Before and After, Ending and Beginning

Just a few days ago–on Friday–we had our first snow of the year. EJ and I took Danny outside at about 11:30 p.m. and we had fun playing with the snow and the flashlights I had recently bought from Amazon. The flashlights only cost $8, but they are very powerful. We can make the beam very big so it lights up a large area or we can make it very small and focused so we can light up a long distance. We can use the narrow beam as a pointer to point out stars in the sky, we can light up the tops of the trees, and I often point the light at the edge of the forest to see if I see eyes of animals or other strange beasts watching me. So far, nothing. On Friday night, EJ and I pointed our flashlights straight up and watched the snow showering down on us from the sky. It was fun.

Saturday morning when I woke up, it was snowing hard. I took my camera and walked out into it. It was magical–like being in a snow globe. It made me feel like dancing in the snow. I took photos and this video:

JJ kind of freaked out about the weather because he had to go to work and he is inexperienced at driving in snow. I told him that he’s going to have to get used to it because this snow is nothing compared to what’s coming. Everyone tells us that our area really gets snow dumped on it. EJ’s co-workers told him it would be a really good idea to pack a sleeping bag and change of clothes in his vehicle during the winter in case there’s a snowstorm and he can’t make it home. I passed that info on to JJ and he said, “Are you serious??? I’m not sure I want to live here anymore!” I said, “Well, it’s a little late now!”

The snow motivated EJ and me into going out in the garage to look for our winter boots. We have been so busy either working on the driveway or going to the old house that we haven’t had time to unpack all the boxes. I thought I had at least gotten all the clothes unpacked, but I found a box of my clothes, a box of EJ’s clothes, and a box or two of coats. It was kind of fun unpacking the boxes and rediscovering clothes I had forgotten about. I spent several hours washing the clothes and coats and hats and mittens–not only because they had been sitting in the garage for several months, but also because I wanted to kill any spiders that might have decided to hide in them. Oh, and I also found the boots.

As we sorted through the boxes, we got EJ’s garage a little bit more organized. There is a lot to do, but we can work on it little by little. I also made a comfy “house” for the outside cats on a bottom shelf. I draped an old blanket over the shelf above so that it hung down front and back, and over that I draped a large carpet remnant from JJ’s old bedroom downstate, curling it onto the bottom shelf so the cats could lay on it. Over that I draped a mat that the treadmill used to set on.  On top of the carpet remnant on the bottom shelf I put an old carharts coat, and then a blanket on top of that to provide a bed for the cats. The cats now have an enclosed little house that is pretty well insulated. EJ suggested we put a heating pad in there when the days get colder.

The weather warmed up and the temperatures reached into the 60s today. A thunderstorm moved in about the time EJ had to leave for work this evening. I took a video–well, actually, several–of the lightning and rain and clouds. I captured a few streaks and flashes of lightning in this last one:

Yesterday I came across an article at FB entitled, “How Each Personality Type Responds To Nature.” If you recall my delight in nature and the wildlife that wanders through our land, and my longing to find peace and refreshment in our Enchanted Forest, then you will recognize that this description about INFJs described me exactly:

INFJs often feel a deep connection to nature. They enjoy the purity of wildlife and enjoy immersing themselves in it. An INFJ might enjoy the idea of living in the countryside and being able to experience some peace and quiet. There is something very relaxing and rejuvenating about nature for the INFJ. Being surrounded by nature can truly help the INFJ connect with their intuition on a deeper level. Letting go of all the harsh surroundings and just enjoying what the world has to offer. They enjoy the innocence and whimsical feeling of being surrounded by nature. Something about being encircled by wildlife makes the INFJ feel balanced and at peace.

That explains why I was so desperate and relieved to move up north. I think that mid-Michigan is pretty with its fields and farmlands, but I love wild forests and lakes best. Mid-Michigan had become a “harsh” place for us with our experiences of abusive people, and difficult workplaces, and battles with illness. I felt hungry to look out my window and see something other than houses and to look up into a night sky that is not dimmed by light pollution. My spirit has felt so dry that I needed to move to an area where I could be refreshed. Everyday we thank God for bringing us north.

