"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" ~John 8:32
"See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare" ~Isaiah 42:9a
"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." ~Isaiah 43:19
My life has been changed dramatically in the last four days. Externally, it looks the same, but internally the transformation has been radical. I shared at church and on this blog at the beginning of this year that I felt like God was bringing big changes to my life, that He had put these verses from Isaiah on my heart and I was excited about what He was going to do. But I could not have predicted what has happened, the phenomenal change that culminated with this week's events.
To fully explain, I have to go back about ten years. Yes, a long story, but one that needs telling, if only because of the glory that it brings to God, the evidence of Him transforming my life. And now that the story has a conclusion, I can tell it in its entirety.
Ten years ago, I was a senior in high school. I didn't have many female friends, and was horribly unpopular. I spent most of my time hanging out with a group of guys. Mostly I hung with this group for two reasons: they let me, and I had a huge crush on one of them. The thing is, I realize now that they weren't really my friends. I just tagged along. They didn't know me, didn't try to know me, and didn't treat me very well. And the friend that I had a crush on ended up figuring it out and telling me he wasn't interested.
So I went to college feeling rather unattractive, and not really understanding what good male attention looked like. And on the very first night I met a guy who within a week was telling me how much he liked me and how beautiful I was. And while I said that I didn't want to date at the time, we ended up spending every waking moment together for the first couple of months. As the weeks progressed, however, our relationship became increasingly dysfunctional. He suffered from clinical depression, but would not always take his medicine, and had severe mood swings. He was very possessive and controlling, and I was intent on making the relationship work because I wanted to be loved. It took me awhile to realize that this guy was treating me in a way that was manipulative and abusive. The worse it got, the more I told myself that it was my fault, that I was doing something wrong, or that there was something actually wrong with me. Because I had never been in a healthy relationship, I couldn't see the unhealthiness that I was in. Fortunately, I realized that I had to get away from this guy, as I became increasingly afraid for my physical safety. When I did finally break it off, he proceeded to stalk me for a few weeks and sent me many many messages filled with horrible lies and anger. Eventually he left me alone, but the damage was done.
I couldn't really deal with the emotions I felt at the time, as a 17-yr-old college freshman taking too many credits and working nights to put myself through school. I took all those lies and packed them down deep in a corner of my heart, the same place I had put all the rejection I had felt from high school. I went on with life, telling myself that I was fine, when of course I wasn't.
After this, I started hanging out with my guy friend from high school again. I still liked him (of course) and consciously or unconsciously I kept trying to figure out what he wanted in a girl so that I could become that. Then one day at the beginning of my junior year of college, he told me that he was going to marry me.
That's right-not that he liked me or loved me or thought I was great, but that he was going to marry me. Now, that should have been my first clue, but because I was so far gone on him, I just rejoiced that I would finally not be alone. After a few weeks he started telling me that he loved me, we started making plans, we even talked about dates for our wedding (I'm serious, I was 19 and he was 20, and we had a date picked out). But the more promises he made, the less he fulfilled. The more he talked about our future, the less present he became. He would talk about how he was going to graduate and get a great job and a place for us, and then he would slack off and almost fail his classes. He would tell me how he loved me only to ignore me in favor of the computer when I would make time to come see him. During this whole time, my parents were trying to caution me as well as him about moving too fast, but I was too in love to listen.
But I eventually had to confront him, again from a sense of self-preservation, as our relationship became increasingly difficult. And then he told me what no woman in love should have to hear from the man she thinks she is going to marry: "I don't love you enough to marry you." He thought that God meant us for each other, but he didn't really love me, so I needed to wait until he was ready and loved me enough to change and be a husband.
Of course, it was true that he didn't love me and couldn't be a husband. But it is the most devastating thing to a girl to be told that she is not enough, that a guy can't love her enough to be with her. It makes her think that she is unlovable. And that is what I thought: that something was obviously wrong with me, because I couldn't make him love me, just like I couldn't make the other guy stop hurting me.
I had enough self respect to tell him that I was not going to sit around and wait for him to figure out if he loved me or not. And walking away from him broke my heart. But when my life fell apart, it brought me to a place of complete brokenness before God, sitting at his feet with the pieces of my heart, crying out for Him.
