Chapter completed Sunday 19 March 2017
Second Corinthians 12:7-9 (NKJV) states: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Life with the Sandersons
From December 24, 2000 to shortly after I turned 18 on the 8th of January 2009, I remained under the permanent guardianship of the Sandersons, while my sister stayed an additional couple of years until after she turned 18. Memories from the final eight years of my childhood – even the happier ones in the first few years – are tainted with pain and tumult due to my tense relationship with Grace. So, this is my attempt to evaluate our relationship, from the start until today, in order to realize the cause of all of the bitterness and strife between us, particularly in those last few years ‘neath her guardianship. Basically, I want closure.
Before Grace and Dean became our guardians, they had expected to adopt Lynn and me, because they wanted us and the entire family to clearly view them as our parents so that our biological parents could never regain custody of us again. At the time, the social worker questioned their motive, and she discussed with Grace at length that the purpose of adoption was to sever ties with children’s families that are considered so detrimental to the child that it should not exist, enabling that child to assume their place in an entirely new family. If Grace and Dean’s plan was for us to remain active in the Sanderson family, then that would conflict with the purpose of adoption. The social worker further explained to Grace that my parents would clearly need to demonstrate improvement and capability to the court before they would even be considered by a Judge for resuming custody of us, which would be a costly venture that they would likely not be able to afford. However, Grace and Dean maintained their expectation to adopt us throughout the majority of their guardianship over us.
I was completely in favor of living with Grace and Uncle Dean when they first became an option. I suppose my 9-year-old self originally thought that this arrangement would enable us to visit our parents with less restraint. Gradually, I realized my guardians’ odium toward my birth parents and their motives to completely replace my family with theirs, like the bond between my biological family never even existed. No one, no matter how noble their intentions, can replace cherished persons. Though Grace is family, she has never replaced my biological mother. And she never will.
(How would she have felt if I tried to force her to replace the person she values and loves the most in this world – such as her parents, children, or grandchildren – with myself? And how would she feel if I constantly reminded her of their many sins in front of her so as to demean them, while continuously confronting her with everything I was doing for her, in an attempt to seem like I was the best thing that ever happened to her? Ridiculous, right?! That’s exactly what it felt like she did to me and my sister, except my sister conformed to their expectations while I could not.)
Memories from the first three to four years under the Sanderson guardianship are distant, mostly happy. My childhood was finally “normal.” Under our new guardianship, we were privileged with new experiences and opportunities that we probably never would have had otherwise – if our birth parents were to resume custody of us, that is. Even though the Sandersons provided us with these wonderful experiences, my heart and loyalty remained with my birth family. (Though, just because I did not see my “aunt” and “uncle” as my mother and father like they expected me to, it does not mean that I did not appreciate and cherish them in my heart, because I most certainly did.)
It wasn’t until I was about 13 or 14 in the 8th grade that I, personally, began to notice how spiteful Grace’s behavior toward me could be. Basically, she complained loudly about doing things for me. During this time, her complaints were related to my private school, Fresta Valley Christian School, in Marshall – transportation to and from, tuition, etc. – which made me feel like I was such a burden to her and unworthy of anything she did for me. But I wanted her approval, so the next year I chose to go back into the public school system, mostly because I thought that would make her happy. However, she slowly began to lose my heart, losing it completely by the time I was 16.
And perhaps Grace gradually hardened her own heart toward me because she could not rationalize: a) how I could not and would not simply replace my imperfect and sinful family with her “holier-than-thou” self and her immediate family, which she took as disrespect and ungratefulness from me; and b) how I had this unquenchable love for my flawed family, and felt betrayed when she realized that her expectations of me to abandon and replace my family would not be satisfied.
Perhaps it became increasingly difficult for her to respond to me in love the longer I rejected her as “mother” and clung to my birth family. But, instead of communicating with me like adults/parents are supposed to do with their children – with mutual respect and understanding, that is – she completely ignored my feelings and turned herself into a “martyr” (she pitied herself because she made all of these sacrifices for a “disobedient,” “disrespectful,” “ungrateful,” and “unloveable” little girl), so that nothing I did or even did not do would ever be satisfactory in her eyes.
