A couple Thursday ago I was sitting at a table with six beautiful ladies, it was full of separate conversations filling the space around each of us and then guilelessly becoming one. I am almost two years into ladies night with this crew; 24 dinners in on nights full of questions, laughter, stories of sadness, stories of happiness, and stories of pain that just need room to rest. Dinners that left our table full of empty glasses of wine and empty plates yet our hearts so full. Dinners that are easily followed up with late night texts of gratitude for each other and the countdown until the next one.

We were sitting around our second restaurant of the night savoring another bottle of wine and some desserts. I had started to share pieces of a conversation that Charles and I had the night before which had left me with a lingering question that I wanted to hear their thoughts on. I can’t precisely tell you how we ended up where we did but I can tell you it has slowly begun to unravel me. In the best way possible of course.

I had mentioned something about knowing that I have to take responsibility for everything I did when Charles and I lived with the Smith’s, as in John and Jane Smith. Slick name there huh? Which of course I expected to hear a resounding YES! That is the responsible thing to do. What I heard was NO! I very distinct and clear NO!

Shocked would have been my preferred response compared to the dumbfounded look on my face which exposed that I was completely unable to process what was being said. I volleyed back with a stammering what question once I had my wits about me, and the conversation continued from there. I wish I could tell you I left that night alive with revelation but I didn’t. I left grinding in process. It wasn’t until the next night as I sat down with Charles after Isaac was in bed that I really began to possibly grasp what on earth those amazing ladies were saying.

You see I am not a fan of being a victim. I have this perspective in my brain as to what a victim looks like and it isn’t flattering. I see them as people who can’t ever get over something. Or consistently bring up the bad things that have happened to them with the same bitterness as if it were still happening. There is just this woe is me melancholy persona I have attached to people with a victim mindset. It’s one of the reason I fought so hard to not be a victim of Katie Grace’s brain damage. It is also why I have believed that I have to take so much responsibility for every one of my actions when I lived with the Smith’s. From my perspective I was 25 when I walked into their family and aligned with their vision. I wasn’t some young kid who was inexperienced and naive, therefore I am responsible. Do you know what that perspective was blinding me from? It was blinding me from the fact that not only was I a victim but that I was subconsciously fighting to not be identified as one.

It’s not that I am a victim because I am not. However I was a victim. I was a victim of false truths, half stories, put downs, manipulation and control. I wasn’t told whole stories from the beginning, I was told half of the story which allowed for certain perspectives to be believed and others to not. As time went on who I could speak to was limited and I was betraying the Lord if I was disobedient. For example when I had first moved onto their farm I was put in charge of the garden. It was my duty to figure out what to grow, and where to place it. I didn’t have much solo expereince with gardening and was feeling pretty overwhelmed with the task. I did what any little sister would do, I called my big sister. She gave me her thoughts and I ran with them. Apparently I didn’t do a good job with the garden and somewhere in the next couple days I ended up on the couch sitting next to Jane Smith, while John Smith sat opposite and verbally chastised me. It didn’t start as a chastising conversation but as we sat and talked more and more shame came over me for reaching out to anyone other than the family. John rebuked me saying that if I wanted my sister’s help then I need to go live with her, because he wouldn’t have her running his house. If I wanted that then I should leave…if not I could stay. They claimed they loved me, and claimed they wanted me to stay but John would not tolerate a woman from California influencing his household. I can still feel the fear that pulsated through my body sitting on that leather couch. I wanted to stay, I wanted to be apart of the family, I wanted to go after what I believed God had called me too. It now seemed I had to choose between my sister or the Smith’s.

In that moment I saw that conversation as having been given a choice. Either do what John said or leave, it was simple. What I didn’t see was that that actually wasn’t a choice, it was an ultimatum. An ultimatum wrapped in how disobedient and wrong it was that I had reached out to my sister. An ultimatum that created fear. Now what was my normal, i.e reaching out to my sister, was wrong, and built fear. Fear that I was letting a woman run his household, fear of being shamed, and fear of being of wrong. You see none of that fear was true. My sister wasn’t running his house by offering me advice with the garden. I wasn’t wrong for reaching out to her. I hadn’t betrayed the Lord or been disobedient. I was simply a sister.

This is merely one of the many conversations like that I had with John over my three years with them. They changed some here and there because of course I wasn’t calling my sister anymore, or asking people outside of the Smith family for help. The heart of it was the same every time. “Do it our way or leave” and with every conversation, my connection to people who would tell me the truth got weaker, and fainter until I was convinced that I had no one but the Smith’s.

Everything I did within the walls of that house was to protect my place there; to protect the story I thought I was writing with the Lord. I was not aware of the half truths that I had been told. John didn’t sit me down and say here is the honest story. Neither he nor Jane told me the whole truth about anybody or themselves. As I have come to understand my information from them was jaded to make them shine in the best light but not the greatest light so as it wouldn’t look too obvious. Whether they planned it or not I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that is on them. That is a conversation between them and the Lord. It isn’t on me.

No longer should I feel guilty for what I did while I lived there. No longer should I push the Lord out of those three years because I can’t figure out how to look at love in the eyes and say I did all of that believing it was your character. No longer should I wince at remembering when I left Charles, kidnapped his son, and stole his car, in the name of the Lord. Ya’ll it gets messy!! No longer should I remember every embarrassing word I wrote and declared that God said and blush in shame because it was wrong….just so wrong. Instead I should lay all of that down, remember I was a victim. As my friend T says, you laid your power down, they picked it up. It’s on you for laying it down, it’s on them for picking it up.

How am I 9 years out from speaking or living with them and just now realizing this, I have no idea. Why it took a table of six ladies looking at me saying, NO. Why it took an even longer conversation with Charles to truly begin to unravel the understanding that I was a victim; I only have my best guess which is simply I wanted to think I was powerful. It is hard to say your were a victim, especially when your perspective of a victim isn’t flattering. But I was a victim whether I want to believe it or not and I know enough about healing to know, that I can’t keep moving forward with my life if I don’t acknowledge it. If I don’t face it, feel it, embrace it, have deep conversations about it, it will just stay. It won’t morph into something sweet, or an experience that others can glean from. It will quietly stay and hold me back, leaving me in this weird place of not being able to move forward and let it go.

As I sit down to write each day and type these moments with the Smith’s onto paper, I can’t stay in that weird place. I can’t not let it go. I need to move forward. In order to do that a couple things need to happen. I need to redefine victim in my mind, expand my perspective and definition. Maybe understand on a greater level that holding a victim mindset is not the same as being the victim of someone. Then I need to just lean into the process of making peace with the fact that for three years I laid down my power. I handed it over and the person who took it up wasn’t kind with it. It was used against me, to control me. Lastly, as I sit and remember and relive the moments I need to not invite shame but instead understanding. I need to make space for that girl who did the best she could with the information she had. I need to remind her wrong isn’t unlovable, it’s just wrong. I don’t need to take responsibility for parts that weren’t mine, I simply need to own that I was a victim.

There is obviously more to this process then that however for me, for right now, that is where I need to start.

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