Seven years ago today, I sat in church pews long after the congregation had left. Tormented about making a decision to follow Christ or go home and die. I had questions, tons of them. And fears and doubt and hesitation and anger. One thing I did not have was anything left to lose. And that’s how this all began…
My parents like to frequent the same restaurants. They find one they like and go there loyally from that moment on. There was a tea room in a nearby town they discovered, and fell in love with. Once they became regulars, they got to know the family who owned it. The family had lost a son to suicide some years back, and they got to talking about me. I’m not sure exactly what those conversations looked like, but obviously my having lived a suicidal life arose at some point. When I moved back to the area, I became a pet project for that family. No one in the family was more relentless in this pursuit than Kathryn. Kathryn was obnoxiously enthusiastic about Jesus. Like… she REALLY effin loved Jesus. Her spunk drove me insane. I was low energy, grumpy, and wanted to be left alone. I’m not sure how I responded when she started inviting me to church. In my head I imagine smiling, nodding, and shrugging it off. She did not stop asking. Eventually, I decided I’d just shut her up by obliging. “Then,” I thought, “She’ll leave me alone.”
So, that Saturday night, I went. I was planted in my chair through the entirety of the ordeal. My arms were crossed. I had a scowl on my face. I did not sing. I did not stand. I said nothing. “I’ll go, but I don’t have to enjoy it.” I guess I thought if I was enough of a jerk, it’d scare them away. Or maybe I just assumed I knew how church went, and I thought it was all a crock of shit, and all Christians were the same, predictable. As I heard the pastor preach, though, something in my heart started to open. I was certain he’d say something to piss me off, but he did not. Everything he said, I could get behind. It was hopeful, and beautiful, and inspiring, and yet, I was dead set on never going back after that. Kathryn, on the other hand, had different plans. Kathryn kept inviting me back. So, eventually, I surrendered and kept going.
I’d heard the “altar calls” many times, before the night of March 27th rolled around. I don’t know if it had crossed my mind. It probably had. But I’ve always been one to question authority. If this Jesus had so much hope and love and forgiveness, why were Christians often the worst of the jerks? Is God a man? Why is God a man? Men had never done any favors for me. If EVERYONE has access to the forgiveness of Jesus, then that means that the people who abused me when I was a small, helpless child had access to that forgiveness. “Some things,” I believed, “are simply unforgivable.” Where was God in all of that? The altar call came and went that night, and I wanted to go up there, but I wanted answers to all these questions and more, first. As ridiculously impulsive as I’ve been all my life, I wanted to be certain before I committed to this nonsense. I let the call pass, and after service, I started assaulting the pastor with questions. Eventually, he had to go. I sat in the pew, the church now empty except for Kathryn, her sister, and myself. I looked at the clock, then the door, and thought to myself, “If I go home tonight, I’m going to kill myself.” I figured, that this decision could not hurt, so I was going to try it.
With Kathryn and Bekah by my side, I bowed my head and prayed out loud.
Someone recently asked me what exactly it means to “accept Christ.” Here’s the thing, I didn’t really know at the time either. Truth is, its pretty simple. All it takes is a prayer, you’re own version of, “God, I’m tired of doing this alone. I need your help, your forgiveness, and your love. I believe that Jesus did all these awesome things to offer me that, and I am accepting that gift now, and accepting you into my heart.” Feel free to paraphrase as your heart guides. You could do it right this second, if you want.
God is not imposing. He waits for us. A lot of non-believers wonder where God is. God will not interfere in your life if you do not wish to have him there. He’s just waiting for an invitation. After you’ve offered that, he will take care of the rest.
I’d never doubted God’s existence. That belief came naturally to me, although the Jesus thing seemed weird. I didn’t get the death and resurrection concept. Seemed odd, zombie-like, and also there’s the cannibalistic symbolism of the last supper. It was pretty far out to me. I had been told numerous times in high school that I couldn’t be Christian if I didn’t do X, Y, and Z, and I thought “guess I’m not Christian, then.” So, for years I had left it at that. “Guess I don’t qualify.”
