Michele Armstrong December 5, 2017 14

In my world, as I knew it in years past, life was full of polar extremities. That was my normal, and it was a mixed up mangled chasm of questions and constantly changing boundaries and standards. Abuse is like that. It is a form of control. I never knew from day to day, or sometimes from moment to moment, what would be next. In turn, the insecurities ran rampant, anxieties mounted, and fear became very familiar to me.  Of course, I know now, I did not have to feel or believe or live that way. God is much bigger than that. But, although I had a relationship with God, I know Him infinitely deeper now. He could have dispelled all of those obstacles. But unfortunately, my view of God had now become formulated by abuse and was heavily influenced by my relationship with my husband. My relationship with God was largely performance based. In my mind, if I did not perform a certain way–even in the smallest things–his relationship with me changed, the standards moved, and I might be in danger of my salvation teetering on a very thin tether. So that mindset influenced all of my thinking.

I wanted so much to be right with God. In keeping with that, I felt I had to do everything “right,” or else. I had begun a relationship with Jesus and been baptized as a young girl. I was committed to my relationship with God and tried to live as He would have me to.  After meeting my husband, however, and so much of my thought processes being reformulated by him, I began doubting my salvation. After all, in a legalistic mindset of God, you must make certain all your t’s are crossed and your i’s dotted. Suddenly, when that doubt came to light, my husband became the dictator of exactly what I must do about the situation. It was very early in our marriage, and it’s a long story, and the process went on for weeks.

He had made statements in that process that suggested to me that my problem in this matter could very well be the trust I had put in my parents and in my family and their teachings. My heritage, if you will, was faulty, and my family was “sinful” and “less spiritual” than he. Of course, that was his view of everyone that did not conform to his way of thinking. He had made it very clear since being married to him that I had left my parents and needed to cling to him. The principle is true, but his application was not. I know now, that is another form of abuse–to alienate you from family and others close to you. So now, I was very vulnerable, and in a dilemma about my relationship with God. Now he could use it to further convince me that my family had steered me incorrectly in regard to that subject.

I was in agony during those weeks, wondering what I had done wrong to put my salvation in jeopardy. Of course, Satan capitalized on my frame of mind, and turned the whole thing into an opportunity to cause me extreme fear, anxiety, and doubt. I look back now, and I am shocked at the pitiful state I was in, and the thoughts that went through my head . And sadly, to make sure I got everything “correct,” I was baptized FOUR times in those few weeks, in an insanely misguided effort to please God. I’m surprised I didn’t drive myself mad. Isn’t it tragic to picture a loving God in such a twisted fashion? I am only worthy of his love if I am good enough or do things “right enough,” according to that way of thinking. So very sad. But I was so young and had been so infiltrated by an urgency to conform to anything my husband said was true. I was a classic victim.

During those weeks, I had a mysterious illness come upon me and had to be rushed to the doctor. My husband insinuated that this illness was a consequence and a warning from God that I had better get this whole thing right–which only increased my anxiety. Later, we had a trip scheduled to be with my parents and grandparents at Thanksgiving, but he cancelled it in order to force me into some sort of resolve. It seemed as if it was almost a “punishment” or restriction that he placed upon me for struggling the way that I was.

Unfortunately, my thinking had already been completely altered by things I had witnessed about “extreme measures” one takes to prove their loyalty and commitment to God.  So I was in utter confusion. You can’t know what abuse does to the mind until you have lived it. And the influence causes your thinking to be very skewed, to say the least. Extreme measures were a regular way of life for me, so to process it all, I submitted in every way. So the extreme measures don’t seem so extreme anymore. And slowly, you lose your sense of reality and what is normal.

One particular time, my husband had been gone for the day, which he did often, with no accounting for his whereabouts. When he finally did return home, he began telling me a story that was so bizarre in nature, to this day it blows my mind.  We lived in Memphis, Tennessee at the time, and it was very early in our marriage. I was about 19 years old. When he left that day, I knew not to inquire about his intentions. It was a pretty regular occurrence for him to leave like that. And I knew from experience that if I asked about it, his response would be extremely vague or extremely angry. So I would just let him go, and I would be left wondering.

