And Jesus Wept

I was sitting in the first row of the choir loft of the sanctuary today, listening as my pastor prayed for peace of mind and hope and strength. And when he concluded, as my mind started to wander, and my thoughts started to get the better of me, he interrupted me, thankfully, by asking, “Out of all the thousands of Bible verses you have memorized, which is your favorite?”

Instantly, I panicked. My mind went blank. All the verses I have cataloged in the back of my brain by reference and topic instantly were sucked out of their storage containers by the cosmic vacuum that proves that the universe has a sense of humor. I could not remember a single Bible verse.

I eventually settled on Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” And then I added, I also love Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly realms.” 

But now, as a few hours have passed since my caught-off-guard moment, and all the Bible verses have reorganized themselves in my brain, I have a better answer: Ephesians 6:7 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”

I’m kidding; I’m kidding, sort of.

John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, states simply: Jesus wept. 

And for me, this is the most powerful verse in the Bible. You see, sometimes I think I’m alone in my pain–nobody understands how I feel; nobody will love me if they find out how hard it is for me to stay alive.

But, you see, Jesus does. Jesus understands how I feel; He loves me despite what’s happened to me, despite the battle raging inside of me. And He loves you, too.

I share my story because I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as I feel sometimes. I don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their pain, alone in their shame. I don’t want people to feel like nobody could ever understand what they’re going through.

As I’ve been open and honest about my story, especially how hard these last few months have been, I’ve noticed something: I have become the support system for other people. I have friends who message me when they’re having a panic attack because I understand what it’s like. I have friends who tell me “Hey, I was raped, too.” I have friends who tell me that they have also lived with depression for a while but have kept it to themselves for fear of being judged.

And here’s the thing, guys. I love every minute of it. I love every minute of hearing other people’s stories and having those people in my life who are brave enough to reach out. Because it’s taken me this long to figure out that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Maybe I can’t stop my own panic attacks or pull myself out of the darkest nights, but if I can be there for others, you bet your bottom dollar that I will be.

Here’s the thing: this week has been harder than most. I’ve been trying to hold it together all week, and I feel like I’m failing. Tonight at the gym, instead of sitting on the bench for five or ten minutes to collect my thoughts, I had to sit there for nearly an hour, blaring music, trying to drown out the world. And on the way home, I had to pull over because I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes; right now, life is so hard, and sometimes I feel so alone and like nobody understands.

But here’s the thing: God does. He weeps right along with me. In the moments when the panic sets in, He walks me through it. And during the nights when I’m not sure I’m going to live to see the sun, He wraps me up in His arms and carries me through the darkness.

I used to think that I was a terrible Christian because I was raped, because I have depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, because I sometimes still struggle with self-harm and battle an eating disorder that I thought I recovered from a long time ago.

I’ve come to realize that none of that is true. On the nights when I’m so tired, I can only let out a whisper of a prayer, God hears me. He has not forsaken me.

And one day, He’ll redeem me.

Because life is so so tough right now, but I have faith in the hope that I hold onto during the darkest nights.

I am a Child of God, and Jesus wept.

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But Then, God.

How are you still alive?, the psychiatrist asked me at 9:00 in the morning on a Tuesday in September, 16 hours after having the following phone conversation with my dad, through tears:

Hi, it’s me. I’m at the Psych ER. I was feeling suicidal. I just want to come home.

I was asked the same thing on a Monday in December when I went for my medication intake.

What they meant, of course, was not how are you still alive, but rather, how have you survived this long without any support?

Easy, I replied, I just don’t talk about it.

I’ve always been this way: a woman of few words, saving my voice for when I felt I had something important to say. All my report cards said the same thing: Is a pleasure to have in class. Needs to participate more in class. My kindergarten teacher even called my parents after the first day of school to ask them if I had an attitude problem. No, they replied, she’s just shy.

Shy. I’ve come to realize the last few months that it’s more than that: you see, my whole life I’ve felt uneasy, on edge, like I’m going to be late for a class that I’m not taking, I forgot to study for a test I don’t have, hearing the Imperial March and never running into Darth Vader, like something terrible’s going to happen, or worse, like I’m watching a Bills game all the time.

And I thought it was normal to feel this way: I thought it was normal to feel like my heart is going to beat out of my chest whenever I open my mouth to speak, to feel like running out of a room anytime there are more than 5 people there. I guess when it comes to fight or flight, I choose flight.

This is anxiety. My whole life has been trying to hide what I feel and what I’m struggling with. The anxiety makes me want to be invisible: don’t make a lot of noise, don’t let yourself be seen, walk as close as you can to the walk, take up as little room as possible. And, to be honest, because of this, I don’t want to take up people’s time, don’t want to inconvenience anyone, don’t want to be a burden.

