falling in love .

As my relationship with God strengthens, so do the attacks from the enemy. These last few weeks have felt to be getting harder by the day and I have felt as if I’ve been falling deeper into my depression. In saying this I also hold hope that even despite the hardships, perhaps my faith is getting stronger by the day as well. I saw T again on Thursday and she said the most beautiful and encouraging thing to me, she said that she can see that I am ‘actively pursuing God and falling in love with Him’. I remember being so taken back by that statement, especially the concept of falling in love with God. Up until then, it had never occurred to me that falling in love was exactly what I was experiencing.. All the flutters in my stomach and the way my heart beats with excitement when I recall testimonies of God’s goodness and grace. T is so right, I am falling in love with God for the first time and it’s the most beautiful feeling.

I pause to reflect upon my pursuit of God and although it is active, I also often feel as if I am failing in that area. In a state of vulnerability I sometimes find myself succumbing to the temptations of the enemy, where for brief moments I find myself re-stacking bricks around my heart as I begin to doubt and turn away from God. My heart at times begins to harden toward God, especially when I struggle to understand or feel His presence. It’s moments as such where I feel that I’m not doing ‘good enough’ in my pursuit of God. However, the reality is that we live in a fallen world and we aren’t perfect – God understands this and His grace abounds abundantly. Each day I strive to make a conscious choice to seek out God, whether it be in small moments of temptation or large moments of distress. I don’t always succeed, sometimes I return to my safely trapped and the behaviours associated with it, but I still try my best. I’m learning that whether I succeed or not, each time I consciously seek out God, I am actively pursuing Him. Within my active pursuit I can’t help but fall in love with the one who paints the skies with colours of hope and fulfilment, promise and acceptance. God is just soo good to me.

In moments where the world feels dark and scary, it is so natural to long for safety. In a state of brokenness and vulnerability, it is also natural to long for safety. I spoke in my last post about the concept of being ‘safely held’. This has continued to be so prevalent over the week that has past. I saw T last Thursday and we spoke on this concept of safety. The topic of trauma has still been overly present within my thoughts, dreams and society as a whole. I’ve often found myself living in a constant state of fear, longing for safety. Following the distressing session I had with E, T proceeded to question what more could be done to help me through this patch and in response E said that I would know best what it is that I need right now. When I found myself sitting before T she asked me what it was that I needed, especially in times of distress when the trauma is overwhelming. After lots of hesitation and tears, I told her that as selfish as it is I thought that it would be helpful to sometimes have someone who is safe, give me a hug and remind me that I am safe and that I would be okay. Admitting that, broke my heart and she looked and me and agreed before pointing out that there really was no one. That night I drove out to the Kalgan, as I do without fail every night, and I opened my devotion by Ann Voskamp. I want to pause there to say that I’ve made a habit of not looking to see the title of the next devotion each time I finish one because I think the little girl in me wants to hold on to the excitement of not knowing but also trusting that whatever devotion I read next, will be one that God intended for that moment, He hasn’t failed me yet! The devotion I read that night after seeing T was titled ‘unashamed brokenness’ and it so perfectly spoke about the very things that I’ve prominently been battling with. Voskamp described safe places as our very own miracles that hand you comfort in one hand and courage in the other. There are very few places where I truely feel safe but as I take a moment, I consider those places; Riverside by the Kalgan where I feel closest to God, there He meets me and comforts me as I draw courage from Him, and in the company of both T and R where they each gift to me comfort and courage.

