Tag Archives: love

variousthoughtsonlove

A Celebration of Heroic Love

It’s the week of Valentine’s Day. Barf.
(Okay, not really. But I’ve never been a fan of how people obsess over this overly-commercialized holiday.)

For the past few years around V-Day, I’ve been posting pieces about singleness and how amazing it is. Stick-it-to-all-those-sillies-who-make-such-a-big-deal-out-of-this-stupid-day type posts. Because I’m fine with being single. Okay? Okay??? Geez. (In fact, I’ve never been one to mope over being single–although I’ve definitely had my down days–but I’ve always tried to fully embrace the present and be content wherever life may have me.)

But I’m not going to write a celebratory post on singleness this time. Although if you want to read my posts on singleness, please do so here and here and here. Because they are really good posts. I’m quite proud of them, actually. ;)

Instead, I wanted to celebrate love. And not in the way you may think…

***

“A genuine falling in love . . . is a capitulation to the beautiful. Falling in love here does not refer to superficial infatuations or egocentric lust but rather to a selfless commitment made to a fascinating beloved. While this is seen in ideal and holy marriages, it is especially clear in the case of saints who are head over heels in love with the supreme Beloved, whose name is God. Saints see and are smitten. The heroic response is the only response. They know from experience that anything less than everything is simply not enough.” [Fr. Dubay]

Our culture worships the idea of love and romance and all the things it entails. And yet, I think it often focuses on the wrong things. We are obsessed with the idea of obsession and infatuation. To many, getting lost in another is love. You lose yourself in this black hole of another, and you forget all your other friends, and you don’t care about anyone else, and you are consumed…

Then, of course, there’s the sexual aspect of relationships. I don’t think I need to say a ton about how our culture obsesses over sex. The only thing anyone seems to care about anymore is if the other person is “hot” and will be good in bed.

And yet, healthy, good love is not losing oneself in another. Neither is it just sleeping around with the hottest person(s) you can find. Healthy love is when two people can come alongside each other while still maintaining their separate identities, respecting one another and striving to push each other onward in each of their callings.

Love is not about obsession. It’s about selfless clear-headedness in evaluating if certain actions will harm another or disrespect another.

Love is not about lust. It’s about controlling oneself so that one’s desires don’t make another into an object simply to use for one’s sexual gratification.

Love is SO MUCH MORE.

It’s seeing another person as a human being wrought in the image of God. It’s striving in words and deeds to help another person be all they can be–and not drag them down to be something they are not.

Love is standing in the gap for another when they need it the most. Love is holding someone as they cry and not being afraid of negative emotions. Love is celebrating in one’s triumphs even when they are not (or are better) than your own.

Love is messy. Love is hard. Love is heroic.

Love can be found in so many different kinds of relationships.

It’s found in parents who provide for their children, and in siblings who call each other every week to catch up on life, and in friendships where one can be real and vulnerable, and in strangers who pass each other on the street with a kind word…

Love can be found in every human interaction. In how you treat the store cashier and how you give to the needy and how you don’t shout at that annoying child and how you rescue a stray animal off the side of the road.

It’s everywhere, people. Everywhere. Not just in romantic relationship. Love should just be part of our existence in every interaction because every human we encounter deserves to be treated with love.

That’s what it’s like to get swept up in the Beloved. That’s what I think the quote I quoted above is about. If you get caught up in God, and you embrace Him as the ultimate Beloved, then it changes everything. When you embrace that love, you can live in love. It pours out of you. Every small little thing shouts of a Great and Infinite Love that is beyond anything we could’ve ever imagined.

It’s far deeper than a simple romantic attachment between two people.

You smell it in the wind and see it in a rainbow and hear it in a bird’s song.
You feel it in a brother’s protection and see it in a child’s smile and taste it in a mother’s cooking.

I love my God, and I love my world because I love my God.
I see the beauty of love everywhere.
I see that it’s a powerful force that can heal and transform each and every one of us.

So I guess all I’m trying to say is…

Don’t limit your celebration of love.
Don’t get so caught up in whether you have someone or not.
Don’t get so caught up in chocolates and cards and dinner dates.

Don’t miss out on Love.

The heroic love that puts people first no matter if you’re in a romantic relationship with them or not. The self-sacrificing love that is just there for people even when you’re not getting anything out of it in return.

That’s Love.

That’s what I’m celebrating this week.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
[1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV]

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
[John 13:34 NIV]

horsesedited

Out of Love, He Stooped Low

 

For the past month, I’ve been starting to learn how to train and ride horses using a “natural” method. This is not the method where you break the horse and make it submit to your will as the human. Where you break its spirit and will in order to be the master that is fearfully but unquestioningly obeyed.

That is the old method.

This newer method is where you study horses and learn how to interact with horses on the horse’s level. You learn how to come alongside them, teach them trust, teach them you’re safe, and that you’re a leader. And THEN you can ride them. Then you can ask them to follow you out of trust, respect, and love.

It’s actually a much safer method of training horses. If they love and respect you as their leader, if they know you can be trusted, then they will look to YOU when danger strikes. They won’t just bolt. Horses look to their “Horse Leader” in times of crisis. If the leader bolts, they bolt.

If you’re the leader, then they will trust you enough to think twice before bolting. They will stay with you.

It’s all about mutual trust and respect.

Which may seem silly to some. I mean, you have to kind of learn the horses’ ways and, in a sense, be a horse. You do silly games with them to help build trust, and you learn to just be with them, and learn what all their signs say about what they’re feeling and their moods, and just…you kind of try to understand them on their level.

It’s silly. It makes you feel silly sometimes.

But it’s about love and trust and respect.

To come alongside an animal and show them – on their terms and in a way they’ll understand – that you are safe, worthy of trust, and worthy to be followed and obeyed and trusted.

You do it out of love for the horse. You do it out of love and the earnest desire to have a relationship built from understanding.

***

And it got me to thinking.

Horse training has been this profound realization to me of how the God of Christianity interacts with us. I mean, this is what the doctrine of the Incarnation is all about.

The God of the universe. Let me repeat that…The God of the universe came down to humanity’s level.

Can we just let that sink in for a second?

God came down and became a human.

That’s pretty much like us stooping down to “become” a horse. That’s pretty much like us saying, “Okay, in order to understand you, I’m going to use my super powers and become a horse. Just to show you how much I want to love you horses. Just to show you how worthy I am of your trust and respect as a leader.”

It’s THAT silly and preposterous and ludicrous.

It makes you cringe just a little, if you’re honest. (I mean, even if you had the power, would you ever, ever do it?)

It makes you want to laugh a little.

But God didn’t laugh.

He loved us.

And so He did it.

He stooped low in love, and He came down to our level, and He lived on earth for 33 years. And He learned how we walk, how we talk, how we use these strange things called bodies. He tripped and stumbled and cut His knees on this earth growing up. He wiped His brows in sweat and learned how the society at the time worked, and He paid His taxes and lived like us.

He just…He walked among us. Quietly, humbly, unobtrusively…for 30 years.

30 years!

He wasn’t throwing around His God-card, He wasn’t expecting people to follow His every whim, He wasn’t forcing people to respect or love or treat Him any different than they treated others. He wasn’t breaking people’s wills into submitting to His authority and leadership. He wasn’t manipulating kings and princes into bowing at His feet.

He became one of us.

He stooped low and served us.

A lowly son of man born of lowly people in a lowly stable.

***

And in doing so, He understood us.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. [Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV]

Jesus came so that He could come alongside us, show us the right way to live, and earn the respect and love of those He would ask to follow Him. He didn’t just force Himself on us. He came alongside us to show us that He is so worthy of love, of respect, of leadership. He came to understand us on deeper levels than we understand ourselves.

He gets our pains and tears and weaknesses more then we get them.

He gives us grace in our brokenness because He knows what it’s like.

He really does know how rough being a human is in this broken, sinful, dark world.

And that’s why He died. He died so that we could take our place alongside Him once more. He came to redeem the lowly state of humanity into something it was always supposed to be: The pinnacle of creation. Beautiful. Deep. Glorifying to God.

Humanity is beautiful. Humans are beautiful. We’re lifted from the dust despite our sin and disobedience, and we’re redeemed.

