Wandering in the Wilderness; Part 1

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I don’t know how many times I’ve sat through a pastor or study leader condemning the children of Israel for complaining, rebelling, and generally having bad attitudes.

Here they were, being led by God Himself, their clothes were miraculously still nice with no holes; they drank water out of a rock and ate manna and quail in abundance; they were protected from enemies; they were given the Ten Commandments.  It was a time of being alone, as alone as a people can get when they number in the millions, with God.

And, yet, these ingrates complained constantly.  What a bunch of whiners!  Really!  Can you imagine how wonderful it must have been to see their enemies destroyed and to be led day and night by The Lord?  Right there with ya?!

I’ve always cringed and kept silent at those studies.  I relate to those Israelites.  I get it!

half emptyI’ve struggled with the “Wilderness Syndrome” since my parents divorced.  In spite of the other difficulties in my childhood, I still saw my glass as half full.  Sure, my own mother hated me, but I knew my dad and my Nana loved me.  Sure, my grandpa molested me, but my other grandpa was very, very good to me.  He was kind and gentle and loving and taught me how to garden and refinish furniture.  He attended my school functions and provided taxi service to them as well.  Sure, I was hungry and bleeding for years on end.  But, when I was at my grandparents’ house I ate tuna casserole and sausage with toast and strawberries and pie and corn fresh from the stalk, raw and sweet.  I felt trapped in a hell of sorts when left alone with my mother, but I had my books to escape to when the weather was bad.  And, when the weather was good, I could run or ride through the fields and escape to the barn with my animals.  And, there was always September to look forward to when I could start school and be patted on the head and adored by my teacher.

My glass was half full.

I remember knowing that my world, as truly awful as it was, was ending when my dad walked out and took all goodness with him.  He no longer cared, and I would seldom see him.  Now, my grandparents would resent having us because they’d be forced to take us all the fricken time.  We were no longer novelty.  We were responsibility in old age.  The barn, the fields, and the animals were exchanged for concrete and a swimming pool that sat behind a transparent chain link fence.  We were exposed and out in the open.  No more hiding from the world.  School became its own kind of hell in the more populous town.  We subsisted off of Pepsi and pizza morning, noon, and night as the party was always at our house.  Crude, raunchy, drunk adults throwing boxes of pizza at the kids in the pool to keep us out of their way.

My glass was half empty.

And, it’s been half empty ever since.

The Israelites were allowed to get hungry and thirsty before God provided those things they cried for.  And, I know what it’s like to be hungry, thirsty, and crying. And, I have a bit of a hard time with those who are full and happy with pretty little lives who will sit and wag their heads at those ungrateful Israelites.

I know I’m probably way off base and really wrong for siding with the ingrates.  I just do.

Count your blessings they say.  List all of the good things in your life.  Have an attitude of gratitude.  Thankfulness is the key to happiness.  Or, abundance.

Trite little expressions to those wandering in the wilderness.  Those whose water comes from the rock only after they’ve thirsted.  Those whose food rains down from heaven only after they’ve known hunger.

I am grateful for the goodness He’s poured out on me.  I am not knocking the graciousness of God, and I am well aware I don’t deserve His kindnesses. I’m just saying the walk gets long and lonely.  And, I can’t fault those who call it what it is. Those who’ve never wandered would like us to sing Kumbaya and skip through the darkness, looking with anticipation for the light on the other side of the forest. It’s just not that easy.  And, I get that.  I get that the Israelites were displaced, lost, wandering, scared, hungry, thirsty, traumatized, and just wanted to sit down.  The last thing they wanted to do was wander for forty years, without a home, without rest.

I Know What I Want, and It Isn’t You

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The second anniversary of my dissolution decree is coming up next month, and I have not started dating yet.  I think I’m ready.  I just haven’t met anyone.  My friends tell me to try online dating, but I’m very skeptical about the whole thing.

I did casually “meet” a man online.  We both follow a particular group page, and we both jokingly commented on a strand.  After which, he sent me a friend request.  Shortly after that we began texting daily.

It has been fun!  I won’t lie, I’ve looked forward to morning greetings, “Good Morning, Beautiful Lady.”  The attention has been nice.

It seems we have everything in common.  Our goals, belief systems, likes and dislikes, even activities we are both currently actively pursuing….all right in line with each other.

There’s just one little thing.  And, it’s a big thing.

I Facestalked him.  I felt horrible doing it.  I truly did.  I knew I was invading his privacy.  But, we all know that everyone is watching us on Facebook.  Isn’t that part of its allure?  We’re all the stars of our own little shows?  We fool ourselves into thinking that everyone really cares what we’re feeling at any given moment, what our opinion is on yoga pants, and what our dinner looks like.

Some of his friends are, well, they look a bit like prostitutes.  One of his recently added friends is an incredibly sexy young woman from Bangkok who was born the year he graduated high school.  It seems they have no mutual friends and no common interests as far as pages they follow.

He and I are both pro 2nd amendment types.  The pages I follow and like are political and military groups.  The ones he follows are sexy women holding guns and bows.  One supposedly former police officer is a gorgeous Asian woman whose cover photo is her in a skin-tight dress–so tight you can see her butt crack–bent over a sofa and holding a pistol.

The warning signs are flashing all over the screen.

So, with my balloon popped, I took off my rose-colored glasses and started asking him some rather pointed questions.  Why did he get a divorce?  Is he close to his brother?  Was there a custody battle?  What exactly does he do for a living?  I didn’t understand it when he initially told me.

As the last few weeks have unraveled, so has the mystery of who this man is.

He’s been divorced for five years and is still living with his brother, with whom he has nothing in common, because it allows him to not have to work as much.  This is so he can be there for his daughter.

He sent me a picture of camouflage yoga shorts and asked me if I’d wear them if he bought them for me.  And, he indicated that he expects me to work out with him.

I’ll be 50 years old this year and have given birth seven times.  Trust me, no one wants to see me in yoga shorts!

My abuser owned a gym before we met and continued to work out every day of his life.  That was his priority.  And, he used his strength against me to wound me.  He forced me to work out with heavy weights, which caused damage to my body.  Just the other day my 8-year-old asked why my right tibia protrudes so badly.  That injury occurred because I was told I was fat and gross just weeks after giving birth to him.  I was forced to do leg extensions with a ridiculously heavy weight and tore the ligament.  It never healed right.

