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Faith Over Fear

11 Apr

When you decide to take the road less traveled, it often means voting against the family party line. Basically if you are dealing with a narcissist, you are playing a game you can never win, so you might as well give up and go home. Fear and rejection are the bottom lines for most ACONs—Adult Children of Narcissists. I was invited to join such a group this week and my mind is still reeling from the humanity.

I used to think a narcissist was a slick dude who wore fancy clothes and looked in the mirror a lot, but I leaned narcissism is actually a spectrum and we all have a bit of ego. The problem comes when people become obsessed with the survival of the fittest mentality and selfishly try to harm and control other people.

Talk about emotional carnage. The survivors of narcissistic abuse are spread across the wasteland of the dysfunctional family landscape and the picture is devastating. Narcissistic family members never own their mistakes; they play the victim and make you their scapegoat. They will stop speaking to you and spend their energy trying to convince the rest of your family that you are evil, wrong or bad. And sometimes they will manipulate their flying monkeys into bashing you as well. Over and over I heard nearly the same story with few variations.


There are narcissists who want to control their adult children’s money, narcissists who don’t want their adult child to get married or fall in love, narcissists who want to control what their children believe about God–even religious narcissists who need to prove themselves right all the time. One woman even took out a full page newspaper ad to discredit her daughter.  Some people not only suck the life out the room, but they spend hours promoting fear because they want their children to be as miserable as they are.

When I hear people discussing their narcissistic parents, I can often see their issues clearly and I feel like yelling for them to forget about their parents and move on, then I am reminded of all the stuff that’s stifled my own progress. Fear lies at the heart of it all.

After my trip through the twilight zone of dysfunction, I watched some refreshing DVDs* by a couple of Christian doctors (one a psychiatrist) that discusses the statistics and health related results of childhood abuse and neglect.

If you have ever been taunted for speaking of the pain in your past, if you have ever been told it’s all in your head, then these DVDs will blow your mind. But don’t bother to share it with your narcissist; they don’t care how much they hurt you, they just want you to shut up.

The bad news is the fear circuits are increased in people who were neglected and abused in childhood. The results can cause poor health emotionally, physically and spiritually. The good news is that dwelling on a loving God can calm these circuits. That’s why I write this blog. I have experienced peace from knowing God is love.  I believe there are thousands of ACONs who can benefit from knowing this, but first we will need to dispel the lies they’ve been told.

How can people trust God when their parents beat them in the name of God? Who can trust a God who will burn you alive forever if you don’t comply with his wishes? When you grow up with narcissistic parents and the church gives  you a picture of God that looks like a narcissistic father, what is there to draw you to God?

The lie that God is like a narcissistic parent who wants to coerce us has been fed to millions of Christians, but it’s far from the truth. God’s love is revealed in Jesus who was self-sacrificing and other-centered. This is the model healthy parents emulate and the God we can trust.

Like the prodigal’s father, God asks no questions, has no expectations and never asks us to meet his selfish needs. He simply comes running to meet us the minute we turn our hearts toward him. But he patiently waits until we turn toward him because he respects our choices. Then he comes to us with arms wide open in acceptance and love.

If you are an ACON and you have trouble trusting God, I don’t blame you. The church has been teaching lies about God for centuries, but you can examine the evidence for yourself. For starters check out Genesis 3:1-10 where Adam first said he was afraid. His fear came after the snake lied to Eve about God. God has never changed, but the human family has continued to listen to lies about God for centuries. We’ve lost our connection with God and that’s why we’ve all been afraid at some time.

Science now reports that focusing on prayer and a loving God can heal us from our fears, but one Bible writer (who knew Jesus in person) put it this way 2000 years ago—”Perfect love casts out fear.”

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.
If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment,
and this shows that we have not fully
experienced his perfect love.
-1 John 4:18

Here is a mantra to remind yourself  when fear is sucking you dry–

Faith Over Fear

If you are still unsure about God–even if you only have a little bit of faith, Jesus says that’s enough. May God’s peace come to you!