We all find ourselves on the battlefield at some stage in our lives and more often than not we are left with a scar, whether emotional or physical, there is evidence that we were in battle. My scars tell the stories of trauma and a deep depression that caused me to lose my will to live. I have grown with my scars but as I’ve grown, I’ve also found myself filled with an ever-growing shame for those very scars. Feelings of shame are statistically evident in most, if not all, those who experience trauma; especially trauma related to sexual assault. I so often feel this weight of shame and guilt for what has happened to me and the way I’ve allowed it to effect me. How comforting is it to know that God says we don’t need to feel ashamed of our scars. Our broken hearts are safely held in God’s abundant love, He smiles upon our scars and calls us brave. My scars are proof of my bravery, I don’t understand or see this yet, but I choose to blindly believe it until I do. Voskamp stated that shame dies when stories are told in safe places and although I’m not ready to share the stories of all my scars, I can attest her philosophy is true. I have shared stories with safe people and I remember feeling weighed down by the shame, then so wholly met with unconditional love. Someone once said ‘Don’t you think that the things people are most ashamed of are the things that can’t help?’. As humans we can’t always help where we break, we don’t always have control over what happens to us or how our hearts respond. I’m still grasping this subject because just this Sunday I found myself weighed down by shame and guilt for my trauma and the way I’ve broken as a result. I think that the shame of our scars can sometimes scar worse than the original scars themselves; here I picture an open wound, it is painful but even though it’s painful we proceed to rub salt into the open wound which only results in more pain – it’s the same concept each time we give ourselves over to feelings of shame. My shame and guilt so often led me to a state of mind where I felt undeserving of life, I felt worthless and lost my will to live. Voskamp proposed the idea that maybe on the days where we want out of our lives, it isn’t so much that we want to die from shame, but rather that we want to hide from shame. I smile here as I recall all the times I’ve longed to be an ostrich with my head in the sand – R would smile here because as it turns out, an ostrich doesn’t actually bury their heads in the sand. Nevertheless, you get the point; sometimes I just want to disappear. I am trying to learn how to love myself with my scars because my scars are part of me, they tell my stories and I have grown because of them. My scars serve now as proof that God carried me through the hardest of chapters and proof that He will carry me through the chapters to come. I can only hope that God will help me accept my scars rather than be ashamed of them, that He would bring beauty and bravery from them.

Shame has a way of making us feel unloveable. Love has been a concept I’ve wrestled with for as long as I remember. Exactly a year ago to date, on the 31st of March 2020, I wrote the following; “People tell me they love me but goodness me, what is love? Love is a label. Love is a label stuck over the top of any given circumstance. From a young age we are taught that if a boy teases us in primary school, it’s because he loves us. That reasoning is what lead me to believe that when the men in the streets, or the men in my life, took advantage of me or hurt me, it was simply because they loved me. They would lean over me to whisper sweet nothings into my ear, expecting that the words “I love you”, would somehow justify what they do. Love is a label stuck over a situation to avoid an apology as if it acts as justification because surely if you love someone then it’s okay to hurt them. Love is a label that justifies you being held up against a brick wall in the dark, being chased down the hallway and locked inside the dark bathroom whilst a silhouette stands over you as you relive the nightmares of your past. Love is a label that overarches each outburst and each moment where a family member felt the need to show his power, physically, sexually and emotionally.. oh believe me when I assure you that they so strong. Love is a label that reminds you that even whilst another family member, who’s 16 years older than you, stands at the end of your bed at 2 in the morning, and even while his girlfriend sleeps in the room next door and while your parents sleep down the hall, that he ‘still loves you’ because he is family and he only wants to show you just ‘how much’ he loves you. Love is a label that strangers use to make everything okay while they force their needs upon you. Love is a label that belittles you. Love is a label that allows for anyone to do anything because it’s love and love supposedly gives you free rein. Love is a label that makes everything okay again. Love is label that holds no depth or meaning. Love is numb and love is void.”

My view on love has since morphed into a deeper understanding. I recalled that excerpt last Friday as I sat in E’s office and she asked for my views on love. I told her that for a long time I stopped believing in love because surely the ‘love’ shown to me in the past, wasn’t love? It’s not since God lead me to meet specifically T and R, that I’ve begun to comprehend what love really is. The song ‘Reckless Love’ comes to mind when I think of God’s unconditional love, it’s the type of love that fights for you when you’re standing on that battlefield, it’s the type of love that relentlessly chases us down and the type of love that never runs out. There’s a line in the song that sings about how even when we make ourselves foreign to God, still His love remains. I’ve forever felt the need to earn love, as if it were something I needed to deserve before receiving. I can’t count the amount of times T has told me that I can’t earn love, I simply need to vulnerably accept it. As our session on Friday continued, E pointed out that I need to love myself first before I could know that I’m loved by others, she isn’t the only one who has told me this. That night when I reached the Kalgan and opened my book to see what devotion God had prepared for me, surely enough the devotion was titled ‘Relentless Love’; unforeseen and once again perfectly fitting. Through the devotion God reminded me that He gives grace and acceptance before break our sin, before I learn to love myself God already loves me and before I learn to let go of my shame He loves me. ‘You never have to overcome your brokenness to claim God’s love, His love has already overcome your brokenness and claimed you’.. How powerful is the weight of that statement? Again on Sunday T declared that she undoubtedly knows that God loves me in my brokenness. I’ve said before that even in our brokenness we are safely held in God’s abundant love, that His light shines through the broken cracks and pierces into the dark. It’s God’s beautiful and relentless love that makes our lives relentlessly beautiful, not any striving to measure up or work to follow any commandments; God’s love can’t be earned, it simply is and that’s a truth I need to grasp. Because of God’s love, we are reassured that there is more grace within Him than there is shame in us. God’s grace is stronger than the weight of our deepest shame. God is continually pouring out an abundance of love, we simply need to receive it – I’m once again reminded of T throwing herself back into her chair whilst I was in hospital, arms outstretched in surrender; ‘just let God love you’.