I have no desire to ever lift weights again.  Especially under the guidance of a man!

I work myself sick, and I don’t advocate it.  I’m sick again right now.  No one should be this exhausted 24/7.  No one should shoulder so many heavy burdens.  But, I do it because I believe my hard work will pay off someday.  I do it because I believe I’m setting a good example for my kids.  There is honor in work of all kinds.

I question a man who says that other men need lessons in good old-fashioned hard work, yet chooses to live in another man’s house so he admittedly doesn’t have to work full-time.

I question a man who says he believes in God and believes women should be treated with respect, yet follows sex laden pages covered in degrading photos.

I’ve learned a lot from meeting this man online.  I’ve learned that I am ready to meet someone.  This being the lone wolf business is getting old.  I’ve learned that I have a very, very long list of nonnegotiables.  And, I’ve learned that, perhaps, online dating isn’t such a bad idea.  People display who they are for the world to see.  If you want to look with your eyes wide open, you can really get to know someone very quickly by observing their online activity.  No more wasting time getting to know someone slowly over months as they hide things masterfully from you.  No more getting emotionally involved only to be let down once the truth comes out.  And, I’ve learned that I know exactly what I want in a man.  And, it isn’t this guy.

50 Shades of Abuse

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The movie Fifty Shades of Gray comes out in a few days, Valentine’s Day weekend.  Valentine’s Day:  The day we celebrate love.  And, that is when Hollywood has chosen to release a movie about control and abuse, the exact opposite of love!  Please do not support the degradation of women by spending money to watch this movie!  Instead, please consider sending that movie money to a ministry that helps women recover after abuse.  This particular ministry helped me pay my bills and buy necessities for my children and myself when I was absolutely destitute, and they have continued to offer friendship and support and gifts of love.  Please click on the link below to find out more!  Thank you!  And, may we all know and witness TRUE LOVE, not our culture’s sick and twisted version of it.

Sometimes I Break

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I rise up and feel strong.  I know I’m a fighter, and I’m grateful for all I’ve been through that has brought me to where I am today.  I feel immense joy when my grandchildren wrap their sweet little arms around my neck, and I experience tremendous contentment just sitting beside one of my many precious friends.

And, then, I drop.  Sometimes I break.  Taking me by surprise, my highs become lows.

My heart has ached all day for my 18-year-old who drove to my house FOUR times yesterday.  He had drill today for the first time since graduating boot camp.  Yet, his father, who he has moved in with, wasn’t home to provide him words of wisdom.  He chose to be gone, with his girlfriend I’m sure, instead of being the sage father our son needed him to be in his moment of insecurity.  It was proof again to me that he only wanted to take our son away from me.  He didn’t really desire to meet any of this young man’s needs.

For all we’ve been through, our son chooses to be there though he must come back here for support.

My daughter justifies my oldest son’s cruelty to me.  I deserve it.  His harsh words about her and their brother….those, those were unnecessary and unfair.  He took it too far when he moved beyond me.  What do I say to that?

Nothing.  I sit and I stare blankly.  I stand and feel faint, nearly falling over.  And, I blame it on not eating and my neck being out.

I see on Facebook that the ex bought himself a new tablet.  My son posted that his dad mispronounced gigabyte and didn’t know what it meant.  But, “at least he’s trying,” said my son.  My daughter liked the post and commented, “LOL!”

When have I ever been excused because at least I’m trying?  Never.  Never in my children’s eyes.  Yet, the man who brutally beat and choked and tried to kill all of us is buying toys for himself and trying, and that’s funny.

They refuse to be involved with my half-brother.  They refuse to forgive my other son’s ex for “crimes” she never committed.  But, I wonder if it’s really my brother and my grandson’s mother whom they hate.  Or, if the real problem is that my brother, though wary of our entire family, calls to check on me.  And, my grandson’s mother includes me as part of her family.

Is it that anyone who loves me must be pushed away?  And, anyone who hates me is to be forgiven and embraced no matter how heinous their behavior?

Sometimes I break under the weight of the burden of my own offspring’s disregard for me and everyone I care about.

I can’t allow myself to go there though.  Really.  I do honestly have the best friends on the planet.  I have three younger children who still need me.  I have two grandchildren who love and need me.  And, I’ve been chatting with a wonderful man.

I’m dancing again.  My love.  My passion.  Moving my body in complete control, out of control, expressing all of my love and my pain and my unutterable emotions through movement.

I’ve nearly paid off all of that awful marital debt.  Forty dollars remain of that $5,500 I was saddled with in the divorce.  A mere forty dollars, and I’m free of nearly all vestiges of a nightmare I lived for sixteen years.

Except for the disdain of my children.  That remains.  That will likely always remain.  And, sometimes I break in spite of the numerous good things in my new free life.

Disaster Preparedness and the Disaster Management Cycle

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I took a First Aid and CPR class last fall.  It was a good class, better than the half a dozen or more that I’ve taken over the years.  My advisor told me the class was required for graduation.  It turned out it wasn’t, but I’m still really glad I took it.  My certification had expired in April, so, for personal reasons, it wasn’t a waste of time or money.

The instructor highly recommended following it up with a Disaster Preparedness class he taught at the other campus over forty miles away.  That wasn’t doable for me, but it piqued my interest.  It was something I’d love to be able to do.  So, when I found out the University of Pittsburgh offers an online Disaster Preparedness course, I jumped on it!

I’ve honestly had a hard time focusing on the specifics of disaster preparedness though.  I keep correlating it all to divorce involving domestic violence.  And, it correlates perfectly!

The four phases of disaster preparedness are Mitigation (Planning), Response, Recovery, and Mitigation.  It reminded me of the process of extricating my abuser from my life.

The Mitigation process required getting involved with the local domestic violence support group.  I was trying to follow the rest of the recommended steps:  getting out of debt, finding work, making copies of important documents.  However, my health crisis ran up debt and made work impossible.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, my abuser left before my mitigation phase could be accomplished.  He, on the other hand, had completed his.  He had a private bank account loaded with money.  Bills were all in my name.  He’d stolen all of my passwords and our social security numbers over the course of several months before he left.  He had secured a place to live and people to help him in his attack.  He had legal papers ready.

