Lonely and left out, I mournfully slumped on the tarmac outside the elementary school, pining for a place to belong. I watched sadly as other students played. The children romped, chased in a tag game, swung on the monkey bars and zipped on the slide. Their boisterous voices lifted high to the blue sky in rural Nebraska, but shunned me, an awkward and socially-inept little girl.
As a child, my role was to be seen and not heard. Never rock the boat, never speak my mind, never express my opinion, for fear I would get reprimanded. Expected to be perfect, I performed robotically, maintaining the façade of excellence. The youngest of five from a highly-academic family, I towed the line, always scored high on academic tests, obeyed to the point of pain, shuddered when asked to speak in public. Anxiety wrecked my mind; depression plagued my soul. Yet even in the darkest pit of despair, a Heavenly Father heard my cries of desperation. My voice mattered to Him, though at the time I perceived Him as a judge: a condemning, fist-hammering, angry being who would strike me down if I failed.
I was devastated when childhood friends rejected me and teased me about my crooked yellow teeth. I escaped to my room and trembled as angry voices screamed in my head and outside the door. Creating characters in my imagination and playing with my stuffed animals provided a momentary respite, but rarely soothed my spirit long-term. I never rested peacefully at night. If lightning zapped the atmosphere, or thunder rocked the house, or tornado sirens wailed, I cowered under the covers and tightly clutched a teddy bear. Monsters roared at night and taunted fitful dreams. When fire-prevention movies flicked the screen, the flames singed my soul. Terrified that fire would erupt in our house, I fanatically examined every lamp, electrical socket and light switch, to ensure safety. At the doctor, I felt shame, my face flaming with embarrassment, as he examined my frail body, plagued with strep infections, mononucleosis, and stress. Though every Sunday I heard messages of Moses and God rescuing the Israelites and other Bible characters, and a Savior Jesus who died on the cross and rose again, I never believed it was for me.
I pressed forward, studying, performing for approval, acing all my classes. On the side, I diligently practiced violin, making it into the All-State Orchestra. I also played in the high school marching band, rising to drum major my senior year. Achieving a rank of third in my high school class, I applied and was accepted to study journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago. While attending there, five hundred miles away from Nebraska, I plummeted. I struggled academically, getting low Cs in some classes. When my violin string broke, I failed an audition for a lower level orchestra. My moral foundation collapsed, leaving me empty and disillusioned. Feeling unloved, devastated, and unable to achieve perfection, I began to crumble emotionally. Voices, screaming ‘worthless’ and ‘destruction’ and ‘death’, wailed incessantly like tornado sirens piercing the night. Stripped of every semblance of identity, the summer of my freshmen year I contemplated suicide.
While I was on break from Northwestern that summer, an older student at the college where my father taught and his wife unexpectedly appeared at my doorstep in Nebraska. Though not having a phone, he felt an urgency to rush to my house, and asked what was wrong. Unleashed, I vented an inferno of feelings: hurt, sorrow and pain, ugly, vicious and mean. Listening attentively, my friend nodded, acknowledging all the pain. Then, quietly, he suggested that I should re-examine the Ten Commandments, which had been engrained in my all childhood, and confess my sins to God. He and his wife left. At first enraged and incensed, I stomped around my house, shaking my fist at this God who seemed distant and uncaring. Then, I collapsed on the carpet, sobs wracked my nineteen-year-old body, and I curled in a tight ball.
The next day was Sunday. I reluctantly attended church. My parents were out of town. Sitting next to my friends who had visited my house the previous day, I fidgeted through the sermon, as a cacophony of reckless voices still thrummed in my head. As a pastoral assistant prepared communion and recited the Scriptures illustrating the meaning, my lanky friend leaned over to me and asked simply, “Do you know what the word Hosanna means?” Bristling, I snapped. “No.” The term was familiar, but not personal. Hosanna was what the people shouted when Jesus rode on a humble donkey into Jerusalem two thousand years ago, before He was crucified. My friend whispered, “Hosanna means God save us.” The words hammered into my soul like a nail gun. Trembling, I staggered to the communion altar, shattered in my spirit. The voice of truth pierced my inner being: my sins of bitterness, anger and unforgiving heart, my iniquities had nailed Jesus to the cross. Weeping, I knelt on the stiff pad. Partaking communion that day, I ate the wafers, broken like Jesus’ body. I sipped the wine, representing the blood of Jesus. His blood shed for me, on a cruel cross long ago. Yet in that moment, Jesus embraced me in my pain. Instead of condemnation, His eyes radiated love and compassion. His voice tenderly spoke of forgiveness and grace. Rescued from the pit, I arose from the communion table, lifted in my spirit.
Though lifted, I still struggled as anxieties and stress of college, fear of new situations, and disconnect in relationships dominated my brain. Performance-based identity still plagued me. In my junior year of college, I was assigned to intern at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Arizona to fulfill requirements for the journalism program. Still socially inept and extremely introverted, I choked out my questions as a cub reporter, hastily typed my stories, and sped home to apartment living. In the evenings, I participated in a Bible Study at the University of Arizona campus. My leader, a woman connected with Campus Crusade for Christ, challenged me to study the book “Search for Significance” by Robert S. McGee. The book identifies lies, or thought patterns that plague our souls, which can spread like invasive disease, and result in depression: that my worth was based on performance, and if I failed, I was a complete failure, unlovable, and worthless.
Yet God’s Word penned a different perspective: that He loved truly loved me. My worth was not based on my GPA, or audition results, or successes or failures. Because of Jesus, and his death and resurrection, I could come close to God. He accepted me, loved me, and forgave me. I am created in His image (Gen. 1:27), and I am wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). In a three-month time, God transformed me with the power of His word, truly rescuing me from the pit of darkness and bringing His marvelous light. I began to reach out to students on the U of A campus, connecting and laughing with them. At the end of my time there, my friends hosted a going away party. More than thirty people showed up! For the first time, I believed the voices, which said ‘valued’ and ‘treasured’. I returned to Northwestern, and in the craziest of overloaded classes and tomes of reading, I aced all my classes. The following summer, I connected with a man, whom I met on a missions project. He spent a lot time listening, taking time to hear my voice. After dating long distance for four years, we later married and raised five beautiful children. Through his unconditional love I learned to embrace my heavenly Father as good and kind.
Since that time, I still have struggled with depression, especially when I battled breast cancer in my mid-forties. And for a while, the voices of darkness screamed and again threatened to crush me. In that place of despair, Jesus revealed soul cancer within me, and ugly pits of unforgiveness. And then, as I repented, He again lifted me up and restored the broken places, giving me hope and new life. What was true as a child, is not the truth of who God created me to be. Though the process has spanned decades, I now perceive God as loving and kind, and am taking steps to walk in wholeness. I rarely delve into the dark side anymore. I forgive and release the abandonment of the past, believe I am a child of the King, rest in His promises. Transformed by the Light of His presence and power of His words, I gravitate to His voice that speaks life. I am a new creation in Christ, and am wonderfully made. My voice matters, and I matter to God. Uncurled from a cocoon of shyness like a butterfly on the wing, I can declare words of encouragement and minister to strangers. And the little girl in me who was so terrified of storms and scared of the dark? Now, I play on His playground, joyfully romping and skipping in the wildflowers of His grace. I proclaim Almighty God, who calms the stormy seas, and Jesus, who loves unconditionally and came to set the captives free.