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The Complicated Heart

Building Relationships / Dr. Gary Chapman
The Truth Network Radio
January 4, 2020 7:03 am

The Complicated Heart

Building Relationships / Dr. Gary Chapman

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January 4, 2020 7:03 am

​Sarah Mae’s story reads like a novel. From an early age she suffered neglect and abuse. On the next Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, you’ll hear her story and the complicated journey she took to forgive her alcoholic mother. She made a promise to her mom that she would share the truth about their story. Don’t miss the conversation on the next Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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Are you struggling with a difficult relationship? Are you torn up and crazy and confused because of it?

If so, today's Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman is for you. Just thinking, I wonder if you can kill yourself, like with a, you know, plastic razor. I didn't want to die, I just wanted her to care. And I yelled out, maybe I'll just kill myself.

And she yelled back to me, go ahead, I dare you. Welcome to Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the New York Times bestseller, "The 5 Love Languages" . Today on our first broadcast of 2020, a promise made to a dying mother is kept. You'll hear the story of Sarah May and the difficulty she had for giving her alcoholic mother. Our featured resource today is The Complicated Heart, Loving Even When It Hurts.

Find out more at I think a lot of daughters are going to identify with our topic today. But Gary, this topic of loving and forgiving even when it hurts is such a needed one. And we're going to start the new year off with this important conversation.

Of course, I think you're right. You know, through the years I've counseled with many people who have been hurt by parents. It could be a mother, it could be a father, been hurt deeply by them and then gone through experiences growing out of that. And they, for a lifetime, tend to hold this stuff inside, you know.

And they never come to the place of releasing the past, you know, releasing it to God. I'm very excited about our guest today and about the book and topic that we're going to be discussing. Well, let me introduce her. Sarah May, M-A-E, is a nationally known speaker, the host of The Complicated Heart podcast. Co-author of the bestseller Desperate, Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. She speaks at conferences around the country and encourages women to walk in freedom. She lives with her husband and three children in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And you'll find her book at

Again, the title is The Complicated Heart. Well, Sarah May, welcome to Building Relationships. Thank you so much for having me. It is such an honor to be on this show.

Well, we're delighted that you're here. We talk about a lot of relational issues, but the one you're going to describe is so important. As your mother was dying, you made a promise. What was that promise? I told her I was going to tell our story and all that God had done through it. And this book is a part of that, I'm assuming?

Yeah, it is. And so when I made that promise, I didn't know there was going to be a book. So the promise was very simply, I don't know how I'm going to do this, but somehow I will tell our story.

And so the book didn't happen until three years after that. But that was the promise on her deathbed. So you dedicate the book to her, and I'm quoting, to all the brokenhearted daughters who dare to hope.

Yes. Yeah, because my heart is really for those women with mother wounds, but it's also really for anybody who's struggling in a very confusing, difficult, tangled-up relationship. But I will tell you that very specifically for the brokenhearted daughters, I have a tender spot because Mother's Day comes around and everybody's cheering their moms, which is appropriate and beautiful, but so many women are just so heartbroken on that day. And we often talk about father wounds when a father's not in the picture, but we don't hear as much about mother wounds.

And I get lots of messages from women who are just deeply, deeply hurting from not having a mother. Now you moved in with your mom when you were 14. There has to be a story behind that decision. Yeah, so interestingly, so my parents were divorced before I was a year old, so I didn't know any different. To me, that was always normal. What I learned was abnormal growing up was that my dad actually got custody of me. So I grew up with my dad, not my mom, but I would see my mom in the summers. I would spend summers with her, and I thought she was the coolest mom ever. Like, I was not a believer, and my standards were like, I want to be just like my mom or Madonna, you know, 80s child.

And I just thought she was so fun and so wonderful. And so finally, after living with my dad for 14 years, I thought, well, I'm 14, and I should be able to live with my mom. You know, here I am, a teenage girl, and I feel like I should be with, you know, a woman taking care of me, a mom. And my mom agreed with me. And sort of a part of that decision as well was, I had a stepmom, and we didn't really get along, and it was very, very difficult to be home. And so I told my dad, you know, in my teenage, you know, strong-headed stubbornness, like, I'm going to go live with my mom, and you can't stop me.

