I had this thought this week… “Maybe you’re just weak” and I had to decide what to do with it.
Do you struggle with unhelpful negative thoughts? During this season we might be confronted with more of them, or perhaps it’s that we’re more aware of them as we are forced to sit with our internal worlds. I thought I’d tell you a little story to provide an example of one of the techniques I use when dealing with unhelpful thoughts, but as you read the ‘story’ remember that life is not a competition of how ‘bad’ we have it over another person. It’s the processes/tools/skills that we learn that help us overcome things, not the size of the mountain we are facing 🙂
I had one particularly awful morning this week. I had a demanding two-year-old, a restless Prep student and a confused Year 3 student all needed my help and attention and man-oh-man I felt the pressure, especially when my son threw an attention tantrum. Bless. It was difficult and my adrenal system was pushed to the max. I’m sure many other people (regardless of family situation) could say they have had similar moments. You know those moments when everything is just so overwhelming and there is noise and there are intense physical and emotional demands and you still have to push on? Yep? It was one of those mornings.
Later in the day, as I talked to God about the morning, I heard myself think “Maybe you’re just weak”. Ouch. Super brutal right? In days gone by I probably would have agreed with that thought and wondered how everyone else seemed to be stronger than me. The spiral would start from there until I’d end up doubting my self-worth and abilites. However, I’ve grown a lot in recent years, so I quickly caught that thought and did this simple internal exchange…
Thought: Maybe you’re just weak.
Question: Jess, is this thought helpful?
Response: Ok, well thank you mind. Moving on.
(Some of you might recognise this as ACT – Acceptance Commitment Therapy)
Let me break the process down a little for you. I have a positive or negative thought which may or not be true. However, regardless of whether it’s true, I ask myself… “Is this thought helpful?”. Will it motivate, encourage, inspire, push me to growth or change? If not, then maybe it’s actually accusatory, full of judgement, guilt, shame, and draining my energy. After questioning the usefulness of a thought, I can then determine if it’s something I should discard or something I need to pay attention to.
It’s amazing how challenging my thoughts with a simple question can release me from a toxic spiral. What I love about this process is that even if the thought is unhelpful, I still thank my mind. I am not judgemental and beating myself up for having the thought, I’m simply acknowledging it and letting it go. I used to struggle so much with that. As I identified negative thoughts, I would judge myself harshly for even having them *cough perfectionist*, which would only cause me to become more and more anxious. Now, I am continually learning how to let go of thoughts that I don’t need, like dropping leaves into a river, sweep them away with the current.
Bible readers will see this same wisdom reflected in 2 Corinthians 10: 4-6 (NIV):
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
I often read these words or heard sermons about it, but I was never taught what it meant to hold a thought captive or what to do with it. I fought against myself for having the thoughts because I believed that I shouldn’t have had them in the first place. I thought I needed to control them, make them obedient, pray against them – it was awful. Let me suggest that holding a thought captive might actually be about knowing which ones to let go of and which ones to keep. I’ve come to learn that when it comes to thoughts, “captive” is not about pulling it close and examining every aspect of it or desperately trying not to think about it (which only makes you think about it more). For me assessing a thought is about quickly catching it in its infancy and asking that simple question… is this helpful? What’s its source? Is this from God or is it the accuser? You don’t have to fight the thought; you are fighting if you chose to believe it or not. I know this little section is for someone particular and although I don’t know who, I’m writing it just for you to read 🙂 I hope you find peace and release if you have been struggling with how to walk this scripture out, the good news is that it’s not as difficult as we thought. It’s always Good News right?
I know this is an unusual time for us all, so don’t worry, I am fully aware that the thought I had about being weak is not true. However dear reader, don’t focus on whether or not the thought was true, because sometimes thoughts are in fact true. Don’t focus on whether or not the thought was positive or negative, because sometimes positive thoughts can keep us stagnant while negative thoughts can be the gateway for great change, innovation and motivation. Focus instead on whether or not the thought is helpful.
Toxic thoughts are everywhere:
I can’t do this.
I might fail.
I’m not important.
I have nothing to offer.
I never do anything right.
I wish I was more like (insert person’s name here)
This is never going to end.
I can’t see a way out of this right now.
Maybe I’m weak.
Yes, unhelpful thoughts will come, but maybe you just need to say “thank you mind’ and move on.
PS – If this has spoken to you in some way, I highly recommend the book The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris, it was significant in teaching me how to deal with my thought-life.
I have no idea anymore. Yeah, I honestly have no idea what’s going on or what’s going to happen next; I would say that none of us do. But you know what… that is Ok, I am at peace with it because it is outside of my control. If there is a choice between stress or peace, I’m going to choose peace every time. I’ve also read that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, so naturally I will choose Him any day of the week. Before this all started, I was reading my way through a book in the Bible called Proverbs. It’s filled with short phrases full of wisdom and I am always up for getting some extra wisdom in my life. I would encourage you even if you don’t like the Bible or Christianity that these words are still good – it’s worth a look 🙂
There is one line that is standing out for me at lot at the moment; you can see shadows of its influence in my previous post.
Today I am holding onto kindness for my fellow man. I have no idea any more, but I will still be kind. I may cry, I may feel sad, I may feel uncertain, but I will still be kind. When people are scared they react in all sorts of ways, but I can still choose to be kind. I am determined to carry myself with kindness and be like ‘honey’ for those I engage with. May people walk away (more accurately ‘turn off their phones’) from their interactions with me soothed and stronger.
