Warning – This story is one of pain and redemption. Read it if you are prepared to go deep (and maybe cry a little).
I recently discovered that I had been keeping God at a distance, and then projecting it on to Him, like the distance was His choice. He surprised me by breaking in to this belief system to show me that He was not the one who chose distance. It was I. But why?
Because of my basic disbelief that He would want to be with me, or that He liked me. The reason for His distaste? Because I was bad. This belief started early, and although it has faded as my faith has grown, it still lingers, like a latent virus or an autoimmune disease.
Now, as a believer, I get that the sin nature is dead and that I am a new creation. But deep down, I believed that I was flawed, and that flaw could not be overcome.
So I study Him, and serve His people, and enjoy His relationship with others. But I have not claimed one for myself. Left to my own devices, I will be selfish, broken, untrustworthy. I will only disappoint again. There is evidence, even recent evidence, of moral failure from the inherent flaw.
In my rebellious years, I resonated with the words of Patty Smith “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
Some religious folks label this as pride, like my sins are so bad that Jesus’ blood was not enough. That’s not what I felt. I felt that when God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit came together to create the world, that they forgot me. That I fell out of the car on the way to the airport and they went to Hawaii without me, without realizing it. That my scroll was blank.
Dave told me that God doesn’t forget His children, like my parents did. But that was all I knew from experience since I was about 8. That is when the nightmare started licking at my heels.
As I became an adolescent, I experienced some of the wonder, majesty and mystery of God the Creator. Not religion. The Creator. I paddled my yellow life raft into the storm, full of joy and excitement. I swam in the lagoon and sailed alone. And I was enthralled. And energized.
Until the ravages of sexuality and drive for intimacy raped my soul and left me with the conclusion: I was bad. At 15, I turned away from interest in God the Creator to fix my gaze on the newly discovered universe, of endless nothingness. Galaxy upon galaxy of universes that lead to nothingness. Endless existence. Menacing and unkind. I shut off my heart and became a mercenary. I used people to manipulate the need and the pain.
My second year of Junior College, I discovered the path that led to History. Although I was told by my adviser that I was average, and would always be average (based on my SAT scores), I felt a blaze of brilliance. I was drawn to the powerful allure in European culture, music and art history. There was no plan, just me hurdling through time and space along with the beautiful, painful space junk. I had some other travelers with me on the way. All broken, desperate, disconnected. We loved and damaged each other, huddled together. Living on cigarettes and diet pepsi.
Two weeks before graduating, when I told my academic adviser and mentor that I intended to go to grad school, he shocked me. He told me I would only find more questions, not answers. “Why don’t you become a travel agent, that’s what you’re here for isn’t it?” I had never seen such total and absolute disillusionment, nor would I ever had expected that from him, who knew me so well and knew first hand my achievements. I left his office betrayed, as the world crashed down around me. Reality disconnected. I had some type of breakdown and could not complete my exams. I dropped out of school two weeks before graduation.
I moved home and my parents were disgusted with my failure. My father did not speak to me. I was not welcome. So I returned to Davis and moved in with my boyfriend. My father told me that I was now “used goods,” that no man would ever want me. I almost welcomed the verdict, hardened my heart even further. Nothing can touch me, nothing can hurt me, nothing can reach me.
The pain became so great that I reached the end, a year after dropping out of college, planning an LSD overdose.
And then the phone rang. My father called to tell me that my sister’s husband had died in a violent accident, leaving her a widow with five children, the youngest only two years old. I leapt into her family’s world, making sandwiches, and driving kids to and from school in a giant boat-like station wagon. I felt happy to be loved and needed in a family. I felt like a hero sometimes. There was still degradation, with my connection to art and culture fading, as I worked as a sales clerk at Macy’s. I chain-smoked, shocked people with Iggy Pop, was unfaithful. I was not aware of God.
