Therapy.

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It seems that there is a stigma that comes with the words therapy, counseling, therapist, counselor, shrink, etc., and I fear that these stigmas often prevent many from being open about their experiences with said stigmatized words; sometimes even preventing people from seeking help in this form for fear of what others think about those who receive counseling/go to therapy. But not me. I will be open and very straightforward about my experience going to counseling. Why? Because it was one of the best choices I have ever made; not the easiest by any means, but one of the best. And why do I feel this way? Simply because my year receiving counseling not only helped me work through many thoughts and feelings I was struggling to cope with, let alone even address, but it saved my heart and mind, bringing the two closer together than ever before.

During my senior year of college I attended counseling once a week for my first semester, and twice a week throughout my second semester. Going into the school year I knew in my heart what I wanted to accomplish, and hoped to process, by receiving counseling, but I would be lying saying it was an easy decision I made to set myself up to meet with a counselor. I had tried once during my junior year, but the counselor I was assigned to was male and I was unable to make it through a session with him, so I quit. When it came time for counseling my senior year, I set up my sessions with a female who was pursuing her master’s in counseling at my university.

The first month or two of sessions were unbearable. I struggled with such high anxiety just over going to counseling to the point I would get sick. I know now that this is because 1) my body would go back into it’s fight or flight state when bringing old memories to the surface, or even just thinking about having to talk about “those things,” and 2) because I have found I usually tend to get anxious when I’m about to have a breakthrough/do something that is hard but very good for myself and my heart.

And this is exactly what going to counseling was for me; it was part of a season of my life that was so necessary in order to help me grow, do some healing, process/re-process memories and feelings associated to my sexual assault, and to have a safe place to express the wide range of emotions that surfaced throughout the year.

Like I said, the first month of counseling I received was ROUGH; as in I bawled for almost the entirety of every session. So I’m sure it’s easy to imagine what my mind was thinking, “WHY do we keep coming back every week and doing this when we only leave more upset than when we came in? Why do we keep re-hashing these painful memories, arousing such sadness, anger, etc. if it doesn’t make us feel any better, and in fact only makes us feel worse?!” And I have had some people ask these questions to me before too, “Well, are you sure it’s helping/actually good for you if it’s making you so upset??” The answer was and will always be YES. Because sometimes before you can move forward into healing and gain a positive perspective on an extremely negative event, you have to take some steps backwards and allow yourself to break again to get to the root of your pain, hurt, problems, and the things that are causing you to stumble in your life.

Bless my counselor’s heart that she would just sit and wait, respecting the time I needed, and the FREEDOM I needed, to feel through every single emotion as it came even if it meant I spoke barely a handful of sentences our entire session. Because let’s be real, I wasn’t going to purge those tears/thoughts/feelings sitting at home alone in my apartment or in front of anyone else at school! So if they were going to come out, it was going to be in that little room, sitting on the couch, with my counselor on the couch opposite of me.

After my first couple of months, I began to be able to handle my emotions, shedding some tears when they came, but managing to keep my composure throughout the majority of my sessions. As my first semester came to a close, I sought out one of my professors who I knew met with students to counsel them in a sense, and asked for his help. I hated asking for help. I have no explanation as to why I decided to ask for his help except that I just knew in my heart that he would be able to help me further work through my healing. And I was beyond right with that feeling.

My second semester began and I met with my original counselor on Tuesdays after my classes had finished for the day, and with my professor on Thursdays after my classes had finished for the day as well. Some of you who read this may be thinking, “Woah, seriously? Counseling twice a week?” Yes, twice a week. This is not always necessary, and maybe it wasn’t even necessary for me either, but I saw the limited time I had left to use my resources in this way because I had only 5 months before I graduated, so I went all in. My time with my original counselor progressed in the best, most positive manner; this was shown largely by my body language. From beginning counseling always sitting on the couch with my legs/feet tucked up under me or in front of me somehow, to being able to sit relaxed and comfortable like I would if I were simply hanging out with a friend. This showed A LOT of growth for me and my anxiety levels specifically. My professor, who I view more as a second father now (he was the officiant for my husband and mine’s wedding ceremony), knew where and when to push and poke to bring me out of my shell of denial over some of my feelings and thoughts that have been key to my journey through healing. He offered a safe space for me to push back, get angry, cry when I was sad, and be honest without fearing judgment.

Each week was not progress after progress with breakthrough after breakthrough. As with all things in life, there were good weeks and bad weeks, depending on the part of my healing we were working through and discussing. There were moments of laughter, and moments of anguish. Moments of happiness for where I saw myself going as I moved forward through healing, and moments of unparalleled sadness when I would come face to face with the truth of my own beliefs and feelings about what I had experienced, and all that had happened since as a result of it. But as I look back now while reflecting upon such a pivotal year of my life, I see hope. I may not have always felt hopeful, but the progress I see from where I began my senior year to where I was when I graduated, mentally, emotionally, and in my heart, continues to give me hope for what still lies ahead of me. One thing is for certain, if it weren’t for these two people walking through life with me and helping me navigate parts of my mind and heart I never wanted to even explore, I WOULD NOT be the woman I am today. I owe them all of the thanks and gratitude written words can express for being pillars of strength, compassion, comfort, and security for me. Which brings me to my closing thoughts…

I know that not every therapist/client relationship is the same. And I know that there are ethical & professional boundaries to the kinds of relationships there can be between client and therapist, but even while maintaining professional boundaries throughout my counseling, I felt that a very special and intimate bond was created between me and my counselors. One that I thank God for because He is who equipped these two people to listen to my words and hear my heart, my pains, my fears, and my hopes, and proceed to walk with me through one of the most hellish seasons of my life. He created these two hearts to be able to handle the good, the bad, and the ugly, whichever version of myself sat down on that couch or in that chair for my session that day. God prepared them to be the two people I needed most that year to be sources of support, comfort, security, and TRUTH in my life as I journeyed through the unknown territories of my heart I had long ignored. God created these two individuals to impact my heart, my mind, and my life so deeply that truthfully, I wish I still got to sit down and talk with them each for an hour every week just because I grew to love them for how well they loved me when I felt I was at my weakest and lowest. But maintaining professional boundaries meant that for my first and original counselor, contact was cut off after I walked out of our very last session together. So many times I find myself wishing I could simply thank her once more and make sure she knows how much she impacted my life that year; how she has left a lifelong impact. She is a part of my story, a part of my healing, and a part of the reason for the joy I have today because of the heart work I put in with her over that entire school year. Fortunately, because my other counselor was one of my professors turned friend turned officiant, we still get to keep in touch and try to stay up to date on the happenings of each other’s lives. I am oh so thankful for this because the impact he has had on my life is far too substantial to not get to keep him a part of it.

So the next time you hear someone say they were/are attending, or are looking into, therapy or counseling, don’t jump to the conclusion they are crazy. The next time you, yourself, are debating on therapy or counseling, don’t automatically knock it for fear of what other’s might think should you share that you are, or will be, going to therapy. I believe everyone has a lot to say, and we don’t always feel that we should say the things we are thinking or feeling out loud, but that’s the magnificence of therapy! You get to say whatever you want, express any feelings you have, open up about any struggle you have, and then there’s someone who’s ears are open and ready to listen to then help you work through what you’ve shared. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there’s anything about that scenario that sounds “crazy” in the slightest. Everyone needs someone to listen to their heart; thank you for reading the words of mine today.

