Letter to a hurting little girl…(and to any hurting little girls)

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Dear child,

I know the pain you’re enduring. I weep for you. I weep for how isolated and unloveable this pain makes you feel. I weep for how this pain will adversely affect the rest of your life. I weep for all the dark times ahead that you will have to endure. I weep for how broken your life will feel. How broken you will feel.

But I want you to know something: this pain is not your fault. You are not to blame. You are not to blame for the scorn of others. For the taunts of others. For the callous remarks of others. For the rejection of those who simply, in their own brokenness, didn’t know how to love you. You are so, so special, my child. You have a beautiful imagination, a keen intelligence, a sweet spirit, and a wonderfully sensitive soul. Your circumstances and trials do not define you. You are, beneath your humble exterior, a little princess. Like Sara, in one of your favorite novels, A Little Princess. She chose not to let her circumstances and the way others treated her define who she was. She held her dark, little head high, remembering that true princesses are not princesses merely on the outside, but princesses on the inside. And that is what you are as well, dear one. Remember that.

So hold on, sweet little girl. Your life will not be an easy one, and you will probably always feel a bit different from others because of the things you’ve had to endure, but never, ever let that uniqueness pull you down. Instead, embrace it, remembering your uniqueness is what uniquely qualifies you for the tasks and plans ahead. Remember that uniqueness when, one day in the future, you meet other boys and girls–and even adults–who, like you, have known tremendous pain. Your own suffering will enable you to have a greater empathy and compassion for others who suffer.

Lastly, dear child, know that you are loved. You may not feel loved, and you may feel God has abandoned you, but the truth is that His tender hands are what hold you, and for His own mysterious purposes that you currently don’t understand, and perhaps may never understand, He has allowed this pain in your life. If nothing else, He will use this pain to draw you to Himself, the only source of unfailing love, which, even if you don’t feel it, is always, always there. Hold onto Him, even when doubt and anger cloud your vision. He is holding onto you, and He loves you so, so much. One day in the future, when you hold a dirty, bedraggled little street girl in your arms, you will experience a taste of the love your Heavenly Father has for you–the kind of love that will hold you close even when you feel dirty and bedraggled. He isn’t the legalistic, perpetually angry God you’ve been exposed to since birth. I promise you. He isn’t.

One day, child, you’ll make it through all this. Don’t lose heart, though many dark days lie ahead. I know the tears you shed, and the pain you feel, for they are the same tears I shed today, and the same pain I feel today, but I know now that, though the journey through the valley of the shadow may seem endless, I do not walk it alone. You aren’t alone, dear one. He is there. And He weeps with you. He knows. He sees. And He holds you close.

So remember: no matter how others treat you, no matter how gut-wrenching your pain, you are, and always will be, a beautiful little princess. And may that enable you to hold your head just a little bit higher.

Most affectionately,

Your future self

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On singleness, cops, crying in cars & trusting God

Yesterday was a weird day. A day that ended with me sitting in my car crying and having a cute cop pull up beside me, make me roll down my window, ask me if I was ok and offer to help me.

I know I posted my “bucket list” the other day and declared I would hold onto hope for better days and dreams coming true, but sometimes it’s still hard to believe for good things when so much pain, fear and disillusionment stare one in the face. I’ve been struggling over the last few days, even though Christmas itself was filled with family, friends, good food and a good time. This past evening things just seemed to spill over after I spent what was actually an enjoyable time with a sister and a cousin at the movies, watching the second installment of the “Hobbit” trilogy. (I still can’t quite get over the fact that Peter Jackson made three movies out of a very short children’s book…although, as a Tolkien fan, I’m not complaining.)

While we waited for the movie to start, my cousin and I spent some time chatting and catching up, since we don’t see each other very often, and as is usually the case, our conversation turned to our status as single women. She and I are eight days apart, in our thirties, and still, regrettably, unmarried. She related to me how her brother made some insensitive remarks to her on Christmas day, regarding her singleness, basically telling her she was “running out of time,” and not likely to ever get married if she didn’t get her act together soon. My heart went out to her, and as much as I love her brother, if he’d been present, I’d have been tempted to smack him. Anyway, she then went on to lament her single status and wonder why only older men and creepy guys seem to ask her out. I told her I seemed to have the same problem (and occasionally guys that are way too young), and that she certainly wasn’t alone in her feelings of “What’s wrong with me? and why do other people seem to have no problem getting married?” It’s especially demoralizing when those much younger than you–like those you used to babysit as children–are now getting married and having children. I felt that acutely just the other day when I noticed on Facebook the engagement of a young man eleven years my junior that I used to think of as a little brother. Ouch. I couldn’t help but turn my gaze heavenward and say, Ok, God, when’s it my turn?