I was the kid who would set up a game on my grandmother’s dining room table and sit there patiently and wait until someone volunteered to play with me because I was too afraid to ask someone if they wanted to play. Likewise, I’ve always been too afraid to ask for help, choosing instead to deal with my problems myself, not letting anyone in, not letting people get to know me–no one can hate me if they don’t know me.

And this constant feeling of uneasiness and the fear of being a burden and inconvenience chipped away at who I was over the years. I was so unsure of myself, too afraid of being rejected to feel like a real person. Because of this, by the time I entered Middle school, I  had learned to keep everything to myself: the fears, the insecurities, the comments people made about me at school. Occasionally, on the days where going to school felt too scary, I would make up some excuse as to why I couldn’t: my stomach hurts; I have a headache–emotional pain manifesting as physical symptoms. And on the days when those excuses didn’t work, I would cry. Being a daddy’s girl, it worked every time.

And then, in eighth grade, I was raped. And it shattered me, destroying any sense of self I had left. 9 years later, and I’m still trying to pick up those pieces, still trying to put myself back together, still trying to rewrite the definition they gave me: slut, bitch, worthless, unlovable.

But, because of the anxiety, I told nobody. When it was over, I cleaned myself off, went to my locker, and then out to my dad’s car, going to school every day after that for the last month of the year, feeling one of the guy’s warm breath on my neck every day in English class. And for a whole year, I told no one: choosing to keep it all to myself because what if it was my fault? Sometimes it’s easier to suffer in silence than to deal with accusations or questions or whispering stares.

And I don’t know when the depression started–if it showed up gradually over time, or if one day it just moved in suddenly–but either way, I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t talk about the self-harm or the anorexia. I didn’t talk about the suicidal thoughts and the nightmares, the panic attacks and the flashbacks. I kept it all a secret until a few months after I attempted suicide (which is a story I’ll get back to later).

And even when I started talking about it, even when I started blogging about it, I never let anybody know how bad it was; not until a few months ago. I was so afraid of being rejected, so afraid of people really getting to know me because I was scared they wouldn’t like what they saw. I was so afraid of being deemed unlovable.

Some days, I still am.

For so long I thought God had abandoned me–I wondered if He even existed. I grew up being told that God loved me, and He wouldn’t let anything bad to happen to me. I grew up being told that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Somebody once told me, after I revealed to them my struggle with depression, that I must not read my Bible enough or pray enough. I kindly informed her that as a Bible Quizzer, I was well acquainted with the Bible, and I prayed every day: Lord, help me get through this day.

God has this way of sneaking up on you: just when you think He’s gone for good, when He’s left you for a newer model, you hear Him whisper in your ear, or you see His feet sticking out from behind the curtain.

At least, that what He’s done in my life.

The night I attempted suicide, I was so tired. For one second I stopped fighting the voices in my head; I swallowed some pills, and I laid down in bed and watched the snow fall outside my window as I waited for the fight to be over. But then, God whispered in my ear, You’ll be ok. And that was enough to keep fighting.

And sometimes I still doubt.

My Freshman year of college, I heard about this missions trip to Guatemala, and I felt a twinge in my heart telling me to go. The anxiety in my head tried to talk me out of it: if you go, you’ll lose your passport and won’t be allowed back into the country. You’ll be kidnapped, and it’ll cause some major international drama. But then, God said Don’t be like Jonah. You’re going.

So I went. And I shared my story with the junior highers at a school in a mountain village we were working with. After lunch that day, a young girl came up to me and asked me, Puedes hablar? And we talked for two hours. And I lead her to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in.

And then later that same trip, we served food to the people living in the Guatemala City Dump. And I climbed onto the roof of the bus we traveled in, and in front of me, I saw all these dilapidated, rundown shanties made of tin. When I looked out farther, past the horizon, I saw the mountains blanketed in sunset. God reminded me that out of brokenness comes beauty.

And sometimes I still doubt.

One Friday evening in July, I had a flashback at the gym. One minute, I was on the treadmill doing my post-workout cooldown; the next minute, I was back in that school bathroom. I felt the world close in around me. And then the panic set in, and the only thing running through my head was I need to get out of here. I need to go home. However, every time I tried to walk down the hallway towards the locker room, I felt nauseous. For an hour I tried to convince myself that I could walk to the locker room, that I was ok. To no avail. I was about to give up; I had convinced myself that I was destined to spend the rest of my life standing at the end of that hall. The gym was not the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life. But then, God sent a friend, someone who knew my story, someone who, when I asked her to come with me to the locker room because I was having a flashback, came with me, no questions asked. And then, to top it off, she sat with me, talking with me until the storm passed.

That was the event that changed everything: the event that caused me to reach out, to ask for help.

But still I struggled with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts.

I almost died on my way to the gym one Monday in August. One minute, I was driving in my lane; the next I had crossed over into the other lane, heading straight for a tree on the side of the road. But then, God said, Kaleigh. He called me by name, and I regained control.

