Sexual Assault Awareness Project


They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I wholeheartedly agree.  Photography has the power to convey an emotion or experience in ways that words simply can’t no matter how many are written or said.

Part of healing trauma is finding a way to process the painful emotions in a way that breaks their hold on the mind and body.  One of the best ways to do this is by finding creative, non-linear ways of expressing the painful and frightening emotions that are quite often too painful (or buried too deeply) to access in a more direct way.  Music, poetry, painting, dance, photography, etc..these are all very common creative expressions that can prove to have powerful healing effects for victims.  For me, well, I’ve always been partial to photography…

Last winter, my therapist noticed I was stuck in my ability to move past the sexual assault I experience a couple years prior.  While I was beginning to understand what really happened to me, I just couldn’t shake the pain and despair of such seemingly senseless violence.  The injustice of everything I experienced, including being silenced and shamed by police and “friends”, brought confusion and pain that lingered in my body and haunted my every thought.

In a stroke of brilliance, my therapist suggested that I connect with Liz Gilani, a photographer, to create a photo story to externalize my emotional experience with the assault.  The purpose being to not only process and resolve the trauma for myself but to also bring purpose to the pain.

I participated in this project in order to heal, but I’ve decided to share it for many more reasons than that.  Sexual assault is an absolute epidemic that is overwhelmingly ignored, denied, or at best met with indifference by our society.  One in four women are victims of sexual assault and those numbers are even low due to a severe lack of reporting.  Women fear reporting for many reasons including fear of retribution, being re-traumatized, shame and blame from others, self-blame, lack of support, and the most heart-breaking…because they see stories like mine where the police simply don’t care and they know their own fruitless efforts will only cause them more pain and suffering.  Of all issues, sexual assault is one of the most prevalent, relevant, and yet oddly one of the most ignored by society.

This photo story is my way of bringing justice to a situation that never found justice. I want the friends and family of my fellow survivors to truly understand the emotional and spiritual damage that is done through sexual violence so they can show more compassion and support to those who have been victimized.  I want our culture to understand that this issue is not to be taken lightly and that instead of blaming and shaming victims, we need to start holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

More than anything, I want victims to know they aren’t alone.  I want them to know that God did not want their experience to happen anymore than they did, and that He is on their side.  If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual assault and you feel like they would benefit from this story, please feel free to share.

Many blessings,

Ruthie Grace

** Before clicking, please be aware that some of these photos are very graphic and could be a potential trigger for some victims of sexual assault. **

Photo Story


Spiritual Abuse and Forgiveness


For many, the idea of forgiveness brings with it a feeling of inner peace, comfort, and freedom.  For those who have walked the road of deep remorse and regret for their own wrongdoings, forgiveness can taste very sweet.  As Jesus says in one of his parables, “…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36-50 ESV).  Likewise, he who is forgive much, loves much.  Forgiveness is, and should be, a wonderful thing.  But it isn’t always…

Like any other inherently good thing, forgiveness can be misused.  It can be taken out of context or used selfishly to further one’s own ends, or it can be applied inappropriately in ways that bring about harm instead of healing.  In these cases, forgiveness does not bring freedom at all, but rather further harm and in some cases, psychological and emotional trauma.

Here are some honest aspects of forgiveness and how they commonly get misused.

  1. Forgiveness is both a free-will choice and a process.  Forgiveness is misused when it is demanded, guilted, or otherwise manipulated from a person who has been wronged.
  2. Forgiveness requires a full acknowledgement and assessment of the wrongdoing and its effects.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with or implied to necessitate condoning, excusing, forgetting, or denying the wrong that has been done.  (As Pastor Mark Driscoll states, “forgiveness does not come with a side of amnesia”).
  3. Forgiveness is the process by which rightful emotions stemming from wrongdoing are resolved.  Forgiveness is misused when it is spiritualized in a way that dismisses the need for emotionally processing valid feelings of anger or pain associated with being wronged.
  4. Forgiveness is a personal process that takes place within the self.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with reconciliation with another person, especially when the other person has neither acknowledged nor repented of their wrong.

Forgiveness is, essentially, about our own heart and our own actions that flow from our heart.  It’s about not exacting vengeance or seeking retribution for the wrongs done against us (which is different from seeking justice, which should be pursued if violent or criminal activity is involved).  Forgiveness is the process through which we are able to both process and effectively resolve anger, pain, loss, and even rage resulting from harm that has been done to us.  The only emotion we are to look out for is that of resentment, which is simply the unresolved, unprocessed anger that has taken root in our hearts.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “be angry, and do not sin.”  It actually says “be angry!”  Anger is healthy and necessary to feel and process.  The only thing we aren’t supposed to do is use that anger as a reason or excuse to cause more harm.  But the emphasis of that scripture is on controlling our actions and responses, not in denying the initial emotions themselves.  Clearly, scripture expects anger (Jesus got angry a lot), especially in the face of wrongdoing.  However, scripture does expect and implore us to control it and handle it in healthy ways.

Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with the emotions of anger and rage, hurt, or grief.  Yet these are healthy and necessary emotions to feel, especially in the wake of loss, betrayal, or abuse. The full range of emotions need to be felt and acknowledged in healthy ways which, depending on the severity of the offense, may take anywhere from weeks to years to fully analyze, assess, and process.  And while it’s true that dealing with hurt feelings isn’t always easy, expecting a person not to have them when they have been harmed (or dictating how long you think they should last) is not only irresponsible and ignorant, it is further damaging.

If the rightful feelings of hurt, pain, loss, or anger are not allowed to be communicated or expressed in healthy ways, the only alternative is for them to settle into resentment or repression…that’s just how it works.  Allowing people around us to feel and healthily express the full range of emotions, especially in response to wrongs done against them is necessary and good.  We must understand that the entire concept of real forgiveness was hijacked for many people, not being used as a healing balm to restore but rather as a battering ram meant only to control, shame, and manipulate.  We need to understand how to help those people work through their feelings without further traumatizing them.

When people have been abused this way, they may hear the word “forgive” and, quite naturally, have a negative reaction.  Conscious nor not, the body and mind remembers former attempts at manipulation or psychological/emotional abuse and will respond instinctively to avoid it again.  What emotionally battered people need is compassion, a listening ear, and the freedom to both feel and communicate their emotions in healthy ways…not more dismissal of, shame about, or demands to feel or not feel their feelings.  This, as one can expect, only pushes a person into resentment…not lead them out of it.

I believe it’s our job as Christians, friends, parents, pastors…or just as compassionate people in general… to understand what it means to have suffered from spiritual abuse and learn how we can help and not further hinder those who have suffered it.  And whether intentional or not, callous dictates to “just let it go” or “move on” or “forgive and forget” can, and often do, deepen the emotional and spiritual damage of an already battered person, pushing them further away from healing than ever.  I hardly think that’s the goal of any well-intentioned individual, Christian or not.

If we are to truly help those who have been wronged or spiritually abused, we need to properly understand the emotional and psychological ramifications of that abuse.  We need to learn how to walk with people through the turbulent waters of emotional, psychological, or spiritual trauma so that we can patiently, kindly, and compassionately lead them to a place of healing and peace.  Then, and only then, is true forgiveness possible.







They Tell Themselves “She’s Strong”.


People are always telling me how strong I am…as though it’s a compliment or something.  But it isn’t…not for me.  Because I never feel strong, and being told I’m strong feels insulting when I am hands down the weakest person I know.  When my life’s story is that I have always been the unwanted, unloved, ignored, insulted, or abandoned one who never even had the guts or strength to breathe without apologizing for taking up someone else’s air.  The one so desperate for a friend that she’d jump at any measure of attention just because it felt like hope that I was worth something.  And that’s all I ever wanted from before I can remember – to just feel and be worth more than someone else’s beating post.  But I never was.  And nobody ever sees that. Why?  Because nobody thinks about the people they perceive as “strong”, even if those people are dying right in front of them.

The reality is I’m not strong, and never have been.  But nobody ever saw that and so I numbed the pain, shut everyone out, pursued abusive relationships, and sold my soul to the devil just because he offered a better looking lie than any reality I had ever known.  I lost myself and the capacity to handle life without completely tuning out or shutting down.  And now it takes every ounce of sanity and strength I have, every single day, just to pretend to be normal for long enough to keep people from asking too many questions.

Strong?  I have never been strong.  And I hate being told that I am because I can’t even hold myself together long enough to get through a day without thinking about how nice it would be to not wake up.  But nobody ever sees that because, quite frankly, they just don’t want to.  So they tell themselves, “she’s strong.”

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 Red Pill

“To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and the capacity for evil in human nature.  To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events.  When the events are natural disasters or acts of God, those who bear witness sympathize readily.  But when the events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator.  It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict.  The bystander is forced to take sides.  It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the person stand by and do nothing…the victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman

She’s right.  It’s true.  And if I hadn’t been on the victim side of this coin as many times as I have in my life, I would probably be right in line with the bystanders who successfully pretend it isn’t real.  The problem with suffering yourself is that it opens your eyes wide to the suffering happening all around you.  And once your eyes are open, you really can’t close them again.  It’s kind of like waking up from the Matrix.  You take the red pill and you go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.  The more you see, the more you experience, the more you suffer.  And you can’t go back and take the blue pill.  You can’t reverse the domino effect.  You can’t forget.