And with tears in his eyes, I mean, he just relented, because what was he going to do? And I don't think he knew the extent to how bad my mom actually was. We did not know she was an alcoholic at that time.

And so at 14, I moved in with my mom and my little sister, we have different dads, and my mom's 20-year-old boyfriend. And it was incredible at first. And then it all went downhill. And what I mean by that is, I slowly began to discover that my mother was an alcoholic.

And I really didn't realize it because of the drinking. I realized it first because of how mean she had become. My mom was extremely verbally and emotionally abusive, sometimes physically abusive, and I had seen her be that way with men.

My mom was married five times, but she had not been that way with me. And now it was like she was very sarcastic with me. She would tell me I was ugly and I was stupid, and it was just so confusing for me, because this was a woman who I just loved so much. And I thought, why is she talking to me like this? Why is she being so mean to me? And every time I would try and tell her how much it hurt me, she would just laugh or roll her eyes.

She never took it seriously. And I finally confronted her. I had seen some talk show about a family who had an alcoholic, and the family stages an intervention, and then everybody cries and everybody hugs, and the person gets help, and happily ever after.

And at 14, I'm thinking, well, that's how the world works. She just doesn't know she's an alcoholic, because by this point I had connected the dots, like she was drinking vodka, whiskey, morning, noon, night. But she was a functional alcoholic, so she could go to work and all of that. But I was connecting her meanness with her drinking. And so trembling, I went out onto the front porch where she was sitting one day to do the noble thing, what I thought was the noble thing, and tell her what she didn't know, that she was an alcoholic.

And so I went out and I said, Mom, I have to talk to you. When you drink, you are really, really mean to me, and I think you're an alcoholic. And she just laughed, and then she said, so what? And I was like, so what?

What do you mean? No, Mom, you are really mean when you drink. And she's just laughing at me. And at this point the rage is starting to boil up in me, because why does she not love me? Why is she laughing at me?

And I say the only thing I know as a teenager that I think will hurt her in order to get a response. And I said, I don't even think I love you. And she just laughed. And that really, in that moment, just did something to my heart. It just did something like, you are not taking me seriously, you don't really love me, and I just became very, very hardened that day. And to really cement that hardness and that devastation, it was either that night or a few nights later, I was in the bathtub and I could hear her making her drink, and I was looking at this cheap pink daisy razor on the side of the tub, and just thinking, I wonder if you can kill yourself with a plastic razor. And I didn't want to die, I just wanted her to care. And I yelled out, maybe I'll just kill myself.

And she yelled back to me, go ahead, I dare you. Yeah, so that was when, you know, that's kind of the moment that you know you're on your own. And I decided at 14, like, I'm on my own. And the talk shows on TV don't solve the things in your life.

They may turn out okay for the people on TV, but for you, you're stuck. Oh yeah, and I think another thing that happened to my heart during that time was a very cynical vent also took root there. Like, that's not the way things happen. Sarah, I started reading your book late one evening and I didn't stop because it's just, you just have to go through it. And here's the real powerful thing, you're so real and authentic and raw.

I mean, it's a hard read in places. Just when you're talking about the razor blade there and thinking about that, it's very difficult to think of a 14-year-old who wants to take her own life. But it feels like, you know, this is the only way I can get my mom's attention. The other redemptive thing about this, though, is that you have included journal entries of your mother. There are harsh things that she just said to you and all of this. There's one of them, early on in the book, you say, I wish part of my purpose would be to write, to give something to others through my writing.

God is just waiting for the right time for me to begin my new life. That's what your mother had written down. Yeah, it's kind of mind-blowing. It's really fascinating because while the book is how I learned to love and forgive my alcoholic mother and, you know, the years of what that looked like, looking back after she died and finding her journals, it was as though I met my mom for the first time because I saw what was behind what I saw growing up, you know. And to be able to trace a life and say, how did somebody become an alcoholic? How did somebody get so mean?

