God's Brave Women - Teresa's Story
The moment he told me he was leaving, I faced my most-feared scenario.
I was the abandoned spouse in a marriage that had disguised itself as loving and God-centered. On the outside, all appeared churchy and fine. But in truth, the foundation of God had been replaced with rage, addiction and fear. I had stuck it out, thinking I should. And now I felt embarrassed because I was the one left behind.
Amidst the emotional, verbal and borderline physical abuse, I hid who I really was. I allowed my greatest desires and dreams to become stupid thoughts that inconvenienced others. I stifled my gifts of discernment and wisdom, falling for the lie that I was just paranoid and weird. I shut my mouth, fearing that my truthful words would bring me great punishment. I put aside ministry and leadership because I believed that my imperfections were so shameful, and I could be exposed. The hiding became my normal, something I relied on for stability. I could always depend on fear and shame to show up.
You would think I was finally free from this dysfunctional relationship when he chose to leave, yet I still wanted reconciliation. Yes, for the sake of redemption. Yes, because I believe – and still believe – that no one is too far from God to be healed and made new. But I also know it was for the sake of my own codependence. I was not sure I could face life independently, and it crushed me.
My greatest fears became a reality. As a follower of Jesus, I had painted a picture of what life should look like for me. I can tell you that it didn’t include abuse, abandonment, divorce and a complete identity crisis. I often asked God why He would allow this to happen? And why He would seemingly not help reconcile the marriage? He didn’t resolve the situation how I expected, but in this greatest disappointment I was healed. The crisis led to my freedom and allowed me to become myself… again. It gave me a courage I never knew existed. Christ-empowered courage.
"The crisis led to my freedom and allowed me to become myself… again. It gave me a courage I never knew existed. Christ-empowered courage."
No, I didn’t put on a cheery face, constantly quote happy scriptures or appear strong. I was weak and unsure and sad in most moments. The thought of living by myself, and liking myself, made me sick to my stomach. I cried a lot, sometimes only having the strength to lift a hand to Heaven to express my need. Family and friends had to encourage me to get out of bed and eat one bite or do one productive thing for the day. My first step of protecting myself (closing a bank account) was quite the event. It included one phone call to mom for support, two stops on the side of the road to catch my breath, and one trip to Culvers for a milkshake in an attempt to avoid the task at hand.
But it got done. I took the first step towards independence and self-protection.
And each successful step forward untangled myself from this dysfunctional scenario, giving me the strength to take the next action. I became unshackled from this relationship that had robbed me of my identity and filled my mind with lies. At every unsure moment, I stood at a crossroads: Chains or freedom? Continue to hide my desires or pursue my dreams? Live fearfully or live bravely? Make others happy or please God? Sacrifice myself or let myself be rescued by the Savior? Hide from others’ anger or confront it with boldness? Follow my heartache or follow His direction? The more truth He showed me, the freer I became, and the freer I became, the more I could forgive the offenses. I believe I couldn’t have reached a point of genuine forgiveness for my former husband until I fully believed these truths about relationships, especially my relationship with myself:
I am worthy of love and respect.
God made me with unique gifts and desires to be utilized, not hidden.
Relationships don’t require me to lose my sense of self.
Self-care is not selfish.
I am not needy. I am independent and free to receive and give love.
My “no” is not a sign of disrespect or lack of love.
Unconditional love is good, but love requires truth.
Forgiveness and character growth expectations can coincide. Forgiving is not letting the other off the hook for their character growth.
Abuse is never warranted.
I am not the cause of another’s addiction.
Setting a healthy boundary expresses love in a relationship.
I am not responsible for the outcome of loving and truthful confrontation.
These new beliefs helped me become my true self, but they required me to lean into God and draw courage from Him. Even now, when co-dependent and fearful thoughts come to my mind, I continue to draw upon His truth for strength and freedom. I can look back at this situation and other moments… when the worst really did happen, when the threat came true, when I “made” someone angry… and then I see. Facing reality with God as my stronghold crushes the power of fear.
"Facing reality with God as my stronghold crushes the power of fear."
Becoming and loving myself again has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And then one day I met the man God sent to walk in redemption with me, like when Ruth met her Boaz. Still in the early stages of my self-recovery, I never thought to give him a shot because he was too nice, too good-looking, too tall, too strong, too helpful, too faith-filled, too well-employed. Definitely too good for me. I felt like I had to stick with lower standards and deny myself a good partner because that was what I deserved. Those were moments when I began to forget my worth and freedom.
But he chose to pursue me and continued to do so even as more of my brokenness came to the surface. I once again found myself at a crossroads. Turn him away out of fear or embrace what was given to me? Keep the bar lowered orlet God set the standard?
Armed with truth and strength from God, I chose the better path. I chose to be freely me and freely loved.
Teresa Lockwood is follower of Christ, wife, mother and foster parent. She lives in Central Illinois with her husband and children. Through music, teaching, counseling and writing, her life’s passion is to communicate loving truth and share hope with all people. If you’d like to read more of her writing, follow her on her blog @https://hopeonhighground.wordpress.com