We are sons of the most high God. Fellow heirs with Christ. (Just read Hebrews, why don’t you? This is one of the most beautiful books in the New Testament about the theology of Jesus and how He’s redeemed humanity.)

He asks us to follow Him, and I truly believe He’s earned the right. He is a leader worthy of my all. He is a leader worthy of my trust.

For out of love, He stooped low.

hands

On Love & Control in Relationships

One thing I have been thinking about a lot this past summer is love, relationships, and control.

I did a series in July on past relationships with guys, and how painful it’s been for me. How manipulated, controlled, and violated I felt many times as I desperately tried to gain a boy’s love. I didn’t know what love was, and so I let guys walk all over me. I’d change everything for a guy if I thought that’d make him stay. I was attracted to abuse, and I mistook it for love. I have never, ever once felt that a guy loved me. He only wanted to control me.

This month, Boze Herrington took over my blog and wrote about being in an oppressive cult environment where everything was becoming increasingly controlled. Where the concept of the love of God became twisted to control a whole group of people. Where God’s love was withdrawn when people did not follow the leader’s every command.

I think it’s really hit me this summer.

Love is not about control.

It’s not about making someone look, act, think, or feel exactly like you do.

It’s not about making someone cater to your every whim or fancy.

It’s not about manipulation or force –even when it’s masked as something “spiritual.”

Love is about seeing the person as a person, about encouraging them to be all they can be, and about helping them face their brokenness with courage.

Love is about walking alongside another and giving them all the resources they need to blossom into who God has made them to be.

An artist.

A scholar.

A writer.

An engineer.

A doctor.

A mother.

A husband.

It can mean so many different things to so many different people.

Yet unlove comes when we force people to conform to our version of what we think they should be. It’s when we say, “Everyone must be a missionary and preach on corners. That is the holiest way to follow God.” Or, “Everyone better be really outgoing. God hates quiet people.” Or, “I don’t like that you drink sometimes, you’re sinning.” Or, “If you really loved me, you’d sleep with me.” Or any other thing someone can say to control your behavior.

This is so unlike God it makes me angry just thinking about it.

God loves each and every person–each and every broken, flawed individual in this world. He calls to each one lovingly, tenderly: “Come back to me. I love you, no matter how messed up you might feel. No matter how broken. No matter how confused. I can handle your darkness, your questions, your pain. Come to me.”

And yet, here’s the tricky part. Because God loves, He does call us out of brokenness. He calls us to wholeness, to holiness. He does tell us thing we should and shouldn’t do. And this can be a hard, hard battle. But God loves us too much to let us stay in the mire of our darkness. He calls us higher, He calls us to freedom. And He walks alongside us no matter how many times we stumble.

It’s a choice. The choice to embrace love, the choice to heal, the choice to find freedom in God…

The beautiful thing about God is that He never, ever forced us to love Him. He gave us a choice. That’s the beauty of true Christianity. A God who gave humans the chance to choose to love. To have free will. To respond to His love.

And yes, God’s love can draw us toward Him. God’s Spirit can speak and direct us. But God never forces us. He brings circumstances into our lives that direct us. Yet we can choose to follow Him or not.

How hard is this for God? The all-powerful God of the universe lets us have free will. He lets us choose to love Him. He lets us choose to reject Him. He beckons to us all, He died to save us, but He will never make us love Him.

Love is not love if it’s forced.

I’ve been in love. I’ve loved deeply. And my love has been rejected. I know what it’s like to reel from the pain of rejection. But let’s be honest–if the person I loved had been forced to love me back, wouldn’t it have been empty? If I could’ve made him love me, wouldn’t it have been cheap love? False love?

Real love is a choice.

And God wants us to choose. To choose Him.

It’s a dance. He asks, and we must respond. His Spirit leads, but we must follow. It’s give-and-take. And it’s the most beautiful dance we could could ever embark on.

But it’s not about control.

leaflove

When Humanity Hates, God is Love

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
[1 John 4:8]

I’ve been reading this chapter over and over the past week or so. I don’t want to be controlled by hate–even when people have done evil things to people I love, or even when I don’t agree with someone.

Hate is from Satan. He controls the world through hate. He delights in making us hate each other and view each other as the enemy, when in fact HE is the Enemy that is constantly at work turning us against each other. As a follower of Jesus, no human being should be hated–no matter what they’ve done to you or how much you disagree with them.

Jesus proclaimed a different way. That we are to love everyone, even those we adamantly disagree with. Even those who’ve done us wrong. We must pray for our enemies. We must reach out to those who are different than us. We must speak out for those who have no voice.

He said the world would know us by our love.

***

I really don’t know what this all means. I’ve had people I know do some horrible things. I have scars on my heart that are still healing. The world is full of hatred. Even the mass shooting that happened at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday is just another reminder that hatred often reigns supreme.

The guest blogger on my blog this month? The friend he talks about in his story, Rebecca, was one of my best friends. And she was destroyed through this oppressive spiritual group (as you’ll see in Part III of his story). I grieve her death every. single. day. I’m constantly fighting sadness and anger (and yes, hatred) over the hatred and control and manipulation that led to her death.

Humanity’s natural tendency is to hate. To hate and to seethe and to be on the warpath against everything and everyone who has failed, wounded, or betrayed them.

And I’m not saying that anger isn’t appropriate. Sometimes, we have to be angry. Sometimes, we do have to have justice in a situation and fight against oppression.

Yet when anger turns to hatred and hardness of heart, then something is wrong. When we turn another person (or groups of people) into a demon. When we see the world through cynical, bitter eyes that cannot see good. When we viciously wish the worst on others in an attempt to make ourselves feel better…

People commit atrocities everyday in an endless cycle of trying to “get back” at others for hurting them. At trying to seek revenge. To make someone, anyone, pay.

Hate corrupts. It turns loving people into vicious monsters. It can turn a gracious heart into a bitter, angry, cynical heart. A heart that cannot believe in good. A heart that shuts humanity out. A heart that could kill or truly hurt others (even innocent others) in an attempt to find rest.

I just don’t want to live in hate. I want to respond in love no matter what has happened.

This is hard.

The God of Love is hard to follow.

[Note: Love does not mean you give someone a free pass to continue abuse, manipulation, or evil. There are people doing atrocious things in this world, and I will always pray for justice. But I will also pray for their souls, I will pray that they will be redeemed. That they, too, can know Christ's love. In doing so, I release my own soul from damaging burdens of bitterness, anger, and being controlled by hatred. Yet I also will fully trust that God does indeed bring justice. He doesn't give a free pass to those who don't repent or continue in evil.]

singleness

Singleness and the Church – Guest Post on Convergent Books

I’m a guest blogger over at Convergent Books today! Today, I’m talking about the honorable state of singleness and the great history of singleness in the church. One of my favorite topics in the world. (No joke. It really is.)

Read it! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s an excerpt to pique interest…

singleness

Singleness and the Church

At church one time I was talking with some older ladies. Our conversation went something like this:

“So, are you married?”

“No.”

“Oh.” You could  hear the disappointment in their voices. As if there was nothing more to talk about now that they knew I wasn’t a mother or wife like them.

This has happened many times in a variety of settings. Married Christian woman act disappointed and dismissive once they find out I’m single. No matter what I talk about—be it my love of hiking, my work to protect girls from human trafficking, my endeavors in writing—it’s all met with an odd silence. With a disapproving show of disinterest.

Because I’m single, I am nothing. Or maybe, in their world, I’m broken and in need of fixing.

Read the rest here.

convergent

water

Forgotten Grace (A Poem)

Tonight, I’d like to share a poem I wrote in college.

A lot of my college years were spent messing up. I was not a perfect little Christian by any means (although I seriously tried to pretend I was). I struggled with depression, despair, abusive tendencies, bad relationships, and so many other things.

There were times I hated myself. I wanted so badly to be like everyone else–all these people who seemed to have it all together, who were perfect, who’d never experienced brokenness. And I was always so afraid that God would leave me. I didn’t truly think He loved me.

Yet it was during college that I learned what grace meant. That even when we screw up, even when we fall flat on our face, God loves. He reaches out His hand, picks us up, and helps us learn from our mistakes. But He doesn’t condemn us. He grows and deepens us through the trials and mess-ups that frequent our lives. Many times, He is so kind, He is so gentle when dealing with us.

