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.

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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

 

 

Eye to Eye

me1Even in the most joyous of times, the world can drain a soul. Confusion breeds confusion and I question my mind into tangles. With quiet intention, I scan my life, looking to each set of eyes, hoping for answers.

In the first I see only darkness. Faint circles hang beneath eyes that would be lovely were they not so hollow. They sit in a face of skin that has grown gray and gaunt wanting flesh to soften the harsh lines of cynicism. She is bitter. She is cold. I try to make sense of her words but she speaks only perversion so there is no sense to be made of it. Any comfort I try to offer is promptly rejected, so we sit in silence. I stare longer than I should as her brokenness brings me down. Finally she goes away. Still stung by her envy, I search for another pair of eyes.

With great determination, I move along.

The next eyes are blue, bright yet sad. They are hopeful but they are weary. Tiny pupils filled with fear wishing to be brave. Cheeks rosy, lashes long. A face much prettier than its owner knows. There are moments bright and beautiful
before her, smiles so shining and new, but to her they are
tainted by the clinging past and daunting future.
me1 - Version 2Loved ones gather around her table warmed by a meal she prepares, but she misses the joy in their laughter as she questions if she got the spices just right. I tell her the food is perfection; she tells me I am wrong. Her dearest calls her lovely but she does not hear him as she wonders what everyone in the room thinks of her. Another flicker of fear lights her eyes and I do not want to look anymore.

I welcome the next eyes for they are familiar and kind. Gray like the skies they were raised under and the sea they grew up beside. He talks while the rest of us listen, smoke in the air by a tree I used to climb. Wisdom walks boldly from a soul that has seen much more than mine. Still, he always speaks plainly, eyes growing humbler with the passing of time. For every betrayal, I see no bitterness. Both pupil and iris are steadfast and grateful, fully loving of life. For every hurt I’ve had, he’s hurt more and every sin I’ve forgiven, he’s forgiven double. When asked how he loves the hateful when they hurt without having the right, he says, “Hurt people hurt people, so be understanding and always be kind.”

My grace may wear thin to the hurtful, but I’ll heal in a matter of time, for as I watch him loving the hateful, he builds up the grace in my eyes.


Ladies, Love Your Abusers

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Fellow women.
Anyone who’s been mistreated.
This is important for you to know:
Bitterness can’t save you.
It’s not just that bitterness can’t save you; it’s that it can’t save you from anything.

Nothing at all.

Broken heart?
Weakness?
Physical harm?
Being manipulated?

Bitterness can’t rescue you from a single one of those things.
I see this far too often: girls who have been abused, cheated on, taken advantage of emotionally or physically, abandoned (which leads me to throw in a little side note- boys who make “girls with daddy issues” jokes: You’re not funny.)… And what’s the defense these girls choose to guard themselves with in the future? Bitterness.
Not only do they choose bitterness, but they are consistently encouraged to be bitter. Girls love a good bitch-fest when it comes to boys. It’s somehow viewed as having a higher level of girl-power than the meek if you can seethe enough poison and plights of victimhood.

In a way this philosophy almost makes sense.
If a boy has broken your heart, surely hating him will ensure that he never does it again, right? Right? Better yet, be cold-hearted and aloof enough due to former pains that no one ever can break your heart again.
Well it doesn’t work that way. A frozen heart will eventually shatter. It pretends to be strong in its hardness but truthfully it is brittle and prone to cracks.
And to be bitter towards a boy who has broken you does not keep him from breaking you again. It allows him to break you every single day, over and over.
Only broken hearts hate. Hearts that are whole and healthy love without ceasing.
So love him. Or her. Or whoever it is that harmed you in the first place.

If he spoke unkindly,
Love him.
If he made you feel small and worthless,
Love him.
If he hit you,
Love him.
If he used you once, then twice, then a third time,
Love him.
This is called forgiveness.

Without forgiveness in this world, there is no Life. There is no gospel. No grace from God. No Salvation.
Without forgiveness there is only death brought by the sins that were never washed away.
So forgive.

To be clear, forgiveness does not mean you have to let someone back into your life.
If a knucklehead shows up at your door begging for forgiveness, you would be fully justified to say with all sincerity, “You’ve already been forgiven. Now go away.”

It is not that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself. It’s just that love provides stronger ground to stand on than bitterness ever will.
With love you will embrace how immensely valuable people are (including yourself and including those who have harmed you) and therefore you will know how people ought to be treated. You will not settle for anything less.

I have a friend who is an excellent example of this kind of strength in grace. She is tall and elegant, a fashionable and artistic girl who has always dreamed of being a writer. As she’s grown she’s become demure in a way I have not, consistently clean in both diet and vocabulary, refraining from penis jokes (although she’s never been above laughing when I make them), and is such an image of sobriety she could probably get drunk off of a thimble of strawberry daiquiri.

There was a boy who she had been involved with who did not value her as he should have. As a result, he hurt her ever-caring heart.
One drizzling afternoon at a coffee shop downtown, I brought him up in conversation. My friend softly yet pointedly placed her coffee cup down in front of her, looked me in eye, un-shifting in her slender blue dress, and said in the most matter-of-fact tone, “Kira, he is an asshole.”

I laughed, first because she so rarely swears and second because she said it in a way that was completely void of any hatred or angst. It was just an honest observation. Nothing personal.
Because of this observation she will never again let him kiss her or wrap his arms around her as she sleeps. She is free from him, resistant to any head-games or second-guessing about being away from him.

But she loves him.

Not romantically. She’s too wise for that. Besides, this kind of love is stronger than butterflies in your stomach.
It is a love that I would never doubt is there. Something too strong to fade by circumstance.
It’s not because he’s anything extraordinary that she loves him (Rumor has it, assholes are very commonplace). It is because she is extraordinary. She loves people not based on what they give her in return, but based on love itself. That is not only rare, it is strong.
One day she will be with someone who loves her as he should, selflessly and irrevocably. But even as she waits, she will not be weakened by the seeds of bitterness that others so often plant in their lungs. Seeds which sprout poison roots that choke out fullness of breath and fill voices with hateful ramblings.
This boy may have harmed her before but because she has forgiven him, that harm does not keep on harming.

I realize some situations are more severe than hurt feelings. Trust me, I know.
I’ve been close to those who carried abuse to its fullest: a grave for one and a prison-sentence for the other.
I’ve seen tears and bruises, blood and scars.
I’ve held a dear friend as she cried because a world where the boy she trusted the most is the same boy who raped her is not a world she wants to live in anymore.
And I have told her again and again to hold on for just one more night. And then one more night. And then one more night again.

Believe me when I say I do not want anyone to be unsafe. Do what you have to defend yourself. Really, do what you have to.

But do not be bitter.

Bitterness is not a defense. It is a handicapped. A constant grief. A darkness that spreads in tangles like ivy on forgotten sheds and broken window panes.

Forgive. Love.

If someone tells you that it doesn’t make sense to love someone who has abused you, they are probably correct. But there is a certain joy that comes from being what the world calls nonsensical.

This is a joy I will choose again and again ’til there is nothing left of me because forgiveness itself always has been and always will be nonsensical. It requires unfairness. It requires someone not getting what they deserve.

Anyone can stay tied to the past, breeding hate.

But to love one must be bold and to forgive one must be radical.

So love radically.

It will make you stronger than any abuser you could ever face.