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More than we can ask or imagine

“I’ve got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night, I can feel it!” – The Black Eyed Peas

I feel so incredibly blessed. I never ever thought I would ever say this – but I totally love my life! All the sweat and toil and tears was COMPLETELY worth it to get to this point where I wake up each morning and think today is gonna be a good good day….”Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Saturday to Sunday… party every day!” I never thought I could look far into the future and say I am excited to see what is coming – and that whatever is coming my way is going to be amazing. I still remember a pastor telling me he didn’t know why God had allowed such suffering – but he did know that I would know the depth of God’s love and grace more than most. I’ve never held on to the “more than most”. But honestly – this depth of love and grace and peace and joy and abundant life is WAY more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined.

I need to explain a few things for people to understand fully how truly amazing and beautiful this is. I have struggled a long time with depression. It was never diagnosed when I lived at home, though looking back I can see how much I was struggling inside. I remember a moment when I was about 9 years old and cried out to God that he would take me to heaven. In fact, my stepfather took me aside in my midteens and talked to me about how he noticed that I seem to be struggling. I was so afraid that everyone would know what was happening to me – the shame I felt was enormous and my fear that it would completely break my mom was so strong – so I worked as hard as I could to pretend everything is good. And that has continued into my adult life. And yet, honestly, in those moments when I was most extroverted and outgoing (and busy!), I was dying inside. I think one of the steps to freedom and healing is to stare your sin and brokenness in its face. And this year, with the help of a loving God who never left my side, and a few close friends, I faced my own sin – my own destructive ways of hurting myself and my longing for life to end and my careless attitude discounting the cost and pain to those who loved me so very much. I was playing with fire and tempting fate – and I will never forget the tears of a dear friend and the knowledge that I caused those tears. It was in that moment that I knew my life had to change. It was in the next hours that I came to accept that God isn’t finished with me yet and that he has a purpose for my life. Do you know what it is like to see your own ugliness and to hear God without a shadow of a doubt say to you that he loves you, he wants you and he will use you?

In those few days, I made some pretty hard decisions – my life needed to change and I was going to do whatever it would take to make it change. I said yes to life and I dared to dream that my life COULD be different.

And honestly, I am not how it all happened after that. But life was different. Hard still, but different nonetheless. And then I started the trauma program which was incredibly exhausting and intense. But somehow my decision to hang on to life kept me event through the most difficult days of that program.

And then, in the last week of the program, something pretty amazing happened. I don’t know if I can describe it well enough. Sometimes words are just completely inadequate. I was in art therapy and whenever someone was leaving the program, they had the opportunity to share their eight weeks of art with everyone in the program. I was always amazed at how you saw growth in various people – even people that I only knew a couple weeks – through their art journey. But I went into art not seeing that in myself. My art seemed to be getting more depressing as each week went on. The week before – probably the hardest week – I made a plasticine cup. Symbols are important to me and a cup has always been symbollic of my life. This cup was black, and cracked and bent out of shape and chipped. Inside there was a little bit of coffee – demonstrating that I was pretty empty of energy and depleted of life – it was definitely not a cup that overfloweth! But more – the coffee had green mold on it. That week I saw my life as ugly, broken, irreversably wrecked, gross, spoiled. But in my last art class, without putting any prior thought, I made flowers out of tissue paper. and I made a poster that is on an earlier blog post using a term that I heard another abuse survivor use – I wrote “from survivor to thriver” with simple flowers around it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never liked the word survivor. I won’t get into my reasons again. But thriver stood out to me – I didn’t want to simply survive. Surviving is what I have done all my life. But I wanted to thrive – and in that moment, I realized that i AM thriving. But what is even more interesting is that when I looked back over my eight weeks of art, the first 7 pieces had black – a symbol of darkness to me – all over them. And yet, unconciously, on my last day i did make a single dot of black in my art. Something huge had shifted. I didn’t understand what. or how. But I knew something was radically different.

Then, I had that incredible dream about me going to Africa (it’s also in an old blog post). And I remember that being such an epiphany – what was stopping me now from pursuing my dreams? My answer has always been my family – I tied so much to my family. I had all of my hope in the idea of reconciliation and whenever something would happen that would make that seem completely far-fetched, I got depressed and wanted to give up. Anyone who knows me knows that reconciliation is still dear to my heart. Only, I no longer NEED it, I no longer need my family. I can love life with or without them.

I began to realize that I was more like the beautiful flowers that I had made than the cracked and spoiled cup. It is still sad that I do not have my family. But it is sad in a different way – rather than me wanting desperately to be a part of them, I want them to be a part of me. God has made me into a beautiful person with gifts and talents and wisdom and deep love for people. I can cook a pretty darn good meal and I can walk alongside people who are suffering. My parents choose not to see this, they choose not to be a part of this. And ultimately, that is their loss – they lose out in the joy of seeing God’s economy worked out. They lose out on seeing how God can take what was meant for evil and for selfish gain and turn it into a life that is able to make a difference in others. They lose out on seeing huge transformations. They miss out on discovering who I am and all that I am becoming. And that is what makes me sad. It is their loss.