It’s easy to focus on our mistakes. It’s easy to think, If only I’d done this, or, If only I’d said that. But in all reality, we’re all on a journey towards growth. We’re all on a journey towards healing. We so often forget that God sees us in the midst of our mess, and He loves us. He loves us toward wholeness and healing. Christ died for us so that He could lead us to the throne room of grace, so that our sins would be covered in His blood.

And that’s why I wrote this poem. Because I didn’t want to forget grace. I still have a hard time with the concept of grace, even though I’ve come so far.

(Note: WordPress is being silly and stripping out any html coding I have for spaces, so I apologize for the weird asterisks to separate stanzas).

 

Forgotten Grace

Caught up in a tumult of fierce self-degradation,

amidst the howling torment of a venomous Satan–

For one brief moment I looked away from the cross,

finding righteousness, peace, and joy to be at loss.
*

So I bowed my head low sobbing tears of condemnation,

and hated myself beyond all normal comprehension.

In an effort to perfect myself for He whom I adore,

each effort was in vain and caused more failings to abhor.

*

Until I noticed One kneeling by me as I cried

With nail-ridden hands and piercings in His side

And oh, what a look of love etched upon on His face!

“Ah, you see, my child,” said He. “You have forgotten grace.”

*

With such a gentle word ringing softly through my ears,

He took my hand, stood me up, and soothed away my fears:

And washing my feet thoroughly with a pail of living water,

The High Priest walked beside me into the presence of the Father.

09-23-08

Related Posts:

How Brennan Manning Changed My Life – Part I: Pretending to be Good

How Brennan Manning Changed My Life – Part II: Grace Is Enough

kiss

Boys, The Good & The Bad – Part IV: Beyond College

Here is Part IV of my four part series on “Boys, The Good & The Bad.” You can read Part I and Part II  and Part III here. This series is a look back on my life and my interactions with boys. My purpose for this series is to show both the pain and the encouragement that males can bring to females. It’s to explore the ugliness and beauty of relationships with the opposite gender. It’s a complicated issue, but so many us of struggle with our identity when it comes to the opposite gender. We have a profound impact on each others’ lives, for good or for ill.

kiss

***

I graduate from college. I move into an apartment. The girls I live with are staunchly single (at least at the time), and we have amazing nights of deep discussions and making fun of chick flicks. We laugh and we cry and we muse about life and love.

It’s a pretty boyless year, actually. I have a few younger guys that come over every now and then. They’re like younger brothers. But they’re consistent, they’re healing in their own ways. They don’t know anything about the pain I’ve endured, but they keep coming over, and we play games and make pizza.

And it’s what I need. Just some younger brothers to love.

***

January 2012. I leave the church I’m attending and go to a much, much smaller church. Instinctively, I know I’ll be leaving Chicago soon. I feel it in my bones.

It’s a great church.

I meet a guy there who drives me home from the Bible study I start going to. He actually listens to what I have to say, he’s interested in it. He doesn’t shush me or condemn me for thinking. I kind of have a crush on him. We talk on car drives to and from church. Those talks are healing. He treats me like a person, he likes what I have to say about church and Christians and God.

It’s refreshing. I begin to see that a man doesn’t have to be pounding his Bible and acting all smart and holy to truly be following God. This guy is in business; he has a gentle strength about him. He’s safe.

It’s healing.

But even though I have a crush on him, it wasn’t meant to be anything but a friendship.

I’m learning to let go of control. To trust that God sometimes brings people into our lives NOT to date, but to learn from, to speak into one’s life, to care for each other.

Even if I like someone, it doesn’t mean I’ll be with them. It doesn’t mean anything. I don’t have to over-spiritualize everything. I can just be.

Men and women can be healing in each others lives in beautiful and profound ways.

And it doesn’t always mean dating, or marriage, or anything.

It means loving. Loving someone as a person made in God’s image, and encouraging each other in our dreams.

***

One Sunday, in my new church, which is more charismatic, one of the guys up front points to me and says, “You’re hurting. I see your pain. When you were a little girl, you fell off the tire swing, and you scraped your knees, and you bled everywhere, and there was no one to pick you up.”

I break down into tears right there in the front of the church. Because it’s so true. I fell off the tire swing long ago, and I scraped my knees, and I bled and bled with no one to help me. There was no one to help me. I’ve felt so alone for so long in my pain.

But I feel hope as some church members pray for me.

***

I get a job in Colorado. It’s a job in publishing. My dream! I apply, interview, and get the job in a week. I move in three weeks. Everything is about to change. A new dream is beginning, one I had no idea God would truly grant me.

For a month or so before I move, my roommate and I are taking self-defense from a Christian guy who trains in martial arts. *John teaches us every day.

I’m a little wary of him, as I am all guys I don’t know at this point, but the more he instructs me, the more I can’t help contain my passion.

I love martial arts. I love learning these kinds of things. I get so excited and passionate. I love kicking and punching the bags he brings. I love learning to things like “The Flying Elbow.” It’s all so exciting. (Have I mentioned I’ve always loved Asian culture ever since I can remember?)

John likes to see this passion come out. He encourages me.

“You are a warrior, Teryn,” he tells me. “You are my warrior sister in Christ.”

Suddenly, I don’t feel bad about about how passionate and strong I am.

“Do you fit in with church women well?” he asks.

“No,” I wrinkle my nose. “I always feel like I should’ve been a boy. I like adventure and great stories and fighting and exploration. I’ve never liked sitting around talking about kids or weddings.”

“Don’t feel ashamed for who you are,” he says. “You are a warrior. Women need other women who are warriors, too. They can learn from you, too.”

It’s the first time I realize that I can be a woman and be strong and be a warrior. I can like adventure and fantasy and great stories and action. I can have that fighting spirit I’ve always had and always felt bad about having because other women (and men) didn’t understand it.

I’m a warrior.

And a woman.

It’s okay.

***

On the last night of being in Chicago, John sits me down.

“Teryn, I’ve seen so much passion and fire in you since we started training,” he says. “But you hide it. You hide your passion from people, don’t you?”

I want to burst into tears. It’s true. I’ve learned to hide so much from people.

“Don’t hide,” he says. “Don’t be ashamed. Be a warrior. You’re going to do great things for God. I see God is going to use you. Just don’t hide anymore.”

Those are the words I need to hear as I embark on a new journey to Colorado.

I’ll never see this man again. But for that brief month and a half, God used him to speak something truly deep and profound in my life.

***

I move to Colorado in a blur. As soon as I move, I have hope that with this new change, a new me will begin. That somehow I can leave the pain in the past and just forget it all.

This isn’t the case, of course.

The pain follows.

I realize how painful Chicago was, how those five years were just brutal. Yet God was working through it all trying to refine me.

But I’m so glad I’m gone. I’ve always loved the mountains. Colorado was calling me, and God let me go to Colorado to heal. To get away. To start over.

I find amazing roommates who are supporting and loving. They don’t simply look away when I tell them a little of what has gone on. They are genuine people. They won’t just leave me when it gets tough.

I don’t have many guy friends. I just don’t feel as if guy friends are essential to my life right now. It’s a time for me and God, where I learn to rely on Him as my strength, my comfort, my love. I’ve finally embraced singleness. I don’t feel wrong for being single. I felt for so long that in order to be a good, godly woman, I had to be married and with a man. But I never had peace with any of the guys I liked, and I now know it’s because they weren’t right. Yet I tried to force myself to think they were right.

I realize how often I depended on guys for my healing and my identity.

Yet I realize that God wanted to have that central place in my life. I see that so much of the hurt I’ve experienced was intensified because of placing my identity in guys, not God. I begin to accept God’s crazy, amazing love for me.

I begin to wonder if I might be single for a long time. If not for life, at least for a long time.

And it’s freeing. And it’s wonderful. I’m okay with being who I am–single and whole! Free to be myself, to dream big, to accept my life, and to follow God with passion.

I hike and I explore God’s creation.  I write Book One of my story and finish the 2nd draft. I learn so much from my job (and I really do love it). I meet new people in Colorado who are amazing.

And it is all healing.

