As I have mentioned before in a previous blog post, I grew up in the church. My parents were pastors, I was leading worship by the time I was 15, I attended every district event in my denomination, I was the perfect poster child for an “on fire for God” PK. But it didn’t mean a thing to me. There’s something about hearing the same thing over and over again that makes it lose its meaning. For me that was the gospel and the love of God. I knew all of the text book answers of how a relationship with God was supposed to look, but it didn’t mean anything.
And growing up a pastors kid is difficult. Not to say that people who didn’t have that upbringing had it easy but there is a distinct difference. For some reason church members have a tendency to feel entitled to spectate the lives of their pastor’s children. And I have endured more scrutiny than I wish to recount on. I always sort of felt like I was living inside a glass box on display for everyone to see. Whether it be my haircut or my outfit or the types of movies or books I enjoyed, far too many opinions were shared.
Being under this kind of judgement planted a very deep sense of shame in me.
It made me feel as though no matter what I did I couldn’t do anything right. And no matter how hard I tried I would never be good enough.
I started to become bitter and resentful of my life in the context of the church. Which in turn made me bitter and resentful of God.
When I was 12 my parents adopted three wonderful children from South America. I had been the youngest up until this point and my life was changed forever when they came home to be with us. I love my siblings to death and wouldn’t change that for the world. They had experienced a horrific amount of trauma but my youngest sister had the most difficult time transitioning to her new life here in America with us. She had very explosive fits of rage at times when things would upset her and this took up a great deal of my parents’ time and energy.
With my parents preoccupied and my heart riddled with a feeling of shame and not being good enough I was in an incredibly vulnerable position.
And Satan loves nothing more than vulnerable people who are ashamed of themselves.
A family friend who was in need of a place to live was invited to live with us when I was 16. He had been someone I had known and trusted for almost two years up to this point. We were unaware of the dangerous intentions he brought into our home. I had no idea that for those two years he had been, to put it in legal terms, “grooming” me.
Grooming is a term used to describe the process a sexual predator takes to manipulate and lure their victims.
So at 16, vulnerable, ashamed, and now groomed. I very quickly found myself being raped and abused on a daily basis. And the whole time I thought it was my fault.
In my head I thought this was happening to me because I was bad. Which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. But manipulative predators have a way of brainwashing you into thinking that you deserved it, you wanted it, and they were entitled to it because you somehow owed them.
This abuse continued for almost all of my time in high school as I never told my parents what was happening to me.
I finally confided in my parents right before I graduated high school and this man was immediately removed from my home and the proper actions were taken.
But even then I still didn’t understand the full extent of what had been done to me.
Survivors of sexual abuse often feel conflicted because your body physically responds to sexual stimulation whether you want it to or not. And this creates an extreme amount of confusion.
I wasn’t aware of the full extent of my trauma until much later.
I graduated high school and was headed off to my dream school to pursue theater which I love more than anything in the world. While I was able to keep up the appearance of walking with God I had so much hatred toward God in my heart.
He let that happen to me. And it was his fault.
While at school my life slowly began to crumble before me. My trauma hit me like a ton of bricks and I found myself suffocating beneath it.
I started having regular panic attacks, night terrors, severe anxiety, I was over eating and I was gaining weight.
I receded from everything. My work ethic failed because I couldn’t sleep and I was exhausted all the time. And so my reputation with my classmates and my professors went down the drain because I didn’t want to have to tell everyone what was wrong with me so I had no choice but to be labeled as a lazy slacker who didn’t show up to class. When in reality I was drowning in debilitating anxiety and being terrorized in my sleep and was in a state of constant exhaustion with very little room to do anything but survive.
I found myself dreading going to rehearsals and being a part of theater at all which had been my one true passion for years.
My friendships were failing left and right and I found myself more and more alone.
I started pulling away from my church community.
And I honestly felt like I had completely lost my mind because I couldn’t function like a normal person.
I couldn’t even handle getting up and just going outside without feeling panicked.
And the worse I got, the more angry I became.
On top of all of my own struggles my family was experiencing one hardship after another with multiple car accidents, emergency surgeries, family crises etc.
My life had become Murphy’s Law.
If it can go wrong, it will. And it did.
And all I could think was how dare God condemn me to such a life. I thought he was supposed to love me. What are considered some of the prime years of a persons life had been and were still being ripped away from me and I couldn’t hold on to anything.
One night I couldn’t sleep and I was feeling incredibly restless so I decided to go for a walk around campus. Sometimes I would go sit in a particular tree just to feel as though I were away from people and hidden in some forest wilderness. Living in the city of Phoenix, this was the closest I could get.
I was sitting in this tree at the age of 19 facing a diagnosis of PTSD and social anxiety, exhausted, weighing 30 more pounds than I had 4 months earlier, feeling completely defeated. Being the giant cry baby that I am, I just started sobbing.
And for the first time in a long time I spoke to God out of a broken, desperate place.
“Why do I have to be one of those people that has to go through everything? Why can’t I be one of those people that gets saved from it?”
And God responded in the plainest way.
“Because you’re not.”
Now this was not the answer I had wanted. That answer explains nothing. Nor did it make me feel better. But it was so simple I couldn’t even argue. And in that moment I realized something. My upbringing in the church had caused me to forget, and take for granted the most simple things about God. And I was so busy trying to understand Him that I forgot to get to know Him.
The simple truth is that He’s not meant to be understood. And how silly of me to think that the very being that created my ability to understand things would fit in my tiny human concept of logic.
I wasn’t going to get an answer of why those things had happened to me. And the minute I accepted that I felt the first taste of freedom.
As I walked back to my dorm I was reminded of a Bible story that at the time I had considered very elementary.
There is a story, found in the book of Daniel in the third chapter,of three men named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendago. In this story a king named Nebuchadnezzar created a gold statue and he declared that when certain music played everyone was to stop and worship this idol. But these three men refused. The King was furious at their refusal and threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace if they didn’t obey him.
The men replied in Daniel 3:16-18
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
I had heard this story a thousand times, but this time around the statement “But even if He doesn’t” was illuminated for me.
“Even if He doesn’t.”
These men were staring death in the face trusting that God would save them but having faith in His character even if He didn’t.
And this moment changed my whole life.
God isn’t always going to do what we want Him to. But He’s still God and He’s still good.
The circumstances of our life don’t change the character of who He is.
That’s the difference in being a follower of God and a spectator of God. We are made to worship Him and love Him whether he does what we want Him to or not.
And so I let go of trying to understand and I stopped spectating at God’s actions and began participating in His relationship.
It wasn’t always pretty, sometimes my time with God was me screaming at Him in my car because I was still so angry. But He’s not afraid of my anger. He wants every part of me, even the ugly parts.
And I didn’t get better all of a sudden. I’m still working through my trauma and I still battle my anxiety more than I wish I had to. But through it all I choose to love God and to worship Him. Because he’s the only thing that makes any of it worth it.
Life is hard and life is scary and bad things happen. It’s naive to think they don’t. But God is bigger than all of it, and He is faithful, and He will never ever let go.