*You can get a free copy of some great DVDs about healing the mind here.

Healing the Mind Seminar


Here are a couple articles about the effects of abuse–

 Childhood Maltreatment Can Leave Scars In The Brain

The Invisible Epidemic: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Memory and the Brain

Not the Critic Who Counts

6 Apr

After a four month hiatus, I’ve opened my blog up. I’m still working on some projects–both writing and art, but I missed sharing with my friends.

During my time off, I had time to think about those who criticize others. Many people who grew up in dysfunctional families have been criticized all their lives to the point they feel they can do nothing right. When that’s the case, we need to realize critics are insecure people who are so full of fear, they need to tear down someone else. On this topic, Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly has been very helpful and inspired some of my art. I thought I’d share with you.



While I was gone, I was published in a couple places. My most recent project has been publishing the delightful love letters of my great grandparents which were lying in a trunk for a century. It is available in both paperback and kindle. You can check out Love letters 1909 here. Enjoy the read!

Keep good boundaries and live in peace,


Until next time,


Love Letters 1909

3 Apr 0d8178ffaf5b7497ca38aef346044c34

A book of authentic love letters from 1909 between my great grandparents.

Hidden in a Trunk for Over a Century
What you are about to read is not fiction, but a real life conversation. This slice of Americana will whisk you away to a simpler time in 1909 where mail takes days and people have time to care about their neighbors. It’s a world where getting the wrong piece of mail might just change your life.

When Estella mails a postcard to an old friend, she hopes for a quick reply. She never dreams it will reach a stranger with the same name. She is a modern girl who prefers to work in town instead of live on the family farm. She enjoys her job as a candy maker for the Kellogg’s company and has a lively social life, but she still spends the occasional evening alone with her black cat. Most of her friends are already married, but Estella is holding out for the right man.

Edwin is a machinist who has little time to look for a wife. He’s been taking care of his mother and sisters since the death of his father, he spends his evenings writing marches and practicing maneuvers with the Michigan National Guard. He is one of best marksmen in the state—a fact his mother finds ironic since he can’t kill a chicken for dinner. When a postcard arrives addressed to a Mr. Edwin Ellis, he realizes it was intended for someone else, but he can’t resist the opportunity to answer it.

Edwin and Estella live in the Progressive Era where the horse and buggy of their childhood will soon be replaced by driving machines. Their letters discuss many topics from healthcare and employment to religion and politics. Ragtime Bands are the pop music of the day. Edwin writes his own marches and plays with his militia marching band. Kodak is providing a new way to preserve memories. Edwin now carries his own camera with him everywhere he goes—taking pictures of whatever or whomever he chooses. Even the breakfast table looks different. The Kellogg brothers have discovered a way to make a flaked cereal that saves housewives time making breakfast.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway 1909
Edwin’s letters describe maneuvers of the Michigan Militia training in the field and a detailed account of the opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where drivers excel at speeds over a shocking seventy miles per hour. But for now, their letters are yet unwritten, and their future hangs in the balance,

Edwin has received a postcard from a girl he has never met. Estella has no idea her card has been received by the wrong man. Is it a twist of fate, or Providence that sent this letter to the wrong address? Will Edwin reveal the truth, or keep the conversation going? Will Estella find his practical joke to be funny? Edwin’s band is playing a love song while the train carries his response from Grand Rapids to Battle Creek. Estella’s heart is beating to its own rhythm as she reaches for the letter because she thinks she recognizes the handwriting.

Go ahead, peek inside their letters. Edwin and Estella will charm each other and win your heart as well.

You can click on the picture to buy it.

Don’t forget to check out Edwin and Estella’s Progressive Era at Love Letters 1909 on Pinterest.



Why Some of Us Were Frozen

22 Mar

Who says Disney movies are for kids? A wise man once said “Rules are for children and stories are for grownups.” The movie Frozen proves this point. We might laugh at the idea of having a super power, but let’s face it, most of us have been frozen at some time in our lives.