Today I am holding onto kindness for myself. When the kids are driving me crazy, when I feel weak and weighed down… I will be kind. I will give myself space to feel and move through the emotions. I will allow for growth in its many stages and forms. I will make self-compassion my companion.
I will share kind words to sweeten souls and give health to bodies – This is my resolve today. What is yours?
As countries continue to go into lockdown and people’s livelihoods are disappearing, it is a season of uncertainty for us all. I was speaking with a friend in the USA this weekend (via Instagram) and he said he was “trying to hold on and let go at the same time”. What wise words for us all to apply to our lives.
All of us will have things that we need to let go of at the moment and some of them are so very, very hard to do. They might be wedding plans, long awaited holidays, jobs and careers, personal dreams, new businesses, studying, fitness plans, financial goals… I honestly can’t name them all. There are so many ‘things’ that COVID-19 has impacted and we have all been impacted in one way or another. So today, why don’t you give yourself permission to mourn the things you need to let go of – mourn the things that can no longer be.
I suggest you allocate 20-30 minutes to write down the dreams/goals/plans in your life that are not longer possible and really be honest with how you feeling. Allow yourself to actually feel disappointed, angry, frustrated, depressed, sad or whatever. After that timing however, let’s do some letting go. If we are going to keep going, it’ll be easier if we aren’t holding onto things that are no longer a reality. The world has changed for the foreseeable future and it’s time for us to be resilient. You can do this; you can rise and rise again. You can let go of those hopes and dream and put others in their place. I will be doing the same. Our new dreams may look very different and not as ‘glamorous’ for a while, but having dreams/plans to look forward to is important for us all. Take a moment… let go with me. It is hard and almost unbelievable, but we are in this together. You are not alone; everyone will be faced with changes. Let them go dear friend. Even if you have tears in your eyes, take a moment to mourn and let them go.
As we are doing our ‘letting go’ now is also a time to ‘hold on’ more than ever before. Hold on to relationships, hold onto hope, hold onto self-compassion and hold on faith or beliefs. Hold on to the idea that you will survive this. Hold on dear heart. I will be honest and say that I have moments during the day when I think ‘Is this really happening?’ I feel sadness as I look at the lives lost, the virus spreading, people without work, nations shutting down – it is the reality of what is happening. But I don’t stay in that place. Instead I hold onto my faith in God and my belief in the extraordinary ingenuity and endurance of the human race.
Today I am holding onto the people I love, messaging them words of hope or sending them funny memes to lighten their day. I am being more intentional about my connections, not necessarily in quantity but in quality. I am also treasuring and being mindful of the the moments I find joy and sharing them with others. Today I am holding onto hope, hope for a cure, hope for a breakthrough and good news. Today I am holding onto self-compassion and realising that sometimes I will feel strong, while other times weak and that is ok. Lastly, I am holding onto my personal faith. Faith in a God who cares for us, who hears us, who has empowered us and loves us without measure.
What are you holding onto today? Just like our letting go exercise, why don’t you write them down and spend some time focusing on the things that are your strength today? When you feel down, remind yourself of what you are holding onto.
As things around the world continue to unfold, we will be letting go and holding on at the same time. Both are equally important particularly in moments of such rapid of change. Take a breath, take a moment, you are doing so well.
Love Jess xxoo
PS – I’ve been spending time on a live dance party on Instagram by DJ dnice (click on his name for link to his profile). Although I know nothing about him, he plays great music and it’s honestly a lot of fun having a virtual party with about 100k people. Things really go off when he does a hat change 🙂
Back in 2013 Tim and I sat down and wrote out a prayer for our family. While we were overseas we prayed this almost every day to align our hearts with The Father. It remains displayed on our kitchen cupboard to this day. This morning, I was praying over the line “We choose peace over stress” (see below) and it got me thinking about all of you as we face the global pandemic of Corona Virus (COVID-19) together. Taking a moment to stop and reset our thoughts is so important during times like these.
If you are a person of faith, what are your prayers at the moment? If the idea of ‘the divine’ is not something you adhere too, what truths are you holding onto and speaking over your life at the moment?
Greenwood Family Prayer
Here we are Jesus, the ones you love. Remind us that heaven is here right now.
We know Your favour follows us today. Thank you for watching over us. We want to stay in your presence all day long.
We trust in You with all our hearts and we won’t depend on our own strength or intellect. We seek Your will in all we do, and ask that You will show us which path to take. We thank you for Your favour in all our plans. Show us the best way to do things so they get done quickly and easily. We choose peace over stress, because we know You have the best plan for this day.
Speak to us, we are listening for your clear, gentle voice. Speak through visions and pictures, songs and signs, nature and our five senses. Show us how You see us and those around us. We’re on the lookout for divine connections today. We want to meet unexpected people in unexpected places. Help us to see and love people the way You do. Every person is so precious to You.
Thank You for loving us so much that You include us in your dreams. May your dreams come alive in us; work through us and in us. We want to walk with you and see You accomplish many signs, wonders and miracles in our lives. Thank you for sending your angels to help. We want to work with them to do whatever You ask.