My Pain.

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Physically debilitating. Soul crushing. Heart wrenching.

Tears streaming. Anxiety evoking. Confusion inducing.

Insecurity raising. Fear of loving. Anger provoking.

Strength building. Passion promoting. Advocate creating.

This is my pain.

My pain was not in the physical act forced upon me.

My pain was not having control of my body taken from me.

My pain is not remembered as the act of my sexual assault.

My pain was…

In the secret I kept from the world for so long.

In hearing, “These kinds of things just happen.”

In the lonely hours of the night crying myself to sleep not understanding and asking,

“Why me?”

My pain was…

In the insecurities I felt about my own body, and what others saw when they looked at it.

In the baggy clothes I wore to cover every inch of me.

In the Friday nights spent staying in alone for fear of the “social scene.”

My pain was…

In the months I felt emotions in a way I had never experienced before:

Anger that raged. Sadness that wept. Aching in my heart that took my breath.

In feeling I was a “burden” to others because of my “issues.”

My greatest pain was in feeling I had lost myself; who I had always been; who I, and everyone else, knew me to be.

My greatest pain was fueled by the belief that “he” stole my life from me;

that “he” robbed me of the life I had planned for myself.

But never forget, strength can be born from pain;

diamonds are created under intense heat and pressure;

“Out of the ashes, beauty will rise.”

Never forget, that HE has far greater plans for your life than those you plan for yourself.

My greatest adventure has been the journey of rediscovering who “I am.”

My greatest pain bore my God-given purpose.

My greatest pain filled me with a passion unlike anything I have ever felt before.

My greatest pain has led to a life filled with the greatest, most unexpected blessings.

My pain was not for nothing.

My pain is part of my story;

it has given me a voice to advocate with and something to share with the world..

My pain has become my strength, my passion, my purpose, and just one part of who “I am.”

Embracing Ambiguity

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One of the biggest things I have been challenged to do over the past year since marrying my husband has been to integrate the concept of embracing ambiguity into my life. I have never liked the unknown, ambiguous answers, or not being able to plan ahead down to the very hour or even minute of a day. But, so far, since becoming an Air Force spouse, I have had to live in an amount of ambiguity that used to send me into anxiety and lots of frustration that created a feeling of a loss of control over my own life, and being honest I still struggle with this at times.

My husband and I were legally married just over a year ago and kept it a secret from a large majority of the world. Our families and some very close friends knew, as well as those in our lives at our first station (this is where we got legally married at the town courthouse). I do not come from a military background, and I know many who may read this won’t understand the reason behind this unless they have some military background, but when marrying into any branch of the military, legal marriage before there is time for a full ceremony to be planned is a common occurrence. We knew there was a possibility of having to be moved in July of 2016 when my husband was first contemplating helicopters, and unfortunately unless we were married, the Air Force would not pay for my moving with him. There are many other benefits as well to getting legally married in advance if need be, but to make it clear we did not get legally married strictly for the benefits. We saw it simply as if we were going to get married eventually, because why else do couples get engaged, then if it would benefit our lifestyle, make things more comfortable, help my personal transition into the Air Force, and our finances, why wait? We were sure of our relationship turning into a lifetime commitment of marriage.

Fast forward to this past July and we did find out that we were being moved, but not for helicopters. My husband had been selected to finish his second phase of training at another base for fighter jets, and from the time we were told we were moving to the time we arrived at our new temporary home only two weeks had passed. That meant 12 days to quit my job; follow through on a trip back home that had already been planned prior to finding out we were moving; pack up our entire house, which we had only lived in for one month; move to a completely different state; wait for a house to open up on our new base; move into said house on base; and start all over on the job search while finishing planning our wedding ceremony that would take place only 4 weeks later. Can you say woof? Yeah… it’s a ride that’s for sure.

And wait, it gets even better! We find out in only three months from now if/when/where we will be headed next. Don’t get me wrong, I am so pumped for my husband’s graduation and to find out what aircraft he will get to pilot for the duration of his Air Force career, but as you can see this is where the ambiguity comes in again, but in regards to the future. We may find out a variety of different outcomes for his career come end of January; a potential of 26-ish career options will be available for him to rank. With some we could move anytime between March and May, with others we could stay where we are until sometime during or at the end of summer 2017, OR maybe we would end up staying right where we are for three or four more years. All of these maybe’s, and’s, and or’s make my usual planning and control-oriented self a bit uncomfortable and obviously unable to do what makes me feel more sure of life, plan in order to feel a sense of control. This lifestyle isn’t something I would have ever chosen for myself, but after I met my husband, all bets were off. I knew I was willing to make things work by finding a way to adjust into a military lifestyle in order to get to be with him. As I said before, I still struggle with adjustments from place to place, and sometimes even on a week to week basis, but that can be addressed in another blog sometime.

Now I’ll admit, I’ve always been someone who has liked to plan, be head honcho, lead others, organize things, and feel I have a sense of control over every situation I am put in. But after my sexual assault a few years ago, this need for control expanded and grew and was taken to an entirely new level. After experiencing a trauma many people search and yearn for control; control over their own life especially. This is often the result of having not been in control of the situation you were in when your trauma occurred. In my case, my increased need for control came from my assaulter taking control away from me, and not being in control of my own body and what happened to it that night. Control over situations and circumstances, and even people, becomes a form of comfort and almost a physiological need if you will. For the first few years after my sexual assault, if I wasn’t in complete control of where I was, what I was doing, or what was going on around me, you bet I was a hot mess of anxiety. Being able to be self-assured and confident in my physical safety and well-being was my biggest concern and focus for any kind of social life I had.

Luckily, over time, the need for this extreme sense of control has diminished, but there is still a tendency here and there to feel a need and desire to have control in certain situations. But, I believe this is also part of human nature for many. And because it is part of human nature, we can also believe that it is something that can easily become an idol, a sin, and simply put, an unhealthy obsession, like it became for me. Therefore, control, and a need to be in control, are not from God. He did not create us to be in control of the lives we live, but to live our lives allowing Him to have control. We have the gift of free will so we can ultimately decide for ourselves the choices we make and the paths our lives will take, but only God is truly in control. God is the one with the ultimate control over my life and every other single person’s life.

When I get overwhelmed by the idea that the Air Force seems to have control of the majority of my life; my husband; where we live; how long we live in one place; when will be the best time to have kids; my having my own career; when we get to go home/see family and friends; etc. I remind myself that no one, including myself, has final say over what happens in all of these aspects of my life. But, if I instead focus on trying to release my need for control and hand it over to God, then I can rest a little easier trusting in His plan for my husband’s and mines future with the believe that He works all things together for our good. This means that no matter what happens, whether it’s what we would choose for ourselves or not, it will all turn out just as it is meant to be because it will be according to God’s plan, not our own. So with every move, every station, every single part of each day of the lives we get to live, down to the smallest detail, everything is under His sovereign control.

I can only live within the lifestyle in which I am currently immersed by giving Him complete control of every aspect of mine and my family’s lives and future. I will drive myself crazy and to the point of becoming emotionally upset if I allow the desire to control our future take hold. It is only by faith and through trust in God I can embrace this lifestyle that is ran on ambiguity. Only by having faith in God and trusting in His ultimate plan, which I guarantee will be a far more incredible journey than what I could come up with out of my own control, can I be at peace and not constantly worry about what our future holds. Our lives are for His glory, therefore He gets to have the control to do with us and our time here as He pleases. Embrace today by simply living in the here and now, not the future of tomorrow’s.

