Consider the Feet

God has chosen us and we are set apart as His. His servants. His messengers. Messengers sent on a journey to deliver the hope of the gospel. Each messenger’s path is different, but no path is easy. 

Regardless of the road upon which our feet have walked, the errand for each chosen messenger is the same. We are called to declare the glory of God and through our lives reveal the beauty of the gospel. Our stories reveal the active love and faithfulness of God. How we navigate the trail reveals our faithfulness.  The road is often long and many challenging obstacles will make the journey difficult, leaving the feet that have walked it dirty, bruised and tired, but beautiful. Beautiful not in their own right or because of the journey itself. Beautiful because they carry the only message of hope. Each healed scar and bruise is lovely because of the healer.

My particular path was of the dark and twisted kind. The kind that most would rather not speak of, but it is for that very reason I share portions of my story.  To give voice to the unspeakable topics that we often conceal. Not for the sake of the story or to unburden myself, but because I know there are others who are afraid their experiences are too dark to reveal the light of Christ. Be encouraged, there is no abyss too dark for the Light of the World. 

This is not a Bible study. There are far more eloquent writers that produce those.  I am simply a woman who has walked the road to healing. I hope that a glimpse into some of my darkest and most hopeful moments (because often they are the same) will be an encouragement and reminder that it was not without purpose. 

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” Isaiah 52:7

Live, Laugh, Love

There is a running joke among my family and close friends about my awkward responses to expressions of love. We have learned to laugh when I have those “Spock” moments, but the reason behind this reaction is far more complicated than simply not being a “hugger”.  The truth is, for a long time, I felt unworthy of love and ashamed to receive it. This reaction was most profound when engaging with my children. Having the kind of past I have had (Tent Pegs & Powdered Cookies), there were many layers to this. However, I can easily trace the intense guilt and shame about loving and being loved, by my children in particular, to my abortion (Paper Bags & Lollipops).

Shame can be a useful thing. If we are guilty of something, it should point us to the cross to find forgiveness and reconciliation.  Although, if our guilt and shame are ignored and never dealt with correctly, they don’t just disappear. They are pointed in the wrong direction.  We will feel guilt about the wrong things. Then, shame inevitably becomes self-loathing. 

The first step in dealing with my legitimate shame was a willingness to admit, without excuses or attempts at justification, the fact that I was guilty of having my unborn child murdered.  The use of this word may make some readers uncomfortable, even those within the “pro-life” movement, and it should. It should make us more than uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it should not prevent us from speaking the truth. It was that same “uncomfortable” feeling, that same unwillingness to call abortion what it was, that enabled me to avoid the truth. My desire to try and soften what I had done led to a life of self-loathing and self-condemnation, because it removed the opportunity for repentance. Every time one of my living children would show me affection or reach a milestone my heart would sing, but a shadow would quickly cover any feeling of joy. How dare I? How dare I rejoice over the life of these little ones when I was so quick to snuff out the life of another. Shame was preventing me from enjoying my living children. 

There was another element to this feeling of guilt and shame, it was fear. I believed I had no right to mourn or love my aborted child, so shame and guilt had become the only way I knew how to feel anything about him.  It was how I could prove that he mattered. I was afraid that if I stopped punishing myself for what I had done it would seem like I had forgotten my dead child, and I never wanted to forget. Shame had become the only way I could express love for him.

I had known Christ’s forgiveness in all areas of my life, except this one. Christ does not leave work unfinished and He doesn’t let us hide forever. He pursues us into the darkest parts of our lives until we grow weary of running away from His grace. I was tired; tired of being in a state of brokenness. I knew this wasn’t where Christ leaves His people. So, early one December morning, while the rest of my house slept, I stood outside in the falling snow and whispered my confession and plea for forgiveness to my Redeemer.  I cried until my tears were spent and I had nothing left to mourn. I stood there for a while staring at the sky and considering how difficult the next part of this process would be.  The battle line was drawn and healing was on the other side.  To move past my guilt, I had to look my sin in the face and call it what it was. I was forgiven, I was now required to throw off the veil of shame and act like a chosen daughter of the King.

What would this mean?  I would no longer cower, but stand in His grace and forgiveness. Armed well by His word and believing what He says is true, I would “stand against the devil’s schemes for my destruction” (Eph. 6:11).  It would mean I would need to choose to confidently receive love from my children and humbly accept good gifts from my Redeemer. It would mean being courageous enough to mourn my dead child and claim him as mine. It would mean the next time someone called me a “hypocrite” or “murderer” because I spoke boldly about my abortion, I would face them with joy and declare the Gospel. And, it would mean I would need to learn how to give an authentic hug.

