Needed: Clarity on Forgiveness and Reconciliation

reconciliationThere is probably no teaching so messed up among Christians as the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation. Some subjects may come close , but this one has to be at the top. Rather than clarity and sound counsel, Christians often get mixed messages on the subject from pastors, counselors and articles, making difficult situations worse.

Related to the subject of forgiveness is the issue of reconciling with those who have injured us. Separate issues, but sometimes not treated as such. I will give you just one example of why sorting this out, particularly as Christians who are commanded to forgive others, is so important.

Years ago, a relative in my extended family targeted me for harassment and extreme emotional abuse.  I was barely out of my teen years when he decided specifically that I would make a handy weapon to get back at my father for some long held grievance.  It wasn’t hard to see why I was targeted. With the advantage of age,  I completely get why I was the one, and not one of my siblings. I was sensitive and easily hurt, quick to react and eager to please. I was also too inexperienced and young to know what was really going on behind it all. The extent to which the relative meddled in my private life would shock. He even involved my two little boys.  It went on for eleven years at its worst.

Finally, deciding that the self-created drama and excitement of provoking and harming someone who had never done anything to him was getting old, the perpetrator gave a lukewarm, “Sorry we (he had his wife and son participate as well) got involved.”  Not, “I’m sorry I targeted you in the most vicious fashion possible with  ongoing lies, gossip, slander and meddling. We behaved in an evil fashion and harmed you terribly. I am sorry, will you forgive me?” Just, “Sorry we got involved.”

Young and eager to do the right thing, I reached out, invited the perp and his family to our home, fed them from our table, and tried to let the emotional harm stay behind in the dust. But the story did not end there. It was not long when the trust and attempts at involving these people back in my life were met with further betrayal. This happened several  times in the next few years. Needless hurt once again occurred, trust shattered, emotional pain inflicted. A familiar set of dynamics surfaced,  distracting me from my primary calling as wife and mother and causing old wounds to reopen.

So what had happened?  Hadn’t I rushed to forgive like Jesus? Hadn’t I spent years trying to show that I had put the past in the past and moved on in love?  I recently came upon an article that was tremendously helpful in understanding what had happened in this particular situation.  It also shed a clear and helpful light on other situations I have struggled with as a Christian who wants to live in the light of forgiveness, and, yes, see reconciliation. ( I have seen precious little of the latter in my  life. I can count the time on a couple fingers of  one hand where I have seen real, true healing of relationships. Hatred and pride are the default settings for most professing believers today.)

The excellent article I have linked to below points out something very basic. Letting go of the wrongs that people have done to us is one issue. We are called to do this. We also have to do it or become sick with anger and grudge holding. But reconciliation is something else entirely. THAT is predicated on repentance by the offending party. Real repentance. Not a pragmatic, fake “sorry.” Going back to the so-called apology by the person who targeted me, with the advantage of years gone by, I see now what the problem was. The entire “apology” was a non-apology. The only thing the person was sorry for was that poking me with pins like an insect on a display board was no longer entertaining and had actually screwed up any hope of having family gatherings, something he decided he wanted after all. It served his purposes to say a quick sorry. And I was naive enough to buy it

We must forgive people, but one thing we cannot do is force reconciliation, no matter how much we yearn for it. Those who refuse to see the harm their behavior is doing when confronted with it and instead chose to marinate in the raw sewage  of hate cannot be allowed back into our lives. When those involved claim to be “Christians”, they make an ugly mockery of the Savior they claim to follow. We reward those who mock Jesus when we rush to embrace those who aren’t in the least sorry for what they have done. In fact, many don’t even see that they’ve done anything wrong at all.

Something else happens when we try to force reconciliation.  We bring on ourselves the time- wasting, unprofitable distraction of endless relational drama and emotional chaos. Narcissists, bullies, sociopaths who are in our lives can literally serve as human wrecking balls. They produce false guilt in those who long for reconciliation and healing. Their projection of their sin onto their victims is one of the hallmarks of this kind of person. They are divisive, and they enjoy what destroys a normal person. These people need to be removed from our lives permanently if at all possible. Satan lives in the tumult they create. We are called to peace as believers.