So sit back and relax, God is in control.

Love Is…

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It seems like the last couple years if you said you were “pro love” you were referring to a romantic relationship between same gendered couples. But today, if we are to say we are “pro love” I believe it should simply mean that we are for loving ALL people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious practices and especially regardless of the color of the skin on a person.

A couple of nights ago the pastor at my church held a service to discuss the biblical perspective we, as Christians, need to be taking in light of the most recent events that have shaken our nation. It is what inspired me to write this blog and it helped reinforce in my mind how we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves; that we are our brother’s keepers; and that if we truly aim to be like Christ, we must love everyone, for this is how He lived His life.

It is so confusing to me, and almost ridiculous, that we have struggled with and feared international terrorism for so long now, but then in the most recent weeks it has been our own people who have been shaking this nation. We protest for peace and put an emphasis on whose lives matter, but there will be no peace until we ALL believe that ALL lives matter. We will not have peace until each of us, individually, can say that we value each and every single life of each and every single person in this country, regardless of all of the ways that other people are different from us.

If you strip back a person’s skin, we are the same. As my pastor emphasized, we bleed the same blood; we are ONE blood. We are not to question as Cain questioned God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Because the answer to Cain, and the answer every time to all of us even today is yes, we are our brother’s keeper! We are our sister’s keeper! And our brother’s and sister’s include every single person on this planet, not only those that we are like, relate to, spend time with, and who it comes easily to love. We are called by God to be keeper’s for each other; to look out for one another; to protect one another; to help one another; and to lift one another up when we are down. We are called by God to be His hands and feet while we are here on earth; He calls us His ambassadors, therefore we must be the link between Him and His love while we are here in this place.

My convictions have been strong lately that I have often chosen who it is that I am going to love and when because I haven’t learned how to love like Christ does at all times. Christ loves everyone, all the time, right where they are at, regardless of their sin and regardless of who they are, what they do, or how they live. I have struggled at times with loving those who are different from me, that I am unable to feel compassion towards for various reasons. But God is dealing with my heart, and my mind, and teaching me that if I am truly striving to become more like Christ, then this is one thing that must change, and it must change now.

It must change now because we don’t have the courtesy of an abundance of time to work out the hate and heart issues that our country is facing and struggling with today. If every single person learned, understood, and began to implement what it means to love each other regardless of all of our varying differences in appearance and lifestyle, we just might begin to change the direction we are currently going. If each person took it upon themselves to speak, act, and walk in love every day, and I know personally how challenging this can feel, but if everyone did everything with a heart turned towards loving others, how much better of a world might we be living in?

The truth is that we were told by God that in this world we will face troubles, which means there will always be someone or something trying to instill fear, hate, discouragement, anger, and a lack of acceptance of others in our hearts. But the Bible also says for us to fear not because God overcame the world, and this means that because of God, we have the power to choose whether we will let the evils of this world make us act out in hate; if we will judge others before getting to know who they are; if we will fear what is different from us; and if we will choose anything but to simply love everyone no matter what.

This world has fought so hard for equal rights among people who love each other, but what about now fighting for spreading, sharing, and living out of love itself? Why don’t we start putting more effort into spreading love ourselves rather than protesting for peace? Peace will come when love flourishes because love conquers all. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is often quoted when examining romantic relationships; it is used as a guiding tool as to how we are to approach, appreciate, and treat those that we love. How about applying it to something so general as just loving people? And this means how we are to love each and every one of our brothers and sisters, whether they are a different skin color; whether in a uniform of any kind; whether they are of a different socio-economic status, a different sexual orientation, or a different religion than us.

 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

–  1 Corinithians 13:4-8

Love is patient: be patient with each other when it comes to areas where we differ from one another. Do not write someone off because they test your patience. Challenge yourself to grow in your patience and learn to understand those people who aren’t like you.

Love is kind: we are usually naturally kind to those we love, but the love we are called to give by Christ calls us to be kind to everyone. Speak and act kindly to everyone and this will surely promote widespread positivity. Kindness will help put out the fires that are fueled by hatred, intolerance, a lack of understanding, and a lack of acceptance. Maybe with a little more kindness there will be many fires that won’t even be able to start because there won’t be any fuel to start them with.

Love does not envy: we tend to play a constant game named comparison, but this only produces envious thoughts, which produces dissatisfaction and discontentment, which end up usually separating us from each other even more. Those we envy we don’t tend to draw close to; those we envy we tend to try to find a way to one up them or achieve something that makes us feel like we don’t need to be envious of them anymore. Can’t we see how this turns into putting someone, or a group of people, down in any way we can so that we stop believing that there is anything to be envious about them for? This only adds more fuel to fires fueled by hate as mentioned above.

Love does not boast: when we achieve something, we can feel self-satisfaction and pride in ourselves. But the moment we boast to the extent of putting someone down or making someone else feel lower than us, whether intentionally or not, we are not speaking or acting out of love anymore. When we boast we are lifting ourselves up and sometimes even putting ourselves above others, but we must not lift ourselves up so high that we walk all over the people around us.

Love is not proud: we cannot be so prideful that we refuse to accept or take responsibility for our own mistakes, or when we have messed up, hurt others, or simply done something wrong. Love owns, admits, and repents for the wrongs committed against another person. Love finds a solution to the problem and does what is needed to bring harmony and peace back into a relationship. Too much pride is what keeps us separated, unwilling to ask for forgiveness, and ultimately creates more barriers between people. We cannot live out of love in one cohesive community when we are separated by walls and fences established in pride.

Love does not dishonor others: simply put, when we live out of love, our actions should not end up dishonoring anyone in any way. We dishonor others when we speak ill to them or about them; when we judge wrongfully; when we categorize and stereotype people by labels; and when we inflict harm on another person whether it be emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Love does none of these things.

Love is not self-seeking: when we are looking out for the well-being of others before ourselves, we are acting out of love. When we only care about ourselves first and foremost, this is not love. Loving means that we put other’s needs, wishes, hopes, and thoughts before our own. We make ourselves less, and we make them more. We must humble ourselves, which will also make us more like Christ. We cannot continue living so selfishly, always pursuing what it is that we want most in life; the worldly treasures we desire to have; and the success and accomplishments and all that comes with those things only to add an advancement in status to our own name. What good does a self-seeking attitude and mind-set do to help others or further the kingdom of God? Not much, but love, self-sacrifice, and humility will go very far in furthering the kingdom of God.

Love is not easily angered: when someone offends us, we are often quick to retaliate, express our hurt, anger, or whatever it is we are feeling, and then most often we think of how can we get even. But this is not love. Love does not easily anger; instead it gives grace and forgiveness abundantly. We have been forgiven for so much more than anything anyone could ever do to us, so we must extend forgiveness to great lengths as well. Live a life filled with grace and give it freely to others as well. We are saved by grace and not by our own works, show this same kind of extension of grace in a time when it would be easy to get angry with someone and just see how differently they respond to you when you respond with grace instead of anger and hate.