Suffering is a difficult subject to address, especially when you throw God into the mix and then try to figure out how it all makes sense.  Believe me when I say I don’t feel qualified to speak to the subject, especially not the God part of it.  I always believed that cursing at God and accusing him of being a horrible, malicious bully was wrong, but in the last few months I’ve made up for lost time. It’s been awhile since he’s gotten anything but rage, accusation, or the cold shoulder from me so needless to say, I probably shouldn’t try and give advice on God right now.

I don’t know a lot, but I know a couple things. I know that suffering is real and that everyone experiences it to different degrees.   I also know that denying or ignoring it are both really bad ideas.  For me, though, suffering has not just been a “season” in my life that I’ve just had to buckle down and endure until it was over.  In order for that to be true, I would’ve needed to experience something other than suffering to compare it to.  Suffering and extreme emotional pain is the very environment into which I was born and the only thing I understood of people and the world until I was 20 years old, which was when I felt a feeling of love for the first time in my life.  It was brief.  Very brief.  But though momentary, I’ll never forget the feeling.  Extreme emotional and psychological pain was set as my “normal” and was internalized as such by the time I was a young girl.

I’m only now able to see my life as being so painful.  At the time, it was just life and I probably would have found it strange not to feel the pain.  Although I was recently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after a recent trauma, there is no doubt that I have suffered with it for much longer than that.  I remember having flashbacks, extreme emotional responses to triggers, panic attacks, etc. since I was young.  Growing up in the family I did forced me to cope with life and chronic emotional pain in some really unhealthy ways.  One of those ways was an eating disorder that almost claimed my life at the age of 20.  I was also diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  I remember dissociating in a severe way after my parents got divorced and having no connection to my emotional or internal state at all.  I remember day dreaming about different ways to end my life because those were the only thoughts that brought relief from the endless emotional torture.  Even though in-patient and out-patient treatment brought physical life back to my body, I remember being forced to endure further trauma without the coping mechanism I had developed, pushing me even further into dissociation and a nearly complete level of emotional numbing.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  And to make it worse, I didn’t even know until recently what was actually happening to me.  At least now I have a name.  Something solid that can be studied and understood…explained.  Before, I was just acting out without a clue.

“War and victims is something the community wants to forget.  A veil of oblivion is drawn over everything painful and unpleasant.  We find the two sides face to face.  On one side the victims who perhaps wish to forget but cannot.  And on the other, all those with strong, often unconscious, motives who very intensely wish to forget and succeed in doing so.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman

Perhaps worse than the trauma, the abuse, and all the resulting effects, is the complete lack of acknowledgement from others.  I’ve had people ignore, deny, and dismiss my experiences just about as much as I’ve had the experiences themselves.  You wouldn’t expect a perpetrator to acknowledge the pain or abuse they inflict, but I think most people would expect others to.  Friends, family (given they aren’t the perpetrators), pastors, community…someone.  But I never had any of that.  Family and friends were usually the perpetrators.  I wasn’t allowed to show pain without incurring more of it, and strangers didn’t know the difference.  Ever since I was a little girl, all of the pain I have experienced has been internalized, shoved down, and locked deep inside my body and mind.  It comes out, but in ways people don’t understand and can’t recognize.  I have body aches, muscle aches, headaches, anxiety so high I can’t concentrate on or remember anything, I dissociate a lot, I isolate, I hide, and I run.  Or I fight.  If I can’t hide or feel trapped, I just start fighting and nobody understands why.  Sometimes they disappear but usually they just reign down insults, accusations, and shame on me…pushing me further and further into myself.

Sometimes I try to explain it but it doesn’t make sense to most people.  It’s only ever made sense to the people who have experienced similar things themselves, but there aren’t many of those.  The one hour a week of therapy I get is the only time in my life I don’t feel crazy.  It’s the only time I get to be honest and have someone treat me like I’m a normal human being.  It’s the only time I see or feel compassion from someone else.  The rest of life is just desolate, dark, despairing, and painful beyond all imagination.  It’s full of expectations I couldn’t meet on my best of days, and rejection.  So…much…rejection.  Some days I’m able to flip the switch and make myself go numb.  Other days, I lack the strength and the pain comes seeping into everything I do and say.

I don’t understand why God has made me suffer so much.  I don’t understand why he never gave me support or help to deal with it in better ways.  I can’t pretend to know why he’s sat back and watched as I disintegrate into a shadow of a person without ever stepping in, showing up, or making good on any of those lofty promises you read about in the Bible.  I can’t pretend that I still believe he’s good…not after I’ve spent years begging for help and healing and never getting any more than a turned back.  I can’t pretend like I know anything about anything any more.  But I do know that even though my body and my mind feel like they’re wasting away to death and destruction, my eyes are more open than they’ve ever been.  I see and feel not just mine, but other’s pain in ways I never did or could before.  I see the delusions and denials of the world more than ever before.  And I feel a rage towards it all that I’ve never had before.   If anything is for sure, it’s that I swallowed the red pill, and there’s no turning back.

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.