I know there are those reading this blog who are struggling with this in their lives. The article I referenced by April Kelsey is excellent and gives biblical examples. I would also warn, as a side note,  that some things that comes out of the “biblical counseling” movement need to be taken cautiously. Much of it is simply not biblical at all and strengthens abusers rather than get to the core of these situations that can destroy lives—lives intended to bring glory to God, not Satan.

A quote from Kelsey’s article:

When Joseph’s brothers show up at the palace where Joseph is governor, Joseph doesn’t even reveal to them who he is. Instead, he sets his brother Benjamin up as a thief and threatens to enslave him to see how his brothers react. Only when Judah, the one who sold Joseph into slavery, offers to take Benjamin’s place for the sake of their father does Joseph reveal his identity, extend forgiveness, and invite his brothers to be reconciled (see Genesis 44).

Here is what Joseph didn’t do:

– Joseph didn’t hop the first chariot down to Canaan when he became governor.

– He didn’t show up at his brothers’ house and request a private audience with his abusers.

– He didn’t say, “Forgive me for being angry all these years over my enslavement. It was wrong.”

– He didn’t say, “Despite how you might feel about me now, I want us to have a good relationship.”

Joseph didn’t even allow himself to be alone in the same room with his brothers until he saw that they were fully repentant.

The same scenario plays out in many other Bible stories. Reconciliation is only offered when the offending party demonstrates true repentance.

Those who do not repent are not entitled to reconciliation…

Read the whole article here.

And, I would add, trying to force reconciliation, because you want it so much, will ultimately  end up in failure and further spiritual damage.





Malignant Narcissistic Abuse – Understanding the Enemy’s Devices

narcguiltOne of the few redemptive things to come out of personal struggle and tragedy is the ability to help others going through similar situations. In the last six years, since I began posting articles on dealing with toxic interpersonal situations, family or otherwise, (there have been over half a million hits on those posts), I have heard from many, primarily Christians, who are bewildered, confused, and in great emotional pain about their own situations. There is hope that comes with understanding. That’s what this post is about.

You don’t need counseling credentials to write about what you have experienced and what you have gleaned in attempting to understand it. In the last few years, similar writing has been a life-saving thing for me. Through Facebook, I have been in touch with various counseling organizations and groups formed to encourage and help others who are losing their minds trying to deal with people who present themselves to others with such greatness and virtue,  but who are systematically destroying those closest to them. For those who are Christians, the toxic combination of “Christianity” , mixed with a behind-the-scenes reality that is at complete odds with the claims, it is especially damaging, because faith itself comes under attack. Why does God allow this lie to continue? Why does God allow families to be destroyed by those claiming to know Jesus? Why are so many fooled by this fraud and refuse to believe those who are being targeted? It can be soul destroying if you let it.

These memes are part of a collection I have that express with laser-like clarity what narcissistic abuse looks like, both in family systems, and elsewhere.  Damage is done not only by the perpetrator, but by his enablers who surround him and prevent accountability or isolation of the abuser from ever taking place. A malignant narcissist is not just a “difficult person.” They do not just cause “tiffs and disagreements.” They are human relationship destruction machines, empty shells without consciences.  They are skilled at manipulation and lie as easily as they breathe, making their targets appear crazy or unbalanced. They are image specialists, knowing how to preserve a squeaky clean appearance, as their enablers (known as flying monkeys – see Wizard of Oz) do their bidding without ever questioning the situation. These are useful tools, unwitting or otherwise, who help in the destruction of innocent people.

As a side note, I would like to add that no amount of public good done can justify the destruction of those closest to you. Many malignant narcissists in ministry (the self-deprecating kind described by Jack Watts) build their public works on the backs of those in their families. If you create a family, that is already your first calling, to nurture, instruct and love them. As parents, we are not accountable for the well-being of strangers’ children or strangers first. Ignoring this fact results in untold personal destruction from those who are often voiceless and helpless, the ones left by the side of the road in the rush to help strangers.

Christians are told to be aware of the enemy’s (Satan’s) devices – to understand his playbook in the destruction of lives and souls.  Well, here is just a glimpse. (Hit the pause button in the middle if you want more time to read.) There are numerous resources online for more information.  I highly recommend this short, seven-minute video, that will further explain. (Also posted below.)

