These Present Sufferings

Sometimes God makes you struggle for a long time before giving you understanding as to why.  Sometimes the understanding never comes and you just have to struggle your whole life without it.  Other times the struggle and the understanding come together.  I like those times.

I have a mixture of both these days.  There are long-sufferings so old I’ve long given up hope of  seeing resolution on this earth, and then there are shorter frustrations that turn around pretty quickly.

Like today, the internet went down at work just as two groups of customers walked in.  “Perfect…just my luck”, I thought.  I made the first set of drinks hoping the internet was just experiencing a glitch and would come back on so I could take their credit card payment.  No such luck.  I took the second set of orders and apologized that it was taking so long.  When I explained that my internet was down, one of the men in the second group said it was okay, that he could pay with cash.  He then offered (or rather insisted) on paying for the first set of customers in cash as well.

This sparked a short conversation about currency, during which a lady walked in and got in line.  She paid for her drink in cash, but then decided to add something else to her order.  The second group of customers had left (the ones who paid for the first group’s order) but the first group was still there.  To pay it forward, they left cash to pay for the lady’s order before they left.  She wasn’t aware of what had happened, so I explained it to her.  She was so touched by the gesture, she left $5 to pay for whoever came in next.  That $5 is now sitting under my register waiting for the next customer who walks in.

As luck would have it, my internet returned right after the whole group left and now I’m standing here wrapping my heart around it all.  My very first thought when the internet went down was “great, of course this would happen to me…”.  But now, not 30 minutes later, at least two people were blessed because of it…something that never would have happened if I was able to take that first payment.

I wish all frustrations in life were so quickly resolved.  But God is also showing me tiny glimpses into the long-sufferings that have plagued my life for, well, all my life.  Least of which being the torments and traumas that have so mangled my inner being.  The evils of this world bother me more than most, I think.  Probably because I have lived my entire life on the losing side of them…a fact I’ve been giving God my what-fors about lately.

Today He showed me something, though.  He gave me a glimpse into the inner-beings of the so-called “winners”.  You know, the ones who always seem to have life work out for them, get what they want, somehow always get others to give them things/serve them, etc.  He showed me inside the ones who don’t have the slightest idea what struggle and suffering really is…and it was not pretty.  In fact, it was so ugly it turned my stomach and changed my mind around from “why me?” to “thank you, Lord.”

He showed me that there is a choice between an easy life with a sick, petrifying soul or a difficult, suffering-filled life with a purified one.  Each soul can either submit to the purification process, which means submitting to suffering, or they can reject which case Satan is right there, dressed like an angel, waving a “This way to the easy life!” sign.  And most people follow that sign…that road is wide, after all.

But given what He showed me, I’m happy choosing the difficult life.  Injustice bothers me more than anything in the world, and that’s not likely to change.  But God showed me something – that those who have it so easy never make it to the mountaintops of God’s presence.  Why?  They never develop the legs for it.  So many people sell their spiritual heritage for ease and for comfort.  They get winded and turn back to their comfy chairs and baby bottles at every inconvenience…how could they ever survive the storm that is our Lord’s presence?  And it is a storm.

So I stand here again and thank God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Why?  Because I know it is producing in me a strength that will one day be able to withstand the all-consuming fire that is our God.  Our perfect, omnipotent, fire of a God.  And on that day I know that I will bow at His feet having accepted the sufferings from his hand (not always gracefully, but accepted nonetheless).  And I’d rather do so as a weather-beaten warrior than a whiney little baby.

So thank you God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Because I know that in you, no suffering is wasted.  Give me grace to trust you more, and more than anything….come.  Lord Jesus, come.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18






The Same, But So Different

I’ve been back from Africa for a couple weeks now.  Two days off the plane and my world was hit with an unexpected whirlwind of change and so my focus was immediately redirected.  As a result, I haven’t been able to reflect on and process my time in Kenya as much as I’d like; however, there is one particular memory from my trip that keeps running through my mind.

One of the most impactful moments for me during my time in Kenya was when we asked the older school girls to write down any question they wanted an answer to.  We promised to answer them to the best of our ability.  The questions all remained anonymous and we read them out of order so nobody would know who asked what.  I  wasn’t entirely sure how it would go or if they would open up, but I certainly wasn’t emotionally prepared for what came next.

The questions were real…raw…and utterly heartbreaking.  They revealed in such a stark and unfiltered manner the realities of these girls lives.  There was no sugarcoating, no stammering, and no apologizing.  Just real questions from real girls who needed real answers to the issues they face every day.

Some of the questions were ones I could have expected.  They were practical and asked how they could get money for school fees, materials, books, etc.  Some were theological and asked about God and Jesus.  But others….others were so difficult to read and harder to answer, I felt almost paralyzed with a heart-wrenching pain.  Questions asking what they can do when their mother yells at them or when their dad drinks and abuses them.  They asked what to do when their dads bring home different women to sleep with every night…kicking out their mom and making them sit there and watch/listen.  Many of the girls wanted to know about HIV and what to do if/when they are raped.

