I have thought about sharing this particular entry for some time. Actually, it has been something on my mind long before there was a blog – long before there was cancer – even long before there was a woman in my life named Jaime. This isn’t easy to share with you because I was told growing up that what happened in a family was “private.” This past week, however, I had several moments where it was as if I could see the timeline of my life. There were moments where I just shook my head in disbelief, moments where I relived traditions and happy times, and then those defining moments where I can now see how my life was made better through adversity. I am not seeking sympathy or to incite anger. Instead, my hope is that what I share will motivate you to pull someone aside who is struggling – either from his or her past or present – and to listen and truly be there for them.
So many have sent kind words to me admiring my faith and courage in light of all that I have been through since May of 2012. I humbly thank them and remind them that I am where I am today because God never let go. Sure, there were times that were painfully silent. However, I (and Jaime) found great strength in His literal presence during some of the most difficult times a human being has to face – the valley of the shadow of death. This is not my first bend in the road, though. When I was born, my parents were told I wouldn’t live. Then they were told I wouldn’t be like the other kids. I wouldn’t walk and possibly wouldn’t talk correctly. They painted a bleak picture for my parents – “We think your son will have cerebral palsy.” Much to the medical field’s disappointment, I walked. Much to my family’s disappointment, I began talking! Except for some minor arthritic pains (which I have never shared until this entry), I have never displayed any symptom of the condition my parents were told I would have for life.
I was raised in what I like to call a “ceremonial family.” We had all of the holidays and traditions we were supposed to have. We went on vacations. We were in church and we even hugged and said the words “I love you.” But to look back and be honest, there was very little love. In our family, painful secrets, shameful pasts, and bottled-up rage tarnished the outward image from the inside. For many years of my childhood, a family member physically and verbally abused my brothers and me. Even as I type those words, a chill crosses my body. So many of you who have known me and possibly my family for years will find what I share difficult to believe. But I am not asking for your verification of whether I am telling the truth. There was a handful that new about the hell I experienced as a child. One of those individuals became my wife. Sadly, several of those I pleaded with for an escape (including my own father), were moved by the sadness of a child, but not enough to act and do what they knew in their heart was right. It was during that horrible experience that I found joy and personal success at school. At school, not only would no one hit me, they praised my accomplishments and loved me for my success as well as when I failed. They told me I could be anything and they pushed me to excel. School was a place of refuge. And this is one of the reasons why I wanted to become an educator. While few of my students have experienced what I went through as a child, I was well aware that they also needed a place, if even for 7 hours, where they could feel successful, be challenged and motivated for a better future, and even laugh a little.
When I got older, and that family member had less involvement in my life, the physical abuse ended – the verbal abuse and manipulation did not. After I came to faith in Christ, I asked God to help me forgive that person for what they had done. I also asked Him to help me forgive the many who knew and did absolutely nothing. This message of forgiveness did not go well in my family – mainly because I was talking about something that was a “secret,” not to be talked about so as not to bring “shame” on our family. That’s right, rather than the individual feel the shame for what they had done, that was now my burden to bear. When I would seek to bring the issue up and work towards healing in the family, the volume literally went up and I was kicked out of my own home. I can’t tell you how humbling it is to have your fiancé’s mom pick you up in the middle of the night, at a shopping center, because your own parents kicked you out of the house. This behavior continued even after I was married. In fact, the last time my wife spoke with my parents was when we both were being kicked out of their house, after an attempt to have healing in our relationship from the sins of the past.
Why are you sharing this horrible, unbelievable story with us, James? First, is because so many of you have stared in amazement when I tell you my own parents have made no contact with me upon hearing news that Jaime had died. Am I hurt? A little. But you see, I have lived the first part of this and it is not out of the ordinary to me coming from them. Secondly, I am not responsible for the sins of the person who abused me. Nor am I response for the sins of my family who have unofficially “set me aside.” And finally and most importantly, there is someone reading this or someone you know who needs to read this. I am where I am today because of my faith in God. I have felt pain – physically and emotionally. I know abandonment. I have seen death and I know what it is like to feel as though you are dying on the inside from false shame and guilt. I have more than enough reason to have committed an act of violence; to be dependent on a strong substance; or locked away in a mental institution. But God…He breathed life into my sick, newborn body. He straightened legs, strengthened muscles, and sharpened my mind. He was with me when I was a young child, comforting my bruised body and bottling my tears. He was with me when I was mocked by a family member who said I would never be a teacher. He provided person after person who poured into my life, when my own family wouldn’t. He brought to me the most beautiful woman in the world, who was my best friend, my chief encourager, and my Love. He was in the room when the diagnosis came. And after He made sure my wife had arrived safely in heaven, He lovingly returned to the room to comfort me during the worst night of my life. I am not hanging on a thread hoping that He is real. I am here to share this with you because God has always had a firm grip on me.
Jaime always told me that I would know when it was time to share these hidden wounds. My friends, today is the day. My scars are visible. For those who have hidden pain and are carrying the shame and weight of the past, I beg of you to let it go and shout at it if you have to – NO MORE! And yes, yes I believe the only true way of releasing your past is through faith in God. He is the Author of your life. In Him, in some of the most difficult times of my life, I have found great peace in just releasing the past and the pain. He specializes in working the evil actions of man towards His greater good. My classroom was an amazing place because of what I went through and how I valued my school experience. My marriage and family were stronger because I questioned and then refused to ceremoniously love my wife and daughter. My days, even those where I miss Jaime the most, are blessed because of the reminder of His presence all along the journey. This is my story. I am not ashamed. Because of Him the best is yet to come!