We know that you provide all we need. We give you our finances today. Help us make wise decisions as we use what You give us. We also thank you for full health today. You make our bodies, emotions and spirits strong. Your angels are a shield of protection around us, so we can do all You have asked us to do. We will not fear when bad things happen, because You are with us.
Your joy is our strength. We laugh with You today. Thank you for helping us find fun and silly moments together. We know You are always good.
We choose to live with your word in our hearts and find our rest in You. If we make a mistake, we run to you Jesus. Forgive us and let your love wash over us.
Thank you for preparing our hearts Jesus. As we go about our everyday lives whether asleep or awake, we know You are changing our hearts for what’s to come. We are open to You. We access Your nature, Your perspective, Your heart and Your love.
We want to fall more in love with You as You use us today. Amen.
I speak peace over you right now
Peace over the fears and thoughts that keep you up at night
Peace over the worries that weigh your heart down.
I speak peace over you right now
Peace over your body and your breathing
Peace over tension in your shoulders and the tightness in your chest.
I speak peace over you right now
I have known the bondage of anxiety
And I know the sweet freedom of peace
So, I will speak it over you just as it was released over me.
I know that your mind is crowded with thoughts right now and you want to chase them all down, but we both know that it’s not possible because you can’t hold onto them long enough. Take a breath and sit with me in this moment, sit with me and bring your uncomfortable feelings; I am not afraid of them, you are safe here. I will not tell you to ‘get over it’ or ‘just stop thinking about it’ and I’ll mentally punch anyone in the head who says those words to you 😉 I understand that it’s not that easy – I’ve got you.
I don’t know your situation, but I will tell you what I know… I know that it’s possible to break out of this mental prison. It’s possible to come out the other side (it really is), however I also know it’s hard for you to believe that right now. I have personally worked for years on my thoughts, fight/flight reactions, breaking down lies and perfectionism while failing, trying again, failing, trying again and again. It is hard work, but it can be done. Maybe I will write more about this one day (ok I will, just for you), but for today, you need to be seen in this moment and told that you can and will survive this. Go read the beginning bit again, change is coming your way. Sit with it today. Sit with it. We’ll talk more later ok?
Trigger and graphic detail warning: This blog is about the domestic violence and abuse of women in Christian marriages. It contains real life examples of abuse which is not appropriate for younger readers and may be distressing for some, but honestly, I’m praying it’s disturbing for all of us.
The names in this blog have been changed to protect the identity of the women who have bravely allowed me to share some of their stories. Many of them have continued contact with their ex’s due to child arrangements. I dedicate this blog to you brave sisters and I write it for the women still in silence, still in darkness. I see you and I’m shining a light on this evil so others can see too. Never fear, the darkness is starting to tremble.
Beth: Beth was having a shower, naked and vulnerable while her two young children wandered in and out. Her husband stormed into their bathroom and held up her mobile to the glass screen with anger burning in his eyes. “You’ve been messaging with Courtney again! Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” Courtney was a recently divorced Christian and was now according to her husband, a bad influence. As the dread and shame filled Beth’s heart, her husband threw the phone onto the bathroom tiles yelling, “Lying B*itch!” He stormed out of the room, leaving his wife feeling physically ill while she looked at her phone smashed to pieces. She went a week without her mobile, her husband making her fix it herself. On Sunday, they sang the songs in church, listened to the sermon and chatted with their friends. When people asked Beth how her week was, she smiled and said “It was ok thanks, how was yours?”
United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines domestic violence as: ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.’ Secular and faith-based organisations in Australia identify 8 forms of abuse and violence:
I am 34-years-old and I can name five women in my Christian social circle who have revealed they suffered from abuse or domestic violence in their marriages. Violence against women is a serious problem in my country (and world-wide), but I naively thought it wasn’t happening in Christian relationships. And so, after years of hearing otherwise I feel its time for me to write about this specific issue. In a faith context domestic violence has its own unique complexities as some men actually use biblical scriptures to justify their actions while many women stay because they believe they will disappoint God if they leave. It breaks my heart and I am so very angry.
All of the women in this blog have since separated from their husbands, and I would say that all of these ladies have come out of their marriage ostracized, judged and slandered. Most have children and almost all of them don’t share publically about the years of devastation they endured. For some reason, the men remain protected. But I see you dear ones. I see you and I say that what has happened to you is not right. What you have been through is absolutely NOT what God had in mind when he said “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). I applaud you and your bravery for leaving. I know many of you have endured extraordinary internal struggles, to the point of contemplating suicide, yet you have kept going. You, precious sisters-in-Christ, blow me away. Your stories are important for us to hear and share.
Laurel: Laurel’s home-life was just one long emotional assault. Her husband, who was meant to treasure her, constantly put her down. He frequently rolled his eyes, spoke to her like she was a child and openly disregarded her opinions. In his eyes, he was always right and she was always wrong. Her husband’s refusal to treat her as an equal caused her constant emotional pain, but he never took her concerns seriously; dismissing her distress any time she brought it up. In social situations they would hold hands and joke while she publically laughed off any humiliation he put her through. If she said something that embarrassed him, he would discretely pinch or kick her to keep her quiet. They were both actively involved in their Church, going to home groups and serving in teams on a Sunday. Her girlfriends sometimes worried amongst themselves how he treated Laurel at home, but they never questioned either of them. The onslaught of condescending, belittling, eroding and numbing words broke her fragile heart until there was nothing left.