A few weeks later, I left work to drive myself to the ER because I was feeling suicidal. I should have been writing a Standard Operating Procedure on how to use Skype for Business; instead, I looked up to find the words I want to die plastered all over my computer screen. So I got up and left everything as it was: my half-eaten lunch sitting in my lunchbox, my handwritten notes laid out on my desk, the document I was proofing to the right of my keyboard, closing only the Word Document, hiding the evidence I was so ashamed to tell people I had felt for years, grabbing only my purse because what if I need my epi-pen or what if someone needs a band-aid. 

When I got to the hospital, I had a panic attack in the parking garage; it took me 30 minutes to get out of my car, another five to convince myself not to climb over the concrete wall in front of me and jump over.

This was a hospital I had been in so many times: I visited family in this hospital; I had my appendix out in this hospital; I was born in this hospital. But it felt different this time: everyone around me seemed like they were moving in slow motion. I felt so heavy, so tired, like I was already dead. I had felt this way so many times.

I’ve felt this way so many times since.

When I called my father, and through the tears said, I want to come home. What I really meant was I want to feel safe.

We all want to feel safe: we all need those safe places where we can be open and honest about our struggles. We need people that make us feel that way: like when we’re with them, we can be ourselves.

The church needs to be that way: we need to be a people that meets people where they are, that loves others when they’re in the rough places. We need to be a place where people can feel like they can share their imperfections, their struggles, their fears. This world is so loud, sometimes we need to be the whispering voices that guide people to safety.

There are so many people out there struggling with hurts and pain, and they feel so alone.

Sometimes I feel so alone. Like I won’t make it out of this maze of pain and numbness.

We all need people who are willing to walk alongside us as we navigate the complex maze that is life.

How are you still alive? The truth is, I shouldn’t be. I kept my hurts secret for so long, and sometimes I feel like I got help too late. Like I’ve burned all my bridges when I got to them. Like I reached out to the wrong people at the right time. Like people are leaving me behind.

Somedays, I don’t want to be alive. Somedays, I don’t think I’m going to make it through the night. Somedays, the anxiety is so great and the panic attacks are too numerous, I wonder why I keep trying to keep myself alive. Somedays, I feel nothing at all. This is depression: it’s numbness.

But, within this numbness are moments of feeling: joy and sadness, happiness and anger, laughter and tears. And I keep holding on to these moments because if I string enough of them together, I can build a rope to pull myself out of this pit of hopelessness.

How are you still alive?  What I said is: I don’t talk about it. What I mean is: God. God is the only reason I’m still here.

We have to talk about our hurts and struggles because not talking about them is dangerous. In his novel East of Eden, John Steinbeck wrote “There’s more beauty in truth; even if it’s a dreadful beauty.”

I tell my story because I want people to know they’re not alone. I’ve felt alone so many times, and maybe by being honest about my vastly imperfect life, I can help some one else.

I’ve gotten so frustrated with myself over the last few months because I can’t fix how I’m feeling. It’s not fixable.

And I think we all need to acknowledge that there are hurts in this world that humans can’t fix. All we can do is be a listening ear, an ever-present support. None of us can do life alone. We need people willing to sit with us when we’re in the rough places, to walk alongside us as we work our way through the pain. Because that’s all humans can do.

The only thing we can do is give a name to the darkest parts of ourselves and let God do the rest. We have to admit our weaknesses because it’s only in our weakness that we realize how strong we are. It was at my weakest moment that I found the strength to drive myself to the ER.

I have depression and anxiety, and I struggle with suicidal thoughts more often than I would like to admit. But every so often, just when I think I’m the farthest from God I could ever be, He reminds me so clearly of his presence.

Back in October, I woke up one Sunday with my anxiety through the roof. As the service concluded, I felt this sense of peace come over me, and for a moment, I felt the burden I’ve been carrying for years be lifted off my shoulder. I collapsed in my pew and the tears started flowing. And I found myself at the prayer rail, surrounded by friends and family who walk this journey with me.

I want more than anything to be fixed: to have my past erased and my depression and anxiety gone forever.

But, only God can do that. And I’ve come to realize that He’s probably not going to fix me in the way I would like, but He can redeem it: He’s not “Mr. Fix It.” He’s “Mr. Redeem It.”

Every so often, He redeems me a little bit more and more. Every so often, He takes away part of the burden I carry.

And on the days when those moments are not enough, when the anxiety is high, and the suicidal thoughts return, on the days where the sadness is too much, I look at the lines in my hand. I am reminded that the same God who paints the sunsets and sunrises, who created the rainbows and the color-changing leaves of autumn, the God who placed the stars in the sky, stitched me together piece by piece. And sometimes, that is enough.

 

 

 

 

This Same God

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.”

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes and over again.