Love keeps no record of wrongs: when we live out of love we will not keep a tally score of how many times someone has wronged us; when we live out of love we must wipe the slate clean after every wrong committed against us and not allow it to infest our hearts with bitterness, resentment, or ill thoughts against the person who committed the wrong. When we live out of love we will be able to keep moving forward in our relationships with others, and continue loving unconditionally instead of getting hung up on a wrong that is only going to distract us and harden our hearts.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth: when we love others we do not delight in the evil that happens or the pain that is inflicted upon them physically and emotionally. When we love others we do not delight in seeing one group of people being targeted by another group of people that have hard feelings towards them. When we love others we do not delight in any sort of tragedy that happens to those around us. When we love others we rejoice in the truth that all men and women were and are created equal; that we were all created by God, with His love, and that each and every single person is treasured by Him; we rejoice that we are all given the choice to accept His saving grace; and we rejoice in the truth that one day, we will be in a place where there is no more evil, no more pain, no more fear, and no more hate.

Love always protects: regardless of the color of your skin, the religion you practice, who you love, or what language you speak, living out of love means that we protect one another regardless of all of these things. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers… therefore it is up to us to protect one another under any and all circumstances. When you love someone you will do almost anything for them, especially protect them from harm, so once we all begin loving everyone around us, we will have the heart to want to protect everyone around us. If we could get to a place where we all want to protect each other, then there wouldn’t be anyone left to want to cause harm to anyone else.

Love always trusts: living out of love would mean that we trust the people around us to have only the best intentions for us; we trust them to watch out for us and have our backs; we trust they wouldn’t do anything to cause us pain; and we trust that they wouldn’t do anything to break our trust in them. When we love we trust until that trust is broken, and once it is broken, we heal and mend until we can trust in that relationship again.

Love always hopes: keeping hope in others and for others, as well as in and for various circumstances, is another way to live out of love. When someone makes a poor choice or begins straying from the straight and narrow, we do not write them off or judge them, instead we keep hope in and for them; instead we choose to continue loving them.

Love always perseveres: we do not stop loving someone just because times get tough, life circumstances become difficult, or a relationship is struggling for a while. Instead, these are the times we are to press into our relationships and love even harder. Love always perseveres; it does not give up.

Love never fails: when we choose to love we cannot and will not fail. When we choose to hate, judge, criticize, stereotype, and divide ourselves from one another, that is when we fail. We will fail at creating peace with one another; we will fail at advancing ourselves and the world we live in; and we will fail at being living examples of Christ and His love when we choose to do anything but love others. When we don’t choose to love, we are failing both ourselves and those around us.

 

Today, rejoice in the truth that God purposely created his children with different skin colors and yet we are ALL precious in His sight! Today, we need to begin changing our perspectives on what it means to love. We no longer can only love who we choose and want to love, but in order to start seeing change in the world and the way we all treat each other we must begin to love everyone in the way Christ loved and still loves everyone. No matter what someone has done, Christ loves them, and God loves them because we are all His children. No one single person is more deserving of God’s love than any other person, whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian; God loves us all the same. Which means He also mourns the loss of our lives the same. He weeps for the murderer in  the same way He weeps for the murdered, because we are ALL His children.

 

Go out today and live your life out of love. Be kind to others. Be humble. Be patient with others. Be forgiving of others. Be hopeful. Be a light in this world when it looks dark.

Be a vessel of His love.

Outrageous.

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Warning: this post will be minimally graphic in regards to discussing rape and sexual assault, but it needs to be shared and talked about.

The one word to describe my feelings in regards to the Stanford Rape and how it has been handled is outrageous….

Outrageous: shockingly bad or excessive;very bold, unusual, and startling.

The verdict sentencing the Stanford rapist to only 6 months in a county jail, which may be shortened to 3 months for good behavior, is shockingly awful compared to the amount of time he should be serving. The perspective the judge took is startling, valuing the rapists mental health more than the survivor of the rapes mental health. Unfortunately, as unusual as this sentencing is to the public eye for what happened, I’m not sure it is that unusual in the grand scheme of how rapes and sexual assaults are handled by the legal system. In my outrage, I am going to be very bold with what I am about to write and share.

I will start with this, to the woman who has survived this rape (I wish I knew your name) and the ridiculous way it has been handled, I applaud your courage and bravery. What you have gone through is something nobody should ever have to experience, but you are strong and you are surviving. What many do not understand, is that the trauma was not just in the rape, but in the hospital after as well. What you had to go through, just to make sure you were going to be okay physically and health-wise, is a traumatic event in itself, and I am so utterly sorry that you had to experience this. I am sorry for how the rape has affected your sense of self and your relationships. I am sorry for the conversations lost with those you love, your inability to eat and sleep, and the loneliness you must have felt or still be feeling. I am sorry for the worry, lack of trust, and confusion you must feel now in regards to men and whether you are safe around them or not. I understand and I am standing with you in support of you, rooting for your recovery and healing. Take your time to heal your heart, those are deep wounds that have been inflicted. I pray you know there is a Man who heals all wounds and who will make sure justice is served for your rapist, even if justice hasn’t been properly served legally. You will survive; you will conquer; and you will overcome this because you are more than simply what has happened to you. We experience defining moments in our lives that dictate our direction and path, but we are not defined by these same moments. Who you are is not defined by the fact that you were raped. Do not believe the lies that you are anything but lovely, strong, pure, and powerful. My heart goes out to you and I will be praying for your heart and your life continuously.

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A letter to the rapist’s dad and the rapist (because I really don’t care to recognize you by your name)… Dad, you are an asshole who obviously raised an asshole. Your blatant lack of respect for women, and how you view sexual relationships, shows in your comment, “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action,” referring to the potential prison time of your son. Obviously your disrespect and nonchalant, if not crude, way of viewing sex was passed on to your son. Children learn from the examples set before them, and unfortunately you were not a good example when it came to showing your son that he is to treat women with respect, dignity, and the most pure form of love. Maybe you are actually sad, disappointed, shocked, or even appalled at the heinous act your son committed, but then show the world that. I can’t get myself to believe that you truly aren’t just sick to your stomach when you think of what he did to that innocent young woman. What you have shown is someone who feels no compassion towards women who are victimized by monsters such as your son.

Do you have a daughter? If you do I pray for her that she knows how to recognize true love from someone and doesn’t let men walk all over her and treat her body in the same manner your son treated the woman’s body he raped. In regards to the judge’s sentence and your response, “Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever. He will never be his happy go lucky self. Now he barely consumes any food. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear and depression.” Followed by your comment about action… Look at it this way, maybe, just maybe, the fact he is so fearful, depressed, lost his appetite, worries and has anxiety just might mean he knows just how awful of a thing he did was. Just maybe, there’s a part of him that is disappointed in the decision he made, or regretful and ashamed of his actions. But these aren’t the things making headlines. Instead, the only thing you have focused on is his mental health and his talent of swimming and not how he has affected the life of the woman he raped.

