Splinter

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Jacob ran out the front screen door, exclaiming, “Christmas wreath!” in his two-year-old toddlerese. It was early December in Hawaii and the wreath I had picked up at the local Target was our lone Christmas decoration. With a deployed husband, two small children, and an upcoming holiday trip to my parents’ house on the mainland, I felt justified in skipping all the trimmings.

He couldn’t believe his luck – not only had I brought home a wreath, but also wrapping supplies. “CHRISTMAS BOWS!” he squealed, and immediately insisted we add one to the wreath. Why not. So I picked him up and steadied him as he added a huge, shiny red bow.

“Yay! I did it!” he grinned ear to ear and as soon as I set him back on his feet, he began to do his signature celebratory dance.

I was distracted for a few minutes, chatting with Monica, our nanny, as she updated me on the day’s events and prepared to go home. I didn’t see the moment when the splinter got lodged in the tender skin of Jacob’s foot.

At first, he didn’t want to let us see. He ran around the house, favoring the foot, insisting he was okay.

We were finally able to corral him, and when we saw the splinter’s size, we knew we needed to act quickly. Monica saw the horror on my face (how do I even do this?) and graciously offered to stay and help.

As I carried my screaming child to the well-lit bathroom, tweezers in hand, I couldn’t help but think of my thirteen-year-old self, spinning around barefoot on the hardwood floor of my parents’ kitchen, ending up with a splinter the size of a toothpick. I finished that day in the Emergency Room. The nurses rolled their eyes at me until they caught a look at how big it was and realized someone needed to cut it out.

Like mother like son. Please God, don’t let it be that bad. Not when Tim isn’t here. He’d know what to do.

Monica said she had experience removing splinters from thrashing toddlers, so we decided she’d take the tweezers and I’d hold him steady.

“NO THANK YOU, MAMA!” He sobbed the words I had taught him to say when he doesn’t want someone touching him, when he needs his space. “I hear you, baby. I know you are saying ‘No thank you,’ but Mama and Monica have to do this to make you feel better. I am so sorry.” He screamed, and it was heartbreaking, shattering, to hear my child crying from the depths of fear and distress, pleading with me to stop the pain I was allowing.

Tethered so firmly to the present moment, he was too young to understand sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. How could I convince him to trust me?

His tears brought tears to my eyes as I held him tightly, clutched to my chest, holding down his kicking legs and flailing arms.  Monica was the essence of calm. She spoke quietly, reassuring him, doing her best to efficiently remove the splinter.

When it was done, we smiled at Jacob. “You did it!” I squeezed him. “I am so proud of you.” He drew a big, shuddering breath and said, “Thank you, Mama.”

***

It’s no secret that in recent years I’ve been working through some anger with God. This all-knowing, all-loving, ever present Father has allowed so much heartache and pain in my life, the lives of my loved ones, the lives of people all over the world. I’m over it. It hurts so much and he allows it to get worse. So I kick and I scream and I buck and I cry. I’m like a toddler who can’t be consoled, who doesn’t want to listen to assurances that God knows what he’s doing and that ultimately there is a greater plan.

A few months ago, not long before Tim deployed, I was in church and the pastor asked us to imagine being in the presence of God – what would be like if we were standing face to face? I suddenly had this image of me pummeling God’s chest. Just hitting and hitting and yelling and screaming and crying. And he held me. As I hit him and kicked him and said “NO MORE!” He just held me. He didn’t chastise me. He didn’t tell me to buck up. He didn’t tell me I knew what I was signing up for when I became an Army wife. He didn’t tell me to stop being a baby. He didn’t let go of me and say “I don’t deserve this from you,” or “Have you forgotten all I’ve given you?”  He just held me with love and confidence and grace. He let me struggle, but never without assuring me with his strong arms and tender gaze.

***

How do we teach children to trust? It’s a tricky thing. Jacob and I have talked about it quite a bit since the splinter incident, and while I realize it’s going to be a while before he completely understands, I think the basic idea is starting to settle in.

I try to explain to him that I would never hurt him on purpose, that I am here to protect him, to keep him safe, to help him be healthy. That if I ever allow him pain, it is because I know it will be better on the other side. And that in the midst of the pain, he can always turn to me for comfort. Always.

Deep down I know that God is like that, too, because I’ve experienced him to be that way. In the middle of pain, and even in the middle of anger, I still know the God I am wrestling with is a God of love and patience and goodness. I have experienced his overwhelming peace at the strangest times, as nonsensical as it may seem.

