Sunday, May 28, 2017

Choosing to See

What I Had to do Before I Could See Christ in My Troubled Past   

Since the family pictures have fled with all their cheer and beauty to Instagram lately, this blog has experienced a bit of an existential crisis.  Why did I write here and why did you read here?  Do I continue my ruminations on what pain means to a woman of faith?  I guess part of the reason I've been silent lately is because my story has expanded from the lonely battle of depression to the wider war of family dysfunction--and I don't know how much of that you need or even want to know.

But I'm still here and the major theme of pain through the lense of faith persists in my life.  I assume it persists in yours as well, or you would not be brave enough to keep coming back.

And so as long as this soapbox of mine continues to bear my weight, you will still see me here, whining just as little as I can, but mostly sharing my hope of a better world to come.  This blog is a love song to my perfect Savior, and so...I write.

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If you've missed the basic outline of my last eighteen months, and just so you can have some context, here it is.  My brother admitted to a major pornography addiction, left his wife, and left the church. My parents separated, then divorced.  My dysfunctional relationship with Dad has painfully exploded into complete rupture.  The counseling I've resorted to in order to help me cope has sometimes been a cocoon of validation and support, but more frequently a brutally painful opening and scrubbing of old wounds so that they can heal properly.  And the past year has been very physically painful as I've battled chronic pain and tension in my neck and shoulders, which no amount of medication, yoga, exercise, massage, chiropractic care, or physical therapy seems able to touch.

There is a lot of good news, though.  I've won a lot of battles with anxiety and depression this year because of all the great therapy, medication, and especially love and support from family and friends. My kids have thrived in their new Montessori School, alleviating my responsibility to home school them and also the guilt that I would have struggled with if they didn't love their school.  My relationships with TJ, the kids, my mom and my siblings have grown in intimacy and joy--more, I think, than they ever could have without these struggles to pull us together.  I spend hours and hours every week connecting with my loved ones as we do everything from Muppet movies to serious discussions about our feelings and our lives.  The adults in my family have given me the most important validation, counsel, feedback, and support, despite my excellent professional counselor.  And I'm learning to make friends for the first time since college, fighting my way out of the self-imposed isolation and loneliness depression often brings.  Girl friends!  Thanks for loving me even though I have no social skills.

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I suppose the best news of all is what you hoped it would be.  My testimony of Jesus Christ becomes brighter and more hopeful as time passes and I learn more fully what he has done and continues to do for me.

As I said, I've had to revisit some very painful facts about my childhood, and there have been some very dark times when I've wondered where God was when I was suffering so much.  Those who enjoyed relatively healthy childhoods will struggle to understand this, but examining my past has brought home the painful reality that I'm not sure God loves me--and the closer my therapist has helped/forced me to look at the painful circumstances of my childhood, the more this wound has hurt. It's not the age-old philosophic debate, if God existed he would not allow so much pain in this world. It's worse than that: He does exist and He is full of love, but he doesn't love me--or I would have felt his love during that dark time.  

One of the most painful and lingering effects of childhood abuse is that it can be difficult and even impossible to believe in a loving Heavenly Father.  Feeling unloved and unlovable is also a classic symptom of depression.  And this can rec havoc on our faith.  It's a pretty awful irony--those of us who feel unloved by parents will also struggle to feel God's love.

I listened to a podcast recently featuring Deborah Pegues, who wrote "Forgive, Let Go, and Live," and identified so much with her story.  My heart especially resonated with what she said about facing the fact that God has allowed our suffering.