Then, BOOM!  Disaster struck!

The instructor of this course defines disaster as an event that overwhelms all available resources.  By its very definition, my divorce was a disaster.  It overwhelmed all of my available resources.

The second phase is Response.  The goal of this phase is to “survive disaster as best as possible, to save life, limb, and property.”  And, that is certainly all I could try to do for two years:  survive as best as possible.

A lot of people tried to “encourage” me to jump immediately to the third stage of Recovery.  Some even chastised me for being seemingly unable to deal with or cope “appropriately.”  They falsely believed that the best thing for me to do was ignore the Response phase that had been thrust upon me and just start trying to Recover.  I knew though that was absolutely impossible.  This course teaches that it is impossible.  There is a very clear and specific path, and phases cannot be jumped or skipped.  It just doesn’t work that way.  You must clear the rubble before you can rebuild.

One of the Powerpoint slides gives the heading “Recovery.”  It then states, “The long slow process of returning to Normal?”  It also lists the five needs to be addressed following the disaster:

  1. Housing
  2. Services (Clean up)
  3. Financial Aid
  4. Businesses
  5. Physical and psychological help (Decompressing)

Following my disaster, I needed to know if I could continue living in my current home.  Or, I needed to find another place to live.  I’m grateful that I’ve been able to stay here and didn’t end up homeless, but my housing is HIGHLY inadequate and substandard.  Truly, it is still an issue that needs addressed.

The clean up stage of the second phase was protracted for me because of my abuser’s insistence on keeping us embroiled in a court battle.  We also received poor counseling.  Some counseling was so bad that it set us back.  Some damaged my children, and we are still suffering those consequences.  The services we received were not in line with the goal of preserving life, limb, and property.  We lost nearly all of our property at the cost of increased debt, and our lives were placed in greater jeopardy by uncaring court and counseling systems.

There were countless individuals who gave and gave and gave financial aid.  We were and are still blessed with some extremely generous people in our lives.  However, there were a few people in our lives who thought they could tell us what our needs were without taking an assessment of the situation.  There were some who disregarded us with comments like, “Aren’t there government programs to help people like you?”  Some kindly gave help that wasn’t really help.

This other group of people would be considered untrained.  A panel discussion in my class addressed the problem they’ve seen repeatedly throughout their careers in emergency response.  They noted that they have to ask groups not to send stuff that isn’t needed.  That only creates more problems.  Unasked for stuff goes to waste and creates more work.  Assistance needs to be organized and requested, and the group needs to do the work themselves.

There have been well-meaning people who’ve dropped off bags of clothes and toys to us for us to go through, mend, or “just throw out what you don’t need.”  When I was already overwhelmed and exhausted, the last thing I needed was more bags of stuff to go through.  I didn’t have the time or energy to sit down and sew torn clothing.  I didn’t have the time or the gas to donate what we couldn’t use (clothing for the wrong gender for instance) or the money to pay to have the garbage man haul away what they didn’t want to throw out themselves.  It only created more problems and more work.

Businesses being able to come back in, offer employment, and reestablish themselves in a community is the FOURTH stage.  This can be compared to finding gainful employment.  Many, many people thought that should have been my TOP priority following our disaster.  Honestly, I’m not a lazy person, but that just is not even possible immediately following a devastating event.

The final stage listed is physical and psychological decompression.  People have a need to decompress after a traumatic incident.  We humans need to talk to someone, perhaps everyone, about what we’ve just been through in order to process it, understand it ourselves, and cope.  We need to be heard, to be truly listened to.  We also need to be given the opportunity to physically decompress.  We need a break in time to rest and heal from the effects of the horrific stress we’ve just experienced.

Unfortunately, survivors of domestic violence don’t have such luxuries.  Frequently, we’re silenced by the courts.  My oldest daughter recently commented that she can see growth in me because I “no longer talk about the same things over and over.”  The reality is, people don’t want to hear us tell our stories.  They get tired of listening to us.  They incorrectly judge that we’re bitter, unforgiving, or not moving on.  No, we’re simply processing some horrific events that many people obviously can’t even begin to comprehend.  We’re verbally working through our trauma.  We also, most often, are left in poverty that typically isn’t seen in the Western world and, therefore, can’t just jet off to the islands for a little R&R.  We’re required to jump back into life with both feet and a weary body.

The question that pleads to be asked at this next point is:  What is the new normal?  My instructor states that we must ask ourselves some hard questions.  Can and should we rebuild?  What protections can be offered?  Who will pay for rebuilding?  Will we rebuild next time this occurs?  (Or, should we leave this particular area?)  How can we improve our plans to mitigate the effects of another event?

Each of us will answer those questions uniquely according to her own situation.  I’m not even sure I can honestly answer those questions yet for myself.  Taking this course has allowed me to see that I’m truly still in the Recovery stage.  I’m still trying to secure housing, pay off marital debt, determine a source of stable income, and find opportunities for decompression.  The most important thing I’m taking away from this class is that Recovery is a long, slow process.  It’s okay to give myself time to work through these phases and stages appropriately.  A sound recovery is the solid foundation upon which New Normal will be built.

Values Clarification

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I’m doing the right thing, right?  I’m trying to better my life and provide for my children’s future.  Everyone cheered me when I announced my return to school.  It’s the smart thing to do.  I’m setting a good example for my kids, they said.

When I recently asked for prayer because I’m considering quitting my degree program at community college, people rallied, “You can do this!”  “Don’t give up!”  “This is just a test in perseverance.” “What would you tell your kids if they said that to you?”

Nobody likes a quitter.

Well, ya know what, a lot of people don’t like me anyway!  Besides, who am I trying to please?

I have some tough decisions to make.  So, here’s the low down:

  • I’m running myself ragged, and I’m not much fun to be around these days.
  • I’m turning down work and missing work, which means I’m losing desperately needed income.
  • I feel like I hardly see my kids.
  • I never cook a decent meal for my children.
  • I’m not keeping up with the children’s schooling.
  • My body is getting used to sleeping for only four or five hours (after I worked so hard to train myself to sleep) so I’m no longer able to sleep more than five hours….once again.
  • I’m not learning the material at school anyway, and no one who’s supposed to care does.
  • I seldom write here on my beloved blog anymore.  I miss you all!
  • I’m missing important events in my loved ones’ lives.
  • I’m not working out, going to treatment, eating right, or taking my supplements.
  • My former physical symptoms are resurfacing.

