The Life-Changing Power of the Love of Christ (Part 2)


(continued from Part 1)

Freshman year on a campus where I knew no one was a cracked-open oyster.  I could make myself into whoever it was I wanted to appear to be.  It was only too easy to continue the masquerade I had begun, almost convincing even myself along the way.  I always have been a promising actress.

Somehow I had managed to sidestep drunkenness during my high school years; a few plasterings that summer but overall nothing life-altering.  But the removal of authority figures and the thrill of anonymity caught up with me quick, and in almost no time I had established myself squarely in the "parties" category of students at that small Baptist college.  Never mind that alcoholism has long run through the veins of my Irish family: it's hard to believe at 18 years old that such realities could ever be yours.  My particular DNA spared me the pain of that journey, but temperance on my part was decidedly not a contributing factor.

After being involved more or less all summer, the boy from graduation night had moved to Indiana.  I still knew I loved him, but when his lack of commitment mixed with the span of half the continental States, I was content to just talk on the phone and mess around with local guys on the side.  The body and the soul were very different things; I had no sense of fidelity to the one who held my heart.  After all, the very foundation of our relationship had been built on a "live in the present" state of mind.  I never seriously considered that he was capable of anything more.

Until the day he called to say he loved me.

I told my cheerleading coach that I would miss the first football game of the season because there had been a death in my family.  Then I drove 20 hours (one way) to spend a weekend with him, not sure what- if anything- might change with three little words but eager to find out.  The holes inside began to fill, the whispers of the snake became softer and softer as I drove.  If he- with his life of pain and injustice- could be healed by my love, then maybe I really was special.

(It feels so silly to type out this way, black letters on a white screen staring back at me.  But then, most of our deepest hopes do.)

About halfway through the drive I fell asleep at the wheel.

And rather than in a ditch or a hospital, I woke up parked at a toll booth to a middle-aged woman snapping her gum and impatiently waiting for me to hand over my coins.

Make of it what you will, but I knew it was a miracle.  So I did what any highly spiritually attuned individual would do under the circumstances: I told God thanks and kept driving.  After a weekend in Indianapolis I returned to my dorm room in Texas only to find that my love would not answer the phone nor return my calls.  Within a week it was clear that I was being completely frozen out, and in fact I would not hear a word from him for another four years.  

If we refuse to be wooed by His kindness, the Lord will use our pain.

And pain it was.

Clearly, it was not a loss of a mutually satisfying or life-giving relationship.  It was not grieving what a great thing we had or the hope of a future marriage.  No, these things were never present.  But it was rejection of the deepest possible kind.  It was ringing confirmation that I had never been precious. I had never been worthy.  I had never possessed a beauty, internally or externally, that could really matter.  It was the culmination of all of my greatest fears, and the enemy of my soul swallowed my sinews for lunch each day.

A few months before, with foreshadowings of the end of this doomed love affair plaguing me, I had cut his initials into my hip with a safety pin.  By the time I stopped hoping for a miracle on the other end of the line, the initials had long faded.  I moved to my arms.

It's a slow kind of therapy, making your own blood emerge from your skin.  It feels tangible when your agony feels anything but.  It feels real when you aren't sure if it's day or night.  It feels like asking for help, which you know you should be doing but can't bring your lips to say the words.  There's a strange chemistry of nurture in the endorphins that you desperately long for; your brain rushes to comfort your heart in a tragically beautiful attempt at healing.  

But it never lasts.  

I kept it private, for the most part.  Not because I really cared if people knew, but because it seemed like the thing to do.  One night some friends delivered me back to my dorm room nearly unable to walk from the tequila.  I woke up in the morning in my roommate's bed to find pained compassion in her eyes.  "You were trying to cut your arms with the corner of that picture frame", she said quietly, nodding towards my bedside table. "You kept screaming 'bleed!'.  I thought it'd be best if you slept here."

If you ask Deloris about our freshman year, she'll say that we took care of each other.  Neither of us were making a whole lot of healthy life choices at the time.  But I think about that night, and I wonder what her faithful presence spared me from.  We don't have to have our act together to lessen each other's burdens, we just have to show up for each other.

After a few months my parents found out, God bless their terrified hearts, and they set me up with a Christian counselor on campus.  I gained enough tools to cope in other ways and quit cutting, mostly so that everyone would quit worrying about me all the time, but the truth was I was lost.  Although the term "lost" didn't quite fit either, because didn't I have Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior?  But what was I really saved from?  I didn't feel particularly saved.

Eventually I settled down with a serious boyfriend.  All the saints and angels know we had more than our share of dysfunction, but living with him probably kept me out of a good bit of trouble for awhile and I think he did really love me.  But after a year, I cracked under the stress of his chronic rages and my own instability.  We broke up, and I was more numb than heartbroken.  I remember one Saturday waking up at 4:30 PM.

I knew I wanted a different life, and I knew that supposedly Jesus was the way.  I even began darkening the doorway of a church here and there.  My mom had once given me the Bible she'd used at my age and one day, alone in my sophomore dorm room, I thought "what the hell?" and picked it up.  There were markings in it that she herself had made in college, which fascinated me, and I was drawn to one in John.  "In this world you will have many troubles, but cheer up, for I have overcome the world!" (16:33)

And I have absolutely no idea why such a seemingly trite saying sparked it, but for the first time in as long as I could remember I felt the deep-bone truth of what the hymn writer had described: "a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices...".  

It wasn't over.  And really, it hadn't even begun.  But undeniably, it was there: a spark, an inkling, a miniscule sprout... a whisper saying maybe, maybe, Jesus is more than you know.


Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)