Last night I was feeling discouraged. Satan can take the greatest successes, the most triumphant moments, the hardest fought victories, and somehow reframe them in my mind as failures. It is his superpower and my kryptonite.
So last night I prayed for a while to help me feel a sense of meaning, purpose and direction. Several women I love have shared their stories with me. I had the fantastic opportunity last week to introduce two of three of them to one another and watched them build trust, share their stories, and experience the immense relief that comes from acceptance, sisterhood, and love. As we sat at the Costa Vida, the sun slowly sunk from view, and the employees began stacking the chairs on top of the tables. Still we talked and shared, laughed and hugged, and made plans for our next get together. It’s hard to describe the joy and sisterhood that I felt that night. When we share these kinds of burdens in a safe environment, we realize that we aren’t alone, that there is purpose and meaning to our suffering, and that when we let go of the fear of judgement and rejection that drives us to hide our pain, we can get the sweet reward of support and genuine friendship.
I want everyone to have that! I want every friend that I know and love who suffers with burdens and is afraid to share them to feel the way we felt at Costa Vida. I want that for them and I want it NOW. Unfortunately, nothing about emotions can be rushed. Everyone shares when they are ready to share. It takes such tremendous courage! There is often a vulnerability hangover where we question the crazy decision to share our worst experiences. I’ve spent weeks afraid to get out of bed after a vulnerable post for fear that I would awake to a world of judgmental stares and cold shoulders.
As a listener, there can be an empathy drain where you feel overwhelmed by the suffering of others and the realization that evil and terrible things really do happen to good people. The world can be a horrible place where victims are blamed and shamed and their abusers are enabled and rewarded. Listening to victims shatters the illusion of safety and security. The vain hope that if you are a “good person” that you will somehow avoid being a victim is gone forever. The illusion that you can’t be hurt by church leaders or members or trusted friends or law enforcement officers is comforting, but untrue in a fallen world. Injustice, re-victimization, humiliation, and victim shaming are everyday occurrences in this fallen world, this planet of sorrows, this place where Satan’s chains circle the globe.
Still, as I witnessed in Costa Vida, victims can become survivors. Through the grace of Christ, and the charity that flows from Him, we can have the strength to rise above Satan. We can have the courage to share, even if it is only with ourselves at first, maybe in a journal. Later, a trusted friend. Gradually the circle of trusted friends can grow and eventually the fear is gone; replaced by a burning desire to advocate for others.
Last night I struggled to go to sleep, as I always do. I read ahead in my Come Follow Me gospel study to the book of Acts. Sometimes when I read the scriptures, the words come alive on the page for me. I have read Acts before. I even studied it in college, but last night it was like I was reading it for the first time. Peter, dear sweet, sensitive, impetuous Peter! I cannot fathom the pain and despair he must have experienced from the loss of his mentor, friend, and Savior. The suffering he must have gone through for those days when he was separated from his God must have been excruciating. When he saw Him again on the shore, he leapt from the boat and swam to meet him. Imagine the joy as the two embraced! Imagine the salty tears! In those precious days when Peter and Jesus were reunited, Peter’s soul was restored. Then he was given the Holy Ghost to strengthen him. Even though the Savior left, the Holy Ghost would always be with Peter, just as the Savior had been.
As he walked up the temple steps, I imagine his shame as he replayed the emotions of doubt and terror as he denied knowing the Savior. Here he was at the same place, and yet he pushed those emotions aside. He saw a disfigured man sitting begging outside the temple and he knew what to do. He walked up to him and in the name of his precious Master, he commanded him to rise and walk. The man entered the temple courtyard with Peter. He didn’t walk in, he danced! Imagine the spectacle they made! Then Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus Christ just days before, testified boldly of Him. The people rejoiced! Their Messiah was gone, but here was this man who channeled His spirit, healed in His name, and spoke with His conviction. For the people, it was as though Peter was the resurrected Christ, and in a way, he was. He was the leader of the Christian church; he would preach His doctrine with courage and confidence. All the forces of Hell had combined to destroy Jesus Christ and his message, and yet, in the fires of their hatred, Peter was forged. He was a mighty weapon of God!! Nothing could stop him. He was arrested, imprisoned, flogged, and eventually crucified, and yet his testimony has echoed in the hearts and minds of countless generations; lighting the fires of our own testimonies and showing us the path of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
I relate with Peter. I’m impetuous, sensitive, and self-loathing at times. I’ve had doubts and fears. I’m the type of person who would cut off the ear of the servant in a misguided attempt to defend someone I love. Peter’s weaknesses are my weaknesses, his strengths my strengths. I need my Savior like he needed Him; in the waves as he tried to walk on the water; in the grief after Golgotha; in his ignorance and inexperience. He was not Jesus Christ. He was His instrument. His love for his Master fueled his testimony and with it, he changed the world. What if Christ has chosen me, just as he chose that humble fisherman in Galilee? What if through my words, I can bring souls to the Savior to be healed like Peter did?
There is a message He wants me to share with you. It is a message of hope and healing in a fallen world. HE IS THE HEALING PATH! It isn’t found in a counselor’s office or a baptismal font or a Priesthood blessing, or a bottle of medication; although He may lead you to any of those places and to any of those things. Just as Jesus Christ put mud on the eyes of the blind, he can use the things of this Earth to heal. Just as Jesus Christ’s apostles healed in his name, he can use his servants to heal. Maybe in a counselor’s office, maybe in a Bishop’s office, maybe from a bottle of pills; all of these things have been part of my healing path. Still, I have to remember that it isn’t those things that heal me. It is HIM. He is the author of my recovery.
A friend and I came to an understanding last week. She said, “I just want to make something clear……I don’t believe that.” I had just said something about God bringing us together. She continued, “As long as you are okay with that, I am okay that you believe differently.” At first I was a little surprised. Then as I thought about it, it made perfect sense. When a person has suffered and watched the people they love suffer, been manipulated and mistreated by those who call themselves Christians and even hold positions in the church; how can you believe in a loving God who would allow that to happen? Unbelief is the most natural and expected place for the brain to go. If you are in that place, I respect that. You don’t need to believe in Jesus Christ for him to bless you, guide you, and help you. His love is so great and so unstoppable that it cuts through your unbelief just like the sun cuts through the branches of a dense tree canopy. His light will find you. You can even put an umbrella over your head, but His love will bounce off the ground, walls, and windows to find you. I have faith that He is enough for both of us!
As I celebrate the resurrection of my Lord this week, I’ve been listening to the song, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” by Rob Gardner. This song captures for me, the spiritual ecstasy of the resurrection. He lives! He loves us! He has conquered this world and the evil in it. Through his Grace, I can do all things. Nothing is impossible to Him who is Mighty to Save!