Why am I sacrificing so much?  To earn a degree, of course!  Eventually I’ll make better money and be able to work from home!  Eventually…..when my youngest child has one foot out the door, and it isn’t even necessary for me to be home anymore.  Eventually……I’m a little (a lot) old to be trying to compete with young, 20 somethings for the best positions.   Eventually…..after I’ve missed six years of living.

I am pausing to ask myself what is really important to me.  And, to admit I was wrong.

I thought re-education would be the key to achieving my goals and dreams.  But, what are my goals and dreams?  Really?

I live every day with the awareness that I am at an increased risk for a full stroke.  I’ve also buried enough friends and friends’ children to be fully aware that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  So, what if I had a crystal ball that could tell me that I am going to stroke out and be confined to a wheelchair in exactly ten years and five months?  Or, what if it said that I’ll be killed in a car accident in two years?  Or, what if it told me my ex is going to finally kill me in six months?

Is this how I want to spend the last six months, two years, or ten years of my life?

NO!

I WANT TO LIVE!  I mean, I want to live whatever life I have to its fullest!  Each and every day is a gift to be unwrapped and enjoyed, and I’m no longer enjoying any of it.  I’m surviving, marking off the days until I can hopefully get a reprieve.  If I can just make it to midterms.  If I can just hang in there until spring break.  It feels very much like living with any of my abusers…..barely surviving each day, waiting for some day in the future to alleviate a bit of the constant pressure.

The thing is, my passions are my God, my children, home schooling, connecting with others, natural living, and this blog.  Work isn’t a passion for me.  I know it is for some, but, if I had my druthers, I’d be working as a wife and mother.  I have never ever ever in my entire life longed to be a career woman.  Even my dream job, being a writer, isn’t the big city, journalist type.  It’s the sitting by the river with a laptop version.

Returning to school, sacrificing each day of my life for the next six years, so that I can perhaps some day in the very far off future potentially make more money is feeling rather foolish once I perform a little values clarification.  Because, you see, I’ve sacrificed all of my passions in the process.  And, I feel empty.  I feel like I’m pursuing what I believe is expected of me, rather than what truly makes me joyful and content.

I want to serve my God and connect with others.  Funny thing is, one of my clients asked me to pray with her last week.  And, her sister, a stroke victim, struggled very hard to tell me something.  She was thrilled when I got it, and we were communicating.  My current vocation does allow me to connect with God and others.

I want to be a writer.  I have a blog where I give and receive–receive more than I give–support with others.  Again, connecting.  And, writing!

I want to live naturally, which takes time I no longer have now that I’m in school and working.

And, I want to be there, truly be there, which takes, well, being there, for my children.  I want to make memories with them.  Memories that aren’t filled with violence.  I want to give them the best foundation in life that I can by pouring myself into their education, the way I did with the older children.

My little cleaning business is menial labor.  Yep, I spend my days hunkered over toilets scraping feces off of rims and picking up body hair from showers, plugging my vacuum with someone else’s dog’s hair.  It sucks.  But, it is MY business.  If I don’t really like a client, I can graciously find a way to quit working for them.  I have enough other work that I have that freedom.  I can also reschedule for emergencies and vacations and time with my kids without fearing a boss’s reprisal.

I consider nearly all of my clients friends.  I’m charging enough of an hourly wage now that if I chose to work more hours a week, I could make as much as I would as a graphic designer in my area!  All in all, it’s not a bad gig.  It has allowed me time to home school, build a new life with my kids, and blog.  It has allowed me time to get stronger and healthier.

I don’t think I feel the need to hang a diploma on my wall.  And, I’m quite certain it won’t bring me the joy I feel when you respond to what I write or when my daughter is able to read “the fast way,” or when my children and I are dancing together or when my client asks me to pray with her.

That’s my values clarification.

I don’t value the pursuit of a degree enough to continue on with it and sacrifice everything in my life that I do value.

Another of my clients, whom I consider a sweet friend, has suggested that I get my real estate license and work with her.  She’s been a realtor her entire life and would be an excellent mentor.  Most of the work can be done from home on a computer.  Sure, I’ll have to go out to show houses, but I can take one child with me.  The course is relatively inexpensive, completely from home, 120 hours over the course of eight months done at my own pace.   It’s something to consider.

I’ve spent my life believing that when one door closes another one opens, and I had no other options but to walk through the first door that opened.  I falsely believed that once I walked through a door, there was no turning back.  I was told, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”  But, I’ve come to believe that’s a lie and a trap.

My chiropractor shares my new outlook.  He once told me he’s never understood that mindset of sticking with something no matter how bad it is.  “If something isn’t working for you, change it!” he said.

Sure, I’ll be judged for being a quitter.  My decisions will be seen as walking away from an opportunity, committing my life to poverty…and those poor children along with me.  I can see them all wagging their heads at me now.  But, that is the basis of my new free life.  It is MY life.  And, I am FREE to make choices for my LIFE.

Letting Go of an Adult Child and the Results of Spoiling a Son

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He was a beautiful, intelligent child.   To be honest, I always favored him.  I didn’t love him anymore than I loved the other children.  I just enjoyed his company.  I felt I understood him better.  He was easier.  He was the most obedient of them all.  He was my precious first born son.

I sacrificed greatly for him, and I forced the rest of the family to sacrifice as well.  My fifth son spent the first two years of his life in a car seat while I ran S from activity to activity, building his portfolio so colleges would view him favorably.  We had a tuition commitment to his prestigious university, and I sent him boxes of food.  We ate rice and beans, and we rationed.

I had the chance to leave when R was arrested the summer S graduated home school.  I knew if I did though, S could not go to college.  I knew what R would put me through.  I knew what it would be like.  And, I knew I could not afford college as a single, unemployed mother.  So, I took R back solely for the continuation of S’s plans.

We spent money we didn’t have to go visit S.  And, he left us alone in the city, in our motel room watching TV, while he went out with his friends.

My ex husband and the other children complained bitterly.  But, this was how it had to be.  We couldn’t allow our circumstances to rob him of his wonderful opportunities.

