An Open Letter to Those Who Are (and Aren’t) In My Group

I see you.

We had Group today: Distress Tolerance, where we’re learning how to handle our emotions in times of crisis.

Last week, one of you came in crying and couldn’t stay. Today, you were back and shared openly. And I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you because I know what it’s like to break down in public and not be able to face your fears. But I also know what it’s like to be able to look those demons in the eye the next time and say, “I’m not afraid of you.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that sometimes the best motivator for getting out of bed and carpeing the diems is just a blatant desire for revenge–to show the voices in your head that they’re wrong; they don’t control your life, they don’t define you.

I get that. That’s the only reason I got out of bed today, and yesterday, and the day before.

I see you.

I see you and all your pain: you put 15 people with depression, anxiety, and suicidial tendencies in the same room, and you’re bound to have at least one person who’s a feelings sponge–who absorbs the feelings of those around them, who carries other’s feelings and their own feelings around. I think there are a few of us in this group.

I am one of them.

When you share, I understand you completely.

When you cry, I want to cry too.

When you panic, I panic.

And as I looked around the room today, my heart broke. Because I saw a bunch of hurting people, who are trying their best to navigate this life in whatever way they can, who are in this group because they really and truly want to get better, to learn how to deal with their pain differently–nay, they don’t only want to deal, they want to learn how to feel.

I see you.

I looked around the room, and I saw beauty–not in the Mental illness and the struggles–but in the sheer strength of everyone around me, in the healing, in the sheer resolve to get better, and the sheer stubbornness to not let our demons defeat us.

Because the strongest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever done is ask for help, to be vulnerable and honest with everyone on the parts of my life I’ve tried to hide for so long.

And I applaud you for making it this far because I understand. I understand all of it: the pain, the shame, the struggle to stay alive. I even understand the guilt.

What I really want you to know, all of you to know, is that you’re not alone in this. Do not go about life alone. Ask for help. Let people in. Let people see you–all of you (even the dark parts you’re afraid to shine light on). We are meant for community.

Let your community love you.

Let me love you.

Because I see you.

I see you rocking back and forth in your chair, chewing on your fingernails, rubbing your scarred wrist.

And all I want to do is cry with you and for myself because that’s where I am right now in my life.

I’m hurting and broken, and I am trying so hard to take care of myself.

Last week, I finally opened up about the sexual harassment I dealt with every day over the summer. And right now, my anxiety’s through the roof, and Sunday night, I self-harmed again because just trying to deal with everything: all the pain and the hurt and the terror I feel sometimes is too overwhelming.

And I’m sorry for that.

I’m sorry to all my friends and family who are willing to fight for me (and fight people for me) because sometimes, it’s so hard to fight for myself.

I’ve spent most nights for the last 12 days wrapped up tightly in a blanket, rocking back and forth because the panic and terror I feel is so great, nothing else calms me down.

I didn’t leave my house at all on Tuesday, and I only left on Wednesday because of a family lunch and then I had to lead a 20-somethings gathering at my church. I left my house today because, well, because of the blatant desire I have for revenge agaisnt my demons. And, to be honest, I’m surprised I have any fingernails left at all. I’m surprised I have any skin left at all on my face: because that’s how I’ve always dealt with anxiety–picking at scabs until they bleed. I’ve done it since I was a child–self-harm before I knew the name. I’ve started doing it again: it’s like a security blanket when I feel alone.

And when I actually cannot calm myself down, and I want to actually self-harm, I run my thumb across the scars on my wrist–reminding me how far I’ve come, what I’ve survived.

Because we’ve come so far.

And we’re learning to cope.

How was your week, Brandon asked us during sharing time today.

I volunteered to go first (which I only did because 1. It’s only our second week, but it’s my 10th in group. I’ve done this before. And 2. I could sense all of your uncomfortability, and my fear of sharing is trumped only by everybody else’s. Other’s problems have always trumped my own).

Let’s see. Monday, I had a panic attack in Wegmans because there were too many choices of cottage cheese.

Thursday, I emailed a friend apologizing for the bridges I burned a few months ago, and then I screwed it up a few days later by pouring my heart out again.

So, as you can tell by the cottage cheese anecdote, my anxiety has been really high and so have my suicidal thoughts (anxiety and suicidal thoughts are harder to fight than depression and suicidal thoughts, because unlike when I’m depressed and suicidal, anxiety actually gives me the energy to follow through).

And then when Brandon asked me how I dealt with the cottage cheese dilemma and the feelings they produced, I simply replied, “I called my mother.”

There’s no shame in that.

There’s no shame in asking for help. Because none of us are meant to do this alone.

None of us should have to.

And if you feel like you don’t have a support system, let me be that person. Let me be the person you call at 3am when you feel like your world is about to collapse. Because I understand. I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t have someone willing to be that person.

I am willing.

I see you.

I understand you.

