“The Spirit of Adonai is upon me;
therefore he has anointed me
to announce Good News to the poor;
he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned
and renewed sight for the blind,
to release those who have been crushed,
19 to proclaim a year of the favor of Adonai.”
If there was any one person I’ve known who needed to hear this? It was 17 year old me.
Instead of listening, I ran, refusing to look up.
I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
The Hound of Heaven – Francis Thompson
I don’t know what it’s called when lines between reality and spirituality blur and the influences of the intangible world cross over to impact the bodies we see and feel. I can’t really explain what I experienced, and I know it may seem incredible. I only know it happened. Dreams would come. Physical pain would follow.
What happened, many times, in the unconscious world would have conscious manifestation.
Spiritual reality was impacting physical form.
This was, by far, the most violating thing I had or have ever experienced. No longer was I safe inside myself. That had now become the most dangerous place to be.
It reminds me of a dumb horror movie from the ’80’s.
“Just don’t fall asleep. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.” Of course, this was always followed by somebody falling asleep.
They say, if you dream you are falling and actually hit the ground, you die.
Well, in this case? I’m really, really, glad I didn’t hit the ground.
I cowered in the furthest corners of my mind. Powerless. Weak. It was only a dream, but it was more. So much more.
A captive observer of torment in the witching hours of the night, longing to wake up, but I couldn’t. I wanted to scream and cry but all I could do was whimper. I would only move sluggishly instead of the full run I was desperate to break into.
Tossed from side to side, thrown, then beaten again… Assaulted and demeaned. Overwhelmed by the sheer ferocity of hatred pouring from the ugliest being I had ever seen, I felt every blow and heard every vile insult and suggestion.
Slowly I woke up and groggily rolled over, throat dry and my pillow wet. My whole body hurt. I knew there would be strange bruises in the morning’s light. Not as many as if I’d actually been in that place, but enough to remind me that some part of me had been.
“How is this even possible?” I wondered aloud to a silent room.
No answer. But then, there weren’t many answers any more.
Pulling the covers back up over my shoulders, robotically making order from the tangled mess, I shivered in the dark. These dreams were unlike anything I’d ever experienced and –
“…at once I knew I was not magnificent.” – Bon Iver.
I was so far out of control I couldn’t see the way back.
5:45am… My alarm would be going off shortly. School. Life. People. Expectations. Pretending. All in a day’s work.
I tried to get back to sleep. Just a few more minutes…
The story goes on and on with confusion, anger, pain, and frustration holding this life together like toxic glue.
Were there bright spots? Joy? Was there love, anywhere, in all those years? Or was I really alone as I believed I was? Was I really abandoned, discarded, unlovely?
Of course I wasn’t.
The blinding nature of deception is that it keeps the captive locked into the servitude of the deceiver, until, unable to shadow box their way out, they just give up.
I wanted to give up. The ultimate finish to it all. But, I couldn’t.
That would be the greatest disappointment and I just couldn’t quite go there.
I’d come to believe Hell was very, very real. It wasn’t a huge leap of faith. I saw it in my dreams and not going there any sooner than I absolutely had to was a new goal.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
The time with the boy from the North had changed me. We had talked and laughed until I had fallen in love harder than anything I’d ever imagined.
Long phone calls filled my heart as we shared stories and our quiet joy echoed through the utility room door. The curly phone cord twisted in my hands while I sat on the dryer as he made me laugh, took me seriously, made me talk. In those moments, I forgot about all the rest.
“Maybe I was outgrowing the soul-on-fire. Maybe this was just teen age weirdness.” I thought. Perhaps things would be ok.
It wasn’t much. He wasn’t really available, but that was alright. He was my friend and I was willing to do almost anything to have someone who wanted me.
I could have talked to him, opened up, but that is an awful lot of baggage to throw on the shoulders of a fellow 16 year old. Besides, where would I start?
It was safer to pretend. He liked the part of me he saw. I couldn’t bear his rejection. I couldn’t bear the thought of empty evenings again.
As the phone bills mounted, my heart grew around the desperate hope that once again, this good thing was enough.
But, ultimately, after the prom that wasn’t… I couldn’t maintain and he was rejected from my world.
Needing to be loved has a crippling effect on a relationship where one party is expected to carry all the weight of loving while the other remains a bottomless pit.
He wasn’t strong enough to be my Messiah and I couldn’t settle for anyone who dared to be less.
“The fool says, in his heart, there is no God.”
I wasn’t a fool. I knew there was a God. It seemed, however, He only cared about other people. He did miracles for them, provided for their needs, gave them favor and friends, purpose and identity.
“Crumbs and leftovers, if I was lucky.” Resonated through my bitter heart.
Why would anyone love a God like that? Why would anyone follow the favoritism of the people who said He was good while denying the ones who didn’t fit the standards of appearance, or talents, or likeability.
