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Breaking Up Concrete

Today, 2015, I Love Jesus. I understand and know his love for me more than I ever have in my life. I experience the presence of Jesus, personally, in my life every day as he provides my strength and my courage and my hope. He shows himself to be a faithful friend indeed. Jesus is the friend of sinners. I have experienced this in so many ways over so many years.

And if you asked me today what I believe is the most important and the very highest priority of life my answer would be different today than in years past. Today I believe the most important and wonderful thing we have to do in this life is to know and understand and love others, know and understand and love ourselves and know and understand and love God. We are to love God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, all of our strength and all of our soul! And we are to love others as we love ourselves. And I believe this will be our primary work when we get to heaven.

But I have not always known Jesus’ love or experienced his love or believed that knowing Jesus and knowing others and knowing myself was important. I have had to work hard at knowing and understanding this, and living this.

My wife once described my life as she observed it. She believes the effect of abuse in my early life was like placing a heavy layer of concrete over my heart and mind; over my entire life really. And the work I did in the years of healing went a long way toward blasting that concrete into smaller pieces and removing it from my heart. But the blasting took much longer than just the years I spent in organized formal healing therapy. In her loving and careful way my wife has expressed the reality that, like a broken dish, the cracks in my foundation may never completely heal. But with God’s help I can learn to be a good life manager and learn to live a full life even though the cracks may always be there.

The very fabric of my heart was stained from the abuse and the lies of my father. The washing and cleaning of my heart has taken most of my life. It is possible for me even to this today to suddenly realize I have just been living the last few weeks or days of my life under the subtle influence of some early mistreatment or lie. And then I will finally sense the presence of the poison and have to break up more concrete and cry my way back out of some dark place back to the light of life. The great part is that once I realize what is happening I know I can do the work to get out of that place.

These experiences may be categorized as spiritual warfare, the normal on-going struggle of living a life with Christ and fighting back against the effects of our mortal enemy. But at times it is more than just struggling with normal day to day battles. Sometimes I realize the quiet presence of steely cold fingers tightening their grip around my neck and cutting off my ability to breathe freely again. And I have to fight back. What I do is immerse myself in the truth of the love of my Jesus. I have to get to sections of His word firmly in my mind. I have to choose to immerse my mind in his love. I search out music that describes his love and care or his splendor and glory and power and hide myself away in quiet solitude. I stay there waiting until his precious love and magnificence gives me the strength of heart to break back through the cold concrete and warms my heart. I wait until He reminds me of his love and faithfulness again. Joy returns and with it strength, wondrous strength and peace that defy any circumstance.

This has been a fight of mine for years. In earlier years my fight was focused on getting myself to understand that God was not my mortal enemy. That was actually a huge battle for me because of what my father repeatedly taught us as children. I had to learn that the Lord is in fact a faithful friend, a friend who was working wonders in my life before I ever knew he was there, and who has not stopped doing good continually for me. I had to fight to understand that God was not going to crush me or annihilate me or turn me into a grease spot. Now these battles seldom surface anymore. I see this as amazing proof of how far the Lord has brought me in my healing.

Later the fight turned to focus on the truth of God’s love for me, his desire to have a close, intimate relationship with me. This fight included things like believing he was not standing next to me ready to clobber me when I made a mistake. And the fight included my learning to believe that he was not condemning me at my points of greatest weakness.

I had to learn that God was near to me and desired me to turn to him in my weakness and failure; learn not to hide from him. I mean if things were going good and I was rolling along pretty well feeling safe and secure in my relationship with God, I did not want to admit when I would come upon some confusion or difficulty, or heart pain, or that I may have made a mistake. Then I would have to break through more concrete and work at getting back to the place of knowing and being assured again that nothing I could do would cause God to turn away from me and abandon me.

Part of the breaking of concrete includes breaking through shame.

Do you remember in other blogs we’ve said that guilt is what we fill when we have done something wrong, but shame is the feeling that we are wrong and bad?

Part of this work involves me rushing into a flurry of activity to pore over the Holy Scriptures to find passages to remind me and reassure me of who God is. And that he still loves me. When I feel that sense of shame coming over me I want to do something about it. For some of us the shame triggers cause us to even feel things in our bodies . . . dry mouthed, heart racing, heat rising up in our faces. Or for some of you it’s a sense of dread or dirtiness or helplessness. Or a myriad of other things that are our reminders that we are feeling as if we ourselves are bad. And we really do need to find ways to fight against this and regain our sense that we are valuable people.