Strangely enough, however, as my cousin continued to lament her singleness, and even as I commiserated with her, I tried to encourage her as well, especially when she told me she often felt angry at God over her singleness and was afraid she’d be single for the rest of her life. I told her to trust God, no matter what. To leave it in His hands. And, somehow, for her at least, I meant those words. I believed those words. And I genuinely want to see her happy and blessed with a husband. But, as I drove home, I couldn’t believe those words for myself. I’m not angry at God over my singleness like my cousin. But I am discouraged. And in a place of unwilling resignation over the fact that I may never get married. When I was younger, I had hope. But as I get older, that hope is quickly dwindling, as I realize the sad fact that men typically age better than women, and unless you’re the exception and one hot cougar, most men won’t look twice at an older woman. (If someone would like to contradict me on this assessment, I’d be happy to hear it. I’m just stating what I observe.)

So, as cruel and insensitive as my cousin’s words to his sister were, I concede there’s some truth to them. Even my other cousin, his sister, conceded that. And that’s why the words hurt so much. As women in our thirties, my cousin and I are definitely, in some ways, “running out of time.” Does that mean God can’t do the miraculous? I hope not. But, yes, a miracle is probably what it would take. Especially for someone in my situation. I actually have more hope for my cousin than myself because not only am I a woman of a certain age, but I feel led to a very specific calling in my life, one that most men wouldn’t want–or at least, all the men I’ve met so far don’t want. And it’s not something I’m willing to compromise on. As much as I want to get married, I know I wouldn’t be happy married to someone who didn’t share a similar calling/career.

So, I’m having to face the fact that, aside from divine intervention, I might very well never get married. And this thought, stirred up after my conversation with my cousin, as well as thoughts about my other current struggles, disappointments, and afflictions, eventually led to my sitting in my car in front of my house, pouring out frustrated tears to a God Who seems absolutely remote right now, and then having a cop pull up beside me, rap on my window, and shine a flashlight in my face. I looked up to see a young cop staring at me, and at his command, I rolled down my window. I couldn’t disguise the fact that I’d been crying, so he immediately asked if I was ok, and when I mumbled a “sort of,” he then proceeded to insist on helping me in some way. I expressed appreciation at this offer, but told him I lived at the house I was parked in front of, would be fine, and would be going inside momentarily. Thankfully, that seemed to assure him enough, and he left me after that. But, understandably, I was slightly embarrassed about the whole situation. It was certainly a first for me. (And it made me wonder why a cop was patrolling our street late at night.)

It also made me ponder the sad fact that most often the tears I shed are either completely unseen or seen by complete strangers. And that seems to be the story of my life. Unseen. Most of my pain and suffering have been completely hidden from those around me. And, ironically, that was one of the things I was railing against God about in my car. The fact that I’m so tired of feeling alone and unseen. Even though I have a big family and a few good friends who care about me, I just feel like I’m always floating on the fringes. That no one truly knows me. That no one has any idea of what I’m truly going through. Perhaps that’s one reason I desire marriage so much. Because if I felt truly seen and known by even one person, it would mean so much to me.

I’m trying to hold onto hope. To believe that maybe my circumstances will eventually change. To believe that God answers prayers and that some of my dreams will come true. To believe that the scary things I’m facing may not be as bad as I think they’ll be.

But sometimes I can’t help but shed frightened, frustrated tears. Because while it may be easy to tell others to simply “trust God,” trusting God myself is often the hardest thing to do.

Feeling scared

I’m scared. Scared of what I might be facing in a few months. Scared of whether or not I’ll have to tell certain family members. Scared of whether other people will have to know. I don’t want anyone to know. And yet, there’s a part of me that wants my pain validated. That wants my story told. I don’t want pity. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. But like any normal human being that’s ever suffered–and suffered alone–sometimes I just want someone to weep with me, to agree with me that I’ve endured some pretty excruciating pain.

I bit the bullet and saw a doctor yesterday. And I’m going to have to see more. The word “surgery” was thrown out there as a possibility. I don’t want to have to have surgery. But if it looks like it’s necessary, my life-long secret pain will no longer be secret. I will have to tell some people I don’t want to tell. One person in particular I dread telling, because I blamed this person most of my life for my pain. There are so many traumatizing memories associated with this pain that it’s taken me over thirty years to finally confront it, and over thirty years to truly forgive certain people associated with it.

So, naturally, I’m feeling a bit frightened. I wish I could crawl into a hole somewhere and this nightmare would just disappear. But I can no longer hide from it or imagine or wish it away. I have to face it. I have to face what has been the primary source of pain and brokenness in my life, starting from the time I was a child. I know I’m not alone in one sense, as I’ve expressed on here before. I know now there are other people out there who’ve suffered as I have, and in some ways worse than I have, so that comforts me somewhat. But in my own social circle–which isn’t that big–only two people have any idea of what I’ve been through and continue to go through. No one in my family knows. I’ve kept it a well-guarded secret, because in my family–as much as I love my family–that’s what you do: you bury things. So I’ve buried it quite deep for over thirty years.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the days ahead. My relationship with God is on the rocks right now, so I find turning to Him for comfort and strength very difficult. (I’ve decided I must be a bipolar Christian–it’s always hot or cold, up or down, with me in my walk with God. Right now I’m in a down period.) I have very few people to turn to either. No one but my counselor even knows I’ve seen a doctor. As usual, I’m alone in facing this mountain in front of me. And while there’s a part of me that wants to keep it that way, there’s another part of me that longs for others to come alongside me and, if nothing else, weep with me and pray with me. So often, when I’ve lain weeping in my bed, or hunched over weeping on my bathroom floor, all I’ve wanted is someone else to weep with me and tell me, yeah, you’re dealing with some pretty crummy stuff. Because carrying a burden of pain all alone has been utterly soul-crushing. And sometimes I wish I felt more freedom to tell my story, to release this burden completely, and somehow find a redemptive ending to it.

