“When I die, I want you to cremate me and pour my ashes into the sewer.”
In early fall, 2005 as the late September breeze blows clear and crisp outdoors, my cozy kitchen warms from the freshly baked coffee cake I remove from the oven. The scent of buttered cinnamon fills my home as a knock on the door breaks the morning silence. It is a courier, a sober man who asks me; “Are you Patricia Byrnes?” I must sign for the manila envelope he clutches in his hand. I know the envelope is significant, but nothing could prepare for the minutes that lay ahead that would become weeks, months and finally yearsof what I consider (at that time) to be the darkest period of my life. That season was in fact a preface to the beginning of a phase in my life that has not yet ended and I realize now, that it maycontinue until I take my last breath.When our lives face times of false accusations, betrayal, malicious slander and gut-wrenching misrepresentation, we can most certainly feel swallowed into a vacuum of helpless vulnerability and hopeless despair.
Each word on the document, strains to penetrate my brain but one can only intellectually understand what the heart will allow and the words crushme like a jackhammer on concrete. Within minutes my kitchen floor morphs into a sinkhole of pain and swallows me whole as I struggle to breathe. A family member’s lawsuit against Kurt and me hurls us into hours and days of total shock and despair with more feelings of agony and betrayalthan I ever thought possible, so much so, that by late October, the pain mutatesinto panic attacks and nightly insomnia. “Ma’am, you’re not having a heart attack,” the EMT tells me as I sit in the fire station, still in pajamas. “Are you under a lot of stress lately? You’re having a panic attack. Maybe you should see a counselor.” “Yes, I am” I tell himand think to myself; ‘There’s a counseling office up the road; “Anchor of Hope” maybe I should see someone over there.
“How Low Can I Go?”
Within months, the compound effects of the severe physical, emotional and mental drain piggyback onto the onset of a financial hemorrhage one always experiences in the world of litigation. The dissonance of buying winter coats at Goodwill while simultaneously writing checks to a lawyer for $250.00 an hour is inconceivable. The lawsuit ball and chains us to a process that we had only previously watched on television. We now live a first-person drama of lawyers, court hearings and trials. The night before our first hearing, I lay awake and watch the clock, paralyzed with the excruciating pain that can only come from the unimaginablebetrayal, inconceivable rejection, and dishonest accusations spoken by one in a position of family trust. As the sun begins to paint the skypink, I am imprisoned with nowhere to go as we force ourselves against all desire, to drive and face a courtroom of2 lawyers, a judge and my family member along with those he invites to share in his intentional humiliation of me while he speaks lies cloaked as truth. Though I wear a skirt, white blouse and heels; apply makeup and fix my hair to create a façade of confidence; I turn to Kurt as we drive and say; “When I die, I want you to cremate me and pour my ashes into the sewer!”My violatedheart is broken beyond repair and my despair knows no bounds.
As in all broken-hearted grief, a dark cloud hangs low over every day;every birthday, holiday, graduation, and significant event. It is the morning greeting and the nighttime sleep robber. For five years, life is a blur of nothing more thana chronic limpthrough the motions of “normal” simply for the sake of the children. For five years,the litigation steals my life; my memories, my health, my peace and my daily existence and I admit that though I am a Christian, I could not find peace or the joy that Scripture promises, nor couldI feel God’s presence. Both human and spiritual abandonment swallow me into a vortex of darkness I have never before encountered and no clichéd Christian pep talks can reach my core. I am utterly undone and alone.
During much of my life, I listen as people recount emotionally agonizing stories when God held onto them, for they simply could not hold onto Him or anyone else. In my pride and self-sufficiency, I would glibly pity such people since I never truly understood the core state of a heart that can say such a thing. This new realityof utter God dependence can only truly come from one’s experiential journey through an insufferabletrial that offers absolutely no resolution or relief. I find that more people than I ever imagined currently face and have faced the same degree of pain and betrayal with the subsequent consequences, which result from the horrific accusations that annihilate one’s reputation. There is no recovery from a shredded reputation…or is there?
While the reputation shredder of false allegations obliterates my reputation into a frayed persona; my façade and my ego arenow mere strands of personal identity asI helplessly struggle to survive, emotionally. As a recovering Pharisee, I am deeply concerned about how others perceive me andI forever exhaust myself to “do the right things.” My life is now out of my control as oneheartless individual irreparably shredsmy lifetime façade of “doing the right thing” and I am helplessly at the mercy of God to silence my accuser.
Fundamentally, is not Satan theactual accuser of each one of us? I realize that our ultimate enemy will forever chronically indict us in order to defeat us and his strategy is always to attack us through the human flaws of immaturity and intentional evil from others. I acknowledge the raw reality that life on this earth is neither just nor fair as he attempts to carry out his destructive plan.Sadly, just when we find closure to one situation of false accusations and distortions,we may face another one.Do you, like me,hesitatingly realize and accept this life-in-a-fallen-world-reality? Our only hope and ouronly viable response is to trust God, not because we want too; but we have no other choice. He challenges us to trust Him as our Vindicator! Psalm 23:5 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”
We expect that the very nature of this life forces us to encounter at least minimal adversarial situations outside of our families, but never do we expect to face extreme betrayal within our families or closest friendships. Regardless of our human propensity to please people, we know that there are people in the workplace, at school in our neighborhoods and even in our churches thatwill openly treat us with contempt and we especially expect resistance of our values and of our faith. We seem to bear those with a bit of conjured resilience, but can we truly bear up under those same circumstances if it comes from underneath our own roof or within our closest circle of family or friends?
As I inhale the crisp, Colorado morning airand feast my eyes on our colorful Indian summer, I welcome Octoberand reflect on God’s purpose in our pain and know that what “any person intends for evil, God will absolutely use for our good.” “The burden of suffering seems a tombstone hung around our necks, when in reality it is only the weight which is necessary to keep down the diver while he is hunting for pearls.” (Richter) I did not intentionally hunt for “pearls” and felt I would drown from the weight of suffering, however God did vindicate me, but not in the way I expected. *He drew me close to Him in family fellowship, sat me at His table and poured out His favor and blessing in front of everyone. He welcomed me into His home with the refreshment of oil and the hospitality and generosity of a cup filled to overflowing. God promises to vindicate each of us by drawing us close to Him and acknowledging each of us as a servant with whom He is greatly pleased. What a marvelous way to be vindicated! With His great hand on our shoulders He announces to everyone: “He/She is with ME!” (What’s So Great About God? By Darrell Ferguson)
The people that deeply hurt us as they attempt to destroy our daily life and reputationare powerless against God’s fierce love for us!Psalm 37:5-6 “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”In time, God mayclear and repair our reputation while He simultaneously encourages us with His love.He may even change the heart of our accusers.
In Christ Alone,