A Boring Testimony

You were born into your mother’s arms, loved by her from the moment she knew of your existence. Your father was standing beside her, watching your first breaths. All the pain of their own lives behind them and with them and before them, learning from it all so you could stand on their shoulders and grasp something better than what was handed to them. They would teach you the Gospel. They would teach you of love and show you love. They would talk about grace and when you were too young to understand it, they would show grace to those you loved and those you did not. You would be tempted. So many times you would be tempted towards all that brings pain and darkness and rot, but the Lord would walk beside you, guiding you each time towards what is good and true and beautiful. It wasn’t perfect. You stumbled, you sinned, you scraped your knees, but you never knew what it was to walk as a dead man, distant from all hope, and aching with a selfish and devouring rage.

Before there was water in the oceans or birds in the air, the God that hung the stars knew your name. He wrote a story of redemption that would begin before you entered the world, so many hardened hearts made soft that would one day show you warmth and mercy. So many would give of themselves for you. God himself would give of himself for you. God himself died for you. He chose each hair on your head. Each inch of your skin. He chose the day of your birth and the day of your death and carried you through every love and loss in between. You did nothing to earn it. Nothing to deserve it. Screeching and squirming into the world naked and confused like the rest of us. And yet the one who crafted the land and sea and skies poured compassion over you from the very beginning. And in the end, you returned home to Him. You rested in a Love that was somehow even greater than that immeasurable love shown to you on the day of your birth. Your mother bled for you, cried for you, gave so many years, days, hours, fleeting minutes made up of so many slow daunting seconds all for you, and though you were never wise enough to understand the depth of it, it shaped you so that you could love and walk and give in a way that was so much bigger than yourself. And, even still, her love was weak and broken compared to the Love that would welcome you in the end.

All of it was cosmic, pain and beauty, fury and grace, woven and spoken by a supernatural force with a name and a heart and a joy to be shared and multiplied.

But you never got addicted to drugs or committed any crimes or cursed His name. How uninteresting. And your parents read you bedtime stories and told you about Jesus. How trite. And you prayed from the time you were young until the time you were old. How anticlimactic.

Yes, it was so filled with wonder and compassion. A story divinely orchestrated. But make sure to warn people that it’s rather boring, if they ever ask how you were saved.

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I Hope Your Soul is Changing

I have dreamt a song like this for years. Literally dreamt it in the night, waking up confused and disillusioned. I have wept over my abusers. I have shouted and cursed at them. I have fasted for them. And I have prayed for them until I grow weary and God grants me sleep.

Praying
Kesha

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is I wish you farewell

I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, praying

I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come
‘Cause I can make it on my own
And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known
I’ve been thrown out, I’ve been burned
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name

You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is I wish you farewell

I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, praying

Oh, sometimes, I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive

I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, praying

If you haven’t heard Kesha’s comeback song, Praying, I recommend giving it a listen, in its own right without my commentary.

This is my own story tied in, which welled up in me as I listened to this song about a dozen times on repeat.

I have dreamt a song like this for years. Literally dreamt it in the night, waking up confused and disillusioned. I have wept over my abusers. I have shouted and cursed at them. I have fasted for them. And I have prayed for them until I grow weary and God grants me sleep.

Once, as a young teenage girl, late at night, a much older man messaged me on facebook. This man was a quintessential abusive narcissist. To this day, I use him as a benchmark when discerning red flags in others. It is not my aim to compare, but I can’t help it. Someone will say or do something and I instantly know. I know that something is off. I know I’ve seen this all before. I want to shout, “I know that game. We have to fight or we have to flee. And we have to do it now.”

I remember one particular night in college, with a handsome yet gaunt, bony but strong boy. I had made him angry by trying to leave, so he threw me against the wall of his dingy apartment. An apartment where I had been promised there would be others. There wasn’t. I arrived to only him. As he pinned me there, and I stared at the floor cloaked in all my fear and shame, he whispered to me things which ought to have seemed sweet. Things about “love” and possibilities. But his voice morphed into one I had heard before. One much older that spoke to me when I was much younger. It sounded caring. Sweet like honey. But its end was to shame and control. I knew this game. I knew it. So I shook my head staring at the floor until he shoved me again and let me go.

“You’re at least gonna clean up this mess before you leave,” he said. I had had the audacity to knock over a glass while kicking him off of me on the floor.

“Okay,” I said, actually believing I owed it to him.

He handed me a paper towel, and I tried not to shake or cry as I mopped up the liquid. Then I left. I kicked a dumpster in the parking lot near my car, and I remember feeling so ashamed at having such an outburst. How very un-christian of me. I thought something nasty to myself. Something about how now I wasn’t just a dirty temptress; I was a dirty temptress with a dirty temper.