***

I start praying for human trafficking and getting involved in a ministry here that combats human trafficking in Colorado. I pray every Wednesday. The leader of the prayer group is a guy named *Andrew. He’s much older, like a big brother or father type figure. We pray every week, but I’m really standoiffish to him.

One day he asks me, “I want to get to know you. I don’t just want to use you for a ministry opportunity.”

He doesn’t like me, he says. He just can tell I’ve been hurt a lot—especially by guys, and he wants to earn my trust.

“What can I do to earn your trust?”

I get really defensive. “You can’t do anything,” I say. “Just be patient.”

He nods and is respectful even when I’m slightly rude.

“I just want you to know there are good guys out there who aren’t wanting anything from you other than to be a friend.”

“Well, thanks.”

I leave a little flustered. I want to run away, to abandon our prayer evenings because suddenly it just seems too scary. I know I’m getting comfortable having no guys in my life. It just seems safer. Easier to just keep them at a very. Long. Distance.

But gradually, as the months pass, I realize this man doesn’t have ulterior motives. He isn’t trying to force me into anything. He’s just nice and friendly and wants to talk with me because he respects me. My walls come down a little, and I respond less hesitantly to him.

He’s part of my healing.

Months later, he tells me. “I just wanted to show you that trust is earned. A man should never demand your trust or your emotions or your space or anything. He earns it through treating you correctly.”

I get the point.

It’s a point I wish I’d learned so much earlier.

I feel healthier than I have in a long, long time.

***

My Kindred Spirit is allegedly murdered.

***

She’d been dating this awesome, Christian guy for two years now. Every time she talked about him, she gushed as to how amazing and godly and on fire for Jesus he was. (I only meet him three times, and although I don’t quite see it, I still believe her because she thinks so). They lived in a Christian community that seemed so awesome.

(In fact, I was a little jealous of her, in a way. It seemed as if she’d never, ever had the relational pain I’d had to endure the last few years. She was just in this safe bubble where everyone loved each other.)

Yet she was changing. Over the last few years, I’d seen this gradual change in her. I visited her in December of 2011, and I remember for the first time really seeing such a stark change in her. There wasn’t joy in her eyes. There was a sort of wary, distrustful look. She didn’t shine like she used to. She seemed a shadow of herself. She laughed, the laugh was empty—even a little mean.

She told me, “When we were back in high school, I think was just pretending to be introverted and to think about things and love nature all all that. I don’t really like those things. I am who I really am now.”

I didn’t like who she was now. She was becoming shallower, emptier.

I didn’t say that.

But I did say, “You’re not okay with yourself.”

“No, I’m not,” she said. She seems very alone, desperate, sad.

“You can be yourself with me,” I said. “Don’t be ashamed.”

And slowly, the bristling wall came down, and she softened, and she shone just a little bit. I could tell she felt safe again.

I brought her back to those high school years when people were kind to each other and didn’t just use each other and everything was brimming with potential.

***

Oh, how wrong we all were.

The safe bubble was actually a cage in disguise.

Her husband had become a cult leader.

He was systematically destroying her and her personality. He made her feel horrible about herself. He didn’t want her to write or think or read good books. He hated artists and thinkers. He wanted everyone to hang with each other all the time (which is hell for introverts). He didn’t want anything but his own interpretation of the Bible. He called himself an Apostle of the Apostles. He was going to lead them all to Africa where they’d be in the End Times together.

People who disagreed with him were labeled “rebellious” and weren’t following God. He had thrown people out of the community in the past few months, and the little group was closing in on itself in unwelcoming, unhealthy ways.

***

I didn’t know all this, of course. None of us knew. To everyone on the outside, they were this great, Christian community. A little…well, getting a lot more clique-ish. But nothing horrible, right?

Until my friend was murdered after she moved with her new husband into the guys’ house. After she was allegedly sexually abused by some of the guys, after her husband blamed everything and all their marriage problems on her…

She tried to get help. Maybe she tried to run. She might’ve even committed suicide. We’re not sure what happened.

Because she didn’t tell any of us. She was probably so ashamed at that point that her life was unraveling, and she didn’t know what in the world was going on.

So she tried to handle it all herself.

But her death exposed the truth.

***

And we are left to pick up the pieces.

It is not an easy time. In fact, it’s one of the hardest times I’ve ever been through (I still grieve her death every day).

There are days I feel suicidal, as if life just needs to end. I can’t go on. Not when the world is full of so much pain.

There are days I scream at God. Why could You let this happen? I already had enough men issues to begin with. How will I ever recover from this? How could something like this happen?

There are days I really think things like, Men are pretty much the worst things on the entire planet. As if somehow all Men are responsible for my friend’s death.

Yet I know I can’t let bitterness and anger control me.

I know I must let love win over hate.

It’s a battle, but slowly, I learn to grieve healthily.

Because Men are not the issue here. One man was, yes (or multiple men). But not all of them. I begin to think over all the amazing men I’ve known in my life, and I know that I can’t lump Men into a single category.

I learn to replace bitterness with hope, despair with joy, darkness with light.

(I’ve been learning to do this the past few years, actually. It’s as if everything leading up to this death was preparation for this moment).

The moment when I choose not to cave into darkness and never recover.

The moment when I choose to shine light and love no matter what has happened in life.

The moment I choose to place my trust in the God who loves me (and who loves my friend) no matter how painful life can be sometimes.

***

I cry and cry, I think and think.

Suddenly, all the things I’ve been struggling over the last few years make sense.

You see, we were Kindred Spirits in the good ways and also the bad.

I’d liked manipulative, controlling guys who sapped me of my self worth. I’d thrown my identity into men because I thought it was godly and biblical to do so. I’d sacrificed myself to make sure the men could follow their dreams, while killing all of my own out of “love.”

I’d been attracted to abuse, and I’d been abused, and somehow…

Somehow through all the pain, I’d risen above it and dealt with it and wrestled with God and grown and become strong.

A warrior.

A woman.

My friend never had that opportunity. The whole thing was so brilliantly and subtly done that none of us knew what was happening until it was too late.

But suddenly, I saw.

I had to be a voice.

A voice for spiritual oppression.

A voice for spiritual and emotional abuse.

A voice for girls who just want to be loved, but get these guys who just use them.

A voice against violation and oppression when it’s masked as godliness.

***

I had a dream about *Becca about three weeks after she died.

In this dream, she was dressed in white, and we were sitting under a tree. She was herself again. The warm, brilliant, loving, radiant girl I’d known. She was herself, but she was also so much deeper, as if her pain had somehow sharpened and wizened her into a lovely, wise, immortal being.

In that dream, Becca tells me, “God is going to use our pain. People will find hope and healing because of us.”

She talks about us and our. As if somehow, we are linked and we always will be. As if she will, in a sense live in me, and her pain and tragedy is also part of my own pain and tragedy.

Kindred Spirits in the good and the bad.

I would be our voice.

And people would look to us because of our pain.

I woke up after that dream, and I knew. I knew that was no ordinary dream.

The calling of my life began.

The call to write and to speak out against injustice and to help others embrace their identity and God’s love.

The call to break oppression in the church.

The call to help women (and men) heal and learn to love each other, not just use each other.

The call to bring light and love into a dark and despairing world.

So that is why I write.

And it’s why I write to this day. Why I haven’t given up hope even in all the grief over losing one of the deepest friendships I have ever (and will ever) know.

***

Throughout all this, you know what I’ve learned?

First off, men are bad.

Second off, men are good.

My life has been a strange mixture of men, both the good and the bad.

Men have a profound impact on women—in both harmful and beautiful ways.

But you know what?

Women need men.

We need them so badly.

We need them to show us love, to show us trust, to show us encouragement.

(And they need us).

No, I don’t hate men. My bitterness and anger towards them has been healed over the last year or so. I grieve there are so many who are hurtful. But I rejoice that I’ve known so many that are good and are trying so hard to love and to be men of God.

I honor and admire and respect these men. The men who are trying, despite hard odds against them, to be honorable, decent, loving, respectful. To treat women with love even if they get nothing out of it in return. To treat women as humans.

I thank God for them.

And I ask every man reading these posts to be that kind of man.

You are needed, men.

