In Remembrance of Tim

Tim picture

My uncle has died. Tim Lawrence, date of birth June 5, 1968; date of death January 8, 2016. Length of life: much, much too short.

This post will be honest, potentially shocking, and I hope, not harmful to any survivors who will read it. It may be triggering, as all posts on this blog have the potential to be.

Writing about someone’s death is always difficult. I have not known what to say about Tim. And there are things I know I am not supposed to say. Things confided to me by him that shattered my heart when I learned them. He knew about my blog, and he said that he wanted to read it, but it was just too hard.

“One of the horrifying things I discovered as I grew more and more comfortable sharing my history was that an unfortunately large number of people also had similar experiences. It is a brotherhood and sisterhood that no one wants to belong to but which has an uncountable number of members.” Callen Harty, Empty Playground: A Survivor’s Story.

Then this morning, in my Instagram feed, this amazing painting showed up. I immediately liked the painting, but then I read the caption. The caption said, “Ladies and gentlemen: My new friend Tim. This one is mine and named Tim in honor of a friend gone from this earth too soon.” (Quote and painting used with permission.)

Tim Painting

I knew it was time to write about Tim. The painting was done by my friend, Stacey Oldfield. I have known Stacey for as long as I can remember. When we were little, there was almost an alarming resemblance between us. Tim lived in my grandparents’ house two doors down from my house and Stacey lived across the street from my grandparents. So, she too, probably has known my uncle for as long as she can remember.

When I was first born, apparently, we did not live down the street from my grandparents. Tim used to love to tell the story of being able to ride his bike to my parents’ house to see me after I was born He was so proud of that. He was proud that he got to see me, his first niece, and he was proud of the independence he had riding his bike all that way. It was probably no more than 10 blocks, but it was a big deal for him in many ways.

Tim grew up in a house filled with pain. It was a house of smoke and mirrors. What people on the outside saw was either a trick or something disproportionate to the reality hidden behind the front door.

And that is exactly what the ringleaders, my father and grandparents, wanted people to see. Everyone in those two houses were conditioned to be quiet, to hide pain, and to make everything look like it was okay. I do not know for certain that my grandparents were child molesters. I do know that they encouraged silence and always stood with my father.

All of the kids raised between those two houses are talented. We are smart, we are funny, we are creative, and we can keep secrets. We were a child molester’s dream.

Until we were unable to keep the secrets anymore. Then we became the child molester’s nightmare.

Tim suffered from depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and unresolved trauma. And yet, he always tried so hard to be positive. He tried to let the people he loved know that he loved them. He wasn’t perfect, but he was kind and thoughtful, even if he sometimes lacked follow through.

He struggled so hard to overcome the messages of worthlessness he received from far too many people. I don’t know the kind of things my father might have said to him in person, but I know what my father said behind Tim’s back. Since my father didn’t shy away from telling people what he thought of them, I can only begin to imagine the types of hurtful, horrible things my father said to Tim’s face.

Tim tried to outlive the pain and shame that were laid at his feet. Those things never belonged to him, but were put on him by someone else. He couldn’t shake the terror, the fear, the desperation of trying to keep someone else’s secret.

And he wasn’t alone in that, but the isolation was too much. It is hard to name our darkest shame because we fear no one will believe us. We struggle to name the unthinkable, and all the while, we’re struggling against the voices in our head that tell us we’re just a piece of shit no one cares about and won’t listen to anyway. It is an astronomically hard battle.

And some of us never win it.

Tim fought as hard as he could to overcome all that held him back, but it was too much for him. I hope in death he is released from the hell he lived through on earth. I hope he is calm and at peace. Even more than that, though, I hope he is free.

God Does Not Want You To Be In Pain

“God has a plan.”

“Let go, let God.”

“Leave it in God’s hands.”

“God never gives you more than you can handle.”

These phrases, and so many more, make me feel…twitchy. I know that most people mean well when they say things like this. But in my reality, none of them, not a single one, is helpful. Most of them have done me much more harm than good.

I think I started going to church when I was about seven. At the time, my father had not yet done anything that most people would have considered abusive, I was certainly being groomed. My father would watch me in the bathtub. There were no locks on either the bedroom or the bathroom doors. My father dominated my world.

And I started going to church and heard the message that god the father loved me and ruled over my life. God saw everything and god had a plan for my life.

My young mind had no frame of reference to understand that god was somehow different from my father. And the way god was presented to me, there was no difference between my father and god. There was not supposed to be a difference.

My father used his power and position to control me. He had a plan for me. It just worked to his advantage that the church was giving me the same message. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. I know men and women who have been abused by priests, teachers, school administrators, family members, and sometimes family members who are members of the clergy. I think we all got this message. God was eerily similar to our abusers. And we were not encouraged to question our abusers or how god was being presented.

God became the divine child abuser. Everything that happened to us was from god. God had a plan for us. God gave us this burden and also ordained that god’s own son suffered and was crucified.

If I stay on that point and think it through, I get more than a little anxious. God, in his majesty and infinite wisdom, came to a young woman and impregnated her. (In abuse circles, there is another word for this kind of interaction. Most people would call it rape. There were many traditions of the time in which stories of gods coming down and raping young women were common.) The young woman has the child, and he grows up and is sinless and perfect.

So, then god in god’s infinite wisdom and as part of his plan, sets the stage for his son, his flesh and blood, to be killed. The reason for this? To allow god to forgive humankind it’s sins. That way, god can continue to love his people.

Does anybody see a flaw in this logic?

I gobbled this information up like candy. God loved me, but had given everything to me, including my father and the abuse he was inflicting on me. God had planned his son’s death and planned my pain.

With this type of thinking going on inside my head, it is still a bit of a mystery why I got into seminary. I think I went primarily because I had questions to ask and I wanted answers. God wasn’t talking to me, but I hoped one of my learned professors would have an answer. They didn’t. I asked. I talked to them privately. I asked questions in class I’m pretty sure many of them wished I hadn’t. But they listened. Some listened more intently than others, but none of them ever dismissed me.

As Jennifer described in her post “My God is a Messy God,” my god is also a messy god. Most days, I think my god is just a mess.

Even though I do not go to church now, some of my greatest supporters and friends are part of the church. I met with one of them recently. He always says that he’s rooting for me. He has always believed in me. At our last meeting, he told me I was fierce. He said that all I really needed to do was survive the abuse, but I’ve done so much more. He said I listen to other survivors and try to teach others how to spot abuse and how to stop it. He said I never give up.

For me, that is where god is. God is in the struggle. God is with us as we struggle to survive and in moments when we overcome. God is in the surviving and rejoices when we thrive.

God does not want us to suffer. God doesn’t give us these struggles. Life gives us struggles and god is the cheerleader encouraging us to go on when it seems too hard and painful.

I have always felt that heaven and hell are right here and now. It all depends on how we treat each other and ourselves. It is a goal to strive for and something to live through.

We all have scars and pain, but not because god wants us to. God wants us to be well and happy, respectful of others and ourselves, always striving for the inclusion of everyone.

People may be sacrificed in life by other people, but for me, god cannot be behind that. I hope you have found supporters in your life like I have. I hope you know that god did not cause your pain. Your pain was caused by a selfish person who had no thought of anyone but him or herself. The pain was also probably continued by people trapped in a system that doesn’t know how to deal with abuse realistically. It is not your fault.

I hope you have found some peace and healing. If you haven’t found it yet, please keep looking and searching. You deserve it. You are not alone.

Birds of Sorrow