This morning EJ went with me to the ophthalmologist’s office so I could order my glasses. I know the way, but besides the fact that EJ and I enjoy spending time together, he went with me in case there was a problem with our insurance. We were unable to order my new glass at my first appointment because there was no record of EJ having vision insurance. The next time we went to the office to order my glasses, the receptionist found that EJ was covered, but not that I was. This time the computers were down. I sighed, thinking I’d have to leave without my glasses ordered yet again. However, the receptionist took down all the measurements and information and said she’d complete the order when she was in the main office in the Emerald City this afternoon. My new glasses should arrive in a week or two. Yay!

The drive to and from the ophthalmologist was breathtaking. Click, click, click went my camera. I think that the normal camera setting doesn’t bring out the beautiful colors so I used the “Super Vivid” setting. However, I thought that setting made the colors too garish. It’s hard to photograph the colors of the leaves as they really are. On the way home, we stopped at a store. While EJ got gas, I ran in the store to grab two gallons of milk. My spirits sunk when I saw only one checkout lane open, and the woman ahead of me had a cart overflowing with groceries. I was so astounded when the cashier said to the customer, “Would you mind continuing to unload your cart while I go to the other cash register and ring this lady (me) out?” I have let people go ahead of me when they had fewer groceries than I did, and I have had people let me go ahead of them, but I’ve never had a cashier do what this one did. I think the people are truly amazing up here.

On the way to and from the ophthalmologist’s office, EJ and I talked, as we always do when we drive anywhere. The following is sort of what we talked about, with a few explanations for your benefit:

We have encountered many toxic people–not just family, but also friends. You don’t choose your family, of course, but you do choose your friends, so why would anyone choose toxic friends? You can read more details about emotional abuse and my own story here. However, to sum up, I will say that the thing about emotional abusers such as narcissists is that they are very insidious. They can appear to be very charming and loving to outsiders while they are abusing their victims. That’s so if the victim ever speaks up, no one will believe that such a charming, loving person could ever be abusive, and they will believe that the victim is the one who is abusive, unstable, unloving, and unforgiving. Therefore, the victim becomes victimized many times over: by the abuser and by all those who support him in accusing her. Also, through skillful manipulation, the abuser can “groom” the victim to accept abuse by eroding her confidence and identity so that she believes that she really is the awful abusive, unstable, unloving, and unforgiving person she is accused of being. Emotional abusers are described in the Bible in verses such as Psalms 55:22:

What he said sounded smoother than butter, but his heart was at war. His words seemed more soothing than oil, but in fact they were sharp swords.

Emotional abusers specifically target people who are very moral, compassionate, and forgiving because those people will try hard to salvage a relationship, especially if they think they are responsible–in whole or in part– for its failure. Abusers, like any predator, go where their “prey” is, and since Christians are taught to put others first, to love unconditionally, and to forgive without question, many abusers can be found in places like churches. The Bible also warned about this when it described wolves in sheep’s clothing.

In addition, victims tend to encounter multiple abusers because 1. either they grew up in an abusive family and never learned to set healthy boundaries, or 2. their boundaries were undermined and eroded by abusers. Part of recovery involves the victim learning to set boundaries and to say “No.”

Most abusers don't look like this.
Most abusers don’t look like this.

I share all this to explain that we have encountered many toxic people in our lives–not just family, but also friends. None of them look as if they would be toxic. They have not looked like scary criminals or drug addicts or psychopaths in movies. They are parents, teachers, pastors, deacons, church members, farmers, or anyone. You can’t tell from the beginning that these people are emotionally abusive and it’s only when we have invested time and love into a relationship that we have finally uncovered that this deacon is manipulative and deceptive, or that friend who says he is a Christian uses people and has little integrity, or that pastor is extremely controlling and abusive, or that co-worker friend whom we’ve helped move twice is jealous and tried to get EJ fired and also said that if society fell apart he would first steal from us. I’m not making this stuff up. Some experts say that personality disorders such as Narcissism is increasing to epidemic levels, which actually verifies what 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says.

Moreover, understand this: in the Last Days will come trying times. People will be self-loving, money-loving, proud, arrogant, insulting, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, uncontrolled, brutal, hateful of good, traitorous, headstrong, swollen with conceit, loving pleasure rather than God, as they retain the outer form of religion but deny its power. Stay away from these people!

I don’t really understand why people have so much trouble believing these types of people exist when God says they do. And notice the Bible also says to stay away from them.