And, it paid off.  He makes good money in DC as a defense analyst.  He travels the world.  He lives in a beautiful townhouse. 

He’s become pretentious and entitled.

I was nervous about the holiday.  My kids all have strong personalities, and I’m getting stronger.  I had a strange sense that I may blow up and tell all of my adult kids just what I really think. 

But, it was him.  S blew up and told me what he really thinks.  And, I had to say goodbye to him.  Forever.  For now.  I’m dead to him.

Things seemed okay when he and his girlfriend arrived, though I noticed they appeared to resent me working while they were here.  But, it got weird when my daughter asked me to babysit her sick child on the second day of their visit. 

My son said I had to tell her no.  They didn’t want to get sick.  I explained that I didn’t either, but I knew A would be mad at me if I said no.  It went around and around.  They said I’m a pushover and need to learn to say no.  The girlfriend said  I couldn’t let A expect that of me.  It’s no way to live.   Say no.   I am a single mom, working all of the time, and I needed a break.

I made a comment that all of my adult kids make me feel this way, and they acted shocked that they may be included in that.  They expressed that they hoped they didn’t. 

While I was on the phone the girlfriend demanded that my 14 year old lock the gate to my property so my daughter would be unable to get in the next morning.   It didn’t matter.  At their insistence I told my daughter I couldn’t help her. 

She admitted later that it made her mad that I wouldn’t babysit for her, but she came over the next evening anyway, bringing homemade cheesecake for us all. 

My son, upon realizing she’d pulled up to the house, told us to grab our coats quickly and leave.  He didn’t want his sister coming in.  I, however, invited her to come with us.

We all caravaned and looked at Christmas lights.  Then, we came back to my house for her cheesecake.  It could have been a beautiful holiday memory.  But, the tension could be cut with the same knife we used on the dessert.

Over the next few days conversations were strained.  The younger children and I were maids and prisoners, dutifully obeying their commands.  We were insulted.  False assumptions were made about how we live.  They ate me out of house and home and then bought expensive foods with the expectation I’d pay for it.  They tore up my belongings and let their rabbit run all over my house, urinating and defecating on everything. 

We have all always loved and looked forward to our annual New Years bon fire.  I made enchiladas and Tri tip stew and individual cheesecakes in little mason jars.  I displayed things neatly outside on tables, labeling chalkboard trays I’d made last summer just for this night.  I set up an adult hot chocolate bar, and we had sparkling cider for our midnight toast.  I’d bought fireworks on July 5th and saved them.  It’s a big deal to us.

A, my second son, brought friends who seemed impressed by our little party.  R Jr brought his girlfriend.  My son in law came and was funny. 

All seven of my kids were here.   The four adult children brought their significant others.  My granddaughter and A’s girlfriend’s baby were here. Plus, A’s two good friends participated in everything, including family photos (at my invitation).  The potential was there for an incredible night!

I only went out to the fire a few times though.  I felt pushed away.  There was no doubt the final time I tried.  The kids were talking very vulgar, and I thought S said something he hadn’t said.  It was just one word that I misheard.  Instead of laughing it off as I was, he walked toward me and said, “Get your mind out of the gutter.  That’s where your mind goes because that’s what you’ve always hung out with your entire life. …. penises.”   I snapped at him quietly, “You’re not cute anymore.”  He responded, “Really?  I’m not cute?” with a self impressed smirk.  With that I returned to the dark house and didn’t come out again. 

The following day E and I cleaned up the huge mess without any help from S and his girlfriend.  They spent another day on my couch, cuddled under blankets, watching TV, only getting up to eat.  I angered him yet again when I suggested I retrieve his boxes from the storage unit I pay for, so he could sort them.  

I’ve been asking him to do it for years, but he never “had the time” when he’s here.   I made several trips in my car, bringing box after box to them while they never moved from the couch.  I hauled the garbage out to my can for pick up and some I burned.   I bagged stuff for donating.  And, then, I loaded boxes back into my car and returned the remainder to my storage unit.  He never left the couch. 

A came over that evening with just her daughter, but S and K refused to acknowledge her or visit with us.  They shushed us and turned my television up loud enough to blow the speakers.  A and I sat on the cold kitchen floor to visit while S and K “owned” the only heated room in the house.  E turned the TV down, nicely explaining that the speakers could blow at that level.  An argument ensued between E and the girlfriend with S and E going back and forth, turning the TV up and turning it down.   E finally walked away.

When their movie (Frozen) was over, they stood up and, as she had every other night, K barked at us to go to bed.  One night she had yelled at me to get out of her bedroom (my living room) and then demanded I wash clean towels for her for morning though.

I had had enough.  I was sick.  Ironically, after S threw the fit about not wanting to get sick from A’s child, he became symptomatic the very next day with something he’d brought from Portland and ended up spreading it through the house.  I asked E to fill the kerosene heater before bed, in an act of protest.  After six nights in the living room K had decided, without saying a word to me, to sleep in my youngest daughter’s room.   E would have to go through that room to fill the kerosene, and S snapped at E.  I responded this time and simply said, “We need that heat.”   S told me to knock it off.  And, I responded for him to knock it off.   It went back and forth several times until he told me I’d started if all.  To which I responded that he had.  Again, it volleyed in a juvenile way until I walked off. 

He knocked on my door and asked to speak to me.  He was calm but let me have it.   He hurled one accusation after another.   I was pushing my issues off onto him by forcing him to sort his boxes.  I can’t maintain a friendship for any length of time.  I’m negative and bitch about everything.  I never see the positive in anything.  I talk out both sides of my face.  I think I know him, but I don’t.  None of my adult kids like me and never have.  I’m still the same horrible person I’ve always been.  I’m a doormat.   I need to be more gentle.  My younger three kids deserve better than me.  I tell the same boring stories over and over again.  He asks me a question and I talk and talk and talk without ever answering him.  I’m too sensitive.   And, he is ashamed of us.  We’re white trash.  We’re too loud.  He said,  “A (his younger brother) is a toothless, semi recovering drug addict and A (his older sister) dresses from Walmart.  Everyone is standing out around that fire dressed in flannel shirts.  The circumstances here are embarrassing…..the poverty you all live in.   And, nothing changes.  It’s how you all live.”

