This is something I have struggled with for a long time. Because I’ve struggled with it personally, I’ve also struggled with finding the right words to put this into a coherent message. I have tried no less than half a dozen times to write this down; sometimes there are no words, and sometimes there are many, many words. And sometimes, like today, your computer restarts in the middle of your hot streak and for some reason nothing is saved. So here I am, trying again, and saying a silent prayer: God, I’m showing up – join me.
I want to share with you something that I know in the deepest part of my heart and soul to be absolutely, positively true: God has a plan for you. Some of you are thinking, “Well, we know that, it’s VBS 101.” But if we were to be brutally honest with ourselves, and really examine our thoughts and feelings when things take a turn for the terrible, the tragic, and the unacceptable, a part of us just might question God’s plan.
So I’m going to tell you how I know that even in the midst of really, really bad stuff, God knows what He’s doing. (This is the part where I remind God that I’m here, and ask Him to have my back).
Before I go any further, I think this is deserving of a brief background for those who only know me now, and didn’t know me then. I grew up in a very small town. I went to a small school. I had a small group of friends. We did small things. When I became a senior in high school I knew one thing for certain: it was my chance to get out. Graduation was just around the corner, and I knew I wanted to attend college away from home. I wanted to meet new people, learn new things, experience a new life. At 17 years of age, I packed my bags and headed off to school about an hour from home. That might not seem far, but for me, it was far enough.
On September 12th, 2001, a group of freshmen decided to go out for dinner. It was the day after 9/11, and we wanted to be together, to try and make sense of the events that were unfolding in our nation. We hopped into a classmate’s car, and headed out.
As an adult, I often reflect back on that decision to get in the car with these people who in reality I’d only known six short weeks. The level of trust we feel as children and teenagers is tremendous. Everyone is your friend; everyone means well, everyone cares about you and would never do anything (intentional or otherwise) to hurt you. Of course now I know how incredibly untrue that is. With age comes wisdom.
The roads were wet. The car was fast. Our friend and driver had a penchant for racing his Camaro at one of the local tracks. When the light turned green at one of the major intersections on this eight lane highway, he felt compelled to race the car next to us.
Once the car was recklessly exceeding the speed limit, we crossed the median into oncoming traffic and struck a pick-up truck. There was a loud thud followed by a feeling I can only compare to that of what I’d imagine a pinball to experience, and the overwhelming smells of gasoline and oil. I remember yelling and screaming. I remember how very, very dark it was. I remember there was glass everywhere, especially as I climbed through the shattered back windshield and onto the trunk of the car. And I remember, as I laid in the middle of the road, that it had finally stopped raining.
I was told the Jaws of Life were needed to free the driver of the pick-up truck and my suitemate, both of whom were Traumahawked to area hospitals. The remaining three of us were loaded into an ambulance. We were sharing the ride because the awful weather meant there were several other accidents on the roads that night, and first responders were in short supply.
A few hours and one broken pelvis later, I was headed home. I was forced to withdraw for the semester so that I could fully heal. When I returned to school for the winter session, it was my local community college. I was back in my small hometown.
Life post-accident was different, and certainly not what I’d planned for myself. I was angry and hurt, and I was very, very unsure of where I would be heading. I had entered college confidently majoring in Pre-Law and here I was now: Undeclared.
This is where I get to the very difficult part of my story. I’m going to keep it brief, because it’s not the most important thing here; rather, it is what ultimately brought me to the most important thing.
I recently read Slaughterhouse Five, and came to a passage in which Billy Pilgrim describes a stay in a mental institution. After a visit with his psychiatrist, Billy remarks “I suppose I was keeping secrets from myself after all.” There it was: a single sentence that resonated with me so strongly, I had to put the book down.
You see, I am a person who compartmentalizes, who keeps secrets from myself. Then, suddenly, an event triggers a repressed memory and a flood of thoughts and feelings and junk I’ve never even acknowledged – let alone dealt with – come like a deluge. Your body kicks into fight or flight. All my life, I have chosen flight. Today, I am choosing FIGHT.
A lot of things happened after that accident and subsequent move back home, but one particular series of events has been the greatest area of struggle in my life. And so, because it’s still very difficult to talk about, I’m going to keep it very brief: A person in my life, someone whom I thought I trusted, exhibited behavior toward me that was completely irreprehensible and disgusting: repeated attempts of molestation. I hesitated to even use that term, molestation, because for so long I didn’t think it truly fit the definition of what typically comes to mind when you hear it – certainly not what you read about in the paper or see on the news. But it was a recurrence that was absolutely inappropriate. I felt taken advantage of, and I felt powerless. I also felt that because in my mind it wasn’t really abuse that maybe I was just overreacting, and because of that, I never said a word to anyone. Over time I realized that if certain words or actions or touches made me feel that uncomfortable and victimized, they most certainly could not be acceptable.
Let’s pause for a moment. There are some things that I need to address before I continue. First, this isn’t a reach for sympathy; things happen to all of us, and for me to get to the real point of my story, you just need to know where I’m coming from. Second, I will never be specific as to what occurred, because it’s not pivotal to my story. Just know it was unacceptable, but not to the extent of legal repercussions or needing to involve law enforcement. Third, I will never name the person. Will they read this and know it’s about them? I have no idea. It’s not important to me that they do. I am not writing this to publicly crucify someone; they know what they did, they hopefully know it was wrong, and they will ultimately have to answer for that one day. I am not the person to judge or decide.
