It may seem like just a picture. A mom hugging her two little boys. All smiles. Picture perfect. Probably taken right after church on a Sunday morning. Pure joy and happiness.
I look deeper. Longer. Because I see something else. I see the calm before the storm. I see a woman who was about to experience the ugly side of Lupus. I see a woman who would have decades of pain, pills and procedures. Chemo. Radiation. Therapy. A year in the hospital. Dozens and dozens of doctors. Her internal organs could take no more. The mental stress of enduring this disease for three decades would finally come to an end. She died at 53.
How do I know this story? Who is this woman? This is my momma. That’s me on the left and my little brother on the right. Momma was sick for the majority of our childhood. My brother and I can only share stories and pictures. She’s in a much better place now. I try to let that reassure me but it’s difficult. I confess that I miss her terribly.
There are things you can learn by being told. But there are other things that you just have to learn by experience. Losing a parent is tragic. Something inside you stays empty. Nothing can full that void. You can’t make up for lost time. They aren’t coming back. What’s even worse is that memories often fade like the dew in the morning. The older we get, the more we forget.
When your parents are gone… The silence is overwhelming. You refuse to delete the contact info in your phone because you wrestle with how that would feel. You treasure handwritten notes and voicemails. You hold on to mementos and family traditions.
When you’re the oldest patriarch or matriarch in the family you begin to look through 20/20 hindsight. You see ways that you were wrong. You can’t apologize for harsh words. You can’t pick up the phone or write a letter to say you’re sorry. You can’t seek forgiveness for immature behavior. You certainly can’t unsay or undo anything. You cannot change the past. Reconciliation is not possible. That truly hurts.
Misty and I talk and pray about this almost daily. The loss of my mother in 2010 was difficult, to say the least. However, for me, it gets harder every day. If you have lost someone, long before it was their time, then you know the heartache only dulls. It never really fades away. At 53 she was way too young.
Some people say that time heals all wounds, but that’s not completely accurate. Sometimes the hole in your heart cannot be filled. The pain of the loss digs into your mind like a Rocky mountain spotted deer tick buried in a bloodhound in mid-July. That sucker hold on and the effects linger. You try everything to heal. Nothing seems to help.
I want to share some timely advice that I received from a man who had lost his teenage son tragically in a swimming accident. He said “Ray, sometimes you can’t live one day at a time. You have to live one moment at a time.” This is the key. Moment by moment. Breath by breath. Heartbeat by heartbeat. Just survive.
There is something else. Both heartbreaking, and endearing, about this photo. My sweet wife, Misty, had it blown up and framed for me. Why? She wanted me to have a photo of my momma to display it in our house. That may not seem out of place, but there’s more to the story. After all these years it will be the first time, in my adult life (45 years), that a photo of my mom will be displayed in my home. (Trigger Warning)
I tread lightly now, with caution, to share some words of wisdom that I’ve learned over the past few years. I’m not an expert but after years of counseling and coaching, I want to share how I’m learning to cope with the loss of my mom and reconnecting with my father. Because for 20+ years I had to walk away from nearly all of my family.
Surviving narcissist abuse can be a struggle. Thankfully many have broken the bonds leaving behind the mental abuse, depression, webs of lies, sophisticated manipulation, gaslighting, disrespectful treatment in front of others, the reprogramming of their children, crippling anxiety, overwhelming guilt, conditional love and destruction of one’s self-esteem. However, there are longer, stronger after-effects of narcissistic abuse. Let me explain.
You’ve probably heard the term “narcissist” but what does that word mean? A narcissist is someone who – whether consciously or unconsciously – uses words and actions to control the behavior of another person. They have a strong selfish desire to preserve themselves and their reputation. A narcissist will emotionally abuse their victims.
Narcissists can guilt the victim (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) to abandon all relationships in order to cause dependency upon the narcissistic abuser. One way a marriage partner does this is to convince the victim that approved family members, and a properly screened circle of friends, are the only ones that matter. You will find yourself cutting ties with anyone that doesn’t meet his/her approval. One of the latest articles I recommend can be found HERE. I’ve also done a few podcasts on this subject.
Repairing relationships after the narcissist is out of your life can be extremely difficult. My relationship with my parents was severed for over 20 years, in slow methodical stages. My best friends were first (1995-1996) along with cousins and some family members (1996-1999). Then my father was cut off (2000). My mother, grandparents and remaining family members came next (2002-2005). In fact, I had to communicate with my brother in secret for nearly 20 years. Only one grandmother was permitted to interact with us, including the children, because she was approved.