What Kathryn, and others in that church taught me, is all the hope that is found in Jesus. I had heard all the zillion things Christians are against, but not once heard about all the hope Jesus had to offer. Hope was something I could get behind. Hope was something I needed desperately. And who doesn’t need unconditional love?
After that night, things did not change instantaneously. It was a process, but it changed my life forever. I still had struggles, and sometimes still do. But the ball was set into motion. That was March 27th, 2011. In July, I had a near death experience that opened my eyes to spiritual truths I had previously been uncertain of, which led to my sobriety. By November, I was off to residential treatment, for all of my issues. Five months of treatment was covered 100% by my insurance. There, my meds got straight, I let go of my addictions, and my eating disorder. I had a chance to process a lifetime of trauma and grief. I moved to California on my own after that (somewhere I’d always dreamt of living), and started my life in recovery. I met a wonderful sponsor with whom I am still very close. I became strong in my recovery, and built a community. In the years since, every time I think things could not possibly get any better, they do. They get better to a new extent to which I had previously thought impossible. I have an incredible life. I have everything I need, do all the things I love, and have accomplished new goals, and set my sights on new heights. It is unimaginably awesome, and it only gets better. God certainly had way more in store for me than I could’ve ever dreamt for myself. I had previously believed I’d just be suicidal until I eventually succeeded in that, and that would be my life.
I am a different person, inside and out.
In the past two years, I’ve lost 130 lbs. Thursday, I’ll celebrate one year of running. April 15th, I’ll be doing a TEN mile race!!! I’ve written this blog, and shared my triumphs and struggles, and helped numerous people. I have several sponsees, and find myself being told over and over that I’ve inspired someone in some way, or helped people out of ruts. All without even realizing I was doing it. And honestly, I feel like the wealthiest person in the world as a result. Sometimes, I pity the people who think they have it all, when all they really have is material wealth.
Did I know ANY of this was possible on March 27th, 2011? No. I had no clue. All knew was I had an option to go home and die, or try something new that could possibly help in some way. So, I took a leap. And this is where I’ve landed. It was literally the best decision of my life.
God has healed my heart of so much hurt. I was so relentlessly bitter back then. I was angry at God. I thought he was punishing me. I wanted nothing to do with a male God. I blamed him for it all. In the years since, I’ve recognized God’s presence in even my darkest moments. He never gave up on me. And I see it now. Little things I was blind to before. Look, I know people have hurt you. Maybe the church has hurt you. Your pain is very valid, but God is neither those people nor the church. Every time you were hurt, it hurt God’s heart as well. He hurts where we hurt. It pains him to see us mistreated and abused. I have learned this to be true. God is not angry at us for our mistakes. He sees us as beautiful works of art, and loves every little quirk about us. No, God is not a man, so don’t get it twisted. God is beyond our earthly limitations. These very concepts are boxes God cannot fit into. Many languages default to the masculine when referring to something ambiguous in that way. Is it right? No, but its easy. If you have a different pronoun you’d prefer, go for it. God does not want to punish us. God just wants to love unconditionally, and help us in this process we call life. God is always there. He is faithful and reliable. Does everyone have access to this forgiveness? Absolutely, but you should know that many people will not choose to pursue it.
I am a kinder, more compassionate person these days. I make healthier decisions. I am a septillion times happier, seriously. I will always be a work in progress, but how far I’ve come is nothing short of miraculous. Anyone who knew me before will wholeheartedly attest to that.
I’ve had all of my questions answered. If ever I have new ones arise, God answers those as well. My heart has been healed. I can attest to God’s faithfulness. I celebrate this anniversary more than any other and always will. It is the longest I’ve committed to anything. There is no turning back, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out. There is so much more to say, but this is just a blog, not my memoir. Stay tuned for that. I’m just happy to share this hope wherever I can. It is too wonderful to keep it to myself.
