An aptly named post, I think, as it’s beginning to feel like a soap opera over here. I just need a guy named Dirk to move in next door, and my neighbors across the street to start throwing down outside. But, hey, we did have SWAT and about ten officers armed to the teeth on our block last July. There was a domestic disturbance that turned into a hostage situation. There were two officers with automatic weapons sitting on the picnic table in my backyard, and our entire block was in lockdown. My youngest daughter was terrified. To cope, she practiced throwing herself to the ground repeatedly should she hear gunfire. We had to put her to bed tout de suite once that started. Does that count as dramatic and soap opera-esque? That sort of thing just doesn’t happen around here!
This blog is really about flourishing no matter what your life looks like. I am not a fan of viewing life through the lens of survival. Sure, there are moments in life when it becomes necessary to survive, but then one must expand from there. I don’t want to survive my borderline mother. I want to flourish in spite of her. I don’t want to survive sexual abuse or any other kind of abuse. I want to flourish even though that’s in my history. So, I talk about my daily experiences and run-ins with very difficult people, namely my mother right now, because there are others who are trying to survive difficult people. How is it done? I can only speak for myself. Each person’s experience will no doubt look differently, but I can say that I have learned to progress and even thrive in my life in spite of very difficult people. It can be done.
That being said, my mother has decided that she does not want to go away. I am not enjoying this. In 2005, she began her disappearing act. For adult children of borderline parents, the toxic dance between their borderline parent and themselves can become very normal. There’s a predictable rhythm that we hate but expect. My hatred for this ceaseless back and forth overtook me, and I walked away from the dance by simply asking one question: “What would happen if I just stopped calling her?” I realized that I was the person that kept that relationship going. In that way, my mother behaved like the Waif or the Hermit. Although my mother fits the Queen archetype more, she has a strong tendency to isolate herself. She does not cultivate friendship with anyone. She only leaves her house to do errands. She calls no one. She seeks relationship with no one. She would prefer not to work. She hasn’t always been like this, but she has become more hermit-like as she has aged. I decided that I didn’t like being treated so rudely so, against all my better instincts, I stopped phoning her. She never called me again. For years. This was what caused the beginning of the end of our relationship. I just didn’t call her.
In a healthy relationship, when one person doesn’t call the other, a person usually picks up the phone and says, ‘Hey! How are you? I haven’t heard from you so I thought I would give you a call.” This is a very normal thing to do. To my mother, however, my refusing to call her represented abandonment. It’s akin to a narcissistic injury. When injured so deeply, borderlines must do something about it. Historically, my mother holds the relationship hostage. When we lived together, she would usually retreat to her bedroom and refuse to interact with me unless it involved raging. She had to restore the power dynamic which meant that I was subservient, kissing the ring as it were, and she was in complete control of the relationship. I had to feel as lonely and isolated as she felt. It’s the definition of relational sadism. Unfortunately, her ploy only served my purposes this time because I finally saw the truth. She truly had a personality disorder, and I was experiencing a life without her oppressive behavior and presence. She held her ground until 2010. She actually refused to call me until 2010. That’s a long time to hold a relationship hostage.
Oh, there were letters in between 2005 and 2010, and they were full of invective and character denigration. She even showed up at my house uninvited one Christmas morning. That was a treat, but she never once made an attempt at being relational on her own. No phone calls. No discussions. No accountability.
Something has, however, clicked in her brain, and she is after me. I have received three letters and two emails. Last weekend, my husband received a text from my mother’s husband that essentially read, “Christian people forgive and let others learn from their mistakes. Open up the lines of communication.” I wanted my husband to text back, “Parents don’t harass their children. Colossians 3:17” I find it terribly odd that they are now playing the God card. My stepfather is a failed Catholic who has never once behaved in a way that indicates he cares about faith, God, or adhering to any sort of moral code. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to people who aren’t trying to separate religion from faith–the Ought from genuine relationship with God. He is from a huge family, and he hates most of his siblings. He leans towards embittered. My first instinct when people like this attempt to manipulate me into doing their bidding with religion is to remind them that they have their own forgiveness work to do. Go home. Deal with your own siblings and parents. Make peace with your sons. Don’t come here and “should” me into bending the knee to your demands when you have a mess to clean up in your own domain.