I’m right there with you: feeling things I don’t want to feel, dealing with things I wish I could forget, trying my best to make my way through life, fighting everyday to stay alive.

And I’m so so proud of you.

I know that this is just the beginning for me, for you, for all of us.

I see your darkness. I see your broken. But I also see your beautiful.

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Sister, You’re Going to Kenya

Dear Sister, 

I know that “we” don’t do sappy, but I do. I do. I feel. I worry. You’re going to Kenya. With Bible Quizzers, which are your favorite group of people on this planet.  And I’m so excited for you! But I’m oh so very nervous. 

And I know I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier. I worry about anything and everything, and I always jump to the worst case scenarios. But I’m not going to jump this time, because you’ll be fine. 

You’ll be more than fine. You’ll be great, spectacular. 

But just in case, you know, because you’ll be there and not here where I can make sure you’re safe, and because it’ll make me feel better, I’m going to give you some advice (not that you need it, but I need it because I’ve done a missions trip before, and it’s my job to teach you).

So, here’s what I know, what I hope you learn. 

When you wake up one morning and feel like you can’t do this, like you can’t minister to people, and trust me, you will wake up one morning on this trip and feel like it’s all too much, I hope you remember that while leading people to Christ is important–it’s our duty as Christians–sometimes giving people what they need in that exact moment is just as important. If you can lead even one person to Christ, good. If you can give one person what they need in that moment–a listening ear, a friend, food, water, clothes–even better. 

God works in mysterious ways. And sometimes one simple act of kindness is all you need to open the door. 

Your comfort zone is being left an ocean away, but I hope that by the time this trip is done your comfort zone will have expanded to include the ocean. Because the most amazing, life-changing, heart-wrenching moments happen when we step out of our comfort zones and let God do what God does. And I hope God does some amazing things in your life and on this trip.

If you can do this, you can do anything. And you’ve already done so much–overcome so much. I hope you’re proud of that. 
I hope you hold on to every feeling you have, every emotion you feel during this trip. Embrace the fears, the sadnesses, the happiness, the triumphs. Wrap them up. Put them in the pocket of your favorite jeans. Pull them out when you need a reminder of who God is, what He’s capable of. Pull them out when you want to reminisce. When you want to remember the first time you really challenged yourself. 

Because this trip will challenge you in ways I can’t even possibly begin to describe. And I hope it changes you. I hope it leaves you on fire for God, for His kingdom, for spreading the news that we are all one under Him, for showing his love.

When people ask me if I’d do a Missions Trip again, I say yes. And when they ask, why, I respond, “because of the people I’ll meet along the way.”

The people you meet will change you. I hope they have as much of an impact on you as you do on them. I hope the mark they leave on you will last a lifetime. 
Because it’s so easy to forget that we’re not the only ones in the world. You know, you and me, we’re pretty privileged here. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not, even the ones who live here. 

I hope you don’t forget the people you meet, both those who are in Kenya and those who are going with you. I hope you don’t forget they way they challenge you, inspire you. I hope you learn their stories, help them shoulder their burdens. I hope you share your story, too. 

We all have a story. Nobody’s is unimportant. 

I hope you going into this asking yourself, “What can I learn?” Instead of “What can I teach them?”

They will teach you more about yourself than staying here ever could. They will teach you more about God than you ever thought possible–even if they don’t believe in God, God will work through them like He will work through you.

I hope you remember what they teach you. I hope you leave a small part of yourself in Kenya when you leave, so you remember to pray for them when you return. Because it’s so easy to come back and return to everyday life, forgetting everything that just happened, and return to normal.

I hope the life you live when you come back is anything but normal. Not in a bad way, but in a way that inspires you to change the world, to have an impact, to create a mark, to leave the world a little bit more beautiful than it was when you entered. 

And when you come back and begin college, I hope the skills you learned while in Kenya you carry with you while at college. 

There will be people there who challenge you, whose beliefs don’t line up with what you believe (yes, even at Roberts). Listen to them. Learn from them. Expand your worldview. Believe what you believe because it’s what YOU believe, not because it’s what you grew up believing. 

Go into all of these new experiences with an open mind, allow God to work, allow your views to change if that’s what needs to happen.

Don’t let what you believe stop you from seeing other people’s beliefs.

Don’t let what you see stop you from seeing what other people see. There is more than one way to view the world, and each person has only a very limited scope made up of lenses of their experiences and where they live. Sometimes understanding means putting down your scope and picking up someone else’s, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone else. 

I hope your time in Kenya changes the way you see the world, the way you see God, the way you see yourself. 

But most importantly, I hope this trip leaves you energized, hungry for God, eager to change the world. 

I hope you share your stories of your time in Kenya. I hope you hold close the most precious moments. 

When you become weary of the future, I hope this trip serves as a reminder that you can do anything if you let go and you let God do what He does.

 
I hope I can remember the same. 