Kirsty: Kirsty thought her husband was a gentle man with a heart after God. Just six-months into her marriage she realised he was not the man she thought he was. Kirsty endured another 5-6 years of married hell before she was finally able to call a family member to come and get her from the house. “Did he hit you?” Christians tend to ask and her heart sinks because he didn’t. It reinforces her husband’s ideas that only physical strikes to the body count. She doesn’t tell them about the times he shoved her, pushed her off the bed or repeatedly threw objects at her head. She doesn’t say a word about the times he aggressively grabbed her, the time he slammed a freezer door into her head or how he locked her out of the house. She doesn’t mention the ‘episodes’ – frequent 3 hour-long sessions of verbal abuse she would endure long into the night, which he said were her fault. They will never know the number of times he screamed in her face calling her a “Stupid F-ing B*tch” (his favourite phrase). Then there were the restrictions on who she could be friends with and his constant need to know word-for-word what everyone said any time she was out without him. Appallingly, Kirsty’s husband often used scriptures to justify his treatment of her.
On three separate occasions after an ‘episode’ from her husband, Kirsty came out of the shower with her towel wrapped around her body. Her husband taunted her laughing, “Are you purposely trying to hide yourself from me?”. Kirsty, full of confusion and hurt didn’t respond. He stripped the towel off from her naked body proceeding to touch her in the most violating of ways. Meanwhile she stood there crying, desperately yelling “Stop it, stop it!”, pushing his hands away to defend herself. Her husband would continue touching her saying “I’m allowed to touch you Kirsty, you’re my wife!”
In their faith community they seemed like one of those incredible ‘Christian power couples’, so involved in church and on the surface, so very supportive of each other. Although separated, Kirsty continues to fight against to her ex-husbands controlling behaviour and has serious concerns about the safety of her daughter.
Emily: Emily’s husband had complete control over the household and over his wife. He controlled her through every means he could including financial control (down to an allowance that he set), control over who her friends were, what activities she could do, where she could go and more. He used sex as a bargaining tool saying, “You can only do this activity/see that person/buy this item, if we have sex”. He was the ‘head’ of the household and he made it very clear that she was the tail.
If he did not get his way, he stopped talking to her civilly and a screaming match would erupt. In extreme conflicts he would throw threats of suicide in her face. All she could do was retreat, give him what he wanted and peace would return for a short while into the family. At church they were the picture-perfect Godly family, esteemed from the platform and involved in everything. Other people would seek them for marriage and business advice, but no one knew what was really happening behind closed doors. When Emily did reach out to friends, they told her that “marriage was for life, you’ll just have to put up with it”. So, Emily thought that this was what a Christian marriage was, she didn’t realise it was abusive.
When Emily finally got the strength to leave she was completely isolated from her church friendships. Her ex-husband spread slander and rumours to anyone who would listen. When none of Emily’s friends came to see how she was, it was a devastating second blow; best friends disappeared overnight. Unfortunately just like Kirsty, Emily is still on the receiving end of her ex-husbands abuse as they share custody of their children.
Whilst the kids were in bed Willow and her husband discussed a trial separation. Despite his numerous affairs and constant belittling, she hoped for reconciliation. A fight broke out, escalating until he grabbed her and threw her to the ground. Physically and emotionally bruised Willow ran out of the house in her pyjamas while he locked the door behind her. Separated from her children, her phone and her money, Willow felt utterly helpless. She contemplated finding a way calling the police, but she was concerned she’d be found at fault and didn’t want her husband to get into trouble either; she continued to protect him. Willow eventually got back into the house, calling a friend to come get her. To add to the trauma, she had to leave all the kids at home with her husband, including the baby who was still breastfeeding. Through an intermediary, she instructed him how to give the baby its first bottle feed.
Although they weren’t regular church goers, they still attended from time to time and pretended to be a happy family. Willow found it difficult to be in an environment where everyone else seemed to be fine, while her home-life was a battleground. She kept the details of her marriage a secret for over 8 years.
This is dark stuff. Beth, Laurel, Kirsty, Emily and Willow, I believe you. I believe what you are telling me. I have known some of your husbands rather well and I never would have guessed what was happening behind closed doors. However, I believe what you are telling me, you don’t have to convince me. You do not have to have physical scars for me to know that you had to leave. I know some of you have been judged for how you coped at the end. I know people have pointed their fingers at you and told you horrible (or flippant) things to your face. But for some reason, this man, who treated you so badly, has come out of your separation with most of the sympathy and not a hit to his reputation. After all the abuse he hurled at you, it seems to everyone else that he is the victim. But I know, I know what he did to you. I know what he did when no one else was around, how he treated you in the darkness. I see you.
When I hear these stories a small part of me thinks, “I’m so grateful my husband is nothing like that.” And then I catch myself… I’m grateful that the man I share my life with doesn’t abuse me? You have got to be kidding right? To be treated with respect and as an equal is the benchmark, not the exception. I am disgusted by my own reaction, even if it’s fleeting. What kind of culture do we live in where we congratulate men on treating women well, instead of just knowing that is what is expected of them?
During my discussions with Willow about her abused (I have shared but one story), her concern is for the women still trapped. She says to me, “If I could share anything, it would be that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to stay. You don’t have to extend grace so far to your husband that you damage yourself or your children.” Wow, just wow. This is perhaps one of the most powerful truths for women to hear within the faith context.