I cried but stayed calm.  I responded and told him I respected his feelings but what he said was unfair.  And, I told him I want my grandmother’s wedding ring back. I don’t want K having it.  He replied that she’d wanted to talk to me about it anyway.  They “want something that [they] choose and represents [them], not something from two dead people [they] never even met.”

He said that he wants me out of his life until he sees the changes in me that he expects.  I’m never to call him.  I can text pictures if the youngest two have some recital or speech or something special.  He’s not coming back here.  

They left early the next morning. 

I was gutted by his false accusations, his coldness, and his cruelty.  But, I later told A, my oldest daughter, “I’m not devastated.  I have six other children I enjoy and two grandchildren who bring tremendous joy to my life.”   She chuckled and replied, “That’s good news for the rest of us!  We’ve waited a long time to hear that!”

So, I’m starting off this new year by letting go of my favored child, paying the consequences of spoiling him, the consequences of raising my children in an environment where everything is my fault and it’s 100% acceptable to treat me with disrespect.  But, I’m also starting off this year with new boundaries in place.  He threatened me that I’ll be missing out on a lot this coming year.  And, he’s right.  But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Returning to the Life I Had Before Marital Abuse OR For Him, Like a Dog Returns to Its Vomit

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The weariness is overwhelming, but the days are mostly good.  My cleaning business continues to be profitable. Though the average monthly income from it is only $900, if I receive child support we can make it.  My friends were overly generous for my birthday, so I now feel like I dress nice.  On non cleaning days I enjoy mixing up the pieces to create a new look for the day.

Returning to school at almost 50 has been challenging!  Overcoming short term memory issues to learn new material has been hard.  Some days are beyond difficult.  Some days, it feels impossible.  But, I’m carrying A’s in all of my classes, so it can be done.

The kids are all settling into this new life, too.  We home school early in the morning, during the evenings, and over the weekends.  It’s not the structure I feel comfortable with, but all three are learning, and that’s the point, right?  E is researching and producing high school level essays.  He shadows me while I do my homework, so he’s absorbing that information, too.   J is blossoming at the piano and enjoying learning his multiplication tables.  He’s never been a math guy, but he thinks making a chart is fun stuff.  D is learning to read and spell and, being a math person, is nearly done with her first grade math book.  She wants to be an engineer, a police officer, and a barista when she grows up. Right now, she really, really wants ballet lessons. 

R Jr. is loving boot camp.  A just leased a beautiful piece of property in the woods.  S recently returned from a work trip to Asia.  A loves her job but has been cooking like crazy for us all–career woman by day, domestic goddess by night.

They’ll all be here for New Years.  The kids’ partners’ families all love, love, love Christmas, so I told them to just give me the week after.  I’d rather have them all here at the same time than see each one for a little bit at different times on Christmas. It takes stress off the kids, too, if they don’t have to try to please both sides and divide up their time on the holidays.   We’re going to do a bon fire and fireworks, eat, go fishing, turn my house into a slumber party, and eat some more.  I can’t wait!

I love history and the Bible and celebrating the biblical feasts.  Passover has become my favorite holiday, so this year were adding in Hanukkah. It’s crazy how excited and proud the kids are over it.  What’s not to get excited about though?  Lighting candles, playing dreidels for chocolate, presents every night for over a week, and doughnuts for breakfast?

On a down side, I am sick and finals are next week.  It’s in my chest, and A is afraid it will turn into pneumonia. I had it once before, years ago.  I’ll never forget that pain as I left the hospital where I worked, at 1:30 a.m., and stepped out into the cold night air.  The first breath felt like a giant had thrust his fist into my chest and was wringing out my burning lungs.  Then, like now, I was a single mom, working, going to school, and home schooling a first grader.  I dressed nice and had great friends.  The kids and I did fun things, but it all took a toll on my health.  Funny how I’ve ended up right back in the same place.

R has returned to his former life as well.  That was glaringly apparent the morning I wrote my last blog post.  I was wearing a lovely new stylish outfit and brought my soft sided briefcase, a birthday gift from A, so I could write at a local coffee shop while the kids had visitation with their father.  I pulled up to the warehouse in my new little car we affectionately refer to as The Silver Bullet, and my well groomed children got out to be greeted by a skinny, unkempt dad.  His jeans were dirty and hung on his legs. His greasy hair hung down beneath a filthy cap.  He acted hyper, manic, like he was tweaking.  He was carrying our nearly six year old daughter as though she was a toddler and turned to let them wave goodbye to me.  The four of them stood in front of his camp trailer that sits inside the warehouse behind the tall, barbed wire fence.  I left them there to go eat quiche, drink cappuccino, and write in the fall sun at a bistro table outside the coffee shop.  They were left to spend several hours in the filthy trailer without running water, beer bottles scattered everywhere, watching movies that are not appropriate for children.  All the while R proudly tried to get them to agree it’s a great little bachelor pad.

The memory of our first date flooded back in that moment.  I had agreed to meet him at his house and go from there in his car.  I’d been working all day so was late, but I’d carefully curled my hair and chosen a black mini jumper with matching accessories.  I also took the time to wash and vacuum my new car.  When I arrived I first thought he’d decided I wasn’t coming so had changed into his grubbies.  No, these were the clothes he’d chosen to wear for our first date: worn jeans, dirty tennis shoes, and a very dated shirt with a small hole in it.  His car was a disaster with food, toys, and garbage everywhere.  He hadn’t even bothered to clean it, knowing I’d be riding in it.  Making a good first impression didn’t seem to be very high on his priority list. But, he made a dozen apologetic excuses, and I accepted them all, believing this wasn’t really how he normally kept things.

Now, here we are twenty years later, seemingly in the same lives where we met.  I’ve returned to my former life in an effort to rebuild what he stole from me.  And, he is content to live like he is, how he lived before I tried to fix what he claimed was the brokenness of his life that had been caused by others.

I Can’t Fix it

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The old woman who lived in the house obviously hadn’t cleaned while she lived there.  The mouse and rat droppings vacuumed up.  The appliances required three applications of cleaner and sound scrubbings before they quit running mud.  But, the floors!  Oh!  The floors!

My right shoulder went from aching to burning and my right wrist began to get weak, so I switched hands.  I laid my body weight into the scrub brush, desperately trying to lift the black from the linoleum.