The breaking up of concrete in my life has meant continuing to work on overcoming the dynamics of abuse, even after the main abuse has been resolved in formal therapy. The fabric of my soul is so saturated with the effects of early abuse that it simply takes on-going work that presents itself at the oddest moments. For me, often the latest round of work only becomes obvious after the battle has subsided and I get in touch with the emotion of what I have just been through . . . again. Then I break down in tears again, strength returns and I come back out fighting the good fight to hold onto the truth even stronger, standing up against the lies in my soul.

You know I sometimes liken the challenge of healing from long-term abuse like that of healing from a difficult cancer surgery. At the moment the surgeon comes out to the waiting room and says the cancer has been removed is almost when the healing really begins. And the person has to recover from the procedure itself but all the atrophy of muscle and tissue, the loss of strength and coordination and the return of normal body weight and function. Sometimes it takes a very long time. And that can happen for victims of abuse, too. Our main therapy for the biggest issues is indeed a triumph of will and of bravery to face all the issues, but it is like a cancer being removed. The person has SO much ground to recover after all the years of loss of the normal activities they never did.

Victims of abuse and other trauma, whether physical or emotional, carry with them the feeling of fear that we feel within our bodies as a tight wire of hyper-vigilance.

As a child, whenever I was going about my business in a normal manner and in the moment, I was most vulnerable. I say this because you would think that in the going about of your normal daily activities you would feel pretty safe. Whenever my father found me in one of those moments, he invariably found reason to find fault and punish me. Of course this was my perception, as the one being abused. I think my father had so little skill in relationship building that the only thing he felt comfortable doing was being in the one-up role of instructor, coach and critiquer. My father had no sense of what it meant to nurture and praise and respect a child for the good things he was doing along his journey.

The closest positive analogy I have of my father is that of a drill sergeant. I think my father almost had that perception of his role with us. He thought if he ever let up on his string of abuse and criticism that we would lose the motivation to keep doing things well. My father had so little sense of the normal motivations of a child’s heart it’s just astounding to me, even now. What my father ended up doing in my life was crushing my heart. Nothing that made me happy was really mine or safe around him. Everything I valued was subject to confiscation or destruction. Maybe the drill sergeant analogy is a pretty apt one.

I went to the store by myself when I was five years old because a ring in the five-cent machine had caught my eye. (Today it would be a dollar or more). I helped myself to a nickel out of my mother’s purse and walked over to the store by myself. When I returned home my mother and father were just heading out the back door to come find me. I had no idea this would be a problem. They had already begun asking me to go shopping for them when they needed something. It seemed a natural thing for me to do . . . go to the store. It was only four blocks away. So what if I was only 5 years old. But my father took the ring and crushed it under his foot while I stood and watched, then gave me a beating. Thankfully for me at that age he was still only beating us with his leather strap instead of the oak mattock handle.

I brought this feeling of impending doom that went along with my father crushing us in soul, body and spirit with me into early adolescence and into my teen years. If ever I felt that I was a little bit secure and on the right track, either I did something to sabotage myself or circumstances set me back. When I was seven years old my father told me to shine his shoes. I plunged myself into this task with my normal intensity and frantic furry. But I hit upon some confusion. I could not tell if his shoes were black or brown. I looked at them and looked at them. I literally agonized over this issue for 30 minutes, knowing if I took much longer I would get beaten for not having his shoes shined in time. In my confusion I could not ask for help. God forbid I would draw any kind of negative attention to myself! Abused children simply cannot risk this!

So I finally decided the shoes were black and I polished them with black shoe polish. Problem! They were not brown or black. They were some unique color I had never heard of and they were to be polished with the clear polish. Oh but I did not know clear polish existed! I had never seen clear polish. No one told me there was clear polish. But I got beaten anyway because I polished the shoes with the wrong polish. I dug the hole in my heart to hide away even deeper.

For me, my life was a feeling that when things are going okay, I must be especially careful to not mess it up. I have to be more watchful of anything that might derail me. I learned to focus on the things that might go wrong rather than living in the moment of things going right. It felt way too risky to enjoy the small pleasures of the moment because to let my guard down risked me getting hurt even worse. And this vigilance is easy to bring forward into your adult life even after your abuse. Well, unless you break up some concrete!

Many who have been abused or brutalized carry with them similar effects. Some call it a nagging stressful anxiety while others call it a hopelessness or despair. Some are paralyzed by it; others choose to face it with courage. But to even attempt to go from the paralysis takes great acts of courage!