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The Three D’s of a Strong Woman

Strong women are a study of mine. What makes them succeed, even in the face of adversity, while others fall apart? We all need to be strong in the various challenges we face.What do strong women have in common?

Earlier today, my sister, Lisa Turner, took First Place, sixth overall, in her age group at the Lake Country Half Marathon. My sister tosses off half marathons and marathons as if they were nothing. But in reality, she prepares intensively for the races. She is a coach to other runners who want training for their own races, and Lisa recently returned from a clinic operated by a former Olympian runner in Colorado who helps coaches train with excellence.

I asked Lisa after the race today what three things she would list as key practices of a successful runner that might apply to the race of life in general. She gave me these three D’s immediately:

Determination – a strong mind that has been trained to overcome ALL the negative thoughts that keep me from giving my best effort.

Discipline – the regular consistent “practice” of asking the body to do what it naturally doesn’t want to do…day after day.

Dependence – trusting the Lord for wisdom in training appropriately, for the ability to maintain determination and discipline , and ultimately, reliance on him for every breath as I run!

These points don’t need much elaboration. Determination, discipline and dependence on God are key in whatever race we run in our lives.

We live in a slovenly, morally lazy age where it’s easier to slouch our way through life, taking the easiest path, avoiding challenges of any kind and hiding when the call goes out for athletes of our Lord. We all need determination to live right in the sight of God with his help, we all need the discipline to throw off the things that hold us back and above all, we need humility to recognize our dependence on our Creator who grants us every breath we take.

Congratulations to my sister and amazing athlete, Lisa. I may not be an athlete, but I have learned much from you!

Here’s my sister in action today, running like the wind.




Quotes on Faith – Seeing What is Unseen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADistinguish between the fact of God’s presence, and the emotion of the fact. It is a happy thing when the soul seems desolate and deserted, if our faith can say, “I see Thee not. I feel Thee not, but Thou art certainly and graciously here, where I am as I am.” Say it again and again: “Thou art here: though the bush does not seem to burn with fire, it does burn. I will take the shoes from off my feet, for the place on which I stand is holy ground.” —London Christian

Believe God’s word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea.
—Samuel Rutherford

Keep your eye steadily fixed on the infinite grandeur of Christ’s finished work and righteousness. Look to Jesus and believe, look to Jesus and live! Nay, more; as you look to him, hoist your sails and buffet manfully the sea of life. Do not remain in the haven of distrust, or sleeping on your shadows in inactive repose, or suffering your frames and feelings to pitch and toss on one another like vessels idly moored in a harbor. The religious life is not a brooding over emotions, grazing the keel of faith in the shallows, or dragging the anchor of hope through the oozy tide mud as if afraid of encountering the healthy breeze. Away! With your canvas spread to the gale, trusting in Him, who rules the raging of the waters. The safety of the tinted bird is to be on the wing. If its haunt be near the ground—if it fly low—it exposes itself to the fowler’s net or snare. If we remain grovelling on the low ground of feeling and emotion, we shall find ourselves entangled in a thousand meshes of doubt and despondency, temptation and unbelief. “But surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of THAT WHICH HATH A WING” (marginal reading Prov. 1:17). Hope thou in God.
—J. R. Macduff

When I cannot enjoy the faith of assurance, I live by the faith of adherence.
—Matthew Henry


“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.” Psalm 31:1a

My brother-in-law, Russ, sings this song written by my sister. They recorded it several years ago. I hope it is an encouragement to you, as it was to me today. The words speak for themselves. “Lord, fix my eyes on things eternal.”

Toxic Relationship Tip of the Day

If you said, “Aha! Exactly!” when you saw this, just realize that this is absolutely textbook behavior for narcissistic sociopaths who harm others. There is a very simple solution for this, but the most obvious thing tends to be the last thing we notice sometimes in these situations. Don’t take the bait from these people. Hit the road and congratulate yourself on progress.

(P.S. Anyone who believes the distortions and lies from those who characterize justified moral outrage and hurt as “instability” doesn’t love you anyway, so who cares?)  :-)



Getting Off the Train

train1Over twenty-one years ago I was on an Amtrak train on the way to Los Angeles. I was underweight from not eating enough and living on caffeine, I was on two kinds of medicine to stop heart palpitations and tachycardia (stress-induced), and I was exhausted. I was producing and hosting daily controversy on the Crosstalk Radio Talk Show, a daily local show called Homefront and filling in sometimes on the issues TV program, In Focus. At the same time, I was raising two little boys in a very difficult situation as a single parent. I sat on that crowded Amtrak train, thundering through the darkness, and I had an epiphany, one of those moments when your mind reveals in a flash what needs to be done.

