Some ramblings, reflections & possibly a farewell

I’ve come to the realization lately that this blog will probably be collecting dust very soon and that perhaps I should just bid it farewell. And I think perhaps it’s just as well.

I am moving into a new season of my life, and while I by no means consider myself completely out of my “valley of Achor” just yet, I am in a much different place now than I was when I started this blog, and even if I somehow find time to continue to blog in the future, I’ll probably start another blog rather than contribute to this one. So this may very well be my last post on “Valley of Achor.”

So much has happened over the last few months that I won’t even attempt to go into a detailed narrative, but let’s just say that I’ve faced the biggest demons in my life, I’ve confronted my deepest source of pain, I’ve made some earth-shattering revelations to certain people, my faith has all but crumbled into the dust, and all this has happened in the midst of preparing for my transition to university this fall. I’ve been on a roller-coaster ride emotionally, some days hopeful and exuberant, other days despairing of life itself, and some days so stressed out and overwhelmed I’ve just wanted to curl up in my bed and avoid the challenges and mile-long-to-do-list facing me.

But I’ve survived, I’m still here, and by next month I’ll be living in a new city, with people I barely know, and facing two years of intense study at a prestigious university. I have a feeling the next two years will either make me or break me. I am simultaneously super excited and absolutely terrified. But I know I’m doing the right thing, no matter the outcome. I didn’t make it this far only to allow fear to dissuade me from my dreams.

So, as I step out on this next new phase of my life, into uncharted territory, I think I’ll bid this little blog, and the young woman I once was, farewell. I will never forget the dark places I have been in, and the pain I have endured, but I want to move on.

Although, I have come to realize, I shall probably carry my scars for the rest of my life. There will be no true and complete healing for me in this life. Some pain is never truly forgotten or overcome. Despite what all the health and wealth and prosperity people preach. I’ve been made even more keenly aware of my fragility due to a sudden and unexpected flare-up of my rheumatoid arthritis recently. I’ve been mostly in remission in recent years, so the flare-up really caught me off guard, but it also reminded me that pain will always be my friend, in one shape or another. I will never be able to escape pain. But physical pain I can handle. Even on days like last week where I was so stiff and in so much pain I could barely move. It’s emotional pain, it’s mental pain, it’s memories that can’t be erased, that hurt far worse. Those are the sources of pain that sear one’s soul, that leave an indelible mark on one’s spirit. And it’s those sources of pain that will always haunt me, and that I will always carry with me, no matter where I go or what I do in this life of mine.

But however challenging the next steps of my life may be, I’m determined to go forward. I cannot, will not, ever, ever go back to the dark places I’ve been in. I would rather be dead. My life, however fragile and bruised and battered, must make its mark in this world. I must make it mean something. So that none of my pain will be for naught.

Last night I felt my life meant something. I’ve been volunteering again this summer at a local church teaching an ESL class, and last night was my last class. I went to class expecting it to be the normal affair it usually is, although I regretted I couldn’t think of a way to reward or celebrate my students’ participation in the class. However, the students flipped the tables on me and totally surprised me by celebrating me as their teacher. Apparently they conspired to throw me a party. I knew something was up when I saw them bringing assorted items into class, like drinks and pizza boxes. But it wasn’t just the little party. There were also flowers, a sweet thank you card signed by all the students, a $25 gift card to Panera, and hugs and words of appreciation and “I’ll miss you, teacher”s from all the students. I could have cried. It was so touching, and reminded me that my life can be valuable, despite the pain, if I only use it to bless others.

So this is why I’m still here. Why I’m still fighting. Why, despite everything I’ve been through, and probably have yet to go through, I will do my best to persevere. To not give up. To keep staring down my darkest demons and my deepest fears. Come what may, I must go on. Because my life must not be lived in vain.

So, this may be farewell. Farewell to the Valley of Achor. I’m moving on. Both literally and figuratively. Perhaps a new blog will come along at some point, but for the foreseeable future, I’ll be too immersed in real life to wander the halls of the blogosphere.