***

I’ve also learned that Jesus, the very Son of God and the exact representation of God’s likeness, came to be the perfect Man. He came to show us that there is a better way. That men don’t have to hate women and demean them and trample them. Jesus spoke life and love into every woman He encountered. He listened to their pains, He didn’t just judge them for their past. He loved. He called them out of their sins and brokenness, but He didn’t simply label them by their past, either.

He grasped them by the hand, and He pulled them up off the ground, and He said, “Sin no more.” He gave them hope, dignity, and dreams. He gave them Living Water that is never, ever quenched.

He let them listen to His teachings and sit at His feet as a Rabbi. He let them follow him from village to village and support His ministry. (This was unheard of in that day). He let them do things no women were supposed to do because they were inferior.

He loved women.

He was the truest and best God-Man that ever was. (Okay, the only one.) :)

And He showed His heart for all people as He walked this earth.

He called for us to live from the heart, to see others with compassion, to help each other along this dark and painful road.

He called us to love the Lord with everything in us. Because only when we know His love–that’s when we’ll love others, too.

He called us out of anger and bitterness and cynicism to hope and life and healing.

And He does the same today.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I will follow this Man.

He is my identity.

I will love Him until my dying breath and forever after.

***

I waited patiently for the Lord;

He inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,

and put their trust in the Lord

Psalm 40:1-3

*Names changed for privacy.

(This concludes my series. Hope you enjoyed it!)

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The Girl, The Heart, & The Tower (A Poem)

I’m sharing one final poem to help wrap up my series on “Boys, The Good & The Bad.”

In college, I began writing longer poems that were more narrative in nature. I have several written at various time for various reasons. It was a way to express myself in a free-running manner while still telling a story of some sort.

This is one I wrote towards the end of my senior year at college (read Part III of my series). This was a painful year, a year I began to shut down emotionally, really deal with some intense stuff, etc. So I wrote this poem as I tried to process my own heartbreak, my own story of healing and renewal.

I didn’t finish this poem until this summer, though. So it’s a poem that has spanned several years.

It’s a story. A fairy tale. A tale of healing and redemption.

Enjoy.

(I also apologize for some of the formatting in this. WordPress is silly, and so it looked better in Word. Oh well).

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The Girl, The Heart, & The Tower

Once Upon A Time,

there was girl who did not know what love was.

To her, love was what was portrayed in magazines and movies:

You gave your whole heart, your worth, your happiness

to a person.

One person.

And life was supposed to be lived happily ever after.

Then she grew a little.

And she fell in love with a boy.

Oh, how she loved him!

She took her heart completely out of her chest

and gave it all to this boy.

Her whole heart, her worth, her happiness

to that one person.

Because that is what love is, right?

But the boy she fell in love with did not return her affections.

He took her heart,

—her heart that was now completely out of her chest,

throbbing with hope and eagerness to love and be loved—

and he abused it.

He took her heart and crushed it,

pressing and beating and pounding it into a bruised mess.

And then he threw it on the ground,

and he left.

He walked away,

leaving her heart on the sidewalk,

alone and helpless,

still bleeding from all those wounds.

The girl had never known that so much pain could exist.

She looked with shock at her heart lying there

on the pavement.

And she knew that life would never, ever be the same.

The aching hole in her chest began to throb and throb.

Desperately, she tried to put her heart back into her chest,

but she couldn’t do it!

Try as she might, it was too heavy now with sorrow

and she couldn’t even lift it.

And it was so tender now.

It hurt so badly because of the bruises, the wounds,

It was a mess of emotions and feelings

Lying on the pavement helplessly.

The girl didn’t know what to do.

So she started to cry.

She just sat on the pavement by her heart,

and she cried often when no one was around.

She felt so alone and helpless.

After a while, though, she knew she must get up and try and fix it.

She was tired of lying there like victim.

But she still couldn’t repair it on her own.

It was too big of a task.

“Will someone please help me repair this heart?” she asked.

“I can’t do it on my own!”

 ***

Other boys came.

They would handle her heart,

and they would throw it again on the sidewalk.

And the mess grew larger and larger.

Some took one look at her and ran.

Others stayed for a while,

admiring her from a distance,

but once they realized she was asking them to truly help,

to come alongside her and repair the mess of a heart

with deep emotions alongside it,

they quickly ran, too, out of fear.

“Just fix it!” she began to cry more and more.

Desperation began to sink in.

“Someone, please help me fix this!

Please be a man and protect my heart,

and help me overcome this.

And don’t be afraid of my sorrow.

If someone would just come and stay and not leave,

then I would recover.”

No one would help.

No one would come.

And still her heart lay there,

unprotected and vulnerable to everything in its path.

***

So finally,

she began to realize that no one would come.

There would be no knight in shining armor.

Because fairy tales are for books,

and real life has no redemption in it.

Boys would be boys,

they would handle hearts carelessly

and play with emotions

and not care at all if her heart was injured more in the process.

“Fine,” she said.

“I don’t need them.”

And that deep desire for protection and safety

from a man died in her.

“I can do this on my own,” she said.

“I always seem to make the same mistakes.

Guys can’t be trusted,

and I can’t be trusted.

Therefore, I give up that hope.

Hope and trust are for silly romantics who have not yet tasted pain. ”

So she began building the Tower.

She collected bricks and stones,

raising up a fortress of bitterness.

The mortar that held everything together was fear:

Fear of vulnerability,

fear of pain and hurt,

fear of relationships,

fear of mistakes and failures,

fear of  being left again and again.

She began constructing a tower around her and her heart:

It was a tower of dreams

that had nothing to do with men.

Her ideals shifted to that of independence

and aloneness and careers.

She did not need a man.

She did not need people.

Her heart was safe in her Tower—

and she breathed a sigh of relief.

For at least her heart would not be trampled upon

or thrown on the ground anymore.

Still, in her quiet moments,

she felt very sad.

And for some reason she could not decide why.

The girl would sometimes open up the window to her Tower,

and peer out and interact a little.

But fear always drove her back in,

slamming the windows shut.

***

And in the Tower she began to suffocate.

Fear was all around her now.

Darkness entrenched her.

The Tower blocked out

the sun,

the breezes,

the birds,

the rain.

She couldn’t feel,

or see

or smell

or taste Life.

Real Life had ceased.

Her heart was in a vacuum of senselessness.

And in panic, she realized she had shut herself off

to feeling, to love.

Self-protection had led to alienation.

She had shut out everyone.

She was truly alone.

It was dead inside that Tower.

But she was trapped inside now.

And all she could do was shake in fear.

And cry.

***

But then, He came.

At first, there was only a faint sound of His steps,

coming nearer and nearer.

The girl looked out of the Tower

and saw His approach from far away.

She had seen His likeness before,

in pictures, in stained glass windows, on wooden crosses.

But in reality, He was so different than any of those images.

He approached with the determination of a general at war,

riding on a white horse,

a sword glimmering at his side,

and His eyes were like the lightning.

And she cowered in her Tower,

for the very sight of Him in all His realness

struck fear and trembling into her very bones.

“He cannot see me like this!” she thought.

“I am ugly, worthless, ashamed.

This is all my doing.

I’m trapped, and I deserve to be left here

in my own sins.”

The first words He said were,

“Do not fear,”

gently, just like He were talking to small child.

He surveyed her Tower,

and instead of dark judgment in His eyes,

or disgust,

there was compassion instead.

“Do you wish to be free?” He asked.

She nodded and could not speak.

So He began to walk around her Tower.

And as He walked in slow circles

with steady steps,

He began to speak.

“You are loved,” gently.

“I am loved?” she asked with quavering doubt.

“Yes, you are loved,” He said.

“I am loved,” she repeated.

And all at once, His words began to sink in.

“I am loved!” she said louder.

“I am loved!” again with exceeding joy.

And He began walking around, destroying her Tower.

One by one,

the bricks of fear and bitterness and anger began to fall away.

It took much longer than she thought it would.

Each brick falling away was painful,

because the girl was not used to the sun and the beauty anymore.

And she stumbled upright and looked at Him in awe,

blinking in wonder.

Her heart still lay on the ground.

He reached towards her heart,

and He picked it up in His great hands.

The heart was enveloped in His strong fingers.