So, go in peace, go with joy, go with eagerness. Go with the hope of a life-changing encounter with God. 

I’ll be here. We’ll all be here, praying for you the whole way. 

Sunrise and Sunset: A Reflection on Six Years

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

My world’s not a quiet world. Within walking distance of my house there’s a grocery store, a drug store, five or six banks, a Target, a gas station, two churches, a Kmart, pizza places, coffee shops, and various other ways to spend money. Close your eyes, and you can hear the steady stream of traffic rushing past the house: horns honking, music pumping, mufflers that need fixing. It quiets down at nights sometimes, though (as long as the dogs don’t bark). I live in the “urban center” of my town—like living in the city without actually living in the city. I’ve gotten really good at tuning out the outside world.

My world’s not a quiet world. If it’s not the noise outside my house, it’s the noise inside my head. It’s the insecurities, the doubts, the past playing on repeat in my mind that are louder than whatever is going on outside. They’re impossible to turn off, hard to ignore, but eventually you learn how to cope. I’ve gotten really good at coping.

Here’s the thing: when I started working on this post a month ago, I wanted to give you a month’s worth of reasons not to kill yourself. Because when you’re depressed, life is just a series of days at a time: if I can get through this day and the next day and the next day, etc, eventually you’ll have a month. And then you repeat this step 12 times until you have a year, and then eventually, you’ll have a lifetime.

Who knows, maybe after more writing and rewriting, I’ll end up getting there.

But this is all I know right now: if I had my way six years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.

I’ve struggled with guilt over the last six years, wondering why I got a second chance when so many others have not. And I don’t have an answer. I doubt I ever will.

I’m learning how to be grateful for the second chance I’ve been given.

My world’s not a quiet world. But this morning it was.

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was just beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

In the normally heavy traffic area, I was the only car. And through the mostly dark blue sky, streaks of cotton candy pink were beginning to emerge; the sun was beginning to shine through. As I sat there and took it all in: the way the drowsy sun illuminated the world under me, and the way the newly fell snow and icy rooftops dazzled and sparkled under the sun they reflected. As I waited for the light to turn green and marveled at the quiet beauty around me, a sense of calm came over me.

I thought to myself, “What a wonderful day to be alive.”

So, I don’t have a month’s worth of reasons to keep fighting, to keep breathing, to stay alive. I just have one: sunrise.

And I’m so grateful for the six additional years of sunrises and sunsets I have gotten to be a part of. Because nothing is better than realizing that the God who painted the beauty of dusk and dawn decided the world needed me too.

 

Continue Reading: Reasons to Keep Breathing

 

Eggs and Elephants

I was told once that I should be happy because when I was sexually assaulted, I wasn’t actually “raped”, whatever that means.

Who are you to tell me to be thankful that “the act wasn’t completed” if you know what I mean? How dare you. There’s no scale on sexual violation. It’s not “on a scale from 1 to 10, how raped were you?” To think otherwise is to perpetuate the idea that reporting a rape can ruin a man’s life. Politicians today are arguing about what constitutes rape and all these other things. My experience is not greater, nor is it less than, anybody else’s.

We are the same.

Lots of things in life have scales. The weight of how much I was raped is not one. My burden of being a victim weighs the same on my shoulders as everybody else’s.
When I went to the hospital for my appendectomy, I was asked to rate my pain on a scale from 1-10. I said 7 every time.

When people ask me how I am, I reply with “good.” The people who know me best ask me, “on a scale from 1-10, how much does it hurt today?” I live my life at a 7. My number is 7, but the effect this 7 has on me changes. The number is constant; the weight of the number changes.

Confused? Yeah, I know. It’s confusing.

But, imagine this: 7 bowling balls are heavier than 7 eggs. 7 microwaves are heavier than 7 bowling balls. 7 elephants are heavier than 7 microwaves.

Some days I’m 7 elephants. Some days I’m 7 eggs.

That is the scale of Depression: eggs to elephants, not 1 to 10.

Right now, I’m about 7 eggs. I’ve been 7 eggs for a while now, which is good. But, I’m cautiously optimistic, because I know one day (maybe soon; maybe later) I will be 7 elephants, again. The weight of 7 elephants is a lot harder to deal with than that of 7 eggs. Elephants poop a lot; the only problem with eggs is if it put them all in one basket.

That’s why I haven’t been writing a lot lately. The weight of 7 eggs doesn’t weigh heavy enough on my chest to make the words flow. I write my best work when the pain of 7 elephants is unbearable.

My friend messaged me the other day. She told me she was horribly depressed and angry at herself because she has every single reason in the world to be happy.

I told her, happiness isn’t a choice. People say it is, but it’s really hard to be happy when you feel like you’re drowning on solid ground. I can choose to put a smile on my face, but my inside isn’t getting any happier, because inside I feel like I’m dying. When people say happiness is a choice, I ask them if they have a remedy for that. Because Jesus is supposed to fix this hole in my heart, but even with all this prayer I feel like I’m bleeding out. So don’t tell me Christians aren’t depressed, because Jesus was human once, so I know He understands pain. And I know He loves me despite all of this.