My “Romance & Adventure” list

Blessed-is-SheSometimes I have a hard time holding onto hope. Sometimes I have a hard time believing any of my dreams in life will come true. My valley, and my pain, have lasted so long, that it’s far too easy to believe the negative whispers in my soul, telling me nothing will ever get better. But I’m trying to fight that. I’m trying to see through different lenses. Years ago I felt God gave me the verses that inspired this blog, as a personal promise that one day my Valley of Achor–or trouble–would end in a door of hope. And that promise kept me going through a time of intense darkness and pain. But as the pain has lingered in recent years, and I’ve met with more disappointment and setbacks in my life, I’ve found it more and more difficult to hang on to that promise. Doubts, fears and at times despair have ransacked my soul, telling me my life will never have any sort of redemptive ending or satisfying purpose.

But I’m trying to fight back. Even though sadness, disappointment and disillusionment still lurk in the shadows, I’ve got to believe that better days are somewhere around the bend. So I’m posting the beautifully written Bible verse above (courtesy of blogger Morgan Day Cecil) to remind myself of the faith I once had. I’ve also been inspired by the aforementioned blogger (whose blog can be found here), to post a “Romance & Adventure” list–which is essentially a “bucket” list.

I’ve had a mental bucket list for a while, but perhaps just having it written down will help keep me motivated to never give up pursuing and believing in my dreams, even when the darkness, sadness and pain seem to mock those dreams.

So without further ado, here is my “bucket” list–or my “life’s goals” list–or “romance & adventure” list–in no particular order:

  • Be made whole: emotionally, spiritually and physically.
  • Use my pain to minister to others.
  • Get married to an amazing man and travel around Europe together on our honeymoon.
  • Serve God alongside this amazing man.
  • Visit Israel.
  • Visit beautiful, bonnie Scotland at least one more time.
  • Live in Brazil or somewhere in South America.
  • Speak at least two foreign languages fluently.
  • Learn Biblical Hebrew.
  • Get my B.A. and become a linguist (working on that!).
  • Give a people group their own written language and/or Bible.
  • Know Jesus better and become more like Him.
  • Bring at least one person to Jesus.
  • Be the hands and feet of Jesus to the least, the lost, and the broken.
  • Write and publish a book.
  • Sail in a hot-air balloon.
  • Go hang-gliding.
  • See the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean and the Alps.

I doubt every one of these will come true, but here’s to hoping at least the most important ones do.

As one of my favorite literary heroines, Anne of Green Gables, once said, “I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does…”

Thoughts on intimacy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intimacy. What is intimacy? What does it mean to be in an intimate relationship with someone?

I guess intimacy has been so much on my mind because it is the one thing I feel my life sorely lacks and the one thing I crave, more than anything else.

I am, by nature, an introvert, and reserved and a bit shy with people, so developing intimate relationships with people has never been my strong point. I am also currently single, and while I’ve been in physically intimate relationships with men in the past, I’ve never experienced true intimacy–the emotional and spiritual kind–with a man, and I confess, especially as I get older, it is the one kind of intimacy I long for more than any other. Which, I suppose, is only natural.

I’ve stated before that I know, at least intellectually, that only Jesus Christ can fully satisfy these cravings of my heart. And I still know, at least intellectually, that no person–no man, even–can truly, fully meet the longings and needs of my heart. To place that burden on anyone is unhealthy, and I recognize and accept this. I’ve been on the receiving end of someone placing that burden on me (my first boyfriend), and it suffocated me so much I ended the relationship. So I get it. I get that no human being, no matter how wonderful and fulfilling the relationship may be, can truly be expected to meet all my cravings for intimacy, acceptance and love.

But if this is true, and God alone is supposed to satisfy and fulfill me, and meet my needs for intimacy, then why is intimacy with God something I continue to struggle with? I read books and blogs by lots of Christians who tell me that God alone is always enough, that it is only through an intimate relationship with Him that I will find true fulfillment, and I always nod my head in agreement, even though my own heart is feeling completely empty, thirsty and unsatisfied, in spite of my attempts to “draw close” to God.