Elsa exhibits the common fear of an oldest child. Some say the first born as the practice child who is subjected to the parent’s fears as they are learning to parent. There is a joke about a mother who refused to get dirt on her first baby, she washed it off the second and actually threw her third child into a mud puddle so she could finish her household chores.

Perhaps this joke is not that far fetched. Maybe parenting is progressive. First born children have been said to exhibit more fear than their siblings. Whether this is due to being first and having to make a path in society for the rest to follow or because of over-protective parenting, we might never know, but such fear exists and Elsa in Frozen is the poster child.

Elsa’s fears began with a traumatic incident in early childhood where her sister almost died. It was her special gift that caused her sister’s pain and because of this, Elsa has been asked to control her super power of making ice. She spends her childhood trying to reign it in. The lyrics she sings could be a hymn for many Christians.

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.”

How many relationships might have been saved and compulsive addictions never started if people were allowed to just be themselves. Many Christians grew up wearing a mask. It was considered essential to please other people and make their families or the church look good. But masks never heal, they only harm the wearer. Jesus sees down into all of our dirty, sneaky little hearts and He loves us anyway.

Elsa has been wearing a frozen mask while a storm is brewing inside. She is afraid to unleash, but once she does, there seems to be no way to undo the damage. There comes a time in every life we need to take off our masks and stop trying to be perfect. Healing will never happen until the false image is gone and we can finally be ourselves.

While we don’t have the same type of super powers as Elsa, many of us have been told to keep the family secrets and not to speak truth because it might hurt people. For some of us speaking truth is our super power. And whenever you have any kind of a super power, there is bound to be someone who resents you using it.

Like Elsa, many of us have let it go. Our super powers of telling the truth or whatever they might be seem to be a disaster. Some are hurt by our honesty, others are angry and some don’t want to hear the truth. If we all stopped speaking truth, it would help no one.

At this point many of us have withdrawn like Elsa. We spoke the truth to the people we loved the most and the reaction we got back was hostile. Sometimes it was name calling much like the people in the village calling Elsa evil. When we are attacked for being our honest selves, we need to find a safe place to go. Elsa went to the top of a mountain where she felt like the queen of isolation.

Whether people shun us for using our super powers or we withdraw, like Elsa, we are tempted to isolate. It’s not healthy to be alone, we were created for relationships. When Elsa was all alone and threw everyone out, the shards of ice started to fall in on her too. While it’s true, God promises to never leave us alone, we still need healthy people in our lives. We need to fight the isolation and find healthy community.

I love the fact that Anne did not need a man to save her, but she was able to save herself through other-centered love. This is the deepest truth of all. For Anne to wait for a man to kiss her and save her would be self-centered. When she risked her life to save her sister, she discovered the greatest love of all. God has designed the universe to thrive on the natural law of unselfish love. This is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated at the cross.

There comes a time in every life when we need to stop being the compliant, mask wearing child and start using our super powers for good. The basic concept of this tale is true in the real world–an act of pure love really will save us. It’s only by being honest with ourselves that we can stop waiting for someone else to solve our problems. When we use our freedom to do an act of pure love and risk self to love another, we will find our own healing.

Is It Un-Christian to Go No Contact?

26 Nov

Little Red was stressed. After everything the wolf had done to her and her grandmother he’d only gotten a few months in the slammer. Now he was out of prison and the chances of running into him were greater than they had been for months. Red had forgiven him but she was unsure what to do when he sent an invitation to invite her over for Thanksgiving dinner. Should she go and bring Grandma? Or should she go alone? Or should she do as grandma suggested–throw his invitation into the rubbish heap.

As the shadows fell around the house, Red had an eerie feeling. It was the same creepy feeling she’d had when she was picking flowers on that terrible day. This time Red listened to her heart. For one thing, Mr. Wolf had never apologized for all the trauma he had put her through. Red tossed the invitation into the outhouse, ran inside and locked the door. She would make other plans for Thanksgiving dinner. She’d invite some safe friends over so she and Grandma would not be alone and they would play some parlor games and eat lots of pumpkin pie.