There are moments or experiences in life that I have used as a sort of Before and After or an Ending and Beginning. Moving up North is our Before and After and our Ending and Beginning. Before, we were ignorant of abuse, but After we experienced it, we learned to recognize and understand it, we struggled and battled it, and we grew from it. All through our lives, God has used every difficult, painful, heartbreaking experience to teach us something important. Each encounter with an abusive person has taught us many deep and important truths about concepts such as abuse, love, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. Each encounter has taught us about who we are and about healthy boundaries as well.

Still, abuse causes damage and there are a lot of entanglements for us downstate. If you haven’t experienced abuse, then you probably are unaware that places can trigger memories–of either happier times or painful times that now cause pain. And every time you go to a store, you find yourself scanning the crowd (even if you try not to) and planning what you will do if you encounter an abusive person. And if you do encounter them, it causes you anguish. There are friends who remain in your life, who you care about, but who constantly disregard boundaries or use every opportunity to take advantage of you.

Before there were toxic people in our lives. Moving up North was the Ending of our tolerance of such behaviors. We decided that we will set boundaries, we will not accept toxic friendships–old or new–up here. Some people have not been given our new phone numbers, our new emails, or our address. Others have become very limited friends. The Enchanted Forest is the Beginning of our healing, it will be our sanctuary.

EJ and I discussed these things on the way home from the ophthalmologist today. I remembered an awesome teaching from Ethics of the Fathers, ethical teachings found in the Talmud. I had studied these teachings with my Israeli friend and JJ and I studied The Book of Jewish Values, based largely on Ethics of the Fathers, in homeschool several years ago. We found them to be very practical and thought-provoking. We learned things such as that the Biblical command “Do not steal” doesn’t just mean don’t steal a person’s money or possessions, but also don’t steal his time or knowledge. For example, asking a store salesman for information about a product while actually planning to buy it from another store is stealing the salesman time and knowledge–because in taking his time by asking him about a product you have no intention of buying from him, you are preventing him from earning a commission from customers who would buy the product from him. You are actually stealing his living from him. We also learned that we should “judge all men (people) favorably.” For example, if you know a person is always honest, but one day appears to not be telling the truth, assume that you might not have all the facts and give him the benefit of the doubt. Don’t quickly assume he’s a liar. However, “Don’t associate with a bad neighbor.” In other words, if someone habitually lies, that’s not a one-time thing, that’s a serious character flaw. He’s a liar so don’t associate with him. Very practical.

Anyway, on the way home, I told EJ that I remembered an ethical teaching by an ancient Jewish sage named Hillel. I could remember only part of it, so I googled it when I got home.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14)

The quote was part of an article called, “Me, Myself, and I.” My post is getting a bit too long, so you can click on the link to read the whole teaching, but the author explained that the first part of the quote–If I am not for myself, who will be for me?–has to do with the struggle with identity, which is something that abuse victims struggle with. There’s a difference between our true self and the “self” that comes from others, the author wrote. The idea is that only by breaking away from the external forces that operate upon our “selves” can we hope to come to our true “selves.” This has to do with knowing who we are, and being who we are, which, really, also involves setting healthy boundaries.

I understand the second part–But if I am only for myself, who am I?–as meaning that after we have “discovered and learned to express our identity and individuality we need to take the next step and bring it out into the world to others. Each of us has something unique to contribute and no one else can bring it into the world.”

The third part–If not now, when?–means that we have to begin to put these things into practice. Not later, but now.

This is all very important to abuse victims because in an abusive family, there is a “group think” type of relationship. The abuser(s) is in control, and everyone has to think the same, believe the same, act the same, or say–or not say–the things the abuser tells them to. So in a very real sense, a victim loses her identity to the abuser who presses HIS (or her) thoughts, beliefs, actions, and words onto her. The person who resists is guilted, shamed, smeared, or otherwise punished. A victim has to be very strong, she has to be for herself enough to fight to break free, to value herself, to have her own thoughts and beliefs and actions and words, and to set boundaries.

At the same time, as EJ and I have seen, there are so many people who are only for themselves. They always seek the advantage, they are willing to lie or steal if it benefits them, they will betray friendships, they use people until they use them all up…and then they find someone else to use. If we are only for ourselves, I think we become the people described in 2 Timothy 3, which I quoted above.

So we have to be for ourselves, but also for others. And that is a vital thing to understand.

One Comment on “Before and After, Ending and Beginning

  1. So true and beautiful said, and the journey is daily, so we just stay on the page of today and offer the best we can for each other, thanks TJ


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