So, I’ve been wondering, why is this? Where am I going wrong? And do any other Christians struggle with this? Just the other day I sat on a fence at my old childhood home, surrounded by green forests, softly chirping birds, a blue sky, sunshine and a delicious, peaceful silence (aside from the birds), and I poured out my heart to God, with many tears, asking Him why, if He were to be my first Love, and the One I’m most intimate with, then why is He so hard to know? And why must He be invisible and remote, when, in my deepest moments of pain, all I want is two safe, strong, and very visible arms to hold me close? In my pursuit of God, I often feel like I’m playing hide and seek. He’ll let me catch glimpses of Him, and those glimpses are wonderful, but then He disappears again, and I’m left chasing after Him, trying to find Him again. I have this very vivid picture in my mind of being in this beautiful forest playing hide and seek with God. I know He’s there in the forest with me, so that’s somewhat comforting, but He’s always just out of reach. I’ll see Him just ahead of me, peeking around a tree, and excited, I run toward His direction, hoping to finally catch Him, only to find He’s disappeared again by the time I get to the tree. And on and on this game goes. He’s always just ahead of me, “teasing” me as it were, peeking around trees, but actually getting close to Him, or being caught up in His tangible embrace, is always just out of reach.

Naturally, this game of hide and seek with God is extremely frustrating for me. I know, as wiser Christians keep reminding me, that I’ll never develop intimacy with God unless I spend time with Him, and to spend time with God I am supposed to pray and read His Word. Well, I confess, I do derive some comfort from “spending time” with God in this way, but the truth is, at least lately, even praying and reading His Word seem to give me only so much satisfaction. I still come away, not only feeling thirsty, but asking more and more questions. I’ve been delving into the Old Testament lately, and the more I do, the more I shake my head in bewilderment at many of the passages I read, as I honestly ask myself, How do I develop an intimate relationship with a God who is so beyond my reach, so utterly holy, and, quite frankly, downright frightening at times? I know He is love as well as holy, and there are many beautiful passages that express His love toward me. I know, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I am supposed to be justified before Him, and given access to Him. But still, I find myself drawing back in fear, because I ask myself, How can a sinful, puny little human truly have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe? Especially the God I believe in, as described in Scripture? How can I truly be intimate with someone I am afraid of? If I were married, I would only be able to have an intimate relationship with my husband if I were not afraid of him. Obviously. So, if intimacy with God is more fulfilling than even a marital relationship, then how does the fear of God factor into this? How is fear truly compatible with intimacy? Is there something I’m missing?

I haven’t read any books, or heard any sermons, that address this issue. And so I am left, for the time being, wrestling on my own with these thoughts, questions and frustrations. The only comfort and quasi-answers I’m finding in Scripture are passages written by the apostle John. I like to call John the “apostle of love,” because he seems to write more about the love of God than any other writer in the New Testament. Even he states in 1 John 4:18–a favorite Scripture of mine–that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” So how do I reconcile this statement with so many other Scriptures that tell me to fear God and portray God as a fearful Being? This is where I’m struggling. I understand the need to fear God. I understand the seriousness of sin. I understand how that separates us from God. I understand Jesus’ blood cleanses us and reconciles us to God. But somehow, none of these truths make me feel truly secure in my relationship with God. They don’t make me feel close to Him or able to truly enter into any kind of intimacy with Him.

When I think of God, I think of my earthly father, who, while never failing to tell me of his love for me, and even showing it to me in different ways, still caused me to draw back from him in fear because he was the strict disciplinarian in our family, and he could/can often be quite intimidating in his “wrath.” I’ve never been able to have an intimate relationship with him, despite his repeated assurances of his love for me, because I’m too afraid of him. Likewise, I feel too afraid of God to truly have intimacy with Him, even though His Word assures me of His love for me. I’m afraid of His anger. I’m afraid of His wrath. I’m afraid of His holiness.

