I Promise – A Story of Pain, Shame, and Scars

“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there… She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young… ‘I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.’” Hosea 2:14-20

Mara never had the chance to love. At 13 she was raped by her stepfather and ever after lived under a cloud of shame, convinced she was not worth to love and be loved. She died at 16 from an overdose.

Michael lives alone now. He married his high school sweetheart, but he was unable to live with the woman of his dreams while keeping hidden the dark internet habit he’d developed back when he was a teen. She left him once he started drinking, and after that he gave himself up as a lost cause.

Sarah cannot glance at the mirror without hating what she sees. Stretch marks, wrinkles, curves, and ridges mark the scar-covered skin that tells the story of its wearer for whom life has not been kind.

Eloni cries herself to sleep at night, wondering why he has stopped calling. Upon hindsight, she thinks that sleeping with him might have been her worst mistake yet.

Peter has begun to feel a twisted pleasure in the pain he feels whenever he sees or thinks of the woman that chose his best friend over him.

There’s so many stories that go with each one of our scars. These are not the scars we sport in our skin. They don’t tell of childhood horseplay gone wrong, or epic battle wounds or crazy escapades. These are internal, and in their crevices lie the hushed-up secrets of who we really are. These scars are not worth boasting about, for there is shame in loving someone unrequitedly. There’s shame in wearing your heart on your sleeve. There is shame in admitting that you fell lonely—what’s more—theres fear. There’s always fear. 

This is my story.

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I never gave myself the change to love. When I was younger those who came my way were not deemed “good enough.” When I was older I considered myself not good enough, or worthy, to be loved. Point A, point B; my adolescence marks the time between those two polar opposite points.

And so, in my late 20s, i found myself at point B, a point where I believed I was beyond God’s grace—an unlovable, sick, human being. I’d done enough and gone far away enough that I simply stopped caring. I let myself drift in the slimy river of self-indulgent despair and self-pity. I couldn’t fight. I couldn’t struggle anymore. Not when there was nothing left worth fighting for. Myself I cared not for (Why? I didn’t even like, let alone love myself), and love had always failed me. Better to let those waters swallow me whole. Better to drown in my own contempt; poisoned by gallons of vitriol and lies.

My poor stupid heart. My poor stupid heart was in love again. No. It wasn’t in love again. It actually was a simple refusal to die to someone. It still behaved as it once used to do when I was young and still believed in Blue Castles and Prince Charming. It fluttered, it leapt for joy, it thrilled at the thought of love, and clung on doggedly to the crazy infinitesimal chance that he might love me too.

Alas, like all the other times the dream cam crashing down. But this time it was worse for all that it had seemed promising. I couldn’t forgive myself. How could I have let him do this to me? But what I could not stand was my own heart’s betrayal. I’d sworn not to love ever again. I’d sworn not to ever again place myself in a situation that would make me feel—again—that I was ugly, fat, scarred, etc., and not worthy to be loved. 

One day I lay in bed, drained of emotion, thinking of nothing, feeling empty and cold (despite the lingering summer heat). I don’t know why, but I began to pray. 

I went over the list of my failed attempts at life. The soaring highs which were inevitably followed by nosedives into the jagged rocks of reality. My failed attempts at love. My own poor self-esteem. 

“Father,” I said, “If your love for me hurts even half as much as I’m hurting right now…” and so began my dialogue with the one i’d been hiding from all along. In the stillness of that afternoon I recounted my sorrows, put them all at his feet, and found reason—once and for all—to stop crying over the girl I should have been. The girl who got stranded somewhere at point A—healthy, intelligent, idealistic, loving, unafraid. Chaste.

But even as I wept for the Me that was never to be materialized and cried over the grave of lost opportunities and wasted potential, God spoke to me. The path I took to get from point A to point B was not the path he had intended for me, but it led me all the same to the exact place he wanted me at. Yes, I was all the more scarred for the choices I made, but I still came to him.

Humble, free from the delusions of my own self-sufficiency, with vivid understanding of the raw pain that humans experience in silence when they choose to walk away from the light. I came to him with a heart much more his than it would have been if I’d never sinned and realized just how much I needed his grace.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I have these moments of clarity, followed by struggles to understand God’s will and wrestling against my inner self. I’ve been on this road for healing for about two years. Even now I still am not quite there yet,  I’m recovering from a recent relapse into darkness. Every day I must battle against the shadows of my past. But I know I’m not alone. I’m never alone. Because the one that matters is with me. 