I told her, it’s not her fault if she’s depressed. She didn’t do anything wrong.

She asked me, but isn’t there a way to manage it? I’ve had it for a very long time, but there were times when I was happy and satisfied with life, when things that I enjoyed filled me, and now I just feel empty. Is it just that we go through phases?

I told her, phases. It’s like a spiral. Life is like an ocean filled with waves of Depression. Some people are Michael Phelps: they swim through life easily, breathing in-and-out expertly as they keep their heads above water. You and me, we aren’t Michael Phelps. We struggle day-in and day-out to keep our heads above water. Some days we are thrown a life preserver or other flotation devices. Some days we aren’t. And we have to do the best with what we have, with what we’ve been given.

She asked, can the waves come on sporadically, not from a certain situation?

I responded, yep. Those are the worst, because you can’t figure out what’s triggering you, so you can’t find a way to stop. But, one day you’ll wake up and realize it’s easier to get out of bed than it was the day before. The ground fills firmer beneath your feet. And you’ll feel this way for a while, until you don’t. Over time as the cycles continue, you’ll be able to recognize the signs, and deal with the feelings better.

With 7 eggs, I give pretty good advice.

Recently, I turned 20, which is a huge milestone. I survived my teenage years.

I attempted suicide before my 16th birthday. I didn’t think I’d make it to 20. But I have, and despite everything I’ve been through, I’m stronger than ever.

I was asked recently what I would do if I had a time machine. Would I go back and change the past? Would I stop my sexual assault, which would have bit the cutting and anorexia flower in the bud before it happened?

Honestly, no. I wouldn’t. There was a time when I would, but standing here and knowing where I am now, I would not.

I am who I am today because of my past. I’ve met some wonderful people because of what I’ve been through. I’ve formed friendships with people I might not have otherwise. My story has helped others from the United States to Guatemala. From Romania to Australia. And that’s all I want out of life: to help others.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the weight of 7 elephants isn’t so bad when you have people around you, supporting you, and helping you carry that weight.

If a group of ants can make light work of a potato chip, a group of people can lift elephants. (Really, we have machines that can do that now.)

Faith can move mountains (or mole hills that seem like mountains).

All we need to remember is that we’re not alone.

A Father’s Day Letter and a Father’s Response

I was going to write a post for Father’s Day, but then my Dad suggested that I share a letter I wrote about a year and a half ago, as well as his response. So, I decided to do that. I have no fixed any of the ages or information:

A Daughter’s Letter:

Life is fear. And lots of it.

When I was little, I was scared of the monsters under the bed, Santa getting lost and missing my house, and spiders. Now that I’m older, I’m scared of the future and spiders.

I have a rose from my Grandfather’s funeral to remind me that death and sorrow are real. This was the first time I cried at a funeral, which was the same day that I realized that there would be one less hand to hold mine when I needed someone there.

The most painful thing I’ve learned so far is that no matter how much love I wrap my family members in, no matter how many ropes I weave from their hearts to mine, they cannot stay with me forever. The ones that I hold most dear to me are growing older as I am. And it terrifies me. Because one day, the wind will carry them home, and they won’t be here with me to dry my tears, to hug me and tell me it will be ok. Even though a heart can be the home of memories, a home can’t be a heart.

And I’m scared of growing up and moving on.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Daddy, I miss you. And I know break just ended, and I saw you a lot; but I miss you. I miss our talks, your hugs, cuddle sessions on the couch. And even though I’m in college and still live under the same roof, I never see you. And it’s hard, and it’s painful.

I’ve given this whole “growing up” thing a shot, and I’ve decided that it isn’t for me. I want to go back to when I was five. I want to go back to the days of playing airplanes, back scratch wars, sitting in your fort, curling up next to you and falling asleep. I want to go back to the times when putting a Band-Aid on a cut was enough, because now there’s pain that you can’t fix even though you try so hard to do so. I want to go back to the days when you held my hand to cross the street, and to teach me to walk. I want you to hold my hand forever, because I’m scared of tripping and falling. These shoes of adulthood are too big for me.

And I can’t help but think if this is how I feel now, how am I going to feel when I don’t live with you? How am I going to feel when you’re not there every day for a hug?

And while I’m sitting here trying to figure it out, the world keeps spinning. People keep breathing, and while my mind is stuck in a corner, refusing to let go, I’m getting older and closer to moving on.

I know I’m only 18, and I have my whole life ahead of me to ‘figure it out,’ but that’s what scares me the most: not figuring it out.

Because life is a mystery. Life is pain, fear, and love. And when you love someone, pain is involved.

And Daddy, I know I’m growing older, but I’ll always be your little girl.

Right now I’m just confused about why life must hurt so much. Right now I’m just scared about what the future holds.