One of the hardest layers of guilt, after one is freed from the narcissist grip, is that it is you (not them) are left to pick up the pieces. You have to reassemble the burnt bridges. People will question: “Why didn’t you stand up? You didn’t try hard enough.” As the victim you will struggle with the guilt that you had a choice. No one can force you to do anything. Through systematic manipulation, lies, and gaslighting you are the only one who must give an account. The narcissist leaves you to wrestle with the damage.
The next stage is damage control for the abuser (turned accuser) is to fan the flames on a fire they started, hoping you are left in the ashes. Luckily my family is forgiving and understanding. They saw the manipulation the entire time. Most tried to warn me but I didn’t listen. One uncle from my mom’s side actually left a car running under the carport of the church during my wedding in hopes I’d run away! One aunt from my dad’s side told Misty, “Thank you for bringing Ray back to us!” That brought me to tears. What had I done? How could I have abandoned my family?
Don’t get me wrong, in my life, there is fault on all sides. My parents (together & individually) made mistakes. I made some poor choices that I deeply regret, including quick decisions to marry and move away that revealed immaturity. But the hardest part is living with the consequences. Specifically, that I deprived myself of many meaningful family relationships to please someone else. Someone who dropped me like a bad habit as soon as I was no longer useful. Some of those, like my mother and grandparents, are gone forever. Other relatives are still bitter about me choosing one person over them for over two decades.
To be honest, I could have seen the warning signs but I ignored them. I kept my covenant. I never wavered, never cheated, and wholeheartedly desired to make my wife happy. Even when she clashed with my parents. I followed her lead. Especially after my parents divorced and things became more complicated. I followed her lead. Even when my family was cut off. I submitted and followed her lead.
When my great grandmother (Granny) died in 1998, I drove to attend the service. Alone. I was blessed to know three of my great grandmothers and one great-great grandfather. This was a tough funeral to attend but I was alone. This brought animosity from the family that only compounded a bigger problem.
When my momma died (2010), I flew to be with family. My brother and I worked on moving her things, cleaning her apartment, sorting paperwork and even conducted two services in my mom’s honor. Alone. The only reason I was permitted to go that week was because a lady at our church volunteered to pay for the flight. When I returned from the trip I was met with silence and anger. Why? The lady who volunteered to pay for the trip did not pay. It cost us nearly $800 for the flight and food.
When my other grandparents died the same was true. I couldn’t go to my maternal grandmother’s service. And if it hadn’t been for the love offering of our young adult class, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my last respects to my maternal grandfather. I spent many summers with my grandparents and loved them dearly.
When we traveled home to Missouri we would drive right by my Grandpa‘s farm and only stopped a few times. We also drove past my dad’s house. We never stopped there. I know now that was a test. I passed. Ironically, it would not matter if I wanted to stop. She did 100% of the driving. After a wreck with get in the car I was no longer allowed to drive her anywhere. What did we do in MO each time were visited? We were only permitted to see my grandma in her home. Other relatives would meet on her terms. That rarely happened in the early years. she intimidated people, especially my dad and maternal grandparents.
When my paternal grandmother (who basically raised me) passed away it wrecked me. I wept both flights (round trip). The entire crew was so kind to me on the first flight and even let me exit the plane first. I was truly broken. And, again, alone. Where was my wife and family? Disney World. The kids were calling and texting non-stop to tell me which ride they were on, what food they’d eaten, and what pins they’d found. Tough to swallow. Even more difficult for my relatives.
One relative approached me at my Grandma Leta’s service and was appalled that my wife did not come to help me bury my “second mother.” I brushed it off and said, “The vacation was already booked.” This relative pointed out that just a few years earlier we left Disney World (after only one day in the parks) to be with her grandmother when she died. It’s true. But that was her side of the family. With several of her family members we would travel many miles to say goodbye, come home, and return for the funeral the next week. We attended every funeral, every graduation, and every other major event. Time and money to support her family. Which was the right thing to do. But neglecting the other side has left many bitter. It also set a precedent for the kids to one day to do the same thing to their father and his family.
I’m not writing this blog to point fingers, get attention, or seek pity as a victim. No one person holds all the blame in my story. I have my faults. No one should be able to force us to do anything against our will. However, when we make choices (whether under narcissistic duress or by our own volition) those decisions can have long lasting effects. We live with the consequences either way. Think carefully about the ramifications of your actions. Only you will answer for those choices. I am answering for mine.
If you find yourself in this kind of situation, let me give you some hope. Your story is not over yet! By God’s grace I’ve been blessed with a compassionate and patient wife. She’s helping to fix something she didn’t break. She’s healing wounds she didn’t cause. And I am truly grateful for the little things she does to encourage me. True agape love has found me. And we are now working through things together.