That night I barely slept.  I couldn’t roll onto my left shoulder without being awakened by sharp pain.

I soaked in Epsom salts and essential oils.  I iced the shoulder.  I diligently performed gentle stretches.  But, the pain persisted and I was unable to lift anything with my left arm.  I first had to lift items with my right arm and then transfer them to my left to carry them.

On my regularly scheduled chiropractic appointment the doctor couldn’t get my upper back to release.  The pressure his hold was placing on my left shoulder caused me to seize up and resist him.

I asked Doc what I should tell the massage therapist needed worked on the most.  He responded, “I’m going to talk to him.”

I didn’t think that sounded good.

The massage therapist worked and worked on my shoulder, pointing out the striatians of adhesions visible just under my skin.  I knew that meant the ox bone tool was coming.  After stretching, manipulating, and massaging the shoulder girdle, he rubbed an ointment onto my skin and began scraping the old and deep scar tissue, breaking it up in order to free the left side of my body. 

I fought tears. 

The pain was intense, and it was hard at times to catch my breath.  Then, he’d move to another spot, and I could talk and even joke. 

He wants to see me back in a week.  There’s more work to do on that shoulder.

As I stood at the payment/scheduling window, I could feel the sting of tears building up and heat flushing my face.  I wanted to burst into an open bawl.  Not from the physical pain this time, but from the emotions that had been locked up in that tightened muscle memory.  A pathway had been opened, and those old wounds wanted to flow out.  Out my eyes and down my cheeks. 

My massage therapist asked if I needed to throw up.

We discussed the powerful mind/body connection, and I shared that I was aware that just saying the word “control”caused me to tighten up and pull my shoulders forward.  I wanted to control my pain and my reaction to it, and my body responded accordingly.

As I drove home, crying and praying out loud, I was keenly and suddenly aware I can’t fix it.  I can’t fix anything.  I can’t fix my ruined childhood.  I can’t fix my promiscuous past.  I can’t fix my broken children.  I can’t fix others’ perception of me.

I can’t control my painful experiences by fixing them to appear better than what they were.

I could not and did not give my children a better experience by being the opposite of my own mother.   A clean home, an emphasis on education, and home cooked meals didn’t fix the dysfunction of our family life.  My children still ended up beaten, molested, raped, and neglected.  It wasn’t my mother’s slovenly habits that allowed those things to happen to me. 

Working out to the point of pulling ligaments and giving myself a hernia didn’t keep my husband faithful.  Being thin didn’t fix his infidelity.

Graduating community college, securing a good job, and building a successful business didn’t provide us with security.  A steady cash flow didn’t fix my husband’s spending and addictions.  It didn’t fix his lack of responsibility.

Sewing for my children, planning creative parties, raising farm animals, attending church, providing extracurricular activities…..none of it fixed the gigantic holes in my heart or the scars to my body.  Nor those of my children.

After all of the exhaustive running and doing and trying, nothing got fixed.  I was beaten, starved, molested, and denied medical care as a very little girl.  Nothing can fix that.  It didn’t magically go away because I ran my daughter to horse riding lessons. 

I was brutally raped by a “friend.”   All of the sleeping around and breaking up with boys didn’t fix that.  It didn’t erase the memory.

My husband beat me, choked me, raped me, sodomized me, and tried to kill me.  All of the crafting and home schooling and canning didn’t fix what he had done to me.  My attempts at being the quintessential homemaker didn’t provide me with a loving marriage.

Texting my adult children constantly and sending them care packages doesn’t make up for my failure to protect them as children.  I can’t fix their very real pain and resentment by accepting whatever lifestyle they choose now.   Being the cool mom to my 20 somethings doesn’t mend their brokenness nor does it erase my guilt.

I can’t fix it. 

What’s done is done.  This is our reality.  It’s ugly.  It’s harsh.  It’s socially unacceptable.  But, it’s our reality.  It’s what we’ve known and what we’ve lived.  Nothing done today can fix yesterday. 

So, I laid it on Christ today.  I tacked it to His cross.  I may have to do that everyday as more scar tissue gets exposed.  But, it’s His and His alone to fix.

I’m off now to teach my children.  Not because I want to prove to anyone I’m a good mom but simply because I enjoy the look of accomplishment on their faces. And, they enjoy being home educated.  They are pleased I’ve chosen to continue with it in spite of being single and working.  That’s my pay off.

I’ll make cookies and home made soup later on to go with the homemade whole wheat biscuits I made and froze last week.  Not because that’s what good Christian wives and mothers do but because I love to cook and I really love to eat.

I’m also going to sew pillows for the sofa if I have time this afternoon.  Not because I can’t wait to post pictures to Facebook and get approval for my craftiness.  It’s simply that I want my things to match and this is cheaper.  And, I’d like to have those little projects done before I start community college next week.  This time I’m not going in order to please my mother or to fix what others think of me.  This time I’m going to learn the skills necessary to do what I want with my life.

Even that is up in the air though.  I can’t fix the mess of my divorced, lonely, post abuse life by returning to school.  Only Christ can fix any of this.  It’s beyond my control.  It always has been.

Victimitis

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A woman I only know from Facebook (ironically we connected through an online ministry for domestic violence victims and survivors) posted a very long commentary this past week titled ‘Curing Victimitis:’

Curing Victimitis by Michael Josephson, Character Counts
Watch your thoughts, they lead to attitudes
Watch your attitudes, they lead to words
Watch your words, they lead to actions
Watch your actions, they lead to habits
Watch your habits, they form your character
What your character, it determines your destiny
These words of unknown origin tell us that our silent and often subconscious choices shape our future.  Every aspect of our lives, at home and at work, can be improved if we use our power to think, reflect, and make conscious choices about our thoughts, attitudes,  words, actions, and habits.  Instead, many of us think of ourselves as victims.  We complain about our circumstances and what others did to us.  Whatever psychological comfort there is in feeling powerless and blameless when things aren’t going right, victims lead unsatisfied lives in the end.  We’re most vulnerable to victimitis when we’re under the influence of powerful emotions like fear, insecurity, anger, frustration, grief, and depression. These feelings can be so overwhelming that we believe our state of mind is inevitable. Our only hope is that they’ll go away on their own. Yet it’s during times of emotional tumult that using our power to choose our thoughts and attitudes is most important.  We can’t make pain go away, but we can refuse to suffer. Even when we don’t like any of our choices, we do have some–once we realize we can take control.  It isn’t easy, but what we do and how we choose to feel about ourselves can have a profound impact on the quality of our lives.  Victims may get sympathy for awhile, but that isn’t nearly enough. Taking personal responsibly for our happiness and success can be scary, but the pay off is enormous.  Although we can’t make our lives perfect, we can make them better–usually a lot better.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
……………………………………………………………..