I sat in church a few weeks ago, thinking of the beautiful women I know. They have endured so much and I wondered how many other women are still being abused, controlled and belittled. Was I still seeing women every week like Beth, who smiled and said, “Good thanks, how was your week?” The heartbreaking reality is that I probably am. Some of the women I know went to churches in my own denomination. It’s easy to think that things like this happen elsewhere, but the truth is, domestic violence and abuse against women exists across Australian church groups. This darkness has to stop. We need to become more aware that it’s actually happening and start to develop stronger pathways to protect and support these women.
There is a song that has been playing on repeat in my mind whenever I have worked on this blog. It’s called Tremble by Mosaic. The lyrics say:
Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble
Jesus, Jesus, You silence fear
Jesus, Jesus, You make the darkness tremble
When I started contemplating putting this together, this song roared through me and left me kneeling on the floor in tears. I felt Jesus saying that He wanted the darkness to tremble. This ugly, ungodly thing in supposedly Christ-centered marriages, this thing we are fearful to face and talk about, He wants us to talk about. This is happening, right now, possibly in your church, perhaps to your friend, daughter or sister. We need to shine a light on this issue for these women. To let them know it’s safe to speak up and that we’ll believe them. I spoke with an older Christian couple about this blog whilst in it’s infancy and expressed my hesitation in addressing such a complex issue in 2500 or so words, but the male said passionately, “Jess, we need to talk about it everywhere and anywhere we can, however we can. We need to have these conversations.” My prayer is that other Christians will continue to take up the conversation. This is not a one-week sermon topic (although that’s important); it takes ongoing discussion, awareness, re-education, accountability and action to bring down an ungodly culture that is present in godly people. We need men and women of all ages and stages to partner together and invest in shifting this culture of abuse and violence.
If there is one thing I could say to a Christian women caught in domestic violence and the cycle of abuse it is this…
God loves you more than he loves the institution of marriage – you do not have to stay to honour God.
This is not the marriage that God had in mind,
it is a man-made prison.
Where to from here? Well, firstly, if you have read these stories and identify with something shared, I encourage you to speak up and get help. The help-lines below are wonderful places to start. Alternatively, you may want to discretely share this blog with friends and say “I am like Laurel” or “I am like Kirsty”, try to start the conversation somewhere. Unfortunately, you are not alone and what you are going through is NOT RIGHT.
For the rest of us, if you are part of a faith community:
Please share this blog with others and have a read through some of the articles below (Common Grace has some great blogs).
Talk about this topic this with your friends, in your cell groups, at women’s and men’s events and do it more than once. Perhaps you can write an article about correct biblical interpretation, share information about local support groups or teach couples about appropriate conflict resolution? Yes, marriage has conflict and yes it is hard at times, but it shouldn’t be this hard, it should never include abuse. These examples are powerful because they give you a framework of what abuse can look like. We often only listen when we hear the words hit, slapped or strangled.
Ask more questions instead of giving throw away lines. I know next time a friend tells me that they ‘have been fighting a lot”, I will ask them to tell me more and give specific examples instead of speaking in vague terms about things like communication and compromise. Perhaps her definition of fighting is a lot different to mine and his way of communicating is actually abusive. We need to look a little closer and see if she’s trying to tell us that something is happening behind closed doors.
Lastly, let’s pray that things come into the light. I’m praying that hidden abuses will be revealed and that women and men will be released from this darkness. I do not do this lightly or gently, but with fierce determination and righteous anger. Domestic violence does not belong in anyone’s life, Christian or not, it’s time we ripped this thing out of our lives.
I have been thinking a lot about you the last few weeks. You are on my mind and I can’t shake you no matter how much I try. Some of you I know personally, while others I wouldn’t know you if you were sitting next to me right now. Regardless, I wanted to take a few moments and type these words to you, because what you are going through is painful, so incredibly painful and usually hidden.
Psalm 56 v 8 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
If I could sit and have a beverage with you, I would look you in the eye and tell you that you aren’t alone. I know it feels like it, believe me, I know it does. It may seem like others around you are falling pregnant with not a care in the world and you feel you’re the only one’s struggling… but you aren’t. For some reason, knowing that other Christians are going through or have gone through a similar struggle can make you feel less isolated. I say this not to take away from your unique experience, but to encourage you and remind you that your thoughts, questions, doubts, victories and triumphs are perhaps similar to what others have felt.
Psalm 31 v 7 I am overcome with joy because of Your unfailing love, for You have seen my troubles, and You care about the anguish of my soul.
Although some of your closest friends may not see your pain… I see you in my mind’s eye. I acknowledge this difficult season with its’ faith filled highs and the hopeless lows. I understand the courage you draw upon when you celebrate other people’s victories and the anguish in your heart when you see that photo on social media or glossy picture in a catalog. I can relate to the faith in your heart when you respond to an alter-call and the frustration when someone says something insensitive. Sometimes you have grace and things don’t bother you, while other times you want to put your fingers in your ears to block out the noise. It is difficult. Plus, those ever-changing thoughts and emotions can really throw you can’t they? Up and down and round and round. Then, there are the faith-based questions, medical decisions and ethical considerations that can keep you up at night! You are really doing so well. No, really you are. Be encouraged.
Psalm 9 v 9-10 The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, O Lord, have never abandoned anyone who searches for you.
