each other and then wrote our own story with intentionality and love.

Point being: my life path mimics that of a fictional Cinderella. It took some time to break the financial bondages that also ensued; but in time they were broken. And like a fairy tale princess- I’ve always wanted pretty things to wear and to fill up my home…and my husband and I both worked very hard to achieve that.

We now have most of the things we wanted. And that can be fun. But: it’s just mammon. It can’t buy you peace of mind or salvation. It also can’t ensure you have good health (sigh). And I’ve learned that even financial success, a lot like health status, is all ‘relative’. Compared to some we are ‘rich’ and compared to others: we have very little. There will never be ‘enough’ to satisfy even the richest amongst us. I have found that it really is better to have a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17). But that doesn’t stop me from wanting the fattened calf with love; regardless. I also would love to see all my health issues reverse…❤️

And so the combination of physical illness and the guilt, unease, and ongoing trauma ramifications from my past sometimes keep me from fully enjoying that fairy tale ‘life’, that fattened calf existence, that one might assume someone like me has — looking in at my current ‘outward appearances’.

Which is why I find it so deliciously ironic that watching a movie about a fairy tale that I really identify with, left me with two very good ‘nuggets’ of wisdom to carry forward. To ease the guilt and the trauma effects. To lighten my load.

(Spoiler alerts follow–stop reading if you want to watch the movie unspoiled!) In the film, when Cinderella first meets the Prince he inquires about her family’s treatment of her. And she responds (paraphrasing and this may be a little bit off!)

“They treat me as well as they are able.”

Woah. What wisdom there. Abusive sorts simply aren’t able to show kindness and love. I know this, but the temptation to blame myself or to make excuses for them remains. In reality, they treated me as well as they were able and for whatever reason — unconditional love was simply not in their ability to give.

I was bracing myself to not like the ending. I was somewhat expecting that the stepsisters and stepmother would be reformed at the end and allowed to live the castle life they so desperately desired–since that has become the expected new ending to old fairy tales–where the bad guys turn out to be good guys, etc.

Instead, the ending was brilliant. And something that I wish the Christian church understood better. Within the church we focus so much on outward appearances and looking the part that we no longer have a clear understanding of the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is too often expected as a kind of proof of forgiveness–with the burden of bearing that proof put on the offended, rather than the offender. But while forgiveness is a scriptural command, no where in Scripture are we told to reconcile to unrepentant and unchanged people. In fact, we are warned against that!

In the closing scenes Cinderella verbally expresses her forgiveness to her stepmother and sisters, right before leaving her childhood home a final time. (I almost did an eye-roll as I knew that one was coming.)

But then the narrator added, “Though she forgave her stepmother and stepsisters, they were banished from the kingdom forever.”

I can’t tell you how much my soul needed the affirmation that forgiveness does not have to equal reconciliation.

Particularly with people who have not changed.

I just wanted the summer off…

brown clubmaster sunglasses on blue towel
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

…But it isn’t happening. I stepped away from my career and planned a real break for myself to further heal. I envisioned a book in hand, iced lemon water, my behind parked on a partially shaded lounger (I like to sun my legs–for vitamin D purposes). So far I’ve only read two novels in June, (neither one under an umbrella). The amount of novels stacked on my ‘give away’ and the ‘it’s a keeper-find room on the shelf’ pile is a barometer of how much time I took ‘off’. (TWO is incredibly low!).

And now June, that glorious stretch of sunny mornings full of smells of flowering trees and light-sweater-evenings; yes, that June– is on her very last breaths.  As always, she peaked without notice and promptly faded. Like a pink sunset turning purple over rolling green golf course hills; the kind that everyone admires for, oh, about an hour in between ‘other stuff that needed to get done’, like actually finishing hole 17 and 18 before it’s too dark to see the balls.

Sigh.

I’ve got three ‘dates’ today and two other friends in my text messages wondering when I can chat or meet up this week. Coffee with a neighbor in a short bit, a young man coming to weed my garden at lunch time, another young man we ‘sponsored in the game of life’ coming and going from my back door whenever it strikes him (long story–too identifying to share details), and a baseball game later this afternoon. Phew. I don’t know how I let myself get this active again. This social.

I like to hide and write and read and heal and do things that no one but me even knows about. Leave anonymous comments on blogs… The usual introverted socially awkward and anxious-personality things to which the rest of us here in blogville might relate. But most people I know on a face to face level–don’t, it seems. They like to stay busy from sun up (ridiculously early this time of year) to colorful sundown (quite late this time of year). A friend recently sent me a photo of her workout stats. It was seven in the morning. I replied that here I thought I was doing well rolling out of bed at seven. (Being showered and presentable to others before nine is like running a marathon, for me).

