Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Path to Submission

In 2003 I met my husband on an online “Christian” dating website. When I created my profile I had to pick my favorite scriptures to put on there. I selectively went through the bible and found all the verses I could on submission and put on my profile that thinking I could at least put all my identity here rather in my past. At the time I did not have any idea what that meant. We were married just a few months later and I think on our wedding night I had my first opportunity to practice submission and found that there was absolutely nothing within me that was willing to submit to my new husband. I wondered why? My initial response was “well, he needs to earn my respect” along with other not so kind responses. I had no idea why at the time and I certainly was not interested in going to my past for the answers.

In looking back, I could see this long trail of men who had abused me, used me, abandoned me, or rejected me. It started with my grandfather at the age of 3 who sexually abused me, then my father at the age of 4 until I was 8 who also sexually abused me. There was also a long list of men that pursued me through my junior and senior high school years just to get what they wanted and then would discard me. I not only didn’t have a father who would protect me from these men, but he was the biggest perpetrator of all.

Right out of high school I married the first boy that actually did not use me. He had a big heart and was very kind to me in the beginning. Unfortunately, he had the mental capacity of a 15 year old boy and we had a pretty rocky marriage. When my daughter was just 6 months old, we endured the Northridge earthquake in California. We were living just outside of the epicenter and although we did not suffer any damage, I had to drive into Northridge to work. My days consisted of 4 hour commutes and 8 hours of work. We had a good friend who was also doing the same thing and since my husband was unemployed he stayed home and watched our girls. After several weeks of these long hours, 5-6 days per week, I got a phone call from him saying that my friend’s 15-mo baby was really sick. I called my sister-in-law to go check in on them and she called me back and said that she needed to be taken to the hospital right away.

I met the mother at the hospital several hours later to find out her daughter might be dying and they were concerned that my husband had done something to her. She told me that she had been advised to stop all communication with me and that I should probably leave. I was on my way out of the hospital when I was stopped by the officers saying they wanted to escort me home. I managed to call my sister-in-law before leaving asking her if she would go pick up my daughter right away. When I arrived at our apartment and got out of the car, there were about 5 police officers waiting to escort me into my apartment, each with their guns drawn at the door. I had never in my life been so terrified, confused, and alone. I spent the next several days trying to make sense out of it all. I had no idea whether that precious baby was going to survive and what was going to happen to my husband. I was hurting so deeply for my friend yet so thankful my daughter was ok.

The next several months would consist of court hearings that would leave me feeling alone and confused. Since none of it made any sense to me, I had a great fear that they might take my daughter from me. The information we heard at the court hearings never lined up with the story my husband gave me. I finally confronted my husband as if I were talking to a child who had been lying and he finally broke down and said in his frustration he had thrown the little girl against a wall. Thankfully, she survived but she had a long recovery ahead of her and had to relearn everything, including eating, talking, and walking, wear a helmet to control her seizures, and a brace on her arm and leg. The day my husband confessed, I packed my bags and left the little room we shared at his parent’s house. At that point, I found myself without a home, without a job, no money, on welfare, and a husband that was on his way to prison for 5 years. When I found myself at the grocery store trying to swap my food stamps for cash to buy my daughter diapers, I vowed that I would never depend on a man as long as I lived.

I spent the next four years working hard to raise my daughter while going to school full-time. In 1998 I married my second husband. By this time, I was close to graduating and was working for Hewlett-Packard/Agilent Technologies, climbing the corporate ladder. I thought that I maintained a lot of control in this marriage and although I had control from a financial perspective, I had little control in the marriage. He was emotionally and psychologically abusive. I found myself working 10-12 hour days, coming home and doing the cleaning and cooking, then spending the next 4 hours doing homework. If I did not clean the house, he would not speak to me or my daughter for days at a time. If I brought home take-out, it would be met with his disappointment. He was extremely strict towards my daughter, not even allowing her to run on the grass, discipline for her meant sitting at the table for hours on end. It would take a few years for me to discover that he was actually leading a double life…on the internet and who knows where else. His other life included online girlfriends with sexually explicit interactions, disappearing for days on end, phone sex lines, and downloaded porn. After about 2 years of “tolerating” his actions and no repentance, devastated…I filed for divorce.

Now I am married to an amazing godly man, now it is clear to me why submission was so hard. I was really making him pay for all the men who had been untrustworthy and had hurt me in great ways. Starting with a father who was supposed to love and protect me to husbands that had mistreated and betrayed me. There was nothing in me that had the desire or ability to “submit”. It went against my very being.