Love bears all things. The term to ‘bear’ in Greek is ‘stego‘, it literally means roof. Love bears all things the way a rook bears the greatest of storms. Real, unconditional love is a roof that provides shelter; safety. My deepest desire is to be safe, to be loved and held. God is continually outstretching His arms and inviting us to be safely held, stego. God’s heart breaks for us yet He calls us to let His love come forth in abundance, to be vulnerable enough to allow for the brokenhearted love to fill our brokenness.

My heart hurt deeply this morning as I woke from a traumatic night and was faced once again with the reality of my mother’s conditional love. When she found out that I still have an eating disorder and that I’m still battling Gollum, she expressed her deep disappointment and didn’t want to be in my presence this morning. Little did my mother know about the hard night I’d just left behind and how I would have just appreciated a hug. I’d actually made plans to surprise her by taking her out for a coffee before work this morning, as it was our last opportunity to spend time together, before my family goes on holiday and I remain home alone for a week. Despite that, I respected my mother’s wishes and before leaving the house, I made myself a takeaway cup of tea. With a few hours to spare before work was due to begin, I made my way out to my safe place; Luke Pen. My heart yearned to be safely held and riverside was where I felt closest to God, my only prayer was that He would meet me there. The drive out was torture and the tears fell freely as my thoughts bounced between the dark corners of my mind. With the trauma still prevalent, I tried to suppress it but as I did I encountered a wave of questions that provoked a spiralling decline down an endless rabbit hole. All I longed for was to be safely held but I didn’t even feel good enough or worthy of that. I reached the riverside in a state of brokenness and fragility, in need of God and a sense of safety. I consciously focused on my breathing, as I began recalling and putting into place measures I’d learned. Between my emotional response to how my day began and the measures I put in place to prevent further self destruction, I by now probably sound rather pathetic. I apologise.

On Friday E and I brainstormed measures that I could put into place to help remind myself that I am safe in the moments of distress where reliving trauma feels all too real. Once measure was tea. I’ve always been a lover of tea but now every time I think of tea, I think of T’s words; “I fix everything with a cup of tea”. I’ve come to live by those words so when E asked me if I found tea comforting, I without hesitation answered ‘yes’. She suggested that I chose a tea that I don’t often drink and that can singularly be associated with safety, so that it could act as a tangible reminder that I am safe in times of distress. I chose Earl Grey tea. Other measures included intentional breathing, ‘safe place’ imagery, honing in on my surroundings and listening to the birds etc. T also suggested a heavy blanket that provides an element of deep pressure. Hold onto the measure of tea, as I go on to chat about how God has been growing me in relation to the concept of safety.

Ever since God convicted me in terms of my intentions when going to church and where I find my sense of security, it’s become a conscious occurrence for me to pray whilst driving there on a Sunday morning. Along the drive I pray that God would go before me and prepare the way, that He’d help me vulnerably open my heart up to hearing what He has to say to me, that He would help me focus on Him and find my sense of safety and security in Him. I prayed this again last Sunday and as I pulled into the church carpark I felt peace. I’d had a really tough last few days and it felt like since seeing T on Thursday, everything had slowly and then all at once, fallen apart. Yet despite the constant battle with Gollum and attacks from the enemy, and despite my heart being fragile, I was able to walk into church safely held in God’s hands. The service began with worship and during worship the lyrics “lead me in your love to those around me” was sung. God reminded me that at the beginning of 2018 whilst I was at a conference in Perth, I wrote down and prayed those exact lyrics. Not long after that I began to lose my faith and it wasn’t until some 3 years later, on Sunday morning, where I was able to look back and realise that even though I had walked away from God, He still loved me enough to lead me in His relentless love to people like T and R who would love me unconditionally. Such a testimony to God’s faithfulness. The service continued and I’m ashamed to say but it didn’t take long for the enemy to find my fragility and take advantage of my brokenness. Communion came around and I was frozen in fear; the fear of calories and losing love as a result of potential weight gain, the shame for my past and how deeply I am struggling at the moment, the guilt and the doubt within me were all enough to stop me from partaking in communion. T would later in the carpark gently place her hand on my back and remind me that if we believe in God, if we love Him and have a relationship with Him, then we take communion to remember His goodness. Her words came from a place of love but caused a piercing conviction within me; guilt because I knew she was right.