I eventually moved out and got a full-time job. Experimented again with coke. One night, or I should say morning, staring at a light bulb, I posed the classic challenge. “God, if you are real, now would be a good time to let me know.” And He did. Just His presence. Vague, no words, but unmistakable. I persuaded a man to marry me who said he did not love me. I told him he would grow to love me. We tried for 12 years until I was ready to die. I forced myself to get a divorce to save my life, but wrecked my best friend’s marriage on the way to my own divorce.
Even with the redemption and healing that have happened in the past two decades, there remains the supposition: Because bad things happened to me, and I participated in them, that means that I am bad. Because I am bad, I am excluded from a life with God. He tolerates me. Now that I am more good (gooder), He tolerates me more, and even likes me some. But it is like an employee that shows up and does okay work. Not enough to fire them, but not enough to promote, or even engage with them.
Today, Jesus disagreed that I am bad.
In an Immanuel prayer session, He brought me back to the moment in the park, hiding after a traumatic sexual encounter with my back up against a fence. Then and there, I beheld the endless nothingness and made the decision, nothingness would be my life. Jesus was there, sitting beside me. He looked at the ground, like He did with the adulterous woman. I asked Him, what about this bleak, endless vision, why don’t I see you there at all? He answered by showing me that not only was He not absent or even distant, He and I were actually attached. “You can’t get away from me because we can’t be divided.” Okay, that is a paradigm shift! And I could see that it was true.
I asked Him, but what about my being bad?
He said “Your soul is beautiful…
“See how your soul was beautiful at 13, full of creativity, wonder, energy? It is the same soul that you had when I created you, when you were conceived. It is the same soul you have now, the same at the moment of your last breath, the same eternal soul you’ll always have. Your soul never “degraded’ even through degrading circumstances. It has always been the same, beautiful.
Your soul chose the journey it is on, including degrading circumstances. You marched through the black mud with high rubber boots, wielding an umbrella like a weapon against the cold rain. And then the mud began to suck you down, up to your waist. You could not get out on your own.
I pulled you out and washed you off. I set your feet on a solid path, a new path. Degradation became less, with one last major outward manifestation that blew your married life and friendships to smithereens, but you survived.
I was a beacon of light and hope reaching you through the Rosary. You learned to contemplate the “mysteries’ of my joy, my suffering, my miracles. And that led you into being able to hear my voice. I told you that I had forgiven you for the divorce, and agreed with that transition. I pointed out that you were the one holding on to the shame.
When you met Dave, you recognized a man who knew my heart. And you said ‘I want that.’ And you pursued an awakening. And my Word burned new pathways through your experience. You made a choice for Jesus one night driving home. A choice to leave the hermetically sealed mental life of anxiety and loneliness for life on a new, unknown path ‘allowing’ and then following me.”
I think He settled it today. But when I asked Him about the future, my fear about embarking on the mission that I feel Him calling me towards, He showed me this:
We stood face-to-face. He laid His hands on my shoulders and commissioned me. He commissioned me to the life that I have been longing for, the life stepping out in radical faith. Around us I saw the cloud of witnesses, among them my sister Jenna and our cousin Bernice. Jenna, who died in her 50s, was a therapist for sex workers and pedophiles. She worked tirelessly with great compassion; she was fearless. Bernie lived an unmarried life, an academic, a social worker, dedicated to helping unwed mothers. These two women are powerful role models. I didn’t believe I was cut out of the same cloth. Until I saw them in the circle, welcoming me to the work.
The message I carry for the women we serve at Because Justice Matters, to all hurting women, is the same message that the Lord is telling me: Your soul is not degraded because of the degrading circumstances you’ve experienced. Your soul is beautiful, as He created it. Bad things that have happened do not mean that you are bad. He sees you as whole and worthy, He died for you. He wants to be with you. In fact, He is connected to you and cannot be separated from you. He will surprise you with breakthrough. All He wants is to be asked. You will find Him when you seek Him. He stands at the door and knocks. Let Him in.
I came out of my Immanuel encounter feeling a peaceful confidence and joy. Today, the pain I have carried for more than fifty years resolved.
The God of the Universe broke through into my private movie set and changed the script. He is the God of surprising breakthrough, and if He did that for me, He can and will do that for you.