I am aware that your stories are all different and so will the outcome. I sincerely pray that your dearest dreams will be realized, and yet I know how hard it is to believe that at times. I don’t pretend to have answers for your situation; I only want to let you know that you aren’t forgotten. You aren’t abandoned and your journey is important, so important that God keeps bringing you to my mind. Even if you don’t tell anyone about this season, I am praying for you and for the child or children you want to have.
I sat on the floor in the kitchen in front of a clean dishwasher that needed to be emptied. After angrily telling Tim to “leave me alone”, tears ran down my face and all I wanted to do was pick up all those clean dishes and smash them on the floor. I felt like I had fallen into a dark pit, alone with no way to get out. I rang my sister. When she picked up I sobbed and sobbed into the phone and told her what was going on in my mind.
Before (when I was pregnant)
Amy was my miracle, my long-awaited baby! God was on this and He was with us, it was going to be amazing! I prayed that He would prepare my heart and that I would be a perfect example of His love to my kids. That I would represent Him well and be the physical manifestation of His heart towards my kids. I ‘rejected in Jesus name’ any of the negative stories that I heard about parenthood, because I was doing this with Jesus. Holy Spirit and I…. man we were tight. I knew how to hear His voice so well and I certainly had His joy living inside of me. I felt I had been through enough personal ‘fires’ to be prepared. I had been through a lot, including seasons of loneliness, anxiety (with heart palpitations) and the pain of a miscarriage; I had the tools to get through the tough stuff.
Worship has such a central part of my journey when we were trying to fall pregnant. I would worship God when I was in pain and instantly be lifted up and filled with joy and freedom. I (naively) dreamt that Amy and I would worship for hours and hours together. That the atmosphere in our house would be as it always was, a place of peace and rest, where the presence of God would be so tangible.
Additionally, I was so conscious of the negative impact that parents can have on their kids. Little people’s personalities are developed by the time they are four, so what I did in those early years really mattered. I didn’t want my kids to have to ‘forgive my mother for (insert reason here)’ in a therapy or sozo session years later.
During the first year
During Amy’s first year of life she cried – A. LOT. – and so did I. I clearly remember one Sunday afternoon she cried for 5 hours straight. I did everything and I really do mean everything: Feeding, burping, cuddling, pumping her little legs, leaving her to cry it out (it got worse and worse), every holding position I knew, bathing her, giving her Panadol, walking up and down the house, changing the nappy, praying in tongues, praying with words, singing worship etc. Nothing helped and some of it made it even worse. I had nothing left to give… absolutely nothing. I put her back into her cot, shut all the doors and with tears slowing rolling down my face, I sent out an SMS to a few people and asked them to pray. Amy fell asleep 20 minutes later and I sobbed on the bed. People may say “Amen, yeah she did, those prayers worked.” All I felt was my failure. I had tried everything and I was carrying the Holy Spirit with me. His love never failed, but apparently mine did.
Church life, which has one been a place of pure joy and freedom, become an isolating experience. Tim was on staff, so we rarely got to be with him during a service and he was unable to help me. I would drive to church and spend most the time in the nursing mothers room or unsupervised crèche. After the service one of my beautiful friends would usually seek me out for a quick hello, but by then Amy was in the ‘feral zone’ so I would dash off not having heard the message, been able to engage in worship or connect with my church community. I would then drive the 30 minutes home with a tired child screaming at the top of her lungs. We would arrive back home both in a mess of tears and totally exhausted.
I started to become angry and I wasn’t a naturally angry person. I thought things and said things in my head that I never thought would enter my life. I would hear people say how well I was doing or looking etc. and all I could think was “You don’t know the half of it.” I was also constantly told (by people who no longer had young kids) to “Treasure every moment, because it goes so fast.” So, I started stressing about ‘treasuring every moment’ and tried to put my energy into that. Turns out that ‘treasuring EVERY moment’ is hard to do when your little one cries a lot and you are running on empty.
Looking back, I clearly didn’t ask for help as much as I should have, mostly because I believed the lie that I shouldn’t. I prayed for this, I asked for this, this was my new ministry and my responsibility. I also didn’t think people would understand why I was in so much pain and I didn’t know how to articulate what was I was going through. I had also heard it said (unfortunately many times) that when Christians ‘burn out’ it’s because they aren’t getting their strength from God; that it is somehow a reflection of their relationship with Him. They are a failure. The thing was, I wasactually inviting Holy Spirit into everyday, I would say it when I woke up and asked Him to help me constantly. I was trying to get my strength from Him, but I wasn’t able to spend time with Him like I used to. Plus, any time I planned a worship session at home, Amy would go ballistic and cry the place down. I was trying so hard to not become self-centered and continued to pour into other people’s lives like I used to. I spent a lot of time praying for and ‘counselling’ other people through their own pains. I wasn’t working after all so ‘I had the time’. I was giving out in excess, while feeling as though I was letting everyone down.
Just to add to the growing burdens that I was carrying, I knew there were many other people in the world who had it worse than me, which of course made me feel worse about feeling worse. I ‘should be able to do this’ and I ‘really didn’t have anything to complain about’. It was a downward spiral. I didn’t understand that I was burning through my serotonin levels faster than a mentally healthy person. All I knew was that I was somehow ‘failing’. Failing Amy, failing God, failing at this thing called Motherhood. What made it harder was the fact that I had prayed and dreamed about this season for over 3 years. Amy was a miracle, she was a precious gift, but all I wanted to do was be alone so I could cry without her seeing.