As parents, both Grace and Uncle Dean were mostly authoritarian. They were oriented toward obedience and status, and they expected their directives to be followed without explanation, or suffer the consequences. Additionally, they were “uninvolved” to the extent that their responsiveness to and communication with me was limited: while they fulfilled my basic needs and could be encouraging when they wanted to, they were generally emotionally detached from my life, especially as I became a more independent adolescent – when I needed them the most, as I struggled with diagnosed mental illnesses of my own, including Manic-Depression (a.k.a. Bipolar Disorder) and Adjustment Disorder.
In addition to their unrealistic expectations and form of parenting, Grace was judgmental for a Christian. For a woman whose name (true and pseudonym) means “the free and unmerited favor of God,” she rarely portrayed that virtue (or at least not toward me and my biological parents). She, as well as Uncle Dean, was swift to tell me how severely God was going to judge and punish me for failing, especially at the Commandment of “honor your father and mother.” She was so critical of my mistakes to the point where I believe she saw me as unsaved and inferior, and she elevated herself for making so many sacrifices for me – she frequently reminded me of what an ungrateful and unlovable child I was, while praising her contribution to my welfare.
And I tried to handle her critical behavior toward me the best way that I could – with suicidal thoughts and infrequent self-harm, eventually adding writing and prayer. The self-harm began when I was 10-years-old after I was scolded and sent to the room I shared with Lynn as punishment. The disapproval from my new guardians and disappointment in myself for failing them was unbearable for me in that moment, so I tightened a belt around my throat until I saw black with spots of light out of the corner of my eyes. That desperate act seemed to relieve the feelings of self-loathing that I was struggling with on that day.
Over the next five years, I “strangled” myself once, maybe twice more. I was a happy child, after all. But, over time, judgement and criticism has a way of wearing away at your soul. I am not saying my guardians were the sole contributor, but they – especially Grace – seemed to play a significant role in my unhealthy mental state and the gradual increase in self-harm as I grew into adolescence.
I was 15-years-old the first time I remember cutting myself – it was minor with a wire clothes hanger above my right ankle, just enough for blood to surface, just enough physical pain to take my mind away from those feelings from criticism I had received for whatever misbehavior (back-talking?) I had committed. By the time I was 16, I added hitting and punching myself, pulling my hair, and head-butting walls to my coping repertoire. As far as my memory goes, all or most self-harmful behaviors were brought on by critical words from Grace (and occasionally Uncle Dean). Her behavior had such an adverse effect on my psyche, but I don’t think she meant to cause harm… at least I hope not.
For the last year or two of my childhood, after a long bout of a dark depression during my 15th year, I learned to cope by reading and writing poems and fictional stories to escape reality, as well as almost-daily prayer by my 17th year. I maintained suicidal thoughts and exhibited private self-harmful behavior, but connecting with God through His word and in prayer somewhat eased my confusion and pain, and it brought me much-needed peace during those dark and confusing times.
(Just about every night, as part of my prayer, I asked God to forgive me for any disobedience and disrespect toward my guardians. I also begged Him to give me mercy, compassion, and unconditional love for them and help me to obey and honor them, because I wanted to honor Him. It was a struggle, because I found it difficult to maintain a respectful attitude toward someone whom I believed, based upon her own conduct, didn’t love or respect me.)
On Thursday 10 July 2008 I wrote in my “journal” about an incident that had occurred on that day between Grace and I. We were on our way back from one of my monthly (or bi-monthly?) psychotherapy sessions in Culpeper. I cannot recall how it came up, but she was, once again, berating me for something I did at prom two months earlier. (Junior Prom 2008 was on Saturday 4th May.) Supposedly my pose in one of the photographs was too risque, but what bothered me most was how little she thought of me. She seemed to think that a pose insinuated that I committed other worse sins during prom, of which I am truthfully innocent. So, I finally spoke up, because I was tired of being bullied by her altogether.
