There is something about forcing your story to fit into black and white text on a page that feels like a sentencing. It feels like judgment. In conversation, I can blur the details and tilt things ever so slightly to a more positive portrayal of my heart. But I can't adjust how you view these words, or more accurately, how you view me. Shame perpetuates the lie that I need to hide the dark and tainted parts of my story. I've also struggled with sharing the parts of my story that I didn't choose, but are now my reality.
I grew up with two parents that loved God and sought to please Him in every aspect of their lives. We spent our vacations on retreats with close family friends discovering more about the ways of Jesus. Our Friday nights were typically spent gathered in someone's living room with a guitar (and possibly a tambourine...hey, it was the ‘80s) and sharing Scripture and stories with each other. Although I was young and didn't fully understand the why behind our gatherings, I knew that they were passionate about who they were pursuing. Their faith journey was forever etched in my heart.
I knew early on that I wanted to follow Jesus and, for me, that meant every aspect of my life was a pursuit of Him. I went to a Christian university and I graduated with aspirations of serving the most vulnerable and broken in my community. Fast-forward and I would find myself working at a church and married for 10 years to the man who won my heart.
IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS
Eight years ago this summer we left our jobs at the church and walked blindly into the unknown with our two (now three) little girls, open to anything God had for us. I searched websites about groups rescuing kids from the streets on the Thailand-Burma Border and just sobbed. We talked about moving to another country and moving to states where we had dear friends. I knew there was something and somewhere God was calling us. Life was too short and our faith wouldn't allow us to continue to live for ourselves. Although doors weren't opening and there was nothing to jump towards, we were ready to go anywhere and do anything. The one thing we had, was confidence and trust that God would direct our path.
We began our journey into the unknown filled with anticipation. What was God going to do? What dreams would He speak to our hearts? But what began in hope and faith soon turned to fear and doubt. Months slowly slipped into a year, which slipped into 7 years. Where was God? We believed in His promise for our family and now only silence, anger, hurt, and unbelief remained. We acted in obedience believing that He had us. We believed in His promises for us... that if we followed, it would lead us to Jesus, draw us closer to each other and build up those around us. Instead, we found ourselves hopelessly lost, and somewhat marred from the long journey.
I watched as my husband became more hopeless with each passing year. Although we were best friends, I felt him slip away. He was unhappy and angry regardless of circumstances or how hard I tried to convince him that life was good. We no longer collaborated on anything and instead of conversation, our communication was filled with tension, void of any hope for the future. He had given up. We were in a desert with death all around, no water or life in sight, and he sat down. He refused to keep going and I was left carrying everyone.
What I didn't know was that he had secretly turned to alcohol to medicate his pain. He had even wished for death. But I couldn't carry him any longer. I was tired.
Are you kidding me? Is this how it ends? In tragedy? I was looking at my family...a family that so desperately wanted more of Jesus, now barely resembling a shell of what once was.
The miracles of the Bible often occurred when the people were desperate. Desperation is unbridled hope for something when there is no other option outside of God. God seems to move where there is desperation–when we are at the end of ourselves. I was desperate and no one, nothing else, nowhere else, could heal or fix the problem outside of God. This is when my story began to shift.
"O god, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water." - PSALM 63:1
While in bed one night I heard my husband talking. I assumed he was talking in his sleep, but when I looked over I saw streams of tears flowing down his checks. His hand was moving over his heart and I heard him say, "God, please heal my heart." I thought, Oh, God! If you won't answer my prayers, you can't ignore that prayer! I know you are a good God.
No miracle followed, and after another several months, I finally hit bottom. I've never experienced this place before–a complete numbness followed. There were no tears to soften the hardened places in my heart. Completely abandoned and disillusioned, I doubted God's promises...or at least I doubted if they were true for me. At that moment, I let go. I quit. I didn't want it anymore. It simply wasn't true.
Like most people, my journey includes broken dreams and tragedy. Not that I was a stranger to grief, but now I intimately knew the weight of loss. When I was 21, I lost my best friend, my mom, in a car accident. My world as a college student was tipped upside-down. I was an instant caretaker to two siblings and my grieving father. There was an instant hole in my soul, yet that place didn't hold a candle to the place of hopelessness I now found myself. Death didn't even compare to the abandonment and darkness I felt at this moment. I was completely disconnected and removed from all emotion. My heart felt severed. I was at the end of myself.
The wilderness seems like it is absent and void of God. My dark place felt like God turned His back on me. My soul doubted that He was a loving God. And for a moment, I let go and cursed God. I'm not sure what that says about me, but I felt lost, as if I was spinning through the universe with nothing to ground my broken heart. It was in that place–a place of faithlessness–when God answered my prayers.
GOD STOOD UP
That night, the night I let go, was the night His light illuminated my darkness. He stood up and answered our prayers. Something miraculous took place and something shifted for my husband. For the first time in 7 years, he was honest with me about his struggle with anxiety, depression and alcohol–a struggle that he felt was his alone to carry and too shameful to expose. Something shifted in me too. This was the night my family walked out of the desert, all of us.
We had been like clay on a potter's wheel and we were flattened, no longer the vessel we once were. But little did I know, The Potter knew what He was doing all along. I had been fighting and resisting the entire time He was pressing down on what was now reduced to a shapeless lump of clay. I didn't want to be broken! My marriage was unraveling and I had been rejected and discarded by God. He couldn't possibly use this broken vessel now. I'm useless. Why would He want to bring shame to me in this way? But then, He slowly began lifting the walls of clay. That night I realized He had been crafting our story all along.
PERHAPS I MISSED THE PLOT FOR MY STORY
Maybe my identity has more to do with brokenness and weakness than anything else. My value is rooted in the center of Christ–the only source of real good.
I was beautifully broken. It was in the dark places of my story that I still found growth, maybe even deeper growth. This last year has been a journey of changing my perspective of the dark places in my life. It never was about my goodness or strength. Even in the darkest moment, the light was there all along…drawing me deeper into love and grace. What I labeled undesirable, weakness, failure, helplessness, and unworthiness was perhaps some of the most beautiful and faith-filled places of my life...our lives.
I had expected to hear from God in the temple or on the mountaintop, not in the wilderness.
THE DESERT ISN'T A PLACE OF SCORN AND SHAME
He had been trustworthy of my pursuit. He was faithful and pursued me even when I was faithless. And I'm reminded that it is my joy that Jesus become greater and I become less. My reality and identity begins with 'I am not,' because He is.
The light overcame the darkness in my life. His light didn't simply spotlight and expose my brokenness, like I had feared. Instead, His light illuminated and redeemed my story. My new reality is understanding that my story is most radiant because of who He is in me. The very places I had despised turned out to be the path of grace and redemption in my life. Who am I to call that place unholy?
"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." - JOHN 1:5
Where in your life might God be shining a light not to judge you, but to illuminate His glory in you? Where might the dark and lonely places in your life actually be a place of beautiful brokenness and growth? How is the truth about your identity in Christ possibly shifting your perspective?
Oklahoma City, OK
Hillary is a dreamer through and through. As the co-founder of Beads of Good, a licensed professional counselor, an author, and an activist for humanity, she believes in the world-changing power of action and connection. Married and a mother to three beautiful girls, she partners with her daughters in advocating for young women in Africa. Hillary loves hanging out with girlfriends over coffee and being reminded of our unique unified strength as women.