My Origin Story

Recently, I was given an opportunity to tell how I came to faith in Christ. That’s kind of a tricky story…when you come from a family where there is mental illness and domestic violence, nothing is ever simple.

As a nine year old girl, I had the privilege of going to a church camp for a week. This was probably my first time away from home that long, and I was pretty quiet (some girls tried to block the cabin door and not let me back in saying “You know, people would like you better if you talked more…”). But the Bible study part and the singing part and the part where you got asked if you wanted to “give your life to Jesus” drew me right in. I thought maybe if I put Him in control of my life, I could go home and not fight with my brother and not yell back when I was yelled at and be “really really good” and then maybe my family would not be so angry all the time. Here’s a glimpse into a little girl’s world:

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Jesus loves the little children?
Oh really? Yes, I see…
He must love the other children
(This don’t look like love to me!)

In the car, while Mom hits Dad
And we sit in the back
Afraid and sad
As we drive to the church
And park in a row
Where all those nice people
That Jesus loves go…

I think of the words
Those nice ladies say,
“You can get what you want
From God if you pray.”
So I pray, and I pray,
And I pray and I pray….
(But it never makes
The pain go away).

So sometimes I wonder
Why I am so bad
That Jesus can’t love me
And neither can Dad.

After camp, I went home filled with hope that things would be different. That lasted about two days, so I kind of decided God didn’t answer my prayers, that I wasn’t good enough, and gave up on faith. It’s normal for little kids to think everything is their fault, but that’s a lot for a little kid to try to sort out!

Our family still went to church every week, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Our new Sunday School teacher when I was 14 was a young mom with a big heart and a lot of enthusiasm. She kept telling us God loved us and that He had a plan for our lives and that faith was the only reasonable response. She seemed sincere, but it still all seemed like just words.

Then, three weeks after a friend of mine hung himself, her beautiful 18 month old daughter was killed in a tragic accident. I thought surely she would give up her hope and faith. I mean, how can anyone make it through that kind of loss and still believe God is good and kind and loving or even watching!?!?! But she did.

Seeing her still cling to God and not just give up was pretty powerful. One night we prayed together and I gave faith another chance. God answered this time. Hope began to sprout from all those seeds Sunday School teachers had planted in my heart, even when the ground was still pretty hard and dry.

I am very grateful.

Soul Menders

Recently, I dreamed I had on a beautiful white satin dress
And I was standing on a small stool.
There were tears, rips, and messy jagged gashes
Torn in the beautiful garment I was wearing.
It looked like I had been in a fight–
Like some terrible violent thing had happened!
But as I stood on the stool, leaning into strong arms
I saw several sets of gentle, competent hands
Equipped with needle and thread
Skillfully repairing the tears in my beautiful garment.

At first, I couldn’t understand what was happening,
But as I woke up, I understood –
God saw me in my weakness and my trouble
And brought me to this place
Because He loved me.
If I didn’t panic,
Didn’t run from the help being offered,
If I stayed with the process,
(even when I thought I could not)–
These loving repairers of my tattered life
Would be the hands of Jesus to help mend my soul.

Dear God,
Help me to be a soul mender
(not one those who make the tears in the first place).
Help me to be one of those who lift up the broken,
Providing mercy for the memories
And a place of safety for those who need to heal.
Help me never take for granted Your grace.
Only You can make us whole.
Thank you for the soul menders in my life.

Teresa Norman Apr 2020

A Vessel Of Honor

A noise was made in heaven as the way parted and the Accuser entered the throne room. He came with a list…”See that little pot in the corner? It was made from defective materials. It is too small and weak for any good use. It’s broken now. Surely you have no remaining purpose for that one….It will never amount to anything…Can I have it? I’ll dispose of it for you…take care of the problem…It should be discarded. Surely there is no use for it…” (He inches slowly toward the pot and bends over to grasp it when the Lord’s strong voice booms out saying, “Silence! This one was made for My use. I designed it. I am not done with it yet. I have a purpose your eyes will never understand. It was bought and paid for with My blood: I ransomed this one! It has been redeemed! You will speak no more against it! It is mine!”