Maybe someday I will feel more freedom to tell my story. The fact that I’m finally even confronting this excruciating source of pain is a huge step in and of itself. But my story isn’t over yet. And maybe it won’t be till it’s completely over that I’ll feel free to share it. All I can do now is hope for the best. And try hard not to be scared.

Pressing on…no matter what

This past Saturday I had the opportunity, via my community college, to visit and take a brief tour of the university I intend, Lord willing, to transfer to next fall. The visit excited me about my future goals, but was also a much-needed wake-up call to the realities of the possible major life-changes I am facing in the near future.

I am not your “typical” college student. It has taken me sixteen—sixteen!–years to figure out what I want to do with my life, and so here I am, in my thirties, pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I don’t regret many of my life choices over the last eighteen years or so–I’ve spent nearly a year living abroad, I’ve traveled to other countries, where I’ve done missionary work and volunteer work such as teaching English, and I’ve had many other life-enriching experiences. I’ve also worked at various jobs, some pleasant and rewarding, some very stressful, unpleasant and unfulfilling, which I think have made me a pretty well-rounded, versatile person. All of my experiences since graduating high school oh so many years ago have shaped who I am and have helped me discover where my passions, interests, and strengths lie, so that, finally, I can say with some degree of certainty: THIS is what I want to do with my life. I am definitely a late-bloomer. And I am ok with that.

Part of my late-blooming journey can definitely be attributed not only to my indecisiveness, but to not-so-pleasant life circumstances beyond my control, such as a major health crisis in 2007 that not only sent me spiraling into debt from medical bills, but into a mental and emotional breakdown which I am still trying to recover from. My life has not been easy. It has been characterized by setback after setback, and many physical, emotional and mental struggles, to the point where, even now, if I don’t see things improving in a very dramatic, immediate and tangible way, I am so tempted to give up. To give up on life, to give up on trying to get better, to give up believing anything good, happy, or ultimately lasting will ever come of my turbulent existence.

So my visit to the university this past Saturday left me with mixed emotions. I absolutely loved the campus–it was beautiful, with grand, old buildings, steeped in history (the university was founded by one of our first presidents), and full of a lively academic atmosphere that got my pulse racing with excitement. I could just imagine myself poring over my books in one of its spacious libraries with vaulted ceilings, strolling along its green lawns to my various classes, and just generally immersing myself in this whole new experience known as real college. I know, for most people my age, such feelings of excitement are long over, but having only attended community college so far, going to an actual, four-year university is both daunting and exhilarating at the same time to me.

But even as I pondered the exciting part of possibly going to this university, I also let myself face the inevitable challenges that would await me. I am no stranger to hopping on a plane and traveling half-way across the world completely on my own, to a place where I know no one—I’ve done it more than once, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I’d be doing it now, if I had the money. I was born a wanderer and explorer, and I love immersing myself in new environments and seeing new places. So the idea of moving to another city, only about an hour away from where I live now, to attend a university, shouldn’t frighten me. Admittedly, part of me can’t wait to move to a different city, to get out of the boring, hum-drum place I live now. But, strangely, another part of me is a bit frightened. Even with all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve never faced something quite so daunting as college. On my own. In a city where I know no one. For some reason, this intimidates me more than trekking across the globe on my own (which I’d do in a heartbeat, if it was safe, and I had the money). I know part of it is that I know how awkward, alone and out-of-place I’ll feel, at least initially, amidst a throng of preppy, much-younger, partying-type college “kids.” At least at the community college I currently attend, I am not the only “older” student, and there is much more diversity over-all in the types of students that go there. So I blend in rather well. But I know the environment will be far different at the university. And I wonder how I will cope with trying to connect and form relationships with many of my fellow students. I wonder how I’ll find community in a city where I don’t know anyone. I wonder where I’ll live. If I’ll have roommates. If I’ll like my roommates. Suddenly, all these “what if” scenarios start floating through my mind, filling me with fear.