And I don’t know if I’m ready for it, any of it.

I want to be five again. Then I can say “tay me bit more,” and it might actually work.

 

A Father’s Response: (originally posted on his blog: http://rdistaffen.blogspot.com/

Dear Kaleigh,

When you were younger I was afraid of monsters in cars trying to steal you, but not spiders so much. Now that you are older, I am afraid of boys, but still not spiders.

I, too, miss grandpa. There are still times I have a question I want to ask him, or something my girls do I want to brag to him about. There are times I realize that even though he is gone he has planted a deep impression of himself in me; when I sound like him, or deliver a witty comeback, or unleash an amazing joke.

Kaleigh, I miss you too. Observing from a distance is no fun. I can tell you, everyday I am amazed at how much you have grown and matured and become a lovely young woman who loves Jesus. I miss you sitting in my fort, cuddling on the couch, and especially back scratch wars.

When you were younger and something broke, I would tell you to put it on my desk. Then I would fix it. Even then I knew that someday there would be a problem that wouldn’t fit on my desk and I wouldn’t be able to fix. So, when I superglued a limb back on a plastic doll, or untangled a dollar store necklace, or taped the cover on a book, I prayed, “Father, your eyes are better than mine, your superglue stronger, and your tape more adhesive. When my girls’ problems are bigger than I can fix can we put them on your big desk and let you take care of them?” It was at times like that the words of Ira Stanphill’s song would float through my mind.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

I remember in vivid detail that day as a toddler that you announced that you had two daddies. I was confused until you explained with great earnestness, your little finger pointing in the air, “I have a heavenly Father” then your little finger pointed at me, “and a down-here daddy.”

I long for the days when you were little and you would say, “ ‘tay me bit more.”  and I would linger for a few more minutes, snuggling you. I wish you still needed to hold my hand in busy parking lots. But you are growing older, and I am still stuck at 25.

I feel a bit like Moses, who after leading the people of God for 80 years, stood with them on the border of the Promised Land and told them he wasn’t crossing the Jordan river with them. He finished his comments with these words, found in Deuteronomy 31 and verse 6.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Don’t be afraid Kaleigh, when your down here daddy can’t hold your hand, or fix what is broken, or isn’t nearby, because your Heavenly Father is holding your hand, helping you cross the street or the river. Be strong and courageous.

 

I have learned so many things from my Father, from his father, and from my Mother’s Father. I’ve learned how to have a good sense of humor, even when I cannot laugh. I’ve learned to question everything, keep learning, keep reading, because life has so much to teach. I’ve learned the characteristics of a good man, a faithful man, a strong man, the kind of man I should marry, the kind of (wo)man I should be. And I hope one day, the two of us can teach our children what it means to be strong in the storm, the same things my Father taught me. 

I’m Convinced

This weekend was Conference Finals for Bible Quizzing (for those of us in the Genesis Conference, anyway). Our theme for the weekend was: I’m Convinced. . . that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. 

Throughout the weekend, we discussed ways we are convinced, or ways we doubt, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God at the Campfire Testimony Service, which is the best part of the weekend, in my opinion, because it is so great to hear what God is doing in the lives of the Bible Quizzers. 

And even though I’m no longer a Bible Quizzer, I still felt God telling me to stand up and tell the group what was on my heart. So, I did, but I fear it was a mess, because I am much better at writing than speaking. I have decided, therefore, to write out and share again what I said this weekend, because I hope it will make a difference in someone’s life.

My name is Kaleigh, and I’m not a Bible Quizzer. But, I was for a long time, so I think that should count for something. I’m sharing tonight, because I feel as though God has placed these words in my heart to share with you tonight, and I’ve learned it is best not to ignore God.

I have suffered with Depression for so long, I cannot remember what it’s like to not feel a sense of inadequacy all the time. I have been through many things in my life: I was sexually assaulted, I struggled with an eating disorder and with self-harm, and I’ve struggled with the idea of an all-loving God.

If God loves me, why has He allowed me to experience hurt?

Is God real?

Does He care?

Doubt is easy; faith is hard: It’s easier to doubt in the existence of something than it is to believe fully and completely in something. And I wanted easy. I was so tired of getting up in the morning and trying to fight my way through life. I had little faith, and it was all used up by the time I placed both feet on the floor. I had faith that the floor would not collapse under my feet, but I couldn’t have faith in God to carry me when I needed Him most.

Doubt is easy; faith is hard.

I can see the floor, but I didn’t think I could see God.

And then I went to Guatemala this past August.

And it changed my life, but I almost didn’t go.

You see, I’m not a big fan of crowds of people I don’t know. So, when God told me that I was going to Guatemala, I laughed. There was no way I was going to board a plane with 20-some-odd people I barely knew, fly to a country that spoke a different language, and show the love of a God I didn’t think cared to people.