But what I really wanted to say, to her and to near-everyone else who flutters around me like stressed out butterflies afraid to land on something and sit still for a minute– is this: why are you insistent on pushing through all that pain and then wearing the results of ignoring said pain like a badge of highest honor? I know your knee hurts you; badly, because you complain about it all the time. Why keep running on bad knees?

It seems a lot of people are hiding from painful things behind a wide smile and an offer for coffee. I know they are actually quite tired, underneath all that caffeine. I know many bodies, including my own, have been running on sheer adrenaline for a long long time. Because we are starting to get deep wrinkles and thinning hair and near every woman I know snaps openly at their husbands. In public. Like it’s normal or something to be that way.

Why is it that our basic human nature likes to pretend we aren’t feeling any pain. Is that pride? or is it just plain dumb? Scripture says ‘all we like sheep have gone astray’. Farmers have told me there is no dumber animal; than a sheep.

For me it was some combination of both pride and stupidity. I kept running and planning and making more ‘dates’ to do more things leading to all sorts of nervous breakdown stressed out moments. Thinking if I just push my way through life, like the strong girl I was, then those yucky feelings, those twinges of physical pain, those bursts of emotions–will go away like a stray cat that you refuse to feed.

Annoying things don’t just go away. Strays eat from your garbage when no one is looking. And stress accumulates everywhere, the more you ignore it, the deeper it accumulates into your very being; changing molecules and cells and personality until you become someone you never set out to be. All I have to do to guarantee I will snap without provocation, at my husband (or grown children), is to let myself get ‘too busy’ for my own tired and worn out britches. Bam. The meltdown happens. Every. Time.

I miss my quiet time, I miss blogging regularly, and reading others’ blogs. Getting into my novels in the partially shaded sunshine. Hanging with God because I have made time for that. Finally. Until June happened and I let myself get caught up in the busyness somehow. And right now I really wish I could sit still for a long while and catch up better here…

But I have a date and I already sent a text saying that I was ‘on my way.’ Perhaps I can achieve some semblance of summer over coffee with a friend. I’ll insist on sitting outside; at the very least.

 

 

 

Thoughts on God as Mother–a survivor’s approach to Mother’s Day.

woman holding baby while blowing dandelion
Photo by Iuliyan Metodiev on Pexels.com

First off: I am not making an argument toward God’s femininity. This is not that post. I refer to God as Him, and when I pray I address Him as Father. Because Jesus refers to Him as Father in Scriptures; I do as well!

Why explore God-as-mother, then? Because this post is personal. I had a lot of abandonment and abuse from both my father AND my mother. Self-help materials and other forms of support ABOUND, in terms of overcoming a broken father-bond.

The term ‘Daddy Issues’ needs little explanation in our culture. It’s widely acknowledged. It is frequently implied, in a church setting, that someone with ‘daddy issues’ (an absent or aloof father, abusive, an addict, etc.) ends up having ‘trust issues with their Heavenly Father.’ It is also common cultural knowledge that a female with ‘daddy issues’ is prone to self-defeating and even dangerous choices with men in her life. As someone with such issues, I find the cultural acceptance of broken-father bonds actually makes it easier to talk about, and thereby heal.

We don’t talk as freely about a broken relationship with Mother. Aside from step-monsters (a friend’s nickname for her stepmother) and mother-n-law jokes. Seriously, though, the position of Mother is near-sacred in the human race. This is evidenced every May by the abundance of weepy commercials urging you to remember your saintly Mom on Mother’s Day!

Dad’s, generally speaking, don’t get that kind of reverence.

Mother’s Day can be tough for survivors who were abandoned by their mothers. Compounded by a culture which often doesn’t want to hear it; at least not in the month of May. Likewise, Mommy Issues can be even more taboo to talk about in a church setting. When I have broached that subject with others I feel sometimes like I have hit a bit of a ‘wall’. A few times, I have had friends slowly and softly say, ‘maybe my mom wasn’t as innocent as I once thought.’ Which gives me hope. But, I realize that coming around to one’s ‘mommy issues’ is not easy. I suspect that for most of us, the reality of having a mother who abandons you–who is the opposite of the classic ‘mama bear’– is even harder than abandonment from ‘dad’. For myriads of reasons.

It sure is for me.

Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome

My mom was not a Mama Bear (another term which has become commonplace in our culture and needs no explanations). The way she FIERCELY protected herself, and the storylines she still tells herself (she refuses to acknowledge I was abused), the way she intentionally numbs out from everything unpleasant, was a bit like a Mama Bear. But instead of protecting her children she protected the immature child within her own psyche. She is in FIERCE denial to this day. So I found myself, at a young age, becoming like a Mama Bear over her; protecting her from life and the turbulent family dynamics–instead of the other way around. In psychological terms, when children become overly caring for a parent(s), it’s thrown into categories like emotional incest. Today, I am going to call it ‘Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome.’ (Because I’m feeling cheeky.)

Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome left me fiercely protecting the story of denial I was telling myself in my own head (Mom was abused as a small child. Mom can’t help it. Mom would be different without dad. Mom cares, she just can’t do anything; because: DAD). This translated into my faith life; big time. I didn’t trust God to protect me. I felt I had to protect Him. For years I found myself flaring, claws coming out, if anyone suggested anything that didn’t line up with what I knew of God. Softening the blows of what others think of Him, as if He couldn’t handle those things Himself. Explaining Him to others in ways that made apologies (As someone once said: The Word of God is like a lion– let it out of the cage and it can take care of itself just fine!).

Scriptures that Changed my Heart

When Jesus refers to a hen gathering chicks; that’s ‘mom-behavior.’ In Isaiah, God refers to Himself acting as a woman in childbirth.

Isaiah 42: 14 For a long time I have kept silent,
    I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
    I cry out, I gasp and pant.

There is another verse which struck me recently, too. The background: King David’s ‘crown’ is being threatened by his own son, Absalom. Absalom is seeking to usurp his father and take over Kingship of all of Israel. One of the advisers to Absalom warns him about the fighting prowess of both David and David’s men.

2 Samuel 17:8

You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops.

This gave me pause. I thought to myself –did I really just see God comparing His behavior to a Mama Bear?? Let me explain: Defeating evil through warfare, with a Godly person at the forefront leading those armies (King David is lauded as ‘having a heart for God’), is a common theme in the Old Testament. For me, these OT battles bring up images of, and also trust in the promise of, heavenly armies, and the battle God has ultimately won on the cross, and will win again in the final end, against all forms of evil on earth and beyond.

God’s behavior is also likened to a Mama Bear in Hosea 13:8

Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them.

It’s pretty clear that when you give your life to Jesus, God is a Mama Bear over you. So I don’t need to be so fiercely protective over the immature little girl in my psyche; and I certainly don’t need to be fiercely protective over Him. That’s His job. The only thing I need to do is step back and let Him roar, (or whatever noise Mama Bears make).

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Giving a good inheritance when you didn’t receive one.

baby sitting on man s shoulder

We have spent some time in the past few weeks helping our son who lost his job last month. All of which has me pondering an old and very painful subject: treating your children well when you were not treated well by your own parents.

I think it is a common theme for adults who were abused as children. The deep conflict and desire to do better for my own children was a continuing internal conflict as they grew–it really peaked when they were teenagers. As I parented them through those rebellious times I realized, for the first time, just how little may parents had cared about me. There were waves of anger then. And pain. And confusion. Along with pointed questions to which I wasn’t sure I knew the answers.  Can I trust myself to be a good parent to my children when I don’t even know what that looks like?

All I knew, and still know, is that I WANT to be able to give my children what I never had, myself. At this stage they are grown. But there are still thousands of things to consider. Millions of moments I can do good for them and to them. Like planning out their inheritance. And giving some of it to them now, if they need it.

Proverbs 13:22 (KJV) A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children: but the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.

My parents received a real estate inheritance from their parents. However, I won’t be receiving anything from my parents. I was already written out of their estate years ago. The way that unfolded is so unbelievably strange that were I to write out any of the actual details, even if I were to fictionalize them, it would most assuredly give away my identity.

I was ok with that (not receiving any inheritance). While I adore money because you can’t travel far or buy new shoes without it; I don’t really care about it. Besides, all the money in the world wouldn’t have made up for the fact that had I received an inheritance from them I would have been bound to abusive people who think it their right to opine and control—and all the more so if they once gave you something which was (sort of) valuable. 

In terms of wisdom passed down: love, traditions, etc. there isn’t much to speak of there either.

My spouse also did not receive an inheritance. Although, on both sides, there was/is some wealth to go around. The strings and forever-type-of-attachments which went along with receiving the inheritance we might have received; were something to which we both said:

No. Thank. You.

As for us, we were careful to set up a plan for after our death which will treat our children as well as we can; with as few strings as possible. This involved a few moments where we went against professional advice.

So be it.

We will be dead. Who cares. Furthermore, if the kids blow through what we were able to accumulate through a few decades of business ownership–well, they will ‘have one heck of a story to tell’. Therefore a part of me just wanted to leave the whole thing to the courts and fate to decide.

But there’s that proverb I love. The one about the good man who leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.

What does a good woman look like? She is wise. Loving. Prudent. She takes good care of her affairs. She gives her children freedom, and choices. She does not bind them up with strings, expectations, and obligations. She allows them to fail. She doesn’t turn her back on them when they do.

A good father shows up when his children need help. When they lose a job or get in trouble with the law. Without too much judgment. And cleans their garage and buys them a snowblower and chips the ice from their driveway, and then takes them out for sushi that he doesn’t even like to eat.

My husband is a good father. Very good.