Holidays are a time of huge expectations. If you feel uncomfortable sharing a meal with your family this might be a good time to listen to your heart. Ask yourself why. Is there something that would solve this besides avoiding the family? If you have tried to communicate, but your feelings are ignored and you feel you can’t be yourself, it might be time to go “No contact.”

No contact does not mean you haven’t forgiven. One of the myths about adult children of dysfunctional families is they are bitter and have not forgiven if they are still talking about their pain. I disagree. I would say many people are still in the process of healing and may have trouble moving on because the pain of a broken relationship is like a death in the family. Those who accuse people of not forgiving have either not experienced the betrayal and abandonment of a parent–or they are in denial of their own issues. Sadly, as long as some people are alive they will continue to deny what they’ve done and continue to bully others.

So is it un-christian to go no contact when Jesus tells us to love our enemies? To determine the truth, we need to take into account everything Jesus says. Jesus also said liars are from their father the devil. If we apply the golden rule it’s not Christian to lie, belittle and discount the feelings of other people. Jesus also told his friends to leave a house where they are unwanted and kick the dust from their feet. If we tell the truth and are unwanted even in our father’s house, is it not better to leave than to stay and fight with the family? For some people going no contact is like turning the other cheek and walking away from a fight.

One way to stop being a victim is to stand up for yourself and go no contact. No contact can even be a part of the final stage of grieving for some people. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defines the five emotional stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Many adult children of dysfunctional families have been in denial, bargaining and depression for years. In order to move on we need to express healthy anger for what has happened to us before we can fall into acceptance.

In my own experience, I continued to alternate through cycles of bargaining, denial and sometimes depression. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to feel anger for my loss of a normal childhood and the loss of healthy relationships due to lies in adulthood that I could make a logical decision based on the facts that some people are contributing very little to the relationship. This knowledge used to bring sadness which would cycle me toward depression. When I got in touch with healthy anger, I began to do something constructive with my pain and released it through art, writing and healthier relationships.

Most people raised in dysfunctional families know all too well how unhealthy anger rages and accuses and yells and swings a belt or slams a fist. Healthy anger does none of the above–it simply rises to the occasion by constructive action toward the abusive situation. In many cases healthy anger has spawned charities to change the world around us.

Healthy anger means taking your power back from the people who made you cry in the first place. Healthy anger says, “Thus far and no more.” Healthy anger recognizes it takes two parties to build a relationship and one cannot dictate how the other should feel.

It is healthy anger that calls for no contact. It doesn’t have to be forever, but it needs happen until both parties can find respect for each other. When people are shut out they are not victims, they have several ways they can choose to react—

1. They can ignore the situation

2. They can continue the same lies and behavior

3. They can play the victim and complain to the rest of the family.

4. They can call and ask what they can do to repair the relationship

Relationships are two way streets and the phone goes both ways.

No contact is taking your power back and healthy anger is part of the healing process. This leads us to the last step of the grieving experience–acceptance. Acceptance is the realization we cannot change anyone but ourselves.

In some ways no contact is acceptance. It’s saying “I realize I can’t change you and I accept that we cannot have a healthy relationship and I will fill my life with people who care about me rather than live out a martyr-like existence with you.”

So wherever we are in the process, the sooner we stop bargaining and leave denial, the sooner we get in touch with our healthy anger, the less we will be depressed and the sooner we can accept that yes, we came from a dysfunctional family, but we are taking control of our own lives and we will be okay.

My Least Favorite Things

26 Nov

Here’s a little poem I wrote.
Try to imagine Julie Andrews singing it.

My Least Favorite Things

People who punish as much as they’re able,
Gossip and whining and pride on the table,
Gifts and affection all tied up with strings,
These are a few my least favorite things.

Family secrets and abject denial,
Threatening and judging and people on trial
Sneers and snide comments and yelling that stings
These are a few my least favorite things.