The truth is that the very specifics just don’t matter.
I hesitated to write this for a long time; now it’s done. I felt this fear in others knowing. I felt this guilt and shame, and I couldn’t shake it. I knew that once the words were spoken, or written as the case may be, there would be no retraction, no taking it back. That part of me, the part that I’ve struggled to hide and ignore for so long, would forever be accessible to anyone. Then a very, very dear friend reminded me of this: I shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty, because I didn’t do anything wrong. I shouldn’t worry about what could happen if that person who behaved so horribly should ever find that I have shed light on those events, because how they feel is unimportant to my story. It’s just that: MY story, not theirs. This is for me to tell, not them.
Recently I started to feel this calling, this desire to share, because I know deep in my heart that many of us have experienced horrible, awful things, and we just think it’s taboo to discuss. Like it’s too personal or too difficult or too messy or too whatever…so we bottle it up. We pack it away, we hide it in the back of our mind, and maybe every once in a while we find ourselves on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but we pull back from the cliff just in time. We think to ourselves, “Phew, that was close!” And we say a prayer of thanks for keeping it together just one more day. But the feeling of “get these words out” wouldn’t relent. God placed it on my heart to not only write these words down, but to give them to you. That’s His plan.
Friends, here is what I want you to know: For all its beauty, life is also damn messy. It’s complicated, it’s rough, it’s unbelievable. But we are in this thing together. You are my people, my tribe, and you are there for me, just as I am there for you – for all of it.
One of my favorite writers/bloggers is Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery. If you are unfamiliar with Glennon, you need to know this: the woman lives her faith. She is an inspiration. She has always referred to life as being both brutal and beautiful: BRUTIFUL. And I can’t help but think to myself that yes, YES, life truly is brutiful. And we are so, so blessed to live it together.
So how do I know God has a plan through all this junk? Because today, almost 15 years later, I am living that plan. You see, that accident did set into motion a chain of events. Some were really awful, and some were really wonderful.
Had that never happened, I wouldn’t live where I do today. It’s worth noting that when I moved here with my best friend many, many moons ago, I met the man who would later become my husband just three short weeks later. We have been together for 12 years, and will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary this Fall. We have a little home of our own. We have two wonderful, amazing, incredible, beautiful boys whom we love more than words could ever do justice. We have a church and a faith and friends that I don’t know if we’d have were it not for things bringing me to this area. We have a boundless unconditional love for each other. He is more than my rock; he is my shelter, my partner, my equal, and the love of my life. He is the perfect person for me to do life with, and God knew that.
And together, we reconnected with our faith in an amazing and incredible way. These very difficult times in life can do one of two things: drive you closer to God, or push you further away. The choice is ours, of course, and I was one of those “WHY ME?!” people back then. I couldn’t believe my God would allow this to happen. And then one day, many years later, I realized something: God didn’t allow those things to happen. You see, those people made those choices of their own free will. They chose to be reckless and careless. They chose to be inappropriate and unacceptable. They chose to hurt. And here I was all this time later and I was continuously allowing them to hurt me. No more flight; only fight.
The hurt is what compelled me to write. It had grown to be this fire in my belly, to shout from the rooftops that what happened was not okay, it was not acceptable, but most importantly: it would no longer define me. I could not, would not, allow yesterday’s tragedy to continue impeding my thoughts and actions, making me feel less worth as a person.
As I grew to accept the things that had happened, I found that the acceptance of my past did not mean acceptance of the acts themselves. It simply meant I could be free to realize that I am much, much more than the person I thought I once was all those years ago. I found that I could forgive those people in my heart. It didn’t mean I needed to call them on the phone and talk about it, because the truth is, I just can’t. But through God’s grace and love, I know that I can forgive them, and I can move on with my own life in a place of peace and joy and happiness because I have let that weight go.
I can easily sit here and say that I would give anything to have never experienced the hurt inflicted upon me from the abuse. Don’t we all say that? If we could change the past, we would? But we can’t. I have accepted that the hurt is part of my life, part of who I am, and I am sitting here now telling God, “Okay, I showed up, now what?” because I know that He has a plan for me. He wouldn’t ask me to spill my guts if He didn’t. God will use this hurt in my life as an opportunity to help others. How? I’m not quite sure yet, because we’re just getting started here with this “life as an open book”, but I can tell God this: I’m ready. Use me as you see fit. Help me to help others. Help me to show love and compassion and grace and understanding.
Here I sit 15 years later knowing deep in my heart and soul and bones that bad shit happens, but that God always has a plan. He didn’t cause the accident, but he knew where I would go from there. He didn’t allow the abuse to happen to me, but he knew I’d overcome. God knew I would move away and end up on the path in life that was meant for me. He was patient with me; he waited for me, and eventually I got it. And I can tell you this outcome rings true for the bad decisions that I have made myself, of my own free will. I didn’t get it right; in fact, I still get it wrong quite a bit, because I am human. But I know that through God’s grace, I am forgiven. He believes in me; more importantly, He loves me. We can do this together.
You are not your past. You are not the sins you’ve committed. You are not the sins committed against you. You are worthy, you are valuable, you are important, and you are LOVED. And if you ever reach a fork in the road or some rocks on the path or a damn cliff with a seemingly endless drop, know this: God will get you through it, and even more so, He will use that experience for good if you let him. And if you need to talk, I am your tribe. I have been there, and I know we come through all right.