I asked God to help me. I asked Him to remove my heaviness, my sadness and my anger and yet… it remained. I meditated on scriptures, stuck them all around the house and yet it remained. I made declarations and proclamations and yet it remained.
The phone call
So, just before Amy’s 1st birthday, I sat on the kitchen floor talking to the safest person I knew – my sister. She listened and loved me so much. Looking back, she represented Jesus to me in that moment; a perfect example of God.
She met me where I was at and listened to the state of my heart. She loved me completely. She told me to go onto the BeyondBlue website and take their online questionnaire. We chatted for a bit and then she said she’d check back in with me every day for the next few days.
I did the questionnaire and it told me to see my GP ASAP because I was in the danger zone. Two days later, after being told I had post-natal depression, I started my healing process with the help of medication. They say it takes about 2-3 weeks before antidepressants work, but I honestly noticed a difference straight away. For the first time in about a year, I could think clearly.
And so my next journey began. Three years on I have come a long way in some areas, while others require a bit more attention. Honestly, sometimes I don’t feel completely victorious in these things but I chose to believe that I am a great Mother. With the help of Holy Spirit and others around me, I am gradually taking back the ground and replacing the lies and unrealistic expectations with truth and rest. I look back and I’m grateful for how far I’ve come.
My family and I were recently talking about whether or not God heals people with serious mental health disorders. The Flatt clan likes to talk about the deeper issues of life, like really talk them out and challenge each other… I seriously love it. This is where I land in any area of healing… Jesus is the standard. What I mean by that is when you look at the life of Jesus he healed EVERYONE that came to him. EVERYONE! So, regardless of my experience, it’s God’s heart and intention that everyone is healed and whole. If I pray for someone and they aren’t healed, I believe God still wants them to be healed. Really Jess? Seriously, read the Gospels, there is not one example where Jesus wasn’t willing or where he said ‘No, healing it not for you. I’m not doing it. It’s not my will for you to be healed.” So where does this leave us?
This leads me once again to the Goodness of God. He is so wonderful, so loving and so aware of our individual journeys that He meets us where we are. I prayed that God would remove my depression, but for whatever reason it didn’t lift. And so, He made a way for me. Does God want to heal depression? Absolutely. Did He miraculously heal mine? No. Wait a minute, does that mean He doesn’t heal depression? No. For me, my experience does not alter the person of God or His good intentions for His children. Jesus is my standard. Where there is a gap, He meets me where I am and continues to help me along my journey to healing.
If my leg was broken and after being prayed for it was still broken, I wouldn’t pretend it was healed just to prove my faith was strong enough. I would go to a doctor and get that leg fixed. Why struggle through the pain and possibly cause more damage and increase the healing time? I view mental health issues/illnesses in the same light. I will pray and believe for healing in the mental health zone, but if it’s not healed, I’m not going to pretend it is. I will take myself to a doctor and recommend others do the same. There is no point carrying guilt and shame, because you haven’t been miraculously healed. Would you judge someone else for taking a clearly broken leg to a doctor? I seriously hope not 🙂
My own journey
I am not ashamed to share this with you, but I do feel slightly vulnerable. To share my own journey and own perspective is a scary thing to do at times, but we each have our own story and there is power when we share them with each other. I can learn something from you and maybe you can learn something from me.
I hope you are encouraged by my journey out of the pit, because if you’ve never been there, believe me, it really does feel like a pit. If you are in that pit yourself, you are not alone. Many more people have been there than you realise, in fact 1 in 5 Australian adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year. There is hope for us, for you and for me. God has made a way.
In early 2010 I lay on the gurney alone in the halls of the hospital. I remember being left by myself as tears streamed down my face along with the crushing revelation that the baby we had hoped for was no more. They had not allowed Tim to come with me for the scan and I felt so sick that He didn’t know and I would have to tell him. I felt completely and utterly alone.
Amy has had two seizures in two and a-half-weeks. It has happened to her before when we were overseas, so it wasn’t so shocking for us this time round, but it’s still not very nice. A virus enters her little system and her temperature can spike up to over 41C (106F) . If you’ve never seen someone have a seizure it is can be frightening and when it’s someone little it’s even worse to witness. We know in Amy’s situation that it is ok and it’s not uncommon for kids to have febrile convulsions.
The problem is, that as parents you can tend to worry more after the event has taken place. Visions of Amy’s body convulsing can haunt you when you least expect it. Unhealthy imaginings of when it will happen next and what will transpire do not help you sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
In recent years when Tim and I have faced difficult situations and not had peace, we will undoubtedly ask Holy Spirit to show us where He was when the event was taking place. For example, I asked Holy Spirit where He was when Amy was having her seizure. He showed me that as I had my hand on her forehead, He had His hand on my shoulder and at the same time, He was holding Amy.
Peace like a river. Fear, time to move along.
Years later, in a moment of beautiful Worship with Daddy God, Tim had a picture of me laying alone in hospital and he saw the word ‘abandonment’ written over my head. He felt God wanted to show me where He was when I was facing my darkest moment.