It was like Jonah all over again: God said, “Go.” Jonah said, “No.” I was Jonah in this situation (I didn’t get swallowed by a whale, thank goodness).

Ignoring God doesn’t get you anywhere, and neither does arguing. So, I went.

And a transformation began to occur within me. I began to become convinced of the power and love of God. I shared my Testimony with a group of Junior Highers in a mountain village in the middle of nowhere, Santa Cruz, Guatemala. What happened next reminded me that God has a plan for everybody.

One of the Junior High Girls came up to me in the afternoon and asked if we could talk: “Podamos hablar?”

I said, “Por supuesto,” which means “of course.”

She asked me how I found the strength to get up in the morning. And I told her I had God. I opened up my Spanish-English Bible to some verses I remembered studying while I was in Quizzing.

And then I read her Philippians 4:13: “Todo lo puedo en Cristo que me fortalece.”

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

I helped this Junior High Girl accept Christ, and at that moment, everything began to fit together. I realized everything I’ve been through has a reason. Had I not gone through my trials and my hardships, I wouldn’t have been able to help this girl find God.

God has a plan for my life, and I don’t know what it is, yet. But God’s timing is perfect, and it will be revealed soon.

God has a plan for your life, too.

So, I don’t know what your struggling with right now. But, we’re all struggling with something. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t what God has in store for your life. But I know it’s great. He has great plans for all of us.

There’s a reason for your struggles. Everything has a purpose (even if right now, in this moment, the struggles you’re going through seem like more than you can bear). God has a plan for you, and I promise you, one day, your life and experiences will start to make sense.

I’m going to leave you with two thoughts:

The great philosopher Winnie the Pooh, once said, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

1 Corinthians 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I am convinced God exists because of what He has brought me through.

I hope one day you are convinced, too. Because doubt is easy and faith is hard, but life is so much more wonderful when you have faith.

God has great plans for your life, and when your suffering seems like too much for you to handle, God is strong enough to carry it.

Use Your Words. Here are my Words

I’ve forgiven. He’s apologized. (and, yes, it happened in that order.) But I can’t stop writing about it, and maybe reading about it all the time is getting annoying, but that’s your choice. I don’t force you to read what I write. This is not North Korea, nor is it Mao’s Little Red Book. This is not a required text for any of your classes, and I won’t quiz you on what you’ve read (unless you’re planning to date me, in which case, that last statement goes out the window, and any question is game).

So, basically, you can stop reading any time you want.

But I can’t stop writing, because I don’t write for writing’s sake. I write because I’m trying to figure something out, I’m trying to work through something, and I don’t know any other way to do it. (sure, once upon a time I did, but that just left me with too many scars, and it really did more harm than good.) When I was little, I didn’t talk: I knew how, but I had no reason to. I was the first grand-child on my mother’s side, and I was the first grand-daughter on my father’s. So, basically, my family knew I needed things before I did, all I had to do was point and go, “uhhh. Uhh.” Continually, I was told to use my words. “Use your words, Kaleigh. Use your words.”

Here are my words written last night when my nose was so congested I couldn’t breathe to sleep. Here are my words written last night when my head was so full that I wouldn’t have been able to sleep even if I could breathe.

The thing that hurts the most about this whole thing is that he told me that I should enjoy it, like it was a gift. A one-size fits all t-shirt. A gift that keeps on giving. A non-returnable, non-refundable, no one wants it anyway, type of gift. It’s the elephant in the room, or rather, the white-elephant gift that nobody is eager to trade. Warning: not permitted for resale. 

He asked me out. I said no. And then he got four of his friends and sexually assaulted me. And then he told me I should enjoy it, because it’s what I wanted when I turned him down, because I’m a bitch and a slut (his words, not mine). And it’s always easier to call the victim something else, to give them a non-human identity. They couldn’t call me by name even though they knew me for years. We were on a first name basis until that day. And then that tie was metaphorically severed. 

It’s easy to call someone else those words until you know how it feels to be on the receiving end: to catch the football thrown by the quarterback, and then immediately be tackled by a huge middlelinebacker when you are defenseless. *throws flag* Hit on a defenseless receiver. Defense. 15 yard penalty. Automatic first-down. 

There are no replays in real-life.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. I am an expert at bs-ing most of the papers I write, but this has got to be the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever heard. It’s as though his words can’t affect me if I say it long enough. My words can’t hurt you if I play this song over and over and over again. But, words do hurt. 

I’ve forgiven. He’s apologized. We’ve moved on. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over what happened to me. It’s not a hurdle to jump, nor a mountain to climb. I’ll heal, most definitely. But there’s a difference between healing (letting go) and getting over. I don’t freak out when I see any of them anymore. Or at least I didn’t the last time I saw one, anyway. But that’s a start.

Sometimes, it’s the littlest things that hurt the worst. I hope one day I’ll stop dreaming about what happened. I hope one day I won’t hear their voices in my head on my bad days. I hope one day shirt collars around my neck won’t terrify me as much.