Their questions were so honest…so real.  And nobody in the room (besides the new Americans, probably) seemed taken aback by them.  As I read the questions out loud, I searched the eyes of these young women staring back at me and none of them were surprised at all.  This was just their life and they wanted to know what they could do….simple as that.  There was no shock or shame or anything else that would have certainly appeared in the faces of children in America, had they asked the same things.  But I did see something similar in all their faces.  They were all….hungry.  Hungry for answers, hungry for advice, hungry to be heard and cared for.  Hungry for answers, help, guidance, provision, salvation…anything, really.

We answered the questions as best as we could.  Obviously, we couldn’t force their parents stop beating them or make their fathers stop kicking out their mothers to sleep with other women.  We can’t prevent them from being raped or taken advantage of by ill-intentioned men, but we can…and we did try to…give them hope.  We gave as much practical advice as possible, but also made sure they heard the truth about who they are.  We encouraged them to focus on their studies, stay in school, develop their talents and skills, and make something of themselves before pursuing a husband or a family.  We encouraged them to value themselves and their future over the generations of cultural mandates telling them to drop out, have children at an incredibly young age, and continue the cycle of poverty.  We encouraged them to value their hearts and their minds and their bodies instead of giving them away to those who would only abuse them and throw them away.

And this is where everything started to sound and feel so very familiar.  I realized these women are not facing anything terribly different than what many women in America face every single day.  The fact that America is a 1st world county and Kenya a 3rd makes absolutely no difference in the amount or level of moral depravity, sickness, or abuses we face.  It makes no difference in the level of self-esteem and self-worth we have.  When a man or woman is abused, what does it matter how expensive their clothes are or what kind of car they drive?  Human nature is human nature.  And evil is evil…regardless of how it’s dressed.

Statistics show that one in six women in America are sexually assaulted while 99% of perpetrators never go to court, much less see a single day of jail (see stats here).  Women are objectified and used and then, metaphorically or literally, thrown away here just as much as anywhere else.  America has a massive porn problem (see stats here)and sex trade industry that is trafficking countless women and children through our states as sex slaves (see stats here), drug and alcohol addictions running rampant, children growing up being physically, sexually, psychological, and emotionally abused and/or neglected, huge amounts of homeless people in every city, etc.  We are simply not that different, and certainly not any better, than any other country on the planet.  We have the exact same problems here, so what does it matter what brand of clothing we are wearing or how much our houses cost?

The only difference I see, culturally, is that Americans (yes, I’m speaking generally here so don’t hammer me with exceptions to the rule) are so wrapped up in our image and the pursuit of personal comfort/gain that we refuse to acknowledge the moral depravity that is destroying lives all around us.  We insulate ourselves from every uncomfortable truth to the point that we can’t even handle hearing about it or looking at it, and we actively look away when it arises.  We choose to live in woeful ignorance of reality instead of facing it as it is.  Only a few groups here and there are even acknowledging our problems, much less trying to change them.  The rest of us are either blindingly unaware of them or actively choosing not to look at them.  Why?

Well, we wouldn’t want to be distracted from our nightly sitcoms or reality TV binges would we?  We wouldn’t want to feel  ::GASP:: responsible for helping or making a difference in the world.  No no…we don’t want to feel anything but the numbed out bliss of being a grown up pseudo-adult without any real responsibilities to anything or anyone.  Certainly not the responsibility of making a difference in other people’s lives.  No no, we want to drink our beer, chase our Pokemons, watch our TV shows, and still somehow hope to climb the social ladder.  We don’t want to…heaven forbid…look at reality or deal with it once we do.

In this way, I admire the school girls I had the honor of meeting in Kenya.  Yes, they have horrendous problems.  No, they do not live in the best of conditions.  But you know what they have that we don’t?  They have honesty.  They have integrity.  They have the strength capacity to look reality in the face and call it what it is.  They have the freedom to admit their problems, the humility to ask for help, and the eagerness to accept it…which is head and shoulders above what most attitudes are like here in America, despite the fact we face the exact same problems.  They had no shame in admitting their realities, speaking about the truth of it, and asking for help…something us Americans are so weak, prideful, and pathetically indifferent to do more than half the time.

I immediately felt an overwhelming admiration and respect for those girls.  In fact, I kept the notes they wrote with their questions and I carry them in my purse.  I look at them and pray over them.  I remember their beautiful faces, their searching eyes, and ask that God would empower each and every one of them to live lives free of abuse and oppression.  More than anything, I ask that we would all have that kind of courage and humility before God and before others, to admit our true state and ask for help.  Those young women are absolutely my inspiration.




The Evil of Ignorance and Cowardice

11102878_1568402683440561_5291121050511670223_nTorment is just…inescapable torture.  