For those who face their abuse with courage, there is hope. But the effects of abuse have to be faced again and again. More concrete appears and must be jack-hammered away. There is much concrete and very little sun shining into the heart initially. Eventually more and more sun gets through as the concrete is broken up. Here is what some of the concrete consists of:

Void of Trust - As abused children we were hurt by others who destroyed our trust and took from us childhood’s most precious gift—innocence. If you struggle to define trust then try to define the opposite of trust . . . If you live in “Normal Land” that may be hard for you to do. It may sound like some mental exercise or a game. But for the abused person the opposite of trust would be the visceral feeling abused children carry in their soul. They can’t define it, they can’t talk about it, but it just is!

As a very young boy I was so upset one day wanting my mother and she was not available to me. As usual! I tried everything I could to get her attention. Still failing I flung myself down under the staircase to hide, and hope for her attention; the magical thinking of a little boy. When at last my mother found me under the stairs, as she approached, I stormed out the back door of our house because I was overcome with the hurt and loneliness of having been left so long under that stairwell. I announced ‘I’m leaving this place!” My mother followed me grabbed me and spanked me and told me I was going nowhere. My mother didn’t stop that day to find out what was going on in a little boy’s heart that would make him say he wanted to leave his home.

Perhaps that would have been fine if she had remained with me for even five minutes just to connect with her little boy, but she was off again nowhere to be found. I was left again with no safe harbor in the storm and no assurance within my heart that anyone would ever be there when I needed someone. To date I have no idea how often I have replayed this conflict out in my life of needing someone in some situation but not being able to trust they will be there, not being able to reach out for help. I pretty much go it alone in life. Perhaps I still have big chunks of concrete to break through that lay over parts of my heart keeping it locked in darkness. Sometimes I grow tired of finding just one more chuck of concrete that has to be demolished in order to just live a normal life.

Silence - As abused children we were coerced to be a part of the conspiracy that entrapped us in the abuse, and hid it from those who could help us. We were silenced by force. The last thing we would dream of doing is reaching out for help from someone who could actually help. Isn’t that sad? My father mocked the very people we would think to reach out to (police, teachers, other adults) thereby ensuring we would not think of them as a resource in our time of need. The concrete over this part of our heart seems to grow back even thicker as we try to use the sledge hammer in this section of concrete, and requires re-breaking again and again. Shame grows best in silence and healing comes from telling our stories in a safe place.

Hyper Compassion - As abused children many of us have within our hearts a complete aversion to harming others, for the golden rule is emblazoned on our hearts by the abusive parent as they live out a double standard right before our eyes. We never want anyone to feel what we felt. And when we do lash out, we are appalled at ourselves and want never to do it again. The sad thing is some of us have become comfortable with the language of the abuser and we have to work hard to get their vocabulary out of our language because their actions are NOT in our hearts! But we carry the guilt of our transgressions and are less forgiving of ourselves than we are of those who abused us. Doesn’t that seem an incredible shame? We have been brutalized sometimes but we end up taking out our broken emotions on ourselves.

Because we will not willfully harm another, we are often seen as weak. Others often lord it over us or take advantage of us. But I know many of you are fully aware that anyone can hurt and badger and abuse smaller, younger, and more vulnerable people. That is NO sign of strength. There is a Proverb that says “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” You can see from this that God puts a very high priority on controlling ourselves. God doesn’t just say it isn’t weak, he says it is a bigger deal than capturing a city. Anybody compare your self-controlled, loving behavior to that of being a mighty general in its impact? Well God does…

On the playground at the grade school I used to stand against the outside of the brick building at the point where two walls come together. I would press myself into the corner and watch the children play. It felt safe for a few moments and assured that no one would come up behind me or blind side me with pain. My teachers thought I was shy. It never crossed my mind to say anything. I thought all the children felt the same way I felt. What I was then was a child who had just had the stuffing knocked out of him when it came to confidence. Can you imagine trying to keep the average kid from having something to say? Well, we abused kids did not have that privilege. My hope for many of you is that you have gained your voice as an adult, or are in the process of doing that right now…

Powerless - As abused children we can feel powerless because we are kept powerless by a system of false beliefs that we’ve accepted as truth. These beliefs may be imposed on us by others; they are born of our fears and self-condemnation; they have the potential of keeping us small and helpless. Concrete of this type permeates and covers every inch of our heart.

