To the God of Hagar— God of wandering people in wilderness places— We know that you see— but we are having a hard time believing what we are seeing and seeing it— still believing that you see. God who has seen all violence done upon the earth— who sees the mothers and fathers fleeing— their babies in their arms only to arrive at safer shores that do not want them. God who has seen every innocence stolen by the hands of wicked men some who claim your name while inflicting unspeakable pain. God who has seen every victim silenced by lies and deceit and the idolatry of the comfort of lies so much easier to swallow than the bitter draught of truth. God who has seen every genocide, every leader drunk on power and prejudice, who values not what you called holy —the imago dei— of all of human kind. God who has seen the ruthless grip of natural disasters tearing houses and lands and peoples apart. God who has seen the ravages of every kind of sickness and disease; we know this is not the first pandemic you have seen. God who himself has felt the sting of sickness that leads to death— the tears of grief for your beloved, Lazarus in the tomb and for the moment out of reach. These times are not “unprecedented” to you. But we are still afraid. We need to know— do you see us here? Do you see every lonely heart turned lonelier by pandemic isolation? I had days where I was scared to make contact— to smile, to wave even to those a street away. The distance has felt more than social. But God, these are small things I know. What about the family members saying goodbye with nothing but a lousy internet connection connecting them to a parent a child a loved one— dying in the ICU? Do you see how the fingertips ache to be squeezed? to be held one last earthly time? Do you see the fear in our eyes— that we (or one we love) could be next to die alone? Or what about the cries for justice God? You’ve been hearing some version of the these for millenia— the oppressor always has his boot pressed against the neck of someone unable to fight back. Some of us are just now beginning to understand this is not the promised land. This is the valley of shadows. I’ve known it since I was seven. And despite all you’ve done to heal and redeem— some days all I can say is: “I hate it here.” Like Hagar running through the night her heart beat slamming her short breaths burning her shaking lungs. forced into service forced into her master’s bed forced to carry the burden of the patriarch’s lack of faith and her mistresses’ abuse— she fled. But where could she go? Where can we find shelter in a world that seems to be tearing always at some new seam we didn’t know was there? Do you see her God? See the tears track down her dirty cheeks? See her face, pale with fears her heart cannot hold? What more can she take God? (What I mean to say is what more can we take?) Is there a spring after all? A spring rising up in this wilderness— water bubbling like the sound of joy from the ground? Would you speak as you once did to Hagar— to ask us where have you been and where are you going? Will you give to the wounded, outcast, abandoned, lonely, bleeding heart— promise of a blessing? Can we name our sons Ishmael—knowing you have heard our affliction? Knowing you have your eye upon us even still? The chickadees in the barren lilac out my window always have enough to eat— will you feed us even here Jesus? Will it taste like bread and water to know you see us still?
I have this fond affection for abandoned places. It’s weird, and feels misplaced every time it pops up, but there it is with the run down old house in need of love (and a roof) on the busy interstate. I feel it again at the sight of a leaning old tree; dead and grey wood worn down by weather and life. I remember the day that old tree finally fell, and that place on the highway felt lost without it.
There’s an old cinderblock house on Highway 287 north that I wrote a poem about. It needs a roof I think, but my engineer husband thinks it needs a bulldozer. He’s probably right.
There’s an old brick victorian house on three neglected acres just north west of the I25 entrance. It has painted green shutters, the window on the upper level is cracked, and sometime down the road someone seems to have built on a ply-wood addition to the side and spray painted it black. The NO TRESPASSING signs don’t intimidate me. I see the place as perhaps it once was; built with love and attention, facing a southern sky, the land around it filled with growing things nurtured and tended by loving and wise hands. There would have been a barn there for the horses. A carriage house perhaps. It would have been on the edge of the town-turned-city; our ever-expanding home. And no one would have dreamed of throwing a rock through the window, or building on a ply-wood addition and spray painting it black.
Last year I went to see my Grandaddy’s farm for what will probably be the last time. One portion is under-contract for sale; another holds a few head of cattle and the fishing pond my great-grandaddy built when he bought the land in the 1930’s. There’s a small shelter nearby where we park that was probably used for hogs I’m told; but now it’s covered in ivy and only holds the click-click-click of the generator for the electric fence. My father points out the field where they used to plant sweet potatoes. I can still remember in my mind’s eye the sight of the old farm house where my Grandaddy was born and raised, which has since been demolished after it became a danger. He shows me the acre where they planted the family garden, and tells me how they shucked corn every 4th of July for as long as he can remember, to put it up for the cool North Carolina winter months.
