The Grace to Change Our Family’s Legacy

If you have read From Terror to Tears of Belonging, you might be inclined to think the worst of my parents and to believe they have passed on a legacy of trauma to their kids. But that’s where GRACE comes in. The grace my God poured out upon us all in the last months of my Mum’s life on this earth.

God took that childhood trauma (also present in my parents’ hearts and bodies) and began to shine the light of His love upon it. I have never seen my parents as weak and as vulnerable as in those months of glioblastoma multiforme’s (a terminal brain cancer) horrific attacks on my Mum and our family. And yet right there God began to unfold His grace – His power of love perfected in weakness – to us.

The cancer stripped my Mama of her social filter, having the same impact as trauma did on my brother, upon her. Years of Christ’s prayers and actions through her (her becoming a preschool teacher & working toward a counseling degree) to better understand my little brother bore fruit in her body, as God gave her the privilege of joining my little brother in his suffering.

In that place of brokenness, also in watching a video for her counseling course on the impact of childhood trauma from a broken bond with birth mothers and neglect, my mother wept and wept and stretched out her hands and heart to my brother in grace – and he in turn extended his own hands to receive that grace and give it to my mother also.

And my mother poured her heart out to me too, over so many nights she couldn’t sleep and I was woken by my youngest to join her in our family living room. There grace unfolded for me also in my mother ripping off the covering of self-righteousness to confess her weakness and sins to me and to encourage me to step toward the healing on earth, she would now receive in heaven. I can still hear her voice as she said something along the lines of: “Anna, I was a bad example for you girls. I didn’t have any boundaries. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Look after yourself. Go into therapy.” and she put her finger on the first symptom of grief that was already unfolding in my body: “Anna, why are you so so angry?!”

I put it down to the sleepless nights with my perpetually ill youngest (one at the time). But my Mama knew better. Two months shy of her having left us for heaven a year earlier, I would find myself in my living room turning that anger upon God for the very first time in my life, as relentless flashbacks of my mother’s last days, where I could see, hear, feel and smell death’s hold, took me captive (my Mama’s paper-thin skin I bathed daily, her inability to swallow, to talk, to wink at the end and her choking on her own mucus for hours and me being frozen, unable to call for help because my Dad – frozen in his own trauma – told me not to and childhood trauma connected to my Dad held me bound). I got livid with my God. And I asked Him for one reason, just one reason to live if this (the suffering I watched my Mama go through) was all that awaited even His most loyal of followers.

And what did He do? He did what I never ever expected Him to do. He drew near to me. As I opened my Bible to a random page (what so many Bible teachers tell us not to do – but I still do 😉😊😍) – He poured out His compassion upon me, meeting every single one of my doubts and the lies I believed about myself and my Mama with His truth and His empowering grace to take Him at His Word.

35-38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own agenda but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

39-40 “This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

John 6:35-40 (MSG)

And when I shared that grace and comfort with my Anglican church’s little Bible study group, a Finnish woman (a stranger to me) burst into tears – what I didn’t know is that her own heart was aching too and still struggling to trust Jesus, ten years after losing her blessed missionary friend, who was murdered serving Jesus.

She told me this, after inviting herself over for coffee to listen to my story because she was so deeply grieved by the lack of compassion shown to me by someone in the group, who rebuked me for my lack of faith in my grieving. For her, as for me, it was God’s Promise never to let us go, that most met her and comforted her heart. But I think we needed each others’ stories of struggle, each others’ hands, and each others’ tears for each other to receive God’s Word to us too. To let it begin to take root in our hearts.

Not long later, God would lead me to go to my family doctor, who referred me to a psychologist, who diagnosed me with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from multiple traumatic events as a child. And in that clinic, I would meet the compassion, the truth and the grace of Jesus in the most incredible of visions, where Jesus took the accusations of the enemy and those flashbacks of death’s hold upon my Mum to reveal His life everlasting and His healing and wholeness for me and my whole family.

He took the Promises I turned into angry questions (why can’t I see this in my life, then?) and gave me the honor and privilege of seeing these Promises in an eternal and complete perspective, as my Mama and the Dutch singer Kinga (who left behind three young kids) did – in letting their children go into God’s safe hands:

He dissolved my terror and anger into tears of joy. And ever since He’s been healing my heart more and more and restoring and redeeming all the pain and hurt and deep wounds I have inflicted upon my own body (His Body 😊) and upon others (His Body too) – especially my beloved husband and children, who bore the brunt of my anger also, through my grief. And even in the spiritual abuse and trauma that would unfold at the Dutch church I moved to shortly after, so my kids could attend a morning service with me, His healing hand continued to do its much needed work of uncovering my (and others’) wounds to cleanse, balm and bind them in His love: see Chapter 7: I AM Your Childlike Trust.

May the comfort God unveiled to me, now also meet you in your own grief and encourage you also to be fully real with God, to tell Him where you don’t trust Him, to even get angry at Him – knowing He won’t turn His face away, but toward You in compassion there because He too wept when death came calling for his friend Lazarus, even though He knew He would resurrect him moments later – He too wept when his friend Mary couldn’t understand why Jesus hadn’t come “on time” to save the day (little did she know that that day was – in God’s economy – not yet done).

And as I write this, I also feel my own heart convicted afresh to sit in Lament and to be brutally honest with Jesus, to cry like Mary: “if You had been here” death wouldn’t have come.

Oh Papa, show us Your resurrection life in all our loss and sorrow in this life. In every surrender You have led us through, show us Your redemption plan unfolding. Lift our eyes and hearts to You. Open our hearts and eyes to believe like Martha, that You are indeed our resurrection and our life in all that appears dead and lifeless – that is but a valley of the shadow of death. Thank You that through Your Son, Jesus’ living sacrifice in us and for us, our family legacies are not ones of trauma and sin and death, but of truth, grace and life everlasting. Thank You that this is not the end, but only the beginning of the new You have awaiting us: the grace You have given to us in Jesus to be filled with compassion for our parents, our (former) church leaders and our (former) churches, to see them as You do, to forgive them fully and wholly, as we receive Your fresh clean slate for us also, and to change our family – the Body of Christ’s – legacy into one of LIFE everlasting in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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