“Blessed is she who believes what the Lord has done for her.”
“Blessed is she who believes what’s been ordained in her soul since birth.”
“Blessed is she who believes the path unfolding before her.”
My great-grandmother had been admitted to hospice and we all gathered there to wait out the long night and say our good-byes.
We remained for the majority of the day and into the evening. My cousin, whom I adored, volunteered to take me with her for a break and some dinner.
I remember the restaurant, the bar to the left, our table to the right on the dining room floor. The dark wood of the table still greasy from the platters of food served and devoured in this space. A sports game blared from the bar TV.
I was in high school and a very young 10th grade. I looked up to my cousin. I had attended her wedding when I was younger. I remember her as a beautiful bride who knelt down, hugged me, looked me in the eye and made me feel like the prettiest girl in the room. Now, here I sat, watching her. She was everything I wanted to be when I grew up.
Her story was not like the rest of us. She came from the “outside” and married into our family. She was “normal”, she said she was a Christian, but she wasn’t like any Christian I knew – she was “cool.” Even at that age, I intuitively knew that her world was VERY different from mine. She didn’t sound like us, dress like us, or speak to the others the same way we spoke to one another.
There were things about her that felt “safe” and exhilarating because they didn’t fit into the box constructed in my head. My entire psyche was managed inside that tiny box – I was the puppet and not the puppeteer. Looking back at my admiration for her -I realize I was mesmerized by her individuality, and freedom. My soul craved that fire of freedom.
She began to ask me questions while I made sure not to be a problem, or burden. I chose something simple and cheap because that’s what I was taught to do if someone took you out for a meal. I hunched my shoulders down and inward as I often did so that no one would notice me.
Our food came, I stared at the TV in the akward silence, but with Robin’s energy there was nothing akward about it. She was so kind, loving, at ease, reassuring and genuinely interested in what I had to say. I felt like one of the “cool” kids when I was with her.
The attention from her was a breath of fresh air. To Robin, I was a person worth knowing. My words had value, and there was nothing I was “doing wrong.” I just….. was. What I had to say held weight. To this day, I’ve never forgotten this altering point in time.
As I took a bite of my salad she asked, how school was going, my favorite subjects, what I like to do for fun, and then she asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I didn’t know how to describe what I wanted to do when I grew up. It was everything to me – it was in my bones – I just knew, but I didn’t know what job title would fit it appropriately. I knew from a VERY young age that I was called to Jesus, to ministry, to do something for him. How would I describe this to an “outsider”? They don’t know about God, or talk about him, would she understand? She didn’t sound like “us.”
I spoke up, trying to sound laid back, “I want to help people, I want to share God’s love with people, I want to help those in need, I want to be a teacher, but I want to study God. I want to preach! I guess if I could do anything – I’d want to be a pastor, but you know – I can’t be because women can’t be pastors and I can’t go to seminary because I’m a girl.”
“Wow! That’s so amazing! You’d be so good at that! I can see it! Ya know, I think women can be pastors, in fact, we have a husband and wife who lead our church and they are both pastors! We have other female pastors and we have female deacons!”
I sat there not knowing what to say, but also being so sure, that would never be me. I’d never be able to do that – to live out my fiercest fire within. Why? Because my dad said so. My grandpa said so. The church said so.
I look back at that now and I see the Lord smiling, “oh! Daughter if you only knew what is to come… girl! Have I got a surprise for you!” That was the day, I heard the first crack in the tiny box around my psyche. A box built around my soul by the cult I was born to.
It’s December and Advent is beginning. Advent is a struggle, I don’t truly understand the concept, and yet I do. If you were “born in the church nursery”, as I was – or you were a part of a ministerial family – you know this by memory. And yet, does it mean anything? Has the life, wonder and passion of the events been sucked out of history? For some of us – yes. We only know this story intellectually, but we’ve never had any limbic experience with the reason for the season.
And why would we? Why would there be ANY passion and emotional connection? We’ve been labeled no better than a speck of dust, told we don’t deserve anything and we’re dirty rotten sinners. On top of this “hell-bound” messaging from the church, we have experienced extreme trauma, which plants an experiential distortion that we are “inherently wrong”, “bad”, “not enough”. So, why would I be emotionally connected to any parts of a God who views me in that light? Why would there be a purpose for Jesus if I’m lower than pond scum?
Since leaving an abusive system 4 years ago – I have avoided all things advent. I hate reading devotionals, I hate listening to sermons about the season, and I hate reading blog posts about it. It has meant NOTHING to me… and yet, here I am.
As I ponder Advent – it has taken on a whole new meaning. I realize that Advent for me – the heart of the event is how I have been living my life in FREEDOM for the last four years, and I’ve only gotten stronger as each year passes. Stronger, reassured, loved, supported and nourished.
All because I took risks. I believed that wondrous, divine things happen in the darkest places. The light comes and whispers to the dark: “Make space, it is time for wisdom and the breath of God to create with interdependence the woven plans of the great I AM”
Taking a risk means facing the chance of loss or peril in the pursuit of something wanted or of value. It means that I’m willingly saying “I will face this uncertainty because IT is worth the possibility that something bad may happen.”