“You, know what, Auntie?! That’s enough!”
She smacked me across the face after I said that and continued to berate me while I was sobbing and cowering in the corner of the front seat as far away from her as I could possibly be: “Would you tell God that when He’s trying to convict you of sin?! ‘You know what, God, that’s enough; I am going to do what I want, anyway!’”
I believe I was silent for the remainder of the trip home. We both were, as far as my memory goes. Later, when I was trying to write about what happened, this was my thought process: I thought of Grace’s question. I remembered when she took me shopping for a prom dress, and I decided on a shorter black one that fell just above my knees, she had reservations about it. But, she chose to buy it for me, anyway. Now, I wondered why. Out of the goodness of her own heart to please me? Or – dare I? – perhaps a reason more cynical? I did absolutely nothing wrong at prom; I committed no sin. Her vague and false accusations were based on the pride, arrogance, and perversions in her own heart.
And then I thought of God’s grace. Once God convicts the sinner through the Holy Spirit, and the sinner whole-heartedly repents, He forgives and never unearths that sin again. And that’s why I say she’s prideful and arrogant – she thought highly enough of herself to compare herself, albeit indirectly, with God when she is so very different from Him, especially in the aspect of grace.
When I was 17, I was corresponding with someone about my feelings regarding Grace’s behavior toward me. I won’t be specific, but this person mentioned generalized examples from his past of how Grace’s mistreatment of me reminded him of mistreatment he had received from her. It made him angry that Grace bullied me, because he told me: “You’ve always been such a good kid with such potential. I’ve never doubted you will grow up to do wonderful things… I just wish [Grace and Dean] could see that, too.”
Those correspondences with this particular person was the encouragement that I needed to propel me through the final several months under the Sanderson reign. While Grace could be encouraging from time to time, she was often eager to criticize me when I failed, and she would intentionally influence others to think less of me by telling them the things I did wrong. You kind of start believing that you must be doing something wrong to deserve such punishment from someone who says they love you and is supposed to have your best interests at heart. But, it was just good to know that I wasn’t the only one who experienced mistreatment from Grace, and that her behavior toward me was not my fault.
Grace was one of my thorns, and I am sure I was one of hers. Even though my relationship with her bent me almost to the point of breaking, her behavior toward me was what pushed me closer to Jesus. I learned so much about the love of God in that bending – that His grace is, indeed, sufficient. I learned that God did not see me the same way that Grace saw me, even though He saw into the darkest corners of my being. Unlike Grace, He looked beyond my many faults and saw a hurting and confused little girl and my desperate need for the relentless and unconditional love that only He could provide, anyway. He saw my heart’s deepest desire to honor Him, even in my relationship with Grace, and my struggles and the utter disappointment in myself when I failed. He showed me what true Love is, and what it is not. While Grace acted mostly critical and judgmental toward me (as an adolescent, anyway), God used so many others to encourage me along the way and remind me that I was still loved and made worthy by the blood of Jesus.
Currently, Grace and I are “distantly amicable.” But, as previously mentioned, it was not always like that. It took two to three years after I turned 18 and moved away from Grace and Uncle Dean’s guardianship (I was actually dismissed due to “back-talking” Grace) to be able to better understand and try to communicate with Grace about my feelings, and even try to make amends with her and Uncle Dean. I was somewhat sententious with a passive aggressive attitude in the process, but that’s the way she communicated with me; and after years of being conditioned not to communicate with my guardians about my personal feelings, that’s the way it came out.
Forgiving Grace has been a one-step-forward-two-steps-backward process, because every time when I thought I had forgiven her, every so often I would be reminded – whether indirectly or directly by her – of the pain she so unabashedly caused me, and all of those old feelings of hurt and anger and confusion would resurface. Over time, though, it has gradually decreased. Sometimes, it still hurts that her pride has caused her to think that she did absolutely nothing wrong to me and that she was just an innocent victim in the situation. I know that I was no perfect child and had plenty of shortcomings and made mistakes frequently, but to put ALL of the blame on me – a child who was hurt and still learning – for the problems we had in our relationship is a wrong and unfair burden.