A Song Restored

Standing in front of the small crowd, my stomach was in knots and I had the overwhelming desire to run.  Why? Surely, a woman who had spent much of her life singing; who had performed for thousands of people wasn’t having a panic attack over a solo in a church choir at a small conference. But, as the orchestra began to play my heart raced, for this was no ordinary solo; it was an act of faith.

Events that take place in our lives can mold us. Trauma, at any age, will affect how we view ourselves and how we react to the world around us.  As we take on the enormous task of untangling how abuse has changed us, we often discover that there are things we have used as a way of coping.  Those same things are often where we have learned to find our identity. For some, it is athletics or a form of entertainment; for others, it is food or relationships where we seek to have control. Whatever it is, once it’s exposed and we grab hold of that one thread and begin to pull it seems our entire world begins to unravel. It feels terrifying and can lead us to second guess everything. 

I second-guessed music, singing, in particular. I had discovered, several years before that I had been using music as a way to express emotion without the messiness of vulnerability. I could create a shadow of intimacy and the illusion of being known.  I never actually felt anything, but I could make others feel things on my behalf. I was safe.  I was in control. Music had become so much a part of who I was, that if I wasn’t performing, depression reigned. The realization that even music had been tainted by trauma and abuse set in motion the wheels of doubt and I simply lost my song. I could no longer bring myself to sing publicly. In fact, the very thought sent waves of panic through my body.  How could I know who I was? What steps could I take to find joy in it again? If I could only remember who I was before the abuse, maybe I could start over.  The temptation to embark on a wild goose chase of self-discovery was real.

But, that is not how God works. God doesn’t pull us out of the ashes only to send us back to the pile to put the broken pieces back together.  And He doesn’t do work in us so we can see more of ourselves, He does these things so we can see more of Him. In truth, what I was experiencing was not ultimate destruction, but one of the necessary minor chords needed to provide the relief of resolve in any well-composed symphony. I needed to trust that He would put a new song in my mouth. (Psalm 40:3)

I remembered a quote that had been printed on the inside cover of one of my vocal exercise books from high school. It read, “He who sings prays twice.” I hadn’t thought much about those words until I had lost my reason to sing. And that simple quote commonly attributed to St. Augustine became a revelation. Singing was created for worship and intimacy with the God who created music. It was then that God began to untangle His gift from a complex web of shame, guilt, and fear. I began to understand that music was not a place to hide or to find my identity; music was to become a form of communication with my King and Savior; an expression of joy only found in knowing and being known by Him.

He continued to work and music began to take on a meaning far surpassing any I had experienced before. For a time, it became so raw and emotional that singing through a simple hymn brought me to tears.  Time passed and my song returned but the melody was different. It had been rewritten with contentment and peace. And the need I once had to perform in order to maintain my identity and control was replaced with the ability to simply enjoy one of God’s good gifts to His people. 

So, there I stood before a small gathering. The first time I would sing publicly since losing my song many years before. He had brought me full circle, back to a familiar scene with a different purpose. I was afraid. Afraid I would be overcome by emotion and exposed and afraid that I would slip backward clinging to music like a lifeboat. But, God is faithful and I had no need to fear. As the sound of the oboe filled the air, as my stomach churned and my feet wanted to run; a small church unknowingly watched, as God put a new song into the mouth of one he had redeemed. I would sing with joy for my song was no longer in bondage. My song was His.

“The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Exodus 15:2

This Boy…

I remember a sunny day in March,  it was my first moment alone with him. His tiny hand opened and closed around my pinky and he seemed to be smirking as if he had a funny secret to share. I wondered about him, this tiny human resting in my arms, and I asked him quietly, “who will you be?” This boy…

Then, like a wave, the realization that I had almost erased him from existence, hit me so hard it took my breath away.  Just months before, shortly after I revealed my pregnancy, friends and family badgered and encouraged me to end his life just as I had done to another.  There was one person who was bold enough to intervene. One person that told me with compassion and love that I was carrying life, and that life had a purpose and a plan. She told me I was already a mother. With those simple words, a tiny seed of hope was planted. A new creation began where it seemed only death would linger. With those words spoken, I realized that I had a chance to do it right this time.

What I know now was that a kind of miracle had occurred. By that one person speaking life and truth, I had been given a new name to replace the one I had been assigned not so long before (Paper Bags & Lollipops). My new name was, “mother” and I had been given a purpose and a plan.  And the child was not just a chance to “do it right”, but a second chance given by a merciful Father to begin my faithful walk with Him. 