They don’t tell you how much it’s going to affect you if it happens to you. Nobody tells you how you’ll start to see hollowed out memories, a broken down shell of a body, a ghost of the person you used to be. They don’t tell you how it will affect everything about you—the way you move, the way you talk, the way you act, the way you are, who you are (you never really liked yourself anyway, so really it’s a blessing, because it gives you an actual physical reason to change who you are).

Nobody tells you any of this, but they do tell you how to prevent it, though. Thank goodness for that because 1 in 5 women will be raped in their life, so clearly teaching women how not to get raped is clearly working.

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.” Trust me when I say that’s the last thing you want to do when you are being violated in the worst way.

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes over and over again—a reminder of one more thing I’d have to change about myself to try and forget, to try and stop it from ever happening again.

It wouldn’t be that hard. The depression had already taken the sparkle out of my eyes. All I had to do was hide them behind glasses I didn’t need and not make eye contact with anyone. Ever.

He sat behind me in English class, which became the class I began to dread. Every day he touched my hair, said he loved the way it smelled.

When we were in that bathroom on that day in the middle of May, he couldn’t stop touching it, smelling it. So I cut it. And when it got long, I cut it again.

His locker was next to mine. He stood at his every day, waiting for me to open mine. Slamming it shut, his hand would briefly touch mine. “Your skin’s so soft,” he would say.

On that day, he couldn’t stop touching me. His fingers leaving bruises behind on my skin as he moved from my neck down. (I couldn’t wear turtlenecks or scarves for the longest time). He made me touch him, and four of his closest friends.

….

I don’t know how you get over that, how you get rid of those memories. So I shut down, became numb. I started cutting in places I was touched to create new sensations (because the sharp pain was better than the memory of a touch of a finger, scars were better than bruises). My legs, stomach, and wrist became a garden of crisscrossed lines marking the way back from where I’d been.

I started starving myself, not because I cared how I looked, but because I didn’t. I didn’t mind the dark circles under my sunken eyes, the cold skin, the way I lost my sparkle. I wanted there to be less of me that remembered what it felt like to not have control over my own body.

I ceased to exist in the way I used to, and I didn’t know how to find my way back to who I used to be. So I thought it would be better if I just ceased to exist entirely, if I ceased to be.

Six years later, I’m still here. And if the question is, “why did you get a second chance when so many others do not?” the answer is, I don’t know. Life is made up of too many questions and not enough answers.

But here’s what I do know.

I do know that I am healing.

I’ve started eating again. I’ve gained the weight back, and then some. But that’s ok, because I’ve come to learn I’m beautiful.

(Almost) six years after cutting for the last time, the crisscrossed lines are almost gone. Only a faint few remain, reminding me of where I’ve been, how strong I am.

Eight years after being raped, the memories of what happened to me is still enough to tie my stomachs up in knots, but I don’t panic when I see him anymore. I don’t run away. I don’t hide.

I’ve started wearing my hair long(er) again. I love wearing scarves. I’m learning to look people in the eyes again.  Speaking of eyes, I’ve begun to notice the sparkle returning to my eyes. And when I see it, I take a picture because I need to be reminded of the beauty in life.

And I’ve relearned about the cleansing power of blood, how I’ve been washed clean, not by the blood that poured from my skin as I cut myself open, but by the blood spilled from the Man who died so I could live, the Man who became “ugly” so I could be beautiful.

So, I don’t know why I was raped, but I do know that I am thankful.

I’m thankful not for the act done for me, but thankful for what I’ve learned along the way. I’m thankful for how much stronger I am now.

But most of all, I’m thankful for the way God has brought people into my life to encourage me and support me, and for the way he has provided me with people and opportunities I can do the same with.

Because, yes, some days are hard, some days it’s hard to breathe; it’s hard to get out of bed. But everyday God reminds me of how beautiful this life is, and when I look at the lines on my palm, I am reminded that the same God who created nature, took the time to hand-stitch me together, and that is enough to get me through the day.

Towers and Earthquakes

Here’s the thing: we spend so much of our lives building an identity–a tower of self that is our foundation, what we base our whole life on–that when life begins to chip away at it, we begin to feel lost and confused.

I remember being younger and building my identity around people in my life, mostly friends, sometimes family. The problem with building your identity around others is that it’s permeable–there are cracks in the foundation, allowing water to get in, eroding away the tower brick by brick, piece by piece.

I left Elementary school with a reasonably adequate sense of self. I thought I knew who I was, what I was doing because when you’re one of the big kids in the school, you think you’re unstoppable, and maybe you are.

But then you’re not. You go from being the kid who’s gone around the block a few times to being the new kid in school. And it’s not the moving up of schools that bothers you because you’ve accepted that growing up and getting older is a part of life.

The problem is that you’re now a small fish in a big sea–you don’t know where you fit, where you belong, who your friends are. Something happens to people in Middle School–everybody is trying to find themselves, figure out who they are, and figure out where they fit. And everybody starts doing this at the same time, creating an upset in the social balance, causing hierarchies to form.