"First of all, you understand that everything that has happened in your life--this is a hard one--God saw it before it happened.  He saw it before it happened and He saw it while it was happening.  And He could've stopped it.  That has been a big pill to swallow.  God saw that.  He could've stopped it.  So it must gonna be something that's gonna work together for my good ultimately...I'm gonna grow.  Something good is gonna happen.  If you don't take a divine perspective towards that kind of pain, you're gonna get stuck in it. You're gonna say, "It shouldn't have happened."  And it probably "shouldn't have happened," but in His divine providence, God knows..."All the days ordained for me were already written in His book."  Not the good days, the bad days, too.  And so, yes, I can relax.  So I'm gonna choose how I remember this...When you walk by faith, at some point, you gotta start abandoning the "why" and just say, "it did and that I'm gonna trust God."
I like what Joseph said when his brothers came to him.  And you know the story, how he was sold into slavery and they came and they knew they were mean to him and they said, "Forgive us, we're sorry."  And he said, "Listen, you meant it for bad, but God meant it for good."  
I've been grieving this year, hard.  I have been shedding a lifetime of bottled up tears.  I have been kneading and beating on my grief like a big wad of bread dough, trying to pound out my anger and expel my pain.  It's been necessary, completely awful emotional work to say goodbye to the blessings denied me over all these years of  life.  And even through this latest installment of pain, I've asked Him, "where were you all those years?  and where are you now?"

I planned on wearing this t-shirt for a picture in a canyon
just for you guys.  I didn't plan on waking up feeling alone
and unloved on the day of the trip--and I almost didn't go.
Yet the combination of a favorite t-shirt and God's glorious
creation tuned me right in to his love.  Not always that simple,
sadly.  But sometimes it is.  
So this painful, painful year has been very much about forcing me to face The Big Question: does my painful past prove that He doesn't love me, or is it just the opposite? Emotionally this year would look like a V on a bar graph, with my grieving over all I've lost, feeling abandoned and forgotten, and generally unloading a lifetime of repressed sorrow.  Down toward the bottom of the V, I was still hanging on to some kind of hope that Heavenly Father loved me, but it was very academic at that point.  My whole life is based on the assumption, the trust, that it's true, but I needed to know.  And so God has been teaching me in real time that the hardest trials are proof of his love, because this, the hardest of years, has taken me to the nadir that I needed to reach in order to be ready to believe.  I had to climb to the bottom of the canyon before I could ascend the mountain on the other side.  And God let me do it, because it was part of his plan for me to feel the joy that can only come when we're willing to face our fears down.

I reached the bottom of that canyon, and I'm climbing up the other side now.  The height of the mountain will crown me with sure knowledge of my Father in Heaven's love, but for now it's just wonderful to take step after step up into the sunshine.

My sense of how much Heavenly Father loves me has deepened as I have looked back over my troubled past and have seen the multitude of tender mercies He gave to me.  My vision has cleared , and now when I look back on the pain of my past, I see that Father in Heaven tempered my troubles. He cleared dangerous obstacles out of my path and saved me from many snares.  He sent care packages, always at the right time: teachers, friends, mentors, siblings, great books and beautiful music--to inspire me, give me hope and joy, and to teach me about a beautiful life just out of reach but worth hoping for.

But the most important thing he did was to provide a Savior.  My Savior redeemed me from my many follies and mistakes, making me worthy through his grace of the Comforter.  He gave me hope for a bright future in the company of the most loving Father a girl could have.  And at great personal cost, Heavenly Father allowed his precious son to suffer with me.  

I have come to know that I never cried alone.  That sad little girl who has always lived in my memory as very alone and unloved--had her Savior beside her, helping her bear her burden, comforting her, protecting her from trauma that would have undone her, and this is the most important part, crying with her.

Elder Merrill J. Bateman's words on the Atonement have helped me come to this new understanding of my painful past.  He said,

For many years I thought of the Savior's experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him.  Through the words of Alma, Abinidi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed.  Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt "our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15), "[bore] our griefs,...carried our sorrows,,,[and] was bruised for our iniquities."  (Isa. 53:4-5).
The memories have gone from bitter to semi-sweet, because that image has changed.  I wasn't alone. He literally shared my pain, felt it in its entirety for as long as I was feeling it.  He experienced the full magnitude of it not only so he could help me heal, but really for the same reason my earthly angels do--because He loves me.  He loves me enough to suffer with me.

My trials will continue to refine me, and I will still struggle to feel loved sometimes, but I'm climbing up into a safer and surer knowledge that feeling alone is not the same as being alone.  My Heavenly Father and my Savior lavish me with more love every day than I can even conceive.  Especially when I'm in pain.