He’s teaching me, in these anxious days, how to trust him again. He’s bringing me closer to the light, examining all the splinters I’ve lodged in my heart: the fear, pride, and self-pity he knows will fester if we don’t work together to dig them out. He reminds me, tenderly, that sometimes things have to be more painful before we can heal.

***

I don’t have a scar from the toothpick-sized splinter; in fact, I can’t even remember which foot endured the pain. But I do remember the path to healing was a long, embarrassing one. I showed up to middle school on crutches and had to explain why I couldn’t walk (I uh…got a huge splinter? When I was, uh…dancing around in my kitchen?). Later that week a lymph node swelled so badly I thought I was seriously ill. The doctor assured me it was just my body’s way of fighting an infection that must have begun before the splinter was removed. He gave me some antibiotics, and that was that.

It was done. But it took surgery and drugs and a week on crutches before the pain began to abate. The ER doctor’s scalpel was just the beginning.

When it comes to healing, there are no quick fixes, and that’s true of our hearts just as much as our earthly frames. It’s one thing for me to turn to God and acknowledge that I’m angry and hurt. It’s another thing entirely for me to hand over my heart and let him get to work. Just like Jacob, I’d much rather run away and self protect. And even when I do ask for help, God doesn’t magically make the splinters disappear; he removes them one by one with the precision and care of a surgeon. He takes his time, and he makes no promises that it won’t hurt.

It’s up to me then, whether I want to keep screaming and thrashing. He’s going to hold me regardless. I have to believe that as he holds me, my tears bring tears to his eyes, and with whatever progress we make, he is proud.

I am still learning how to say thank you.

What of the dancing? I’m happy to tell you I still dance around barefoot in the kitchen; to be honest I’d rather have the joy of dancing than live my life on the lookout for loose wood. As for Jacob, until we refinish the porch I try to make sure he wears shoes in the front of the house.

But I don’t catch him every time. I won’t, because he is full of life and curiosity and he’s just going to keep running and dancing. It is inevitable he will find pain along the way. But I will be there to hold him when he cries, just like my Abba holds me.

 

The Last Thing I Wanted to Do

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It rattles softly at the window like the fingers of a child as I sit on the edge of the tub to tie my shoes. It comes down the glass in crooked paths to stir my heart absurdly as it always has, and dear God in Heaven, the sound of it on the roof, on the taut black silk of the umbrella, on the catalpa leaves, dimpling the glassy surface of the peepering pond. It is the rain, and it tastes of silver; it is the rain, and it smells of christening. The rain is falling on the morning of my first day, and everything is wet with it: wet earth, wet fur, the smell of the grass when it is wet, the smell of the wet pavements of the city and the sound of tires on the wet streets, the wet hair and face of a woman doing errands in the rain. Wherever my feet take me now, it will be to something wet, something new, that I have never seen before.

-Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace

It was a cold, rainy morning and going to church was the last thing I wanted to do.

It’s going to be so crowded . . . the message will be watered down . . . you’re just going to have to watch a bunch of baptisms of people you don’t even know. I mean . . . baptisms on Easter? How cliché can you get?

It was Easter Sunday, 2009, in Seattle. I had only been attending the church for a month, and I had already decided the Easter baptism service was going to be over-produced and emotionally manipulative. All I wanted to do was drink my coffee in my robe and watch a Friends marathon.

Yet I felt a prompting, and my feet led me up the hill to church.

My dragging feet (and curled hair and carefully applied make-up because, Easter) made me late, so I sat high up in the balcony. I floated through the service, halfway listening to the message, halfway worshiping in my heart.

But then a soft-spoken guy in a black t-shirt walked up to the microphone. He shared he had grown up Catholic and was baptized as an infant. That he had begun to think very differently about faith when he was in high school. And how, as an adult, his faith had become just that—his faith. It was a personal thing that he didn’t talk about with anyone. He thought it was enough to have this conversation with God on his own. But without the support of a community, he found himself making decisions that were leading him away from God and that ultimately caused him great sadness.

My heart began to pound. I could hardly breathe. He was giving voice to a piece of my own story.

His face radiated with beauty and ease as he spoke about the promise God had given him through Jesus—that it was through Jesus’ strength and sacrifice, through his goodness and love—that he was redeemed and made new each and every day. With a huge smile, he walked to the baptismal pool and made a public commitment of faith.

After the baptisms, our pastor announced we’d be entering into a time of prayer and worship. I bowed my head, feeling heavy and sad as a stream of dark memories came flooding through my mind. I brushed a few tears from my cheek.

Yet cutting through the barrage of my iniquities and my litany of confessions was a surreal sense of peace.