So when people tell me to have an intimate relationship with God, is this really possible? And for those Christians that claim to have this kind of relationship with God, not only am I envious, but I want to know how they enjoy this sort of relationship. Because I’m not sure what I’m missing. I’m envious of the apostle John, who the Scriptures always portray as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and resting against Jesus’ breast. That’s the kind of intimacy I want with God. I don’t think Jesus loved John more than any other disciple–at least that’s not how I interpret those passages of Scripture. I simply think John was somehow able to enter into a more intimate relationship with Jesus than any other disciple, and because of this intimacy with Christ, he had perhaps greater insight into the love of God than the other disciples. Which is why he wrote about love so much. But that is just my hunch.

So, practically speaking, how do I find this all-satisfying intimacy with Christ, that apparently John had, and other Christians have? Why is it so elusive to me personally? Is it really, truly possible to have intimacy with an invisible Spirit? To find satisfaction, when one’s faith wants so desperately to be sight? Or, is it more like the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13–“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known”? Must I learn to simply be content with dissatisfaction, as contradictory as that sounds? Is true intimacy, whether with God, or another human being, even possible? And if not, what do I do with this cavernous thirst, this profound emptiness, that haunts my soul? I feel like an utter failure as a Christian for even admitting I’m wrestling with these things.

I’m sharing these struggles here because, sadly, I don’t currently have any brothers or sisters in Christ I feel safe admitting these questions and frustrations to. And that in itself only frustrates me more. Despite the fact that I’ve found a church, and that I’ve even made some new friends there, all my relationships there, and with other believers, are mostly surface-level relationships only. I have no one right now I can truly open up to. Either most people I know aren’t on the same page spiritually, or they are simply not interested in developing anything beyond a very superficial relationship. So, even though I have some fellowship now, and I’m definitely grateful for that, I still feel like I’m starving relationally.

I’m starving for intimacy. Even in the midst of a loving family, even in the midst of a wonderful church, even in the midst of new friendships…I feel alone. Desperately alone. And I wonder if there is anyone else who feels the way I do.

How do I find the intimacy I crave? Will I ever find it with a husband? Will I ever find it with God? Will this emptiness, this thirstiness, this hunger, ever go away? Or will it haunt me till I die? Will it only be satisfied when I leave this mortal body?

I wish I had the answers. For now I’m simply searching. Praying. Wrestling. Hoping this gaping hole in my heart will one day be filled.

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.

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.

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.

Losing Eden

Shattered. Hollow. Fractured. Battered. Bruised.

This is me. My soul. My brain. My heart. Who is this young woman? I barely know her anymore, she’s so far removed from the young woman and little girl I used to be.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon wandering through some of my childhood haunts, enjoying the peace, solitude, and beauty of a sunshiny autumn afternoon. The house I spent most of my childhood in now sits empty, victim of an unfavorable economy, and so I sauntered unhindered up the drive, my eyes scanning the place I once called home. A flood of memories washed over me….mostly good ones….ones of innocence and imagination and days spent in carefree abandon. I sat on the well in the back yard, reminiscing, remembering days gone by, in which I used to play in that back yard with my siblings. Tears slipped down my cheeks before I could help it.

Why is it we never really appreciate something till its gone? I’d give almost anything in the world to have my childhood back, to have my innocence back, to have my imagination back, to be that little girl I once was. Even with all her pain and heartache. Because my childhood was indeed painful. Often excruciatingly so. But the world was still less dark then than it is now, even with all the pain I experienced. I was naive then, not totally crushed and cynical like I am now. I coped because I could imagine my way out of my pain. I coped because I lived in an idyllic setting, out in the country, surrounded by acres and acres of woods, who always beckoned me with their comforting presence whenever I needed to get away for a good cry.