Paraphrasing an old saying about good boundaries: a good father (and/or mother) doesn’t carry their backpack for them when they can carry it themselves. But good parents DO help push the bigger boulders out of the way.

Oh, to have had some help with the boulders in my path…sigh…

Which takes some extra money. And time. And energy. And where do you get all those resources; especially when you yourself started life with a negative balance? When you are still recovering from pushing your own boulders all by yourself??? Worse than no inheritance, you received debt upon debt wrapped around your neck like the noose of a slave?

If I let myself ‘go there’ I’d be ticked for days. Feeling sorry for myself; and with a great deal of ‘right’ to go there, too. It would be just for me to do it. But I am too exhausted for it. I know that going there will deplete me of further reserves I don’t have. So I am choosing to see this part of my life as a miracle instead of a pout moment.

Because according to the proverb — the sinner’s wealth goes to those who are just. So maybe God saw to it that we cared about things like justice and truth and so He made sure that the negative numbers we received from our parents would be filled to overflowing in our lifetime.

Even though I am not sure I trust myself to do good to my children; apparently God does trust me to do just that. Because I now have enough holdings to give my children a real inheritance; that they can then pass on to theirs.

I just hope that it isn’t merely finances that get passed along. I hope that there is also plenty of faith and love and wisdom and tradition and that all little and big things we did for ours (that were never done for us) are both appreciated and imitated again and again…to start from less than nothing and to be able to give an inheritance, both now and later… A good one… With nothing attached but love…Well, when I view it that way — I am ready to push more boulders out of the way.

 

 

Inner Vows (and why I am renouncing them in my recovery).

close up of padlocks on railing against sky

Here are some examples of what an inner vow might look/sound like:

I will not let myself get hurt again.

I will not let someone catch me with my guard down again.

I will protect myself better next time.

I won’t find myself in that compromising position again.

You really can’t trust anybody!

When I first heard about breaking inner vows in therapy, I was confused. I also questioned if such a thing made any real difference. I mean even scripture says to guard your own heart, right??? I thought that’s what I was doing when telling myself to be on better guard next time…

Then I randomly came across the subject of vows and pledges on a Jewish blog. Once a year on Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year), ceremonies include renouncing all the vows and pledges which were made the prior year, including both intentional, and unintentional ones. Indeed, not making hasty vows, not swearing by God or anything in heaven or on earth, letting your yes be a yes and your no be a no — is clearly affirmed by Jesus Christ Himself! Without getting into a huge theology discussion here (feel free to do your own study–it’s a fascinating subject!), there is very real power in words. Particularly if we phrase them as promises, declarations, and/or oaths.

Therefore I began to see what my therapist was getting at. I noticed just how many intentional, and also unintentional, inner vows I had made over my lifetime. I was shocked. And I still ‘go there’ quickly as a defensive response.

In short: I couldn’t control what had happened to me in childhood and I still have very little real control over other’s actions toward me. In an effort to regain a sense of control I made oaths to protect myself. In so doing I also cursed and bound up my ability to receive and give love in relationship with others. Like putting a lock on my heart and tossing the key. The curse needed to be reversed by the one who made it (me), if I was to experience a fullness of heart and come out from the ‘numbing’ effects of abuse and anxiety disorder. I think I’ve been doing that, now. Plus I’m learning, and trying to put into practice, passively accepting hard things — without numbing out again, or, to use scriptural terms: hardening my heart in response.

I thought, myself, all of the above examples of inner vows, and more too numerous to write down. I even said many of these aloud in conversations with others. The issue being that even the quiet unspoken pledges I had made held very real power in my mind and heart. They shaped my relational behaviors. I know better now. But actually living life without making such statements and declarations is an ongoing process. Which is why I was so intrigued by the Jewish practice of erasing all the intentional and unintentional vows each new year!

Part of renouncing is sitting down and doing just that–admitting and renouncing the oath you once made to yourself. The other part is not relying on a simple statement you repeat once a year but actually working out a vow-free life; in real life–for me that means making myself vulnerable (easing into it–starting slow and letting trust build naturally), finding friends and loved ones who have already proven themselves to be ‘safe’ with a small amount and opening up more and more. It also means recognizing those who are not safe spaces and guarding my self around them. Then choosing better use of my time without feeling guilty about doing just that and without needing to make an actual vow (because I am fully trusting myself, and God, in that process).

It is a practice and a process to give and receive trust. To know who is trustworthy and to not feel guilty about ‘moving around’ those who have proven they are not.

Inner vows were binding me in so many ways. I’d give trust away too easily to all the wrong people and places (Social Media is generally not a safe place to share the depths of one’s heart, for instance) and then knee-jerk hole up all over again with a fresh litany of pledges and oaths to avoid this or stay away from that in the future.

Anyone else pondered this subject of making declarations and inner vows?

Please feel free to share any other examples of inner vows and ways to break them.