In the middle of Illinois, on a cold January night, I got off the train in a small town at a brief train stop. I saw a sign for a Days Inn out the window, got my purse, and coat and got off the train. Really. I didn’t need to take the trip. I didn’t need to be on a dirty Amtrak train. I didn’t need more stress at the other end of the trip at a convention. What I needed was someone to say kindly to me, “Slow down, stop, this isn’t good for you. You’re killing yourself. Go home, put on your slippers, make some tea, and smile a bit with your kids.” So I got off the train.

After I left my radio job in 2011, I knew that certain stories were being circulated to explain my sudden departure. I learned a few days ago that this funny train story was one of them, told with a malicious spin. It occurred to me the other day that “getting off the train” is an apt metaphor for what we often need to do in life.

We thunder down the tracks in a specific direction, never questioning what we’re doing, assuming our presuppositions are correct and right for us, not realizing that something is out of whack. At times like that, we need to evaluate our situation, and if necessary, get off the train. Getting off the train is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and clarity.

Many times in life, others will not protect you. They will use you until you collapse in a heap, and then they will walk away, shaking their heads at how you didn’t measure up. That’s why, with God’s help, internal evaluations of our own lives and priorities is crucial. We can’t count on others, even those physically closest to us, to do the job for us. It’s wonderful when they do act and guide in our best interests out of real love. But ultimately, we need to do the job ourselves and ask the Lord for honesty and humility in self-evaluation.

There is a time to stay on a train until it reaches its destination. As I jumped off onto that platform in Illinois, however, I knew I had made the right choice to get off, and I still laugh at my audacity and nerve at doing the right thing, even while being judged as a nutcase. Do what is best for your life and soul and don’t sweat the labels! Just smile, and find your way home.

Helpful Links for Those Struggling to Understand

Given the surprising recent number of hits on articles I have posted in previous years about toxic relationships, I’m going to post some further article links here that will hopefully give additional insight. Each year at this time, there is an uptick in online searches on topics related to dysfunctional family systems. The holidays have a way of resurrecting issues many thought they had buried. These are just listed FYI, and may be of some help on the subject.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse – this is a helpful list of behaviors that, once understood, can be better avoided. Take special note of the term “gaslighting.” No other toxic behavior of destructive people (the ones I call the Human Wrecking Balls) is as effective at destroying others as this one. When you toy with someone’s mind and perception of reality for specific ends, it is evil on steroids. Narcissists create the instability that they then can falsely finger as the source of the problem. Very clever. Identify this behavior and walk away.

Selfishness and Narcissistic Family Systems

Narcissists Force Co-Dependent Relationships

I have more to share and will add some in coming days. Conservative Christians are often so busy inveighing against the evils of psychology, it’s a little embarrassing to realize that narcissistic sociopaths are explained and defined down to their last method in psychology text books around the world, while those with their Bible raised aloft frequently seem to know only how to further enable the perpetrators. This explains why people in the corporate world are frequently seen on the front pages of newspapers for losing their platforms and jobs for destructive behavior, while pastors and other Christian leaders can continue on for decades untouched by consequences. They are surrounded by those who claim to believe in God and his Word, and yet they enable the most unspeakable evil done in Christ’s name. Those injured are shunned and discarded.

If people can identify these behaviors for what they are, whether in churches or in families, it’s step one in ensuring that more lives are not destroyed by this kind of thing. If many people, Christians in particular, were aware of what this grotesque, malignant pride does and how it manifests in relationships, there would be a great deal more hope for salvaging lives before untold damage is done to health and to faith. Yes, it is all sin, but seeing the enemy of soul’s devices is a first step toward resisting.