…And I promise (without fail) that I’ll love myself enough to forgive myself for my past failings, grab God’s hand to get up when I fall, smile at the mirror each morning, and never settle for anything less than was God has in store for me.

– – – – – – 

What do I live for?

– – – –

I humbly dedicate this post to Carl Rivera: fellow blogger, poet, and my friend. Thanks for listening when no one else was around to hear.

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Your Feet

You came into this thirsty land and trod upon the sun-baked earth. In your wake you left–not dust, but healing; joy, gladness, song, and hope. God on the move, constantly seeking the one who strayed, running to meet me while I was still far away. You go forward when others turn back.

So tell me: where can I go, that you will not dare go find me? How far is too far for your feet to tread in this crazy–yes, crazy–pursuit of my soul?

I do not know the answer to it. Only this I have found, only until we nailed your feet on that cross you never ceased walking and moving on behalf of the sinner. ‘Til you were pierced for me your feet never stumbled or turned away from me. Yet though you hung bleeding and dying for me, your purpose was still accomplished. and you won back my soul.

*  *  *

I’m so tired of waiting for love to come reach me. I’ve grown weary of seeing life simply pass by. So I’m making some changes and I’ll follow your lead knowing that if I step where you step my footing is surer and my way is made smoother. So teach me to run–not to walk–and meet life with arms open. To dance and to leap and to skip if I want to. To boldly go forward and seek those in need even if it means going against a rushing current. To be on the move; stride with purpose to meet you. And for once not to run–but to fly to your arms.

Yes. Toward the light.

Journal writing

2014 In Review

Every year I do the same thing.

Sometime around the end of December or beginning of the New Year I write a year-end review in my journal. I reflect on the year’s highs and lows and usually will reflect how my relationship with God progressed or regressed.  The following is an excerpt of this year’s:

* * *

January 2, 2015

About a year ago I rounded up 2013 in a very angry and bitter manner. I know why, and I am ashamed to remember it. I can only say that I am sorry that my lack of faith and my selfishness made me dishonor God in such a way.

2013 was a year of trials, 2014 was a year of…what?

Honestly, I have mixed feelings as I write. The end of 2014 brought an end to something that I’d been holding on for a while. My old love is officially old business; he has really moved on. How do I feel? I am neither bitter not jealous, just a bit… I don’t know… Is it wistful? Sad? Maybe just a bit resigned to the way my heart chooses to work. How did Anne Elliot say it? We women tend to love the longest even when all hope is gone. It’s silly, and to the most experienced I’m sure it’s laughable how in love I’ve always been the one to unreservedly give my heart to someone, and when it doesn’t work out it is the one that always lingers. But I have not been alone all this while, because despite the loneliness, the discouragement, the failed attempts, the uncertainties and the setbacks of this year, I end it in victory.

I have returned from my first day at my new job in a position that seems to have been tailored just for me, my skills, and my attention-level. It’s like God himself took that mental checklist I had about the job I needed and led me to it at the perfect time. I have finished December having passed my certification exams, I am planning to buy new gear—and have the funds to get it. I am starting a new business, I have acquired a valuable investor who believes in my vision. My family is healthy (I can hear their laughter outside my room), home is a warm place. I am happy, blessed, and so incredibly favored by my Heavenly Father. Is it presumptuous for me to feel warm and fuzzy when I think that the great King of Heaven loves me—indeed, favors me? Is it insane that at night the last thought I have is a prayer to Him and in the morning my first conscious thought is to breathe His name?

* * *

Unlike all the other years, there will be no resolutions this year.

There will only be a single prayer request every morning and every evening of every single day of the year. Yes, I will batter the gates of heaven every morning and evening with this single request.

Show me your will for my life.

Teach me to be able to discern your voice even in the noise and bustle of everyday life. Once I know your will and once I know that it is you speaking to me, empower me to obey you.

As to my heart—my foolish heart—I’ll leave it with you. I’m really, really sick of dealing with its excesses. So…this year I’ll trust you first to heal it and then to set it to rights, so that my heart will overflow with thankfulness and praise instead of aching from unfulfilled longing. Let it soar like an unfettered bird and let it sing with joy because of the hope that you instill in me.

