In April 2003, we left Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea for Dallas, Texas.
It was our 5th international move in 3 years.
I was sick with anxiety and depression and grief. We had four kids going into public school with just two months left in the school year. We were looking for a house to buy, searching for a church home, and above all trying to reconfigure our marriage into something real and true and good.
I had thought I was done in February.
But I got done-er in April, especially when we encountered our mission's counseling department.
My second child was delivered by a young intern who had just started his OB/GYN clinical rotation. I was his first delivery. And here is how we met.
I was just starting into a contraction when the curtain around my bed parted, and this young man introduced himself to me. As the contraction progressed, he began to ask me questions from a checklist on his clipboard. I answered as pleasantly as possible. At the peak of the contraction, he asked, "And what is your blood type?"
Through gritted teeth I shrieked, "I don't knooooooooooooooooow!"
My experience with our mission's counseling department was sadly similar.
The counseling department had a clipboard and a checklist. And before they were prepared to give me counseling,we had to undergo nine hours of evaluation. I was assigned a counselor. Andy was assigned a counselor. We each had to do our evaluation.
I had never been to counseling. I thought maybe this was how you did it. They told me it would be helpful. So we started.
One of the first questions was, "What was it like for you, growing up as the eldest of seven siblings?"
I'm incredibly depressed, in so much emotional pain I can hardly walk across the room, and you want me to give you a paragraph on my childhood?
I remember indignantly saying to this person,"I don't know!"
It didn't get better. It didn't get more relevant.
I thought the evaluation was ridiculous, and I didn't want to be evaluated. I just wanted help.
When I communicated this to administrators and counseling staff, I was told, "This is a helpful process."
I said, "It's not helping me."
But it just didn't matter. Gathering information was the most important thing. So that's what they did.
I would come home from evaluation sessions, lay on the bed crying, and say to myself over and over, "God loves me. God loves me. God loves me." That was all I had to hang onto.
I kept saying I didn't like it.
My counselor told me, "You don't understand. This is part of the discipline process."
I went to my administrator and said, "Hey. Pretty sure I don't need to be disciplined, since I haven't done anything wrong. Go ahead and discipline Andy. But leave me out of it."
He agreed and promised to make it clear to the counseling department that the process was a restorative process, not a disciplinary process.
But by the time the evaluation wrapped up in September, I was done being helped by the helpful process. Way, way, way done.
I wrote a letter to the organization, saying I would no longer participate in any of their counseling processes. I think I might have said that now I needed counseling for their counseling. I know I said I would seek my own therapy outside the organization.
I figured we would be fired.
After a month, we received a short letter apologizing for the difficulty, saying we were allowed to seek counseling wherever we chose, and that they would just appreciate a brief letter from the counselor whenever he or she felt we were recovered.
I've been told they don't do it like this any more, and that's a good thing.
But here is what I do know. Beyond all shadow of a doubt.
Whatever the intentions of those people at that time, whatever mistakes they made, God meant it for good. And He has done great things.
I really struggled with whether or not to tell this part of the story, because it's kind of crazy and ugly. But these things happen. People do things that hurt us, sometimes accidentally. Sometimes on purpose. But no matter what, God redeems. The more we believe that, the more we can tell the truth and let it set us free. Even if it's crazy and ugly.
And, the more time goes on, and the more I see what God has done, the more grateful I am for even this part of the experience. Maybe the mistakes of other people became the flames of the refiner's fire. If that's true--and I think it is--I can only be grateful.
Here's another thing I know. I have had to learn a lot about forgiveness.
I had to forgive Andy for what he did. It helped a lot that he was sorry and worked hard to be trustworthy again.
I had to forgive administrators who made mistakes. It helped that they were sorry and worked with us in the end.
I have to forgive counselors who made mistakes. That has been harder, because they kept telling me they were right.
So I forgive. And God heals. And when the other person repents, we have the possibility for restoration of the relationship.
Other times, I forgive and God heals and the other person never gets it. That's hard, but we keep walking and God keeps healing.
Jesus told the parable about the man who owed millions, was forgiven the debt, and then got crazy with the guy who owed him a dollar.
And I just don't want to be that person, worried about every penny stuck to the sidewalk. I don't need the pennies, and it messes with the manicure.
So for the experience of forgiveness and healing and restoration, I am truly grateful.
And for the things I don't understand and I still think are crazy, I'm grateful that God knows and understands.
I believe He redeems everything. Even this.
But hear me now.
If I were in that situation today, I'd be out the door in a heartbeat.
Because there are basic legal and ethical rights that the law provides for clients in counseling. Things like: I have the right to keep anything private that I want. I have the right to ask questions. I have the right to helpful therapy. And guess who decides whether it's helpful or not? Me.
I am a counselor now. And if you come to see me, you'll receive a copy of your client bill of rights. And I will go over it with you verbally. And I will tell you that if you meet with me, and then decide to see another therapist, please go with my blessing. In fact, if you don't like the color of the walls or the office furniture, bon voyage my darling. (Although if you've tried 10 counselors and none of them were any good, you might start thinking about other common denominators. I'm just sayin'.)
Can God redeem? Yes. Always.
Is it necessary to stay in a harmful situation? No. Absolutely not.
When you're in a bad place, what you need is help. Make sure your therapist is helpful. To you.
We stayed at the time because our translation project wasn't finished. We had devoted 10 years to that project and we wanted to finish. So we felt like we had to retain membership with the organization, no matter what.
Today, I would say: not so much. God has other ways. And those other ways don't have to include me being mistreated.
Which, at the end of the day, was a really important lesson for me. Really important. Huge. My capacity to stand up for myself was practically non-existent. I might make some noise, but over and over and over I'd go along with things I knew were wrong for me. I kept hoping that other people would notice and do the right thing for me. I didn't take responsibility to do the right thing for myself.
In the refiner's fire, I learned to take a stand for myself. I learned that God does love me, even when He doesn't rescue me right this minute. I learned to press on through the pain with the hope that God is always at work, always redeeming. I learned to be grateful even for this. Truly.
No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip on your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but become strong. Hebrews 12: 11-13