His hands covered it completely and deeply.

He held it tenderly.

He rubbed it and massaged it

so that it began to truly live once more.

It began to beat again.

The beatings of the heart were painful at first.

The girl writhed a little.

It hurt—it hurt to feel things again.

Sorrow, joy, love, care…

“It’s too much,” she said.

“I don’t want a heart anymore.

Pain will come again.”

“To love is to see pain,” He said.

“But to live is to love. Real Life is made of love.

Will you sit in death forever?”

Her eyes welled with tears.

Because she knew it was worth it.

To have an alive heart was worth it.

And He placed her heart back in her chest,

and she felt the embrace of His hands holding her heart safely,

a protection and a love enveloping her heart like never before.

She knew that now,

her heart was hers and His.

It was safely where it should be.

He kissed her on the forehead.

And He showed her the vast, open world before her,

spread out in green rolls of earth,

the horizon melting into the distance,

great mountains soaring overhead like marching sentinels.

And He said,

“Go Live.”

And so she did.

She ran through the fields.

She climbed the misty mountains.

She drank from the rippling streams.

The wind blew through her hair,

and it carried her away on its currents.

She was free at last.

And she lived Real Life.

Spring 2011, Summer 2013

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Boys, The Good & The Bad – Part III: The College Years

Here is Part III of my four part series on “Boys, The Good & The Bad.” You can read Part I and Part II here. This series is a look back on my life and my interactions with boys. My purpose for this series is to show both the pain and the encouragement that males can bring to females. It’s to explore the ugliness and beauty of relationships with the opposite gender. It’s a complicated issue, but so many us of struggle with our identity when it comes to the opposite gender. We have a profound impact on each others’ lives, for good or for ill.

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***

Needless to say, I enter Bible college a broken mess.

For two years, I’d loved a boy who never loved me back. I poured my heart out trying to save a broken boy who drained me of all emotion and made me hate myself because he didn’t look at me once in the way I looked at him. I’m recovering from anorexic tendencies, still struggling intensely with self-hatred and depression, and I have so many questions as to why that whole boy mess happened in the fist place.

Now, I’m surrounded by boys. Some of them are interested, some of them flirt with me. I just cant. I can’t do it yet. I stare at myself in the mirror and think, “What do they see in me that I don’t?” I wonder if I’m pretty. I just don’t know. All I can see is a girl who wasn’t good enough for the boy she loved so deeply.

I’m lonely. I don’t want to date yet. I just want a friend. I pray to God one night, “I just want one guy friend who will simply be my friend all four years here at Bible college. Just one friend who won’t expect anything from me.”

A few days later, *Alex, who is in the same First Year Transitions group I’m in, walks up to me after class, shakes my hand, and tells me, “I’m Alex. I don’t like you or anything. But I want to be your friend.”

I’m blown away. I don’t like him either. Phew.

He sees me a few days later, and we sit at a soccer game cheering on our school’s team. He tells me if our team scores a point, he’ll give me an avocado. Our team scores 8 points. He has to ask another girl friend of ours where to get me an avocado. But he gets me one.

As the months pass, he asks me how I’m doing, and I hesitantly respond. But our friendship slowly grows. I know he’s safe. I know he doesn’t want anything from me. It takes a while, but he is a friend all four years of Bible college.

A friend God gives me in His great mercy.

A friend who simply cares.

***

My sophomore year in college, I date Boy Two. I actually start liking this guy my freshman year in college, and it carries over into sophomore year. I really think he’s awesome. He’s smart and likes theology and art. I am convinced God wants us to be together. I am so attracted to him (which is funny to think about now–he really wasn’t that amazing). I like his facial hair. And….and darn it. I just can’t get him out of my head.

Finally, in a burst of “stepping out in faith,” I Facebook message him my number. I know girls aren’t supposed to do that, right? We’re supposed to let a guy pursue us. Well, I failed.

About a month later, he finally calls (he’s been warming up to me before that). We hang out, we study.

He tells me we’re just friends.

Okay, fine, I think. I can do this again. It’s not like Boy One. I learned my lesson. I don’t have to give my heart away like that.

A day later, he calls me again. We hang out another time. “I think I want to give you a chance.” He tells me. “We’ll see how this goes.”

Suddenly, things are turning around. God truly does want us to be together.

***

We don’t-date-but-actually-do-date-because-we-hang-out-ALL-the-time-alone-together for a few months. This entire time, he’s up and down. Sometimes, he tells me that he likes me and just can’t stop thinking of me. Some days, he tells me he doesn’t know what to do with me. “I mean, I like you. I just don’t know if I should date you,” he says. “I’m really, really praying about it. God is just going to make it clear. I mean, I want to date you, I just don’t know if God wants it.”

This is confusing to me. I feel as God wants us to date. Why isn’t Boy Two getting the clue? But I like him so much, and so I just go along with it.

One evening, he asks me, “So…why should I date you?” Although I don’t see it at the time, it’s a subtle “What’s in it for me?” type question. He wants to know if I’ll be worth it. If I’m worth his time and effort.

What do I say to something like that? Why should he date me? I was hoping he’d know that without having to ask me.

Because we kind of are dating, whether he’ll label it that way or not. We’re hanging out almost every evening. And if we don’t hang out, he’s calling or texting me.

But it’s not dating, according to him.

It’s just….weird.

I just feel a little sad inside a lot of the time I’m with him. I feel empty. I can’t seem to get super happy. One evening, he tells me, “I like you! I really like you. I really do! And I want to date you, I just need to pray a little longer. I’m just not sure about a couple things.”

I try to get happy. But I can’t. I don’t know why.

“Why aren’t you happy?” he asks me. “You should be happy about this.”

“I don’t know,” I tell him.

“Well, I told you I really like you. You should be happy.”

The next time I see him, I try to be very, very happy.

***

Finally, he says, “God says we can date.”

God is good!

He said yes.

So we date.

***

He’s a guy who tells me I’m wrong all the time, who demands my trust, who expects me to support him and all his emotions, but doesn’t do the same for me.

“Give me your trust,” he says. “I need to know you trust me. I don’t want you to hide things from me.”

He wants to know my hurt, my past, my pains. I feebly attempt to tell him some of the pain I’ve been through with Boy One. I try and trust him because I need someone to show me what trust means. I need him to be healing. I need to learn to trust a guy.

So I give him my trust. Not my love, my trust.

Yet when I ask him about his past, he won’t tell me anything.

***

He tells me I’m wrong all the time, he treats me like I can’t think logically even when I can, he doesn’t like that I’m smart.

He tells me exactly what our future will look, what the next ten years of my life will be like. He tells me what he’s the leader of the relationship, that he makes the decisions, and that I will follow and support him. He tells me that it’d be weird for us both to pursue our passions, because the guy is supposed to do that in order to provide for the girl.

He tells me a lot of things.

And I listen, like a good girl should, and I obey. God wanted us to be together, I think. So I have to be happy. I’ve got to be a godly woman and submit. I’ve got to make this work. 

***

And he finally breaks up with me because, “God told him to do it.”

God told him to break up with me? It’s painful, it’s wounding. Why use God as an excuse? Why use God as a way out? I’m just confused. “God told you to date me in the first place,” I say. “You said you’d prayed about it.”

“Well, I did. He just told me this now.”

Boy Two takes the trust I began placing in him and pulls the rug out from underneath me.

And he doesn’t really care about that at all.

“I’m afraid you’ll say bad things about me. I’m afraid everyone will hate me,” is what he he tells me when we break up. That’s all he cares about. How he appears to everyone outside. It’s all about him all the time.

(I don’t say much about him at college. His reputation, after all, is so very important, and I don’t want to damage it).

***

Yet with that break-up, something breaks inside me again.

I didn’t love him.
But I did trust him.

Something about Boy Two and his whole mess has damaged me more. I feel like dying. Especially when he ignores me–literally, ignores me–after we’ve broken up as if I hadn’t even existed.

I am of absolutely no importance.
I am no one.

Just a speck that he easily abandoned.

He moves onto other girls after that. We are all a secret from each other until a year later, when we realize he’d messed around with multiple girls all in a row.

I begin counseling that year.
Because something is really wrong.