As the preaching in church on Sunday began, so did my anxiety. I quickly began to feel unsafe and overwhelmed as the topic of trauma was addressed throughout the sermon. Mid way I actually packed up my things and was ready to march right on out of the building because I didn’t think I could bare another moment, and honestly, if T wasn’t sitting beside me then I most likely would have done just that. However with clenched teeth I remained in my chair, trying to listen to what our pastor was sharing. I found myself spiralling deeper and deeper down the path leading towards my safely trapped. Trauma replayed in my mind like a broken record. Gollum’s voice was louder than God’s and I felt myself losing touch. As I heard bits of the sermon I began to build more bricks around my heart as the questions arose.. What did I do to deserve the trauma? What seeds did I sow? Am I immature because I struggle to let go of the trauma that haunts me? Should I just put my past back in the box and throw away the key? Why am I not good enough? Where on earth is God? An ever-growing desire for safety grew within me and I knew that if I were to walk out of church, I wouldn’t have been in a frame of mind to keep myself safe alone; I chose to remain next to someone safe. I’m grateful that I stayed because looking back on that morning, God was still there and He used T in a tangible capacity that allowed for Him to speak to me through her.

As we left the building T asked me if I was okay, fighting the lump in my throat I couldn’t speak so I shook my head. She walked me to my car and as I fought back the tears she tried to undo most of what was said in the sermon because even though the sermon may have held a good message for most, it wasn’t one I was ready to receive and this she knew. I must have sounded so pathetic but I couldn’t find the words and I recall blurting out to T that my heart felt a little bit hardened, instead of meeting me with a lecture on how wrong and sinful that was of me, she softly told me that it was okay as long as I remembered that God’s heart doesn’t harden and that He was still there. I struggle to understand how God’s love and His feelings toward us, remains unwavering. Even when I lose faith or lose sight of God, when I make mistakes and re-stack my bricks; God still calls me His own and He loves me all the same. This concept I can’t even grasp on a tangible level, take my relationship with T for example. Last week she again told me that whether I gain or lose weight, it won’t change the way she sees me. She has told me that no matter what I say or do, she is there for me. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, whether it’s unconditional love that comes from God, or T, or R; I just don’t understand. All my life I’ve felt as if I have to earn love and somehow deserve it, yet I am met with a deep unconditional love. No matter what, God still loves me and He is always there – this will never change.

T and I spoke some more before parting ways and as I reached my car, the built up tears began to flow and by the time I was half way down the road, I found myself pulling over into the carpark at work because I was too distressed to drive. I sat there in my car and I cried out to God. I asked Him all my questions and I asked Him to meet me there. I in all honesty didn’t want to turn to God but as T and I concluded on Thursday; there really was no-one else. So in a state of total desperation, I found myself begging to be safely held by God. At that same moment my phone lit up with a reminder that “God loves me in my brokenness and only He knows where I am at in my journey, that He would be the one to understand, that I am precious and I have been fearfully and wonderfully made”. The people in this world, no matter who they are, may not all understand the complexity of my battles such as the trauma. They may not always grasp the magnitude or impact it has had on me, or anyone else for that matter. I’ve often pondered this when I have drafted and thought about how I’d one day write my books. I’ll admit that an aspect of fear often creeps in when I realise that anyone who reads my book and who hasn’t walked this journey with me, will never truely know the depth of it – what if they judge me or think I’m pathetic or making it all up? But then God reminds me that they don’t need to know, nobody needs to understand because in all honesty, no one ever can fully understand unless they’ve walked in my shoes. Yes, some people who have been closest to me will obviously have a much deeper understanding but not even they will understand entirely. However just because people don’t understand, it doesn’t mean that God can’t use them or use my story to change hearts and lives. People may come along and tell me that I’m healing in the wrong way, or I’m coping in the wrong way but their judgements aren’t always sound because how are they to know my internal battle if their opinions are based only on outward appearance or studies they’ve partaken in? At the end of the day, God knows everything and He understands – that is enough.

