When I was young, people in the church made sure to end many of their conversations with my mom (who was unmarried) with the words
“By the way: I don’t approve of the situation you’re in.” (FYI, in case you didn’t pick up on it, the “situation” was me)
I learned that I was a mistake, shameful, dirty laundry.
When I was 11, my stepdad gave me a black eye and I was sent away from home to live with relatives for a time.
I learned that I was unsafe, unwanted, a troublemaker.
When I was 12, my grandpa, who had loved me and cared for me since I was a baby, developed Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember who I was anymore.
I learned that I was forgettable, that my safe people might not always be there.
When I was 13, two summers after I had met my biological father, he dropped me off at my grandma’s house, declared I was “the bitch from hell,” and disappeared from my life just as quickly as he came.
I learned that I was unlovable, abandon-able.
When I was in high school, I was homeless for a while. I never spent a night on the street. But there were days when I was hungry, and there were nights I didn’t know where I would sleep until someone took me in.
I learned that I didn’t fit in, that I was a burden.
When I was 19, I got married. We had our son 9 months later. I was not ready for wife-ing. I was not ready for mom-ing. I thought that by getting married, I would finally fit in, be normal.
I learned that acting like I fit in would never make me fit in. It would actually magnify my outsider-ness.
When I was 22, my second son was born. A few hours later, I developed HELLP syndrome, had a grand mal seizure, and woke up in the ICU.
I learned that life is fragile, short.
When I was 25, my divorce was finalized.
I learned that I was a failure.
When I was 27, my boyfriend at the time held me down and smothered/strangled me until I was passing in and out of consciousness. He told me he was going to kill that night. I believed him. This wasn’t an isolated incident.
I learned that I made men so angry sometimes that they would rather murder me than have to put up with me.
This actually isn’t meant to be a sad story. My life is a beautiful mess. It has been filled with love and adventure and laughing until I can’t breathe.
But it’s important to look at the trauma too, the events that form beliefs. These are the beliefs that cause life ripples, the ones that turn into waves. These are the waves we push and crash over other human beings. The waves we drown them in.
If I believe down to my core that I am dark, unlovable, unworthy, then how am I supposed to love others like they are free, lovable, worthy?
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)
If we forget the “as yourself” part of this equation, we’re missing some of the point here.
When we agree with a belief (whether there’s truth in it or not) we paint that belief onto a pair of life-glasses and put them on. And then we paint another pair and put those on too. The lenses get cracked and the paint is messy. But we keep going.
Once we have started the process of lens-layering, it gets harder to discern how thick and distorted each new belief actually might be.
When the lights go out, our eyes will eventually adjust. It’s nature.
We don’t always see beauty in the dark, but we see enough to survive. We don’t always see clearly through all of the thick life-glasses we wear. We bump into things and hurt ourselves. We knock other people over and hurt them. We collect cuts and bruises.
Because that’s what happens when we can’t see.
And even though we could reach up and take the glasses off, sometimes they’re welded into our skin. Taking them off might hurt. It might rip flesh. It might leave our skin and our eyes sensitive to the light.
It’s easy to turn our pain lens into a comfort zone because it isn’t pleasant to take away things we’ve become used to.
I’ve been ripping off my old, cracked, stained glasses this year, one by one. Each layer I remove leaves me raw, exposed, more open to taking in the heavy and the bright and the explosive all around me. I feel it constantly, but instead of trying to run, I am learning to open my arms to it.
I’m learning that is more of gift than a curse, to feel others’ pain deeply.
I’m learning that once I have taken off a pair of these glasses, I can see what they look like apart from me.
I’m learning that when we have felt intense pain, we can more easily recognize it in others. And it’s hard to hate people, even if they have hurt us deeply, when we see how their glasses look strangely familiar.
I’m learning that part of growth itself is understanding that maybe I wore these layers of thick, blinding lenses for a season (or a lot of seasons – most of the seasons, really) so that one day, God can use me to help other people remove their own.