Unwise expectations that I should not tell,
Those who have created their own private hell,
Ostracization and hatred that clings,
These are a few my least favorite things.

When I’m missing family dinners–
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my least favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

-Cherilyn Clough

To Heck With the Waltons

26 Nov

I was once invited to a home where they had little wooden folding chairs which might be made in china for a penny. I’m no skinny-Minnie, so I was concerned about where to sit. There was an older lady present who was larger than me. She sat down on one of the chairs and I followed her lead. We not only ate a meal sitting on these little wooden chopsticks, but we also played a card game. 

Two hours into the feat, the older lady looked at me with fear in her eyes and said in a low raspy voice, “I can’t feel my feet.” I asked why. She said she had locked her knees and was hanging onto the table for dear life. I was about say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Before I could say it, our 90 lb hostess fell to the floor. She landed on top of her chair which now resembled a stack of kindling. We all had a good laugh and then my chair broke and I fell into a box of bread for the food bank that we’d been sorting. Through it all, the poor dear–the largest lady in the room just hung on with all her might to the sides of that table and never fell.

There were expectations in our family to be like the Waltons. That meant we smiled through our pain and pretended we were a happy family. Emotionally, it was like that woman hanging on to the side of the table. People in recovery call this, “white knuckling,” but the problem with white knuckling is you can only do it for so long before you fall.

I am writing this post so you know you’re not alone. There are thousands of people like you who will be white knuckling through holiday dinners. Some will feel depressed afterward, while others will stay home and drown themselves in the temptation of their choice. But the truth is there’s no reason to freak out—it’s just a meal.

What makes all those commercials with happy families so irritating is it feels like they are lying. Many people do NOT have joyful meals with their relatives no matter what time of the year.

All happy families are alike,
but every unhappy family
is unhappy in its own way.
-Leo Tolstoy

Perhaps Tolstoy was on to something. Maybe perfect looking families are run by stepford wives creating the appearance of uniform happiness. I appreciate the fact that unhappy people are honest enough to admit life sucks. As far as I can tell there are three reasons why holiday meals with the family are so painful—expectations, expectations and expectations.

1. Expectations to Have the Best Holiday Ever
You wanna know what killed the American dream? Expectations. And the expectations are even higher if you are the host or hostess, then you need to make sure you have the perfect food on the perfectly set table with the perfect children and the perfect guests so everyone can have a perfectly boring and stressful time. If we could just lower our standards say to “Let’s grab a bite to eat and have fun,” then the holiday meal might mean something. Comparing success notes with each other steals our gratitude and sets us up for failure.

2. Expectations to Get Along with Everyone
It’s not possible. The only people who will have fun this holiday are those who have already been hanging out with their family on a regular basis. Seeing people once a year does not a relationship make–it just sets everyone up for all kinds of rude awakenings.

Not everyone wants to try Aunt Matilda’s homemade bread with slices of peach and green beans in it. I refused it and I am not sure if I was ever forgiven, but at least she is dead now and can’t read this. There are people who will go shopping by dawn’s early light and people who will sleep until the relatives leave. Some people hate Christmas music while others will force their favorite tunes on everyone else.

The biggest problem with such family gatherings is they require a bunch of people to hang out who do not have anything in common except a bloodline. Whoever said blood is thicker than water forgot that thickened blood can cause strokes.

3. Expectations to Pretend Sucky Lives are Great
If you were molested as a child and must now eat dinner and act happy in the presence of the abuser—you have few choices—speak up, leave or numb out. The majority of people will just numb out. It’s also hard to smile if there’s been a family brawl and you are wearing bruises on your heart. Minor details like people who come half way through the meal, get drunk or rudely tell others off ruin the ambiance of the occasion. For some of people, it’s like dinner with the Munsters–but let’s face it, at least the Munsters were funny–and make believe. Most family gatherings make the Munsters look like Thanksgiving on Plum Creek.