I began to feel like maybe it was time to actually let go.

The pastor was still talking. “We’re going to do something different today. We’re going to keep the baptisms going. If any of you feel the Spirit moving in your heart, you are welcome to come up here.” My head jerked up.

What?

“As you are praying, remember that you are dealing with an audience of One. It’s not about where you are.”

You are wearing your Easter dress, Erin, don’t be silly.

“It’s not about what you’re wearing — in fact, we have towels and sweatpants for you here backstage.”

Of course they have sweatpants for you. They’re hawking mass-produced Christianity, here, Erin. What a production.

“It’s not about the production, or the people, or the day. It’s about you and Jesus.”

I looked down at my dress, spotted with tears.

The feet I stood on felt like lead. My body trembled as I made my way down the stairs, through the hallway, down the aisle, and to the front of the stage. The man in front of me turned and offered a smile. “Nervous?”

Incredibly.

Somehow I made my way up the steps and into the pool. And when the pastor turned to me and asked if I was ready to fully put my trust in Jesus, my answer came immediately and with power: YES.

When I resurfaced from the water, I couldn’t stop smiling. Joy radiated through my body.

I was wet, bedraggled, with mascara running down my face.

I had never felt more beautiful.

Originally appeared on All In

 

I Can’t Live on Bread Alone

open-book-981405_960_720This week I reworked an old post from October 2013, which was shared on All In this morning. May it bring you hope, as it did for me, as I recalled the events of that fall.

I am a bibliophile. I could spend all day in a bookstore, leafing through pages, inhaling that sweet aroma, running my fingers over their spines. My bedside table gathers more words than I can read in a month (or even a year), and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I have a confession: as much as I love books, and as much as I love Jesus, I don’t always love picking up my Bible.

There was a time this hesitation made sense because I felt intimidated by both its prose and poetry; I worried I wouldn’t understand what Jesus said should be so clear. But that’s no longer the case. Last week, as I was studying and reflecting on the power of scripture, I was reminded of when God surprised me by opening my eyes just two and a half years ago.

*

Our books are still in boxes.

It is October. We moved into our house in July.

Usually, when I set up a new living space, my books are the first to be unpacked. I like to touch each one, pause; if there’s time, I open a few of the pages and read a few lines. Meditate on words once read, underlined, starred, recalling back to a younger self who read with passion and curiosity.

I married a man with as many, if not more, books as I have in my possession. The fact that some are duplicates is a private confirmation to me of our perfect synchronization. Thus we are the Curletts of Many Books and at the moment these treasures are still in boxes, sitting in the corner of our basement.

One book in one of those boxes is my Ryrie Study Bible, which I’ve had since sophomore year of college, when I decided my faith needed to be my own. Lately I’ve been craving the word, and Googling each verse in question hasn’t been cutting it. My husband’s Bible is worn; crammed with pencils, notes, and memorabilia; it is held together tightly by a rubber band. I love his Bible, but at a distance.

Rather than open every one of the twenty boxes in our basement to find my collegiate companion, I instead went to Amazon and purchased a thin line ESV Bible. I imagined myself tucking it into a purse or a suitcase, something toteable. Perfect. When I read the description I realized that there would be no notes, no cross-references, no footnote exegesis. I worried a bit that I wouldn’t be able to follow these words without the guidance of scholars. (I know, I know. Martin Luther and all that. But you know, sometimes I need a little help.)

But . . .ever since that Bible made it to my doorstep? My hungry soul has been eating it up. Chapter by chapter. Number by number. Epistle by epistle. It feels comfortable, friendly. It makes sense to me. I am understanding its words in a way I never have before. There is clarity and an understanding that has never been present with me as I’ve read the Word of God.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but I have to be honest: I am surprised. This prayer thing? It works. Sure, in certain denominations and certain pulpits, pastors and ministers pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the Word of God. But how many times do we do that and experience . . . nothing? I would venture a guess that most of you reading this know what I’m talking about (or perhaps just as likely, you really have *no idea* what I’m talking about and the idea of asking the Spirit of God to help us do anything sounds a little weird and woo-woo. I don’t blame you. It’s bizarre, right? Nonsensical).

But here’s the thing: I asked him to help me, and he has been helping me. Honest truth.

How did this come to be? Well, a couple of weeks ago I had an ugly cry episode (definitely not the first!) where I professed from the very depths of my being that I believe in who he is and what he is capable of doing – namely, changing me. But this time I also specifically asked him to open up my eyes and ears and heart to the truth of his Word.