I know that I can honestly say that I tried my best to obey and respect her while under her care, even though it was a struggle and I did fail at times. So, if she can truly say that she did her best in raising me, then I can accept that. After all, as a parent now myself, I see now how utterly draining, frustrating, unfulfilling, difficult, tiring, stressful, overwhelming – and the list goes on – parenting can be. And I would be amiss if I failed to give her credit for attempting to raise me for the last eight years of my childhood.
Closure in Surrender
Seven+ years. That’s how long it took for me to release a burden. That’s how long it took me to completely forgive Grace. The cycle ends. The wall crumbles. In May 2016, when I first started writing this chapter of my life and figuring out which direction I wanted to take it, I contacted Grace via FaceBook Message in order to ask for her perspective on our child/parent relationship, because I originally thought that’s what would give me closure – balanced perspectives.
Our following correspondence, which lasted until the 1st of July 2016, was mostly courteous, with a passive aggressive flair. Grace’s initial reply was subtly deprecating to the point where I seriously had to pour my heart out to God in my broken-heartedness over it. And I think that was a turning point for me that brought me one step closer to the closure I so desperately needed. So, I was careful with my reply, and remaining replies, remembering that my goal was closure, not defense or revenge anymore.
Overall, our full correspondence on the the matter was clarifying. I figured out Grace’s perspective on our failed parent/child relationship. For some reason, she unwarrantedly thought that I felt like I was a victim in our relationship and that she was victimized by me somehow. (There’s that “martyr mentality.”) She wasn’t specific on why she felt like that; I think she was just trying to make a pointless point (like so many of her points), because I didn’t even elude to feeling like a victim under her guardianship in our correspondence. And, it grieved me that she continued to think so low of me, and still refused to at least acknowledge my feelings – without being pious and back-handed about it. But, this time, instead of passive-aggressively trying to defend myself, I courteously laughed it off.
Also, I learned something about her which I realized I knew all along. She’s insecure with low self-esteem and had to rectify it somehow, which must’ve put a burdensome pressure on her to perform flawlessly to the point where she had to consistently seek out the sins of others, including a confused child’s (mine), to coddle her own insecurities in regards to her own character deficiencies. Her immature fear of punishment should be replaced by the fear of disappointing God out of love and appreciation for Him.
I’m not saying this to be condescending, but empathetic – I finally understand why she treated certain people the way she did. “Hurting people hurt people,” and there is nothing wrong with hurting. But, it does not justify her self-righteous behavior toward people who seem to to threaten her fragile sense of self-worth, especially when she preaches judgement to sinners but fails to recognize or even ignores the sin in her own life. My only hope for her is to let go of her pride just enough to seek help, because that is a burden on her shoulders that she should not be carrying.
So, what brought me closure in the end was not a balanced perspective – there is no balancing perspectives in this case, as both parties are strong-willed – but humility and acceptance. The Lord surely humbled me throughout my quest for closure – I saw how prideful I was being. While it wasn’t my fault that Grace was initially in the wrong for mistreating me, the fault is entirely mine for harboring such venomous feelings in my heart toward her for so long as an adult when Christ is the epitome of forgiveness with no limitation.
Before I wrote my final words to Grace (of the correspondence regarding this chapter), I felt so broken-hearted and kind of desperate. I wondered what could she possibly want from me to warrant such hurtful, passive aggressive words. I prayed about it and wrote my reply:
Don’t think that about me or yourself. You were a good enough parent. God placed you in my life for a reason, and you did a lot of good. In the end, all the matters is that you tried your best. I believe you did. I believe we all dealt with the situation the best we could. I believe God’s grace handled the rest. Thank you for being there for me when Mom could not. You’re an amazing, beautiful woman, inside and out. I love you.