Faith. The greatest damage, beyond the emotional and psychological, is done to faith. The question asked by the “little people” when they see God “using” these “great workers for God” is this: If this, God, is what you have to use to advance your kingdom, what exactly is being advanced when it’s built on the bones of victims? It becomes very difficult for those injured, sometimes horribly crippled, by soul-destroying people, to understand what exactly they are following when God seems to put his own stamp of endorsement on “Bible-believing”, conservative leaders who grind those closest to them under their cloven hooves – behind the scenes, where nobody can see it or hear the cries for help. Or, should I say, where nobody will listen to the cries for help.

It is not godly to be silent on these issues, contrary to the pietistic thought of many in churches or families. One of the greatest tools of the enemy is to convince those injured in Christ’s name that they are “suffering for Jesus” by saying nothing and not sharing what they have learned. Persecution by the world and declared enemies of Christ is bad enough, and we are told to expect it. Abuse wielded under cover of a Christian banner and churches and ministries is quite another. All silence does in cases like that is lengthen the victim list. And that is a terrible thing.

Advice from an Old Farmer

Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.

Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.

Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.

Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.

Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.

It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You cannot unsay a cruel word.

Every path has a few puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen anyway.

Don’t judge folks by their relatives.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Live a good, honorable life… Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.

Don ‘t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t bothering you none.

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a Rain dance.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.

Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin’.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.

If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around..

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.

Don’t pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he’ll just kill you.

Most times, it just gets down to common sense.

~ unknown



The Family that Eats Together…

The picture at left hangs on our kitchen wall. It is an inexpensive print we found at a discount store, but it’s a cheery country scene, and I like it. It provides things to talk about with Emmy, and when she gets older, I’ll make up stories about the little characters therein.

While we’ve made our share of mistakes as parents over the years, one thing I think we’ve done right can be summed up in two words: family dinner.

Several studies have revealed the importance of this simple family ritual in the lives of young people. I read about one study in 2005 and more recently, one released this summer that underscored how important family meals are, not only for the physical heath of young people, but emotional health as well.

For some families, work schedules don’t always make this possible every night. But it is worth it when you can. It is a rare evening when we don’t all sit down, even if it’s just fish sticks and tater tots on the table. It isn’t the food involved as much as it is the conversation, the emotional connection and the sharing of our lives for that window of time. (Although good food certainly helps.)

Family meals are also a training ground for good manners (we’re still working on that one with a certain teenager.) No, don’t make a boarding house reach for the ketchup, no, don’t talk with your mouth full, use your napkin, etc. Dinner time together is the primary place to teach gratefulness for our daily bread. Emmy is learning her first prayers. She folds her hands and says, “Thank you, God for EVERYTHING. Amen.” The older children learned this prayer:

The eyes of all look to You, 0 Lord, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen

Best of all is the conversation. William has a challenging physics class this year, and he filled up the conversation last night holding forth on some physics concepts that went right over my head, something about why rocket engines work in a vacuum, and something to do with “point of reference.” I didn’t catch it all in between helping Emily with her pasta, but it was very interesting and went down well with our chicken parmesan and garlic bread.

Some of the biggest laughs have taken place at the table. Some of it, admittedly, has gone overboard. I’ll never forget one memorable dinner when all five children were arrayed around the table. One of the toddlers took a sudden, violent dislike to the bean and ham soup, some chaos ensued, and good-natured Tom had to restore order amid lots of humor. The scene was hardly out of Miss Manners, but a rollicking good time was had by all. I hope my children remember some of these times, I sure will!

More than anything, family meals are about nurture and relationships. Even if it’s only a frozen pizza (I’m letting all my culinary shortcomings be known here, sigh) the familiar faces around the table, together again after a day, either a good one or a bad one, are a great comfort in this ever changing world. Here’s a recipe everyone should have. You can serve this one up anytime at a family meal!

A pound of patience, you must find
Mixed well with loving words, so kind
Drop in 2 pounds of helpful deeds
And thoughts of other people’s needs.

A pack of smiles, to make the crust,
Then stir and bake it well you must.
And now, I ask that you may try,
The recipe of Sunshine Pie.


God bless my little kitchen
I love its every nook
And bless me as I do my work
Wash pots and pans and cook.
And may the meals that I prepare
Be seasoned from above
With Thy great blessing and Thy grace
But most of all Thy love.
As we partake our earthly food
The table before us spread
We’ll not forget to thank Thee, Lord
Who gives us daily bread.
So bless my little kitchen, Lord
And those who enter in
May they find naught but joy and peace
And happiness therein.