My beginning was average and quiet. It was your normal “American dream” family: three kids, two parents, and one dog. We went to football games on Friday nights and church on Sunday mornings. There wasn’t one single traumatic event in my life to cause the darkness to fall, it just sort of happened. Darkness silently slithered in on its belly, and when I awoke at the sting of its bite, I realized my eyes had been open the whole time.

I chose to let Jesus into my heart at the ripe age of six, but unknowingly grew up into a cultural Christian. I attended Wednesday and Sunday services, becoming fluent in the language, the dress code, and the polite behavior that young ladies in the Southern Baptist church were expected to aspire to. I adapted to this lifestyle, but I felt clumsy and unnatural. I felt too loud and too silly. I wasn’t small or put together; I felt as though I took up too much space.

God was hard to get close to. He felt transcendent and powerful. The stories I heard about him in the Old Testament made me recoil in fear. I felt the weight of shame that I would never be able to live up to his standards. I knew Jesus brought grace to make me good enough, but even then, I felt the weight of my sin was too much even for Him. Everything I did in the church was to receive acceptance from others and to earn God’s love which felt like it was for everyone but me.

My unraveling came when my mom and step-dad divorced when I was eleven years old. It was a quiet divorce that was swept under the rug. I didn’t even know it was happening until I had asked her why he hadn’t been home lately. The events that led to their divorce remain a mystery to me even today, and I think they’re locked away somewhere with the rest of my mom’s secrets. It was off-limits, a topic unsuitable for discussion in our house. Like taking out the trash or throwing away an old pair of shoes, he had been disposed of. He was there and then he wasn’t, and I was expected to move on.

The transitions after made me vulnerable. My mom and I moved out of my childhood home and my siblings moved out altogether; my mom took on three to four jobs at one time and I became aware of money like it was a noose waiting to tighten around my neck. My mom began dating and I learned that I was very bad at being alone. There wasn’t a safe place to dialogue or express the heartbreak and confusion I felt amid the chaos. We never addressed anything and I think that’s how the darkness eventually fell upon us. Our piles of hurt and fear became so high and so wide that it prevented the light from coming in.

For a long time, I liked to blame my problems on my mom’s failed relationships, pointing with a shaky finger at her triptych of matrimonies, accusing them of making me blind. But I have learned through the years, as much as I hate to admit it, that the Almighty God, in his incomprehensible kindness has given me the freedom to choose. The problem was that I yielded my freedom to choose, so death chose for me.

It happened slowly and steadily. I kept up the church girl charade, but I felt as though my sin and mess were spilling out over the shell that I tried to hold tightly around me. By grace, there were moments where the Lord set my feet on solid ground. It was like I was drowning and every now and again, I’d grab his stretched-out hand and he’d pull me up for air. There would be moments of sweet worship or prayer, and I would be tempted to ask someone to teach me how to walk. But I was a fish out of water, and my wandering heart was called back to the waves. Under all the pressure, I fell inward on myself. I closed my eyes, let my feet slip off the edge, and fell backward deep underneath the waves. My sickness manifested itself in many forms: depression, mental breakdowns, disordered eating, sexual addiction, and self-harm. This double life lasted for years, and I slowly deteriorated into a hollow being.

I confessed the names of my illnesses with a handful of friends. Most of them reacted like I had told them I was given six months to live, but I don’t blame them for being shocked to see such darkness. Reflecting on that time in my life, confession is what saved me.

I learned that I’m only as sick as my secrets, and when I confess, Truth fights for my freedom.

God’s grace came in the form of a close friend, a fiery spirit topped with pink hair. Over breakfast, I confessed to her that my illnesses were taking over my body, and I had finally accepted that they would always be a part of me. By God’s hand, she made the first gentle incision with a scalpel as she told me with utmost love and compassion that she would be calling my unknowing mother to tell her I was sick. Later that night, when I got off my late shift at the restaurant, my mom was waiting for me in the parking lot. When her eyes met mine, I knew that she could see the real me, standing under the lamplight, weak and dying.

Everything that happened afterward moved with a slow blur. On a couch in my house, my secrets fell out of my mouth in a dazed shock. I slurred off all my illnesses and my apathy towards living. In her response, God lavished his grace on me. She was gentle and understanding. She apologized for being passive and ignoring the possibility of disease in her star child. Our conversation burned my spirit with healing relief as God began prepping me for surgery.

The following year was spent walking through the wilderness with Jesus. He told me it was my journey to freedom, a journey that was quiet and awkward at times. I spent a lot of time alone, in the holy quiet that fell upon the earth for three days after Jesus was crucified. As hard as it was, I savor those moments when Jesus would kiss my cheek in a breeze or whisper to me through the book of Psalms or Hosea. I recall those drives to my counseling appointments and eating pancakes alone afterward. In those precious gifts, I learned that healing was something that Jesus was offering me, and I had to choose and pursue it by pursuing Him. Even on the hard days when I wanted to fall back under the waves, I had to choose healing. It’s is a lot like love in that way -- it must be chosen on the bad days.

In its purest form, healing is a form of love. It’s learning to receive love freely given.

Although it was a beautiful wilderness journey, it was still the wilderness. It was hard and dirty and there were signs of infection still in my body and I relapsed a few times. But, God. When I would walk off the path, he waited patiently for me to come back. He didn’t leave without me or shame me. He welcomed me back with open arms. He didn’t run away when my illnesses reared their ugly heads. He called me by my name: Healed, Whole, Alive. Jesus gave me a space that was safe, whether I needed to worship or curse or laugh or cry out. He brought me into a place and restored my broken identity and my warped perceptions of him. In the quiet that tried to drown me, Jesus saved me.

How has God changed your life? How has he changed how you see yourself?
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