And guess what? He’s been doing it. He is true to his Word. It feels like a fog has been lifted. And it’s rocking my world.

I don’t know what to make of all of this, other than to laugh through my tears. Cathartic is the word that comes to mind. I feel compelled to laugh, to share, to write. I have a new confidence I’ve never, ever experienced before.

Could it be possible that the Lord has known, since before the creation of this world, that it would take me until October of my 32nd year to fully experience the truth of his promises? That it would take me this long to study the clues along the way?

I go down to the basement and open a box. It is strewn with gifts. Brennan Manning. Frederick Buechner. Madeline L’Engle. The words in their books affirm what God has been teaching me:

You’re forgiven. You’re called. You’re a creator.

And now: the questions remain, “What do I create?” and, “Am I worthy of the task to which I am called?”

Something is brewing. Something is being knit together. And my Father, who purchased my life with the sacrifice of his Son, clothes me in righteousness and undeserved reward.

He is with me.

*

In three short months, movers will arrive to once again pack our belongings—including our precious books—and send them to our new home, miles away. This time, as I gather clothes and toiletries and the supplies we’ll need in the in-between, I’ll make sure my Bible stays right where I want it: within arm’s reach. Because I know as I continue to pour my heart out onto the page, I will need his words of hope and truth and grace to fill me up time and time again.

Treasure Where the Home Fire Burns

Eleven years ago today my family watched a fire destroy our home. I wrote this piece a few years later and today I share it in honor of the lessons God began to teach me as I watched the flames wreck a house so full of memories. 

Mom and I are sitting in the den when the alarm sounds. We are tense, tired. It’s been quite a year for our family.

Stunned silence passes between us. Surely there is a mistake. But the crackling, the popping, the blackened sheets of wood and plaster that cascade past the window and into the pool can’t be denied.

My brother strides down the stairs, phone held to his ear. “Yes. Our house is on fire.”

He repeats our address and we calmly fall into line, one after the other. I grab the dog. I have forgotten to put on my shoes.

Once outside, Mom turns and runs. Back inside the house.

My brother and I stand on the opposite side of the cul-de-sac, waiting. I am barefoot on the concrete, which would be hot this time of year if it wasn’t for the strange windstorm sweeping across Texas. My toes are cold.

My eyes are fixed on the orange tongue that is lapping at our roof. I always thought fire was red, but it’s not – it’s taking on the color of whatever it touches, like a chameleon, or a dragon. Sulfur, smoke, and freshly mowed grass mingle in the air.

Mom reappears, my handbag clutched to her chest. Breathing heavily, she hands me my bag.

“Thank God, Mom.” I reach out, touch her shoulder.

“You needed your keys. Go move the car.”

My CR-V is a few yards from the house, but the fire is only on the roof. Surely the wind will die, the fire will stop. I shiver.

“The fire won’t reach the car, Mom,” I say. “Can’t we leave it?”

Mom blinks. “Give me the keys.” As she runs to the car I feel something like shame.

When she returns, the car safely moved to the end of the street, she hands me the keys.

As their weight hits my palm, I consider bolting to the Honda, my own coffee-scented, bumper-sticker-slapped haven. I could roll the windows down, blast country radio, high-tail it out of there in five-minutes flat.

Instead, I follow Mom to the house next door. The fire truck pulls up about the same time I realize that after five years of sharing a curb, this is the first time I have officially met these neighbors. It feels absurd to knock on their door and ask for shelter, but no more absurd than the windstorm and the flames.

I use their phone to call my father.

“Dad? You need to come home.”

When I hang up I return to the couch where my mom and brother hover with hollow eyes. Our neighbor has gone to the kitchen to fetch some iced tea. Mom coughs and covers her mouth. She has been in bed for the last week with the flu.

As she removes her hand from her face, her eyes rest on her left hand. “My rings,” she whispers.

Her fingers are naked. She tells me that when she crawled into bed last week she removed all of her jewelry, including her diamond-studded wedding ring and sapphire-rimmed anniversary ring, neither of which I have ever seen her without.

She coughs again – wait, no. She is sobbing. “My rings!”

I reach out, touch her, see the touch of gray under her warm chocolate eyes. I think of the naïve, youthful face beaming from sepia-tone photos, the memories of a girl from the Mojave Desert, dressed in lace as she stood beside my side-burned father.

“Oh, Mom,” I gasp. “Your wedding photos.”

She looks up. “All of our photos.”

I need to escape. Out on my neighbors’ lawn the wind blows ash and heat upon my face. The flame has continued to grow, despite the firefighters’ efforts. The spray from the fire hoses, like the sword of a heroic yet all-too-human prince, seems no match for the dragon, who is devouring our treasures.