It’s hard to pretend you are happy in the middle of a divorce or if you just lost your job. The expectations for people to never share what’s on their hearts is why so many people shun their families during the holidays. Which is weird because sharing our hearts and breaking bread together is what Jesus taught us to do.

Think about Jesus. He was going to be arrested, given an unfair trial and would die within a few hours, yet He didn’t hide his pain. He shared as much as He thought they could take. He knew Judas was going to betray Him, but He still washed Judas’s feet and served him the truth. He served the truth to Peter too. No one ran screaming from the table because Jesus was shared what was on His heart.

To be honest with you, I am not sure how to reconcile with family members who lie about me. Or how to combine our meals and keep the peace between the turkey eaters and the vegans. Or how to have a conversation with people while religious programming blares away on the TV. I love my family and I would love to have holiday dinners with my family, but it’s been a bad run and I don’t see it changing.

Probably the worst part is when people paste smiles on for the new generation and lie through their whipped cream that they’ve never minded dairy or turkey or Amy Grant Christmas music. Yeah, it’s like my former life exists in a time warp that no one can remember but me. But I no longer wish to emulate the Waltons–if we can’t embrace each other with grit and apply a lot of grace, it’s just a waste of time.


Gratitude Manifesto

21 Nov Gratitude-Tree

Worst Thanksgiving Dinner

20 Nov

This is a popular post from last year.

If anyone tries to tell you Thanksgiving is all about the food, don’t believe them. Giving thanks takes us beyond ourselves and turns our thoughts toward our Life-giver. Focusing on the menu makes the holiday about gratification and gratification is the polar opposite of gratitude. I’m not saying we shouldn’t cook up some great gastronomical delights, but it’s important to remember why we are giving thanks in the first place or we might wander off the gratitude track. It’s been over ten years, but I will never forget my worst Thanksgiving dinner and the lessons learned.

After living in another state for several years, my husband and I moved back to the Northwest. We were excited to host Thanksgiving dinner for my family. We eagerly decorated the house with Christmas lights and planned the menu and invited everyone. Of course a lot had changed in the years we were gone.

My parents had raised us to be what I call oscillating vegetarians; we would be vegans for six months then we would go back to eating cheese and milk products, then we went back to being vegan again. In childhood our diet was a constant tottering back and forth, but two things were for certain:

1. My parents never had an egg in their house (because they believed eggs cause cancer).

2. When it came to holiday meals we always broke the vegan rule because many of our holiday favorites contained dairy.

I was still a vegetarian, but two of my siblings had started their own traditions with turkey and decided not to join us that year. I understood their absence because in our family it is really important to not break the rules. There was shame surrounding the eating of a turkey. My brother was the first to break with all our family traditions and when certain family members ate dinner at his house one year they complained how the smell made them sick.

So while we were going to miss two of my siblings, it still looked like we were going to have a good ol’ vegetarian Thanksgiving. We were renting an old farmhouse with a leaking oven and no dishwasher, but my heart soared in anticipation of hosting dinner for my parents and my remaining vegetarian sister.

I got up at five in the morning, the day before Thanksgiving. For those who have never made gluten steaks, let me just say it’s an arduous process. First you make a thick dough out of gluten flour, then you slice it into strips and boil them. After they cool, you bread and fry the “steaks.” Then you sauté lots of onions and mushrooms and add it to sour cream to make a gravy which you pour over the steaks and bake for an hour in the oven until it browns. No, it’s not that healthy, and it’s certainly not gluten free, but that was our signature dish for holiday meals while I was growing up. I am pretty fast at making gluten, but the process takes hours–especially if you are cooking it for a crowd.

Next I made two crusts for the pumpkin pies and added the filling and made ambrosia–all with dairy of course. I made vegetarian stuffing to keep my husband happy, then baked sweet potatoes, cutting them up and spreading butter and brown sugar on them with pineapple tidbits. I washed dishes for what seemed like hours without a dishwasher. The last thing I did was peel and cut up the potatoes. I covered them with water and struggled to find a place for them in the fridge. Finally everything was prepped for the morning. After mopping the floor and putting away the dishes, I sat down to rest my painful feet and aching back. I noticed it was eight o’clock at night. That’s when I called my mom.