I looked around at His followers and weighed them on my resentful scale. Who was worthy? Who was not. Having spent enough time waiting to be chosen, only to be left on the sidelines, I only had to look in the mirror to know I wasn’t worthy. It was a mean, guilty pleasure to find others just as worthless as I found myself.
Selfishly assuming no one could love me, no one could understand me, no one, I quit trying to gain their approval.
What had God ever done for me but allow pain? Abandoned me to cruelty and abuse?
Why would I trust Him?
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek
Resigned to being always on the fringes, I wasn’t prepared for what God had in store for me.
They were a young couple, fresh faced, just back from Bible College, when they invaded my world like a blast of sweetness I couldn’t quite fathom.
Generous. Thoughtful. Intentional, about me. They liked ME.
I could have talked to them. Told this sad tale. But, in the little church with orange carpet, I desperately needed to find acceptance and laughter. I didn’t want counselors or therapists, I craved friends.
Dairy Queen and dramas, late nights and Diet Pepsi, cheesy movies, and this quiet kind of underlying goodness that didn’t look like any Jesus I’d ever known.
It wasn’t uncommon to find me in their basement apartment after school. The key was hidden in the laundry room and I’d let myself in, make dinner, then wait for them to get back from work.
In the stillness and the quiet I found an uncommon rest. Sometimes I’d do homework, sometimes I’d take a nap. It didn’t make any difference. It was…Safe. Peaceful.
Quiet. I didn’t think of it until just now, but I distinctly remember the buzz, which was always present in my heart and mind as the torment in my soul just wasn’t there when I was in their home.
No wonder I loved being there.
Knowing the kind of cook I am, it goes without saying I left a horrendous mess in the kitchen, but they never complained, never treated me like an imposition in their newlywed cave.
It was as though their love expanded and included me, no matter what.
Always the underlying current of being found…Something. Acceptable? Valuable? Or just being found. They saw something in me that I couldn’t imagine finding in myself. They talked of Jesus in intimate terms that made Him look like them. Or they looked like him. I couldn’t figure it out.
This love was threatening all my prejudices.
It seemed possible that this good thing was enough. Maybe, for them, I could do the Christian thing. Together, we talked about real issues and they weren’t afraid to look at the clumsiness of uncomfortable faith while I tried to reconcile tenderness with religion.
For the first time, I was with my people.
No standing at the bottom of the stairs while everyone else clustered around the popular girls telling me to go home. I was invited in…
No, it was more than that. I was pulled in by the irresistible delight-fulness of belonging. They found me delightful. Me?
I wasn’t just the funny girl in jean skirts and big glasses or the damaged girl, or the complicated girl, or the “good sister in a way, but who needs a sister in the way”. I was important to the group. They needed me.
They waited for me to arrive before starting the party. They spoke highly of me, in front of me, to others. They critiqued my work, not to buy my silence, but to challenge me to improve. Their little group expanded and there was a Heidi-shaped place. This tribe was mine.
On road trips and long discussions, on late night movies, and whispered conversations, within long hugs, and around probing but gentle questions I studied love from an angle I never expected.
Inside, looking out.
Everything looked different, here. I couldn’t understand it
Wouldn’t it be great if just being around wonderful kindness and love was enough to make up for the ugliness within? What if repentance didn’t matter? Perhaps, somehow, convincing the world you were a “good person” was the only impetus for actually becoming one?
The more precious the relationships became the more fiercely I worked to make sure no one ever saw the other side of me. They could never see more than the acceptable sides of me because if I lost this too?
Could I survive that? I didn’t think I could.
As the worship music built to a crescendo, uplifted hands and faces focused heavenward. Awkwardly, I shuffled my feet and leaned up against the table in the back. Oregon was a decent place, I guess. My grandparents lived there. It was green. Too many trees and not enough big trucks in the valley.
These people were different from most of the Jesus people I’d left back in Montana. No one yelled at me from up front or rambled long. Raw sincerity permeated the place along with Patchouli and untrimmed beards.
This Jesus was clear, simple, and direct said the words in the songs I didn’t know. They were “cool” in a way that didn’t really compute to the country girl in hand-me-downs and worn-out shoes.
They had dreads and Tye-dye and baggy pants from somewhere foreign, blinding in their complex patterns and colors. California girls with tan skin and sun-streaked blonde hair walked arm in arm with ebony skinned friends from far away places. Accents blended together into a one-voice of humanity.
A patchwork humanity filled with openness and joy. Light. They glowed.
They were beautiful and thin and passionate and expressive in their clustered groups. Confident and so free. I longed for the space to think about our differences. I needed to know how to be in this group so I could be just enough like them to disappear.
At present, I was the anomaly with big hair and shapeless clothing.
Everything about me screamed, “OUTSIDER!!”.