Suppose a person has a generally good life, but encounters a few traumatic experiences along the way.  Depending on the extent of the damage, the person could develop some emotional problems or symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  Now, compare this understanding to someone who grows up in a traumatic environment every day of their lives.  Try to imagine the effects of that inescapable environment on the development of a child’s emotional and psychological make-up.  When pain or abuse is set as the standard of operation from the beginning, the child can have no other understanding of the world.  And that child is going to grow up and enter adulthood, unless someone or something has stepped in to fix it, with deformations of mind and emotions wholly different than a child who developed in a healthier environment.  Imagine how strange and, in a way painful, good experiences would feel to someone who only knows how to receive pain and feel the pain from bad ones.  Imagine what their mind, outlook, and emotions might be towards other people and the world when the people meant to love and protect them only used and abused them.  It’s hard to imagine, but try…

As adults, we can leave abusive friendships or relationships.  But as children, we are entirely dependent upon them.  I was born into a family that enjoyed inflicting psychological and emotional pain.  Because the abusers were my parents and family members, I paradoxically had to rely on my tormentors for my own life and well-being.  Instinctively, I knew I was supposed to love them and everything in me needed their love, but such love was never real.  It was always a trick, a bargaining chip, or a carrot held ever before my eyes but never within my grasp.  Love was always a game or means of control.  Everything I knew to be true about life, my identity, and my place in the world was taught to me by people who took pleasure in inflicting pain and then watching me writhe in it.  This was my “normal.”

In my home, the only feelings that mattered were the ones felt by my parents.  (And my brother’s, since he was a guy and guys were basically worshipped).  Generally though, children in my family’s mind were considered useless annoyances, except for how they could serve adults but even so, males were valued higher than females.  Women in my family were considered dirty, worthless, wastes of space unless they were bending over backwards to serve the males, who were doted on hand and foot until they reeked from self-serving arrogance, repeating the abusive cycle to all further women in their life.  Anyways, as you can imagine, as both a child and a female I was just double-shit-out-of-luck.

From day one of my existence, I wasn’t allowed to show feelings.  (Nor was I allowed to admit to having them, which was about the same as showing them).  I wasn’t allowed to show or admit to a personhood at all, but the most important part of that was feelings.  To paint a picture of the expectation of my home, I was born to be a robot who did as I was told, no matter how badly it hurt or how wrong it was.  And I was to always smile and be happy about it.  No…matter…what.

Those were the rules.  Simple, right?  My parents thought so.  But if, for any reason, I didn’t follow the rules with exact precision then the emotional consequences were swift and severe.  If I ever showed or even hinted at having a thought, feeling, opinion, or idea of my own, it was either ignored, criticized, or outright attacked.  One of those responses would be given in succession until I apologized for being so stupid, broke down crying from humiliation, or went completely numb from the sheer pain and confusion.  The goal was to get me to apologize for such an offense and return to my robotic status, no…matter…what.  Anything that caused me any type of suffering was either ignored or justified as being “right” and I was just being unreasonable and “too sensitive”.  If I showed pain at all, I would be lectured for it being my fault.   There were no other options.   These tactics worked well, which is why they were used so often.

I was a highly empathic kid.  I was ultra sensitive to mine and other’s feelings, a people pleaser, and a perfectionist.  My parents used all those qualities in the most perverted ways until the only definition of “love” I knew included emotional torment and pain.  I internalized all those messages and thought that this pain equalled love.  Only once did I persist in a belief beyond their usual attacks and it was the most violent I’ve ever seen them.

My sensitivity and emotional nature was a double-edged sword for my parents.  It allowed them to endlessly manipulate me, but it also sometimes frustrated them because I never understood why everyone else in the family was allowed to have thoughts, feelings, opinions, and beliefs that were all important and valid, but I was the only one who got crucified for having a single one.  I had an older brother who was never wrong.  He tormented me and my parents looked the other way, or they’d tell me it was my fault and that I was “just too sensitive”.  Then ignoring, criticizing, shaming, or all three until I stopped have feelings all together.  I would cry and then be punished further for showing pain.  I got in trouble for having my own ideas, laughing too loudly, or crying too much.  Except for sometimes, my parents would enjoy my crying and egg it on.  My father especially.  He found no end of humor to my pain.  He’d laugh and laugh until I just went blank and numb.  When that happened, his source of amusement was gone so he’d suddenly have no more use for me.  He’d lecture me and then be done with me.

The one time in my life I felt so strongly convicted about the wrongness of a family matter that I persevered in standing up for something (and it wasn’t even myself.  It was someone else who was being abused in my family) beyond these three reactions.  That is when my father resorted to physical violence.  First, he threatened me that I had better keep quiet.  Then when I persisted, he grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me, threw me on the couch, and then blocked the doorway so I couldn’t leave while he screamed more threats and shame at me.  Because I was small and he was very large, I was able to squeeze out of the doorway, but I was so panicked at his physical assault that I was crying aloud and repeating “don’t touch me, don’t touch me” over and over and over again.  When my grandparents and brother woke up, my father instantly turned on his charm (like only a good narcissist can do) and pretended to have absolutely “no idea what she’s going on about, she just went crazy.”  I had called my aunt and uncle and asked them to come get me and let me stay at their house that night.  In response, my grandmother stole all my belongings and held them captive and locked the doors.  When my aunt and uncle arrived, she told them to leave (I was being held back so I couldn’t leave the house).  But as they were driving away, I was able to wriggle free.  I had to leave all my belongings behind but I was able to run out of the door and jump into their van before they got out of the driveway.