What about her? She can’t eat. She can’t sleep. She will need a while to heal and recover from what your son did to her. And she will most likely still be recovering long after he gets out of prison due to his ridiculously short sentence. What about the memories, milestones, relationships, and fun she is going to miss out on while she gets acclimated to life again after having her body violated? What about the mistrust and fear she will live with now? What about the simple fact that your son was the one to break down both his own life and hers by the choice he made. He is the only one responsible for what he did that night; the woman he raped did nothing to cause him to suffer how he is now, he did that to himself. I believe that any repercussions that have resulted from his decision to rape this young woman, including those that affect his mental health, are consequences that he fully deserves. You should not be trying to “protect” him from further damage to his mental health by giving him a short prison sentence. He brought these repercussions upon himself because he wanted “action” so badly that he chose to victimize an unconscious woman. And on that note, I would argue his mental health would have already been in question because he chose to violate a woman while she wasn’t even conscious. Only sick men look at a woman who isn’t able to consent and decide that they can do what they want with her body. Only men who aren’t happy or healthy sexually decide that whatever they can get is enough for them, even if this means the woman isn’t contributing to the sexual act. I don’t know what you or your son learned about giving and receiving intimate love, but I would think most people wouldn’t want to have a sexual experience unless the other party was wanting to and emotionally connected to them. The woman your son raped was neither of these things. I pray for you and your son and the rest of your family that at some point reality will hit and your heads will be set straight and you will finally be able to see what you have both done. Because dad, I know parents, and especially father’s, want to protect their children, but you are doing your own son an injustice by not making him pay for his crime with the time he should owe. Instead, you are showing him how to cheat the system and be a scumbag.

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I want the world to know, stand up for, and speak out against people getting away with these kinds of crimes. I understand how raping a woman could end up affecting someone who rapes another person mentally, but that isn’t something to use to lessen their sentence because the woman they victimized is surely struggling more than they are. It was her body that was violated; it was her “no” that was ignored; it was the rapist’s body, that only THEY have control over, that they chose to use against a woman. The worst part is, the trauma doesn’t leave you or stop once the initial rape or assault happens. A separate trauma occurs when you get to the hospital. And then the effects of both of those traumas can last for years, if not the rest of your life.

Besides the other struggles I have faced as a result of my own sexual assault, I have also struggled at times because of my experience at the hospital following my sexual assault. For the last three years doctors offices of any sort have made me uneasy and anxious. This is because of the experience I had at a hospital when I went to visit the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner after being encouraged by a friend to do so. I had no idea what was going to happen, but in short this was how my visit went…

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After being shown to a room near the ER, I first recounted the events from the night of my sexual assault for my nurse and two advocates that came to be with me from a local non-profit. As I told them all I could remember, I began to truly think about and realize what had happened to me for the first time. Then a university detective came and I had to tell my entire story all over again as well as answer questions for him. I became emotional as I felt the detective prying and prodding into something that was so intimate and personal that had happened to me.  At this time I also was asked whether I was wanting to press charges or start an investigation, to which I said no. At this moment, the only thing I cared about was my body and knowing that physically I was okay. I wanted nothing to do with my assaulter.

Once I had finished re-telling what I remembered happening the night of my sexual assault, everyone left but the nurse and one of my best friends that came with me. What followed was a lot of what a normal OB-GYN yearly exam involves, but yet it was so very different. I became emotional, anxious, insecure, and scared the moment I had to undress and lay on that table for my nurse and let her begin her exam. To this day, this is the worst part of any doctor’s appointment for me. More than ever, clothing offered me security and safety; with clothing on, I couldn’t be hurt. I cried as I held my friends hand while she conducted her exam. My legs shook wanting nothing more than for the exam to be over so I could lay them down and close them in hopes that I wouldn’t feel so exposed.

They drew my blood to test for any kind of drug that might have been given to me; this was the general consensus of both my detective and nurse, that due to the blackouts I had described, and the time that lapsed during them and my sexual assault, I had most likely been drugged at some point during the night. I knew I hadn’t drank enough to get as bad as I was that night with my mental awareness. Unfortunately, it had been over 24 hours since my sexual assault so the blood test came back not showing signs of anything in my system. The fact it had been more than 24 hours since my sexual assault also meant that I had showered and changed my clothes, which also meant less evidence to look for that would give proof to my sexual assault if I chose to press charges. I was given a lot of pills and instructed when I needed to take them all. Within six hours of my being at the hospital I had taken almost 14 pills and I felt miserable. These were to combat and prevent any kind of disease that could have been transferred during my assault. I was also given my first ever shot in my right butt cheek, and let me just say they don’t feel any better, if not worse, than a shot anywhere else.

Even after leaving the hospital, my sexual assault followed me as the next day the university detective stopped by the sorority I was living in at the time. He came to take pictures of the texts I had sent to, and received from, my assaulter the night of my sexual assault, and to collect some of my clothing from that night to be kept as evidence. I was instructed that I had two years from that day to decide whether to open an investigation or not. After two years, it would no longer be possible to take any sort of legal action. I still had no intention of opening an investigation or pressing charges; all I wanted was to go about my life as normal as possible, but I still had to have a follow-up exam once home over Thanksgiving to make sure the medications I had been given at the hospital had worked. While home over break I learned that all of my tests came back negative, but then, one at a time, PTSD symptoms like irritability, mood swings, and anxiety followed.

I did not choose to take legal action against the guy who sexually assaulted me. My two years ran up November of 2014. As the time came near for my two year anniversary, I felt the weight and pressure of the looming question, “Last chance, do you want to press charges?” One side of me said no, I don’t want to do something to completely shatter his world like he did mine. Even when I wished he had to suffer just one bit of what I had suffered and gone through, I knew my justice wasn’t in the legal system anymore. This is my justice. Awareness, advocacy, and sharing my story are my justice. The other side of me said no because of my fear of the legal system, and today this makes me sad. I feared bringing my story before a judge because I knew there wasn’t enough concrete evidence from my visit to the hospital to prove I had been raped. It would end up being my word against his, and we know how that normally ends. I didn’t need to hear from a judge and an attorney and whoever else might speak out representing him that what I was claiming happened wasn’t valid, or at least didn’t warrant any punishment on his part. Just sharing what I had gone through in the time since wouldn’t be enough. I was almost positive that taking legal action would only send me deeper into a new realm of hurt, and a new kind of trauma, experiencing a failed trial. I find it is so sad that this is the exact same reason why many women don’t speak up and report what has happened to them. It is a disgrace.

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I believe it is important for people to understand that rape and sexual assault are not the only trauma survivors of these things experience. There are lasting effects from the initial act against them, from physical examinations at the doctor’s post sexual assault or rape; how people around them treat them whether that’s coddling them or turning from them; and from the way the survivor processes and feels about what has happened to them internally. Each of these potential scenarios where trauma may occur can impact a person physically, emotionally, and mentally for the rest of their lives. The process of taking care of yourself after being raped or sexually assaulted looks very different from person to person; some people choose to be physically examined by a doctor, others do not, and some end up in the hospital without fully understand what has happened when found by someone else or helped by law enforcement. Some women choose to report their rape or sexual assault and press charges, some women do not. Whether you decide to take legal action or not does not in any way dictate the validity of what has happened to you; nor does whether or not a judge ends up ruling in your favor or not if you choose to take legal action.

If you have taken the time to read this entire post, thank you. I am a firm believer that it is the hard and uncomfortable conversations and topics that need to be discussed the most. Sexual assault and rape are something people don’t normally talk about until something outrageous happens. It’s good when the conversation gets going because of this outrageous story, but it’s a conversation that needs to be ongoing. We cannot create change in this world when we shy away from talking about the hard stuff; when we edit what we are thinking before we say it so that we don’t make someone else uncomfortable. So here’s a cheers to getting and learning to like being uncomfortable because I won’t stop talking about this issue until I see change. I thank each and every one of you who has reached out, shared, and supported my passion by simply reading what I have to say. Please help me break the silence and let’s get talking about the things that really need to be talked about.

His Timing & His Plans.