You know, what happened? And so reading my mom's journals and then reading things like that, how she wanted to impact people for good, she wanted to do a good thing. I mean, this is why the book is called A Complicated Heart because it's complicated and it's just very, very confusing and interesting. And anyway, I really wanted to give my mom a voice in this book because some people, most people, a lot of people are going to relate with me some way in my story with a difficult, painful relationship. But there are going to be women who are going to relate with my mom, who were just so wounded, so broken, so hurt that they perhaps act in ways that they should not act.

And it's not an excuse for their behavior, it's just an explanation. And so I wanted to honor my mom and give her a voice in the story because I felt like it was really important. And so, yeah, when I hear you read that and putting that specific one in just really was like, wow. And now I'm like, well, mom, now you do get to do that.

Your writing is going to impact people. Yeah. So your mother's drinking, your stepfather's drinking, and this rules the house that you moved into at the age of 14. But I'm struck by the way she abused you with her words. Can you talk about the effect of those words?

Yeah. So this year I actually learned a term that helped me to really understand what growing up with my mom was like for the three years I lived with her. I never had words for it. And so I just felt crazy and confused. And this year I learned the term gaslighting, which we hear it a lot of times with politics.

But what that word really means, it's just when somebody uses psychological means to make you question your own sanity. And looking back, what I realized was my mom would subtly gaslight me. I don't think she did it on purpose, but it's just the way that it was. And so, you know, I would, she would, you know, put me down, put me down, verbally abuse me, be sarcastic, hurt my feelings over and over again until finally I would say, mom, stop.

Like, you're so mean. And I would yell at her. And then she would turn it around on me and very calmly be like, what's wrong with you? Why would you yell at your mother like that?

You have a problem. And it was so confusing to me because then I was like, oh my gosh, I'm a terrible daughter. I didn't communicate well.

This is not how I should talk to my mom, but I don't understand. Like, she hurt me. And you just begin to question everything you experience, everything you see until the point that you have absolutely no confidence in what you see, what you feel, what you experience. And so you turn the anger on yourself.

So I would just beat myself up. Like, I'm so stupid for being so sensitive. I'm so dumb, you know, that I can't communicate well to my mom.

If only I could communicate well, she wouldn't hurt me anymore. And I often tell people who, because the more I've learned about this and talked about it, the more other people are like, oh my gosh, that's what happened to me. Gaslighting is like this. It's like you're walking down the street and you run into somebody and they punch you right in the face. And your nose is bleeding and you're like, ow, why did you do that? Why did you punch me? And they're like, I didn't punch you. You ran into my fist. And you're like, no, I didn't. You punched me.

But they're so convincing that you end up walking away thinking I'm so dumb. I cannot believe I ran into that person's fist. That's what it's like. And so that was extremely damaging to me because, one, I didn't have words for it. Two, I was still growing and I was only 14. And so I'm a teen and, you know, going through hormones and not understanding things anyway. And then to be, you know, so put down all the time and then for it to be turned on me as though something was wrong with me and it was my fault. I just I was very, very insecure, very insecure. And I lacked, you know, any confidence at all, which was a perfect, you know, the perfect person to take advantage of because I just wanted attention.

I wanted to have something, to have some security. Yeah. You know, that reminds me of the ancient Hebrew proverb that says, life and death is in the power of the tongue. You know, words can so deeply impress a person's life and especially a teenager or a child.

Yeah. Now, you were sexually active as a teenager. Your mom didn't really have many rules for you. What was that like?

Well, I just thought at first, like, this is amazing. I get to do whatever I want. I really don't have any rules. But once things went downhill, it wasn't about fun. It was about I needed to have something to cling to. I needed to be loved. And so I very quickly, at 14, I got a boyfriend and we were with each other all the time.

His mom was addicted to drugs and he didn't have a dad around. And so we just became each other's safety. And so we just thought the thing you do is you have sex. I mean, that's what you do if you're a couple. I never knew any different.

There's there's two things I need to say here that I think are really important for your listeners. And that I have learned is that one, we have this idea that everybody knows that, you know, waiting for sex till after marriage is a positive, good thing. I had never heard that in my entire life. Like, that was never on my radar.

And so in my mind, this is what you do. I did not know any better. I did not know any different. And I had never heard any different. And the other thing, and I know we'll talk about Jesus later, but I never knew who Jesus was. I was 14, I had never ever, I never knew. And so none of these things were concepts in my life.

