For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to someday be married and have children. This strong desire led me to ask for healing in my broken back, seeing that I was not capable of childbearing. Jesus generously responded with a miracle in May of 2013. He removed an obstacle to marriage and family life, and I cannot express the magnitude of joy and freedom I have experienced as a result.
Perhaps less expressible (mostly by choice) is the fear that followed. With the new clarity that came with my freedom, I was hit with a dose of reality that I might someday be marrying a man, and that terrified me. Repressed memories with varying levels of trauma played over and over in my mind. A stranger in the hotel lobby holding out handcuffs and telling me he could use them with me, a man I hardly knew pushing me down onto a bed and lying on top of me, a friend who did not stop when I told him “no,” and so on. My heart was flooded with fear, distrust, and guilt.
I took it to prayer, I opened up to a dear friend, I went to confession, I talked with a spiritual director, and I made a long list of the men I needed to forgive. I entered the beginnings of a long process of healing that would be further complicated by ongoing assaults. Trust seemed impossible.
Almost as soon as I made the very long list of men who had hurt me, the Lord asked me to think of the men who had honored me, and then He challenged me to affirm them. It was a much smaller and more difficult list for me to make, and my affirmation attempts were incredibly awkward. I walked up to one of the guys, said, “Thank you,” and walked away—Jesus sent me back to him later to give further clarification, but I do not recall if it was much better. I obviously did not think of nor thank all those who had shown me respect, but the experience did make me more attentive, and I have since been striving to be more intentional in affirming the men God has placed in my life (as I have felt prompted).
It was important for me to learn that men are not the enemy—that they are not evil, but good. They are attacked, as we all are attacked. Any fear or hate I experienced only continued the cycle of unloving acts, whereas mercy and gratitude reflected love beyond my power. I had to learn to receive. I had to learn to trust. I had to start small. A lot of my imaginative prayer in those early days ended up with me in a large crowd of men, terrified, and Jesus would take my hand and lead me to sit in a boat with Him. With time, others were allowed in the boat, and eventually, I went back to the shore.
Jesus promised me His protection, and I trusted Him, but it was difficult (initially impossible) for me to accept that He intended to protect me through men, especially as I continued to be wounded by them. It has also been difficult to accept that I even have a dignity worth protecting. The process has been messy, but it has been beautiful to witness the ongoing transformations of my heart.
As you may be aware, I recently moved to Wisconsin—but then left six months later for North Dakota. What you likely do not know is my reason for leaving. I would not say my experiences of harassment were worse than in the past, but they made up a majority of my encounters—and I felt more of a target being most often by myself. It was apparent I was being followed for short distances, and the apartment where I lived alone was easy to watch me get to. When I found myself sobbing and sprinting down the sidewalk after a Sunday Mass, I knew I had a problem—but I thought I was just being paranoid.
A month or so later, an attempted break-in in the middle of the night caused me to seriously evaluate my circumstances. What was I waiting for? What was going to cross the line of “bad enough” to make me think I should get out? Unsure of what to do, I accepted my brother’s invitation to stay with his family in Bismarck while I figured things out in a safe environment. This might seem like an obvious choice considering the situation, but it was a huge step for me to accept that I was worthy of being protected. (Long story short, I decided to stay in Bismarck, and I have been blessed far more than I could have imagined.)
Due to a very good encounter I had during my time in Wisconsin, this past July I spent two weeks on mission with FOCUS in Mexico City. Knowing my personal history of harassments and the reputation of the city, I was a bit nervous—and so were many of my loved ones who were also aware. “Why are YOU going to Mexico City? ... Please be careful ... I will pray for you.” Praise God for their prayers (and THANK YOU if you were one of those people)!
I knew that Our Lady of Guadalupe has been trying to show me something—my desire to see it is largely why I followed her to Wisconsin and then to Mexico City. I thought it had something to do with art and gifts—but I believe now that it was always about dignity, that the art and gifts are only fruits of knowing who I am. She has led me, not just to see and share God, but to see a glimpse of how God sees me. I was shown this through the love and protection of the people with whom I was serving. I had never felt freer and more protected. My dignity was not an abstract thought, but a lived experience.
The Mexico City mission led me to acknowledge various forms of abuse I have experienced in my life, but it also took me back to the innocence and freedom of my early childhood. I returned to the States transformed—open to being loved where I previously struggled to receive—not just with men, but in other aspects as well. My life had not been deprived of people who loved me before Mexico City, but my trust was very wounded. I knew for years this was a problem, but no one could make me trust—not even myself. I could only surrender, and it was a long process for me to let go of the fears and lies that prohibited me—and I know I am still very much immersed in the healing process (#).
I felt prompted to share this portion of my journey, not because I want anyone to know any of these struggles in my life, but because there is a lot of hurt and distrust arising within the Church right now—whether through knowing of the scandal or by personally having an experience of the abuse. Terrible things have happened that cannot be excused. In the midst of this suffering, I urge you to remember what you know to be Good, however small that list may be. Start there. Learn to trust again, and you will know Love.
|Photo Credit: Sophia Chumich|