I learned a long time ago that you cannot always trust a person’s words. Sometimes even a person’s actions are not an accurate barometer of who that person truly is. You know, the real person- not just the person that people see on the surface. People make mistakes. They go through phases. They are often misled or misguided. People are people. And as the adage goes, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
But we have to judge people by something. We have to make decisions and responses and relationships with people based on some variable. For years I struggled with this. Mainly because I was not brought up in what I now would deem an emotionally secure environment. My parents did the absolute best they could but they were still reeling from their own upbringings and trying to establish security of their own. I do not fault them for not being able to provide it for me. But as a parent now, I still don’t get how they allowed it.
It honestly wasn’t until after I married my husband Bob that I recognized the variable that I could (and should) use to filter a person’s words and actions and attitudes. It’s the heart. When you’re married to a person with a traumatic brain injury, you learn that you cannot always trust a person’s words. But I began to rely on what I knew about his heart. And while sticks and stones still leave scratches and broken bones, they don’t end marriages. Not when you know and trust someone’s heart. I trust that my husband loves me. I trust that my husband would never intentionally hurt me. I trust that my husband always has my best interest at heart. And I trust that he’ll make mistakes along the way but that it will never negate all the things that I just stated which are true.
This has been an emotionally trying week. A week of spiritual assaults on so many different fronts that I’ve lost track. I’m even battling in my sleep. Literally and figuratively. Then today even more bad news came followed by a wave of tragedy and the heaviest of all the things weighing on me was this: I don’t think the people in my life (in my family) have learned how to read a person’s heart. Either that or their loyalties are seriously misplaced. I don’t know. But it has devastating consequences.
I wouldn’t know how to go about telling someone how to do this. How to read someone’s heart and know whether or not their heart is a safe place. A good place. Maybe it’s not something that everyone can do but it’s something I now realize I’ve done my entire life. For as long as I can remember, there have been people in my life who I viewed as “good” and then there were people who I viewed as …uncomfortable to be around. Now I view them as “bad” but in my innocence, I never imagined that anyone in my family could be inherently “bad”. Bad people commit murders and robberies and rot in jail. My family was not bad. They just made me feel uncomfortable. Or sad. Or scared.
For years I was prodded (ok, required) to accept various forms of abuse because, well,…family is family. As an adult I was told… pushed…ok, required to accept hurtful words, toxic behaviors, and sinful lifestyles because… well, family is family.
Friends, I am here to tell you that a common last name or shared strand of DNA does NOT make family a safe place.
Earlier this week, my husband and I were shook to the core to learn that our 3 year old nephew had been found dead. A long, messy story. But the adults in his life had failed him. Adults whose hearts I did not trust. Adults I was told to trust anyway because, well… family is family. “That’s just the way this family is” has been said far too many times. And now a precious child is dead. Why? Because… well, family is family.
Late last night, my grandmother passed a way. A woman dearly beloved by many. A pillar in her church and in her family. Yet a person who rejected me at birth and hurt me badly. But I was never protected from it, defended when it occurred, or given grace when I walked away from it. I was expected to take it because, well… family is family. And “that’s just the way this family is.” Don’t get me wrong- I have some very fond memories of her. She had many wonderful qualities. But how do you decide if a person is good or bad based on their words or actions? Make a list? Weigh the good and bad words and deeds against each other? I don’t know. So I look at a person’s heart.
Then today I received even worse news regarding another family member who had sexually molested some younger family members. Again, someone I was encouraged to love and accept (because, well… family is family) but always feared.
No one can judge another man’s heart but God. Yet, He gives us common sense and guidance (when we ask for it) to discern the ways of man. No, we cannot always trust man’s words. No, we cannot always trust a man’s actions, though they tend to tell us more about a person than his words. But you can trust that a man’s heart is who he is. That doesn’t mean you have to shun him if his heart is not good. It doesn’t mean that you should deny his existence or badger him and belittle him. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forgive them because you absolutely should. Every time. But we wise. Be on guard. Be prepared to defend and protect others from him. Don’t let your obedience in extending forgiveness overshadow the need to protect those who could still be hurt. Including yourself.
Most of my life I have been criticized, yelled at, ostracized, or at the very least, misunderstood for being wary of people whose hearts have troubled me. For keeping my children away from relatives whose hearts I did not trust to be good. To be safe. Today my heart grieves for the loss of a young child who could have been saved. I grieve not only for the relationship with my grandmother that I “should have” had but also for the lack of action that any adult in my life had dared to take to stop the toxicity that had taken over the family. I sob for the young cousins who were violated in the most unimaginable of ways by the most unimaginable of people. Family is not always a safe place.
But I’ve never doubted the love of my Heavenly Father. I’ve always felt the safety of His wings around me. I can look back now and see what He spared me from. I can see what He spared my children from and I pray that He will bring healing and strength to my family members are that anguishing so much today.
I have no moral to this story. I have no shining nugget of wisdom to leave you with. I have no grand revelation to share. I just don’t want others to walk this same path if they can keep from it. Family absolutely SHOULD be a safe place. A sacred place. Where people grow and learn and thrive. But please, never allow your child to be in danger – emotionally, physically, or spiritually because… well, family is family.
I leave you only with a call to action:
Protect your children from abuse.
Protect your children from neglect.
Protect your children.
Just protect your children.
And be a safe place.