And so to me, this is just what you do. So naturally, I became sexually active with my boyfriend. And then at 16, I found out I was pregnant. How did you process that? Yeah, so, you know, at 16 to process something like you find out you're pregnant, I mean, how do you process that? You just go numb.

And that's what I did. I didn't know how to even process that information, except to just do the next thing. And so I find out I'm pregnant, I'm, you know, freaking out inside and I go to the doctor, they confirm it. The doctor calls my house, my mom picks up the phone, and so she finds out and I try to talk to my mom about it, and she goes completely numb herself. This is the other dynamic of the relationship with my mom that I need to mention here is that there was a very whiplash relationship of me being hurt and cowering and sad and my mom being dominating and forceful and cruel. But then the flip of that was my mom, when she was scared, would revert to being a little girl.

And I would have to care for her as the mother. And so I would mother her, but I had nobody mothering me. And so she was very scared when she found that I was pregnant. And so she completely shut down and became that little girl.

And so there was no comforting there. She literally, I couldn't tell you anything she said to me after that. And knowing now after reading her journals and knowing my mom in a different way, she had been pregnant two times and had two abortions that she'd never dealt with.

So that was a wound that she'd never, that she had never been healed from. And so she just really did not know what to do with me. And so I then called my grandmother, who at the time I was very, very close to. She lived back in Pennsylvania where my dad was. And she said, I'll have it taken care of.

And I was like, what are you talking about? I'm keeping my baby. And she hung up the phone. And then I called my dad and he was so very kind to me. And he said, maybe it'll be fun to have a little one running around. And he just, you know, my dad has such a tender heart. It wasn't that he was happy that I was pregnant. I think he just knew how scared I was. So yeah, that was really, really, really hard. Now, I'm hearing you say that during this time, you really still had no awareness of God in your life.

Right. I didn't. But looking back, you know, of course, God had an awareness of my life. And he, even though I felt like I was in this deep, dark pit, what I know now is that he was in it with me. And he would show up in various ways in my life to let me know he was there.

So I didn't know who he was specifically. I did not know Jesus specifically. But I believed in a God who I just did not know. So one thing was when I was around nine, my sister was kidnapped by her dad.

We have different dads. And my mom had dropped her off for a visitation and he never came back. And so we had no idea where she was. And for six months, I think it was six months to a year, I prayed every single night to a God I did not know that we would find my sister.

And we finally found her. And that cemented something in my little girl heart that there was a God. And then when I was 14, living with my mom and uncle came to visit and he gave me this Christian cassette tape. And I had been my stepmom was Catholic, so I'd gone to Catholic Church, but I had no idea that there was Christian music other than hymns. And so I don't know why I listen to this tape, probably because we didn't have phones and Internet and all of that stuff.

And it was like something to do. So I listen and I'm listening to this man sing about this Jesus that I don't know. And I am just crying in my bed, praying to God to give me whatever it is that this man is singing about. And so God was so very evidently wooing me. But no, I did not know him. And the other thing, too, I have to say is that same uncle took us to a church. And again, I'd only ever been to a Catholic Church. I didn't even know there was other churches. And we walked in to this one church and people were smiling and clapping and singing. And I remember having this thought like the Spirit is here. And I was like, what is this? This is crazy.

People are clapping in church and they're smiling. And the pastor spoke and I understood him. And it was just such a crazy experience because I'd never seen anything like it. And so these were all little places where God was just wooing my heart, showing up. And so I hadn't yet become a Christian. I did not know him yet, but he was intervening in my life. You mentioned your relationship with your dad. When you moved to live with your mother at 14, how did your dad respond to that? Yeah, well, he, my dad is so tenderhearted and he has been such a force of love in my life.

I don't know where I'd be without him loving me so well as a child. But it was really hard for him. He never really explained to me what my mom was like or, you know, it wasn't until later that he would tell me things like, you know, I'd come home from work and you would be in your crib and you would have been in your crib all day in dirty diapers with bottles around you. And, you know, he didn't really explain those things to me at 14. And so he just was sad.

