For most of my life, I’ve walked what looks like a beautiful path. The road is paved, the grass evenly lines each side, and the flowers are spaced just right in the mini meadow formed between the concrete medians. The trees stretch towards the sky, yawning beauty and life. They invite you to sit under their shade and lean back.The earth glows beneath as it sends life through the trunk of the tree it’s hanging onto. The sun isn’t too bright and your skin is warmed by the ray’s kiss. The breeze is gentle and carries the songs of the birds dancing in the sky directly to your ears. Beautiful bushes sit perfectly square next to each other with no thorns or anything sharp. Nothing could go wrong with so much beauty, light and life. It looks perfect.
Tonight I walk the path of pain. It’s a trail of tears that take me with its current down a road I can’t see. My vision blurs as I try to look ahead. There is nothing behind me, like a wall of black that covers where I step after I move on to the next step. I look around and there are trees, dead and gnarled. Their twisted branches ache for the sky but loop around to the ground. The bark peels slowly off the trunk that is desperately trying to hang onto the earth that doesn’t want it anymore. The plants below are dark green with perfect oval leaves, and there are spikes covering every inch of it. There are no flowers. There is no grass. There is no chirping of the birds. There are gray clouds. There is dirt. There is silence. Nothing makes a sound as I flow down this path of pain, looking to either side towards the deformed trees.
Nobody told me about the monsters in the dark or the death that follows life. Nobody told me the sunshine doesn’t last and the birds will cease to sing. Nobody prepared me for this path of pain I was thrown on. The road had disappeared beneath me and the trail of tears had caught me. I was scratched by the thorns, scared by the thunder’s roar, and blinded by the sudden gray. No sound escaped my lips as I tried to scream for help. In our society, nobody really cares about you anyway if you slip. It’s a, “Everybody for themselves. If you fall, you get yourself back up and if you can’t, it’s your fault and that’s too bad” mentality. We’ve pit ourselves against each other and decided to make this harsh life even harder than it already is. Having the road taken out from under my feet revealed the monsters in the dark of that path that had looked so perfect. The bushes shielded dark glowing eyes, the branches hid the snarl of the beasts, and the river held the hands waiting to drag you down into the pits of the water. Being able to see the cruelty we think we thrive on makes me see how insane the human race is. We’re broken and we think we’ve found a fix-all cure in the destruction of others. We think our value is detracted if someone else succeeds so instead of focusing on bettering ourselves, we decide to make someone else’s life worse. For a minute, the path of pain, the pain of truth, looks alright to me. At least here, everything is honest.
Up ahead, the horizon is broken with a dark, vertical line. Another line lays onto it horizontally and I realize it’s a cross. As we get closer, my suspicions are confirmed. I had no idea what a cross was doing here, in the middle of what feels like hell on Earth. The river stops and I walk across dead grass to the wooden structure. My feet are pricked with each step and I leave small drops of blood, quickly soaking into the dirt. It sits in the middle of nowhere, strong and sturdy. The wood is placed solidly and it stands tall in the dead dirt. Its shadow extends beyond it, catching the last brisk rays. There’s nothing on it, no marks, no splinters, nothing special. It’s a simple cross. I look around but there’s nobody to claim it, no proof that anyone had even been there to plant the silly thing in a place where it clearly didn’t belong. I place my hand onto the wood in front of me and walk around it, full circle, letting my fingers feel the patterns of the wood. The cross had once been a familiar thing to me, a symbol of hope I wore around my neck and even tattooed onto the middle finger of my left hand. I used to look at it and see a man that claimed he had died for me and risen again. It had given me courage once. For the last couple years, it has meant nothing. It’s a lower case “t” that was plastered on buildings full of fake people with fake messages and fake smiles. I hated each and every single one of them. I refused to associate myself with them, I refused to sing, I refused to even listen to what they had to say because I knew it was crap. They were all living in a delusion to make themselves feel better about their sinful Saturday night, as if the one they sang about couldn’t tell they were hung over from a regretful night, the stolen glances between those having an affair, the hypocrites looking around making sure everyone was looking at them, or the ones who were so lost in themselves they forgot who they were singing about. I spat in their faces and laughed. With that, I spat in the face of the one they were supposedly singing about. Christians, what a bunch of idiots. Who picks a Jewish guy as a mascot and a “t” as your symbol? Now, in this wasteland was that same lower case “t”.
In the river of tears, I hadn’t realized that a perfect storm was being lined up for me and never would’ve guessed this is where I would’ve ended up. I entered the land hateful and full of doubt and anger, but along the way, a group of addicts had made me one of them. They taught me the things I had already known but refused to accept, showed me things I had refused to see, and opened my mind to things I had once hated. After being sober nearly a year and a half, I had come to a place where the word God didn’t make me want to puke, I didn’t want to punch every Christian I saw, and I had even befriended several that I regularly hung out with and spoke to. The hatred in my heart had melted away and I hadn’t even noticed it. I was okay with the concept of a higher power and the word God was okay being used every so often. I knew there had to be something bigger than me after the ordeal of getting sober at twenty-one. The things that have happened in the last few months all seem so clear now and I can see how everything was used by what I now see as God. I like to think of God as 007 winning my heart back, it makes it so much more fun to talk about and tell, but I won’t bore you with all the details. Yet. It’s simply impossible in one blog post, so it’s a condensed version.