God would use me to speak His truth into the life of my son so that he would never go a day without knowing that he had a name and purpose.  My son’s life reveals promises kept by a loving Father and answers the question I asked quietly on that sunny day in March as I held him in my arms. “Who will you be?”  This boy…

He still has that same smirk.

He is strong, yet gentle, and compassionate.

He is fiercely loyal and loving.

He tends to be a bit melancholy and moody.

He has made some disastrous mistakes.

He climbs trees, fights fires, and saves lives.

He has a wonderfully cynical and sarcastic sense of humor. 

He is the husband of a beautiful redhead.

He is a faithful follower of Christ.

The world told me it would change my life and it did, but not in the way they had promised. My son’s existence has changed my life and the lives of more people than I could possibly count. Praise be to the God of second chances and for those that speak the truth. 

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Paper Bags & Lollipops

When I walked up to the bulletproof glass-enclosed reception desk I gave my name. The receptionist smiled warmly back and handed me a small brown paper bag with #18 written on it in red permanent marker. As she handed me the bag she kindly stated, “you are number 18, please have a seat.” As I walked to my seat I took in the room, the brown paneling on the walls, the small barred windows, the inspirational posters about courage. I quietly took my seat and glanced around at the other young women sitting quietly like painted dolls holding brown paper bags with red numbers written on them. I wondered who they were and if they were as scared and unsure as I was.  I took a moment and looked inside my bag to find a sanitary napkin and a cherry-flavored blow-pop. My thoughts were interrupted when my number was called and I was ushered into the back for my “counseling” session. 

    Once inside the small room, I was handed a gown and a plastic cup with #18 written on it in red. I was “counseled” about how to appropriately use the cup and where to place my sanitary napkin so it would be most effective. I began to ask questions and was told the doctor would take care of all my concerns. When I was alone in the room I began to wonder when I would have the chance to speak and share my thoughts and concerns.

    Once again, my number was called. I walked to the next destination and was instructed to sit on the table. When the doctor walked into the room I began to cry. Finally, I could speak and get some kind of help and direction. Finally, someone would hear me.  I began to tell him through my sobs how unsure and scared I was and why I was there. He interrupted me and asked if I was number 18. I nodded to confirm that I was and he proceeded, “you must be quiet or you will frighten the other girls waiting in the next room. It is too late to change your mind. We have everything ready to go. Everything will be over in a matter of minutes.” So, I stifled my sobs and resigned myself to the fact that they had no desire to know me or hear me. I was #18, another number there for an abortion. 

    After my abortion was completed, my brown paper bag was returned to me and I was moved to the recovery room and seated in a reclining chair. I looked around the room and recognized some of the young women I had noticed in the waiting room. There they were lined up like  painted dolls holding their brown paper bags and sucking on lollipops. I began to cry. Actually, I began to wail because at that moment I realized all that I had lost and all that I had become in a “matter of minutes”. The recovery nurse took my bag and looked at the number. As she pulled the lollipop from inside she said in motherly tones, “#18, none of that. It’s over. You did what you came here to do. It is finished. Suck on your lollipop and be quiet about it.” 

    My tears mixed with the sickeningly sweet taste of artificial cherry flavor and  I stifled my cries along with my grief. In a “matter of minutes”,  I, me, the woman I had been was erased along with the existence of my unborn child. I had become the 18th abortion of that day, voiceless and unknown.

It would be easy for me to stop there, and truth be told, for a part of my life it seemed like I did. It led to life spiraling out of control and claiming the name of “victim” or ” unworthy” as justification for all manner of self-destructive choices. I fluctuated between desperately attempting to reclaim what had been lost and recreating myself.  I even stood boldly shoulder to shoulder with my “sisters” holding a sign declaring, “my body, my choice”. 

Years later as a newly converted Christian woman, I still felt detached and unsure of who I was.  And the existence of #18 was most certainly to be hidden from view because I had made the choice; I had accomplished what I went there to do. So, that part of my life sat quietly in the corner sucking on a lollipop.

Until one day I realized what had actually happened that day. I walked into that abortion clinic with a head full of false promises. They would hear my concerns and show me the right thing to do. They would take the time to know me and care. But, behind those thick metal doors, I was not an image-bearer of the God of the universe. No, when I gave my name at the reception desk that day, I and my unborn child were given a new name, #18. And neither of us would be known or heard because I was “to be quiet about it.”

But, the story doesn’t end there.  “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) And I will no longer be silent, I will speak and I will speak boldly. I will tell of the glory of the Lord and His healing and His redemption.

