I can only imagine

I sat in my car in front of my house to listen to a song play all the way through to the end this afternoon. I’m a sucker for music. I love all kinds, from Stevie Nicks to Jars of Clay to Renee Fleming to Tim McGraw. This particular song, I Can Only Imagine, punches me in the gut every time. More often than not, I’ll stop what I’m doing to listen to it all the way through. Something about the pureness of longing to stand in front of God, of imagining what that’s like, just gets to me. It fills my heart and puts a smile on my face to imagine that kind of fullness of spirit and what it will be like to stand in His presence. All in all, ace song writing.

I had a hell of a time last night and it set me back for a while today. My brother, of all individuals, found me on Facebook. Anyone who’s read a single post knows boundaries are kind of a thing for me. We didn’t have a whole lot when I was a kid, and though I joke about them often, finding healthy ones has been a good but hard path in my life- one that is still to be continued.

My brother abused me. For years, I couldn’t write that down and I sure as hell didn’t want to recognize it out loud. It was a deep source of shame and embarrassment for me. I felt marred by it- that the healthy people who had come in to my life would some how look at me differently or that I was less than because of it. I’m better about it now. It’s a fact of life. Saying it is still kind of like ripping the bandaid off- I never know who will look at me like I’m a puppy who’s just been kicked. Most have compassion and grace and know it doesn’t define me. The ones who get the kicked puppy look normally don’t last all too long, anyway.

I still can’t find it in me to record the details. As much as I write- which is everyday in some form or fashion- I have never written down the memories of those moments. Not of what happened, not of telling my grandmother, not of the years of hell with my mother that followed. I find myself compelled to think about it when he forces his way back in momentarily, but I can’t bring myself to go back through the process to get it out. I’ve read enough books to know that forgiveness is key. I’ve made peace with the fact that it happened and he is who he is. I still have work to do on the forgiveness part. Seeing his face pop up last night infuriated me, brought me to tears, and made me sick to my stomach in one fell swoop. I’d like to believe that forgiveness would ease those reactions, but they’re so visceral I find it hard to be true.

When I saw him at my grandfather’s funeral in January, those same feelings were present. As he followed me through the funeral home to try to speak to me I thought my knees were going to buckle underneath me. Thank God for my best friend. She flew across the country to be with me that day, informed him in no uncertain terms to stay the hell away from me like only a southern woman can, and held me up- literally and figuratively that day. His presence sends my nerves through the roof, and I think that’s warranted. No one should have to continually be exposed to the man who abused them repeatedly.

He does not affect my daily life, mainly because I’ve made my life three thousand miles away from the dysfunction the rest of my family stews in. I knew from a very young age that leaving California was the only way I was not only going to survive, but going to make any kind of real, healthy life for myself. When my mother called me up halfway through my college career and told me my brother was moving from our hometown in Indiana to California to live with her, I knew for certain that I wouldn’t ever return to her home again. I haven’t, and I made peace with that a long time ago, too.

What I cannot understand is my brother’s need to reach out. I’ve made my boundary clear. You lost your privileges as my family and as a human being who deserves to be in my life. You are not welcome to my presence or to know anything about my life or the people I choose to make my family. You will not know my friends, my significant others, or my children when I have them. I made these boundaries abundantly clear to my family as well when I didn’t speak to them for nearly two years after they violated them. I cannot possibly shout them any louder. And yet, here we are, again. I thought he’d have learned in January at the funeral when he quite literally got a door slammed in his face by my best friend. I guess it takes his kind a little longer to figure these things out.

And then I go back to God and remember that he does not give us more than we can handle. I cannot claim to understand why the things that happened when I was growing up had to take place. I cried last night and I cursed a lot. I got on my knees and asked God why and begged him to help relieve the feeling of brokenness that came back so suddenly. I deleted a lot of texts I wanted to send my mother. I remembered that regardless of how she acts, I’m responsible for the way I treat people and I have a duty to stay faithful to my boundaries, but also to my faith. We argued, but I wasn’t ugly or hateful. I stood up for myself without tearing the man who abused me down. I simply said no. And today I sat in my car after work and had four quiet minutes alone in my life three thousand miles away from it all, being reminded of the life I’ve chosen in faith in God and happiness and health. The feeling of brokenness has subsided again.

These are the moments to write down and remember. My life has had hard moments, but I have done so much more than just survive it. I am so blessed, and so lucky to have had the opportunity to forge my own path a half a world away from the people and the things that brought so much harm and devastation when I was younger. I am blessed with a remarkable chosen family and wonderful friends who do not see me differently because of the life I endured growing up- they simply see that I was strong and wise to leave it. I am blessed to have a loving Heavenly Father who shows me clarity in the smallest moments and reminds me that I am anything but broken.

Sometimes taking a small step back can help you take a bigger step forward. God is always listening, and always preparing you for lessons. You just have to be ready to receive them.

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