The massive upheaval of self-identity causes bullying to start. You try not to let it get to you. You try not to let the names they call you, the things they say to you influence your life. But they do.

And they did for me, too.

They began to chip away at my tower of identity bit by bit; it began to crumble, but because of the foundation, no matter how shaky it was, I wasn’t really scared of it falling.

But then it did.

When I was in eighth grade, I was raped. And it changed everything. It took everything. It took away the foundation I had spent 13 years building. It took away everything I thought I was. It took away my ability to say “No.” because if one guy asked me out, I rejected him, and this happened, what’s to stop it from happening again.

Being raped was like an earthquake–you’ve all seen the images: the violent tremors, the collapsing buildings, the swirling dust, the weakening skeletons still standing.

Being raped was a lot like that: quick and violent, and when the dust settled, all that was left was a shell of who I once was, who I wanted to be.

When it was all over, I was depressed and broken, lost and confused. I felt as though God had abandoned me.And I didn’t tell anybody. When it was all over, I cleaned myself up, covered the bruises as best I could, and carried on with my life as if nothing had happened.

The pain I was feeling was too intense; it hurt too much–I shut down. Becoming numb was easier than feeling, especially when the voices started, repeating over and over and over the events of that day, the words said I wanted so badly to forget: Slut. Bitch. No one will ever love you. You’re worthless.

I was depressed for so long, so numb that I had forgotten how to feel anything at all. That was when the cutting started. I wanted to feel something, anything. The pain reminded me I was alive, and it became addicting. Even that soon became not enough.Soon the self-harm escalated to self-loathing, subtly over time. One day, I woke up and couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a full meal. The roaring of my stomach quickly drowned out the voices in my head.

I needed to grasp on to something, so I grasped on to the thought that maybe this would end someday, because even the idea of death is better than grasping on nothing.

Then, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired; boy, was I tired. I let my guard down, stopped trying to shut out the voices in my head. I just wanted peace.

I don’t remember swallowing the pills, but I remember throwing them up. It came after a moment of peace and a whisper: You’ll be ok.

And I was, but not right away. Because I didn’t get help, because, I know this doesn’t make any sense, but I didn’t want to be seen as weak. So I pretended nothing had happened.

Then I broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so tired of feeling alone, so I started telling people my story. I got help. And it’s been a long, long process.

I don’t know where it ends, or who I will be when I get there, but I know it will be beautiful.

Where I am right now is beautiful.

I’ve started rebuilding myself piece by piece, bit by bit. And here I am today. My foundation is stronger now because it’s built on the assurance that I am a child of God, no matter how angry I once was at Him, He never left my side. He brought me back. He rescued me from me.

My identity is no longer founded on others, and I’m stronger now.

I am beautiful now.

 

 

 

 

Bear Hugs from God

When my dad discovered that I was self-harming, when he pulled up my sleeves and noticed the fresh-that-morning cuts on my arm, he pulled me into a giant bear hug—the kind only dads can give—and refused to let go.

I imagine God is the same way, especially when it comes to those who have walked away, those who have doubted, those who have lamented and struggled.

I doubted for a long time, but I’ve had faith for longer.

Doubting is easy, having faith is hard.

When you’re being raped, it’s hard to have faith that one day God will use this for good.

When you’re cutting yourself open and starving yourself, it’s hard to have faith that God made you, and will continue to make you, beautiful.

But there I was, having faith I was starting to outgrow. When I was little, it fit like one of my dad’s t-shirts: large and floppy. Now that I had struggled, it fit like one of those old t-shirts it’s time to get rid of: too tight in the middle, with holes in the armpits.

It’s hard when your faith is shaken. You begin to wonder if it was strong enough to begin with, if you were a good-enough Christian to begin with. Doubt begins to creep in when your faith doesn’t seem big enough.

I never stopped having faith, but I let doubt take control. I was like one of those tight rope walkers who tense up and fall when they look down and realize how far away the ground is.

The night I attempted suicide was a night much like this one. I remember it vividly: the house was quiet; snow, sparkling under the light of the moon, was falling outside my window. The roads were covered in snow, and tree branches were dancing in the wind. It was beautiful and magical, serene and tranquil, but it wasn’t enough to save me.

My doubt was.

As I lay in the darkness of my room, waiting for the pills to do their job, I could see the light of the moon shining bright.

The doubt I had been feeling for years had eroded a place for hope and faith. And I know that doesn’t make sense, but believe me when I tell you that one the night I tried to kill myself, I was angry at the beauty I saw outside. I was angry at the way God had created nature and man, called both good, but he had seemingly abandoned me.

I was angry, but I still held on to a little bit of hope.