Though many of those trees I once called friends have now been cut down, I greeted the ones that remained yesterday, wondering if they remembered me. Of course, that may seem silly, but to a nearly friendless child, stately trees that never mocked or abused, but simply stood still and silent and listened to my outpoured heart, were often far better friends to me than humans were. I’ve always thought how much of a kindred spirit J. R. R. Tolkien would be to me, were he alive, for he seemed to have the same view of trees. I could so easily imagine, as he did in his Lord of the Rings books, trees being alive and having personalities. In my frequent wanderings in the woods growing up, I’d always imagine I was entering a magical realm, where the trees were more than mere trees, and perhaps lurking in their shadows were elves and dwarves, trying to evade my curious eyes.misc. 043

Such was my childhood. One that, despite the painful parts, contained enough beauty and innocence and imagination that I can look back now and wish I could somehow return. There’s such a big part of me that wishes I’d never lived past my childhood. That I might’ve been spared the extra trauma and pain and descent into darkness that has characterized the last 10 to 15 years of my life. That I could’ve stayed the innocent little girl I was, instead of morphing into this hollow, fractured, cynical woman I’ve become. Quite simply, I’ve lost myself. Especially within the last 5 years. Pain too deep to even describe has shattered my mind and heart, morphing me into someone I barely recognize anymore. How much better, I muse, to have died young, than to end up where I am now. I keep hoping I’ll wake up one morning and find out most of my life has merely been a bad dream.

But I keep waking up to darkness. To pain. To an overwhelming sense of loss. Where nothing makes sense anymore. Where I can no longer look at my life and believe there’s necessarily going to be a redemptive, fairy-tale ending. I used to believe that. Writing stories, believing good can eventually come from bad, helped me hang on. I could look at my life and say, things are bad, but they’ll get better. And I’ve been trying to tell myself that for over 20 years. Now, I struggle to believe that anymore.

And it’s not just my own pain and darkness that have fueled this cynicism. The increasing darkness all around me has also shattered the innocent, safe world I once knew. I now live in a world where I read a story about a little girl who was abused by her parents, then raped and killed by a predator. She had no fairy-tale ending. She never had a chance. Yesterday a young man opened fire in a school, taking the lives of twenty precious, innocent children. Those children never had a chance. No fairy-tale endings. Only darkness and tragedy.

I am not the only one shattered, fractured, battered, and bruised. It seems the world at large is careening toward the same abyss I am. I am not the same person I once was. Nor is the world the same world I once knew. Innocence has been lost. Light has been replaced by darkness. I think I understand a bit better now how Adam and Eve must’ve felt when kicked out of Eden. No matter how much they wanted to go back, to relive their innocence in that idyllic place, they were forever banished. And it feels like I too have been forever banished from the simple, innocent joys of days gone by, when life seemed a little more beautiful, and it made far more sense.

I have lost my Eden. I have lost myself. And though I can revisit my old haunts, and those haunts can conjure up sweet memories from the past, all I’m left with is a tantalizing taste, and not the real thing. I can never go back. No matter how hard I try.

I’m heartbroken.

Not alone

God sees. God knows. Even in my darkest moments, crying out in agony, feeling desperately alone, He hears.

Just when I vent about how alone I feel in the Body of Christ, He sends me fellowship with some of the sweetest, godliest sisters in Christ I know and reminds me I am not as alone as I feel. Yesterday I had a wonderful time of sharing over lunch with two “old” friends and one new one, and afterwards three of us had a lovely time of prayer as well. I wasn’t able to share with them everything I’m dealing with, but I shared a little, and just knowing they cared and loved me lifted my spirits a great deal. And gave me just a sliver of hope. It was like God was whispering in answer to all my agonizing cries that He hadn’t forgotten me. That He heard. That He didn’t want me to give up hope yet. That those thoughts telling me nothing will ever get better are a pack of lies.

I don’t know where He will lead me. I might try, against my better judgment, to get help through counseling again…but, most of all, thanks to encouragement from my friends and another person God sent into my life recently, I will step out in faith and try to get connected to a group of believers somehow. I doubt that getting connected will look like a “normal” church—I don’t think, for me, it ever will—but I’m just going to persevere and pray God will bring me to the right people. People who won’t let go of me. People who get what the church is really supposed to look like: a place for the broken, the lame, the sick, and the outcasts to encounter Christ. Because that’s the only kind of church I want to be a part of. And I believe it’s Biblical.

But no matter what happens I know I am never truly alone, because, regardless of what my feelings tell me, He is always with me. This amazing song, which I just discovered recently thanks to a recommendation of someone, has become my anthem:

I am NOT alone.