I have come a long ways from where I used to be. But I’m still struggling. I still feel fragile, faltering and unsure of myself much of the time. So this prospect of going off to a university, in a new place, while exciting, also scares me. Somehow, facing the pressures of a university environment and college life frightens me more than going to live in a country I’ve never been to before. Consequently, over the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling a bit emotionally, as I ponder not only the realities of the challenges ahead of me, but of the continued issues and hurdles I’m dealing with in my everyday life. And that’s when the dark thoughts start to push their way into my mind. You’ll never get better. You’ll never succeed. Your life will end before it’s even begun. Why bother trying. Why bother trying to get a degree. Why bother trying to change your lot in life. If you have trouble finding meaningful relationships and friendships where you are now, what makes you think it’ll be any easier in a different city? Why bother with anything? You are a failure. Yes, despite all the positive things you’ve done in your life, you are still a failure. And that’s all you’ll ever be. So give up. Just give up.

Fighting such thoughts has been very depressing. I try to give myself pep-talks, but they’re only so effective. I try to quote Scriptures to myself, but they seem to only give me temporary relief. I admit shamefacedly that I am tempted, very often, to simply listen to all those dark voices and give up. Give up on myself and give up on life.

But I’ve got to press on, no matter what those dark thoughts tell me. If there’s one thing that frightens me more than any of my other fears, it’s living a wasted, completely self-absorbed life. No matter what those familiar, dark voices of despair tell me, and even though, yes, most of the time all I can see is how far I have to go instead of how far I’ve come, I know I was meant for more than this broken life I’ve lived so far. Somewhere deep in my spirit I know. And it’s this fear of not becoming who God intended me to be that drives me forward, even when it feels like hell itself is standing against me. Perhaps one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was from my current counselor, who told me I was “remarkably resilient.” This came after she discovered, in greater detail than I’ve told anyone before, exactly what I’ve been through and continue to deal with. I wonder myself sometimes, why, God, am I still here? And that’s when I know, if there is any resilience in me, I certainly can’t take credit for it.

I am super excited about the prospect of attending a university and hopefully one day acquiring my bachelor’s degree. I hope, and pray, with all my heart, that if I get that degree, I can use it to serve God on the mission field. That’s my goal. That’s my dream. But the reality of the difficulties that will cross my path as I go in that direction is ever present to me. I just hope I don’t finally cave to the feelings of discouragement and despair that so often hound me. I’ve come so, so close to caving.

I don’t want to waste my life. No matter how difficult the terrain, I must keep trekking. One foot. In front of. The other.

Come to Jesus

This beautiful song touched me in a profound way the other day, so I thought I’d share:

I’ve been thinking how so often in this blog I vent my tears, frustrations, pains and sorrows–after all, I did title it “Valley of Achor” for good reason–but how few and far between are posts reflecting true joy and thankfulness. The truth is the last several years of my life have definitely been more sorrowful than joyful, more tinged with pain than with sweetness, and I often feel like God has given me the “short end of the stick,” so to speak, when it comes to the amount of pain He has allowed in my life, but lately He’s been convicting me about my attitude to this pain.

I came across this quote a couple weeks ago, posted above someone’s desk, and it really struck me:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude, to me is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstance, than failure, than success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change our past; we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…

I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it.

And so it is with you… We are in charge of our attitudes.”

This quote is attributed to Pastor Charles Stanley, although that’s debatable–however, regardless of who said it, how true it is. And it reminds me of what James says in the Scriptures: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

I am no different than anyone else. When things hurt, when things don’t go my way, when my circumstances don’t make sense, when God seems a million miles away and callous to my pain, when He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to (and when I want Him to), I get angry. I get frustrated. I question Him. I justify my self-pity and my wrong attitude. I vent much of those feelings on this blog. And most would say, hey, that’s ok.

But is it? Of course, we all need to vent, and God would rather me be honest than mask my pain. He’s big enough to handle my anger, frustration and doubts. But I feel like I need to take a step back and reassess my attitude. I am, somehow, in the midst of my pain, my questioning, my frustration and my doubts, to “count it all joy.” Really, God? Joy? Joy when I’ve endured so much already? Isn’t that asking a bit much?

But it’s what He wants. Somehow. Some way. So often my attitude simply sucks. Let me just be blunt. But even though I know it’s still ok to get angry at times, to question, to vent–King David is my role model in being honest with God–I am not to remain in that place. I am, somehow, to count every hard, difficult thing in my life as joy.

So I’m going to endeavor to do that. By God’s grace, of course. I still don’t understand the why of so much of the pain, confusion and frustration in my life. I still ache, long, hope for intimacy in my relationship with God and others. I still know it’s ok to weep and shake my fist at God sometimes. But I’m realizing I can’t let my pain, my past, my failures, and every other negative thing in my life make me a negative person. Because the truth is that I am blessed. I may not have as much as some, I may not have the kind of fellowship and friendships right now that I long for, I may not have the future spouse I pray for, I may feel incredibly lonely most of the time, I may feel like my dark valley is stretching out to infinity, but I do still have so much to be thankful for. I have a few good, precious friends. I have a wonderful, large family, which now includes two adorable baby nieces. (I love being an auntie!) I have a roof over my head. I have food, clothing. I have Jesus. And, as Jesus said, with these I am to be content.