Later on, my brother (who was not present for any of the events with my father) scolded me and told me that none of it happened.  He told me and the rest of the family that I had made it all up.  Because my brother is regarded as “perfect,” everyone believed him, including my mother who was in another state at the time.  My mother’s own next words to me were, “I wash my hands of this, do not ever speak of it again.”  Though this was the only time I remember being physically assaulted by a family member, these were the mental games I lived with from the time I was born.  I remember being raped by my first boyfriend and when I told my dad, my dad’s response was, “well?  What did you do to deserve that?” and then it was never mentioned again.  I told my brother and not even looking at me, he said, “huh…”, and then went on with what he was doing.  This is what my normal was.  My standard.  This is what I was worth.  I was told this is “love.”  I had nobody telling me different, so I had no standard of comparison.  Love hurt, and that’s all I’ve ever known.

Growing up, I never knew what to expect or how to avoid being in trouble simply for being a human being.  I remember wishing I wasn’t alive and wishing I could die from a very, very young age.  I was hated and unwanted by my own family and had no other concept of being.  I was in so much emotional pain that I developed an eating disorder when I was 16 and nearly died of it when I was 20.  At no time during those four years did anyone in my family intervene.  In fact, my own father tried to convince me that I didn’t need treatment.  I was 80 pounds, my hair was falling out, I was losing my eye sight and cognitive functions, and his exact words were, “why would you shoot a bazooka when all you need is a handgun?  I’m sure a little bit of therapy will be just fine.”  If I had listened to him, I would have died ten years ago.

I don’t remember a single time in my childhood or adult life where I was not living in excruciating…mind numbing…emotional pain.  Neither do I remember a time in which I wasn’t forced to completely ignore that fact and pretend to be happy.  My entire life and survival for the first 26 years depended on my ability to fake all of my emotions.  I had to do it for so long, I’ve lost the ability to be in touch with painful emotions at all.  They exist, they’re just disconnected.  Emotional dissociation..or something like that.  I can recount horror stories from my life with zero emotional affect, as though I’m a news reporter reporting someone else’s pain.  To me, it’s just a story.  It’s just facts.  My emotions about them have been buried for so long, I don’t know how to feel them anymore.

What I do have feelings about, though, are the people who actively refuse to acknowledge abuse of any kind, especially emotional, when it is presented to them.  And I’m learning a few things as I walk this road of self-discovery.  I’m learning that what is too horrific and scary for most people to even allow themselves to acknowledge… has been my own “normal” reality for 31 years.  As I recount experiences that are very painful (like sexual abuse, gross manipulation, lies, betrayals, physical abuse, etc) and people literally refuse to acknowledge it…you can only imagine how painful and infuriating that is.  It’s like being a child brought up in a war zone for 31 years who is then suddenly flown to a far away place full of people who are so sheltered and spoiled they all just decided in their heads that war doesn’t even exist.  Can you imagine how insane that kid would become?  That kid would be begging to be returned to the war zone after a week.  War may be scary as hell and painful, yeah, but at least people aren’t delusional.  Even a war zone is preferable to living in brainless, mindless, la-la land where everyone is so doped up on their indulgences they don’t even live in or experience reality.

Truth is, I have more disdain for those people than I will ever have for my abusers.  And I don’t mean the people who just didn’t realize bad things were happening but are still concerned about it.  I mean the people who choose not to look at it because they couldn’t possibly be inconvenienced by it.  9 times out of 10, my abusers were abused themselves.  Their own minds and hearts were twisted at a young age and corrupted by the exact same evil and sin they committed against me.  Their pain was probably ignored the same way mine was and they were forced to act out in ways they didn’t even understand.  Though I would never excuse or condone their actions and I hold them all personally accountable, at least there is grounds for understanding it.  But the people who are so privileged, so sheltered, so blind, so insufferably arrogant that they “see” but yet refuse to even engage other’s sufferings simply because they don’t care.  I can’t even be around those people.  I can’t tolerate or listen to their incessant, whiny, selfish drivel when their idea of “suffering” is simply not getting their self-centered way all the time.  It’s like listening to a room full of insolent 3 year-olds, except they’re adults and should know better.  Those are the people I avoid even more than the abusive ones.

It’s a rare soul indeed who, whatever their experience, can both listen to and engage another’s pain in a real and compassionate way.  It’s a rare soul indeed who will listen to and believe a victim’s story, or take action to help.  And sometimes that’s just listening, believing, reflecting, responding, and supporting.  It’s checking in and being a very real presence or helping in whatever ways are possible.  It’s a rare soul indeed who will step out of their own fantasies and assist those who are suffering, struggling, and hurting.  For me, those souls have been so few and far between.  (And are mostly in the form of four-legged animals).