The God card is ever popular today particularly in America. My mother might believe in God and even claim to be a Christian. I am not going to judge the state of that relationship. What comes to mind, however, is Ted Bundy’s final interview in prison. He claimed to have a powerful conversion experience in prison. He might have. Would I want to hang out with him, an admitted serial killer? Honestly, no.
I used to volunteer at a rehabilitation center that worked solely with men. This recovery center was viewed by the courts as a sort of last-resort-before-prison option. Many guys opted to go there instead of prison, and it was a strict place. It was a religious environment, and, while I wasn’t a fan of some of the fundamental beliefs backing the center, I liked working with the guys. I led small groups and did a few presentations there. I got to know a lot of the guys on a personal level, and I was not offended by most of them or their stories. They were from very rough homes with few advantages. You do what you have to do to get by. I understood. There was, however, one story that bothered me. Immensely. His name was Sam. Sam had a powerful conversion experience at the center one night. He was an addict. In his words, he was a bad person. Then, as he was eating a cheeseburger, something extremely powerful but entirely loving fell upon him, and he fell out of his chair. He felt his body fill and become hot. He described feeling powerfully loved in such a way that he began weeping, and his desire for drugs left him in that moment. That is not the part of his story that bothers me. I’ve known people including myself who have had powerful encounters with the Spirit of God which have brought almost miraculous healing to otherwise immovable hurts in their lives. What bothers me is another part of his story.
One night, Sam shared that he had taken part in a crime against a woman. He was with a group of guys involved in a breaking and entering, and a woman caught them in the act. The guys, looking for a fix, robbed her as well, and then decided to rape her. Sam did not rape her, but he stuck around to watch. He didn’t stop his friends, defend the woman, or intervene in any way. He just watched this woman get gang raped while he smoked a cigarette. He told me this privately. I think he told me this privately because he knew that I had experienced an assault. He wanted me, on behalf of this woman, to forgive him, but the way he told his story felt odd to me. While he seemed to regret it, he didn’t seem to have remorse. There seemed to be a disconnect. I felt very weird sitting alone with Sam while he recounted the tale of the night of the gang rape. How on earth could I ever explain to him that what he did NOT do had changed this woman’s life forever? Sure, he found Jesus, but I couldn’t grant him absolution. He needed to deal with his own passivity as well as any deeper issues he might have with women as a gender. This wasn’t a small thing. What he did, or rather did not do, was a big deal. Can he just play the God card now? “I found Jesus. Shouldn’t I be off the hook for that now?”
The leadership of the group I worked with grew to love Sam because he had a powerful story. He could relate to the guys that came into the recovery center. His story offered them hope. I, however, watched how he treated the few women that were there. It’s one thing to be respectful to a woman of good standing like myself, but what about a woman who isn’t viewed as untouchable? There was another woman who worked with our group, and I loved her. She had a very rough past much like the guys who were going through the recovery center. She loved God passionately, but she didn’t look the part. Do you know what I mean? Typically, godly women wear dresses or pantsuits, have coiffed hair, marry, and bear children. This is the stereotype. There’s just no getting away from it. Dana, however, rode a Harley! She wore leather chaps and a do-rag. She was free with her smiles and familiar with all the guys. They loved her. I thought she was awesome. We became fast friends, and I soon learned that she spent her young life in foster homes where she was sexually abused by every foster-father and foster-brother she ever knew. She was also divorced. She had an affair. Deep down, she hated herself. She thought she was a pariah. She also thought that she deserved it. She just wanted to make a difference in someone’s life so she volunteered with addicts and, as a nurse, she volunteered with the homeless offering them free medical care. I thought Dana was an incredible woman. Sam didn’t think so. He called her ‘damaged’ as if he had a leg to stand on. I was well-liked by all the religious folks because I was married with four kids! I looked the part. I was white and blonde. I drove a minivan. I knew how to pray out loud. Secretly, I wished I could let loose and shed my good girl image, and I felt very protective of Dana. I saw how Sam and the other men in leadership looked at her as if she were trashy. She was divorced. Sinner! She rides a hog and wears leather! Harlot! Where’s her God card?
