A friend from days gone by in the Midwest church, whom I consider a friend still, though we don’t really see each other any more, messaged me. She still had my book ‘Growing Up Amish’, which I had loaned her, and how would be the best way to get it back, she wondered, or when would it suit for her to pop by. I was coming that way a few days later, I told her, and would stop in for it.
It was intended to be a quick ‘stop, grab a book and go’…. I rang the door bell, and waited for Danette to answer, expecting her to have the book in hand. “Do you have time for coffee?” she asked, instead.
There were things I could be doing, I knew that, but it had been years since we sat and chatted and I really do love conversations with her, and her heart… it’s beautiful. Like, really beautiful. And even though our lives have traveled worlds apart and we don’t talk often, when we do, I trust her with things I don’t entrust to everyone.
“I’d love that!” I said, ignoring that niggling that I had things to do.
We sat for the next while–it must have been almost two hours, or more–and talked. Danette is passionate about helping women; mentoring them in faith and just being there for them. She didn’t share how her compassion for abuse victims was birthed, and I didn’t ask, but clearly her heart is there for victims. She asked a lot of questions about my healing journey, and I spoke candidly. Not having experienced abuse herself, she admitted it is hard to understand, fully, the aftermath.
“Is it almost as if people who have been abused, are handed a pair of sunglasses, and from that point forward it is as if their world is tinted a different colour? And to the rest of us, the world is clear and we can’t even imagine what they see?” she asked, presenting an analogy that works well for me.
“Yes,” I nodded, thoughtfully processing the word picture, “but it’s not only that. It’s as if each victim is given his or her own shade of sunglasses, and while we can understand or imagine, to an extent, what another victim experiences, there are always things that are unique to that person. So we can’t even fully understand each other.”
Having said that, I recognize that this diversity is also real for those who see the world without the ‘tinting’ of sexual abuse. However, the aftermath of abuse is complex enough, and adding our unique way of processing to that complexity does not make it easier. We talked at length about how abuse ‘messes us up’ and how damaged we feel, and how confused our spirits are, and the struggles that go with it. She asked me a question then about how I overcame that ‘broken’ reality.
“I didn’t, really,” I said, “I accepted it.” Danette looked surprised. And we talked for some time about what it looks like to be broken and messed up, but living full of hope with that knowledge. And I wished, in a way, that I could say things like “if you love Jesus, and know that He loves you, He’ll take it away like magic, and one day your mind won’t process through that filter”, but I couldn’t. I still can’t.
And that’s not meant to squash hope of healing. I am healed. I am happy. I am whole. I am loving. I am life-giving. Because of Jesus in me. And I am broken. Because of what life was, the ongoing scars and memories. And the moments that catch me off guard, resurface these realities. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve accepted it.
Truth is, there was a day when I realized that one event, abuse, actually changed who I am. And there is no undoing it; it can only be redeemed. I am messed up, and I will always be. It’s just the way it is, and has to be. Extreme trauma changes how our minds work. I have quirks as a result of it. I have struggles. And I have strengths. These all work together to make me who I am; weird to some, heroic to others, judgmental to those wanting to cover or hide abuse, obnoxious and bold to those who don’t understand my passion and don’t know my caring heart–those who have never asked question and have, themselves, simply judged. But I am incredibly loving and compassionate to all who dare to get to know me and push past the shattered edges of my heart. Even offenders. Even those who cover up. I am always kind.
I am learning to not only accept this person I am; I’m learning to love me, by focusing on Jesus and loving Him. The more I see His love for me, the more I love myself and, yet, the less I focus on me. It’s an irony and a beautiful thing! Jesus says we are to love others as we love ourselves. And, well, it’s a bit hard to love anyone else at all, in the way Jesus said, if we hate ourselves. If I hate myself, and who I am as a result of life, then I will not love others with a genuine love ‘as I love myself’. (Here the question randomly pops in my mind; is that where the pretentiousness comes from in some people, when they act all ‘loving’ but come off as being not authentic? Is it them, trying desperately to love–out of themselves rather than allowing Jesus to flow through–while hating themselves? Are they sincere, but lack the ability to express love, because of that self-loathing? )
But back on track… The reality I contend with is that the ‘sunglasses’ I was given are pretty dark. Sure, the light of Jesus has healed my broken heart, but I can’t ‘un-know’ the things I experienced. So no matter what healing comes, that ‘knowing’ will influence my awareness of evil in the world, and maybe especially in the church. I am sensitive to it, and feel things before they ever get exposed, in people. I hear of some abuse case, in people I once knew as a ‘youngun’, and no great shock wave strikes, most times. It’s as if I knew it all along, and that’s why I felt ‘creeped out’ around them. That’s my shades.
On the bright side, my awareness of redemption, hope and overcoming is far stronger than it could have been apart from having encountered abuse. It is because of those very sunglasses that I can turn and look the Son full in the face, and tell every other suffering person, “He’s here. He loves you, loves us. He really does! And we can make it! We’ll do this thing together, hand in hand,arm in arm,–(figuratively speakings, since I’m not much for touching more than a quick hug with anyone beyond family and closest friends)–and you will live again!”
Yes, tainted sunglasses, smeared and smudged by the sins committed against God in my childhood, changed how I see this world. But they now also keep me a little less focused on it. I’m a little less attached to religion because of it. And I hate sin a whole lot more.
But my Jesus… How I love Him. Tainted shades and all, I look Him in the face and know I am loved. And the dirty smudges of sins ? He wipes those away, little by little, as He reveals more of Himself to me. I’ll always see the world through the shades of what I know to be true of its darkness. But I will always see the reality of this world through the truth of Jesus.
It’s a beautiful day! Bright and sunny. Thank God for sunglasses!
~ T ~
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