For now, my heart beats steadily, strong and sure in my breast. My life feels very warm and quiet for now, and I like that just fine, for I’m gearing up for a very busy year.

What I learned in 2014 is that life with God is an adventure.

So with that in mind, Welcome 2015.

Illusion

Two years ago I was mildly attracted to Micah.

Scratch that. I wasn’t mildly attracted to him. I really liked him.

As it often happens with me, I had no chance with him. But no one ever says you can’t continue to admire someone, or cherish deep within your solitary heart a sweet and gentle dream of what could have been just because it’s hopeless.

My heart, I reasoned, was my own; and besides, I couldn’t get into more trouble than I already was: a secret one-sided love made even more painful when Micah decisively dropped out of my life. I figured time would take care of that business and everything would be alright.

How wrong I was.

The first time I saw Rafael my heart skipped a beat.

Rafael reminded me a lot of Micah—whom I had not seen in months now. His confidence (as I read it in his swagger), his looks, the way he attracted people, even his haircut reminded me of Micah. Not his eyes, though, because I had yet to catch in Rafael’s eyes the intelligent spark that I had seen in Micah’s expressive dark eyes. But who cared? Rafael had enough qualities of what I had been looking for.

But settling for a copy never works. Ever. There came a day that I saw Rafael for who he really was—and that was on the day that Micah came back into my life.

The contrast was so painful that the illusion was broken.

What had I been thinking!?

Make no mistake, Raf was still a nice guy who was fun to be around with, but… how could I have mistaken his recklessness for confidence? How did I ever come to think that his features resembled Micah’s? Not his looks or his haircut matched the real thing. Yes, Raf was a people person, but not in the way Micah was. Micah was a leader who knew that caring about people and gaining their trust was the best way to make friends. He inspired others; Raf rallied people but he did not inspire them. In fact, he never really managed to make meaningful friendships.

Whatever had been going on with me and Rafael ended soon after, because the truth was that Micah was The One. I was no longer dreaming of Micah in a romantic sense, but he remained The One. The One that raised the bar and challenged me to grow, The One I still admired and I hoped to one day be like (female version), and The One that to this day I measure every guy up against.

* * *

Now think about this:

The world is full of people, faces, flashing lights, and blaring sounds. If you happen to lose sight of what’s real then there’s much out there that will confuse you into accepting an illusion for reality, trying to pass as the real thing that can give you happiness and satisfy you. But nothing will give you the peace, joy, and happiness that Jesus can give. Look at Jesus. He is The One. In the light of his spotless character and holiness all illusions will disappear, and your eyes will be opened to see the enemy’s deceptions for the inadequate copies that they are. If you turn to him, you will see that all you want, all you need, and all that you long for is in him.

And me? I plan on looking you full in the face.
When I get up, I’ll see your full stature and live heaven on earth. (Psalm 17:15, MSG)

Antonieta

Until Mara’s conversion to a new religion back when I was eleven years old, we had never been particularly God-fearing nor religious. The weekends had always been entirely my own before then, and while I had been encouraged to be good and pray before going to bed, none of those ideals were ever enforced in our home.

Our home life changed drastically on that fateful day Mara decided to join a church full of weirdoes who took their religion much too seriously. Mara stopped wearing jewelry and makeup. She became a vegetarian, abstained from coffee, tea, sweets, and salt. She then began introducing hell into our home.

The way we fought and quarreled because she wanted me to join her in going to church, the way she criticized my appearance and anti-social tendencies when I began going to High School, and the way she one day hit me across the face because I had dared tell her that her God was a tyrant made me re-think my idea of hell. It was something that was experienced while alive as well as after we died.

It was during that time when Grandma moved in with us. Grandpa, Dad’s father, had passed away and Grandma was in need of healing in her time of grief and nothing seemed more convenient to that end than a change in scenery and surroundings.

At first I had been extremely wary of the woman. My maternal grandmother had not made herself loved and had even terrorized those closer to her until the heavens deemed it proper to relieve humankind from that querulous woman with the bellicose disposition. I suspect even Mara breathed a little easier after her own mother died.

But Grandma Jovita was much, much, different. She had a heart of gold, a honey-sweet temperament and a patient gentleness that I found absolutely irresistible. Her first words to me had been, “There’s mi nieta Antonieta!”

Ah!