But I think he felt two things. One, he knew that I was growing into a teenage girl and he didn't know how to handle that. And so I think somehow he thought maybe my mom would be OK for me, not realizing just how bad she'd gotten. And then the other thing was he knew how awful the relationship was between my stepmom and me. And I mean, at one point I remember telling my dad before I made the decision to move, like living with her is hell.

And I never swore in front of my dad. So to say hell was like, you know, and I think he just felt stuck, like he wasn't sure what to do. And I really think that even though he was sad and confused, I really think he allowed me to go out of what he thought was love, like probably knowing maybe this isn't good, but maybe, you know, if it's what she wants, maybe it will be good.

I'm not sure. But it was very, very hard. He used to say to me things like, my dad's not a believer and he didn't know, I think, how to talk to me about things.

You know, but he would say things like, if you move back, like I'll give you a new car, like, you know, just kind of saying in a joking way. But like, I know he was actually serious, just trying to find ways to have me come home. It was really hard. So, Sarah, what happened then?

You know that you're pregnant, you're getting kind of conflicted messages internally and externally. What happened? So this was the most devastating lonely time of my entire life. And I'm getting ready to, so I'm sick.

This is the other thing on top of it. So I'm 16. I find out I'm pregnant. My mom checks out of the situation.

My boyfriend and I are just planning on like, I guess we get married and get a trailer. Like, I guess this is what you do. And on top of all of that, I am extremely sick. I am throwing up morning, noon and night. I am so frail and so weak.

And at this time, it's actually coming into summertime. And so I have to move back to Pennsylvania with my dad. So I'm leaving my mom.

I'm leaving the boyfriend. I'm going back to Pennsylvania where my grandmother, who was my best friend, you know, we were so close, won't even look at me, won't even talk to me. And this is my dad's mom.

And so I go back. My dad doesn't know how to treat me. He's probably torn between, you know, his mom and me. And so my family doesn't want me to tell anybody because they had a prominent family.

I had a prominent family and it had to be a big secret. And everybody had an idea about what I should do. And nobody once asked me, Sarah, what do you want to do?

How are you feeling? Nothing. Just complete isolation except for you need to have an abortion. And I was like, I don't want to do that. What if I gave my child up to a couple who couldn't have kids? Well, nobody liked that idea.

Nobody liked that. And the only person in my life who actually wanted me to keep the baby was my pro-life Catholic stepmother. But she wanted the baby for herself and to raise as my brother or sister. And I was like, I can't do that.

That's crazy. And because we didn't have a good relationship. And I thought that's just, I can't.

And so there was, you know, ideas thrown around like, well, we could send you to New Jersey and nobody will know you're pregnant and you'll have the baby and then we'll figure this out. And, you know, this whole time nobody's hugging me. Nobody's touching me. Nobody's giving me love.

I can't talk about it. And I'm so, so sick. And so finally, after three months, I'm three months along and my other grandmother comes to visit me. And she sits down next to me on my bed and she puts her arm around me and she says, honey, I really think that you should have an abortion because then you can go to prom and you can have a life. And at this point, I'm like, whatever. I don't care.

I don't even care anymore. And so she tells my family that I've agreed and my other grandmother sets up the appointment and they decide that I can't have an abortion in his office because I'm too fidgety. And so they have to take me to the hospital where they can put me out completely. And the night before I went in, I just cried and held my belly and told the baby I was sorry.

And I went in and they changed my name again because I had a prominent family and I had the abortion. And then I slept for two days. And when I woke up, I was in my grandmother, the one who wouldn't talk to me. I was living with her now because my stepmom wouldn't let me back home. And I woke up and I went to the kitchen and she serves me toast with a smile. And we never talk about it.

And it was never talked about. So, Sarah, that was a pattern then with your mom. If you talked about something that she'd laugh at you or she'd become the child. Now you're in another situation and everything is shoved under the rug. You can't. You must have felt crazy.

Yes. Well, what you what you do is you just learn to numb your emotions. Emotions aren't safe anymore.

You hate yourself for having emotions. And because you know, because I had to numb myself and not talk about it, I just assumed in my mind that I was pro-choice. And just I just couldn't talk about it. I couldn't. Any time somebody would bring up babies or abortion or I remember in college seeing a pro-life commercial and I had to walk away. Or if I saw like a four year old, I would tear up and you know, you just learn how to try and shut yourself down.