Hope amidst the agony of despair

Last night and early this morning I lay in my bed, the tormenting and despairing thoughts so overwhelming me I had difficulty sleeping, which is rare for someone like me, who usually sleeps far too easily and soundly. Finally, things came to a tipping point this morning, as I dressed and did my toiletry routine in the bathroom. Tears had already been slipping discreetly down my cheeks, but suddenly the despair, frustration, and pain were more than I could handle and as I sat down on the toilet lid, I burst into agonized and loud sobs. There is a fan that runs pretty loudly and constantly in my little bathroom every time the light is turned on, and so usually I feel safest in the bathroom venting my cries to God, but, alas, this time even the fan was not enough to deafen my sobs.

I first need to explain that since the end of 2010 I have lived with my grandmother, and while this has been nice and beneficial in some ways, in other ways, especially in the area of privacy, this living situation has been very difficult for me. My previous living situation was with another family member, in a large house, out in the country, and to a private person like myself, who enjoys nature and a “closet” to shut myself away in with God, it was ideal. Whenever I needed a place to truly vent my tears and cry out to God, or to find solace simply in a walk outside, I had somewhere to go to. Now I’m stuck in a small house in the suburbs in an upstairs room in which everything I do is heard downstairs, I live with an overprotective and inquisitive grandmother, and it’s not even safe for me to walk alone in the neighborhood. I am extremely grateful I have a roof over my head at all, and that my grandmother’s overprotectiveness is really an indication of her care and concern for me, so I am careful not to complain about my current situation, however, it has shown me how blessed I was before. It has been a challenge my nearly two years here to find any sort of privacy—usually, to find it, I have to hop in my car and leave the house.

So, naturally, I was alarmed and embarrassed this morning to discover my efforts at concealing my pain via a bathroom fan were futile. I have vented in the bathroom before—feeling it to be more soundproof than any other room in the house—but those times must have either been in the evening after my grandmother was in bed, or maybe I simply didn’t sob and wail with the intensity that I did this morning. Whatever the case, this morning I was finally “caught in the act.” I heard my grandmother shouting up the stairwell, asking me what was wrong and why I was crying. I couldn’t have been more mortified. I stifled my sobs enough to reply I was ok and not to worry about me and knowing that she could hear me, I finally brought my crying under control. She asked no more questions, and when I finally went downstairs, about to walk out the door, I tried to act as normal as possible, and, thankfully, she didn’t pry any into my sobbing episode. But now I wonder if she will say something to my parents, my mother specifically, with whom she has regular chats. And if she does so, will I then be uncomfortably questioned by my mother?

I guess only time will tell. But in the meantime, as the pain and despair only build within my heart, I’m realizing I have even fewer places to go to where I can truly vent my feelings. The most agonizing part of all this is how desperately alone I feel in my struggles. Of course, God is with me….that much I know intellectually, but when one’s heart is breaking to pieces sometimes all one wants is the human touch—a friend to hug, to cry with, to pray with. And although I have a few good friends, none of them has a clue of what I’m truly going through, because I’m afraid to tell them. I still keep people at arm’s length, afraid to be vulnerable because it seems every time I am, I am hurt, let down, and/or abandoned. Even in the Body of Christ I feel there is no one I can trust, and thus continues the vicious cycle I feel trapped in, and thus increases my despair.

I don’t know what to do anymore. Some days, like today, it seems like I barely have the willpower to go on living, and yet, for some reason, I can’t quite bring myself to attempt to end my life, because I always think, but what if? what if, despite the living hell that has been 90% of my life, and the hopelessness I see when I look down the road ahead of me, God has a surprise in store for me? If I ended my life I would be robbing myself of that one remote chance that God could possibly bring joy and hope and healing and redemption into my ruined life after all. So, against all odds, it’s that “remote chance” that keeps me alive I guess. And maybe that’s really the grace of God. Because, in all honesty, given everything I have endured, I shouldn’t be here right now. I really shouldn’t.