It was the Antonieta that did it. No one else called me by that name, and hearing it from her brought in a rush of memories…

Before they had moved with Auntie Agustina in Dallas, Grandpa and Grandma had lived in the family home in Mexico. We’d gone vacationing there one summer back when I had been a small child, and if my memory is to be relied on, I spent the bulk of my time with her while Mara and Father went on days-long trips to who knows where.

Grandma had aged considerably since then, so we did not take daily walks into the sunshine as we had done when I had been a child. But she was content with sitting in our garden dozing or humming to herself as she embroidered. I practiced my Spanish with her.

“You didn’t bring your guitar with you, grandma?”

“Child, I haven’t played for many years”

“What happened to it?”

“It’s back home.”

“With Auntie Agustina?”

“No. Home.” I saw her eyes take a dreamy, distant look. Did she miss her old home back in Mexico?

“Are you tired, grandma?”

“A little, mijita. But I must keep working on this. It is to be yours when you get married.”

I hooted, “Like that will ever happen!”

“Everyone says that. I used to say it myself. I must have been around your age when I had my first proposal.”

“Fourteen!”

“Fourteen, my dear. But I had my lands, I had my own farm to run. Why would I ever need to marry? Still, a woman always needs a companion and protector, so in the end I married Eustacio who was the poorest of all my suitors, but the one whom I liked best.”

I wanted to know more about it, and would have asked, but looking at her quivering smile and her wistful gray eyes I knew that it was best to change the subject. I did so without realizing that it would make her even sadder.

“Grandma. Do you still believe in God?”

She started,

“What? Yes!”

“Even though he made Grandfather sick, and then took him away from you?”

“If it is his will that your grandfather had to go in that way, then who am I to say anything?”

“But Grandpa was good!”

“Your grandpa was good. But who can understand it all? He’d been so healthy and lively even on his last day. He even went to walk the dog and returned with a bag full of oranges. He asked me to peel him some for his breakfast. Suddenly he just collapsed. He didn’t even cry out. It was the dog who began barking like crazy. So they took him to the hospital, but he never woke up.”

I cut in, worried because she had worked herself up to tears, “I’m sorry Grandma. I didn’t mean to—”

“—I don’t know why God had to take him away like that. I—I—just—I wish he’d taken me too.”

Mara came in at that moment to intervene. She gently led Grandma into the house, then came out and gave me an earful.

Later when the sun was going down I sneaked into Grandma’s room. She was still in bed; her eyes were open and she was alert but very quiet.

“What is it, Antonieta? Why are you so far away?” she extended her arm to me and I took her hand, gingerly stroking the soft, age-spotted, paper-like skin on the back of her hand.

“Grandma. I’m sorry” I said, sitting down on the eiderdown cover.

“Sorry? For what?”

“I’m so stupid. I didn’t want to make you cry.”

“You are not stupid.”

“Oh yes I am.” I began to cry, “And wicked too. So wicked and evil. You just don’t know the things I do and the things I think about.”

“No you are not wicked. You are sweet and kind and good. You’re just going through a difficult time. We all go through it.”

“But I don’t believe in God.”

“Oh, mijita. Why?”

I couldn’t answer. I just continued crying. She scooted over a little to give me room, and once I had lain down next to her I just let go and cried and cried. It was a good thing Mara had set a box of tissues next to grandma’s bed, because I made good use of them.

Once I’d grown calmer, grandma spoke, “My little one. I love you very much. No matter what silly or awful things you may do I will always love you and you will always be my beautiful Antonieta. Can you believe me? Now, I am your grandmother. But God is your maker. He is your father, too. And he loves you very much. That’s who he is. He can’t help but love you. Yes—Yes, he does love you mijita. Much more than I can ever love you. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“And no matter what you’re going through, even when you’re in pain, you can always say the Lord’s Prayer, and he will listen and help you. Do you want to pray with me?”

“Ok”

“Let’s pray together”

“But you can’t kneel”

“My dear, you’ll have to do the kneeling for the both of us.”

I knelt beside the bed and took her hand. And just as she had taught me to back when I was a child, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

“Now repeat after me . . . ‘Our Father in heaven,’”

“Our Father in heaven,”

“Hallowed be thy name,”

“Hallowed be thy name . . .”