I want to encourage you, if you have been through a negative or traumatic life event, it’s important to ask Holy Spirit to show you where He was. If you see anything other than a loving, caring response, you need to go read about the life of Jesus. He was moved by compassion for people in all sorts of situations and He is a direct representation to us of what Father God is like. Asking God to answer this question can really start the healing process if you’re carrying trauma.
As soon as Tim explained what He saw, I knew what He was talking about. I knew that God was good, but somehow the feeling that I was alone had snuck in to my thought-life, so I asked Holy Spirit to show me where He was. And being so wonderful, He showed me. He was holding me so very close, arms wrapped around me, understanding all my pain and loving me so completely. The secret fears that I held started to fade and another level of healing started taking place.
Sometimes, it’s only when we ask this question do we realise He was there all along. Don’t wait years to ask it, don’t let the little moments go by without questioning those fears. Say it with me… God, where were you? Can you hear Him answer… I was right there.
My memories of him are probably rose-coloured due to my age and the significant influence of a small Tupperware box full of sweet treats beside his bed. He had a gentle soul and a content disposition, always so gracious when I interrupted his reading or strawberry picking to tell him a story. He seemed to carry a cheerful whistling tune wherever he went and most of all He loved God deeply.
His name was Herbert Henry, known to many as Harry. He was born 1 May 1917 with his twin sister, as the youngest of four children. His mother died eleven weeks later and he spent some of his childhood in an orphanage, seriously malnourished, while his father travelled around Australia as a Salvation Army minister. Eventually, the family was brought back together and they planted a sugarcane farm at Yandina, Queensland.
Starting in late August 1942, Harry, like many other young Australian men, was fighting overseas against the Japanese. Harry was part of the 9th Battalion of the 7thBrigade stationed in Gili Gili, Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. After walking into an evening ambush by the Japanese, Harry and another solider were separated from their Battalion.
As night fell, they tried to make their way back to their company using Harry’s good sense of direction. As they neared the location, their own troupes started shooting at them, because they thought they were Japanese. Following Harry’s leadership and navigational skills, they headed towards the Bay in an attempt to circle their way back around to the main Australian line.
As they journeyed towards the water in almost complete darkness, they passed numerous bodies lying in the grass. Unsure whether they were dead, alive, friendly or hostile, they pushed on until exhaustion took over. When they awoke hours later, Harry sent up a quick, quiet prayer asking God to help them get out of the situation. Instantly, he felt an angelic presence and although He could not see it he could feel it right next to him. He said he felt like a different person and he knew it would be ok.
Herbert Henry, 1941
Harry decided that the safest way to reach the Australian troops camped on the beach and avoid any ‘enemy’ camps was to swim. Unfortunately Harry’s counterpart couldn’t swim, so as the night wore on they started walking along the coral reef, concealed as best as they could, with only the tops of their heads above the ocean water. They started to see the tracers from the Aussie guns on the beach and soon their own countrymen were once again firing on them. Although Harry’s companion started to panic, Harry felt no fear as he continued to feel God’s presence beside him. He knew they would make it to shore even as the bullets continued to go over their heads and wiz past their ears.
After passing the Aussies, they came into land and re-entered the jungle near a coconut plantation to wait for daylight. With the presence of God by his side Harry knew they were being looked after, even more so when dawn started to draw near and they heard a scraping in a near-by coconut tree. It was a Japanese sniper coming down from his concealed position. The sniper would certainly have seen them come in from the beach, but because the Australian soldiers had fired on them, he did not take them out.
Harry and his friend waited until it was fully daylight before they approached the Australian line and rejoined their follow diggers. When Harry retold this experience 52 years later, he said, “I believe that God’s providential hand is more on our lives than we realise, we just don’t feel Him when we aren’t in crisis.”
Later in his life, Harry went through a period of 2-3 years where he felt that same presence with him frequently. From the moment he opened his eyes in the morning, he felt God’s presence. He said he didn’t ask for it in prayer, or seek it; it just started to happen. He later wondered if it was possible to live like it all the time.
He reflected that, “being in the presence of God is more exciting to me than that adventure in the jungle. That [those few years] was an experience of God’s presence, it was like being in the heavenly atmosphere, in the third heaven.”
“Supernatural things are hard to explain you know, but man they happen.”
He was a good man, he was steadfast and he was in fact quite simply happy. So much so, that I never knew him by any other name. His name was Happy and everyone called him that. It was probably just a natural progression from Harry, but happy he was, so Happy he was called. Happy was an Australian solider who married the love of his life. He was also a great depression battler, faithful cornet player, foster parent and cancer survivor, but perhaps most importantly, he was my dad’s dad. My grandfather was promoted to Glory on 28th February 2007 and left behind an incredible legacy.
The impact that this man had on my life is profound. As a 5th generation Christian on my father’s side I have a rich spiritual inheritance that stretches back to before 1895. I hope to pass on this legacy to my children, not just by looking at the past, but also by looking to the future. So with this in mind we have decided our son’s middle name will be Happy.
Our little Happy is due to arrive in about five weeks, but I know that passing on a family name is only the beginning. The reason why Happy Flatt impacted my life so much was because of who he was. He took personal responsibility for the life he wanted to lead and the values he wanted his children to have. He had a servant heart, loved the unlovely and was a good steward with what God gave him. He kept his eyes firmly towards Jesus, ever hopeful of His return. It is therefore now my turn to pass on my family legacy as best as I can, by keeping my eyes on Jesus… slightly nervous He might return 😉