Thoughts on the church & my lingering valley

I’ve been reading over previous entries in this neglected blog of mine, reliving the trials, tears and triumphs I’ve been through over the last few years, and it saddens me to realize I’m no closer to exiting my Valley of Achor as when I first entered it. I had hope for a while that I was nearing its end, but that hope was soon cruelly smashed to bits. My spiritual state as of now more closely mirrors the despair I felt in my last entry than some of the more triumphal moments of deep spiritual insights I have experienced in the past. I feel adrift at sea, clinging with one hand to a single floating beam labelled “God’s Grace” amidst towering waves and shark-infested waters.

Despair still tempts me sometimes beyond what I feel I can endure. God has done some amazing things in my life, and if it weren’t for His grace keeping me, I know I probably would have ended my life a long time ago. I currently can’t complain of too much—I’m still going to school, I have two part-time jobs that, while not very financially rewarding, keep me off the streets at least, I have a roof over my head, and I have a wonderful family. I am grateful for the blessings in my life and try not to take anything I have for granted, knowing how easily it could all be taken away from me. But then there’s always the “but.”

And the “but” is this: though my outward circumstances may not seem so bad, the internal conflict, emotional and mental issues, and private pain I have endured for most of my life still torment and nearly drive me to the brink of sanity itself sometimes. And though I have tried reaching out for help, though I have tried nearly every avenue of deliverance I can think of, all has proved ultimately fruitless and even damaging in some respects. And the increasing feeling within my heart, which I do my best to squelch with prayer and God’s Word, but still can’t shake, is that I am slowly suffocating to death. Trapped by my own weaknesses, pain and sin and unable to get the attention of the brothers and sisters in Christ whose love, correction, and fellowship I need so much. I keep hearing “you need community and fellowship with other believers” to truly be healed and set free, but what if community and fellowship are the very things one has difficulty attaining? What if connecting with other Christians is one of one’s chiefest difficulties? How does one find healing in what has only brought mostly disillusionment and pain so far?

And therein lies my dilemma and the source of most of my frustration and despair. Send me to some garbage dump filled with poor people, or to a group of dysfunctional and lost souls, and I will feel much more at home than I do in most churches. And I still can’t figure out if this is because there is something really wrong with me, really wrong with most churches, or perhaps a combination of both. All I know is that I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place and wonder if God intends to ever bring me out of my valley after all. I know there are times when I’ve chosen to stay in my valley, simply because I’m afraid of freedom and healing, but now I feel that even though I want freedom and healing perhaps I am too screwed up to ever be helped by “normal” Christians. The church is supposed to be a hospital for the sick and wounded, which is exactly what I am, but I’ve found it to be instead an intimidating place full of people who seem, unlike me, to have their lives together and don’t even glance my way. Thankfully the Lord has blessed me with a few good Christian friends, but I find it interesting that almost every Christian friendship I’ve acquired through the years has formed outside the four walls of a “church.” Again, does this say something about me, or about the church?

These are just some of the things I’ve been pondering lately as I fight to overcome the ever-threatening despair lurking at my doorstep. Especially as I desire to serve God in some capacity, be it in Bible translation or some other mission-related opportunity. I’m realizing I have some serious issues with relating to most of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and whether this is my own fault, theirs, or a combination of both, if I can’t find a resolution to it, I don’t know how I will ever be able to truly serve God, because I’m certainly not meant to serve Him on my own.

Thus, my feelings of despair. Thus, the sinking feeling I get when I gaze at the Valley of Achor stretching out before me, no longer giving me a view of a door of hope, but instead more of the same darkness I have endured nearly my whole life long. I don’t think I’m bitter or resentful toward those in the church who have hurt and abandoned me, but I am extremely disillusioned. I go to church, I say hi to a few people, I sing, and I listen to a good sermon, but I always leave feeling as lonely and overwhelmed by my problems as when I entered. Surely this is not what the Body of Christ is supposed to be like?

I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel so trapped. With no way out. Just clinging with what little strength I have to that beam of God’s grace in a tempest so frightening that it threatens to make me lose sight altogether of the God Who is bigger than the waves and the storm….and the sharks.