One night in October, as I raged at God, into my head came the words, “When are you going to stop talking and start listening?”
So I shut up. In the silence, I heard what I thought was God’s voice. And I’m still trying to hear it, still listening.
I don’t always hear correctly. There are hopes I’m terrified will turn out to be deceptions, promises I’m afraid to trust, beliefs that feel like chimeras in the cold light of day. But beneath all of it there’s a deep current of a love beyond what I can fathom.
It’s a love that has been with me on a lot of dark streets late at night, at a crowded party at Penn State, in a basement laundry room in Denver, after a concert in Phoenix, in a room with a big tub in Boston. It was there in that staircase in Grand Rapids.
It was there in all of the times and places when things could have gone horribly wrong and didn’t, and the times and places when they did go horribly wrong but not so wrong that I’m not still walking, still writing, still dancing.
It was even waiting in the cellar, behind that trapdoor, bigger and greater and fiercer than the monster could ever be.
It’s a love that has held me through the worst times, whittled me down, sharpened me in some ways and softened me in others, prepared me for a purpose as fierce as the love itself.
Scars are reminders of how bad it was at one time and how through Christ you overcame. — Jentezen Franklin, Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt (p. 38)
I have learned, to my chagrin, that healing is not a linear path. Some days are better than others. My counselor friend told me that one of the challenges of trauma work is that you process things faster cognitively than you do emotionally, so there’s often a period of frustration when your feelings haven’t caught up to your thoughts. I’ve definitely experienced that. Healing is messy and itchy and irritating; sometimes I feel like my entire soul is covered in a scab that needs to slough off.
I’ve also read and reflected a lot on shame. It’s pervasive and ugly and it goes deep. I’ll think I’ve freed myself from it, only to wind up a few minutes or hours or days later indulging in the same toxic self-talk I’ve believed for too long. Sometimes terror overwhelms the love. I believe God has healed that black hole that I used to carry within the center of my being, but some days I still get sucked into the vortex. For as dizzying and electrifying as my experience of love has been, despair and doubt are never far away.
I have to hold to the love. I hold to it as a truth, even when I don’t feel it. I choose to believe in the love, and if I can’t yet make that choice every minute or every hour, at least I make it more often than I used to.
And that brings me back to the scars. To the visible reminders on my skin of how bad things were. To the shame and stigma when other people notice.
My counselor friend says, “The scars are the road map to your personal healing.” I am trying to see them that way:
As markers of where I was then and where I am now.
As signs of how damaged I was and how deeply I’ve been healed.
As affirmation that no matter what people say or do — or don’t say and don’t do — I have worth and value because God loves me.
As the visible limp that I carry, a reminder of the blessings I’m still receiving in this long, dark night of wrestling with the angel.