Over the past few months, I’ve felt like I’ve been living on the edge and needing to fully trust God for my needs. I waiver. But over and over and over again, God provides. He doesn’t always provide in my timing or what I think is best. We’ve had it out a few times! Sometimes God waits until the last possible moment to come through. But he does. Always. and in ways that are greater than i could ask or imagine. And throughout this whole journey of learning to completely and utterly rely on God for all things I have been realizing what an adventure tursting in God truly is. Sometimes it feels like a rollar coaster and my stomach gets queasy. But when I am flying with only God holding me, it is thrilling.

Let me share a few moments on this journey.

In June, I found myself in need to move faster than I had originally intended. I frantically looked for places that would accept both me and my cat, overwhelmed by the prices of subletting. And then a friend wrote me and said we could stay the whole summer at her place. But it gets better – she offered it rent free. Which turned out to be a huge blessing because I found out a couple of weeks later that I needed to take a psychology course to get into the program I want along with some other unexpected costs that seem to all fall my way in July. I payed for my course trusting that God would provide for my expenses somehow, honestly not knowing where that money would come from. I decided to try to babysit to cover expenses and hopefully earn a lot to cover tuition in the fall. There were no bites early in the summer. But there was an email from two people who decided that they wanted to contribute to my education.

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you will likely remember that I have been looking for a place to live in the fall. Due to church politics beyond our control, we have all been forced to leave the church rectory. I still struggle with bitterness and anger at the injustice of the whole situation and in particular how people whom I came to love as family were treated by people with power. Throughout the summer I had a strong sense of where I felt called to live and believed that God would provide. I have been in need for housing many times and at a moment’s notice people have generously offered their homes to me. once august hit though, I was starting to lose faith – would God really provide? Did I hear God’s voice wrong?

Then somebody replied to my new housemate’s ad looking for a 5 bedroom house for a certain price in a certain location. And we went to see it – and it is this beautiful old mansion house that has been renovated to perfection and new appliances are going in. The location could not have been better for the area that we were requesting. And the backyard has a pear tree. And when I asked the landowner if we could garden, he suggested we plot it out next year together, share the workload and share the produce. We have an opportunity to once again build partnerships and rootedness in an area to which we are called, to live off the earth and to share what God has provided so generously to others. This place is more than any of us had asked or imagined. And we have had opportunities to talk with the Landlord about why we are Christians and what are community is about.

And then just about everything was set for school in the fall. I got an excellent grade in my course, I have exciting courses picked out for the fall… everything was a go. And then it came time to pay for tuition. and I don’t have it. After a few days of crying out to God in utter confusion not understanding what the heck he wanted to do with my time and having fits of anger that my parents not only cut me off completely financially when I left home but also never returned the money that was owed, I finally came to a point where I said “your will, not mine, be done” and I began researching full time, part time and contract work.

Yesterday I met with the registrar’s office expecting that he would turn me away and laugh at the fact that on the day tuition is due I wasn’t able to cough up the money. Instead, he very caringly helped me come up with a viable plan that will work for the college through his negotiating and work for me. And while all the details  are not fully worked out, what was impossible a few days ago is now possible… manageable… and even likely. I went into the registrar’s office with no hope and no expectations other than being told to quit school and work full time, and I came out with more than i asked or imagined.

And tomorrow, two of my good friends and I are headed away for a couple of days. A friend from a long time ago who unbeknown to me has been praying for me all these years and thinking of me wrote me and offered their family cottage to me. And so I am going to have a couple of days of sun, water and quiet. I am going to laugh and play games and eat good food. There will be no jobs to apply for, no email to respond to, no meetings to attend and no textbook to study. Honestly, vacations that take me away from the city are hard to come by for a person with no money. Usually summer comes and I get to hear about all these people who travel or go to a cottage for the summer. I never asked or imagined that I would have the opportunity to do this.

The journey of faith can be terrifying – God does not always reveal his plans, sometimes suffering and facing suffering leads to unexpected joy, God doesn’t always act in your timing or give you what you want. But it is also exciting because Christ came so we could have life to the full. Such a life is possible! It is possible to be overflowing with love and joy. It is possible to look at life and say that it is beautiful and amazing and wonderful. It is possible to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are loved deeply by God Almighty and that he knows every little hair on your head. I never believed it was possible. And let me tell you, the journey has been far from easy. But it is totally worth it.

I have come to peace with my past because God has used incredible pain and suffering to reveal his love to me in powerful ways. I am thankful for that pastor’s words – if I hadn’t wrestled with such pain and darkness, perhaps I would not have discovered the depth and width and height of God’s love. In an odd sort of way, perhaps I am even thankful for my suffering – for God met me there. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

I am reading a good book on healing from abuse (which I’ll probably blog about at a later time). But in it the author says that for abuse victims, any answer of why they suffered what they did will fall short. I may never know why my stepfather chose to use me for his own gratification. I may never know why my mom took his side instead of protecting me. I may never understand why my Grandmother was taken from this earth without me being able to say goodbye. And I agree with the author- that any answer that human kind has offered me misses the mark.

But I do know something – God loves me with an incredible love that surpasses knowledge and that I am filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

And this is immeasurably far more than all I can ask or imagine.

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  1. Friend
    August 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Very powerful Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing!

  2. August 26, 2012 at 7:08 am

    You have a beautiful testimony!

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