So as time slowed down and the earth began to slip away, I made a last ditch “I don’t know if God exists, but if He does, I hope He hears this because I’m all out of answers, and I can’t do this alone” cry.

And He did. And He answered, not with a shout, but with the gentlest of whispers.

“You’ll be ok.”

He answered with a whisper, but I’m sure He was like: “Finally! I told you that you couldn’t do this alone, and I was here cheering on the sidelines like an idiot screaming, ‘Come on, you can do this!’ But you weren’t paying any attention to what mattered. You were too focused on your past to think about your future or your present.”

And He’d be right. I was.

When my dad discovered I was self-harming, he pulled me into a bear hug.

When he discovered I tried to kill myself, he pulled me into his lap and threw his arms around me, as if to say, I’m never letting you go.

I imagine God did the same when I finally surrendered my pain, my past, my failures, and returned to him.

I imagine him saying, “Come on, Child. We can get through this together.”

 

(Not) Enough

I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember, but somewhere along the way, I think I was taught something wrong. And I know it’s not just me because other people my age who I’ve talked to believe the same thing I did: if you’re a Christian, you won’t suffer.

So, basically you’re telling me that if I do suffer, I’m not a strong enough Christian.

You’re writing off my sexual assault, battle with depression, and my eating disorder as nothing more than a lack of faith. Let me tell you about my faith and how I would get up every day praying that the floor would hold firm beneath my feet. I had faith that I would make it through the day, that the weight of the world would be light enough that I wouldn’t collapse under the pressure of it all.

So don’t tell me I’m not a strong enough Christian because I’ve suffered.

I have told myself I’m not enough enough times on my own.

Not pretty enough.

Not smart enough.

Not good enough.

Not worthy enough.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say Christians will be free from suffering. In fact, the Bible explicitly states that those who believe in Jesus will suffer greatly, which should come as a surprise to approximately no one.

I mean, if you think about it, Jesus went through the Ultimate Suffer for us.

The Bible says a lot of things about a lot of things, but saying that Christians won’t suffer is not one of them.

One thing I’ve learned as an English major is that context is important. When analyzing a work, we all have our own interpretations, but we can’t forget the historical context of the work. Where it was written and when it was written are the only true ways to know why it was written.

My story is the same way. I have a story, but it’s only a smaller part of a larger story. It is this larger story that is the most important; and it’s determining where I fit, how my story fits into the larger story, that I am focusing on.

How can you tell me, then, that my suffering is because I’m not enough?

I know I’m enough because of what I’ve been through and how my story has impacted others. My story transcends language barriers because when I went to Guatemala, I was able to lead a young girl to Christ because I was brave enough to share my story.

Brave Enough.

I graduate from college in 9 or 10 days, depending on how you want to count, and I don’t really have any concrete plans yet.

I have all these big plans for my life, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever accomplish even half of them. And I’ve come to learn to be ok with that. I’ve learned that my life really isn’t my own. Yes, I’m living it, but it is a gift, on loan from the ONE who knows the end of this script.

Time is a weird, mind-boggling concept, and I don’t know how much time my life has been given.

5 years ago, I thought I was out of time, but God decided my story wasn’t finished, my job wasn’t done. I can’t pretend to know the inner workings of God’s mind, so I don’t know why I was called back.

All I know is that God decided I wasn’t done yet, and I have to be ok with that, despite knowing many people who aren’t given second chances.

Just because God has a plan for my life that doesn’t mean my suffering ends.

And no, suffering wasn’t part of the Plan at the beginning, but sometimes plans change. And the plan for humanity changed after the whole incident with Adam, Eve, and the devilish serpent.

The greatest downfall of man happened because of something the Greek Tragedy writers refer to as Hubris: excessive pride.

The pride of the first two people on earth doomed them and the rest of the human race to a life of suffering.

Suffering is hard to understand in the moment, but after the rubble begins to clear, you start to understand how strong you are.

I’ve started to understand how strong I am.

I’ve been sexually assaulted.

I’ve battled depression.

I attempted suicide.

I self-harmed.

I fought an eating disorder.

And I’m a stronger Christian now than I was before because through it all, God never left my side.

Because I am enough.

Eulogy for my Grandfather–9 years late

I remember where I was when I heard the news: I had just gotten home from a night at Youth Group, after a long afternoon of “Annie” rehersals. My parents sat the three of us down on their bed, and my Dad said, with tears in his eyes, “Boppa Guy died.”

I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of my lungs; my heart was pounding, and my eyes welled up with tears.

Your death hit me hard. I was in 6th grade, and at that point in my life, I didn’t know what fully death meant even though I had been to more funerals than weddings. Nobody so close to me had ever died before. All the deaths were such and such a person who had been “insert obscure relational title here.”

Your death was the first time somebody died that I had personally touched, whose voice I can remember clearly, whose laugh still rings in my ears. Your death was the first time a physical presence close to me had died.