Satan slithered away and the Lord went and tenderly picked up each broken piece of the fractured vessel, missing nothing. He carried them to a workbench. The Holy Spirit came and together they labored with love over their broken vessel. The blood of the Lamb and the oil of joy covered each ragged edge as God reconstructed what the enemy thought he had destroyed. Slowly, from a pile of broken pieces, God fashioned a beautiful vessel of honor. At the banquet celebration He held, this vessel was on the table of the King of Kings — a beautiful goblet full of new wine. Its delicate, intricately shaped stem and ornamented sides were beautifully decorated with scenes declaring the victory of the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously.
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From Psalms 30:8-12 NLT
I cried out to you, O Lord.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
9 “What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”

11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Teresa Norman April 6, 1991

A Heart Divided (Poem)

Lord, I need an undivided heart –
Pieces of mine still lay in the rubble
Of the damage done
By those who came before-
The destroyers,
Abusers,
Molesters,
Bullies,
And monsters
who tortured a little girl
Who, instead of singing songs about a sunrise,
Now cowers from its light.

I know you as a Father-
A loving, gentle Savior
(I’m sure I do-
The evidence of your great faithfulness
Has sustained me this far) …

But a piece of my heart,
(the piece still under the wreckage
In the far corner of my not-quite-outrun past)
Questions if maybe you are a bully….
(Not the kind who does the damage –
Not the kind who cheers on the others,
But the kind who watches and maybe holds their coats…
You don’t speak.
You don’t make them stop.
You stand in silence…)
WHY?

How can my heart be in two places?
I cannot repair it myself. I have tried.
God, I need you.

Teresa Norman 2020

Landmines

How many times through the course of a day
As I make my way through the country inside
Where the darkness lies
Will I step in a place where I have to face
The landmines buried so long ago?

In tormented fear I cry out in the night–
This can’t be life! God, this can’t be right!
I’ve been “set free,” “walk in victory”
(But all that stuff just isn’t enough)!
Deep scars….so hard….
I curse the day the mine was laid!

Still, cleanup crews come to a land where there was war…
Mines are dug up…disconnected…traps sprung….
Dangerous work is done.

God, let it be done in me.
Send Your spirit to detect
The mines that lay there yet.
Protect those who are so unaware
Of the trip-wires, booby traps, tracers and flares
That lurk in the rubbish I’ve tried so hard to hide.
Come, grace of God. Come and abide
In the places where the darkness lies.
Let Your spirit disarm the alarms that still go off…
The carefully hidden mines that lay in wait
For someone to walk into my life…
Make me a safe companion!
Don’t let me destroy
An unsuspecting one again!
Protect them, God.
Help me, Jesus.
I stand in need….to be freed by Your love.

Teresa Norman 1996

Genesis (Poem)

Here in the quiet
as I kneel beside my bed
Waiting for directions,
He calms the noises in my head
And with a heart of gratitude,
I give Him thanks again
Because He gave me a new beginning
when I thought I’d reached the end.

Genesis, a beginning
When I thought I’d lost it all-
Strength for the journey
(Even though sometimes I fall)
Feet on the pathway-
I don’t have to walk alone
Because the God who loves and care for me
Has given my heart a home…

The end was the beginning
Of a brand new way of living-
He gave me back the will to live again.
Now a Higher Power I cannot see
Reminds me that He cares for me
When I spend some time with the people of Genesis.
I see His love in the people of Genesis.

Teresa Norman 1992

The Betrayal (Poem)

The night is dark and stormy, there’s a cold wind in my soul

Seems like I’ve been torn apart and never will be whole.

The suffocating weight that rests upon my broken heart

Holds me in my silence–Lord, when will the healing start?

 

I cast about in desperate for hope that there might somehow be

Someone who can reach out to break these chains and set me free.

But who can know the torment? Who can truly comprehend?

(Unless they too have been betrayed by loved one or by friend?)

 

As I cower in desperation and in fear of what shall be,

A picture comes to mind I know that you have given me…

 

I see you hanging on a cross

In agony betrayed,

Naked, torn and bleeding

So that we can be saved.

The one who lived and walked with you,

With whom you shared your soul

Was the person who betrayed you—

All my agony you know!