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If there is one thing I have learned over these past three and a half years it is that God and I do not have the same timing for my life, which has taught me that my life is not my own. For the longest time God and I didn’t have the same plans or timeline when it came to the experiences I would have and what I would make of my life. I would plan my life out in extreme detail and work towards that desire for myself and then God would laugh, see that where I was going wasn’t conducive to His plan, and He would then either put an obstacle in my way in order to keep me from reaching my personal want, or He would simply change the direction I was going and redirect me towards Him. I have learned that we may not always understand, appreciate, or welcome a change in direction from God, but we have to believe that there is a purpose behind it. I believe the purpose is usually God knowing what’s best for us, so he is protecting us by changing our direction, or He is wanting to use our lives in a special way and knows that we will not be able to do this if He doesn’t help steer us in the right direction every now and then.

Growing up I loved planning every detail of my own life and what I hoped for myself in the future. I would plan what I wanted to be when I was older, the kind of guy I would want to marry, when I wanted to be married by, and when I wanted to have all of the children I will have. I planned to never leave the town I grew up in or live far from my own family. I planned my own life for myself based on my own wants and desires until after I was sexually assaulted. After my sexual assault happened, I felt like I had had my eyes opened to what my life was meant to be for. I didn’t know what exactly my purpose would be for almost two years after my sexual assault, but from the moment I began to process what had happened to me, I told myself God would use this and something good would come out of something so bad. I held onto this hope for the next two years, not understanding the “why” yet and struggling with time passing and not knowing how I would use what happened to me. All the while learning more about myself and allowing my heart to begin the process of healing.

God’s timing is not my timing. If my timing dictated how my life would unfold and when I would learn the purpose for my hurt, I would have wanted to have known the moment after my sexual assault happened what possible purpose could be behind it. But this wasn’t God’s timing for me. I needed the time in those first two years to begin healing and work through some of the ways I had been hurt. God knew that if I had been able to know the purpose and plan He had to use my hurt in a good way right off the bat that I probably wouldn’t have focused on myself and the heart work that needed to take place. I had refining and equipping that needed to take place in order to be prepared to even begin working towards fulfilling my purpose. Even after I learned the plan God has set in motion in my life, I have had to continue working on myself and have had to face some of my toughest days, and months, since my sexual assault. Even after I learned the plan God has, I still haven’t learned or been told the timing in which His plan will unfold. In the meantime, God has been growing me, challenging me, preparing me, equipping me, healing me, and restoring me to who it is I am to become in order to do His work.

I have come to understand, believe, and trust in God and His timing for various reasons. I have learned that there are things God wants to give us but if given to us too early, before we are mature enough, ready enough, or strong enough, this gift can possibly do more harm than good in our lives. Instead of being the blessing God has designed for this “thing” to be in your life, when given at the opportune time, it may instead cause damage or frustration in your life in different ways, or it may end up not producing the fruit it was designed to bear. If God had shown me the purpose for my hurt right after it was inflicted, I wouldn’t have understood how I was to get to where I am now, nor would I have been able to maturely begin working towards the design God has laid before me as to how my purpose will play out.

I still do not fully understand or know everything God is going to ask of me or has planned for me to do with this deep passion I have for helping those who have experienced sexual assault, or any kind of personal struggle whether this be with their own body, mind, or in a relationship, but I will continue striving to patiently wait on God’s timing and allow His plan to unfold in front of me. What I do know though is that since the night of my sexual assault, my life has been a whirlwind of unexpected blessings, grace, love, and the faithfulness of God like I had never known or experienced before.

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After my sexual assault I transferred to a private Christian university in Colorado where I had the most amazing professors and got to actually build personal relationships with them, which wouldn’t have happened had I stayed at Iowa State. I excelled in my new major of psychology and got the best grades I had all of college, and I was enamored with what I was studying. I received the best counsel I could have hoped for while at this university that has made all the difference in the world for helping me get to where I am today both spiritually and emotionally. I found freedom in the mountains and learned how to handle the anxiety I had once found so debilitating. I met the man of my dreams and for the first time experienced love and grace in a relationship that models our relationship with God and His with us. My plan was to stay in Colorado, but God knew this wasn’t going to be productive for me for long. I moved back home to Iowa for two months to enjoy being close with my family again before moving once more down to Mississippi to be where my heart is. And the blessings and provisions of God haven’t stopped flowing since arriving down south. Without a job for two months, we somehow made it by financially despite the stressors of having a tight budget; God always provided for us in one way or another. After two months, I was ecstatic to get my first job, which led me to my present job, which was a complete answer to prayer for us, both financially and schedule-wise. We have been blessed with an incredible church and church family that is overflowing with love and acceptance, and keeps me pushing forward to learn, grow, and live every day with and for God. Life isn’t always perfect and we still face our struggles weekly if not daily at times, and there are still moments when I may begin to doubt God’s faithfulness, when I allow myself to try and plan on my own or worry about the future, but at the end of the day I know God has us in the palm of His hand. He has been providing for us in amazing ways and has been blessing me constantly since the day my heart become on fire for Him and the purpose He has set before me.

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Had I had my own way with the timing for my life, none of these blessings that I have experienced may have ever happened. And had I never experienced my sexual assault, I know that these things never would have happened and I wouldn’t be living the life I am now; I most likely would have never left Iowa State, or home, and ventured to the places I have. In everything, God has a plan and a purpose. In every achievement, God has a plan, and in every struggle and hurt, God has a plan. I once heard that He will never give you a hurt without a purpose for it; God will always have a purpose for you pain. God had, and still has, a very big purpose for my hurt. First, my hurt took me out of an environment that wasn’t conducive to my becoming like Christ and kept me from pursuing Him; second, it has given me a life that is so much better than anything I had ever dreamed up for myself; and third, it has given me a feeling of satisfaction for living a life that has a destined and important purpose for God, which is the greatest feeling and gift I could ever have.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

 – Galatians 2:20

God will continue to pursue His purpose for your life even if you aren’t on board. He will bring about opportunities for you to realize what He is trying to do, and He will try again if you ignore or choose to keep pursuing your own plan for yourself. But think of what amazing blessings you might be missing out on during the entire time you are fighting for your own way and the life that you want for yourself? Think of the damage that could be done by you not fulfilling the purpose God created you for? What missing body part will the body of Christ be without if you focus only on the life you want? Your choice to pursue your own personal desires in life doesn’t only affect you, it affects everyone. It affects the body of Christ, which can’t function to it’s fullest ability without every member of it doing what they were designed to do, and it affects those who are not yet saved by there being one less disciple of Christ living out their life for Him and reaching those who haven’t heard the Great News. God did not create us to live for ourselves and to plan our own lives, He created us so that the world would know Him through us! Until the day that He returns, we are His physical vessels on earth and we are to be showing love, grace, mercy, humility, meekness, and acceptance to everyone so that they might come to know Him too.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

– Romans 12:4-8

Our lives are not our own. Unless we are living for Christ, we are merely existing on earth for what is a very short time in the grand scheme of things. Unless I am living for Christ and the glory of God, I see my life as pointless. Anything I could be living for besides Him holds no eternal value and will do nothing for me when I die. There is no amount of money that can satisfy; no car, house, or any material possession worth striving for. My life is not my own, therefore why should I strive for anything with myself and my own personal gain being my root desire or cause? While I am living on this earth, my life, my time, my possessions, they are all God’s. I go where He leads and directs, and I do this with the hope and anticipation of the blessings I know He has in store as a result of my obedience.

