Grad School · Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

The Lent of Letting My Walls Come Down

It’s been a long, difficult, and rewarding period from the beginning of Lent to now, a few days after Easter (He is risen! Alleluia!). One of the reasons for this? God challenged me to give up my defensiveness this Lent. After an almost two-month period of struggling with this, my goal is to never take my defensiveness back up.

I wrote at the beginning of Lent about God’s initial challenge to me, but I couldn’t have expected the beautiful moments that have happened. Rather than telling you each individual moment when I felt a tiny piece of a wall I’d built up crack and crumble, revealing a softer spot underneath, I’ll share with you the words that I shared last night at a spoken word showcase of stories of hope in front of people from my seminary and life outside seminary. It felt like a fitting capstone experience for my Lenten period because this is one of my life’s most important stories thus far, but it’s also one of the most difficult for me to tell – for reasons that will become clearer as you read along. I was honestly shocked that God called me to share this story rather than one of my easier and more obvious stories, one with more tied-up ends, but I grew into it and I thrived. I hope you enjoy it and draw encouragement from it. If you would like a copy of the video of my performance, contact me.

DSC_0433
[Image description: My professor performed a baptismal remembrance service for my classmates and me at the Jordan River this January when we were in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is me “remember[ing] my baptism and be[ing] glad.” As my professor shared before he did this, baptism helps us to understand our identity as beloved in the sight of God. Thank you to my wonderful friend, Jane, for capturing this moment].
 Hard-fought Hope by e.f.a.
Trigger warnings: self-harm; alcohol

I
was once
a frog
in a slowly boiling
pot of water,
being cooked
without even realizing it.
No one ever told me
that bullying wasn’t just a bigger kid slapping the books out of a smaller kid’s hands.
No one told me
that it could come from the people who were supposed to be your cheerleaders,
your best friends –
the ones you had planned on being the aunts of your kids someday.
No one told me
that abuse that wasn’t physical or obvious
was still abuse,
and it could still burn
right into the very depths
of your soul.

You look like a slut.

You’re so stupid.

He
would never
go for someone like
you.

Emmie,
we made you brownies;
why are you still depressed?

From ages 12-17,
love was a transaction,
and I learned
not to give too much.
Never to be the fool
who cared more.
Love was a frightening balance.
I never wanted to be the one
on the lower side of the seesaw;
the loser.
I learned to walk on eggshells
because avoiding more rejection
than I was already getting on a daily basis
was far better
than being able to be the fullest,
most honest version of myself –
someone who feels
so much
and loves others
so deeply
that it can simply be
too much
for some people.

I held back.
I slouched to be their heights,
literally and metaphorically.
I covered up
so many of my deepest needs,
fears,
and dreams.
I
hated
myself.
The skin I was in was stifling.
I slit it open a few times,
begging
for someone
to see that
I was already hurting
long before
I had taken sharp edges
to my flesh.

One night,
I got alcohol poisoning at a party they hosted,
one that I had to beg to be invited to in the first place.
I felt so ashamed
by the way that they treated me in my moment of need
that I made myself deal with the rest of my vomit
by myself.
I still have nightmares
about the breathless, weeping fear –
the fear that I would choke
and die on that tiled bathroom floor
alone at 17,
before my life had even truly begun.
That fear defined that night,
and so many nights
after that,
before I realized how deeply I was scarred
by the friends who had made high school
a living hell
for me,
turning up the temperature
of that boiling water
one degree at a time
so I couldn’t discern what was making me sweat
blood,
tears,
and pieces of my soul.

I went to college a shell
of the woman I wanted to be.
My value,
as I saw it,
came from keeping up a 4.0 GPA
at a top 20 college.
I didn’t trust others.
I denied my own needs and brokenness
because maybe
if I were able to be
perfect –
the perfect student,
the perfect friend,
the perfect girlfriend –
no one
could ever reject me
again.

Shells can only last for so long, though.
I was an atheist until I was 19.
But was I really
an atheist at any point?
I constantly screamed at the sky,
sometimes literally.
I knew there was probably a God,
and I hated
this God
for letting me endure the suffering I had.
But like Job
and Jacob
and so many others who have come before us,
I wrestled
with God
to the point of God winning more than just the match,
but my heart as well.
Jesus tenderly showed me
that He also knew what it meant to be hurt,
to love others far more than they loved Him,
to be betrayed
seemingly to the point of no return.
But He rose again,
and He’s taught me how to do the same
these last three-and-a-half years.

I now walk around
knowing that I’m loved
beyond all belief,
and that gives me the courage
to no longer worry
about transactions and balances
and being the one
who sometimes loves more.
I live and love as wholeheartedly as I can,
to the point that it can even be in excess,
but I don’t care.
God’s love is excessive;
why wouldn’t I like that mine can be,
too?

Each day,
I get closer to who God is making me to be.
I’m still learning
how to take compliments from my peers
with grace instead of disbelief,
to say “thank you” instead of “no, no;
if you knew me better, you wouldn’t think that.”
I’m still learning how to trust groups,
to not have a gnawing sense of unbelonging
take up residence in my heart
whenever I open the doors of Mackay.
I’m still learning to love myself,
but God has told me that She has
inscribed me
on the palms of Her hands.
That divine love has given me the patience
and strength
to continually fight
these thoughts borne of trauma
rather than of present truth,
to sit down in Mackay,
to keep open when I would rather shut down,
and to put my sense of self-worth in God.

Hope is not naïve.
Hope knows where it’s been,
but hope knows that there’s far more
than what’s right here.
Hope knows where it’s going.
With hope,
we open our arms,
defiantly,
in the face of every doubt and fear.
Our fear
is afraid
of God’s love.

 

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