The first few years of our marriage I fought my husband every step of the way. I wanted my way all the time. Although it looked like this marriage was different and this man was honorable, I maintained as much control as I could. When we moved here I got a job that would offer the financial security I was used to. I was in complete rebellion yet my heart was being tugged on. I really desired to allow my husband to lead us and for the burden to be lifted off of me. I am very thankful that my husband did not allow me to manipulate, even though I tried, he held his ground. He did so in a loving way though, I never felt powered by him. Equally, God never powered me or forced me, it seemed there was always a gentle beckoning that was filled with grace even in my stubbornness.

During this time although I was still working hard and climbing the ladder at Starbucks Corporate, my heart was no longer in it. When I married my husband we had envisioned doing ministry together. That ended up looking more like him doing what he was called to do and me (due to my own fears) in the background hiding as the bookkeeper. I was often resentful and bitter about not being more involved in his ministry, I did not fully understand why it looked the way it did; it was not what I had envisioned. I wanted more, I wanted to serve God the way my husband did, but I was terrified of people and honestly had no discernment or gifting to serve in this manner. I would cry out to God begging Him to use me. I had a distorted view of God believing He was the one withholding from me.

Then my heart started to surrender. At the time, James was working at the Union Gospel Mission, making less than half of what I made. I came home one day and told him that I thought God wanted me to quit my job and stay home. He of course said I had lost my mind and that there was no way we could do it. We did all the numbers on paper and it looked impossible. I told him though that I really felt God was prompting this so we took a leap of faith and I quit my job.

Keep in mind that vow I had made years ago…that I would not depend on any man. God blessed our obedience in a big way. First, what did not look even remotely possible on paper as far as our budget, God made possible. That year I received 12 years worth of back child support which we used to pay off old debt. Secondly, He put it on our hearts to pull my daughter out of school and bring her home. We would not have been able to do that if I was still working. She has blossomed and excelled in school since we brought her home and I have been blessed to be able to spend so much time with her. Over the next several months I would get to spend hours a day learning about Jesus and His love for me and spend precious time with Him. My heart towards my husband began to change and I was finally able to see him as God saw him.

Our first year at Mars Hill Church I participated in my first Grace Group and also had the opportunity to go to Michigan for Leadership Training. The next quarter I was leading a Grace Group. I now lead Redemption Groups and this spring, I will be leading my 7th group in less than 3 years. I now have the privilege of walking alongside women of Mars Hill as a volunteer biblical counselor. My husband occasionally asks me to join him in counseling with couples. I fully believe my ability to do this came from surrendering and submitting to God, I was finally allowing the Holy Spirit to work in me. I do not think that it was necessarily that I have more knowledge than I did in the beginning of our marriage but I now a have righted view of God. I truly believe that only came from finally submitting to God.

I can now articulate and understand my heart in terms of submission. There truly isn’t any ability within me to submit to my husband, we are both sinners in a fallen world that come from horribly abusive pasts. We both entered into marriage with great wounding. My ability to submit to husband comes from a supernatural ability. It happens only when I am in submission to my Heavenly Father.

As I tried to control my life and proceed with self-sufficiency, I was only delaying what God intended for my marriage and our ministry together. I had a completely distorted view of submission. I really saw it as lowering myself so I in turn could be walked on, abused, betrayed, rejected, or abandoned. When I took my eyes off of myself and turned to Jesus in brokenness, I submitted without even realizing it. My heart just yearned for oneness with Him. When I keep my eyes on Jesus, my heart willingly submits to my husband. I have learned that when I have to consciously “submit”, meaning I have to think twice on whether I am willing to submit, then I am in sin, my heart is in rebellion. It is in those beautiful moments that I have realized after the fact that what I did was in fact “submit” and it came so naturally. The hardest part to accept is that when I refuse to submit to my husband I am really refusing to submit to God. When I have to struggle with submission, I am really struggling with God.

I love this passage from Rebecca Jones who wrote the book “Does Christianity Really Squash Women?” “Without the power and grace of Christ, the church cannot bring all things together under His headship. Without the power and grace of Christ, I will never begin to bring all things into my home together under the headship of my husband. That is why we have to be filled with the Spirit’s power in order to submit. (Women) need the Sprits’ strength and resurrection power to enable them to fulfill their calling as women. Submission is not for the weakling. It takes tremendous strength, as Jesus shows us when He submits to His Father's will and goes to the cross.”

I have realized that I am a hindrance to God's glory and all God intends my husband to be when I refuse to submit. I forget that my husband has a great accountability to God for his household and when I stay in rebellion, I am not allowing him to be all God intended. I am hindering God's glory from shining through my husband. It is not about some earthly man controlling me...it is about honoring God and his design for marriage AND biblical womanhood.

1 Peter 3:1-7
1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you [1] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Ephesians 5:22-24
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [1] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.