I have a history, a story that has shaped and refined who I am, that has given me an ability to speak with gravity on an important matter, because I have been carved by its weight personally. I also have a fear, a very real fear, of judgment and retaliation if I open my mouth about it in a public setting. This issue garnered top real estate in my mind with a recent news story that relates to my past, and I felt my heart rate soar as I considered highlighting awareness through my little megaphone of Facebook influence to a minuscule slice of the population. But even among friends, I feared rejection, judgment, shaking of the head and silent labeling that I’m a pot-stirrer. Also, of course, I feared the moles who will inevitably bring it to the eyes of he who is most affected by me opening my mouth. So I kept quiet. And the dust settled. But a week later, a dear friend who has experienced the same injustice and abuse shared with me a different article that addresses it, and our conversation ignited that desire to speak up again. As I heard more of the distressing details of her abuse, and the even more distressing inaction of church leaders she went to for help, mirroring my own experience, I realized that if I couldn’t get around the fear to speak up for myself, I could find enough courage to speak up for her. And when we considered all of the women who suffer in silence, bound by fear, it was finally time to kick fear in the mouth and open mine.
Shaking, I typed out a statement on Facebook. And waited for a response. What I said was long–an invitation for most to scroll on by, right?–and gave details I haven’t shared except to closest friends and family. I shook for at least an hour, teeth rattling and all.
To my surprise, in flowed a torrent of insightful and kind commentary, words of encouragement, validation and even guilt for not having supported me more during my time of abuse. Many of the people I thought would judge me were my strongest allies. My fears of rejection had been unfounded! Retaliation still may come, but it was worth the price to shine light on a subject that may bring a better outcome for other women, calling past, present, and future leaders to accountability and encouraging a more noble way to handle this crisis than ignoring or turning a blind eye. Memories of that difficult time and experience flooded my immediate consciousness, and for almost 24 hours I was submerged in strong emotions as the scar opened again to be cleansed and healed.
A very interesting thing happened. It’s actually very sacred to me, but I share it carefully and with trust that it may be a source of insight to possibly illuminate a dark time in your life, or give you hope if you are currently in despair. The house that holds my most painful memories is the one I’ve curiously chosen to move back to. It was a difficult decision, a guided decision, and one I wasn’t excited about initially. But as it became clear this was what was best for my kids, for their mom and dad to live in the same neighborhood, I moved forward with the move, and here I am, walking and talking amidst the ghosts of my past. We re-carpeted and painted the upstairs before moving in this summer so it would feel different, and chose creative options for furniture placement. The basement that was constantly locked to keep harmful behaviors private is now a comfortable suite to welcome family and guests. Overwhelmingly, the fears that I had about being in the same space as my nightmares have dissipated by merely facing them, and I’ve found happiness and a fresh start in this home.
In the midst of the deepest pain in that previous life, there is a strong memory of a certain day. My toddlers must’ve been napping or playing in their room while I was subjected to forceful words of abuse and pinned to the bed. The painting that had been a beautiful part of his marriage proposal to me was ripped and torn for effect, and I was told over and over with spittle flying in my face that I was a terrible human being, mentally ill, tearing apart our family with my pride, and was cursed at with vile words I barely knew the meaning of. He left, slamming the door to the small bedroom I’d been relegated to, and retreated to the locked basement. I wept. I shook. I knelt and asked why I’d been left so utterly alone to face this. I cried for my children, born into a vast sea of chaos and conflict. I got back on the bed and looked at the ceiling through my tears, shook my fist and cried aloud to send help; I couldn’t face this on my own. There were many times that I felt lifted and nurtured in moments following abuse, but this wasn’t one of them. It was as if the heavens were burnished brass, and I was bruising and breaking my fingers trying to find a crack in the heavy silence, an escape from the dark hole into which I’d fallen that I never wanted to be in.
Eternities passed, it seemed, as I wept and waited. No answer. Maddening. I longed for death for a minute as a more pleasant option than moving forward in this oppression and silence, with nothing but more of the endless same visible on the horizon. But wait, maybe something…very, very faint…a voice…echoing in the distance? A quiet voice, but one that seemed familiar…urgent, powerful. “Hold on. Hold on, Mary, hold on. Don’t give up, it will get better!” And then it was gone. That one whisper…did I really hear it?…gave me the strength to persevere for one more day, and then another.
Back to this week, as the comments kept coming, I realized that this Depth Day I’d carved out for reading and writing would be repurposed solely to listen to my heart and let the experience unfold. I recently finished Courtney Carver’s new book and loved her encouragement to put your hands on your heart and listen. I felt the pain of remembering details, felt the ache of knowing I was loved and supported, knew that instead of blocking these strong emotions, I should ride them through and learn from them. I got up off my chaise lounge and wandered around the house for a minute, needing to work a broader set of muscles than just eyes reading on a screen. My hand felt the smooth cold of my clean granite counter, the soft petals of surprise roses sent for Valentine’s Day. I walked slowly back up the stairs, around the corner to the laundry area, and paused at the entrance to my daughter’s vacant room. Opening the door with a sudden sense of reverence, I saw in my mind’s eye with surprising clarity the scene I’ve just described: seven-years-ago me, curled in fetal position on the bed, pleading for help. My heart swelled with sorrow and compassion for her, and also a strong understanding as to why she needed to suffer through that trial: all of the refinement, strength, and wisdom that would come through enduring and choosing to be a voice to others who knew the same. And so I reached out backwards in time and space to encourage that broken individual, knowing now the other side of that pain…the opposite joy…and I’ve never felt anything so real than actually speaking to her through my tears: “Hold on, Mary! It will get better! Don’t give up!”
Is it possible that there are moments in your life that a future self, a more mature and experienced being, may reach backwards to encourage? Are there times that you can be a voice to a loved one at a critical moment, say words that can later be pinpointed as a precise turning point?
Fear interferes. It has a way of immobilizing, of silencing and blocking forward movement. That’s the adversary’s greatest weapon, I think, keeping us paralyzed in inaction as we let all the possibilities of frightening things that could happen keep us from taking a step forward. Fear is an emotion we will all experience in this life, and it warns of danger that often is real. But most times, a lack of movement keeps us in the grip of the adversary we fear, instead of forging a path away from it to safer ground. If you can find one, just one motivator strong enough to move that first foot, whether it’s for you or someone else, you’ll find that the dense darkness isn’t as suffocating as it once seemed. With the exertion of moving forward, the air begins to dissipate around you until light can break through, and your timid steps will turn into a path of freedom from whatever holds you captive. Never forget that within you is the power to hope, to hear the anthem of encouragement, however muted, from a voice further down the path that there is strength and peace ahead. And choosing to listen, to NOT GIVE UP, and to move, immobilizes your fear, instead of your fear immobilizing you.