***

Summer after sophomore year. I decide to stay in Chicago for the summer. My friend Alex stays in town over summer, as well as some other guys. We all hang out in groups and do silly things together. We have a Hulk night and dress in green, we watch Band of Brothers, we play Scrabble. We also have serious talks about life and relationships.

They are just there.

They help me clean the dishes when we have parties.

They laugh at me, and I feel a little funny.

They are in awe that I can predict the plot of Iron Man right away. (I’m a writer, so sometimes I just see how someone would write things into plots. But really, Iron Man is not that…hard).

They are just nice.

I begin to see how good these guys are. They simply treat girls like humans. They aren’t how to see how many they can date, how many they can sleep with, how many they can use.

It’s a great summer, even though I feel so broken. Even though I have times where I feel so, so sad.

But I’m glad I have friends. Guys who remind me that there are great guys. Not all of them are disorienting, self-absorbed, damaging.

***

Junior year hits. It’s just…a hard year.

I secretly like Guy Three all year, and he never even looks my way. And when he finally does, its just this condescending, playing kind of interest. He lusts after me, I can tell. But lust doesn’t make him want to go for it, since he’s a good, Christian guy. I feel like an object most the time when I’m around him. I feel flustered every time I’m around him. I feel stupid and inferior and not cool enough and just…horrible.

I’m a failure at capturing a man’s true, genuine attention. I couldn’t with Boy One. Boy Two didn’t stick around. And Boy Three just kind of flirts with me, condescendingly speaks to me, and in general is just a self-absorbed jerk, even though I genuinely like him. Even though I tell myself he’s this awesome guy who loves God so much.

I feel pretty pathetic.

Because I kind of am.

But why?

***

I go to counseling all year, and it’s the year I begin to get to some painful stuff. Stuff that goes deep into my family and into seeing how imperfect my family is. How I never connected emotionally with my own father, which is why I constantly look for affirmation for it in guys—especially broken guys.

I’m devastated by this. My family is supposed to be perfect. I love them so much. Yet I never told them anything about my pain. And they never really asked. I was so alone in high school so much of the time. I hid so much from them. I wonder if I can ever repair our relationship. I wonder if I can ever work through my father hurt–which wasn’t intentional at all, but has still deeply wounded me.

The end of junior year come. I am officially rejected by Boy Three, who tells me that we are just friends and he is interested in another girl. Yet he was playing with me. He was really attracted to me. I saw his eyes. I know the looks.

But I wasn’t enough.

I’m never enough.

The whole thing is so confusing to me.

And I realize a guy can be attracted to you, lust after you, use you, and still not care once cent about you.

***

Alex and I do homework one night together (he likes that I take good notes). He sees I’m not doing well.

“Can I just tell you something?” he says. “I’m engaged now, so I can tell you this. I’ve always been your friend, so you don’t have to think this is weird. But you are beautiful, and you are talented, and you are godly. You’re better than most the girls at this school. And if a guy doesn’t see that and admire it and pursue it, then he’s not worthy of you. You’re worthy of being pursued, of being treated well, of being loved.”

I nod tearfully as he gives me this speech. I realize it’s something I’ve always needed to hear. But no one ever told me this. I go to my room and cry and cry.

A few weeks later, I tell another friend what Alex told me. She needs to hear it, too.

There are so many girls who need to hear it.

His words are healing, his words are true, his words are caring.

And I’ll never forget them.

***

It’s the summer after junior year. I’m not in a good place. I can feel myself hardening. I sometimes cry in our apartment when no one is there.

I’m feeling a lot of anger. Anger towards my family, anger towards God, anger towards men. I’m feeling angry towards myself and how I just can’t seem to get a guy to stay to save the life of me. I’m feeling anger towards guys and all their stupidity. How they use girls and lead them on and drop them when they feel like it.

All I want is to be loved. To feel safe.

I’ve never felt loved and safe with a guy (romantically). Never!

I don’t know it at the time, but that summer is when I make the vow: “I will never love a guy again.” But I do. My heart hardens, the walls go up. It just seems too hard to try and work through my issues. It seems easier to just…stop. To stop trying.

Guy are never sincere, I think. They always just want what they want. They never really care.

(It’ll be two years before I realize the silent vow I made to myself that summer).

***

This is the summer I begin having weird panic attacks whenever rape is mentioned or I see it on movies. Seriously, I watch four movies that summer with graphic rape scenes (on accident), and I start shaking every time I watch them. I start crying. It’s like this visceral reaction. It’s so strange. I know I haven’t been raped, but for some reason, I’m reacting so strangely to these things.

Something is wrong.

I just don’t know what.

***

My roommate is engaged to a great guy that summer. He looks at her with that Look. He has eyes only for her. I see how much he loves her. This warm, full look. It gives me comfort to see it. That’s the way a man acts who is really in love, I think. When he truly doesn’t seem to see anyone else but his woman in his mind.

You can tell.

You can tell when a man looks at a woman and loves her and sees her. You can tell when a man looks at a woman and simply sees her alongside plenty of other women.

Isn’t a woman just another woman to most men?

The whole thing makes me sad. Because guys are always looking at someone else, always lusting after things they don’t really care about. I can tell because I know I’m beautiful now, and I see guys stare at me all the time. They don’t do anything but stare. They never try to get to know me, they just look. And it’s not the nice look, either.

And I’m tired.

This is not a good way to start my senior year in college.

***

Senior year in college happens.
The Year From Hell.
Everything comes to a head.
Some guy friends I truly thought were friends abandon me at the beginning of the year. They move onto other girls quickly and with ease, as if they hadn’t cared at all (which I guess they didn’t). But I cared, and I’m devastated.

It’s the last straw.

I don’t understand how guys can just easily abandon girls—even girl friendships, I shout to myself. I don’t understand that kind of inhumane tossing aside of relationships for whatever else comes next. I don’t understand why guys use girls all the time for their own gain and pleasure. Even Christian guys who are supposed to be so much better than Non-Christians, right?

Christian guys suck just as much as Non-Christian guys. They’re just better at pretending they’re not!

I’m tired,

and I’m jaded,

and I’m bitter

and I’m angry.

***

I’m going to counseling. I begin to sift through the mess that is my emotions. I begin to realize that I have suffered abuse in the past from guys. No, not physical abuse, but spiritual and emotional abuse. I feel violated. I feel alone. I feel as if Boy One and Boy Two just took, took, took and left my heart lying in this mess on the floor. It still lies there, unprotected and vulnerable. So then Boy Three was just such a stupid, pathetic mess because I just let him play around because I just didn’t know how a guy should treat me.

“There’s such a thing as emotional rape,” says my counselor gently. “It’s where you are violated emotionally, where a guy demands emotions or trust from you, then takes those things and leaves, just as he would physically taking you.”

Emotional rape. I’ve never heard of it before. But suddenly, everything makes sense. The summer movies where I started shaking when rape was addressed. The ways I clench up when people talk about it. The ways I silently relate to girls who’ve been sexually abused, even though I have no idea why I relate so deeply.

A boy doesn’t have to force himself physically on you in order to violate you and take things he never should’ve taken. A boy can take your emotions, and your love, and your trust and leave with them. It is, in a sense, rape. Yet it’s so much more subtle. So much harder to figure out than outright physical violence. Boys can just as deeply wound through emotional aspects.

I begin to understand why I’ve felt so broken ever since Boy One and Boy Two.

I freak out. I start having black outs and panic attacks. I feel like I’ve failed. I’m not a good, Christian women. I’ve been abused. I’ve abused myself. I truly think I shouldn’t be loved. God’s going to leave me if I make one more mistake. No one will ever love me. I’ve messed up. It’s all my fault. If I’d just been a good, perfect Christian girl who wasn’t so broken, none of this would’ve happened.

I victim-blame just like victims usually do.

***

Another of my friends since freshman year, *Sam, sees something of the pain and starts telling me he’s praying for me. He’s a fun, great guy. I never tell him what’s truly going on because I’m so ashamed about the abuse stuff, but he sometimes listens and he sometimes prays for me. And just knowing that is helpful.

We sit on the bus on the way to senior retreat, and we talk about things, and he tells me about a book called The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. I know I need to read it. I ask him if I can borrow it.