Nine years later, I have come to understand what death literally means: a final cessation of all physical and mental activity. But nine years later, I have come to my own theories about death through my study of physics and my observations of how people interact with each other.

Yes, death is finite, unless you’re a Christian, in which case, death is temporary. But the finality of death is not important. What is important is what I’ve come to learn.

Physicists have this law called the “Law of Conservation of Energy,” which esentially states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it just is. The same amount of energy has existed since the universe has been created, and the same amount of energy will exist up until the moment the universe ceases to exist. The energy that exists today is the same energy that existed when George Washington walked this earth; it has just been transferred from one form to another over time: light, potential, kinetic, sound, etc.

This law walks hand-in-hand with my theory about death: a person dies when all of their energy has been transferred to other people (I’m not talking about physical energy that one can obtain from eating food. I’m talking about the energy that makes up the universe, the energy that a person is made up of: personality, beliefs, what some people call an “Aura”). For people who die young, either the have less energy to start out with or they transfer it more quickly. For people who die when they’re 116, they either start out with more energy or they transfer it more slowly over time.

I’ve come to discover that people start to resemble the people they hang out with the most, like how married couples begin to look alike, except my mannerisms begin to resemble the people I hang out with the most. My vocabularly has expanded and reshifted to mirror the vocabulary of the people I know the best. My personality changes depending on the group of people I’m hanging out with. This is the transfer of energy to which I am referring.

I don’t have any direct proof for any of this, of course. It’s all speculation based on observations and physics, but I’d like to believe that it’s true.

If it’s true, we have the potential to affect people generations from now, not just because of the laws we make, the legistlation we pass, how we leave the environment. But we also have the potential to impact people generations from now because of the transfer of energy. Theoretically, the energy you give off, the energy you transfer from one person to another could be vibrating and reverberating in the universe a hundred years from now, or at least, technically, in the gene pool of your descendants.

Physicists have also discovered that there are rays of light called photons that can pass through objects as they are drawn into the ground. I like to believe that all these particles that have bounced off people’s face, travelled through these people, on the way to their final distance (or where ever photons go) have had their paths forever changed because they came in contact with these people. I like to believe that the same photons that came in contact with Jesus have, at some point, come in contact with me, a legacy 2000 years in the making.

I have no proof of any of these, Grandpa. But it’s been nine years since you died, and sometimes the facial expressions my sister makes are expressions I swear I saw you make before. Sometimes I’ll make a joke, and my dad will say, “That was a Boppa Guy joke.” Your energy and the photons that came in contact with you are continuing to make an effort nine years later and will continue to make an impact generations from now.

It’s either physics or genetics, and I’d like to believe it’s a mixture of both. Genetics are powerful because a child can be the spitting image of a great-great-great grandparent they never met. But physics is powerful, too.

It’s the language of the universe, and I take comfort in language. So, I’m taking comfort in this theory about death.

Life is finite, and so is this eulogy. But I don’t know how to end this; I’ve never been good with endings. But I guess I’ll end with this:

Scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy, and they have found it accurate and consistent across space and time. Take comfort in that because God is the creator of space and time, and time is relative. Down here, on Earth, it’s been nine years. But in heaven, it’s been no time at all.

Bible WhatNow?

Disclaimer: Bible Quizzing is not for every one, and I was not paid to write this post, nor was I asked to in any way, shape, or form. This post has stemmed out of several conversations I’ve had over the past few days about Bible Quizzing, and you know, since I’m better at writing than I am at talking, I decided it would be more conducive for me to write it all out.

Question. Question Number 1 is a two part question. Question number 1 in two parts. Question. What is Bible Quizzing, and why do you do it?

What is Bible Quizzing?

That’s a complicated question. In the approximately 10 years I’ve been involved with Bible Quizzing, I still haven’t been able to string a set of words together to accurately describe what Quizzing is to those who haven’t seen it. But I’ll do my best because you all seem so interested in the topic.

First off, it’s not a room full of students sitting in neatly arranged rows of desks, taking a test on the Bible like an SAT or an AP. And it’s most definitely not a “Quiet, No Chatting, No Fun” Zone.

It’s like Jeopardy and Family Feud got together and had this child that also gives you a great leg workout if you do it right (And trust me, you want to do it right because one day you’ll know the answer but be outjumped and outgained by the kid from the other church you’ve been trying to beat for years). It’s an individual team competition, and I know that doesn’t make sense to those of you who don’t quiz, but it makes sense to those of us who do.

Because while we are trying to beat the team in the seats across from us, we are also trying to beat ourselves. How much of this can I memorize? How fast can I get up? Can I get more questions than I did last month?

And I don’t really know how else to describe what it is, except that I know I wrote a post about what Bible Quizzing is a while ago. You can read that if you like.

As for why I participate in it, that question is easier to answer.

I was forced. Or not, I can’t really remember.