This all brings with it such wisps of my own childhood memories; like the time when I was young and my Daddy took my brothers and I fishing at this pond. He left the boys with their lines in the water at one place, and took me around to a different corner of the pond. I’ll never forget how he leaned down in my ear and whispered, “This is the best spot. Don’t tell your brothers.”
I remember how when I got older my Dad told me how he used to pull up old wine bottles from the bottom of the pond; relics of my alcoholic Paw-Paw’s day. I remember how my Dad told me Paw-Paw would say, “I’m going fishing,” in the evenings, and how everyone knew what that meant even if they pretended not to. When I asked him if he drank it, he said it had all turned to vinegar by then.
Places left unattended seem to become wild; they go to entropy without some greater force sculpting them towards order and harmony. Like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden—I am drawn in by the abandonment of these places. All the memories they hold, both good and bad, past and possible future flash before my eyes as I catch sight of a house nearly drowned in ivy on the side of a North Carolina highway. I can’t help but wonder; Who lives here? Who owns this? When did they leave and why? Is there hope for its restoration? What would it cost?
The neediness of a place draws me in. Perhaps it’s partly the solitude these places seem to afford; like the ghost town of Independence, Colorado—a small abandoned mining town at the top of a mountain pass where once gold was found, and then just as quickly, it wasn’t. I read on the internet that the town was mostly abandoned by 1890, and all but one remaining person left after a massive blizzard in 1899 left the town cut off from supplies. I wonder about the last person who stayed for thirteen years alone at the top of a mountain pass, almost 11,00 feet above sea level. I wonder how he felt, as he watched his neighbors and friends flee to Aspen on homemade skis that February 1899. How did he (or she) survive? By 1912 the town was completely deserted, and I wonder if it was as a result of the death of the last remaining resident, or if he too eventually realized that there was nothing left for him there.
Maybe the reason these places pull me in is because I’m so hesitant to ever believe that there’s nothing left worth saving. Maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to think that about me. Perhaps I feel a kinship to these lonesome and broken down places; perhaps its the Imago Dei in me longing to bring order and dominion to every lost and abandoned place. Perhaps it’s because I know my heart can’t take any more abandonment myself.
When I was seven years old I lost my church and all my friends in one fell swoop. As a homeschool kid those were the most significant connections I had apart from family; and it’s an ache I still carry around with me more days than I would like.
I don’t like telling you this; for fear you’ll see the broken porch step, the dirt pile under the welcome mat, the loose wiring in the living room, the broken tile on the kitchen floor. The truth is, that I was sexually abused by the son of an elder at my childhood church; and when instead of offering some measurable assurance of space to heal and comfort and justice we were told to simply “forgive and forget”, we left. Sadder still—no one followed us.
Abandonment feels like the sharp sting of acrid smoke in my nostrils; and it has haunted me so thoroughly for most of my life that sometimes I imagine I can smell it when it isn’t even there.
I have been guilty of looking at my friends with a sideways glance—wondering if they are about to dart out the door. I look at my husband this way too; this wonderful man who promised to love me forever ten plus years ago, and hasn’t ever done a single thing to make me doubt his commitment to me since. I play out the scenarios in my mind of how it will happen; how I’ll share too much, be too much, take too much—and then it will be too late.
The fear of being left alone haunts me; I worry about who I’ll disappoint when I don’t have things as together as they think I should. I have seen the looks of fear on faces when I express feelings of doubt in the face of my lifelong faith. I think they think that if I express doubt that maybe I’m lose my faith in God; but the Truth is that I have my eyes and heart so wide open on my best days, that I must continually wrestle the darkness that I witness into the hands of the loving God who is himself everything light and lovely. But it’s a fight. I wrestle constantly it feels like sometimes; and there are dark days when I just don’t even know how to believe in a good and loving God anymore. But he always brings me back—and I’m learning that that is the more important piece.
I know he’s going to mend that porch step in time. He’s already got the broom out to clean under the welcom mat. He’s planning a kitchen remodel and the new tile is going to be so much more beautiful than what has been cracked and broken and left to rot in me. And I believe he longs to do the same in you.
But if you’re like me, perhaps you find it hard to see that God really loves you; that he really wants to make all the broken down and bleeding in you whole and healed and new. Perhaps it feels impossible—because if you weren’t valued when you were young and innocent, how could you be valued now that you’ve grown up and screwed up more times than you could count?
I still wrestle with these doubt too, friend. I get it. But I want you to know something—no matter how abandoned you have felt, you have never walked alone. These broken parts are pieces of your story? They are making way for an eternal weight of glory.
I’ve seen it. I believe it. I know that it’s true. And my prayer for you Dear Reader, is that you would begin to know it too.
