The brightly wrapped Christmas box contained the best thing I thought I had ever made. It was a plaster mold of my six-year-old hand. Spray painted gold and topped with a loop of the same red ribbon that held the package together, I could hardly wait to offer this special gift of myself to my mother at my first-grade Christmas party. I imagined the sheer delight on her face when she would finally unwrap the box and discover the wonderful surprise I had made especially for her.
The day of the party arrived. I could hardly contain my excitement when my mother walked into my classroom with my baby sister and five-year-old brother. At the end of the party, I excitedly gave my mother her present, which our teacher instructed was to be opened at home. Looking preoccupied and stressed, she took my present and quickly handed it to my brother who had been demanding to carry it home. I begged her not to let him carry it. I told her that if he dropped it her present would break, but she would not give in to my pleading.
The block-long walk to our home was agonizing as my brother repeatedly dropped my mother’s gift. Each time he dropped it, through teary eyes, I would beg my mother to let me carry it. Each time I begged her, she would get irritated and insist that my brother carry it: and the golden hand inside the box became more and more fragmented with each fall. When we got home, I grabbed the box from my brother, brought it to the kitchen table and opened it. There, where I had placed a single, solid offering of my love, were hundreds of shattered golden plaster pieces surrounded by fine white powder.
Annoyed with my crying, my mother kept telling me that it would be okay, that she could glue my golden hand back together, but I knew that the damage was irreparable, and I knew that I could not trust my mother with things that were close to my heart.
Although I don’t remember her telling me that she loved me, I somehow knew she did and that she would provide for me physically, but I also knew that she was not a safe place when it came to my emotional needs. Growing up in deprivation herself, having an abusive husband, raising a family in a country where she barely knew the language, and living with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, all contributed to my mother not being emotionally available to me.
Because my mother did not take responsibility for her brokenness, I became the responsible one. Always sensing that life was hard for her and not wanting to make it harder, I retreated into myself and tried not to make waves. I kept my desperate longing to be loved and affirmed by her so locked up that I could never verbalize it. My feelings were kept tightly sealed inside so that I wouldn’t have to be continually disappointed when they were not acknowledged or, worse yet, ridiculed. I lacked a secure attachment to her or anyone else, which meant that my sense of being was severely compromised.
Frank Lake says:
Many of us were fortunate enough to be given the security of our mother’s and then our father’s continual presence to support our being until it became so much a part of us that we could say I-my-self in such a way that we could carry our mother’s spirit and our father’s strength about in us (Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer. By Leanne Payne Page 111).
My mother’s spirit—and for that matter, my father’s strength—was not available to me, and so I was at a grave disadvantage in discovering who I was as a person. I had very little I-my-self. As an adult this resulted in the lack of a solid self-identity, very poor emotional boundaries and unbearable feelings of loneliness. When I married Cris, I thought that he could tell me who I was, and that I would find my identity in being his wife. But he was as desperate as I was, and so we only became sources of deeper wounding to the other.
Although I had accepted the Lord at age fourteen and had real experiences of His love, I felt as if part of me was not yet fully alive. Keeping me from receiving a sense of being from the Lord was the fear that I would be betraying my mother if I admitted that she was not there for me as a child. I didn’t want to dishonor her; after all, she had suffered so much already.
Everything changed for me when, at a Pastoral Care Ministry conference, I heard my brother Mario say that the truth is never dishonoring. What a thought: I needed to be honest about how my mother wounded me so that I could eventually honor her with forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness was part of the plan, but first I needed to stand up and acknowledge my need to be parented by the Lord. I needed to receive His Spirit and His strength so that I could have a solid I-my-self: a solid sense of being.
The actual sense of being prayer that I received at the PCM was uneventful. I could not feel anything at all while I was being prayed for, but when we ask our Heavenly Father for something as precious to Him as our sense of being, our pleading falls on deeply compassionate ears.
Soon after being prayed for, I began to sense the Father’s song over me. To my surprise, when I closed my eyes it would often be audible. I felt that this song was calling me into being, telling me who I was and making me feel that I had a place in this world that was ordained just for me. This song also gave me a strong sense of safety in the Father’s care. How amazing! I had never felt safe before. In that place of safety, I felt His call for me to abide in His love: to be connected to him like a branch is to a vine.
Totally dependent on the Father’s love and provision, I felt safe to ask for the things I needed in this world without guilt, and I discovered that it is a child’s job to ask. This ability to ask was essential for all the healing I was yet to receive in Living Waters, for it is when we ask that we receive. Safe with leaders who had discovered how to give out of the grace they had received, Living Waters was the place where I discovered that God’s people are an extension of His love and provision.
When I was a child, I had a recurrent nightmare of holding my mother’s hand in a dark house as she allowed herself to be abused. There I would be, terrified and defenseless to do anything. At the PCM, the Lord reminded me of that dream and asked me to let go of her hand and to walk into the light of day. As I imagined walking out of that dark place that I so often saw in my nightmares, I found Him outside waiting for me. In the bright sunshine, he grabbed my then little-girl hand with joy and said, “Come, I have some great things to show you.” Indeed, my hand has been more than safe in His, and I have grown to trust that He treasures every part of me.