Since puberty it had been heavily implied, if not outright stated to me, that I was either whorish or gave off a certain inexplicable vibe that I wanted to be whorish. That’s why the boys treated me so poorly, you see. Or so I was told… Since it seemed this label followed me despite my efforts to be rid of it, I had come to accept it. I accepted it with heartache as this lie tangled itself into the deepest parts of my soul, but I accepted it nonetheless. But at least I was a very sweet and kind whorish girl, I assured myself. What an earth shattering crisis it was then, when I couldn’t afford to be nice anymore. I shed my niceness to survive, and yet it almost killed me.

But that’s for another time.

Back to the man. And my laptop. And the late night message.

I had already identified this man as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and had gone no-contact sometime before. For propriety’s sake, I will not say what this man did, mostly because much of it is not my story to tell. The parts which are my story, still make me ill to discuss. But still, I loved him. He was woven into so many of my childhood memories. I hated to hurt him. I hated to reject him. I wanted him to be who he had deceived me into thinking he was. But a pep talk from a very dear friend echoed within me, giving me courage. I had to shut him out. I had to reject him, no matter how bad I felt about it.

“I do not want to send you my poetry. And it’s inappropriate for a man of your age to be messaging me about personal things at this time of night.”

“I don’t understand where this is coming from. I just wanted to exchange writing with you since I know it’s an interest we share. And I have friends of all ages. It’s really unfortunate that you’ve been convinced to limit yourself by only having friends in your age group.”

I was swallowing anger. He was twisting my words.

“Don’t take the bait,” I thought, “Don’t argue his distractions. Just stay on point.”

“Think what you’d like. I still do not want you talking to me anymore,” I said.

“You said you had forgiven me, but clearly that is not the case. I’ve been very disappointed by the lack of forgiveness you and your family have shown me. I would encourage you to study Christ’s teachings, and forgive.”

Here I will make a full stop. This is trick one. The big one. The ultimate power move that you’ve likely seen if you have ever dealt with an abuser within the Christian community. I cannot state this clearly enough. Forgiveness is to be the aim of the abused (or mistreated etc). Repentance is to be the aim of the one who has done the abusing. Forgiveness is a means to be free from bitterness. It is not a get out of jail free card for those who do harm. A truly repentant heart knows that forgiveness is a gift we ask for when we do not deserve it. It is not a demand. If someone abuses you or a loved one, and then proceeds to turn the tables so that you are the one in the wrong for not giving in to the “forgiveness” they demand, know that you are not dealing with someone who is truly repentant. They are not remorseful over the fact that they have hurt you. They are remorseful over the fact that they are not getting what they want.

We went back and forth for a while longer in this nauseating blur. This man who had lied, manipulated and blame shifted all of his sins, now demanded access back into my life with a healthy dose of guilt-tripping if I refused. He insisted my parents were leading me astray, that he wished I would think for myself and forgive him, and ended with another sickening call to turn to Christ. I’ve learned people like this don’t care much to obey Christ; they just want other people to do so when it benefits them. They also claim very little sin, yet demand large sums of forgiveness. I wonder then, what they are demanding forgiveness from, if they believe they are in the right. Perhaps the tiny half-truths they grant, so that they can appear remorseful.

And all of this, in the long round-a-bout way that I seem to have done it, leads me back to Kesha’s song. A song that settled into my soul the moment I heard it, because I had been waiting for so long for someone to put it into words.

If someone physically abuses you, you may flinch when a hand is raised. If someone sexually abuses you, you may cringe when something sexual reminds you of your abuser. And if someone spiritually abuses you, if they use the Word of God to enslave your heart and wound your soul, a part of you grows heavy when the name of your own creator is spoken. In all my life, I have experienced no greater harm than this.

But there is a persistence in the human spirit, or perhaps it is the persistence of our savior, that causes so many of us to crawl back to him. Amidst all of our fear and guardedness, our soul wants to find healing at its source. And then there’s that sweet stubbornness, that says damn it all if I’m going to let you take me from my maker.

And where that maker is found, there is forgiveness. Not the kind that abusers demand of you, in which you must ignore their wrongs and allow them to continue their abuse. It is a pure and freeing forgiveness, which allows you to walk away from oppressors and live a life of compassion.

Sometimes, I am angry at the tricksters and abusers. Kicking dumpsters mad. I am no longer ashamed of that. But that anger coexists with love and pity. I would not ask this of others, because I do not know their journey. But I know mine. And I know this is at the deepest part of me. It is the part that aches in my subconscious and lingers in my thoughts when my mind wanders.

It says,

I hope you’re somewhere praying
I hope your soul is changing

I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees
Praying