She said that she and my dad had been thinking about their diets and had decided to go vegan that year. I didn’t know what to say to her, but what I wanted to say was, “After all these years of oscillating back and forth, can’t you just wait one more day?” It wasn’t like the concept of being a vegan was new to any of us. She went on to explain how she had “experimented” and she and my dad planned to eat her non-dairy gluten steaks. Exhausted from all my hard work, I wanted to cry. I had slaved away all day making food for them, but I knew now they wouldn’t eat it. I felt like her message to me was it didn’t matter how hard I had worked, I would never be good enough.

After she hung up, I didn’t have time to tell my husband because the phone rang again. It was my sister. She said she had decided to go vegan also and that she was bringing a vegan pumpkin pie and vegan potatoes. Her voice faded in and out while I silently screamed in my psyche. Apparently they had been in communication with each other long enough to prepare their vegan food, but neither had the consideration to call their hostess to let her know the menu had changed. I felt all the hard work I had done was unappreciated by them. I knew it wasn’t my cooking, because no one has ever called me a bad cook. When I hung up, all my intentions of having a wonderful dinner with my family evaporated because it felt like they were more concerned with controlling the menu than enjoying a meal with me.

© Rolf Jansson/Licensed from

The next morning, I was still determined to make something my family would eat so I got up early to make homemade dinner rolls.

If only I could go back in time to have a talk with my younger self,

I would ask why her self-esteem was so caught up
in cooking food for her family’s approval. 

As the guests arrived, someone moved my rolls to the top shelf so they could put their casserole in the oven. When the rolls burned, I couldn’t hide my feelings any longer. Tears streamed down my face as I told my family how it hurt because nothing I cooked seemed good enough for them to eat. There was silence for about a minute, then my dad told me to stop being so sensitive before he asked someone to pass him the vegan casserole.

I still have no idea how I got through that meal. When they left, my husband and I went for a walk. He was angry at my parents’ lack of respect. He said he was through having them over to our house and he would not put up with them again. Then I started to cry. I had no other parents to compare them with and I wanted to have a relationship with them. He said they didn’t know what a relationship is. I cried harder and he yelled louder. He said,”No one but your family can make you feel so miserable? Why do you even want spend time with them?”

For years I had been in the habit of defending my parents for everything from their beating me with a belt to not allowing me a high school education. I defended them by saying that he didn’t know what love is. He said yeah? Well I love you, but your family has a noose around our necks and it’s like they are pulling us into the undertow of the river. We both stared at the Columbia River flowing next to us. Then he said it. “I won’t stand by and watch while they abuse you, so you’ll just have to choose between me or your family.” I screamed back that I couldn’t do that. How could he ask me to do that? To emphasize he was serious, he threw his keys into the water.

We had to break down the back door to get inside the house. Thank goodness, I had an extra set of keys. We were both too sad to talk for a while so we sat down in peace with each other. Then we each had a huge piece of pumpkin pie and loaded it up with vanilla ice cream and cool whip. The pie was delicious because that was the day we decided we lived too close to our family for comfort. (You’d think I’d learned my lesson, but before we moved away there would still be the incident where I put an egg in a birthday cake, but that’s a story for another time.)

If anyone ever tries to tell you that Thanksgiving is all about the food, don’t you dare believe them. Sure, some people will try to make it about the food, but it’s really about love, respect and gratitude. Without those ingredients, you might as well be serving cardboard.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink.
-Colossians 2:16

The man who eats everything
must not look down on him who does not,

and the man who does not eat everything
must not condemn the man who does,
for God has accepted him.
-Romans 14:3

What a Child Lives With Will Follow Them

18 Nov

Many people have heard of Brené Brown because of her TED talk on vulnerability. After her TED talk she was devastated by the criticism people posted about her on online forums. None of it was true of course, but the words still hurt. One day, she sent her kids to school and binged on peanut butter and watched Downton Abbey until she ran out of episodes. Then she googled to find out what happened during the Downton Abbey era and came across the famous “Man in the Arena” speech by Theodore Roosevelt. Brown took the words to heart and wrote a wonderful book called Daring Greatly.

