The best part of the story is that moment when light and joy show up and questions find answers. Even the ones you didn’t know you were asking can be unraveled as the story unfolded and they are woven into the fabric of completion. This is truly the beginning of the best part. The very best part.
Yet, just as the pushing produces a baby in body shredding pain, so too this being born into the kingdom of God was a period of intensity unrivaled in my life before or since. All I had carefully crafted to be the Heidi I believed I should be was torn down… Shredded.
“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.” Voyage of The Dawn Treader – C.S. Lewis
Funnily enough, this is also the hardest part for me to write. I’ve spent so many years avoiding any discussion which might threaten to expose the jagged edges of where I had been. To avoid that conversation, I often all too quickly gloss over the magnificence of God’s intervention and the sheer magnitude of His grace poured out into the empty shell of me.
Honestly, if it were not for the grace of God in a small second story office, I would have self-destructed long ago.
Yet, in the holy of holies where Grace dwells within me, it is often the memory of sanctuary on cheap multipurpose carpet surrounded by birkenstocks and a tenderness that reminds me of the importance of pressing in. The sanctity of allowing the tearing away of one identity to confirm the transformation God intended all along.
There is nothing I have ever experienced before or since those days that can compare in sheer intensity.
You have to start somewhere, I’ll start here.
I was numb to life as I looked toward the end of life at home. The end of all the familiar. The end of… the life I was choosing to despise.
So, how does a person get to the point of not caring about anything? When you aren’t interested in answering the questions of “Do I live or do I die?” What if I didn’t care? Somehow, I would wake up every day and still keep moving forward. All faded and worn out out like some second hand paperback with crinkled pages and warped cover not from use and love but neglect and being thrown to the bottom of the stack, I merely existed.
I had found I could function as long as no one made it close enough for there to be any time to truly connect. I could neither exist with the presence of love or when I would focus on the lack of it. I could only continue by believe the lie that not caring was an adequate solution.
Dully, I chose to refuse to care about the person next to me. I refused to care about the person who taught me. I defied the love of those who reached out to me.
Without the strength of desperation motivating me, the urges which would drive me to seek out an answer, to solve a problem, to wrestle, all of which had been beaten out of me, there only remained a ghost. Insubstantial. Inconsequential.
I lived, barely. Eat. Sleep. Homework, sometimes. Breathe. In and out. Every day.
Sometimes, looking backward, I think maybe, somehow, someone could have helped me. It was tempting to resent the successes of my fellow classmates as they geared up for college, for lives beyond the Huntley Project, our little corner of tiny-town Montana. It was an ever-present temptation to believe that no one loved me enough to push through my thorny walls and find me.
I wasn’t worth the effort… I thought.
desperate words escaped me
in a quiet night of soulish disgrace
tempting my shaking hand
to slice away, slice away, slice away
god’s grace pursued me
though a solitude of grotesque self-pity
causing my battered spirit
to move again, move again, move again
until the moment when
disgrace and grace collided
and beyond temptation and causation
I was undone.
The whole dang family showed up for my high school graduation. Mom ordered a cake that looked like a book and had a verse or something on it. Blue and white. We rearranged furniture in the living room and opened all the doors for a long, long stream of well-wishers.
I wore the teal blue polka dot skirt and it showed through the silver graduation gown. My panty hose were twisted the entire day. I cried and cried through the ceremony and beyond knowing, somehow, I’d never see many of these people again. I didn’t know how right I was.
But then, it was over. Just like that. The people left, the party ended, the excitement dissipated.
At the foot of my bed sat shiny, slate-grey, soft-sided luggage. My gift for graduation. Recognition that I survived. That life goes on. That it was time to embark. Head toward a future I wasn’t sure I knew even existed.
Three days later, having packed all my important things into two suitcases and an overnight bag, we piled into my brother’s car and drove from Eastern Montana toward the rich green of the Willamette Valley.
In a last ditch effort, I was to spend the summer working and volunteering at the missions base where my brother was on staff. A Mexico missions trip was part of the schedule and, I’m pretty sure my parents were hoping I would get over this melodramatic depression and find some balance.
Get a grip, Heidi.
The people who lived in little houses on the green lawns and under sprawling trees were kind and genuine, yet, I remained an outsider. In the middle of a bustling international community I was fiercely lonely. Isolated. Too young and awkward to fit in, not part of the inside jokes, not confident enough to blaze my own way, I bumbled along.