I risked in the darkness and unknown when moving ahead with separation as I received letters from family that I needed to repent and submit to Jesus. I didn’t know how I would be delivered – but I waited expectantly. I risked when I sold my childhood home, and moved to a new city with my dogs. I risked when I waited for someone to take my lease, while money was put on the line to close on my house. I didn’t know how the light would come through as I held my breath – but it did. I risked leaving family, friends, and church in order to know Jesus and get help. I didn’t know that because of that risk – I would be sitting here today, writing to you.
It is a RISK to travel into the cocoon of healing and wait there with the expectancy and wonder knowing you WILL heal and it takes time in the darkness to do so. You don’t know how it will happen or how long it will take, and yet, you engage with the process anyways.
Two women whom have reconnected me to the wonder, mystery, anticipation and expectancy of Advent is Mary and Elizabeth. These women are not women who are special to me because of the Christmas season – they have been a part of my journey since the day I wrote in my journal radical acceptance of reality: “My name is Rochelle and I’m married to a sex addict. Now what am I gonna do about it?” I didn’t realize, but all along I had been walking in their footsteps – experiencing their travail, turmoil and blessedness, in my own journey.
In my risks I have experienced ADVENT, all year long. When Mary answered the Lord, “Let it be with me just as you say.” It was a risk, while Jesus was developing in the secret quiet place of the womb. She risked her safety, reputation and health. And, I wonder – didn’t the Heavenly Father and Spirit have to risk as well? They placed part of their Trinity – the sacred son, into a human body! Imagine that, “well – I hope she takes care of herself and is careful … this baby has to make it!”
And what of Elizabeth’s risk? She risked her trust in God! He said he was going to do something, and Elizabeth was GIDDY with delight. She had wanted children and was thrilled at the news. And yet, giving birth in this time was a risk in and of itself, especially at her age! She risked her trust in God that the baby would be healthy, she would carry to full term, his delivery would be safe, that her body could survive the birth. Her response was, “LOOK! The Lord has done this for me!”
I doubt Mary and Elizabeth knew all the trials and cultural pressures that awaited them, but I believe because of their risks they entered into the sacred darkness to partner with the Lord in expectancy for what was promised.
Crushing the constructed tiny box- is what I’m holding close to my heart now, I look at my story and remember that all things wise and wonderful come from the quiet. The silent nights where only tears can be heard and groans of pain. The “being” in the darkness and choosing to be the only sliver of light that shines within, while actively expecting and believing that God will be here for me in wondrous ways- simply because I am loved and I am a part of His plan.
A.W. Tozer writes, “God constantly encourages us to trust Him in the dark… It is heartening to learn how many of God’s mighty deeds were done in secret, away from prying eyes. When God created the heavens and the earth, darkness was upon the face of the deep. When the Eternal Son became flesh, He was carried for a time in the darkness of the sweet virgin’s womb. When He died for the life of the world, it was in the darkness, seen by no one at the last. When He arose from the dead…no one saw Him rise.”
I am my Father’s daughter- It Is God’s nature to LOVE the expectancy of the dark. As someone in my spiritual processing group pointed out: “Rochelle – you went from a tiny box, to a cocoon in a 2 bedroom apartment, and now to the wide open space of a backyard and a home. Everything is expanding.” Such beautiful imagery. My physical environments are a reflection of the space opening up – I’m no longer trapped by man made religious constructs and dogmas- the box has exploded with EACH risk I’ve taken.
The best risk I took this year was joining a Spiritual Processing Group. Here it is safe to struggle in the dark, engage in fear and curiosity, while anticipating new enlightenment from the Lord. I imagine, Jesus reading the scrolls in his Father’s house – while every week, I read more about who my Father is as well. As my dear sister Jenny says, “God will find you in the dark.”
Advent is HARD. It is filled with grief, loss, anticipation, sometimes happiness, or sadness.
It is hard to find something for Spiritual Abuse Survivors to grasp onto in this season. Advent has been stolen from us, so I choose to find a new way to honor it’s purpose.
If you are angry with God – this is your Advent – Risk leaning in, ask hard questions, wrestle and yell. He is Yahweh- Shalom “The Lord our Peace”, and He is not afraid of your rage.
If you are drowning in loss – this is your Advent. Risk the feeling of each wave as it passes, call out to Immanuel – He is with you.
If you are estranged from family, parental alienation or you have experienced a smear campaign. This is your Advent – Risk your sorrow in His lap, rest, and self-soothe. He is Yahweh-Rohi “Good Shepherd” and He will carry you.
If you are ill, and chronically pained – This is your Advent. Take the risk to ask for help, and be still. He is Yahweh-Rapha “The Lord Who Heals”.
If you are happy, content, and this is your favorite time of year. Rejoice! Be glad, drink, eat, be well and merry. He is Yahweh- Nissi “The Lord our Banner”.
I think Advent is a time to remember that God provides in the darkness. As we engage in our stories, we are engaging in the anticipation of something coming, it is better, and it is on it’s way. It is the light of the world. Will you risk the process of shattering the box, unbecoming and stepping into the risk of trust?
It’s the hardest thing you will ever do. I look back at that little girl in the restaraunt and I feel such compassion for her. Then, a FIERCE FIRE comes over me. She did it, the Lord plucked her out of the pit, so she could become a PASTOR, COUNSELOR, and HUMBLE SHEPHERD to all who wonder in the darkness… will there be light?
I love you fellow sojourner – and I will risk it all with you.