You may remember a few months ago that I had a post titled Love to Banish Fear. In it, I talked about how when you love with the love of Christ, there is nothing that can stand against you. At the time, I just thought that meant that I didn’t need to be afraid of situations or people that scared me. I was right, but this is not the end. In the past few weeks, God has been showering me with love, to the point where I have been just overflowing with thoughts on His love (which explains all the posts lately!) I realized last night that I needed to write a part two to the wildly popular Love To Banish Fear post. So, without further ado, let’s talk about forgiveness and healing.
God has this great way of getting me to realize things. He hits me over the head with them. He’s really nice most of the time, usually triggering an old wound right around the time I’m going on retreat so that I have the time and closeness to Him needed to deal with it. I have told a few of you about the relationship between myself and my older sister. For many years, we had the most toxic relationship any two people could have. Since before I can remember, my sister has had an amazing gift to find every weak chink in my psyche and exploit it. For years, she would tell me on a daily basis that I was unloveable, and proceed to point out every tiny physical flaw (my nose was the “wrong” shape. My fingers were too chunky. My hair was a bad color. My eyes were dull. My legs were too short. My chin stuck out too much. My arms were too skinny. The stretch marks left over from my growth spurts meant that no guy would ever like me because I was ugly to look at. All the things that can cause horrific damage to the mind of a kid.) I learned later on it was because she was struggling with an eating disorder, and was taking out her own self-dislike on me. Instead of forgiving her and moving on, I did something that I will forever be ashamed of.
I had revenge. I pointed out her flaws, got under her skin, tried to make her feel all the hurt and pain I had felt. I thought that it would make me feel better, but guess what? I felt like crap. I chose to hold on to my anger and pain, bury it very deep, and hide it by acting crazy and slap-happy all the time. I caused major damage to my sister, and she caused major damage to me. I was left a shell, acting confident and proud, and feeling worthless and unloveable on the inside, utterly alone. The wounds in my soul were infected, even though I had forced a scab over them and pretended they didn’t exist, and they gnawed in my mind.
Opening the Wound.
It took years to begin breaking the seal. It was on retreat this past spring that I was listening to a talk about the Our Father, and the line jumped out at me: “…Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” All of a sudden, I heard that still, small Voice in the back of my mind.
“I forgave those who crucified me for what they did. Why can’t you forgive your sister for her wounds to you? Why can’t you ask her forgiveness for the wounds you gave her?”
The answer is that I was scared. I was proud. I had wrapped my entire identity around those wounds. I couldn’t help but hear all of her taunts every time I saw a mirror. I took out my own insecurities on other people, the same way my sister did with me. I was a poor friend, always focused on myself, insulting the people I called friends. I believed I was totally unloveable, and so shied away from close friendships, acting crazy and strange so that people wouldn’t want to be near me. I didn’t know any other way of life. I didn’t know who I would be if I moved on from the grudges.
But God hit me over the head with it for that entire weekend. I had a long talk with a priest, and he told me that the only way I could start to heal would be if I forgave and asked forgiveness. I was terrified but I went and did it. I begged my sister’s forgiveness a few days later. The seal had begun to crack.
Has anyone ever had an infected cut? The skin grows over it, but the area is still red and sore. How do you fix it?
Well, as you know, the wound needs to be cut open, drained, and cleaned (usually with some painful medicinal alcohol.) OWCH. It hurts like all get-out, but it needs to be done or the cut will only get worse. Now that I had learned that love can help with forgiveness, God wanted to heal me, but healing was going to hurt. A lot. At LEAD, we had a semi-adoration, without the Host, just talking to the Holy Spirit. We were each supposed to pray for a specific fruit of the Holy Spirit, and I chose love. (One day, I’ll explain why I’m so obsessed with God’s love. If y’all ask nicely, I might even get to it tomorrow!) So I prayed, not really expecting much, until David Crowder’s song How He Loves. And, as what usually happens when I hear that song, I start thinking about much God loves me. But, in that moment, I felt so lost and confused and worthless, that I asked, totally rhetorically, “God, how could you love me so much?”
And then, when I didn’t expect it in the slightest, came the Voice.
“This is how.”
And I felt like I was hit with a wave. I couldn’t see or hear anything going on around me. All I could see was images, images of everything about myself I hated. I saw my nose, the scars on my stomach, I saw every twisted, tortured joint, and with each image, the words pounded in my brain.
“I love you. I love everything about you. I made this for this very moment in time so that I could tell you how much I love you.”
I was on the floor, flat on my face, sobbing, because I could feel how much God loved me, but I knew I was only feeling the smallest corner. It was like standing in a puddle as you look at the ocean- you feel only the tiniest bit of the ocean, but you can just see how much bigger the ocean is. I was so overwhelmed by this love that all I could do was cry with how beautiful and painful it was. God was opening every infected cut and scrubbing it out with his love, and it hurt so much that I couldn’t stand it, but I still wanted more, more, infinitely more.
And then came one more image. My hands. My hands with the wrist bones in the wrong shape, with the nerves damage that causes them to shake uncontrollably, with the fingers that I had always thought were too short and the knuckles that were too bulky and the fingernails that were too childish and the constant pain from finger bones moving out of place. “How?” I asked God, “How can you love my hands? They’re so useless, so broken. They’ll never do great things.”
Guess what image I got next?
Those hands. Hands that were definitely broken, torn, in pain, and yet wrought the greatest wonders on earth. Hands that bore the weight of all the world, willingly, with a love so huge that the sacrifice seemed small compared to it. His hands were twisted too, his body torn, for MY SAKE. When faced with that, it was like a wrecking ball crashed through my mind. I knew I had a look of absolute shock on my face and I was staring at my hands and seeing His, and then I crumbled.
I curled into a ball on the carpet and cried like I have never cried before. Me, the person who had always believed herself unloveable, was being forced to see how much I really was loved. (As I’m writing this, I’m actually starting to cry, just remembering.) It was the most exquisitely painful thing I had ever felt, as every wall I had built crumbled, every insult I told myself washed away, and every doubt in God’s love was erased. I was being unmade, and I was desperate to be so.
As the week went by, I kept getting hit with these waves. In adoration, during a homily, during a talk, sitting with my small group, it’s like I was standing in a hurricane, being hit from all sides by God’s love. I cried more over that week then I ever have before. I probably freaked people out, because I was crying all the time, but I didn’t care, for once. I danced, I sang, I talked with people, I was overflowing!
And it’s still happening!
I am STILL in the hurricane. Last night, I was able to spend some time in front of the tabernacle, and just talk to God about what He’s been doing. Healing is a long and painful process, but God is with me for it. I’m still scared that I won’t know who to be, that my identity is so wrapped up in my insecurity and fear that I won’t be able to find the real Tani. But I realize that God is moulding me, forming me into someone strong and faithful, someone who can spread the message of His love throughout the world. I am tired of being the crazy person, tired of being afraid. God doesn’t love the walls, He loves the person behind them, and that’s the person I want to be.
My sister and I are much closer now, and we’ve both grown up and matured up to the point where we are actually good friends, and I rely on her advice for a lot of things. So you, the person who has read this far and is wondering, “can God love me that much, even though I’ve done XYZ? Can He love me despite my ‘flaws?’ ” (Note- They aren’t flaws. They are blessings given to you because God made you unique, and He loves you because of them, NOT despite them!) the answer if yes, He can. What you need to hear, right now, is that you are loved. But because you are loved, the people who hurt you are also loved. If you love God, you love His creations. It’s hard, it’s excruciating at times, but forgive! If you have been forgiven, then they are forgiven too! It is my dearest wish to see you all in heaven one day.
Love to all!