An acoustic guitar played quietly while the lead singer invited the Holy Spirit to fill the place. A hush fell over the gathering and the weight of glory began to expand outward. I could feel the change in the atmosphere. Intrigued by the intensity of the response, I focused on the musicians up front.
This was new.
The song picked up tempo and volume as voices were raised again.
That was when I noticed them.
No one else seemed to see. No one else even looked up and around. Tears and hallelujah’s from trembling lips floated through the air, while I was glued against the back wall, watching with eyes wide open.
I caught my breath and held it.
The building was suddenly translucent, I could see right through it! Lining the square multipurpose room, standing shoulder to shoulder, arms raised and heads thrown back, stood beings so large the eaves of the ceiling disappeared through their chests. Long robes of shining white so clean and bright as if they were made from pure light covered them from shoulder to mid-calf. Their arms and feet were even brighter than the robes. Different levels of the same light. Blinding but distinct. All together in some sort of incomprehensible sensory mash-up.
These weren’t long, thin, elven sorts of beings, they were gigantic Babylonian guard type strong and a magnificent fierceness rolled away from them in waves. The arms raised were thick with muscle, their fingers wide-stretched toward…Heaven?
While it appeared they were singing, in reality, it was as though they roared. A battle cry to the nations as goodness, holiness, adoration, and complete abandonment to the worship of God erupted in a tsunami of majestic praise.
In all my life I had never experienced such terrible awe followed by such soul-crushing terror as the vast emptiness within my soul was exposed.
These were true angels of light. Throne room worshipers. The Warriors of God. Great and Terrible.
My “guides” were pathetic in comparison before them. The darkness haunting my sleep was a twisted and perverted copy of such beauty, exposing the futility of my thirst for control and power. I knew only one thing; I couldn’t stand before them.
“There is no fellowship between light and darkness.”
In the seconds it took for me to take it all in I grabbed my purse and ran from the room. I ran out the door, through mud and dirt to a place several feet away.
I could never belong here.
How could a God worthy of that ever want anything to do with ME?
I couldn’t get back home fast enough.
I saw the boy that summer and his sweet words charmed me again.
The perfect summer date, on a hot afternoon and evening, two kids, hand in hand, wandering through the fair. It seemed possible. I seemed possible. He seemed perfect.
A toy was won from the carnies who hawked wares over rigged games and we sat across from each other at a picnic table as confessions were made, grace was given. If he’d asked me anything I would have done it. I think I would have married him that night.
I adored him. I needed him. I tried to explain my story, starting with the smallest bits and he responded with compassion.
I was undone.
Unprepared for compassion, tensed for rejection, I wasn’t capable of receiving the gift and I…
Broke the good thing. Turned my back on the only friend I had.
“When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:13
There’s no point in wondering about “What If…”
What if I would have called out to a good God when I was 3, when I was 9, when I was 11, 14, 17… To this day I often forget to cry out when I struggle until I have reached a point of weakened desperation.
At some point, there is nothing left to do but to face up to the cold, hard facts. I thought I could do better without God than He could ever do with me.
But, while I was running and scrambling to get away from what I believed He was, or choosing to ignore all that I was told He was, or rejecting anything Good that I saw He was? He was relentless, graciously, kindly drawing me.
When things were so dark I would have jumped off the overpass in hopeless depression, there was a letter from the boy. When I was at the end of my strength and felt I couldn’t go any further, the Bible College couple was there, offering laughter and love.
When I sat, forgotten and overlooked, He saw me, and the warm snuffling of a paint pony on my neck would remind me life wasn’t all terrible things and pain.
Oh, how He loved me in my brokenness. Tenderly, He reached through the dark toward me, touching everything I allowed Him to touch.
I was too blind to see He was always the buffer between how bad it was and how bad it could have been. In Oregon, on the February night, when I was far enough removed from my normal to see beyond my own prejudice against His people, He was there to share a secret. He reached down to show me a glimpse of the glory to which He was inviting me.
For a mere second He opened my eyes toward heaven so I could see how the things I believed were all shoddy imitations of His splendor.
One step. One call. One outstretched hand and I could have joined the warriors in a cry of joy and adoration.
Then, I could have finally found the peace, acceptance, and wholeness I thought to find within myself and behind quick, counterfeit promises.
It had been six years since I stood on a rock and tried to force the hand of God to Do Something.
I was lost in a fog. Spiraling out of control. A persistent fear of completely losing my mind and finally relinquishing any last vestiges of self-control would cloud my judgment and keep me from seeing anything but the need for an iron-grip on my sanity.
Suddenly, the Psych ward seemed like a haven for someone like me.
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
The Hound of Heaven was coming but I wasn’t prepared to see Him, there were too many other voices that needed to be silenced before I could hear His voice, before I could find His peace.