I will tell of how He knows His people, His image-bearers by name, even those in the womb. (Genesis 1:27 & Jeremiah 1:5)

I will tell of how He is the God who sees you, all of you. Your deepest thoughts and fears and what brought you to the clinic in the first place. (Genesis 16:13)

I will declare that the words “it is finished” is a declaration of self-sacrifice for your redemption. Yes, even what happened behind those doors. (John 19:30)

I will tell of how He invites you to eat at His table. And the food served is not artificial and meant to silence you. No, it is a King’s feast and He declares at that table, “Oh, taste and sees that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Take refuge fellow image-bearers you have been remade and renamed.

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

Tent Pegs & Powdered Cookies

One of my favorite Biblical women is Jael. If you don’t know her story, you can read Judges 4:21 & Judges 5: 24-27.  She is a clear representation of the courage and strength required to follow Christ. And just as Jael invited her enemy into her tent to kill him, so too, there are times we need to unearth old demons and invite them to stand before us; Not to entertain them or to let them linger, but to destroy them with a proverbial tent peg. 

This is what is happening when we work through childhood sexual abuse (or any traumatic or difficult event); it is (or should be) the act of taking every single thought and terrible memory captive—facing them. Feeling them and watching Christ redeem them; facing them without making excuses, without placing or taking the blame. The abuse and abuser no longer linger in the darkest parts of your mind, controlling or tainting the memories you have. They are front and center begging to be defeated. Every day, and sometimes minute-by-minute, battles are fought to reclaim simple things, innocent objects, smells, and sounds. Things that may seem trivial to others represent a great victory. 

That being said, today I fought a battle and won. Today, I reclaimed what should have been a pleasant memory. Today, an old enemy that was causing fear and self-pity was defeated. My weapon of choice? A cookie. Today I ate an Italian Wedding Cookie and enjoyed it. That won’t mean much to you, but to me, it is a significant victory.   

The sordid details of why these particular cookies became so tainted are not necessary, as I think it’s enough to say that I quickly learned to associate them with my abuser.  It didn’t take long before those cookies became poison; For the mere smell of amaretto to make me physically ill, for memories to come flooding back and for shame, fear, and self-pity to suddenly reign. 

The time had come to bury old demons.  The only way I could do that was to reclaim the territory my enemy had taken so many years ago.  Cookies.

My daughter and I baked them together—the house filled with a very familiar and slightly terrifying scent. I took the cookie in my hand and for a moment I faltered. I feared that with that first bite so many unwanted memories would come to call, that I would once again be held captive by the shadows from the past. But then, Jael came to mind. Surely those moments just before she crushed the head of her enemy were slightly terrifying. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. But, she trusted God’s promises and she knew He would be faithful to keep them. She had nothing to fear, and neither did I. So, with that thought lingering in my mind, I raised the powdery sweet confection to my lips.  As I paused before taking a bite, I reminded myself of where I was and the person I was with. I watched my daughter dance around, singing about how good it was. I took in that very moment, and I took a bite.
It was wonderful. Not only did it taste good, but I felt strong and I was watching Christ, my Savior, do His work in me and through me just as He had promised.  Another conquered enemy.  My life is full of moments like that. Almost every day there is a battle fought, and, sometimes won. They often go unnoticed by the people closest to me. However, they are mighty victories.

We often carry things from our childhood or other events in our past that restrain our ability to enjoy simple things. It destroys our ability to accept and receive the good things God intended for us. Love and intimacy are one of those things. Just as the smell of a particular type of cookie evoked a reaction of fear and shame, the idea of love can seem meant for destruction. Therefore, the very idea that God “loves” us, terrifies us. Love to an abuse survivor often means manipulation and pain.  

The first time I heard the verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16), my reaction was not joy or amazement. My reaction was suspicion. I wanted to know what He wanted from me. Surely, I now owed Him something, or it was a trick. 

It took me years to begin to understand that Christ chose me; He loves me not because He needs me for anything. He did not send His son to die for me in an attempt to guilt me into trusting Him or doing things for Him. He chose me and loves me because He is God. He is all-sufficient. Every choice we make like this is a declaration of war against the flesh and will glorify God, by declaring His Word is true.

I cannot reclaim my childhood. I still battle with depression and flashbacks. Just like Jael, the war wasn’t won by that one act. However, I can now, through Christ and knowing who I am in Christ, reclaim how I react to things. I can choose feeling pleasure over feeling fear. I can choose love over hate. I can choose these things because Christ has given me the power and ability. This is part of the freedom found in Christ.

Freedom to love.
Freedom to forgive.
Freedom to rejoice.
Freedom to enjoy a cookie.