Warzone - As abused children we were born into a warzone, whether it was a household in Middle America, a shanty in India, a warzone in Asia or a brothel in Indonesia. We did not choose the abuse, the disease, the bombs or to be kidnapped and sexually abused. Others outside our control heaped it upon us. We had no choice where we were born but born we were. Instead of a loving, caring, nurturing environment—something all people must have to be healthy and happy—we were born into misery and despair.

False Expectations - Those who harmed you cannot heal you. Yet this is the justice that we long for in our souls: to be suddenly loved by those who abused us. We hold onto that hope. This is what we did as children. We forgave and forgave, always in the hope that this time, we would do the “right thing” to please our abuser so that we would be welcome and the abuse would stop.

When we were little children perhaps at times things got better for a while or at least the abuse subsided temporarily. Then we get our hopes up that finally we had done whatever manner of atonement required to be forgiven of what we knew not, so that we could be received with love and care and safety. If in our perception this happened, such times were short-lived. The abuse would resume with a vengeance, so we always lived with our guard up. The attacks would often seem so random, so we were always on edge.

Yet we kept going back to our abuser, hoping to be forgiven, hoping to be loved. We knew no different. It’s what children do. We sought our healing through their acceptance. For most of us, that acceptance has never come.

With enough healing work, and concrete blasting we gain the wisdom to realize that the acceptance will never come, and that this is a death that we have to accept, the death of a relationship. When we hold onto it, we are holding onto a corpse. There was never any life in our relationship with our abuser. We were asking for souls in the soulless. Perhaps we are finally able to grieve this death.

Our abuser cannot heal us. They are only capable of harm. We do not have to put ourselves in range of their fiery darts. We couldn’t be free from them when we were children, but we can be free from them now! They will do harm to us as long as they have breath in their lungs. They can be fathers, mothers, pimps, ex-spouses, former molesters, even siblings.

When we turn our backs on them, they will attack us with guilt and obligation. But we’ve never been malicious. We are guilty of nothing. To heal, we must walk away from them and no longer allow them to harm us.

We may take huge losses in doing so. I have taken mine, and it was the greatest loss of my life. I know the pain of malice from those that stayed in the abuse, and of malice that follows you. I am the worst of the worst of evil according to my extended family and my entire family still living in the cult compound truly believe this. I took my tremendous loss and moved towards healing. For to not take the loss, and to still bleed from it, I would never have healed. It was a hard step, but a critical one for me. And it is a critical step for all of you on your journey of healing.

We can choose to bleed from emotional wounds. Or we can choose to not be wounded any more. As abused children, now adults, we have to reach that place where we seek our healing over and above all things, including relationships with those who continue to abuse us. We must choose to no longer go to have our wounds tended by those who wounded us.

So I break more concrete. I had been working my way into the kingdom, or at least attempting to for far too long. I could not believe God would just love me as I am. How could I believe that? My father did not! So I had to be sufficient within myself. Why would I dare show up in front of God without being fully sufficient!? How could I ever dare to show up in front of God with any weakness!! Weaknesses are crushed by those with power! We live our lives believing any sign of weakness means we will be exploited.

As abused children, we were taught that we were not worthy of love, or that love was something that had to be earned. We learned that love was something that could come and go. What we were taught of love by those who abused us was that our desperate need for it was a means of control, and it always led to pain.

If love is something that has to be earned, and can be given and taken away, it is no wonder that we have so much difficulty in our relationships with people and with God. If we are in a relationship with someone who truly loves us, there is always the fear that we can lose that love. For so many of us, this insecurity harms the relationship. How many times can our partner reassure us? Logically, we know that we are loved, but emotionally, the fear of loss of love is so deeply ingrained, that it overrides our logic and sabotages our relationships.

More concrete to break up!

True love cannot be earned. It just is. There is no prerequisite, and no conditions. Conditional love is not love at all. God loves me unconditionally and I will break up as much concrete as necessary to finally get this wonderful truth through to the depths of my heart.

Perhaps contrary to common understanding you cannot be in a place to receive true love until you truly love yourself. If you do not love yourself, you have no basis for loving another. It is the lack of self-love that can destroy even those relationships where you are loved unconditionally. The Lord tells us to love others as we love ourselves. That can look very ugly until finally enough concrete has been broken and the light finally shines through to your heart!

Mark Phelps

This post first appeared on My Journey Of Healing, please read the originial post: here

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Breaking Up Concrete


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