Photographic memories and memories of photos intertwine in my mind. Do I remember the kindness in my great grandpa’s eyes, his hands encircling my waist as I perched upon the back of that great dappled horse? Or just the faded photo of his sun-wrinkled, winking smile, cowboy hat and dirty overalls? Without the photos, will I forget?

I think, well, at least I have my journals – oh no. My throat constricts as I imagine the upstairs closet, my trove of childhood treasures, now consumed. My scrapbooks of photos, carefully organized and pasted with stickers and bits of ribbon; my dog-eared, underlined, well-loved books; these riches are all secondary to the boxes of journals, the diaries and notebooks and steno pads that hold in their bindings the story of my life.

Prickling heat rises up my back to my neck and my face as the question why resounds around and within me. Before me, the flame that rises is quiet and slow-moving. I stare into the core of it, pensive and still. The flame seems to change as my vision blurs and flickers, my eyes unblinking, my feet firmly planted in the soil.

It is then I see a vision of a mighty hand, holding the flame, controlling the flame, and beckoning my soul to quiet itself in its presence. The fire, in this moment, seems central not only to my life story, but to the universe.

Love. There is love. A whisper through my mind. Stuff. It’s just stuff. My shoulders, as high as my earlobes, begin to slowly descend, neck relaxing, knots loosening. At what point did the object become the treasure? Could this great flame be like the forest fire that scours the remains of life along its decaying floor? Like the soil in such forests, replenished with nutrients after a necessary evil, could our hearts and our souls be renewed?

I turn from the flame. Dad should be here soon. My family is safe. I should go to them.

*

A few days later, the phone rings at my apartment. It’s Mom.

“You are never going to believe this.”

She tells me that when the first firefighter emerged from the damp, sooty ruins, he approached her with outstretched hands. “We tried to grab anything that seemed might be important,” he said.

“Erin,” Mom barely whispers, “Do you know what he saw, and saved from the wreckage? My wedding rings. The wedding album. And a box of your journals.”

Goosebumps prickle my arms. Having let go, having given in, we are rewarded by the very treasures which we most feared to lose. I wonder: is this what a miracle looks like? Could this be grace? The air seems charged with magic.

I am still in awe a few days later when Dad takes me back to the site to walk through the house. For closure, he says.

After further investigation, my father and the firefighters have discovered more buried treasure: salvaged photo albums, letters, china. My legs are shaking as I climb the crumbling stairs. How was this foundation not destroyed? Up in my room, my guitar lies blackened in the corner, grinning toothlessly. Rubble blocks the path to my closet of childhood treasures, and the wind whistles through the cracks in the brick walls, fingering remnants of paper and ribbon and twine. Yet there is something more. Dad comes up behind me and puts his hand on my shoulder.

“Dad, do you see?”

Shards of glass by the thousands, a myriad of colors, dust the fallen ceiling fan, the throw pillows, the floor. Christmas ornaments, shattered, have fallen through the attic and fill the space with an ethereal light. Rainbows dance on the soot-charred walls, pinpricks of hope in a desolate space. It is magic. It is grace.

Among the wreckage and the ruins of my family’s memories and mistakes, I feel like I am standing on sacred ground.

Friendship For All Seasons

girl-690614_960_720I walked through the chilly evening dark and got into the car without a diaper bag. I turned on music that I like – which at this point is anything that’s not songs from Sesame Street – and I headed out to visit a friend and watch The Bachelor. As the pregnant mom of a toddler, this felt like the ultimate luxury.

The night was glorious—we sampled chunks of orange-infused dark chocolate and snuggled in cozy blankets on her soft brown leather couch and giggled at the ridiculousness of the show. During commercial breaks we chatted about life.

She updated me on her job and life in her new house. I updated her on pregnancy and toddlerhood. Our lives, each busy and all-consuming, are in such different seasons right now, and for that I am grateful. To me, her perspective is as refreshing as the cool quiet of the night, as welcome as the absence of Cheerios stuck to the couch.

The funny thing is, this friend and I only recently connected for the first time over coffee a couple of weeks back. We’ve seen each other at church, we have mutual friends, and we’ve always talked about getting together, but as often happens, life has gotten in the way.

When she learned we are moving away in just a matter of months (can it really be less than half a year?), she told me she didn’t care; she wanted to get to know me anyway and it was about time we got coffee.

What a gift. It’s a radical, beautiful, irrational thing, to invest in a person right before you part ways.