She was eventually crucified for telling the truth albeit in a very insensitive way and kicked out of the ministry, and Sam spearheaded the effort. Once again, he stood by and watched a woman get treated very badly and did nothing. To his benefit. Dana called me in hysterics after she was taken before the ministry team–all men. She was called a ‘Jezebel’ among other things. Sam also called me and asked if I might think of returning to the ministry. I declined. God cards were played again. Something about Christians are called to spread the Gospel, and there’s a need at the center. Did Sam and the rest of the men on the team spread the Gospel with Dana? He hung up on me when I asked him that.
This is the great problem with playing the God card, and if you are from a family where religion has played a role, then be prepared. The God card will be played more than once. The problem with the God card is that God never plays it. Only humans. God does not should us or ought us into playing a part. We are not shamed into compliance by God. Humans do that. We are not told that “good Christians” do such and such so we better fall in line with the family way. We better return to that ministry or that job if we know what’s good for us because God would have us be good Christians. That is entirely a human manipulation.
God desires truth. There can be absolutely no growth or healing if we are kowtowing to a broken system or perpetuating a twisted mindset. It doesn’t matter if the person who is manipulating you has had the highest of spiritual experiences or not. Some of the worst displays of manipulation I’ve seen have been in the ministry setting. I’ve seen God step in and heal extremely broken people guilty of horrible crimes, but that redemption doesn’t mean that those people are free of the process of accountability and making amends. God’s redemption just means that those people are now finally capable of entering into that process and making it mean something. They can finally move forward whereas, in the past, they were perpetually stuck or even regressing. With God’s powerful presence in their lives, recidivism is drastically diminished. This is true for all of us in some ways. We want to move forward rather than regress. For victims of abuse or people who hail from dysfunctional families where religion is part of the culture, the God card will be played when someone speaks up much like in the latest text from my stepfather. Try to enforce a boundary and see what happens.
The most favorite God card to play is the Forgiveness Card–“Good Christians forgive.” The Christian world is terribly confused about forgiveness. If I were a banker, I could forgive your debt if you declared bankruptcy. It doesn’t mean that I have to lend to you again. It’s the same premise in relationships. I can forgive even the worst of crimes. It doesn’t mean I will ever be in a relationship with you again. This is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. So, the real question should be: “Is it possible for us to reconcile?” Some crimes are too weighty and consequential to consider reconciliation. There’s a reason Ted Bundy received the death penalty. Even if he did find Jesus in prison, his crimes were too serious. He had to make amends, and the justice system decided that the only way for him to do that was by giving up his life. Whether you are for or against the death penalty is immaterial here. The premise holds. Bundy himself admitted in his final interview that he deserved his punishment. He wanted to make amends for his crimes, but he had peace because he finally felt worthwhile as a person. It wasn’t up to other people to give him that sense of worth. Only God could him that.
I couldn’t grant Sam absolution for his crime against that woman, and, because Sam really never did his work around that event, he repeated the behavior when he threw Dana under the bus with the ministry leadership. Just because people claim to love God doesn’t mean it’s reflected in their behavior and their treatment of others. The God card is a ploy. It’s a way to deflect personal responsibility and manipulate others.
It needs to be thrown out because that person’s deck is fixed to their advantage. They need to draw a new hand and learn a new way to relate to others. And, I suspect they need to hear the Gospel again as well because if God isn’t playing the God card, then neither should they.