“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

– Psalm 16:11

Something that has always comforted me when I begin to doubt God’s provision is that He knows our hearts, so He knows our deepest desires and the things we hope for most in our lives. For a while I began to doubt that God really understood what my heart desired, but now I look back and see how aware He is, and has been, with giving me some of my biggest desires in just this last year. Trust in His timing; trust in His provision; trust in His faithfulness; and trust that in all things, His plans and the purpose He has for your life will lead you to places, people, experiences, and blessings that you couldn’t even wrap your head around if you were told right now what He has in store for you.

If you have been hurt, or you are hurting right now, expect that God is doing a work in you and in your life. Believe that He has a plan and a purpose for your hurt that will be redeeming to what you have experienced or gone through. Be open to Him and don’t only listen for Him to tell you what you want to hear from Him, but listen to all that He has to say to you. When I first heard from God speak to me in regards to the purpose for my hurt, I didn’t understand what he was telling me. My directions were vague and I questioned but why and for what reason? It didn’t make sense to me what I was supposed to do exactly. I wanted to know more; I wanted more direction and answers to my questions. But all God wanted was for me to simply start with the first instruction He had given me, regardless of whether it made sense in my mind or not. Then, over time, He began to give me more instructions and pieces to the puzzle to help me begin putting together what it is that He wants to use my life for. This will all be done in His timing, not mine or yours, so we must try our hardest to be patient, available, and obedient.

Trust that God is always working for your good. In His perfect timing, He will make known to you His plan for your life, and I promise you it will be better than anything you have ever dreamed of for yourself! It may not be exactly what you had thought or planned for yourself, and it may take you away from a life of comfort and security at times, but what a sweet sweet feeling it is to know you are living in obedience to the One who holds all things together and is yearning for you to be a part of making Him known. Allow Him to show you the purpose for your hurt and find redemption in fulfilling it!

“My comfort in my suffering is this:

   Your promise preserves my life.”

 – Psalm 119:50

Get Real.

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Things are about to get real. And by real I mean writing down and sharing publicly some of the things I wouldn’t want others to know about me; a few things I have struggled with personally that I know God is pressing upon my heart to share and be open about. I used to fear that what I am going to share in this blog would completely shatter the perception people have had of me and that I prided myself in maintaining for as long as I can remember, and it just might. But growth doesn’t happen when you can’t or won’t accept and embrace every single thing about you, including the things you choose to keep secret from those around you. I understand what it could mean, or do, by me sharing what I am about to, but I also know how great it has felt to hear another person say “me too” when saying they have shared in the same personal struggle that I have. Hearing “me too” makes you feel like you’re not so alone; like you’re not completely crazy for thinking, acting, or doing the things you do because you believe that no one else could possibly understand you. When we get real with each other, when we become transparent and take off the masks we have made for ourselves that only show what it is we want the world to know and see of us, real healing and authentic relationships can be birthed.

First let me say that I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where I was very well taken care of, was given almost anything I asked for or needed, and was shown so much love and sacrifice from my parents in order to give me the opportunities I was able to have. I excelled in both academics and a sport, and worked very hard to keep the appearance that I had it all together all the time. I had found a way to live my life outwardly that didn’t reflect or allow others to know what was going on inwardly for myself mentally and emotionally, unless I shared with someone about it. I am not going to give an abundance of detail with particulars of my struggles because I don’t believe it is necessary to convey the message I am wanting to, nor do I believe that just anyone needs to have access to the exact depth of another person’s struggle unless there is a solid relationship built on trust, confidence, love, humility, and has Jesus working in the midst of it all. So here we go…

My own personal struggles date back much farther than when my sexual assault occurred almost four years ago. My first battle began in eighth grade and it was with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I never once attempted to take my own life because I knew I would never be able to go that far, but the mind games that were played inside my own head, and the battle I was constantly fighting to stop them have gone on for a good portion of my adolescent years and early adulthood. This battle lasted from the time I was in eighth grade until even just this past year. That’s almost ten years of fighting the same battle, the same thoughts, and the same emotions. For the most part, I learned how to hide or cover up any marks that were ever made. But one time, in my junior year of high school, my parents caught on. The conversation that followed was one of the top two hardest conversations I have ever had to have with my parents, my sexual assault being the other. I felt so sad and angry at myself seeing how upsetting it was to my parents to learn what I had been doing and the thoughts that I had been struggling with. I felt even worse about things when they seemed to ask if there was something they could/should have done differently, or how this could be the case when they have provided for me so well. A hard truth parents must know when they have a child who experiences suicidal thoughts and/or self-harm is that their child is not struggling because of anything the parent did or did not do for them. For me, my struggle was completely separate of my parents and how they had raised me, but had everything to do with my mental state, my emotions, and how I was processing my own thoughts in my head.

As I have learned over the years, most, if not all, of our battles begin in, and are fought in, the mind. My mind was telling me that self-harm was warranted whenever I felt I had “messed up”; whenever I felt like I hadn’t measured up to the perfectionistic person I was trying to make myself out to be. For this same reason, my mind would then tell me I deserved to be “punished” for my mistakes. A bigger lie I heard in my own head was that self-harm was all that could suffice as the “punishment” that I believed I needed in order to make up for having “messed up.” The suicidal thoughts would come once I felt that there was absolutely no way to make up for something I had done, said, or had caused to happen, or when I was convinced in one way or another that I was a burden or a problem. What I know now after growing, learning, maturing, receiving counsel, and finding Jesus, is that so many times, if not every time, that I believed I needed to be punished I was actually just being faced with the truth that I am not perfect; this means I will mess up sometimes and I will hurt other people. BUT, this does not make me a bad person and I will still be loved when I mess up just the same as I was loved before. There is great freedom in accepting the truth and knowledge that God did not design any one of us to be able to master perfection or live without sinning because it is in our human nature, and that for every mistake or sin we commit there is grace and forgiveness to meet us in our moment of need.

This next part is for every girl who has ever felt like she needed to be in a relationship to be complete, successful, or truly loved. I have been in relationships for a good majority of my adolescent and young adult years, all of them somewhat long-term, with what I would have considered three out of four to have been “serious.” This meant that at one point or another, in my female fantastical mind, I thought that the guy I was dating was “the one.” Of course lucky number four is the man who I am meant to be with, who I know God designed to love every part of who I am, and who has completely captured my heart. But I tended to believe throughout my other relationships, and the times of singleness in between, that I was most happy when I had a man to call mine. I thought the identity I was wanting to create for myself could only be complete when there was someone to call boyfriend in my life, who would hopefully become fiance and then husband somewhere along the way. I yearned to feel loved and accepted by another person so badly; to hear that I was special and wanted so much that they would want to be with me forever. I was basing my happiness and identity on another person, and I know now this is not a healthy mind set. Even now, with the man I have, I have learned to accept the fact that he will never make me completely happy and that if I depend on him to complete me, I will sadly be let down and left feeling empty. Wholeness that comes from a relationship with another person can only come from a relationship with God. Yes, my relationship here has and continues to teach me more about God, who I am, and who I want to be, but without God as our foundation, neither of us would be able to compliment, love, or take care of the other person how we are called to by God.