It’s easy for me to start to fear the move, to begin to grieve for the friendships I’ll be losing before they’re even lost to me (I hate to say the word “lost,” because in this age of Facebook and Facetime people aren’t really lost, but it still takes a lot of time and understanding to keep friendships afloat once you no longer live close by).

It’s easy for me to start distancing myself from those I care about, those I’ve invested in and who have invested in me, thinking Why does it even matter? We’re moving soon anyway. It’s easy to instead reach out to friends who don’t live here, to remind myself that, as difficult as it can be, time and distance don’t have to end friendships. And perhaps to convince myself that if the friendships I have made here don’t stand the test of time (many will), at least I have others in my corner, however far away they may be.

So then why does it also feel easy to let someone else in, even this late in the game?

I’ve been thinking about Jesus, how he was often a stranger in a strange land. He didn’t settle down and build a community around himself and build relationships that were tied to a particular place. He had a purpose and a mission and he lived it out in the places he was called. Along the way, he made deep, meaningful connections with others by simply seeing them, hearing them, and loving them in a way that showed how much he valued each one.

“Love your neighbor,” he said. And when your neighborhood is constantly changing, it becomes especially clear that the word “neighbor” means whoever is currently nearby.

In this way, my new friend has loved me like Jesus. It may not seem that profound, but it is, kind of. She sought me out; she made me feel loved and welcomed me into her home. We haven’t solved any of the world’s problems (yet) but we have started to share a little of our hearts (and our opinions about over-produced reality television). We’ve shared laughter (and chocolate). It’s such a simple thing, really, to reach out to someone and make them feel seen. Perhaps not an easy thing—in fact, it’s quite brave—but a simple thing, nonetheless. I want to be that kind of friend to others, no matter where I live and no matter how long my stay.

Because in the end, it’s in the experience of this kind of love, and this kind of community, that God reminds us of who he is: a God who sees, a God who values, a God who longs for relationship. Made in his image, it’s no wonder we crave the things he offers so generously.

So tonight, as my new friend and I meet once more and giggle together—this time on my Cheerio-covered couch—I will remember who sent her and who he is calling me to be, no matter the season.

Originally appeared on All In

Survivor Mama: New Life after Sexual Assault

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source: eran jayne photography

Today I am seven years a survivor. So grateful to the Good Mother Project for publishing this piece yesterday. It’s time to use my voice again. It’s time to speak the truth. 

When I got pregnant, I didn’t realize I was a rape survivor.

Mere hours after my son was conceived,  I sat in our counselor’s office with my husband, gripping his hand tightly and holding my breath as she said the word: rape. It was rape. She was referring to an event that had happened six years before, something I had miscategorized in my mind. I had told my husband a bit about that night, but I had only shared vague details:  it was always “the night I regret,” “a huge mistake,” “taking advantage.” But: Rape? We had never used that word.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new information. My entire world as I knew it, as I had constructed it around me, was changed. I had endured violence of the most vulnerable kind and my brain had protected me from the knowledge of it. For six years. Six whole years I had been living in a haze of despair, uncertain of its cause. Now I knew it wasn’t anything I had done, and yet somehow I still felt responsible. I read the books, I repeated the words (it’s not my fault). Still, a sense of shame and feeling of filth lingered, like cigarette smoke you can’t get out of your favorite sweater.

Two weeks later, two little blue lines showed up on a pregnancy test. The baby my husband and I had been praying for.

I was ecstatic. I was terrified.

I spent the first three months of pregnancy curled up on our couch in the fetal position. Despite the standard exhaustion and consistent nausea, my physical symptoms weren’t bad. But mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck.

The anxiety that built up within my quickly changing body manifested in ways I could easily blame on pregnancy: hiding in my house, watching Netflix for hours, ignoring phone calls from friends and family. I felt like I was too full of emotion—filled to the brim—and any additional stress would send me over the edge. How could I have normal, happy conversations with people about my pregnancy when I had such a dark secret lurking beneath it all?  I thought about it much more than I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to stop, or who I could talk to. No one wants to hear you say you’ve been raped. Especially when you’re supposed to be joy personified, bursting with excitement about your unborn child.

When I did have the emotional energy to speak with loved ones, I was truthful about my excitement and fear (who isn’t afraid of childbirth?), but I never felt as though I was being completely honest.  As someone who generally wears her heart on her sleeve, this was exhausting and painful.  So, I spent most of my free time in full-on hibernation mode. My one goal was to incubate my growing child, protecting the precious, innocent life still unknown to me. I built myself a cozy little nest of blankets and books and read everything I could about preparing for birth.