There were no snorting ponies, no endless sunsets, no quiet corners filled with books to hide behind and nowhere to lock myself away long enough to remain numb to the brokenness of myself.
In the middle of a “new beginning”, the only truth was this; I was on the outside, again. I wasn’t this kind of people, and, to fit in, I needed to find a way to be a useful commodity. Perhaps, if I entertained them, be the one who never complained. A team player.
I had no idea how to do that. See, I only knew how to fake living for the time I had to be in public.
In a house full of women…There is no such thing as time that isn’t public and as the artificial construct of my world began to shrink, my façade began to unravel.
I was becoming undone, piece by patch by disappearing mask.
I had no idea what or who would remain as my defenses crumbled. If anything.
That was the summer where Mom & my little brother were in a horrible car accident. She almost died, he was horribly injured, and flying home, the last few weeks of the summer were spent caring for them before returning to Oregon to start my own training school at the missions base.
Emotionally drained, mentally and physically exhausted, the opening days of the school found me in a dorm with 30-something other young women all eager to Do Something for Jesus. And, by golly, they were gonna do it. Beautiful, confident, athletic, sent and supported, loved and lavishly, extravagantly bold in their faith, the culture shock was tangible.
I wasn’t eager to Do Anything. This was just the place I’d been sent. There weren’t any other choices. There was no way for me to determine my own path. I didn’t think anyone wanted me around and had sent me away. Shuffled off.
So, I lived between the lines, in the emptiness where feeling anything was too much and feeling nothing was too little but the bridges between them were too great to cross.
I don’t have any great stories for that period of time, because, frankly?
I don’t remember living it.
The dark spaces consumed me and ate the days and weeks. Being consciously aware of what I was doing, what I was saying, and how I was living a rare episode.
I couldn’t make sense of the way these people lived. Early morning “quiet times”, spontaneous worship nights, long conversations about the Bible, all the hugging, all the camaraderie… For each other. Not for me. I watched from the sidelines. It was weird. They had such zeal.
I couldn’t understand them and I didn’t fit into this worldview.
Honestly, it wasn’t anything I had experienced before and I sure as hell couldn’t fake it. There were no clearly defined rules to follow. No easy answers. No external constructs that could make me blend in.
I wasn’t part of them and the truth began to dawn on me that, maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t part of this Christian thing at all.
But if I wasn’t a Christian?
What was I?
All the outreaches had been chosen. Ukraine. Africa. Inner City America. Everyone was scrambling for space on the teams they had chosen. To spend 2 months abroad with their friends serving Jesus. Doing Amazing Things.
Intimidated by all their zeal, I was again the fly on the wall.
My parents had been paying for everything so I didn’t have the worries that most folks did, raising money and sending support letters. Yet, oddly enough, in the middle of all that apathy and isolation, I realized I wanted to go to Ukraine. I really did.
My brother was on that team. But, he didn’t want me to go. My parents weren’t excited about it, they didn’t want me to go. The people I did connect with in the school weren’t excited about me going with them to Ukraine.
But I wanted to go. I wanted something.
That alone was worth noticing.
I didn’t know what else to do and was constantly being told to “follow your heart”. “Trust Jesus, He’ll tell you what to do”.
Cautiously, I attended some of the team meetings and hoped maybe, just maybe, I could finally get something I wanted for a change. Maybe someone would decide to make me part of this…thing. Missions. Thing.
But three days of agony, being born into life changed everything. Yes, I was made new. But those days obliterated any chances I might have had to go to Ukraine. They almost destroyed any future I could possibly have had and were thistles to driving me straight back to the hills of South Eastern Montana.
What was different? What prompted this change?
I finally tried to call out. To look up.
In a moment of clarity, I reached up toward Heaven. I didn’t have to stretch far as I’ve since realized He has always been close by.
Brilliantly, in that desperate moment, Jesus intervened with a vengeance.
Before I could be transformed, I had to be set free.
My freedom was a problem for the passengers who lived in my soul. The tormentors who were accustomed to having free reign with me found this unacceptable and they were ready to riot.
And they did.
The lecture started like every other one. A bit of worship. A bit of chat. Introducing the new speaker.
“Spiritual Warfare – our topic this week.”