This particular day, when he came home, things were weird. You could feel something was just “off.” Later that evening, he was changing his clothes. When he took his shirt off, I was dumbfounded by what I saw. His back was completely covered in horrible welts and deep bruises that reached from shoulder to shoulder and neck to waist. It was horrific. It was almost bloody. When I urgently inquired what had happened, his answer shocked and sickened me.

He explained to me that he had given in to a sin–a particular sin that plagued him. So, to show his complete penance, he decided he needed some sort of consequence.  He began walking through an alley in a less-than-desirable part of Memphis, and came across a man sitting in the alley. When he saw the man, he made a bizarre “deal” with him. My husband would pay the man $20 if the man would beat him as hard as he could with a belt!  Of course, the man refused at first, but my husband coerced him into doing it. Apparently, the man was not beating him hard enough, and my husband insisted that he beat him harder. He explained to me that it took some insisting to make this ordeal happen. Believe me, it looked like some sort of massacre had occurred. But the poor gentleman got $20 out of the deal. I was so stunned, I was speechless. It took me a while to recover from that one, I can tell you. How do you wrap your mind around something like that? And I had a constant reminder of it for days to follow every time I looked at his back.

I realize now, that delusional act of insanity was for “my benefit.” I mean, how could I ever question him about his sincerity if he would go to that length to prove his “commitment” and  remorse for sin? It played on many of my emotions and thought processes. I felt sympathy. I felt anger. I felt sadness. I felt overwhelmed. I felt sick. I felt fear. I felt defeat. But most of all, I felt alone and trapped. Without a doubt, I could NEVER tell anyone. How can you explain to someone your husband paid a stranger in an alley to beat him? And if he will go to these lengths in this situation, what lengths would he go to in other circumstances?…….And there you have it. That, my friends, is a classic case of just one instance that develops in a victim a phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome. I will go into further detail of that another time.

And of course, that experience shaped my thinking and my beliefs about the kind of remorse and sacrifice God required from his children. So that is why, a couple of years later, I went through extreme torment about my salvation and about my relationship with God. It’s one thing to develop a relationship of commitment out of the deepest love. It’s another to live that life out of extreme fear and the constant reminder that you can’t measure up to this God of Justice, who is waiting to deal out retribution for the smallest infraction of the “rules” and legal system of obedience.

But my God is not like that, my friends. Don’t let ANYONE ever tell you he is. In the 30 years since that time, God has shown me his incredible grace and love. Yes, he is a just and perfect God, but when he reveals to you his immense grace, his incomprehensible love, his unfathomable mercy, his divine presence in your life, his precious voice, his gift of His Spirit to lead and guide you, his divine power to quiet all the demons of hell, his peace–then you can’t help but fall in love with him. When you realize all of this, you will stumble over yourself to run to him and to serve him. And when you do sin, you are covered with the blood of Jesus, and you will desire to repent with all your heart.  In your relationship with Him, you will be full and ever satisfied, yet always hungering for more of him. You will be asking, “What can I do for you today, and what will please you most?” But that response will be out of love for your perfect Father, and not the pathetic attempts to measure up to an impossible standard. I am ashamed that in the past, I put God in a box and put limits on his power and grace. But every day I learn more about Him, and I am constantly in awe.

If you don’t know this God, search for him, sweet friends. Cry out to him from the darkness, and He is there. Reach out to him, and his hand is there, steady and strong to pull you out of the waves of despair. When his divine nature collides with our frail and pathetic humanity, a transformation takes places that makes all the foundations of Heaven quake with the thunder of praise. There is a transaction exchanging feeble for mighty, and the life you once knew transforms into glory. The enemy loses his grip on you, and now you are truly free. Jesus carried the load of our sin on the cross, and in that act, we have an incredible story of redemption and victory. That is where the strength lies to face the battle, and where hope resides in the heart,promising unimaginable things to come.

And the journey is incredible!

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