And when the pain and darkness seem overwhelming, as that song above so simply says, I must go to Jesus. Whether it feels like He’s there or not. I’m still figuring out how an intimate relationship with the invisible King of the universe really works, but to whom else can I go? And maybe that’s the point. Sometimes we have to be stripped of everything before we can see what’s right in front of us. Or Who’s right in front of us.

I know all this in my head, but hopefully I’ll come to know all this in my heart. And in the knowing, that my heart might be healed and made whole.

So, I come, Jesus. And may I somehow count all my sorrows, all my pain, all my frustration, as joy.

The road goes ever on and on…

I’m still here.

Life has been interesting over the last few months. I finished up my summer math classes last month. I will dive back into school full time next week. Only two more semesters to go before I get my associate’s degree, and then hopefully onward and upward to the university where I hope to pursue my bachelor’s degree.

I had a birthday in July. I am officially starting to realize how old I am. Not a comforting thought.

My ESL class wraps up tomorrow night. I’ve had a fun and rewarding time teaching this class, and I’m going to miss my students, and fellow teachers, very much. Hopefully I’ll still be able to remain in touch and help out on occasion.

I was asked out recently by a gentleman at my church, who is apparently still smitten with me and trying to “woo” me, even though I politely turned him down. Ironically, I myself have, in recent months, “fallen” for another male friend of mine, who I’m quite certain will remain strictly “friend” material. I’ve determined I’m not ready for a relationship of any kind right now anyway.

But this has been my life lately. I guess I haven’t written anything here because I haven’t really felt the need to. Nothing huge has happened to me, nothing inspirational has struck me, nor have I been in such a despondent state that I’ve felt propelled to pour out the agonies of my soul onto this blog.

And maybe that’s a good thing. But, even though my life seems to be in a steady place right now, and I’ve definitely come a long ways from where I used to be, I’m far from “out of the woods” yet. I still have days where I cry myself to sleep, I still deal with a lot of pain, and I’m still facing some obstacles I have no idea how to overcome.

But I’m pressing on. Even though I still have no idea at times where my road is leading, whether God will ever totally heal and restore me, or whether my story will have a happy ending. I have to keep going, if for no other reason than to know my life wasn’t a waste. I have to believe that there is some eternal value to my life, even in its seeming insignificance, even in the depths of pain and darkness that I have endured. I have to believe that I’m here for a reason.

So, I echo with Bilbo in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

windingpathThe Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many path and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Imprisoned by the past

“Why can’t we just sweep all of that under the rug and let the past be the past?” So says an old man, pleadingly, angrily, to his daughter, who has, once again, unintentionally embarrassed him by reminding him of his past life.

A little while later, after being confronted by someone from his past, he is seen collapsing into a chair, his body convulsing with heart-rending sobs.

Both these scenes are from a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “Little Dorrit.” I am a huge Charles Dickens fan, and I just recently watched this masterpiece of a drama for the second time. However, this time the movie touched me in a way it hadn’t before, as I suddenly realized how much of myself I saw in one of the drama’s main characters–old Mr. Dorrit.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, “Little Dorrit” tells the tale of a man, and his family (the Dorrits), who, after being stuck in a debtors’ prison for over twenty years, suddenly find freedom and wealth when they learn of an unclaimed inheritance. Transitioning from the bottom rungs of society to the very top proves to be a challenge for all of the Dorrits, but most especially for the father, Mr. Dorrit, who, having been accustomed to prison for so long, finds his newfound freedom, wealth, and “respect” exhilerating at first, but eventually more than he can handle.

Even as he moves among the elite in society, travels Europe, and does his best to “fit in” with those of the upper-class, he is continually reminded of his humble, painful days in the prison. Mostly by his youngest daughter Amy–known affectionately as “Little Dorrit”–who finds it difficult to give up her humble ways and become a proper “lady of leisure,” but also by former friends and aquaintances who knew him during his stay in the prison. Finally, toward the end of the story, his mind begins to crack, as paranoia sets in and he begins to imagine everyone is mocking him and talking badly of him, and at last, he loses his mind completely and then he dies.

There are other happier parts to the story, thankfully, but Mr. Dorrit’s storyline, as tragic as it is, is what struck me most profoundly, for although I’ve never been in an actual prison, I, like Mr. Dorrit, know what it’s like to live daily in the prison of my own mind, which, even once it finds freedom externally, can never forget the past–especially when people from the past continually return to refresh painful memories and reinforce old lies. It’s like an analogy I once was told about elephants: once they are trained via chains to remain standing in one spot, even when those chains are removed, they still stand there, unwilling to run away, convinced in their scarred minds that the chains are still there.

This, unfortunately, is the reality of anyone, like myself, or a fictional Mr. Dorrit, who has gone through tremendously painful, humiliating, and/or traumatic experiences. As Richard Lovelace put it so eloquently in his poem “To Althea, from Prison:”

“Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage;

If I have freedom in my love

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.”