And, after I did, even though I didn’t feel as if it was entirely truthful on how I felt about her, I felt peace and I knew that was closure. Because, sometimes in order to end a war, you must be willing to yield and wave that white flag of surrender.
Appendix: My Poetic Journal (circa 2005-2008)
What a sick, perverse man! How evil were his thoughts and actions! I have been crushed by his sinful ways. My soul is in mourning because of his misdeeds. Oh, how I would love peace within me! Though ten years later, within my head and within my heart, I still think of what he has done to destroy me. Save me, oh God, from this misery! Rescue me from this despise in the depths of my heart! Grant my weary soul serenity.
I am not as a vine of safekeeping – by the transgressions of men, I was crushed underfoot and spilled into their goblets that they became drunken by my weary soul. But, I ask now, men who have sinned against me and defiled me: “Where are you now? Where will you reach me?” Burning in the flames of Living Hell, God has triumphed over evil. My soul is at peace.
I Have Been There
I stood upon the mount and cried out to my God. He answered me with a voice like that of thunder:
“Silence your heart and open your ears to hear what I, the LORD God, have to say. I became a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by the people I came to save, yet My blood ran over the rocks upon the mountains and down into the lowest of valleys to cover the sins of all the people of this earth, including you. I hear you and I have been there.”
Through His words, I was healed from my suffering – to know that my God had already been there, where I was now, gave me a great comfort like no other.
You Taught Me
You taught me a love that is lukewarm, a trust that ebbs, that bonds never hold forever but may be broken and come together again repeatedly.
You taught me to hate myself for all that I am, though my worth is nothing. In your eyes, I am the dust of the wind, the bugs that burrow beneath the dirt.
Your own heart wanders just as mine, and your own ways are as peculiar as mine. You are a rose with many thorns, only lovely from a distance, but you pierce me if I try to reach out to you.
Above all, you taught me to cut myself until my blood flows like a stream down my flesh and to beat myself with an iron rod until I… am… destroyed.
Monday 13 November 2006
I was reading a poem I had written a year or so ago, At Peace. I ask now, where is this peace I wrote of? Where is the serenity that welled inside the depths of my heart? Gone, it is gone. Though, I know that this peace has not left me entirely. It is only by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that I carry on, that my peace is not lost forevermore.
Friday 1 December 2006
Night is Gone
The pain is done—
New life has begun
For God’s glory and grace.
Now you see His lovely face
With voices raised—
Night is gone.
Gone are the Days
Gone are the days
When Night did reign.
Gone are the days
When voices cried out in pain.
Gone are the days when the world mourned…
Christ did come.
There is a place where I am hid from the world.
There is a grace where I rest my head.
It is in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, where peace reigns.
Thursday 1 November 2007
As the rain fell upon the earth,
I was brought unto my knees by the Sword of the Spirit.
Mine heart bled for the waters of God.
Oh, Eloi, why hast I Thee forsaken?
Why did the thorns pierce Thee?
Why hast Thou bled for me when I have cast Thou away?
When death’s dew was cold on Thy brow,
Thou wast silent.
Oh, wouldst Thou let it rain in me?
Let Thy cleansing tide swell within mine heart.
Thou hast died for me!
Wouldst I live for Thee?
Oh, my Savior and my God, let it rain in me!
Wednesday 9 January 2008
She sat in agony beside the open window. The skies were heavy with rain. It seemed as though her burden was too heavy to bear now, and the Spirit’s voice softly pleaded with her. Would she yield to Him?
Her breaths came in gasps now. Her heart felt as though Someone was piercing it through with the Sword of Bitterness. She was drowning in a sea of her own sin, its water over-taking her. Finally, she could no longer bear her burden alone. She cried out to Jesus.
As that first tear fell in sweet relief to the wooden floor, the tides of sin fell away from her and Bitterness no longer bit at her spirit. A cleansing rain poured from the gray sky in through the window. It fell upon her, whispering from the Father, “Forgiven.”