Shut yourself off. And it's extremely devastating. There's so much at play because you also learn that you have no control, no power. Like you feel absolutely powerless over your body.

And that was a pattern for me, too. I felt very powerless over my body because of the way that I felt like guys would take advantage of me. There was some sexual abuse when I was 14. And then with the abortion, it was just another case of somebody else doing with my body what they wanted. And so I really felt very powerless, very crazy. And that made its way into my marriage, actually.

And we can talk about that later. But yeah, it was very difficult. And the thing is, it was an unhealed wound for years that would seep out in other ways. And I would write poetry about it or I would, when my grandmother died the next year of cancer, I didn't cry. I remember thinking she deserved it. And this was God's punishment to her for making me have an abortion.

That's not true. But that's, you know, what I felt. And nobody could understand. Everybody was like, Why? Why aren't you crying? Because they knew how close we were. And I was just like, She deserved it. I mean, that's, I was angry.

There was just a lot of rage and a lot of confusion. And I remember the first time telling somebody, I told a boyfriend that I'd had an abortion and I just remember crying. So it would seep out like I wanted to talk about it.

I just didn't know how or when or if it was safe. Let's talk about when things began to turn for you and you became more aware of God. How did all of that, how did all of that start and when? So again, God had been wooing me. So I had a very tender heart towards the Lord. My first taste of Scripture was this book that I got my hands on, someone gave me. And it was, it was just all these scriptures. Like you could look up a topic like alcoholism or sex or, you know, happiness. And you could find scriptures on it. And so that was my first taste of the Bible. And I remember thinking, like, I can understand this.

Like, this has wisdom, you know. And then when I finally made the decision to move back to Pennsylvania, after three years of living with my mom, I'd broken up with the boyfriend. I was so sick of being, I hated my mother and I just wanted to get away from her. So I moved back to Pennsylvania.

I'm in 11th grade. And all of the cool kids go to this thing called Young Life on Wednesday nights to get out of the house. And so I was like, well, I'm going to go to Young Life too. And it's at Young Life that I begin to really start hearing about this man, God, Jesus, somebody who died on a cross for my sins. And I'm piecing together the gospel. I don't fully grasp it yet, but I'm beginning to hear about it. And I get a New Testament from Young Life and I begin to read it and I can't get enough of it.

And I'm understanding it and I'm underlining it. And I remember thinking, I want to be a Christian and I want to be a serious Christian. I used to listen to Dr. Laura Schlesinger and she was this Jewish radio talk show host and she would say, I'm a serious Jew. And so I would start saying, I'm a serious Christian. And for me, it meant black and white living. I had come from such dysfunction, such chaos that I grasped on to sort of like the rules aspect of it and sort of like the wisdom that I saw.

But once I hit my freshman year of college and I got involved with the Navigators Ministry, this is where Jesus really showed up in my life in a way that changed me and helped me to understand grace. And that was, I was at a retreat with the Navigator Ministry and this man was speaking and he said, if Jesus walked in the room right now, what would you do? My very first thought was, well, I would hide.

He wouldn't want to see me. Nobody had to tell me I was a sinner. I knew. I knew my shame. I knew my empty womb. I knew the things that I had done. And I knew that Jesus would not want to see me and I would hide. And I learned that night that Jesus knew everything that I'd ever done and everything that I was going to do and everything I was doing right now. And he loved me anyway.

And that was it. From then on, I surrendered my whole life to Jesus. Well, you know, it's always amazing to me to hear the stories of people like you who have gone through some of the things we've talked about and to see how God reaches out and touches their lives and brings them to himself.

So exciting to know of God's tremendous love. Let's back up a minute and let me ask you this. When you were younger, did you fear that maybe you might become an alcoholic also in your life, like your mother? Did that thought enter your mind? It didn't.

And here's why. I was so angry at my mom that I remember making a vow that God has since helped me to break. But I remember making a vow that I would never be like my mother and I would never treat my kids the way that she did. And I would never become an alcoholic. And even though that vow was me trusting in myself and not in the Lord, there were many aspects of that vow that protected me for a long time until the Lord needed me to trust him more. But I was not worried about that because I had seen the devastation and I went the complete opposite way. Now, with that said, I didn't become an alcoholic.