So much, at least externally, has changed for me for the better recently. Like Mr. Dorrit, I’m tasting freedom for the first time in many areas of my life. Outwardly, most would say I am doing well. But true freedom is never found in external circumstances. True freedom only really happens in one’s mind and spirit. The cruelest, darkest prisons are not physical ones, but the ones imposed in our own minds. As Lovelace says, a mind “innocent and quiet” could take even an actual iron-barred prison and find peace there. I envy those with such unscarred, peaceful minds. Minds not continually haunted by memories of a painful past. Minds not tormented by a past that one wishes every day one could forget. Minds not continually reminded of the person one used to be by people from that past who continue to reject and turn a cold shoulder, seeing you always as “that person.”

Like Mr. Dorrit, there are days, especially after running into people I used to know, when I retreat somewhere and simply weep. Weep in agony that, no matter how hard I try to escape my past, no matter how much I change, no matter how affirming close friends and family are, no matter how well some aspects of my life may be going, all it takes to send me spiraling downward is a confrontation with those who hurt me in the past and continue to hurt me with their coldness and disregard. I know I shouldn’t let these people get to me. I try to remind myself of all those who have built me up instead of torn me down, but my mind much more easily believes the negative over the positive. Like the elephant, I know that, in reality, my chains are gone. But in my mind those chains are never really gone. And when others treat you as if those chains are still there, it’s even easier for the mind to believe that somehow one can never truly escape. That one is forever imprisoned by one’s past.

I know in Christ I am supposed to be free. I know all about “renewing one’s mind.” I know, at least intellectually, that I am loved by Christ–that no matter my past, no matter how others perceive me and treat me–I am who He says I am, and not who others say I am.

But still I struggle. And I believe I struggle because my painful past involves a cult-like church and many hypocritical Christians who, instead of loving and reaching out to a lonely, broken, hurting outcast, contributed to her pain. And who, even to this day, when I should come across them, turn away from me as if I somehow have the plague. Like Mr. Dorrit, I just want to say, why can’t the past be left where it is? In the past? Why must it continually thrust its ugly face into my own via the voices of those whose looks alone tell me all I need to know about myself? “You’re unloveable.” “Something’s wrong with you.” “You’re wicked.” “You’re not godly enough.” “You’re messed up.” “Once an outcast, always an outcast.”

The mind is a cruel prison. A cruel prison I long to escape from. And I keep trying to escape. But, like Mr. Dorrit, I’m so accustomed to my imprisonment, that freedom itself is a scary, overwhelming thing that I’m not sure I would know how to handle.

I hope I don’t succumb to paranoia one day and lose my mind completely (though I’ve felt I’ve come close before)–I hope the end to my story is a happy one and not a sad one–but, as of now, I don’t know how to break free of my mental chains. I don’t know how to handle those reminders of my past (mainly people) that keep me locked up behind bars thicker and stronger than ones of actual iron.

I can only hope and trust that the grace of God will somehow do what I cannot do. And that someday I will possess a soul, and mind, that is completely free and, with the angels soaring above, able to “enjoy such liberty”…

We never suffer alone

Sometimes just knowing one isn’t alone and that others have it even worse than you do is enough to bring comfort and hope in the midst of the deepest of deepest agonies.

Two weeks ago, feeling overwhelmed with despair at my situation, I sped down a darkened interstate after midnight, just driving and driving, crying my eyes out and pleading with God to speak to me. To at least let me know He understood and cared about my pain. I drove for over an hour to a nearby city and finally turned around and headed home, feeling sleepy…but God was silent. Or at least it seemed He was. Although I heard no voice from heaven, I did see two curious sights on my midnight journey. I drove past two crosses beside the highway. One, on the way, was lit up in front of a building; the other, which I passed on my way back, was simply a string of lights in the shape of a cross sitting near the highway. I don’t know if these were “signs” from above–God’s way of simply saying “I’m here”–but I wondered. I especially wondered the next day.

The next day I went and saw my counselor, still feeling down, and I confessed this spur-of-the-moment emotional collapse that propelled me down the interstate in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, she wanted to know what caused this breakdown. I felt that tugging again, to spill one of my deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets–one that I have borne in silence my entire life, and one that has caused me excruciating pain. I told a few other people a while ago, including my last counselor, but none of these people seemed to know how to reach out to me or help me deal with it. So I feared spilling my guts once again. But, as scared as I was, I agreed to share what was troubling me one more time. Via writing. I’ll take another chance, I thought.

So I took the chance. And her reaction, like those before her, took me by surprise. There was no rejection. No judgment. Only compassion. And even admiration that I had been able to cope as long as I have with this incredible source of pain. She called me “resilient.” But more than simply showing me kindness and being a listening ear, she has begun to give me practical ideas and suggestions on how to deal with my pain. No drugs were pushed on me. No magical prayer that would supposedly “heal” me. For the first time, someone has given me more than “fluffy” or “overly spiritual” advice. She tends to be very practical, and I really like this about her. So, at her suggestion, the first thing I did was some searching on the internet, and I discovered that, wonder of wonders…I am not alone in my pain. This shocked me. It also saddened me, because, after reading some people’s horror stories, I now realize, as bad as I’ve had it, some have had it even worse.