That's where I needed to be. I needed to find out that God loved me, that there was nothing wrong with me, that He made me the way I am because He wanted me to be in this world. It took a long time to learn that, to accept God's love in a way that I never had. I remember sitting at home one day reading Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy, and coming across this passage:
"We will never have the easy, unhesitating love of God that makes obedience to Jesus our natural response unless we are absolutely sure that it is good for us to be, and to be who we are."
Reading that, I realized that I had never truly believed that I was lovable or attractive as a person, as God made me. I didn't think it was good for me to be, and I knew it wasn't any good for me to be who I am.
Over the course of many years or prayer and counsel, worship and teaching, I came to a place where I can say with confidence that it is in fact good for me to be who I am. I trusted that my life is in Christ, and finally discovered where my worth lies. And I was able to choose to forgive these two men who caused so much damage to my emotional life. But I never was able to tell them exactly what they did, was never able to extend that forgiveness, never able to find closure.
Earlier this year, I received a message from the guy I was planning to marry. He asked to meet because he wanted to apologize. I was understandably surprised and nervous, but decided that discussion could lead to something like reconciliation and closure. So I went, and it was a good meeting. He apologized, I apologized. He admitted that he never should have made the promises that he made. I said all the things I had never been able to say. I forgave him. And we parted ways with the knowledge that it was in the past, that we were healed by grace and mercy in Christ, and that we no longer had to live in fear of running into each other at a mutual friend's birthday party.
It was a liberating experience, to be out from under the weight of past mistakes and pain. But in the back of my mind I wondered if I would ever hear from that guy from freshman year of college. I didn't really think he would ever apologize, and I still lived in fear of what might happen if he ever tried to find me again.
And last Wednesday, the thing I had been dreading came: he contacted me on facebook. He sent me a friend request, and when I ignored it, he sent another, asking why we couldn't "bury the hatchet".
And so I told him. I told him how he had hurt me, about the pain and fear and abuse. I said all the things I had never said when I ran away from him in fear and confusion. And the most amazing part was, he apologized. He told me that he realized now that I did the best thing for both of us, and he treated me mercilessly for it. He said that he didn't realize that he had never dealt with it either, that closure was something we needed. He told me that he was sorry he had hurt me.
In all these years, I had never thought that this day would come. I never thought that he would apologize and I would be able to forgive him. But he did, and I experienced the amazing freedom that comes from releasing a hurt from long ago and extending forgiveness to a person who had destroyed me.
It has been truly amazing to walk around with this freedom, with this burden gone from my heart. I had been living with it for so long that I didn't even realize how much it still affected me. All of the prayers and decisions to forgive were made real and concrete, and I now know what it is to be set free by peace and truth.
All weekend I've been listening to songs and hanging with friends and family, and every now and then I have to stop for a moment, overcome by gratitude and praise for my God who has set me free, who has given me beauty for ashes, joy for mourning.
And so this is the conclusion of my long journey: forgiveness, freedom, peace, and joy. Our God is so good.
In considering all of these things over the past few days, I've come to believe that one of the main reasons that I was emotionally healthy enough to give forgiveness and receive these apologies is the friendships I have with guys at Quest. Having truly healthy relationships with godly men, not romantic relationships, but actual deep friendships, has been one of the ways that God has been working on my heart. While there are ups and downs and moments of awkwardness, because of the friendships I have developed I have been shown through word and deed that I am beautiful and lovable.
These guy friends I have are amazing. Over the past few years they have demonstrated to me what it is to be loved and respected by a man who treats me as a true brother in Christ treats his sister. I have seen how these men treat their wives, fiances, and girlfriends. I have seen how they love Jesus and seek to grow and become the men God has called them to be. They have shown me that I must never settle for anything less than the best, because they are that awesome. So thanks friends. Thanks Jeff, Blake, Tre, Darwin, Mattsy, M@, Slater, Christoffer, Randall, Miles, Joe, David, Sam, Mark, Paul, Kevin, George, Jin, Erik, and JackJack. Because of all of you, I know what a godly man is like.
Now that I know what a healthy relationship is, and no longer live in the pain and fear of the old relationships I had, I feel an incredible sense of freedom. I know that one day I will be able to have an awesome relationship with a man who will treat me as I deserve to be treated. And I know that until that man comes along, I have fantastic friends of both genders who show me God's love each and every day. This weekend was such an example of that love: the counsel from friends, the depth of discussions, the fun times we experienced, the silliness and laughter. And so, with the past behind me, and a wonderful life to rejoice in, I walk forward, knowing that God is declaring new and amazing things in my life.