All I really know is that there aren’t many out there.  And unless you are one, I cannot believe you are a Christian.  Because God has called us…all of us, painful pasts or not, to be the oasis of safety, love, and acknowledgement to those who are hurting and suffering in unimaginable ways.  The suffering is real.  The pain is real.  The evil and sickness and all it’s effects are real.  The war is real and you can’t turn a blind eye – ignoring it, disregarding it, excusing yourselves out of it, blaming the victims for it, or wasting your lives in front of damn computer or tv screens.  You don’t get to pretend you didn’t know, because you do.  You’re just ignoring it.  And chosen ignorance is just as evil.  Not wanting to see so we don’t have to feel bad or step out of our precious comfort zones.  But God will hold us responsible for that, too.  We will not escape account for the evil we heard about, knew about, or even saw first-hand and yet said nothing – did nothing -about.

As Edmund Burke said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”






The Lies We Tell



So many lies.  Lies we live in, lies we believe, lies we speak.  Perceptions we cling to with no more truth than the fairy tales we make up, with egos and feelings creating the constructs that support our lies so we can live with them in peace.  We invent realities that conveniently cater to the most selfish, lazy, ignorant parts of ourselves and then we lie some more to negate responsibility for the damage they create.  We focus on everything but the sickness in our own hearts.  We are lazy, we are selfish, we don’t like seeing truth, and we’d rather discredit it and the people who speak it rather than move beyond our own ignorance.

We cling to our lies with our lives.  We love our fantasies about who we are and what the world is like.  We harbor them, foster them, and we protect them.  At best, we avoid the people who don’t follow along with them.  At worst, we seek to discredit them.  We either take the cowardly way and become passive aggressive, or we outright destroy them with gross displays of power and dominance.  Both are equally sick and evidence of our disease.  The slightest break in our self-deception, we turn into ravenous lions ready to spill blood at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes only moments after we’ve portrayed ourselves as innocent little kittens.  How deceived we are.  In one way or another, we kill the seers and their truth in order to protect our lies…our self-image…and the made-up constructs that keep us safe from admitting fault or taking personal responsibility.  In our most authentic core, we are murderers and liars.

We wonder.  We wonder why the God of the Old Testament was “angry” and why the God of the New Testament had to die.  We do not see that every ounce of His anger is just and that we are this sick from the moment we are born.  Jesus died because He spoke the truth to people who did not want to hear it…people who held the power to put Him on the cross to shut him up…and did.  It was the only way to create a possibility for us to be cured and God wanted that more than his own comfort.  Without the cross, we would be lost in our sickness forever.  Because of the cross, we now have a choice…a possibility to be cured.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.  And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

~Luke 14:26, 27 & 33

Whoever said that salvation is free was not being very clear.  Perhaps we did not pay for God to create the cure, but it will cost us everything we have to get it.  It costs our flesh, our comfort, our pride, our self-indulgence, our laziness, our cowardice, our lusts, our greed, our egos, and our false self-perceptions.  It costs our safety and our security.  It costs us being “right” and it costs us every worldly thing we love.  He loved us enough to tell us the truth about who we are, even though He knew we’d kill Him for it.  Even though He knew that most of us would look the other way and not believe it.  But He still did it, because some of us would be broken by the truth instead of hardened by it.  Some of us would struggle in our pain and reach out to Him…desperate.

He did it for the some who would desire His salvation and for them, He promised that His work on the cross would be enough.  And it is.  It is the hardness of His love that breaks the lies we tell and believe.  And it’s softness that, once broken, will reconstruct us with the skill and precision of a surgeon.  We will be made new, but it will always come at the cost of the lies we tell.






Love And Justice


“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves’…”

-C.S. Lewis; The Problem of Pain

The idea of God loving me has never been a particularly emotional reality.  To me, it has always been a fact – no more emotional than the sky being blue or the fact there’s a mall within driving distance of my house.  It’s a simple reality with associated realities that are logical outworkings of the first.  They make sense, and none of them require emotions in order to understand and accept, so I’ve never understood the people who get so worked up about it.  I confess I tend to stay away from those types – not because I think they’re wrong, but because it’s weird.  Getting emotional about uncomplicated facts means I’m likely to respond as though they’re acting like idiots (which I have not found to be a particularly helpful response with more emotional people…).

A big reason I don’t emotionally respond to love is that whenever I encounter the subject, it is usually completely separated from other equally important characteristics.  Like C.S. Lewis says, when talking about God’s love we usually just mean His kindness or desire to see us happy, but ‘senile benevolence’ is not really love (as much as some may like it to be).  Lewis goes on to say that God is not content with our personal happiness while we are deplorable creatures needing discipline, training, courage, maturity, or seeking after things that take us away from Himself.  Despite our objections, love necessitates that He stretches us, disciplines us, and grows us into more lovable creatures.  Additionally, there is no way to separate love from justice without them each becoming fundamentally different and undesirable.  Love without justice is mere pity.  It’s effectually worthless sentiment.  But justice without love is just plain cruelty and so the two must coexist in order to be good.  The truth is, if you want me to feel God’s love then we must begin the conversation somewhere other than kindness or benevolence.  We must begin with His truth.  We must talk about justice.