It started with sneaking Christians into my life that were tolerable to me. I befriended them and had the subtle influence around me. I had already been starting to pray and think about a higher power for some time so it wasn’t by accident that they were dropped into my life at that moment. After some time of being exposed and having my hatred melt little by little, I found out I was going to be studying abroad in New Zealand. Enter stage right a boy I dated. From here things begin to come undone. My sanity was slipping between my fingers, my dignity fading, and I was thrown back in time into the arms of another man I had been with that was wrong for me in every way imaginable. One can only stay strong and sane for so long when the life is being sucked out of you. Before I left for New Zealand, my interest in Christianity peaked. I’m still not sure why or how I had the courage to reach out to the friends I had that I knew I could talk to about it. See what had happened there? The friends that were snuck into my life saw the cue and acted. Prayers and advice came in, thoughts and even churches were introduced to me, all at my own request. It was interrupted by me flying halfway around the world to New Zealand for four months. I was disappointed knowing that I would be too lazy to go find churches and follow up so I thought I’d pursue it, maybe, when I got back. My sponge of a brain prepared to soak up school information instead. When I arrived in New Zealand, I met someone the next day from my school back home who wanted to go to church the way she had before. I saw my opportunity and took it. I wasn’t going to go to church by myself and now I didn’t have to. The odds of this happening on the second day of my arrival to New Zealand in my mind was next to zero. Yet there it was. To my amazement, there was following through from the girl and from myself and on Sunday morning, there I was, in church again for the first time in years. I was terrified of being struck by lightning. The service began and I was surrounded by the people I had hated, listening to songs that had made me gag, and paid attention to a preacher that I used to think was there just for money. When I left, I was surprised to find that I was fascinated. There was no lightning, good music, tolerable people, and a message I actually found relatable. I had decided to make no decisions that first Sunday because when I was fourteen, I had been sucked into the Christianity thing by emotion and mostly fluff and I refused to have a faith that was that flimsy again. My brain was going to have full control of any decision I was to make. Throughout this time, I had begun reading the Bible again, more diligently than I ever have before. I read a chapter a day, a habit I still keep up, by the same friends planted there by 007 in the beginning. Seven days later, I was back at the same church, listening to music with the same people, and enjoying another message. At the end of it, I found myself so moved it took several moments to get my brain back into the game and to think. The conviction was great and as I analyzed and thought about it, I decided. I had dipped my toes and now I would go in slowly. So, in I went again to a place I had been before but as a grown woman with a head on her shoulders that wasn’t so easily swayed by emotions and fluff. My head and my heart had actively decided together that we would take it slow, this time taking in all the wonders I had missed before. My friends were thrilled and didn’t push me away with over enthusiasm. Four days later, the relationship fell apart with the boy mentioned earlier, the one I shouldn’t have been with. It felt like my world had crumbled and my worth had shattered. The worst part of the break up was that I almost believed my value was as low as he had made me think it was. A few days later, I blocked contact and decided to shut that door for good. The waves of emotion have been coming and going since then, but I now had a source of strength I knew I could rely on. The timing was too perfect. I had never had the strength to face the fear of being alone before and suddenly, after ripping the band-aid off, the void I so dreaded wasn’t there. I still felt whole. I still feel whole now.
That’s the short version of the last few weeks. Fast forward to today, on the shore of that wasteland with that lower case “t”. It wouldn’t have meant anything to me before, but now, because of that perfect storm of things that happened, I have a reason to look to the “t” that is now a cross again, I have the faith to know I will be okay, and I have the hope that maybe it will get better. There’s nothing fluffy about this faith I decided to try again. I refuse to let emotions lead me and that’s why this relationship with God feels more secure. So, here’s a woman who was four days fresh in faith with a heartbreaking situation where her core values were rocked beyond belief. I didn’t even think to shake my fists at God. My first words? Thank you. Thank you, God, for orchestrating this series of events that led me to this wasteland. Thank you for the river of tears that carried me to this shore. Thank you for the faith that came just in time. No human could have planned anything that perfect, that lovely, and that necessary.
Now, as the wave of grief finishes plowing me once again, I find refuge in the shadow of the rugged cross. I find safety on the sturdy shores of this wasteland. I find hope in the story of a man who died for me. I find peace in his resurrection. I find serenity in the quiet of the night. I find shelter in my endless tears. I find clarity in my swirling thoughts. I find strength in my weakness. I find joy in the midst of infinite pain. I found what I was looking for this whole time. I found my source of wholeness. I found the cap to my void. I found my worth in an empty grave. I found me in Him.
July 23, 2017 is the day that heaven met Earth for me. I’ve found that it hasn’t left and learned that it doesn’t have to leave. I have the faith and hope in a God that is opening my eyes to the reality that a life on this path is an actual life. There’s no fluff here, no masquerade or masks; there is meaning and purpose. I’m no longer thirsty or hungry. I’m satisfied. I know I’m human and there will be days of pain ahead of me, moments of hurt so great I collapse and cry on the edge of my bed, unable to even clothe myself. But I’ve learned over the last year and a half how to not turn to a bottle and now, I have a God that gives me everything I’ve ever searched for. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a perfect storm.
So, bring on the rain, I’m not afraid of drowning. Bring on the thunder, I’m not afraid of the roar. Bring on the clouds, I can walk by faith. Bring on the lightning, it’ll only light up His glory. Bring on the wind, I can stand firm. I have my refuge. I have faith. I have myself, something I’ve lost and have been looking for in everywhere but the right place. Now I have me and I can’t ever let me go again. I found my worth and my life in Him; I learned that I am someone worth hanging on to. It’s okay if I only save one life in my journey and it’s okay if that life is mine. Learning to love yourself is a never-ending journey, one I will go on every day for the rest of my life. It always leads me to that wasteland, on the shore with the dead grass, in the shadow of the lower case “t” that now means everything to me.
I’ve sat and thought about how to end this post and I simply can’t. There’s nothing witty or fun or serious to wrap it up with neatly in a bow because it’s not the end, it’s the beginning.