“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” ~Susan Taylor
I don’t typically watch the news. I have a computer and a T.V. without cable, or even basic access. I stick to Netflix, and I get my teeny bit of “news” from Philip Defranco, on YouTube. That’s about as much as I can take. In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to stop watching the news. I took her advice. I had, at the time, become overwhelmed, baffled, and distraught over the Shaniya Davis story.
I couldn’t understand how, someone could do that to their daughter. I couldn’t understand how someone could do those things to a 5 year old. I was starting to drown in a sea of headlines and news reports of just how evil this world is.
And it is true. This world can be a very evil place.
I have spent a good chunk of the past few years overwhelmed by an issue that the rest of the world seems underwhelmed about: sexual violence. Such violence is beyond an epidemic in our world, and repeatedly, our response is victim blaming, and sweeping it under the rug. It makes me cringe to know that 1 our of 4 girls, and 1 out of 6 boys will be the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18. How do people walk around in their own little bubbles, oblivious of something so heinous?
I don’t know, they just do.
In some of the work I have done, I have teamed with people who had similar experience and ambition, wanting to do something on the matter. What have I found? That there are victims out there working toward solving a problem, without even having dealt with the issue in their own lives. It is like someone with a still gaping and bloody bullet wound trying to fight for gun control.
First, you need to address your own trauma.
The hard part is, no one else is stepping forward to solve the issue. All of those people who’ve never had to suffer through the trauma have no interest in dealing with something so dark and ugly.
This is just what I have found.
I look around me, and I see people becoming passionately driven about the issue of guns and asking themselves, “what could of we have done to prevent the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012?”
I would never venture to claim that this question is not important, pertinent, or should not be asked. I do, however, think that it is too soon to be torn apart by these issues. Our hearts are still breaking from what happened, and the details that continue to unfold. Our stomachs are still twisted by what the children of Sandy Hook must’ve witnessed that day. Chills are still shooting down our spines to imagine what evil it takes to commit such an act.
How have we allowed this to lead to a divide? What the survivors need right now, is a community to come together in support around them. They certainly have a long, tough road ahead of them.
Repeatedly, through the past several years we have witnessed tragedy and allowed it to, even for a short time, bring us together in mourning and solidarity. For the first time in my life, I have witnessed the opposite happen. That is what breaks my heart now.
I think ALL of us will agree that something has to be done to attempt to prevent these massacres from happening again, no matter what side you’re on. What that “something” looks like will start to materialize as we work on the matter. I trust that.
At this point, I don’t care what that “something” is just yet. I am still far too stricken with grief to start thinking strategy. Am I alone in this?
I look at the faces of the victims, and my throat starts to tense. I hear their stories, and my eyes are filled with tears. I cannot look at December 14th with a hard heart. I find peace in my belief that these children are safe and happy now. I find strength in the stories of heroism in the adults that fought for these kids with their very lives.
I remember too, those who survived, and I give them this message: you can overcome your trauma and live a fulfilling life. This may be a struggle, but it does not have to defeat you. This dark moment in your lives can become a place of strength, and a place of motivation. You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many, and we will still have your hands when the heavy realization hits you of just how blessed you are to have faced and survived a trial that many will never even have to face.
To the rest of us, I say: stand down. This is not a fight. We are worn and we are weary. We have faced far too much as a country this year. Yes, we must address this issue, but please, for God’s sake, can we take a moment to grieve first?
To all of us, I plead: Do not let this destroy us. We will march forward and we will advocate for the changes necessary to prevent such tragedy in the future, but first allow yourselves to grieve. Before you stand up to fight, address your own trauma. Make sure that when your time comes, when your voice rises, that you are in a place where you are strong enough to argue your side. So many times, I have seen angels fall short here, and lose the drive to carry on. We can heal. We can overcome. But first, we must grieve.
A heart must finish breaking before you can begin to mend it.
It is true that this world can be an evil place, but what is also true is that each of us has the ability to contribute to the good. If you are going to pour fervently into this world, be sure that what you are pouring is positive.