I’ve never liked turtle-neck shirts, but I like them even less now. And I don’t always mean to wear low-cut shirts, but sometimes the thought of a t-shirt around my neck freaks me out. And until you’ve had hands around your neck, choking you as you try to fight off 5 pairs of unwanting hands, I don’t think you can understand. You should try, though, for my sake. And if not for mine, then someone elses. Because I’m not the only one.

T-shirts sometimes freak me out. But it happens less and less nowadays. 

Big steps, like not freaking out when you see someone in the store, are great. But sometimes, the little steps, like wearing t-shirts, are the greatest.

I live for the little steps. 

Expect the Unexpected (Apology)

“Learn to forgive without expecting an apology.”- Kaleigh Distaffen, me.

In February, I wrote a blog post about forgiveness:

“Always forgive your enemies-nothing annoys them so much.”- Oscar Wilde

Forgiveness sucks. (By sucks I don’t mean it sucks in the figurative sense. I mean forgiveness is hard. It’s difficult, unpleasant, easier said than done, troublesome. But it’s absolutely necessary if you ever want to get anywhere with your life.)

I’ve grown up learning the importance of forgiveness. I’ve learned Bible verses and parables and all sorts of biblical knowledge about what forgiveness is and how to forgive. And to be honest, I’m still learning what it means to forgive.

I’ve always associated forgiveness with an apology. I’m sorry. I forgive you. But realistically, that’s not the way the world works. Apologies and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive.

APOLOGIES AND FORGIVENESS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. Often times in life, you won’t get an apology (at least not a sincere one).

This is a concept I haven’t understood until recently. I’m extremely stubborn and maybe sometimes a bit prideful, so I never understood how I could be expected to forgive someone if they didn’t admit they were wrong.

I understand now.

You see, after I was sexually assaulted, I was extremely bitter. And then one day I wrote a blog post in which I “forgave them.” I thought that was it. I could finally let go of my past. I could finally be free. That tells you how much I know (which when compared to everything there is to know, is approximately nothing). And then I started to feel less bitter. I was still depressed, I still had random mental breakdowns, still freaked out anytime I was reminded or saw any of my attackers.

That is until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I saw one of them in Target. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t go into the bathroom and cry. I just kept walking. And that’s when I realized I never actually forgave them.

I said that I forgave them, but it was arbitrary and meaningless. I did it out of obligation and not necessitation. I didn’t need to forgive them, just like  I thought I didn’t need God.

Forgiveness is an active thing. There’s no such thing as passively forgiving somebody. Until you actually forgive with your heart, it’s void, empty.

So yesterday, I facebook messagd the guy I saw in Target two weeks ago, who by the way, was the one that caused my sexual assault. I sent only three words, I forgive you.

I doubt I’ll ever get an apology. An apology isn’t needed. I just need him to know he’s forgiven, because I don’t know where he is in his life, but maybe being forgiven will impact him in a way that hasn’t happened before.

And if it doesn’t, that’s ok. Because truly forgiven has impacted my life. Being truly forgiven by somebody who is truly perfect has impacted my life.

I don’t always deserve forgiveness. I’ve sinned. I’ve messed up. I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. God loves me anyway. God forgives me anyway.

So, yes, I forgave this guy, because I want to be more like Jesus. I also forgave myself. Because one time I tried to kill myself. I forgive myself for the scars I purposefully put on my skin. I forgive myself for all the hurt I caused myself. God tells us to love our enemies, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

I know I am.

I’ve forgiven. I’m finding healing. And I’ll always be living with Depression, but that’s ok. God loves me anyway. I’m forgiven anyway.

Our Father which art in Heaven.

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done

on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, bur deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

Yesterday, the unexpected happened. I received a response from the attacker I sent a message of forgiveness when the above was written. It contained 3 words: “Thanks. I’m sorry.”

And I just… I have no words.

God continues to amaze me. He continues to remind me that his timing his perfect. You see, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with life lately, and then the most unexpected thing happens, and I am reminded that God is in control (Which I am truly thankful for, because if I was left to be in control of everything, the world would fall apart).

God knows what He is doing, which is more than I can say for myself 99% of the time.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of forgiveness. And yesterday, I learned that forgiveness can yield unexpected results.

Rain is a Metaphor for Life

Are you ever having a good hair day and the rain ruins it? Yeah, me neither. With the way my curls are sometimes there but never fair, I’m never having a good hair day, but that’s why I love the rain. I can start over. Rain symbolizes rebirth, which means renewal, and we could all use a clean slate. Because I think sometimes we forget that the rain can wash everything away if we just let it. And I don’t know about you, but there are things in my life I wish I could forget, I wish I could erase, I wish I could go back and prevent. But I can’t. So I write instead.