When God’s justice comes into question, so does His love and goodness.  Almost everyone I know who does not believe in God holds such beliefs because they cannot reconcile a loving and omniscient God with the amount of pain, suffering, and injustice they see or experience in the world.  And even though I understand the emotional hang-up, there is no direct correlation between human action and God’s goodness.  Instead of blaming people or ourselves for sufferings, we blame God and demand answers:  “If you’re so good and loving, then why did you sit back and allow (__Fill In The Blank__) to happen?”  “If you’re so good, then why didn’t you stop (__Fill In The Blank__)?”  We see a tiny picture and don’t understand the bigger one.  We demand explanations without actually wanting the answers…  We are fools.

The first time in my entire life that I questioned God’s love, I was really questioning whether or not He was just and good.  I was 24 years old and had been raped two years prior.  I had always been told that God was my Heavenly Father, but that didn’t make any sense.  I couldn’t process how God, who I assumed to be present during the rape and capable of preventing it, could be good (or just) if all He did was sit there and do nothing.  If He had been human and had sat in the corner and watched it happen without interfering in any way, how could anyone say that he loved me?  I literally could not process it and could not feel God’s love (or more accurately, I couldn’t feel His justice and goodness). I’ll never forget the day I genuinely asked, “God, if you love me and are my Father, how could you have just sat there and done nothing while he raped me?  That isn’t good or loving.”  I did not ask the question as an accusation, but rather as a desperate plea to understand the truth.  The moment I asked the question, I heard the answer in my spirit:

“Bethany, if I had interfered with him in that moment, I would’ve had to overrun his free will.  I would have had to take away the very thing that makes you and everyone else in the world human.  I would have temporarily forced him to be a mindless puppet, and then released him back to free will.  Taking away someone’s ability to choose renders their actions meaningless.  It renders love meaningless.  I can only love you and you can only love me if you choose me, and that means having the freedom to choose evil as well.  He chose evil, but I could not take away that choice.”

And in that moment, I understood.  And in that understanding, I was loved.   That answer didn’t return what had been robbed of me, but God honored me by speaking truth into my heart and helping me understand Him and that is what fixed my relationship with Him.  I knew that I was loved and the feeling came by being told the truth.  It came from having God speak to me and tell me the truth no matter how hard it was to understand.  From then on, I realized there were bigger things at play than my own personal happiness and that what I was asking God to do by “saving me” from being hurt would actually be an unloving thing to do in the bigger picture.  It helped put my upbringing and all the abuse of my life into perspective.  For all the injustice of my life, I realized that God has to allow for the possibility to choose evil over good because that is the only thing that makes the good worth something.  God gives us the freedom to choose evil if we so desire, even with the knowledge that we will abuse it and use it against one another and Him.  Yet He still offers it, knowing that our choice to love and to be with Him is only made valuable by having the freedom to do otherwise.

God fixed the truth into my heart that day, but Satan was not finished with me yet.  Six years after the rape, I went through a different trauma that made the first feel like a walk in the park.  And this time, the previous truths didn’t apply, nor did they explain the pain I was experiencing.  The second trauma was not my fault, but I blamed myself for it anyways and nothing took away that specific type of suffering. For some reason, the only thing my emotions wanted to do was turn on myself and as the host of self-condemning messages flooded me, I was instantly separated from God – totally alienated from His truth, love, or justice.  Logically, I could tell myself I wasn’t responsible for someone else’s choices and actions, but my feelings and emotions still condemned me regardless and there’s no way to combat that.  You can’t repent for something someone else did – even if you feel responsible for it.  No matter how hard I searched, there was no justice or solid truth anywhere, and the concept of free will didn’t apply.  There was genuinely only one thing, and that was complete and utter darkness.  Condemnation and darkness.  I begged for God to speak to me the way He did before, desperate for an answer or some word that would help me understand how or why it happened.  But the answer never came and I was forced to question once again whether or not God loved me or cared – whether He was just or good.  It took weeks after the traume for me to even think straight and much longer to feel anything other than panic or numbness.   It has now been 8 months since and I can’t say much has circumstantially changed, but I have learned a few things.

I’ve learned there is a level of brokenness that goes deeper than any words can describe, and trying to describe it only cheapens it.

I’ve learned that Satan is real and active in this world, and that denying that fact only makes us accomplices to it.

I’ve learned that ignorant people are just as dangerous as evil ones.

I’ve learned that some people legitimately do not choose their actions, but they give their hearts to Satan and that still makes them responsible.

I’ve learned that I can relate to nearly anyone, but almost no one can relate to me.

I’ve learned there are some things to which only silence can do justice.  Some things can only be experienced, not spoken, and the best way to communicate an understanding is simply in a look, a touch, or a kiss.  But mostly…silence.

I’ve learned that the people who think they know how to help, usually don’t.

I’ve learned that God is not always going to exact justice in my timing.  I’ve learned to trust that in the end, it will come…and it will be worse than anything I can imagine myself.