Close to the end of my second trimester I finally got up the courage to see a prenatal therapist. She was calm and nurturing and made me feel safe. Still, it took weeks of therapy before I was finally ready to tell her exactly what had happened to me the summer of 2008. With great kindness, she listened to me, validated me, and also helped me admit to myself that one month before the rape, I had been sexually assaulted.

So there I was, very pregnant, very hormonal, very emotional, preparing for birth, and also trying to come to terms with the fact that I had been violently violated not once but twice—and I hadn’t let myself recognize the truth.

Any shred of security I once felt was lost to me. Suddenly everything and everyone seemed a threat to my safety. Trust was a dirty word. It didn’t help that at the time, our neighborhood was experiencing a wave of break-ins and burglary, and my rock of a husband, working long, hard shifts as a medical resident, was hardly home. My sleep, fitful and hard to come by, became punctuated with horrific nightmares.

It seemed impossible to escape the reality that I lived in a violent, terrible, evil world where women are raped (and children are molested and teens get addicted and men are tortured, and so on). And I was bringing a baby into this world. How could I protect him—how could I be a good mother—if I couldn’t even protect myself?

Yet I smiled for pictures. Shared my growing bump online. Dressed up for baby showers. I clung desperately to whatever joy I could find.

As my due date approached, the anxiety I felt around childbirth was palpable. I practiced self-hypnosis, imagery-based meditation, breathing, prayer—anything I could think of, and it still wasn’t enough. I was terrified that in the midst of labor I would be triggered; routine pelvic exams were difficult enough. Pain could be a trigger. Medication could be a trigger. Mentally, I could shut down. And even if I wasn’t triggered? This baby could rip me in two. He could destroy this body, already used and battered and worn. I could die. He could die. There was no way to know how labor would go or how I would respond.

I was completely vulnerable.

In the end, it was this very vulnerability that made room for the hope that saved me.

Interspersed with my fear and anxiety was the shimmering hope of redemption: my body, my story could be made new again. I thought about the strange and almost supernatural timing of my son’s conception: could it be a coincidence that in the hours I was first recognizing the truth of my past, he was being knit together in my womb? I began to meditate on the feeling of release I experienced when I learned I was a survivor: the way my shoulders dropped, as if letting go of a heavy weight; the way my entire body warmed as though melting away years of falsehood. The new life inside me was a promise of what lay beyond the empty devastation caused by acts of violence so very long ago. This new life, my son, was created out of joy and laughter and the love I shared with my husband.  

God began to feel very present to me, even amid my pain and fear. I felt very certain he had a hand in the timing of my pregnancy, that he was preparing my heart to be a mother as he led me through the hard truth about my past. The strange co-mingling of revelation and gestation began to feel like a gift. In my final weeks of pregnancy, a steady confidence began to build within me. Somehow, I knew I would survive birth and deliver a beautiful, healthy child.

God would get me through it. He had gotten me through much worse. I knew he would, not only for me, but for my son. Despite my fears, the sun seemed to shine a little more brightly, the air began to feel a little more crisp. The colors of early autumn seeped their way through my skin and stirred up my soul, reminding me of the beauty and goodness and light that can keep the darkness at bay. I was reminded of all I wanted to offer my son: the adventures we would take, the stories we would tell, the love we would share.

Today, my son is almost 10 months old, a sweet, active little boy with a mischievous grin. After all my worrying and wondering, he came into the world with relative ease. Oh, there was pain. And there was fear. I had to battle anxiety throughout the entire process. But I did it. I made it through. And in the end, I held the most precious gift.

So, why tell this story now? Why share something so private, so painful, so raw? I write these words because I know I’m not the only woman who has felt broken, used, and afraid. I share my story because I am confident that the evil of this world will not have the final say. I am speaking out because I want to be a witness to the beauty that has risen from the ashes of my life. I am reaching out in sisterhood to other survivors to say you are not alone.

jakeI’m telling this story because I want to teach my son by example. I don’t want him to live in fear or feel the need to hide from his past.

This journey of mine isn’t over. I still have days I’m overcome with anxiety, faced with the certainty that no matter what precautions I take, there’s only so much I can do to protect my child from harm. Each day is a practice in trusting and letting go.

Each day is a practice of faith.

Someday, I will tell my son about the half marathon I walked with him at eight months pregnant. I will tell him about the heat that beat down on me as I walked, feet swollen but heart bursting, through the brilliant beauty of Stanley Park. I will tell him how I thought of him the whole time, how I wanted to show him his mother was strong.

I will tell him how he taught me to be brave.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project.