A Prayer for our Abandoned Places
Jesus— You see all that is broken and abandoned in me. You see where I have placed a pot to gather rain from the leaky roof— the rugs I use to cover the holes in the floor— the peeling paint beneath the stack of books on the window sill. Thank you for making your home with me, even still. Teach me to trust the shuffle of your soft footsteps on my squeaky floor boards. Thank you that you love me as I am, yet you love me too much to leave me this way. Do your work in me O LORD— Amen
Loneliness opens up like a sink hole in my chest. It sucks in everything; my joy in the small moments, my hopes for the future, the lessons I have learned from the past. It turns my whole body numb with longing and the desperate question—does anybody see me?
Suffering can be one of the loneliest places; there are many reasons for this; enough in fact that I could do a whole blog series on it. (And maybe I will, let me know in the comments below if that’s something you’d be interested in.) There are many reasons why the sufferer herself might be the cause of some of her own loneliness, but in this post I would like to examine what I believe is the central reason why other’s pull away from the sufferer in her hour of need: unbelief in the goodness of God, and the fear that comes from realizing the depth of our own unbelief.
The reality is that it is excruciatingly hard to look in to the eyes of someone tortured by the terrible illness of a child they love, when there is nothing they can do to make it better. It’s hard when they don’t know what to say, and the silence gapes wide like a chasm. They know if they stand of the porch a second longer and look into your soul-haunted gaze, they will have to reconcile some things in their faith that aren’t currently matching up.
Standing with those who suffer is sometimes like signing up for a weekly wrestling match with God. Because when you love them, and you look in their eyes, and you hear their hearts beating and breaking—you will howl right along with them: Why God?
These questions can be scary, and I believe they are the very reason that many shy away from sitting with someone who is deep in the midst of suffering. The greatest relief I have experienced though, as someone who ministers to those who suffer, has come through realizing that these questions must come.
In one of the great paradoxes of the world we live in, sometimes the quickest way to faith is through doubt, and so I have stopped measuring my faith by a lack of doubt, and instead have begun thinking only of how quickly I surrender to God when we wrestle—because wrestle, we will.
During seasons of suffering in my own life, I have felt the rage bubble up, as well meaning people tried to white wash over my pain. And it seems like an impossible ask, but here it is: I think sometimes God asks us, as ones who are suffering, to have grace on those that are less than helpful around us, and even on those who abandon us in our hour of need.
It feels like insult to injury I know, to say that as those who are hurting we might even have to forgive the well meaning friends who say all the wrong things, or the friends that once loved us and now seem to have forgotten us completely; but there it is. Because where there is hurt, there must be forgiveness. And we must entrust ourselves to the love of our good God, who will provide for us what we need to take the next step—the next breath.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, some of my deepest wounds are not from the abuse itself, but from those who should have stood in the gap for me. Those who claimed to be our friends, but who left us in our hour of need. Friends whose negligence led to my being abused in the first place; because they knew something was wrong, and yet they kept silent.
If you are reading this, and you were one of these people, I want you to know—I have forgiven you. Before the Lord, in prayer, by name. You are forgiven by God, and you are forgiven by me.
In turn, I’m sure I also have been a means of wounding some; maybe even some of you who may be reading this. Maybe it was a casual word spoken out of turn, or maybe it was the words I should have said but didn’t. If I have ever added pain onto your pain, I pray that you would also forgive me. I too am a work in progress, and have sometimes chosen wrongly. I do not get it all right. But I trust that even here, God will redeem.
Because here’s the really beautiful part: partially as a result of who God made me, partially as a result of the lack we suffered when I was a kid, God has grown me into a woman who cares deeply about the suffering and hardship of others. It’s a part of my story—that I am committed to the long road with people. That I will take the time to wrestle with my God for the truth that He is good even when circumstances seem to shout otherwise. In many ways that’s what this blog is all about.
This isolation––this loneliness––may feel like an insult to the injury of your present hardship, but this too will be redeemed by the God who takes every broken thing and makes it beautiful. And no matter how many people hurt you, abandon you, whitewash over your pain, or condemn you in the face of your suffering, you are not alone.
You are seen. You are held. You are loved. Even when the people who ought to be there, run away. Even when the family members don’t know what to do or say. Even when your friends withdraw and you come to that painful realization that where you are going, they cannot come…even then. You are seen, you are held, you are loved; by the God who paid everything to make you His. By the God who suffered also from loneliness in His hour of deepest need. By the Savior who was betrayed and abandoned by His friends. He knows. He cares. He sees. He has not forgotten you.