This was such an eye-opening experience for me. To simply no longer feel alone in one’s pain–to know there are others out there who can empathize–is such an amazing comfort. One of the things that has driven to me to such feelings of despair is feeling like no one else out there could possibly relate. And it has been this feeling of “aloneness” that has led me to hide my pain for so long. I’ve always thought I was the only one. Now I know I’m not.

God hears. He sees. He knows. And for the first time in my life, I feel He has given me a concrete source of hope. I can’t explain how liberated this makes me feel. I don’t know what the next steps for me are, and I’m still a bit frightened, but I have a courage to face this I’ve never had before.

Maybe there is a way out for me. It won’t be easy. I still have many obstacles to face. But, praise God, I am no longer in this fight alone. To suffer is one thing. To suffer alone–completely alone–is a million times worse.

No matter how “scary” or “intimidating” or “shameful” one’s secrets are, what I’m learning is that holding onto one’s secrets and not bringing them into the light is far more scary. It is only in the light that healing comes. Not everyone will understand. Some won’t know how to deal with your pain. Some will reject you for it. Some will give you bad advice. But persevere. Trust God. Let it into the light. Own it. Accept it. Face it.

It’s only there that healing comes. Never, ever feel like you must suffer alone. Because, in reality, none of us really does.

Reflections on Easter

It’s Easter. Or Resurrection Sunday. Or whatever one prefers to call it.

I should be happy, joyful, remembering that Jesus is alive, and all He did for me. I should feel more than I do on a day like this. Instead, I feel dead inside. I’m struggling. Wondering some moments how I can keep on going. Wondering what’s so wrong with me and will things ever get better. Wondering why church feels as dead as I feel inside.

I went to three services today. I went to an outdoor sunrise service first thing this morning with a friend of mine. It was a bit chilly, but the wooded scenery was nice and the service was sweet and short. I couldn’t really get into the spirit of things, however, or pay too much attention to the sermon, because a little field mouse decided to show up and distract those of us sitting near its little hideaway in a crevice of the rock bench in front of us. He was a cute little thing, and kept poking his head and beady eyes out of the crevice to look at us. He apparently wanted to get out, but we kept scaring him back in, till, at last, near the end of the service, he got bold enough to make a mad dash for it. He scampered across the ground toward our rock bench, where apparently he found another crevice to hide in. But what a commotion and distraction he caused. It was kind of funny, actually. Those of us who enjoyed his antics affectionately labeled him our “church mouse.”

After the sunrise service, and a yummy breakfast served at the church, I joined my friend for the regular early-morning service, and while it was nice, it just felt like the same ho-hum routine church service. It just felt like all of us were going through the motions, and I admittedly nearly dozed off a couple times. After it was over, it was still fairly early in the morning, so on the spur of the moment, as I drove toward home, I decided, after phoning my sister, to join her at her church service. This service, at a Presbyterian church, felt “deader” than the Baptist one I went to earlier. I looked around me at the well-dressed congregation, and I realized that there was a time I would have felt somewhat at home there (I used to attend this church many years ago), but no longer. I suddenly missed the little Spanish church, with its poorer folk, and its livelier music and sermons. I felt as if I were attending a funeral at the Presbyterian church. Oh the songs were good–good, solid hymns, most of them–and the sermon was good and doctrinally sound. But there was no life there. And I felt lifeless sitting there.

Maybe that’s what’s missing in most churches these days. Maybe that’s what’s missing in me. Life. On a day like today, I should be filled to overflowing with life, remembering the One Who gives me eternal Life. But instead I feel numb and dead. And nearly every church I walk into feels numb and dead as well. As much as I hate to say it, and as much as many Christians here in the US like to “complain” about it, I think a good dose of persecution would be a good thing for the American church. Persecution would awaken us out of our slumber and awaken my own dead, cold heart. Sometimes (ok, often) I wish I’d been born in a different country, where life is harder, and where persecution is normal. I envy Christians in Africa, China, Indonesia, and other parts of the world who truly understand what it means to follow Christ, because of the suffering they endure. I don’t envy their suffering, of course, but I envy the joy and abundant life they seem to possess, even in the midst of their sufferings.

My own life has been full of suffering, though of a different sort, and while there are days when my pain seems too much to bear, and I don’t know how I can go on, at other times I am grateful for it, because without it I think I would survey life on a more superficial level. There’s something about being stripped of everything you hold dear that really “wakes” you up, as it were. You realize money isn’t important, looks aren’t important, intelligence isn’t all that important, possessions don’t matter…nothing matters but your very soul, and it stands naked, like every other soul in the world, before a holy, loving, and righteous God, Who could snuff it out in an instant if He chose to. Before Him we are all equals, and before the Cross we are all equals.

So how is it, on a day like today, that symbolizes life–Real Life–that I feel so lifeless, and the Christianity I see around me appears lifeless as well? Jesus has to be more real than a Sunday school lesson or a dry, doctrinally sound sermon. If He is truly alive, then I should feel alive as well. I’m sick of religion. I’m sick of lifeless, mediocre Christianity. I’m sick of my own lifeless heart. I’m sick of being sick.