If you want to know who you are, watch your feet

feet_cross

“Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” – Frederick Buechner, Alphabet of Grace

This isn’t a fun post to write, which is a bit surprising, since I love Frederick Buechner and have always deeply relished the wisdom in these words.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the cost of discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a great read if you ever want to feel challenged (and when you start thinking that Facebook arguments qualify as religious persecution).  Jesus asked his disciples to leave everything behind to follow him. Everything – jobs, family, possessions. When they gave him their resounding “yes” their lives changed dramatically. Their feet made them followers of Jesus.

Last night at the Bible study my friend Lauren I host for the high school girls at our church, we talked about the dramatic changes that happened after that fateful night on the road to Damascus. Saul of Tarsus wasn’t just a curmudgeonly tax collector (as a kid, I think I imagined him much like Disney’s cartoon version of the Sherriff of Nottingham); he was a zealot who not only “breathed threats of murder;” he hunted, captured, and imprisoned Christians who ultimately would be tried and stoned to death. He, being an avid student of the Jewish law, was a passionate man on a mission to stop the spread of Christianity.

And then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus; he was blinded, he was captured by grace. In response, he said “yes” – to whatever God was calling him to.

Where did his feet take him? They led him to the synagogues where he preached the words of Jesus to the Jewish people. They took him throughout the Roman Empire to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. They took him to prison, to miraculous conversions, to places where he could write epistles of instruction, exhortation, encouragement. Paul’s simple “yes,” his act of putting one foot in front of the other to follow God’s call on his life, meant his life was completely turned 180 degrees. Yes, he was still the passionate, zealous man he’d always been. Yet he had a new found purpose. He was a living testimony to the power and the grace of the resurrected Christ.

Incredible.

Right, so it actually seems a little disingenuous to now turn the spotlight on myself, but for the sake of truth telling, it seems I must go there briefly. So where are my feet taking me during this season of life?

Here’s the honest truth: if my identity is formed by where my feet take me (what I actually DO as opposed to what I say I want to do or believe in), here is who I am:

  • Late sleeper
  • Couch dweller
  • Bath soaker
  • Facebook addict
  • Netflix junkie
  • Laptop slave 

What the what. I am such a lazybones. Especially since I am sitting in a house that still needs to be unpacked (we’ve been here for 4 months and our books are still in boxes).

But … I’m feeling a little nudge to also add the following:

  • Reader of great books
  • Runner of 5ks
  • Baker of treats
  • Lover of husband
  • Leader of Bible study
  • Pursuer of friendship
  • Student of the Word

One thought that comes to mind is that I tend to be pretty quick to judge myself (and hey – you know what? In the matter of Facebook trolling and Netflix bingeing, it’s probably good to judge myself a little). Another thought is a reminder that I am a woman in transition. We recently packed up all of our belongings and moved clear across the country, now faced with the task of decorating an adult-sized HOUSE as new HOMEOWNERS. After four grueling years of medical school, my husband is now a MEDICAL INTERN. In the ARMY. First world problems? Sure. Still stressful? Definitely.

Even good change is change. And change leads to stress. And a big part of stress management is self care. And you know what I do to manage stress? I sleep. I watch movies. I bake treats. I take baths. On good days, I go for runs. So there you have it – in this season of life, I’m doing exactly what I set out to do when I decided to quit my job and take a sabbatical.

But aren’t we called to more than this? Even if I make a daily habit of writing on this blog and my writing improves (oh please Lord, let it improve! I feel so rusty), what else am I doing with my life? Am I actually living out the life of faith I claim I have?

Here’s what I do know: I wasn’t called to be a missionary overseas (well, at least not yet). I wasn’t called to teach English literature in an inner-city school or teach English as a second language in Japan (had those doors slammed in my face). So far, it seems, I’ve been called to be a writer and a student and a friend – maybe even a counselor. I’ve been called to love a man who owes many years to the Army. I’ve been called to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, and soul, and to love others as I love myself.

Yes, Paul is a tough act to follow. Yes, I need a swift kick in the pants sometimes, especially when I am feeling lazy and unmotivated. Yes, there are still so many things in my life – relationships, possessions, old ways of thinking – that I still cling to, sometimes desperately, that hinder me in my walk with the one whom I call Lord.

I’m going to sit with that tension for the rest of my life, I am certain of it.

And yet. I am comforted by the knowledge that he who began a good work in me will carry it out to completion (Phil 1:6). It won’t be in my timing, and in won’t be due to my effort. But it will be totally, undeniably due to his incomprehensible grace.

In the meantime, I’m just going to keep on walking.