When we finished praying I once more put my head in her pillow with my hand clasped in hers. In silence we watched the darkness steal in the room. I felt a strange drowsiness come over me, and with my last conscious thought before I succumbed to sleep I prayed to God–Grandma Jovita’s God–to keep my grandma safe and healthy for many years to come.

 

Part 17 of If You Only Knew

For That ONE Person

If you could sacrifice yourself, give every drop of your life’s blood, and every ounce of your flesh in the fire for the sake of saving all your family–would you?

How about for that one member of your family who is rebellious, who has decided to cut all ties with mum and dad, who curses at you when you approach them, and just wants to be on their own doing their own thing–even if it means that they are rushing headlong to an early and violent death? Would you?

If your answer is yes, then you are a better person than most. There’s a bunch of people out there who claim they would, but if I (and you) think about that person who I’m still struggling to forgive because of all the hurt they have caused back in my childhood– sometimes the answer is an uncertain “yes” at best.

The universal family includes all of us here on earth, the angelic beings in heaven, and the other beings we don’t really know about from other worlds God has created. Of the untold billions of members in that family, our little world is but a mere speck. A black speck. A smudge in the perfection of God’s kingdom.

Jesus could have been asked the same question by wonder-filled cherubim who couldn’t understand his choice.

“Are you willing to die for that black speck? By the people who run away from you when you approach them, and who will curse you, torture you, tear you apart, and nail you on a cross? Will you continue to love them knowing they might not love you back?”

We know the answer.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV)

By his life and His death, Christ has achieved even more than recovery from the ruin wrought through sin. It was Satan’s purpose to bring about an eternal separation between God and man; but in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen….Through the eternal ages He is linked with us….By love’s self-sacrifice, the inhabitants of earth and heaven are bound to their Creator in bonds of indissoluble union….The earth itself, the very field that Satan claims as his, is to be not only ransomed but exalted. Our little world, under the curse of sin the one dark blot in His glorious creation, will be honored above all other worlds in the universe of God. Here, when he shall make all things new, the tabernacle of God shall be with men, “and he will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.” – E. G. White, Desire of Ages “God With Us”

If we are Christians, we follow and do and say what Christ would do and say too.

Would I be willing to seek others? Willing to sacrifice the comfortable habits of my life for the sake of ONE person who needs to be reached?

Or has the miracle of self-sacrificing love not become a reality in my life?

Everything and Nothing

The grief and longing of the human soul for things lost are made almost tangible by the poetic words. In the story, when the lovers reunite once more, the young maid cries,

So many times have I waked when the stars were sinking, to long for thee, beloved. It is cruel, at such a time, to be alone in love. . .

They marry in haste that same afternoon. She—the love of his life, now a beggar, a faded beauty. And she is dying. He—a counselor to the Sultan and exceedingly rich.

The judge officiating the wedding asks for the terms of the marriage. What can she bring to her husband as dowry?

“Property?” Omar smiled. “Hair dark as the storm wind, a waist slender as a young cypress, and a heart that knoweth naught but love. She needs no more. Make haste!”

The judge tells the scribe to writes down “Nothing of tangible value”

“And Now, what property doth your Excellency bestow upon her?”

“Everything—all that I have.”

“Will your Excellency please consider that we must place reasonable terms on record? ‘Everything’ will not stand before the law. We must have itemization…and their approximate value—”

“Write ‘Everything of tangible value,’” Omar instructed the scribe . . .

Later, before showering his bride with gifts of silk, jewels, gold, damask, and pearls Omar whispered to her “O my bride, never wilt thou know other arms than mine.”

* * *

I like stories. Don’t you?

Here’s another one.

Once upon a time, there came a Prince sent from Heaven. He was humble in garb, but was still the Son of God, and he captivated the world. He brought joy, healing, and good news for everyone. After all, he came to earth to be with the fallen race, a people who were poor, and dying…

To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

In short, he gave them Everything, when they could give him Nothing in return.

This, my modern friends, was rash indeed. The exchange of the dowry was customary in the Eastern culture. A marriage contract had to be made official with the exchange of monetary gifts. It was as important as what we would consider an exchange of vows.

Yet time and time again in the Bible, it is God who makes the initiative to seek you out, and take you as you are as his Bride. Because the one thing you can give him–that which is “nothing of tangible value” to others–means everything to him.

So will you give him your heart?

– – –

[1] Lamb, Harold Omar Khayyam (New York: Bantam, 1956) p.94