If I was forced, it’s because I was a painfully shy child. And I’m not talking like “Won’t talk to strangers” type of shy; I’m talking “You’re my grandfather but I can’t ask you to play this game with me because what if you say no? So, I’ll just passively aggressively set this game up on the table and hope you get the hint that I want to play the game” type deal.

If I was forced, it’s because I needed to pop this “fear of people, rejection, and any type of social interaction” bubble that was surrounding me.

If I was forced, it worked.

If I wasn’t forced, it’s because I wanted to be involved in Quizzing.

If I wasn’t forced, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

I haven’t been a quizzer in three years, but why have I kept coming back?

Simple: the relationships.

The people I’ve meet through quizzing are easily the best friends I have ever had. It’s easy to say that you are best friends with someone when you see them almost every day, but when you only see them once a month, it’s a lot harder to call someone your best friend.

The relationships I’ve made through quizzing are easily the ones I cherish the most, no matter the miles or states that may separate us. The friends I’ve made through quizzing are the “I know it’s 3 in the morning, but I’m having a hard time. I feel like Atlas, holding the world up on his shoulders. But unlike Atlas, the sky is falling around me. It’s 3 am, and I called you because I knew you would answer” type friends.

I’ve stayed involved with quizzing because I want to be that friend for somebody, and I really love watching the quizzers grow and mature right before my eyes.

Quizzing is hard. I know that. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes the thought of studying and competing is overwhelming. Trust me, I understand. I’ve been there.

Numerous times throughout my quizzing career I thought about walking away. Between studying for school, balancing my Mental Health, and studying for quizzing, I didn’t think I could do it all. I couldn’t quit school, because that was frowned upon. I tried to quit life, and yet I’m still here. So, I tried to quit quizzing.

That didn’t work either because the relationships I made were too precious for me to give up on. So, I decided to focus less on the competition, which was never really a focus of mine anyways, except for that year and a half when I decided to memorize EVERYTHING.

Which was fun and all, but I realized winning isn’t everything. I cared more about my allies than my PPQI (which for all you sports fans out there is like a batter’s RBI). I started caring more about quality than quantity, but not everyone does, and that’s ok.

Quizzing is a combination of competition and fellowship, prasing and winning. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because all of these aspects put together contribute to the greatness that it is. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And you win some, you lose some. And I’ve won some great friends, some great confidence, and a greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Because my greatest enemies in the quizzing room became my greatest friends when the final question was finished.

And that’s the beauty of it all.

So yes, I think every body should try quizzing at least for one year, because you can’t really understand the fullness of its greatness without experiencing everything: the practices, the tournaments, the weekend getaway, the week long nationals, the victories, and the defeats.

It’s more than “you have to see it to believe it.” It’s more like “you have to experience it to understand it.”

And I hope you can experience it at least once, and if you can’t, I hope you at least are a spectator once because miracles do happen, and this is one.

6 Years Ago, I was Raped. This is kind of sort of (but not really) about that.

My body is a temple, which is better than a castle. Cinderella and all her princess friends better watch out, because I am a true Princess. A daughter of the True King, and I have come to claim my place in His Kingdom.

For years I’ve been looking for my beauty in all the wrong places.

You see, six years ago today, I was sexually assaulted. And for years I believed I was no longer beautiful. I had been dirtied by an act that society told me was my fault. I was impure. No longer worthy to be called innocent. No longer worthy to be called beautiful. No longer worthy of love, and I couldn’t even love myself.

I tried to destroy my temple of a body any way I could, over and over and over again.

I failed to realize I was beautiful all along.

I was beautiful when I was skipping meals. I was beautiful when I was self-harming. The temple was beautiful; the destruction of the temple was not.

Eating disorders are not beautiful.

Self-harm is not beautiful.

Mental illness is not beautiful.

But, I am. I am beautiful, and I was beautiful when I cut myself open trying to cleanse myself using my own blood. My scars are not beautiful, but I am.

I am beautiful because I have been sanctified through the washing of HIS blood, not mine. I am not a god, but I know a God who has made me in His image, making me beautiful despite my sins, despite my past, despite my scars.

I am a temple, and I destroyed these four walls of my body, but I have been rebuilt by the master carpenter. And I am stronger than I ever was before. I have come to realize that I am not ugly even though I have ugliness in my past.

Rape is ugly.

Self-harm is ugly.

Eating disorders are ugly.

Mental illness is ugly.

I am beautiful because of the way I have preserved through it all. I am beautiful because I have overcome. I am beautiful because my worth is not found here on earth, but in heaven. I am beautiful because I am a temple, a daughter of the King.

My beauty is not lessened by my past. My value does not decrease because of an act done to me by adolescent boys who were never taught how to properly treat women.

I am beautiful. But it’s taken me years to realize I have so much more to offer the world than my beauty.

 

 

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.