Dearest Reader, my prayer for you today is that the overwhelming peace and love of the Lord Jesus would surround you today, wherever you are. And through this peace, I pray we will be able also, by God’s power, to extend forgiveness and grace to those who have hurt us by their words, actions, or lack-thereof, in our hour of deepest need.
Do you need someone to kneel down in the dirt with you? To help you scatter seeds of hope in the midst of hardship? It would be my greatest honor and privilege to minister to you in this way; to give to you a little of the comfort with which my God has comforted me.
I’ve seen the eyes tainted with bitterness, and in truth, more than once they have been my own.
Forgiveness comes like a threat to us; when we are holding on to hurt and pain like so much precious cargo—like the filthy bandage on a gaping wound, how can we let it go?
There is so much about which Satan lies; unforgiveness is just one more of those tools in his belt. And like all his other weapons of mass destruction, it is meant to steal, kill and destroy.
You’ve heard that unforgiveness is like swallowing poison, expecting the other person to drop dead. I too have lived this way.
With a childhood stolen by a man with selfish hands.
With friendships lost and my character assassinated.
With friends I loved like family, who chose to walk the other way in my darkest hour.
I know how bitterness can feel like a knife in your hand— like your last weapon against the coming onslaught. It can feel like self-defense.
That is until you look down, and realize that the knife isn’t in your hand at all—it’s in your chest, and you are bleeding out.
Rooting out the bitterness is as painful as all that. Letting that sharp edge be removed from your heart; then letting the Lord stitch up the place, so true healing can come. It can feel like letting that pain and anger go is letting the person who has caused your present suffering “get off easy.”
Hear me now when I say this: no one is saying that the pain isn’t justified. No one is saying that you haven’t been hurt, that the suffering isn’t real, or that there won’t still be echoes of the hurt 20 years from now—ask me how I know.
What I am saying, is that with that knife of bitterness in your chest, the healing will never come.
God never sweeps what was done under the rug. That sin that was done against you? It will be dealt with. Our God is a God of justice; he doesn’t wink at sin or give lame excuses.
He will avenge the blood of the innocent. He cares deeply about your assassinated character. His heart breaks for the lies spoken, the discord being sown among brothers. And he knows it all experientially as well.
Satan desperately wants you to forget that Jesus knows what it feels like to be rejected in his hometown. Jesus knows what it is like to have his brothers not believe him. Jesus knows how it feels to be betrayed, to death, by a close friend, and then have all your other close friends follow suit. Jesus knows.
But that doesn’t change what he does—or what he did. He died that they might be forgiven; both his friends who abandoned him, as well as the ones who called for his execution. He died that I might be forgiven; while I was still his enemy. He died to forgive your own offender, my own offender, if they would put their faith in him.
That can feel like a tough pill to swallow some days. I have wished ugly things in the deepest part of my heart; that those who hurt children would never believe and would have to bear that grievous sin on their own shoulders when eternity comes. But that’s the bitterness again. The knife’s edge sharp in my chest; and it has to come out.
The terrifying and wonderful truth is that God’s justice is so much better than mine; and letting my hatred go—letting the knife of bitterness slide out of my heart and be thrown away—that is me choosing to trust that God’s justice is better than mine, and He will do right.
Say it with me: HE WILL DO RIGHT.
So I let the knife go. I allow God to stitch me up. I let go of my need to be validated. Of my right to hold on to my anger. And that is when the healing comes. I let go of my title of “victim” and become victorious in Christ. And I begin to see things I never thought I’d see before. Some days I can even grieve for the sin that ensnared my abuser. I can pray that God will redeem even his part of the story; and I know then that I have forgiven.
Turns out Max Lucado had it right. Forgiveness can feel so hard; like opening the door of a prison to let out the one who did me wrong; and yet when the lock falls down and the gate creaks open, it is my own face that I see in that cell: I am setting myself free.
Dearest Reader, I hope you have ears to hear these words. No one is saying that it will be easy. No one is saying it’s a piece of cake. I am saying it’s worth it. I am saying that though the pain might be caused by someone else, the bitterness is yours to own—it is your responsibility. This is what God is asking you to do.
Don’t let bitterness be the pet sin you are content to hold onto; like the fluffy white cat that is held constantly on the lap of the evil genius who thinks complete destruction is the way to world peace.
If you can’t believe it in your heart just yet, I understand. There was a time when I felt exactly the same way; but freedom comes when we exchange the truth of God for the lies of our own reasoning.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”Proverbs 3:5-8
“Are you ready to tell Our Story?”