A few days later, he comes up to me. “I was going to give this to you in a few weeks once I’d finished it,” he says. “But I just really felt like God told me to give you this book now. You need to read it.”

So I eat up that book. It’s all about love and grace and forgiveness. How we are all broken, yet God still loves us through the brokenness. My life is changed because of that book, my relationship with God changes because of it.

I will be forever grateful to him for helping me even though he didn’t know how important it was that I read that book.

The impact you have on people through simple acts of kindness can be astounding.

***

My friend Alex also talks with me. I don’t tell him what’s really going on, either. I just can’t tell anyone—especially a guy. But he sees something is wrong, and he talks to me. “You can cry, you know that?” he says. “It’s okay to cry.”

“I know,” I say.

He’s about to get married, and he’s about to graduate in December, and I know our friendship will never be the same. It’s ending, in a way. I’m okay with it, because it has to be that way.

Yet he’s the one guy friend I have all four years who I really trust. The one guy who asks me questions and isn’t afraid of the responses I give him and who stays by my side even when I get really, really broken.

I’m so grateful for him.

And I will miss him when he graduates.

Because now, I’ll have no one to talk to.

***

My last semester at college is a painful one.

I’m alone. I have no guy friends anymore that I can really talk to. I have one girl friend left at school (most my other good friends have graduated) who knows what’s kind of going on.

The only one who truly knows is my counselor.

I want to shut down. I don’t want to feel anything anymore. I don’t want one more person to leave or abandon me. I don’t ever want to love or be loved.

I feel numb. I don’t care anymore.

People really suck.

Christians suck the worst.

***

(LARGE PARENTHETICAL STATEMENT:

This is the year I like Boy Four. I’m not going to say much about this crush. It’s actually more painful than any of the others, because he’s actually a good guy. The first good guy I’ve liked in a long, long time. I never even show him or tell him I like him. I feel too broken to do much of anything anymore when it comes to romantic feelings. It’s a very secret crush that lasts most of senior year. Sometimes, I think he likes me, but I never know for sure.

I wasn’t going to mention him in this post, but I have to be honest. So there. Boy Four.

It’s different this time, though. Because I know in my heart of hearts it’s not going to work out–no matter how much I like him. No matter how much I pray or try and make God say yes.

God says no.

And it’s the first time I don’t fight it as much as I’ve done in the past.

Yes, it’s hard. I make some mistakes during this year with Boy Four. I do try and tell myself God wants it, I do try and control the situation. But I recognize these things in myself now. I’m fighting them for the first time.

But it’s also a triumph. Because in the end, I walk away from the feelings, the feelings that I know are wrong, and I say no to myself.

It’s the first time I feel God calling me to something else. Not dating, not marriage (at least not now). Not those  girlish dreams of my romantic youth.

But other dreams.

Dreams I can’t see yet. Dreams I can hardly imagine.

And I take God’s hand and start surrendering. (It’s a painful surrender, to be sure).

There’s nothing I can control–not love, not life, not anything.

I die to self.

It’s the first time in my life I truly do so.

END PARENTHETICAL STATEMENT)

***

Last semester, I take this drama class.

In the class, we have to feel. We have to do these creative projects that make us express emotions and pain. It’s a hard, hard class, but God uses it to help me get through that last semester. He helps me realize how deeply important art and creativity is in my life. How He made me so expressive and creative for a reason. I’ve stopped really doing creative things because I feel that a grown up doesn’t do those things. A good Christian doesn’t do those things.

The class begins to heal me, because it’s the first step I take toward embracing myself as a creative, artistic, expressive person once again.

I come up with a project for this drama class’s final exam. It’s a experiment in facing my wounds. I’ve begun to realize that for so long, I’ve placed my identity in others–especially men. It’s been painful. But because I’ve placed my worth in others, I’ve nearly been destroyed. I let them walk all over me. I let them use me.

And it has to stop. I must find my identity in God.

I ask this guy to help me with it. I need a painter for the drama I’ve written. A painter to represent Jesus. This painter will paint a painting entitled “Loved.” This painter will paint over horrible words people have given me. He will show me a new identity.

I don’t know this guy very well, but he’s in my class, and he’s an artist. A good artist. I don’t think he’ll help me—I mean, who would? I’m just a mess. But I guess he doesn’t know that. I ask him, and he says yes.

We work on the project, and that is, in a way, healing. He sees some of my pain. I have to show some of my emotions to this guy in order to make the drama effective. I’ve shut down so much at this point that I hate showing emotions to guys (to people period).

But I do. And we perform our drama about being Loved, and it’s a huge success. Beautiful in so many ways.

This guy gives me the painting he paints for our skit. “This is yours,” he says. “This is your story.”

Another moment of healing.

The painting says “Loved.”

It’s a needed reminder as I graduate and start another life.

A new life.

(And it is this project that inspires me to begin my blog, Identity Renewed.)

***

A few years later, I ask myself: Why are relationships about control so often? Why can’t we let people we date be who they are meant to be? Why can’t we let them dream and encourage their dreams? What makes us want to stifle them?

Is it fear? Jealousy? Pride? Or all of these things?

To truly love someone is to hold them in an open hand. To truly love someone is to want to see them succeed in their passions. To see them flourish and grow and become more like Christ.

If someone you are with doesn’t listen to you, stifles your opinions, stops your dreams, treats you condescendingly, plays around with other people even as they date you…If they tell you, “God told me you need to behave that way or go along with my plan,” or just use God as a trump card all the time for their own actions….

Something is wrong.

And God is not okay with that. God gets really ticked when people use His name as excuses for their own immature, selfish, controlling behavior.

God isn’t the cause of these things.

God probably doesn’t want you to to be with someone like that.

In fact, He doesn’t.

But so often, we place our identity in the opposite gender, and we stop truly listening to God, because it seems so much easier to put our worth in a guy or girl.

But we are Loved. God loves each and every one of us. And yet, if we don’t understand His love for us, we will let others treat us any way they want. Our relationship with God, the truths we believe about Him, are so crucial to every other human interaction. When our identity is in Him, things begin falling into place.

Because to live in His love, to place our identity in Him, is to learn what Real Love is.

I learned this lesson over those four years of college. I learned to start placing my worth and value in God, not men. And yes, it took some hard, painful things in order to do this. But now, a few years down the road, I’d never take back those experiences.

I also learned to surrender to God. I start learning to follow Christ in my heart of hearts. I stop fighting Him and telling Him what to do when it came to life and love. I took His hand and truly started walking with Him in the direction He was walking. It was a novel idea, I suppose, to follow Him instead of the other way around. To begin trusting Him to direct the course of my life instead of me.

Yet this changes everything. Because I am Loved, and God has a better plan for my life than any I can dream up on my own.

Tune in next week for Part IV, the last part of this series!

*Names changed for privacy.

BrokenHeart

Heart-Mender (A Poem)

BrokenHeart

In honor of my series in July entitled “Boys, The Good & The Bad,” I’m posting another poem about love.

I wrote this during the time I was realizing my heart was broken. I wrote this in an effort to give my heart to God, because I felt like such a mess. I knew He’d be the only One who would help me make sense of all that had happened, all the pain, all the questions.

It took a lot longer to mend my heart than I ever thought it would. In fact, I’m still on the mend. But God has been a faithful Heart-Mender. He has slowly, carefully, methodically stitched up my heart so it is functional once more. He continues the process, and for that I am ever grateful.

Heart-Mender

There I knelt—crumpled in a little heap.

My heart, wounded and pried,

I clutched in my trembling hands;

And although they shook,

Again and again I tried

To take a needle and thread

And mend the heart-rent.

*

To no avail—coursing in small ripples,

My tears, silent and hot,

I rubbed away with my hands;

I was not capable

Of fixing that grievous shot

That had been rendered

By an unrequited love.

*

Then He came—crouching beside me.

My heart, tender and raw,

He cupped in his gentle hands;

Looking into His eyes,

I knew that He saw

The story of my aching hurt

And my unshakeable pain.

*

No reprimand—gazing down with love,

My tears, sparkling and dewed,

He soothes as He sews with his hands;

Stitch by careful stitch,

My heart will be renewed

With skill and lovingkindness

By the merciful Heart-Mender.

04-18-06