For Brené Brown, this peanut butter/Downton binge lasted for one day; but for people like me, such days have been a regular occurrence throughout my adult life. I struggle with the criticism I grew up with–not words from strangers who don’t really know me, but my own parents.

This criticism was not always directed toward me. It was meant for pastors, teachers, grandparents, neighbors and just about anyone. But the negative comments are stuck on a tape playing through my head. Even today, when I remember how my mom made fun of overweight people walking into a store, I am afraid to get out of the car.

For a long time I felt the only way to shut up these voices was to numb out on chocolate. No one has explained this better than Dorothy Law Nolte in her famous poem Children Learn What They Live. “Children who live with criticism learn to condemn.” What the poem doesn’t say is they might learn to condemn themselves. One explanation for obesity is anger turned inward–doing violence to self.


I have been criticized for listening to classical music, Christmas music and Contemporary Christian music. I have been chastised for putting an egg in a birthday cake, serving turkey to the homeless and giving a piece of apple pie to my cousin on Christmas. I have been judged for buying a sofa and giving gifts that seemed frivolous to other people. I have been talked about and criticized because I do not see eye to eye with them about God.

My choice to live out the teachings of Jesus and not ostracize ex-family members because of divorce has caused my parents to talk negatively about me in front of my entire family. When I told the truth, they wrote a letter to the judge to defame me. I was hesitant to speak the truth for years because I didn’t want to hurt them.

I told a friend how they stopped talking to me for four months and I decided to call them because I missed them. He leaned over and gently asked, “What did you miss?” His question haunted me for months while I struggled to find an answer. These last few years have been nothing but miserable whenever I have contact with them because they want control over me–what I write, how I spend my money, how I worship, etc. How different our relationship might be if they could accept me as an individual and let go of their need to fix me or control me.

The main compliment I received from my parents was to be called “thoughtful.” Far into my adult life, I felt responsible for their bills. I was raised to give them whatever was mine–even ignoring my own needs to help them at times. Thoughtful seems to mean meeting their needs, while the flip side–calling me “selfish” happens when I don’t comply with their wishes.

For years, I thought selfish was the worst thing I could be called because it was synonymous with not being a good Christian. I was raised to think there is nothing more selfish than a daughter who does not please her parents, but I was wrong. There is something worse than being called selfish–not being your own God-created self because you are trying to please others.

Because of such judgment and criticism, I have often felt paralyzed in my life. I am a talkative person, but I have often struggled to find my authentic voice when it comes to speaking the truth about what really matters. When you grow up in a family with secrets, you learn to lie because you are forbidden to speak the truth. As I grew older, I was not only discouraged from writing about my childhood, but sometimes even speaking of my childhood among my siblings at a family gathering was considered taboo.


It’s not selfish to tell stories about your childhood. It’s not selfish to cook the way you chose. It’s not selfish to spend your money the way you feel is necessary. It’s not selfish to be yourself even if it goes against the family rules. It’s especially not selfish to follow your conscience or worship the God you have come to know.

Why is it not selfish to live as yourself? God didn’t create us to be an extension of our parent’s personality. Just like God created every snowflake and flower to be unique, He gave us individuality. God intends for us to tell the truth, share our stories and be ourselves.

If you too grew up with criticism and judgment, one way to overcome negative words is to remember the names God calls us. If you are a parent who has shown a critical spirit toward your children, it is never too late to change. Here is a list of God’s names for us. God calls us His beloved–the question for each of us to answer is–will we listen to the voices of the past, or the voice of our Creator?

Listen to the One who created you…
the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.”
-Isaiah 43:1


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