In my short six months of singleness before meeting Jon, I embraced my lack of a counterpart for the first time in my entire life. I was happier than I had been in a long time, and I was able to pursue my heart for God, as well as my own heart, more than I would have had I still been in another relationship. My time of singleness, and almost any period of singleness I have been through, have always been the times in my life that I have grown the most. I was always challenged to finally care about myself and my own happiness first, rather than always trying to meet the needs of the other person before myself. I was allowed the freedom to grow on my own in order to become who I am today. I am still growing every day, but I wouldn’t have been as prepared as I was when meeting Jon if I hadn’t had that time to grow beforehand. If you are someone who is longing to feel whole, blissfully happy, and content, and you have come to believe this can only happen when with a romantic partner, then you are sadly mistaken. You must first find and love yourself before you can give any part of yourself away to another. You must first pursue, and yes even look at it as date, God and establish that relationship in your life before allowing your heart to go to another person.

The last bit of getting real that I’m going to share with you is something that I don’t believe many people my age, or maybe even people of any age, consider as something that could become a problem, or can often acknowledge and realize is a problem they have. This is the struggle of alcoholism. I was never an alcoholic, but I was on my way down a slippery slope of alcoholic tendencies and habits just a little over a year ago. I had become an evening wine drinker in order to relax from a full day of classes, work, and homework. I would have one or two glasses a few nights of the week, and every now and then my wine would be traded out for a Jack and Coke, and a fairly strong Jack and Coke too. Shortly after I was confronted about this habit of mine and how unhealthy it was, and could still become, I began to realize that I wasn’t just enjoying a glass of wine to enjoy it with a movie, popcorn, or something like I had kept telling myself I was doing that made my habit “okay” in my mind. No, I was using it as an agent to help numb myself and “check out” for a little while. At the end of a long day, when I was done feeling emotions and dealing with different thoughts, I would find the quickest way to change my state of mind, and that was by consuming alcohol to the perfect point of feeling relaxed, carefree, and even happy. But consumption of alcohol doesn’t actually change anything except to temporarily give a person a “break” from the things you want to escape. The next morning, or once the effects of the alcohol wear off, the thoughts, emotions, and problems you were drinking in order to escape are still going to be right there waiting for you. This temporary fix of consuming alcohol will do nothing for your long term happiness or ability to cope with, handle, or manage the trials, stresses, and problems you will face in life.

I believe it is entirely acceptable to enjoy a glass of wine or any other alcoholic beverage with a meal, or to celebrate a special occasion, but when this consuming becomes excessive in the amount poured or the number of glasses had, that is when poor habits begin to develop. Once I began to assess my relationship with alcohol after having been confronted about the habit I had been developing, I realized that I had never learned to drink alcohol in a healthy way. From the moment I was out of high school and onto college, my drinking habits were to always consume as much as I could, as quickly as I could, until I was in the state of mind I desired. Alcohol was never made or learned to be enjoyed or used to celebrate, but instead used to let loose and party on the weekends. I realized I needed to learn the right way to consume alcohol, but only after first giving it up completely for a period of time. I needed to first learn how to let go of the way I had been consuming alcohol, along with what I sought while consuming it, before I could re-learn how to simply enjoy and be social with it. What I needed to learn is that sometimes one drink is all you need if you’re drinking strictly for celebrations or enjoyment of the taste, and not to get drunk.

The process of giving up alcohol was both a challenge and a milestone for me. Once I decided to give it up, I got rid of all of the alcohol I owned so it wouldn’t be available to me when a craving would set in; I had to learn how to confidently refuse a drink from both friends and family, even when I wanted one; and I had to learn how to fight and push through the times I wanted to “check out,” the same kind of times I had previously used alcohol to help me do so. Pushing through cravings and the feeling that I “needed” a drink to help me was more difficult than I expected it to be, but over time it became easier. I gradually grew very proud of my ability to say no to an offered drink, and even more proud as I found myself not wanting or wishing that I was drinking with everyone else. I had gotten to a point of contentment that while others were drinking around me I was able to maintain the mindset that I did not need a drink to be happy or have fun like I used to believe I did. Once again, I had to re-train my mind, and find a way to battle the mind games, that used to rule my actions and habits with alcohol.

In my opinion, there is nothing more beautiful than when two people accept each other fully; knowing every flaw and failure of the other; knowing every mistake they have made; knowing the dark thoughts they may have and the games and tricks their mind tries to fool them into entertaining; knowing their deepest struggles that leave them feeling beaten down… and yet this other person still accepts and loves them without bounds. It is a treasure when you find yourself in a relationship like this, but they also seem to be extremely rare. I believe this is because many of us don’t dare to take off our masks long enough to let someone see us in our most real and raw state. We are too afraid of being judged, abandoned, lonely, criticized, or made a joke of to be honest about who we are with other people. We long so badly to be accepted and loved that we build up our lives and our identities around an idea of the kind of person we want others to see us as being. But then they don’t really love and accept YOU, do they? They love and accept only what you give to them and show them of you.

It can be really scary to take off the mask and invite people to know the most real and raw version of yourself, so first spend some time getting to know who that is on your own. You won’t be able to show someone else who you truly are until you know who you truly are. You must first dive in and uncover those parts of you that you have kept buried down and covered up for so long; trying to hide the parts of you you wished were different or that you could change. Learning to accept all of these hidden parts of who you are, and then learning to love them as well, will help you later when you decide to share them with another. You cannot give to someone else what you don’t own, so until you own who you are, you cannot give the most authentic and real version of yourself to another person.

I have slowly begun the process of removing my own mask, but I still struggle at times fearing what others will think of the unmasked version of myself that I am putting out there. I have done some uncovering of who it is I really am, but I am also still trying to work on learning to love and embrace every part of me that was left covered for so long.

But what I can say to you today about part of my unmasked self is this:

I am not perfect, but I do not deserve or require punishment for my mistakes because Jesus paid for every transgression with the punishment he took on the cross. I will fall short and I will sin, but grace and forgiveness are offered to those who believe when you bring your struggle forward and lay it at the foot of the cross.

“He personally carried our sins  in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin  and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”

 – 1 Peter 2:24

 

I am not made whole by anything or anyone other than God and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. True, blissful happiness and contentment only come from knowing Him and being in relationship with Him. He must come first in all things, and you must acknowledge that it is only in Him that your identity can be found.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

 – Galatians 2:20

 

I am not dependant upon a substance to feel at peace and know that with God, I can handle and manage any trial or stressors that come my way. No substance, of any sort, can do for you and your life what God can do for you. The blessings and miracles He will put into your life when you depend only on Him, rather than depending on a drug to temporarily give you relief, will do so much more for you than you can fathom.

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

 – Psalm 18:2

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

 – Psalm 27:13-14

There is sure to be someone out there to offer a “me too” to the authentic you when you find the courage to take off your mask. Someone you never would have expected or imagined could relate to you; someone that you would have never guessed was experiencing the same struggles that you have, will be able to come to your side when you take the risk of being real and raw. We can accomplish much more together than we can accomplish apart, and these accomplishments can be things such as healing, raising awareness, being advocates, or even creating support groups to help handle life’s hurts and struggles. But we can only come together and be the strongest we can be when we know, appreciate, accept, and love each other just the way we are, and not how we believe we should be, or how we expect others be.  Allow yourself to be free from the ideal version of yourself you have created and embrace who it is that God created you to be. We are fallen and sinful by human nature, but redeemed and beloved to Him.

Be brave, have courage, get real, and take the risk of removing your mask…

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

 – Romans 15:7