I watched part of The Gospel of John movie the other day–the last part, which portrays the Last Supper and Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection–and it made me cry. It made me wish I had been there, over two thousand years ago. It made me want to see Him, face to face. And it made me more aware of the contradictions and hypocrisy in my own life. Because, if I truly believe Jesus is as alive now as He was then, and that He’s with me, then why don’t I live as if He is? Why don’t most Christians? We profess one thing with our lips, and yet live as if we have no idea what we’re talking about.

He’s alive. As much now as He was then. So why am I so dead inside? And why is the church so dead?

I’m just rambling. But I’m simply fed up. Fed up with myself and the church.

On a day that symbolizes Life, that’s what I find lacking and want so much. I just want Life. Abundant Life, as Jesus promised.

Asking & not receiving

I wept in agony last night in my bed.

Overcome by pain, shame, frustration and despair.

I’d been doing relatively well recently, until, over the last several days, certain triggers sent me into a downward spiral.

Last night’s breakdown was triggered by an event earlier in the day. A happy event. An event that at least made me happy for someone else. I attended the wedding of a friend, and it was one of the sweetest, most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. I was genuinely happy for my friend, for if anyone deserved the kind of happiness she’d attained, it would be her. She’s one of the sweetest, kindest, godliest women I know, and she’s been through a lot, so I could never wish anything but the best for her, and seeing her happy, with a wonderful man, made me happy as well.

But as happy as I was for her, seeing her attain what I’ve longed for for so long, and seeing the kind of person she is–the kind of person I long to be, but feel I can never be–left me reeling in pain. I told God–I’d do almost anything to be like this friend of mine. I’d do almost anything to have her character and sweetness. I’d do almost anything to one day gain the kind of happiness she’d attained. But that’s when reality sunk in. Yes, I was feeling some self-pity and envy–I won’t deny it–but more than that I felt despair. And I still feel that despair. Because, after years of struggling to find my way out of an incredibly dark valley of pain, and doing all that I can think of doing to find help toward that end, I am no closer than I was at the beginning to attaining freedom, healing, and wholeness. I feel trapped. And when I feel trapped, I lose hope.

So, overwhelmed by this sense of hopelessness over my situation, and who I am, I sat in my bed last night and wept. I wept tears that only God could see. I vented the pain that only He knows about. Desperate for comfort, I opened up my Daily Light devotional and read today’s Scriptures, and they just happened to be about asking God for things. Here’s what I read, taken from various Scriptures:

“Ye have not because ye ask not. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth…This is the confidence we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him…Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it–Men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles…Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

These Scriptures sound comforting. It sounds so easy. Ask, and God will answer. Ask, and you shall receive. The problem is, what if you ask, and you don’t receive? What if you ask, and God doesn’t answer? I’m not talking about asking for materialistic, petty, selfish, and shallow things. Jesus said that the Father doesn’t give His children stones when they ask for bread. But sometimes I feel like that’s exactly what He gives me. I’ve been asking for bread–wholeness in body, mind and spirit, deeper friendships, meaningful fellowship–for a long time. But all of these still elude me. I’ve had tantalizing tastes of each, but every time it seems I come close to gaining these things, and breaking out of my darkness, I’m thrown back in, with more devastating force each time. And so I begin to question God. I begin to doubt His goodness or that He even hears my prayers. Because it seems to me that the things I’m asking for are good things. Things that any loving Father would want to give His child, especially if He wants that child to grow in holiness. So what am I doing wrong, I wonder? Am I so screwed up and sinful there’s no hope for me? Am I beyond redemption? Has God just tossed me aside?

I hope one day I can look back on what I’m writing now and say to myself, you silly fool. O you of little faith. But when you’re in the midst of pain so deep and excruciating that it feels like a knife through your soul, and God seems apathetic to your cries, it’s tempting to simply give up. Especially if you’ve been crying out for deliverance from your pain for many years.

I hope I can trudge on. I know that I’m merely venting right now. But hopelessness and despair are crushing my soul more and more often these days, and if something doesn’t happen in my life soon to bring me some hope, I’m scared of what might happen to me.

In my moments of darkest despair, I simply want to see Jesus’ face, like the sinful woman I wrote about in my previous entry. I wish I could have an encounter like hers. Because I’m just like her. I know I have the Holy Spirit. I know I have the Word of God. But the thing I long for the most, when the pain and shame are the deepest, is simply to see Jesus. Face to face. To have Him tangibly in front of me. Because sometimes walking by faith, and not by sight, is the most frustrating thing for me. I long to touch, to be touched, to feel, to know. And having a relationship with an invisible Person, Who’s often silent and distant, isn’t conducive to these longings, and is never easy, no matter what anyone says.

I’ll keep on praying, as the Scriptures urge me to do, and try not to “faint,” but I don’t know how long I can hang on, if God doesn’t answer at least one of my prayers soon. All I can hope for is that He hangs on to me when I have no strength to hang on myself.