As I began to make my way home, I found myself reciting the words to a song I hadn’t listened to in what felt like a decade – “when my heart is overwhelmed and I can not hear your voice, I hold onto what is true though I can not see.. I will believe, I remind myself of all that you’ve done.. love came down and rescued me, love came down and set me free, I am yours”.. Sitting in my car, yes, my heart was overwhelmed and I couldn’t hear God above the trauma and the voices, but I was able to hold on to what I knew was true. I was safely held in my brokenness.

I repeated those lyrics until I arrived home where I found myself alone, I made myself a cup of Earl Grey tea and drove down to the foreshore where I just cried and spent time being safely held by God. I prayed before opening my book by Ann Voskamp and I asked that God would help me open my heart up to hearing His voice because I didn’t want my heart to harden towards Him, I was so desperate for His love and sense of security. Every part of my being smiled when I opened to unexpectedly see the words ‘Abundantly Safe’ and ‘Earl Grey’ typed on the page. How incredible is our God? I am so in awe of all the ways He works to remind me of His goodness. Three questions were asked in the opening of the devotion; 1. When I am lost, who will come and find me?, 2. When I forget who I am, who will come and remind me?, and 3. When life tries to break me, who will come and remake me?. Question one is answered in the song ‘Reckless Love’, when we are lost God leaves the 99 to find us. Question two, this one was answered by the song that was softly playing in my car as I was reading.. “I am Yours”. Question three, when the world has a habit of breaking us and wrecking our souls, God is there holding us in our brokenness as He pieces us back together in His love. Voskamp went on to recall an afternoon she spent drinking Earl Grey tea with a dear friend. Her friend asked her how she was doing and to that question, Voskamp replied that she was doing fine. Her friend looked to and replied; “It’s never fine to say you’re just fine. Real friendship says, you have a safe place at the table to lay your whole heart down”. I smiled because similarly I have been in the company of both R and T where I have boldly told them I was ‘fine’, only to be met with a sense of love and safety in being reassured that I could be honest. T often reminds me that she would rather have me speak from my heart, that as long as I am with her there is nothing I’m not allowed to vulnerably say. Voskamp stated that truely safe people let you come with your truest self and they truely accept you as such. I often think about how God knows the deepest parts of us, He knows us wholly and sees every scar, yet He still loves and accepts us. I truely believe that God shows us His love and acceptance through other people, such as R and T. It can be such a scary concept to let people in, to allow them to safely hold you’re heart but as Christians that’s exactly what God calls us to do. His greatest commandment is to love. Loving someone means being their stego – their safe place. Once again the word stego means to be a safe place when someone feels like they have no place else to go. Love bears all things because love is stego, love is a roof making a safe place. I am so blessed to have my heart held, to be loved amidst my brokenness. I am blessed to have stego.

Sunday evening I once again found myself riverside by the Kalgan. With the warmth from the setting sun on my skin, I closed my eyes and spoke to God. The birds sang sweetly their praises to Him, the world was still and I was safely held. My heart still ached but I was filled with a sense of peace and I knew then that I was going to be okay. I went on to have my dinner fortisip with God before taking time to do communion. The elements were still in my bag from church and although I wasn’t in fellowship with others, I still took them in remembrance of Him. I stayed riverside for a while longer than usual and as I later drove home in the dark, the fullest of moons filled the night sky; in the darkness of my struggles God is the full moon that provides light. God’s light pierces through the cracks of our brokenness as he safely holds us in His abundant love. The last two to three weeks have been so much harder than anticipated, but God has still been so present and so faithful. Having the insight to talk is one thing, but having the courage to walk is another. My head and my heart need to align and I’m working towards that. However until such a time, I’m concluding this post with the truths that T reminded me of on Sunday, truths that I choose to believe and will continue to remind myself of throughout each day..

I choose to believe that I am pursuing God. I am falling in love with God. I am so loved by Him even in my brokenness. I am precious. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

-c x {31.03.2021}.

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