My mom has a particular story about me that she likes to tell:
As she was doing dishes in our kitchen, she looked out the window and saw me in the backyard trying to catch frogs and kiss them. While it’s rather cute to think of a porcelain-white toddler with black curls and thick baby thighs puckering for her frog prince, it initially struck me as kind of sad. This baby, so small and knowing so little of the real world, is already searching for someone to take her away, save her and make her feel safe.
But what happens when the prince stays a frog? What happens when the knight never shows? What happens when you realize that you are not a princess, your father is not a king, and no one truly wants you?
In between the month-long periods of silence from my father, came the outbursts of rage.
In between the month-long periods of silence from my father came the outbursts of rage. And during those cycles of anger and silence came the daily gas-lighting and mind games. He would ask me why I did something—perhaps I moved a pile of his laundry, maybe it was the way I closed a door. I would tell him. And inevitably the response came:
“No, that’s not why.”
“You want to embarrass me. You don’t care about me. You only listen when I’m yelling.”
“You are disrespectful. You are selfish. You don’t care about your siblings. You are ungrateful.”
“Why don’t you help your mom more? You think I’m going to let you out of the house with an attitude like that?”
It became the lullaby I sang myself to sleep with.
To gain distance from the environment in which so much damage had been done, I ran away to a school in the Midwest, which specialized in international religious work. I caught the fever and genuinely believed I was involved in doing God’s work. While serving overseas I met another expat, and our time together set in motion events that I had worked for years to avoid. Our overlap was brief, but our conversations were confrontational and peppered with phrases like,
“Why are you struggling?”
“No, you’re wrong. You don’t care. You need to help your team more. You don’t care about your students”
“You are here for the wrong reasons. You are disrespectful. You are lazy. You are selfish.”
“You think you’re the exception. You think you’ve earned this teaching certificate? With that attitude . . ?”
Every lie from the enemy—spoken from the mouth of my father—every abusive word, every misdirected punishment came flooding back from where I had buried them with escapism, food addictions, avoidance, and a misunderstood spirituality.
Twenty-three years of depression and existential nihilism I had ignored under the pretense that “doubt is the death of faith” caught me up and threw me down. I found myself with a useless degree, with even more trauma and disappointments than I had started with, questioning more than ever if God was real, if he cared, and if I weren’t more than just a little crazy. I was so depressed I could barely leave my bed.
I spent one rough summer back under my family roof. Then I left again. The identity I had made for myself—being needed by my family—was no longer enough to keep me there. I refused to return to church for a long time as well. The security I had sought in strengthening my faith through ministry was merely the power of positive thinking, wrapped with the white bow of western Christianity.
That was two years ago. It is still a daily battle for truth and reality against myself and the voices that have controlled me. If I continue to seek comfort and security from outside sources, or search for a fairy tale hero that might whisk me away, I will forever be spinning in circles—never satisfied.
But I can choose, instead, to hear his voice.
I can begin to untangle the lies I have believed about myself and God’s character. I can ask:
Does what this person said match scripture?
Does it align with what I know to be true?
I can choose to believe the truth of who the Father says I am. On the hardest days, I often reach out to other believers and simply say, “Tell me some truth.” I can rest in the reality of today and chose to claim Christ’s promises for the future, that he “will never leave me or forsake me.” And I can trust the completing work of the Spirit—to fashion my pain and imperfections into something beautiful.