I would have lost my virginity on the cold tile of a bathroom floor a few days after my 16th birthday except I was so tense with fear that the 26 year old man hovering over me couldn’t take it without tearing me apart. He had at least a moment’s worth of good judgement that night, which is more than I can say for myself, and stopped. To be honest I’m not sure when I lost it, there were so many attempts and near misses that by the time it happened I was too numb to notice.
Insecurity ruled my life even as a child. I was a loud-mouthed and capable Girl Scout, a strong swimmer who made all A’s. I could start a fire with one match and change a tire, yet shame was my plague. As a family we were always looking to get ahead which left me feeling a step behind. I was a constant outsider, convinced that there was some big secret everyone was in on except me.
When puberty hit and my body changed all on its own into something that got attention I was thrilled even if I was only noticed by middle school boys and creepers on the street. I relished my new ability to turn heads with no concern for the expectations that my Daisy Dukes and Spandex were stirring. It didn’t take long before my attention craved self ended up in dark basements and storage closets with guys who took my flirtations far more seriously than I intended.
And then my parents announced their divorce the Sunday after Junior prom. I was still groggy from the night out when my mom woke me to break the news. Suddenly life was a whirlwind and all that had meant stability was turning to dust and blowing away.
. . .
Yet in the midst of family chaos and my own increasingly self destructive choices I miraculously began connecting with a new group of friends. They were the very girls I used to make fun of, the ones I called “Bible Beaters” while I gossiped about how they threw snakes and did cartwheels in their church aisles. If they wouldn’t have been quite so sweet and I quite so lonely I would have never gone for it, but they were that sweet and I was that lonely. I found myself living two lives, one of sneaking out and drinking cheap beer and the other of Youth Group and mission trips. I began to read my Bible but mainly just to check and see if the youth pastor’s claims were actually in there. I still look back at those pink highlighter marks I made my first time through the gospel of St. Luke. It said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
And then something happened. I was in my room alone the Thursday afternoon before Orthodox Easter of my senior year, not doing anything particular, or maybe getting ready to go to the church service that night with my Yiayia, when God showed up. I didn’t see or hear anything, yet something was there, something I wasn’t looking for (at least so I thought) and wasn’t expecting. Suddenly I was being smothered by Peace and I never wanted it to stop. And at the same time I was standing on the edge of a cliff and The Peace was telling me to jump. I knew that to jump meant to die and give myself to God and yet to not jump was to die too, to suffocate in my own failure. There was a choice and yet there was no choice, I had to jump. In that afternoon everything changed.
On that day a change began in me. In addition to giving out Bibles as birthday presents and plastering my walls with Christian paraphernalia I became less angry and more hopeful. And yet my conversion was by no means a cure to pain. I had a new confidence that God had a plan for me and I had intimate and stable friendships. But I soon headed off to college and fell into old patterns of unhealthy relationships which I balanced out with self hate and bouts of anorexia. After college I moved back home to be closer to my family but got antsy. I booked myself a flight to Europe, alone for 4 months. I didn’t know it then but I was putting God to the test, running away and wondering if He would follow.
After Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower I fell into the backpacking culture and soon began throwing myself at any male who gave me a second glance. I drank wine by the bottle, passed around hash and shacked up with a strangers for a free place to stay and a little taste of adventure.
I came home from that trip ruined, (though its only been since becoming a mother myself that I’ve reflected on how much danger I really had put myself in) and it was right where I needed to be. I walked into the same living room with my old friends and the Bible study that they were still doing. I was done. I had tried and failed. I couldn’t live by my own standards, maybe others could, but not me. I needed my friends and I needed God and they both met with arms open.
. . .
Right now we are reading The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group and reflecting on the role of suffering in our lives which motivated me to share this story. Sometimes I feel ridiculous carrying on about my pain, after all most of my distress has resulted from my own poor choices. Nothing really “bad” has ever happened to me in my entire life. What do I have to say to the Syrian refugee or the cancer patient?
But now I’m a doctor and I know that whether we shoot off our own foot or are hit in a drive by, the pain from our wound is there to tell us that there is something wrong, it compels us to seek help. I’ve learned that we can either live our lives doped up on the morphine of our own ambitions or we can look for pain’s source. I’m convinced that all pain is a longing for wholeness, for health, for intimacy with our Creator.
The image that Christians have chosen to represent our faith is the cross, a device of torture, a tool that was used to kill our Savior. Pain that leads unto death is an inseparable part of the Christian story. And yet it is the very place where we find life.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now we are reading The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. We would love for you to join us.
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