But as we often do with vows, when we try and protect ourselves, it doesn't really work because we're human and we sin and we have wounds and all these things. And so I didn't become addicted to a substance, but I still escaped my pain in other ways. And for me, because alcohol was my mom, that was just her escaping her pain.

She had a lot of father wounds and there was a lot of other things that happened that caused her to escape her pain, which you can read about in the book, very devastating accusations and things that happened. But for me, I escaped into being, I had to be with a guy. I could not be alone. The anxiety and the pain and the depression were so overwhelming that I could not be alone. And so I would forfeit my own body in order to not have to deal with the pain. And so my mom dealt with her pain through alcoholism.

I dealt with my pain through having to be with a guy and so different, but still both escaping into some kind of an addiction. But the Lord has been so very kind. And so the difference between my mom and I is that, and this is where we get to be generational bondage breakers, is that because I surrendered to the Lord, because of his great mercy and kindness in choosing me and me doing that, he was able to break over time those sinful addictions and patterns that had my mom surrendered to him earlier.

I believe that he would have broken those in her as well. And all of us have the opportunity to surrender to the Lord and he will, he can change us. He can change our lives. It's not easy.

It doesn't happen quickly, but he can, he can do that. Well, Sarah May, listening to your story is very moving and how you would come to ultimately forgive a mother who brought so much pain to you through the years. Talk a little bit about that. How did you get to the place where you were able to forgive her?

Yeah, such a great question. And one of the key questions that I talk about in my book, you know, how do you forgive when the wound is still open? When I became a Christian, of course, I'm reading the Bible and I'm seeing a lot of themes on forgiveness and love. But at this point, I hate my mom and I really don't want anything to do with her. And so I'm, you know, Lord, if you want me to forgive her and love me, you've got to show me how, because I can't do this.

Because I would try to reach out to her and she would just continue to just be so cool. And so there were three really major things that the Lord in his kindness took me through in order to be able to forgive her and love her. The first one is that I had to learn how to deal with my own lies that I had believed about myself, about God, about others, these deeply ingrained beliefs that I had. And because I was so upside down, I had no confidence because I didn't know what to believe. I wasn't sure what was true and what was untrue.

God led me to a fantastic, wise mentor who sat me down one day after I told her I felt crazy and that my emotions are out of control. And she walked me through a process of discovering what she calls core lies. And she did this by getting out of a piece of paper, and I'll be brief here, but basically she wrote things on the paper like, I am bad, I am ugly, I am stupid, I am not good enough. And she wrote a whole list and she said, will you circle any that stand out to you?

And I did that. And then she wrote another list and it was, I must be smart, I must be beautiful, I must be in control, just a whole bunch of other things. And I circled that and she explained to me how we all have these beliefs that we come up with, these damaging lies, and then we make these goals based on those lies. And that is what we live out of, but really it's selfish because we're self-protecting and we're not trusting the Lord.

And at the root of all of it, we just want to be loved and secure. And I go into that much more deeply in the book, but the bottom line was, I had a lot of lies that God needed to sort out in my heart so that I could believe the truth about myself and about him and about others. And that nobody had the authority to tell me who I was, but God. So when I struggled with, you know, I'm not good enough, it's, well, Jesus never asked us to be good enough and he died for us so that we don't have to be, he is our righteousness and I don't have to be smart or pretty or in control or taken seriously or any of those things because my identity is in Christ. And so that was huge for me to begin to learn the truth and to begin to replace the lies with the truth in a lot of different aspects there. The second thing that the Lord did was, because I couldn't love if I was still living out of my lies, right, and my identity wasn't in Christ, I couldn't fully be able to be in relationship with her.

The other thing that the Lord did was, I was studying human development and family studies in college and I had a class and we had a guest lecturer with an addiction counselor. And as soon as the class was over, I ran over to him and I said, you know, my mom is an alcoholic, I don't know what to do, I don't know, you know, when we talk on the phone, we get into this terrible cycle and it never ends and it just always ends badly when we hang up. And he said, Sarah, if I have a ball in my hand and I throw it to you, what are you going to do? And I said, I'm going to catch it. And he said, and then what? And I said, well, I'm going to throw it back. And he said, so you've decided to play the game.