I’ve learned that Jesus didn’t get justice in His lifetime either, but He still loved God and so should I.

I’ve learned that God isn’t always going to answer my questions, but He is going to love me and sometimes that brings unspeakable pain.

I’ve learned that God loves me enough to break my illusions about love into a zillion pieces.  He loves me enough to walk with me through the pain of that, and give me the experiences that allow me to relate to Him more.  He loves me enough to hurt me with the truth even when it nearly destroys me.

I’ve learned that God loves me enough to turn me into the image of His son.  And His son was betrayed, beaten, bruised, and broken so I should really start getting used to it.

I’ve learned that it is people who are evil, twisted, abusive, selfish, and stupid…not God.

More than anything, I’ve learned that love is not easy.  It does not feel good.  It does not always make sense and it does not equal happiness or contentment.  I’ve learned that love is always in the truth, no matter what that feels like, and that perfect justice will come in the end – even when there is absolutely none within the circumstances in which I live. I’ve learned that God is good, He is Love, and He is just.  I have learned to love him, understand him, relate to him, and believe in Him more now than I ever have before, even if He did allow the gates of hell itself to swallow me whole.  I’ve learned that He is perfect, He is trustworthy, and He is true.  And I’ve learned that love and justice will always coexist in perfect harmony with Him, whether I see it with my own eyes or not, and that I would be a disparaging fool to doubt it.

The Vacant Expression Of A Crushed Spirit

I had a strange experience the other day while spending some quality outdoor time with a friend.  We were enjoying a beautiful day and snapping some photographs when my friend looked at me and asked with concern,”are you okay?  You aren’t smiling in any of these pictures, are you upset?”

At first I was a little confused, as I was neither upset nor tired.  My only feelings in the moment were happiness, contentment, and excitement.  Outdoors on a gorgeous day is one of my happiest places to be, after all.  But when I looked down at the camera, I could see it – an unconvincing attempt of a smile, with lips stretched horizontally across the face but not quite up at the ends into a real grin.  It was a look I’ve seen a million times, except not in my own reflection.  This was my mother’s smile, the exact same one she always had in photos – the one that always made me wonder why she even bothered smiling at all.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I felt when looking at my mother’s smile on my own face.  Mostly shock, mixed with some sadness and disappointment.  I mean, I know the reason why I wore the look and I wonder if, at least in part, it’s the same reason she did.  Despite some significant differences between my mother and I, what we have in common are lives defined by emotional and psychological abuse.   I was abused by her and my father, she was abused by her parents, and so on down the line.  And even though our responses to such abuses were very different, the damage done to us was the same and it was that same look of brokenness that I saw staring back at me in that photo.  There is something hauntingly familiar in the vacant expression of a crushed spirit.

The unfortunate but true reality is that my mother is an angry and spiteful woman who would rather stab you in the chest than show you an ounce of concern.  She even frequently bragged that she never felt mercy for anyone – a truth she demonstrated on a daily basis.  I, on the other hand, feel everyone’s pain as if it were my own and frequently, though not intentionally, end up hurting myself while trying to help them.  Though I was equally horrified at the sight of her smile on my face, I also felt a pang of empathy for the woman who bore me.  Which isn’t to say I excuse her.  She really is, if you can imagine it, more like an untamed lion infected with rabies than a human being.  You can pity it and even feel compassion for it’s condition, but no matter how safe it may seem while asleep, it will kill you the moment you’re within reach.  My mother is the exact same sort and you can only feel anything resembling compassion for her while at a very…very safe distance.  Otherwise, you’re only thoughts are of survival…or death.

But even so, that half-hearted smile looked the same on both our faces and there’s really no ignoring the brokenness behind them.  From a distance, I do feel sympathy for the rabid lion who daily ripped my soul to shreds – not because I excuse her, but because I know well the pain that drove her to such a reprehensible state.  Do I think she’s responsible for how she treated me?  Yes.  It was her choice to let the pain turn into a narcissistic hatred.  And it is still her choice to continue in such hatred and vile darkness without even the desire to change.  She has chosen her lot.  Do I care to ever be near her again?  No.  Cohabitation with the rabid lion would be safer.  But my heart is still sad that she chose not to overcome the evil done to her, and is instead a willing conduit for it.  I cannot help her or save her, but from a distance, I do indeed pity her.

I am reminded that she and I were both infected with the same deadly poison.  And I am reminded that I have the choice whether or not to allow darkness to consume me or to choose light.  The reality of that makes me fearfully fall on my face before God.  Begging for mercy, for help, for healing, and to ask that I be spared from the fate that every single person in my family has met.

Lord, please keep the darkness away.  If I must bear continual pain, then keep me in the brokenness until you overcome it with love.  Do not let me turn to hatred and darkness for comfort.  Let the fires of my heart burn with love, justice, truth, and mercy.  Let me only hate that which is evil.  Lead me always into your light and goodness.  Amen.