Earlier this summer my dad’s family met at a local park for their 2nd annual family reunion.  It’s nice to see them and I do love them, but they are really strangers to me.  I hadn’t seen most of then since I was 14 years old.  It was only the rapid fire succession of funerals two years ago that brought us back together. It’s surprising how much hasn’t changed in 35 years. It’s shocking how much we’re all alike!

One difference was glaring though.

As we crested the center of the walking bridge and the other side came into view, my cousin, her oldest daughter, and I suddenly saw everyone else huddled on the ground.  And, we ran.

The oldest daughter’s 3 year old had fallen face first onto the black top as she ran across the bridge with the older children.  Her beautiful face was swollen and bloody, her lip smashed and her skin scraped. It was hard to tell exactly where the blood was coming from, there was so much of it.

Her nanny was holding her, and I assumed her mother would take her to comfort her.  She didn’t. We all walked back to the area of our picnic as the nanny carried the little girl.

I ran for my car to retrieve a towel, wipes, and an ice pack.  The nanny laid her on a blanket to better examine the injuries, and I handed my supplies to my cousin.  She refused them.  Her youngest daughter stood there indignantly and asked, “Can’t this wait?” All the while the nanny sharply but calmly commanded, “Self control, A. Self control.”  She repeated it over and over.  Then, they asked me to show them the property I thought I was going to get.  There was never one expression of compassion shown to the bleeding little girl.

Last week another of my cousins complained about the problems in his love life to our uncle and me.  This particular cousin is in his 40’s and is on every online dating site we know of.  He’s out with a different woman every night yet claims he wants to settle down.  He’s restless and unhappy.

While expressing dissatisfaction with the last couple of women, he said to me, “I know you’ve got a lot of stories, too. I KNOW your childhood wasn’t good either.  But, we don’t sit around telling people, ‘I was abused.  They did this to me, and they did that to me.’  We just go on.”

As he spoke, all I could think was that he hasn’t gone on.  His life is a mess.  My uncle’s daughter doesn’t want him around her father because of his ungodly behavior.  (Though she closed an account belonging to my uncle and kept over $30,000 from it without telling my uncle.  He only found out when his power bill payment bounced. )  He stole from a previous employer.  He seems to endlessly contract one STD after another.  Yet, all he wants is a good woman to love him.

He’s a bald teenager.

I think it would do him good to sit down and pull the scab of abuse and abandonment.  It would be good for him to let go of my family’s mantra of self control because, in reality, his life is out of control.  He’s keeping such a tight rein on his real issues that they’re spewing out in other places.

However, I’m sure he realizes that if he were to reach out and express himself in sincerity he’d receive no compassion.
In Curing Victimitis, Michael Josephson seems to indicate that silence regarding wounds received is a sign of character.  My family clearly states it’s a sign of self control.  Yet, character is defined as “strength and originality in a person’s nature….someone’s good qualities…..”  Wouldn’t we say self control is exhibited by not taking money and goods that belong to other people? Or, by keeping your clothes on around total strangers you met online?

It’s hard. It does take strength to stand up and say:
I was molested.
I was beaten and choked.
I was abandoned.
I was raped.
I was robbed.

It takes a lot of strength to do that because the ones doing the raping and robbing don’t want us to tell and are going to put us down, humiliate us, and marginalize us for telling what they’ve done.

My personal experience with a particular nonprofit housing organization ended bitterly.  The “family advocate” stalked me online, seeking out this blog without invitation or permission, only to use the information found here to try to hurt me with it. When the issues regarding her dishonesty and misrepresentation of facts and property lines could not be resolved, I withdrew my application. In strength and determination to find a better solution for my family, I chose to walk away.  However, she refused to respect my concerns or my decision, telling lies about me and sending me the following email:
I felt this coming, so I’m not surprised. But after all the time and $ we’ve spent on your behalf, it’s upsetting that you would say you’ve been “misled” and not given choices.  Even at this stage you have had more choices than most ….. partners, even to the choice of three lots!  [That’s a lie.]  And how were you misled?  I’m so sorry for the sake of your precious children.  I know that you were abused by your mother, your husband, and recently mistreated by your son and his girlfriend.  And now by us!  I pray that some day you will find some measure of peace and satisfaction.

She exhibited no self control here as she mocked my history of abuse, just as she exhibited no self control when her curiosity overrode my right to privacy.

That mockery is a frightening risk a victim faces when ‘coming out.’  Will they think I brought it on myself and condemn me for my role in my own victimization?  Will they hate my victim status?  Will they rub salt in my wounds if I bare them?

The answer to all of those questions is:  That is their problem!  They need to turn the mirror on themselves.  We have already exhibited self control by dragging our damaged bodies and psyches to school and work each day.  We have exhibited our strength of character by surviving in spite of great adversity!

Also, not everyone can be divided into one of two categories, 1. Victim in need of validation and compassion.  2. Heartless abusers and enablers.  There is a third category… those who do stand ready to greet the victim with understanding, love, and sensitivity.  When we hide ourselves and mask our trauma with problematic behavior, like my male cousin, we also hide ourselves from other victims who need to know they’re not alone.  We hide ourselves from those good Samaritans who would bind up our wounds.  We hide ourselves from everything that will help us truly heal.

When they remove our right to feel grief and experience the sorrow of legitimately being a victim, they remove their duty to feel compassion for others.  Their good deeds then become all about them and their own goodness–look what I do–rather than about a genuine concern for helping those who have been wronged or those who are disadvantaged.

How do I think you cure Victimitis?  By condemning those wicked acts done in secret and expressing concern for the victims, allowing them time to grieve what they’ve suffered and lost, and helping them find the tools to move forward as a securely loved human being.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?  Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came into thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it into me.

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