He said, if you don't want to play the game, don't throw the ball back. And that was my first taste of what he was teaching me about boundaries, that I had to learn how to set boundaries. And so at that time with my mom, there were two ways that took effect. The first was when we would speak on the phone, if things started to go downhill, I would say, oh, mom, someone's at the door, got to go, click. Like I would just hang up the phone, which sounds cruel, except that if you're anybody who's been in any kind of a manipulative or tangled up relationship, you know, you can never just say goodbye.

It doesn't work. And so I think I must have, you know, probably first explained to her like, mom, if things go south, I'm going to hang up the phone. But after that initial explaining, I wouldn't explain. I would literally say, got to go, mom, bye and not wait for her to say goodbye. It was the only way for me to get off the hook with her. And the second way that took effect was I realized that I needed to get away from her for a significant amount of time and not go visit her at all. Because the last time I visited her in college, it got so bad, I lashed out physically at another person in my anger and rage against my mother, and I knew I needed help. And so I wrote my mom a letter and I said, I need to take time away from you.

I'm not going to see you or talk to you for six months, because I needed to get my own head clear. And so during that time, the Lord really began to help me get clarity away from my mom, and she hated me for it. She brought it up practically till the day she died that I did that to her, but I needed, I needed to do it. And then during that time, and this is the third most significant thing I would tell anybody who's wanting to know how you forgive and love somebody who's hurt you so deeply, especially when they're not sorry, is underneath all my rage, I realized there was actually a lot of sadness.

And so I took myself to a counselor that God, you know, provided as he does. And I told her how my mom didn't send me a birthday card and how I was actually really, really sad and that I didn't have a mom. And I was hoping she would say, Sarah, you can have a mom and it's going to be okay.

And she didn't say any of that. She looked at me and she said, Sarah, you need to mourn the loss of a mother as though she died, because grief or mourning is the process of facing reality and letting go of expectations. And the reality was I did not have a mother.

The caveat here is that we never mourn what God may yet restore. We don't mourn the future, but I needed to mourn the reality as though my mother had died because I did not have a mom. But what that allowed me to do, and that was very difficult, was it allowed me to let go of the expectation that she would be a mother, that she would treat me like a mother. I was still, even at that point, holding hope that my mom would treat me like a daughter, that she would be kind to me, that I could talk to her about boys, that I could cry on her shoulder.

None of those things I could do. And so I had to let go of those expectations, and my counselor had said to me, Sarah, you need to forgive her for what she should have been. And so because I let go of my expectation that she would be a mother, that allowed me to love her as a human made in the image of God in need of love so I could stay in relationship with her because now, based on those three things that God had taken me through, I was learning the truth about myself and God. I knew how to set boundaries, so I knew how long I could be with her, how I could talk to her, all of those things. And I knew that I was not going to expect her to be a mother.

And so I no longer did. I could just love her as a person. And those three things were the most significant things that the Lord did in helping me to stay in relationship because, and not everybody is called to stay in relationship with people who hurt you, but God did call me to do that, and it's because we only see a smidgen of the picture, but God sees the whole story, and he knew my mom's heart, and he knew that by me staying in relationship with her, one day, that was going to lead to her bending a knee to Christ, and it did. Well, there's so much more that we could talk about, but if anyone ever questions whether one can receive God's love and live fully a life being productive after going through tremendous pain and hurt, there should be no question in your mind after the story we've heard today. I believe, Sarah, that this book is going to help a lot of people who are listening to us today and others who are going to discover this book and find healing with God. Thank you for being with us, and thank you for writing this book. May God continue to use you to touch the lives of others who are hurting. Thank you.

That's coming up in one week. Our thanks today to our production team, Steve Wick and Janice Todd. Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman is a production of Moody Radio in association with Moody Publishers, a ministry of Moody Bible Institute. Thanks for listening.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-20 18:19:25 / 2023-08-20 18:37:56 / 19

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