I sighed, putting my head down into my hands in a familiar posture. This is the one that looked like introspective worship or prayer but was really just a non-questionable way to sleep off the effects of the breakfast work duty. Getting up at 5am was hard. Staying awake every day during the lectures was even harder. Interacting was the hardest. Thankfully, napping prevented all three from being overwhelming.
I’d been at this for 10 weeks. Enduring. One long, painful day at a time.
But there was, something… There was something about this guy. There was something different about his message and, instead of sleeping, I listened that day. And the next.
So, when he invited us to come forward on the third day, on Wednesday, I walked up to the front.
Somehow, at just that moment, I found a glimmer of hope.
Maybe… Just maybe… I mean, I’d asked Jesus to help me.
Jesus Freaks lined up in a neat row only to fall as he passed by laying hands on each of their heads. The girl to my left burst into riotous laughter. Uncontrollable. Then she collapsed to the floor in hilarity next to two other girls. The tall boy with dark hair stood in silent euphoria with his arms raised, swaying gently to what could only be soft worship music he alone could hear.
Raising my eyebrows, I thought, “Well, that’s different?”
Then it was my turn and I closed my eyes, expectantly. However, instead of the laughter or the tears or the silent collapsing to the floor with an expression of ecstasy and upstretched hands, I began to do things that I had never even imagined before.
On industrial brown carpet I fell like a rock and began writhing like a snake, completely out of control, as I felt as though I was being turned inside out.
I kept trying to be silent but guttural, harsh voices speaking through my lips were spewing obscenities, vile things, shrieking… My hands scratched at the floor and, as though propelled by someone else, my body twisted and turned until exposed skin burned.
Extremely body conscious and ashamed of my physical appearance, it would have been contrary to all I am to have torn at my clothes the way I did and the staff and students immediately rushed to me and pinned me to the floor before I could hurt myself.
Or anyone else.
In the chaos that followed, while the inward turmoil manifested as rage and hate and violence the exposure of every shameful thing within me was thrown onto these beautiful passionate strangers who loved Jesus while my own consciousness remained locked inside.
I could only witness my own destruction.
For two days the young warriors fought and prayed for me. As they interceded, holding me pinned to the floor, I strayed perilously close to giving up completely. The ugliness that was endlessly being vomited out in a putrid stream continued as long as the prayers remained. Sincere, overwhelmed, afraid, they cried out to God and challenged a legion. Wildly binding, loosing, casting, weeping… But these long held footholds in my soul had the right to be there and the war waged on untempered by their efforts.
The young people were afraid of me. Which, honestly, they didn’t need to be. As long as you weren’t praying for me, I was a broken shell of a human. I couldn’t have hurt you if I fell on you.
Bruised and battered, barely able to walk, with two brave volunteers holding my arms, we would walk slowly up to the dorm. I would drag myself to my bunk and collapse under cover of blankets before falling mercifully asleep.
I was terrified and caught in a cycle I couldn’t break out of, it felt like hell.
Wednesday bled into and beyond Thursday afternoon but there were no changes so, on Thursday night, a group of people I didn’t even know had the faintest care for me chose to fast and pray, all night long.
They cried out to God. They wept. They sacrificed their time and themselves.
It shocked and rattled me.
I believed I didn’t matter, but people don’t do things like that for people who don’t matter. They do that because they love. Because they identify with a goodness I had no idea could exist.
For the first time in my entire life, the very first time, I dared to hang my life on an impossible hope.
I was worth fighting for.
It seemed sound reason that if they could fight, I could too.
What if I died in that fight? That was ok. I was going to find a way through this or die trying. Either option worked.
I needed what they had. I needed Who they had.
If He would take me.
The stories began to circle through the community.
Should I be sent home? There was no way I was going to Ukraine. There was a slight hope, with the right support, I could possibly go to the USA outreach. But, really, who wanted me?
No one save the Great Deliverer.
Every dream I had. Every hope I had clung to. Every attempt at making something of myself by myself was rubble.
But, maybe, perhaps, God would listen to these good people, if He couldn’t listen to me.
It does make me laugh a little that I began writing this from a coffee shop in Lviv. Lviv, Ukraine. I made it here. On God’s terms.
The irony is not lost on me.
I like to think He’s smiling and reminding me that His timing is better than my own.