To Hide And To Rest

“Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.  And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.  My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”

– Isaiah 32:16-18

I feel a few things when I read these words.  The first being excitement at the idea of justice dwelling “in the wilderness.”  If this world is anything, it’s a wilderness.  And of all the awful things that take place in this wilderness, such rampant injustice is one of the worst.  And I don’t just mean that which has happened to me – I mean that everywhere I look, there seems to be evil and injustice stealing love and peace from innocent people, the severity of which is far more upsetting than things that have happened to me.  It is without a doubt the hardest thing I struggle with.  Often enough, the only idea that brings me consolation is that justice and righteousness will, one day, overcome this deeply twisted world.  I certainly feel hope when I read of concepts like these.

As I continue reading though, my feelings begin to change.  It seems that words of peace, quietness, trust, security, and rest do not immediately produce any feeling at all and the excitement switches rather dramatically to a vague and far-away sense of confusion – as though I’m reading words of a language I do not know.  Yes, I can spell and even pronounce them correctly, but it’s disconnected as I have no idea how they’d look or feel.  The best I can manage is to think of scenes from movies and imagine the happy feelings that would embody those ideas.  But they’re imaginary to me.  I can’t think of a single memory or experience in which I actually felt peaceful or secure. If I have any, they were either illusions or have long since been forgotten.

The other day, I was having a conversation with God about some issues I currently face.  These issues directly effect my life and future, but I have not been allowed any control or influence over them.  No amount of action (or inaction) makes any difference at all, which leaves me feeling wildly fearful and out of control. After expressing these fears and frustrations to God, I asked what He wanted me to do and the only two words I felt in my spirit were the exact words I don’t know how to implement.  Those words were “hide” [in Him, not from life] and “rest.”

Ugh…really?  Of all times that ‘rest’ may seem like a reasonable achievement, this is most certainly not one.  My life and future are currently shrouded in darkness and hang in the balance of strangers I don’t even know.  Hell, I don’t even know how I’m going to feed myself next month. Every moment is ridden with anxiety, so this is most certainly not the time in which I would think, “Yay!  Let’s take a break!”  Quite the opposite.  Sheer panic is far more natural…and yet…God did not stutter.  In fact, the words rang in my spirit so loudly they may as well have been audible.  I can’t exactly pretend like I didn’t hear them.  (Well I suppose I could, but being a foolish idiot isn’t a flaw I particularly wish to add to my already long list.)

So… now I struggle.  To hide in Him and rest during the most anxiety-filled, out-of-my-control, world-altering season of my life is the exact opposite of everything I find natural. It also requires trust, which I fully believe was left entirely out of my genetic makeup.  To entrust myself (or my life, or my feelings, or my plans, or my future) to anyone outside myself has never come naturally, even before I encountered betrayal and trauma.  I even prefer the self-checkout at the store because it seems quite stupid to have another person do something for me that I’m fully capable of doing myself.  (In all fairness, that’s also because I find non-essential human interaction an annoying waste of time.)  My very first words were “me do it myself,” for crying out loud!

But back to my point… it takes an enormous amount of conscious effort and energy to act so counter-intuitively, which isn’t helped in the least by having PTSD. Even if I do manage a meager amount of trust that maybe, just maybe, things are going to be okay…random interactions trigger the PTSD and then all internal hell breaks loose. Feelings and memories I can’t control flood my body, setting off the fight-or-flight response which then takes hours, days, or even weeks to settle. And you never know when those triggers will get flipped, which is anxiety-producing in itself.  (And people wonder why I prefer to be alone.  Holy cow…believe me, it’s for the best.)

Anyways, when I think about it though, a lot of Jesus’ instructions are counter intuitive.  The last shall be first, the poor shall be rich, you must give to receive, and to lead you must serve.  To rest and have peace during the world’s worst hurricane is right in line with the rest of his teachings, and is clearly illustrated in many a Biblical story.  Remember when Jesus called Peter out of the boat and onto the crashing waves?  There was a storm on the sea and there Jesus is, walking on the water and beckoning Peter to come hang out with him.  You know, like it’s no big deal.  Peter begins to walk on the water but then begins to sink as he sees all the waves crashing around him.  Imagine the panic he must have felt at THAT moment.  Now imagine living in that state of panic for months and years on end.  Yeah…not cool.

But here’s the thing.  Maybe I was never meant to experience peace, quietness, trust, security, or rest as part of this broken world.  Maybe Christ, and “hiding” in Him, is the only place I will ever learn what those words mean – even while the world rages on around me.  I may be 30 years old, but I have absolutely zero experience with any of this so I might as well be a newborn.  But again, wouldn’t that be in line with scripture?  Being “born again” has a lot of implications…one of which is that no matter how old we are, following Christ is going to be a new start.  We are going to learn things we never knew or understood before and in losing our life to Him, we will truly find it.

For me, lessons in rest and trust are only now beginning, but I am committed to learning them.  I may not always have a clue what they mean or what they look like, and sometimes I legitimately think God has lost his ever-loving mind.  But I also don’t go back on my commitments which means I’m going to figure this thing out one way or another.  And in the meantime, pray that He sustains me as I fumble and crawl along this rocky path.