 

Watching friends present a mime of the Passion of Christ years ago, I was struck HARD by the thought that Judas, the betrayer, was one of the 12 disciples Jesus had spent the last three years pouring his life into.  He was one of the guys, probably was treated like the other guys.  He wasn’t some random stranger.  In the words of “Why?” by Michael Card, “Only a friend can betray a friend….a stranger has nothing to gain and only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.”  Jesus knows what DV survivors, abuse victims, and all those who have been betrayed by someone they love feel.  (I am a slow learner…..I never realized in my guts until this week, that He hung there naked in front of his abusers.  He knows.

Betrayal and Job’s Friends (poem)

One of my favorite relatives sent me a message last night that it was her cousin whose ex-husband  killed her at a church in Federal Way this week.  A mom with three little kids….a big loving extended family in SO much pain….what can you say?

If one of the lessons in the Book of Job means anything, it might best to not say too much.  Not think there is an answer to why, or what it means, or how this could happen.   Job’s friends came to “comfort” him and ended up making him feel worse.  They talked too much.  Said things they had no right to say.  In the end of the story, God toasted them for misrepresenting His heart.  The only time they really did Job any good was when they sat in the ashes with him as he grieved.  There is a lesson there about presumption and talking way too much….there is a time to talk and a time to listen.

Years ago, I was present at court while a young friend told of her step-dad’s crimes against her humanity. Going home from that experience, I was struck silent by the depth of his betrayal of her and of her mother.  As a person of faith, I wanted to encourage, but words seemed so USELESS!  This poem was the result…..

The Betrayal

The night is dark and stormy
There’s a cold wind in my soul
Seems like I’ve been torn apart
And never will be whole.

The suffocating weight that rests
Upon my broken heart
Holds me in my silence–
Lord, when will the healing start?

I cast about in frantic hope
That there might somehow be
Someone who can reach out
To break these chains and set me free.

But who can know the torment?
Who can really comprehend
Unless they too have been betrayed
By lover or by friend?

As I cower in desperation
And in fear of what shall be,
A picture comes to mind
I know that You have given me…

I see you hanging on a cross
In agony betrayed,
Naked, torn and bleeding
So from sin we can be saved.

The one who lived and walked with You,
With whom You shared Your soul
Was the person who betrayed You—
All my agony You know!

©Teresa Norman 1988

Reasons to Swear

I stopped swearing once, for a really long time.  I thought it was the thing to do.  You know, Christians are supposed to talk nice, and not use bad words with a lot of gusto and expression?  But there are no nice ways to say the guy threatened to kill his girlfriend and then spent some time pounding her in the stomach and dragging her around the house with their toddler screaming while Mommy got beat again.  There’s no nice words!  There are also no nice words to describe the actions of a stepfather who took a heavy object to his 15 year old stepdaughter’s head and left her needing 20 staples and stitches.  Some of what people do to each other is indescribable!

I suppose there are people who have never known a victim of domestic violence.  To them, that’s just a news story, a statistic, or something that happens to some unknown little understood “other” out there somewhere.  This week, I see the faces, the arms, the stomach bruises of the friends mentioned above.  I give thanks that they are alive with minimal permanent physical damages.  I give thanks for the community that is surrounding one of them and loving her and walking with her through this stage of her life, and look for opportunities to encourage the other one to look towards faith-that she is a child of God, imperfect but of infinite value,one who deserves way different than she has accepted from this #($&^! who broke his promises yet again.

The Unite To End Violence Against Women Campaign of the UN (click on the link) states that the most common form of violence against women is the one inflicted by an intimate partner–that women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, and that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.  It is so widespread, we ALL probably know victims, even if we don’t know it.

I loved hearing Pastor Eugene say in last week’s sermon that a woman who is being beat doesn’t have to stand there and take it.  That SHOULD be a no brainer, but too often churches have blamed the victim (and guys can be victims too-my Dad was).

I know swearing doesn’t really help.  But, I’m not sure what other kind of words to use expressing absolute frustration, outrage, and powerlessness to God on this one.  Would rather stick to the important words–like “You don’t deserve this!” and “WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP!!!!!?”

(Too little, but better than nothing?: Childcare while Mom goes to counseling or court, help with paperwork, drop off a meal, help find a new apartment….listen, love, listen some more, speak truth, include her and the kids in your family, pray, provide bus passes)  Ideas??

How to help?

National Domestic Violence Hotline (resources and contacts in all 50 states)

Because It Matters (resource site for those in the church experiencing domestic violence or other forms of abuse)