The photo above is symbolic of one of Misty’s many spiritual gifts. She cannot help but be kind. She’s constantly looking for opportunities to bless other people. Christian service and ministry is her calling. She beams with a smile that will melt any frozen heart. Her kindness and sweet spirit radiates in every direction.
When I first met Misty at our congregation, I was broken on the back row. For weeks I’d worshipped in silence. We were total strangers. Both divorced. Both survivors. Except for worshipping at the same church we had nothing in common. One Sunday night, she just walked right up to me and told me her story. Unprovoked and unplanned. She had a simple message: “You will survive this.” We became fast friends. Since then I’ve watched her minister to dozens of people, the same way she showed compassion to me on that night.
As I’ve begun to build my life back from the ground up, I keep having to make some difficult decisions. One is to change the way I think. I remember sitting alone in that big empty four bedroom house on September 11 feeling completely alone. Day after day, I was praying for God to help me find a way to survive it. Little did I know that the difficult part was still ahead of me. I couldn’t find my (soon to be ex) wife or children when they left me. No job. No money in the bank. Empty house. Thousands of dollars in bills to pay. It would take years to handle the debt. But I did that. Alone.
When I started over again, I had to learn to work harder than I’d ever imagine. I was never involved in the banking or taxes, so that was an eye opening experience. I was given a $7 weekly allowance for years (doubled to $14 in the last year). Yet now I was supposed to pay 50% off the bills until court concluded, and our house sold, but I ended up paying 100%. The courts failed to remedy this issue (contempt of court means virtually nothing in a courtroom). I had to fight to see my children. I maxed out several credit cards. I took out a personal loan, before my credit hit rock bottom. Eventually I was working 4 jobs and still couldn’t make ends meet. I sold everything I could find: furniture, jewelry, heirlooms, mementos, my childhood toys, my clothes, collectibles and much more. I felt completely alone.
What did I learn? In our darkest hour, we must learn to trust in God. I. Was. Never. Alone! God can (and will) work with whatever we present to Him. But we need to surrender all to Him. We should give Him complete control to do something good in us and with our story (Romans 8:28, Philippians 1:21). It was not “me” working… it was Him working though me. I could not do it alone. He never left me.
You and I are never alone. God is working things together for His own good and purposes. He is doing this in my life and my home. In an effort to heal old wounds I’ve read books and Bible passages. Misty and I have prayed. We have worked to restore what relationships remain. But we trust that God we’ll do something wonderful.
I’ll share two great things briefly to close this blog. First, Misty labors with me to build my relationship with my father and other relatives that were previously cut off. It’s been amazing to see God work! We’ve got a long road but we will be steadfast. Find a spouse like Misty. One who builds you up and refuses to tear you down. One who is gracious and a peacemaker.
Second, Misty and I have received advice and counsel from a truly unexpected source. My mother, if you could believe it. Yes, she passed away in 2010 but she kept several journals. One was entitled “My Lupus Journey.” When she wrote it so many years ago, I wonder if she could have ever dreamed that one day my wife would need her words of wisdom. My mom’s story has blessed Misty, me and many others. We are growing through her words of wisdom. How she dealt with the disease, which Misty has now (Lupus). How she dealt with a son who cuts you out of your life, which I’m currently experiencing. How she had to watch her grandchildren from afar because of being cut off. All too timely advice.
I pray you never deal with tough things like I’ve experienced. However, chances are you’re either in the storm or have navigated these choppy waters before. There is a seasoned captain awaiting to pilot your vessel. Will you let Him?
We all have baggage. We need to lay it at the feet of Jesus. None of us are perfect, but when we surrender it to the Lord… we rise up from our knees without condemnation (Roman’s 8:1). That is where you start. On your knees. Do you need a reset? Forgive. Start over. Maybe today.
Happy Mother’s Day momma. I’m sorry. I love you and miss you more everyday. You are loved. Dr. Ray Reynolds #ReynoldsRap #WixBlog #authentic #Christian #positive #practical #community #God#Jesus #Facebook #Twitter #Instagram #YouTube #Reddit #TikTok #WWJD #GTKYB#Christianity #faithful #ReclaimingHope #RayReynolds #MistyReynolds #gospel #goodnews Listen to the Ray Reynolds Rap podcast: https://anchor.fm/reynoldsrap Download FREE Study Guides & Books: www.rayreynoldsrap.com Ray Reynolds is the pulpit minister of the Summerdale Church of Christ in Summerdale, AL and director of TITUS Camp in Florence, AL.