A year ago I was preparing to share my testimony with our small group. It was a chaotic day; one in which I felt inadequate in nearly every way. The kids were crazy, the house a mess, so I stuck my (then) two kids in the stroller and took a walk in order to gain some sense of peace and gather my thoughts.
Then the voice—so familiar and yet so startling: “Are you ready to tell Our Story?”
It caught me like a lover’s indiscreet kiss. It sent shivers down my spine. I’m not sure if I was even ready then—but I am now Jesus.
Yes Jesus. I’m ready to share Our Story.
Here is where it all began:
I was eight years old.
Sometime in the recent past I had finally got up the courage to tell my Mom that I was being sexually abused. She believed me, sheltered me, fought for me. Both my parents did. But there were, and are, some things no parent can give to a child in that situation—and it was something I desperately needed. It’s what we all need when we feel stuck in a darkness too deep to ever escape from on our own.
I needed Hope.
I was in the messy middle of recovering from an abuse that I was too young to understand. I knew the darkness that plagued me to the the depths of my soul. I sensed the evil that lurked around each and every corner, threatening to gobble me up. In my childish mind, I just wanted it all to go away.
God found me there on the rough carpet of my bedroom. On my knees in front of the solid wood bookshelf, I was kneeling as I often did when searching. Searching for something to read. A bibliophile from a young age, I looked for the answers to my needs in books, but none of them seemed to meet me here and now. None of them held the answers to the questions I was asking. Bending over, peering down at the volumes on the bottom shelf, turning my head sideways to read all the words on their spines. Then the Bible caught me. That large volume which I considered to be both Holy and wholly intimidating. The thing I had tried to force myself to read, but just couldn’t quite get into. I was only eight years old after all.
I pulled it out and didn’t know where to begin. Then, a miraculous whisper. Romans. It said. Chapter 8. It said.
And I opened up to these words in the 28th verse.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”(Romans 8:28, NIV)
There on my bedroom floor, kneeling at my bookshelf, God captured my heart. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that somehow, someway, the suffering I was going through, and the abuse I had endured was going to be worked for good. Down my eight year old cheeks streamed tears of peace—tears of joy.
That was the beginning of my love story with Jesus.
About seven years later, I started blogging. Blogging for other survivors of sexual abuse. Blogging so that they would know that they weren’t alone.
Though I think my readership was near non-existent, I haven’t even actually deleted the original blog because it has a sentimental special place in my heart. And now, it’s just so beautiful to me to see how God was planting seeds in my heart to serve others who are, or have gone through suffering; that you would know that you are not alone, and that there is and always will be, a glorious redemption plan for every broken piece of our shattered hearts.
This one thing I know for sure: that God is in the business of making all things new. He’s done it for me, over and over again. I wish that I could say that my childhood trauma was the only really hard or scary thing that I ever faced; in fact when I was younger I was pretty sure that the fact that I had dealt with hardship at such a young age meant that I had gotten that part of my life “out of the way”, and it was going to be all rainbows and sunshine from there on out.
Go ahead and laugh if you want to. I can’t think about that sweet naiveté of mine without chuckling either. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought this way. Because believing that life is will often be dark and difficult? That can make you want to give up right there on the spot.
But for those of us who belong to Christ Jesus, suffering doesn’t get to have the last word. Abuse doesn’t have the last word. Sickness and death don’t get the last word. Whatever current hardship you are facing; it doesn’t get the last word because we live by the Power of the Living God, and there is nothing that is so dark that He cannot bring the light of His redemption to it. We walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and He gives us all that we need to survive this crazy life, and to make it a life worth living. For now, and for Eternity.
How do I know? I’ll tell you. I have so many stories. I’m sure you have them too.
Stories of joy in the pain. Of beauty from the ashes. Of eternal weights of glory being made from these comparatively, light and momentary afflictions.
The truth is that God is the Good Gardener in my life, pruning me that I may bear fruit. Planting me often, in the soil of suffering, that I may bear fruit. Showing me that His presence with me always was, and always is, enough.
And it’s enough for you too.
I’m working on something right now: It’s called Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of Hope in the Soil of Suffering. It’s not finished yet. But if this sounds like something that might help you, I’d love to get it into your hands.
All you have to do is click here, and give me your email address. A few minutes after you put in your info, you’ll get an email welcoming you to my email list, and as soon as I am finished creating this content, I will send it directly to your inbox for absolutely free.
Even better news: if you sign up before I finish making this resource, you may even get to help influence it by sending a reply to my first email and telling me what you are struggling with.
Because these words aren’t just for me anymore, Dear Reader, they are for you.
That together we may bear fruit, by God’s grace and for His glory.