Because there was once a time when the tears and the pain would draw blood, but now the tears and the rain draw ink instead. Blood is thicker than water, and my sins have been wiped clean by the washing of His blood. And my house is built on a firm foundation.

So, yes, I love the rain. The way it drips down my face, the way it straightens my curls (unless I’m in Seattle, where the rain just makes my curls more defined), the way it soaks through my hoodie to my bones, and causes my jeans to stick to my legs like an extra layer of skin. Some days I could use an extra layer of skin to protect me from this world.

When I was little, I thought rain was the tears of God. It was a comforting thought to believe that God can cry, too. People told me I was ridiculous. “God can’t cry. He’s the embodiment of perfection, and perfection doesn’t cry.”

John 11:35 says that Jesus wept. And I guess I like to believe that perhaps this fully human part of this fully perfect God can cry with me. Sometimes I like to find comfort in the belief that the Creator of this vast and endless universe feels the same emotions I do. This thought wraps me up like a blanket and keeps me warm on the coldest of nights. And on days when it feels like this winter will never end, I take comfort in the fact that the seasons are ever-changing, and just as they change, I do too.

I’m not the same as I was 5 years ago, a month ago, or even yesterday. And I thank God for that. Because I’ve learned to love myself, I’ve learned to love people as well. And sometimes knowing where to look to find the best in people is the only way to get along.

We all need those people to walk along beside us, to carry our crosses when it gets heavy and we’re tired. I’m so glad I’ve found mine.

Because sometimes I need to be reminded that the ocean I think I’m drowning in is only a puddle. We all need to be reminded of that once in a while.

And sometimes we all need that person to be our Rihanna, who lets us stand under their umbrella, because, no, the rain may not be your favorite. But, it’s certainly mine. I sing in the shower and dance in the rain. Because you can’t see the rainbow with any rain, and when the rain stops, everything is so green.

We all need that renewal once in a while.

And the melodies dancing on the roof and the fingers tapping on my keyboard in time with the drops remind me that even God is sad sometimes, too. And that is enough to remind me I’m not alone in this world.

Goodbye, Ana

December 23, 2011:

“Hello, yes. It’s Dr. — from the Pediatric ER. I have a 17 year old female with mild anorexia. She also has appendicitis.”

Wait, what? How did he know? I thought I hid it so well. I mean, he is a doctor. I hope he’s not judging me.

Anorexia.

For me, it started when I became so depressed I wanted to die. It started in 9th grade, and it didn’t end until college. It started when the cutting wasn’t enough to make my pain go away. And even when I decided to live, when I put down the razor for the last time, I didn’t start eating again.

It got worse.

August 2012:

I walked into the Dining Hall on the first day of my College Experience. I saw so many beautiful faces. I wasn’t one of them, so I walked out.

….

When I tell people I was anorexic, they find it hard to believe. Sometimes I find it hard to believe. I find it hard to believe that a year ago I was skipping meals like an atheist skips church. I didn’t need God. My God was my rumbling stomach, and I found comfort in the rumbly in my tummy (as Pooh Bear would say).

I stopped eating because I didn’t think I was beautiful enough. I would get up everyday, and I would look in the mirror, hate what I saw, and would compensate by being someone I’m not. And it was physically and mentally exhausting. Between the not eating and the not being, I was having a really hard time.

I was fighting a Battle of Comparisons, and I couldn’t win. I was always not good enough, not pretty enough, not ‘insert adjective here’ enough.

And people don’t understand when I explain to them I wasn’t trying to die. I was trying to live. But I didn’t know how to live in a body I hated so much. I felt like my life was spiraling out of control, and there was nothing I could do about it. So, I controlled the one thing I knew how: the amount of food I ate.

And everyday it was a battle. Everyday is a battle for people who struggle with anorexia. Your stomach is telling you to eat, but your mind is telling you, “Nah, bro. No good.” And how can you argue with that? You know what they say: Mind over matter. Or in this case: Mind over stomach growling. It’s finding the perfect balance between how much you want to eat and how much you’re willing to let yourself eat. It’s about taking one bite at a time until you hate yourself so much you can’t take another bite. And then it’s about repeating this action over and over.

It gets to the point where you have two options: either you die, or you get help.

I got help. I told my friends. They started holding me accountable, eating lunch with me, checking to make sure I ate, making sure I didn’t skip a meal.

And I don’t know when things began to change. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to start eating. And I don’t know why I had the sudden change of mind. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was worth enough to eat. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was beautiful. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide my life was back in control, because it’s not. I don’t have my life controlled. At all.

But I went to Guatemala, and suddenly my life began to change. I found God again, and for once in my life I knew what my purpose was and is.

I was so focused on trying to be beautiful, I missed what was right in front of me. I am beautiful because of who I am. I am beautiful because of who I was. I am beautiful because God made me in his image.

It’s March 24, 2014. I haven’t skipped a meal in 6 months.

I’m a recovering Anorexic.

And I am beautiful.