I just clicked off on the cordless phone, thoughts churning. My friend is an abuse survivor, no longer a victim, a woman of great integrity and strength. One of my heroes. I’m reminded of her journey forward, of how her abuser kept her in a stranglehold of condemnation and low self-esteem for far too long. How even survivors, victors who’ve long overcome have to keep fighting to maintain their freedom, especially when people who don’t understand knock them down again.
On the radio yesterday a woman called a talk show for advice. Her “husband” was clearly destroying her emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, but still she argued that she “should” stay to do the “right” thing.
If you know me well, you know I am not easily angered. But this. This makes me want to fight hard against the lies, against the boxes, for FREEDOM!
This morning’s phone call from my victorious friend who’d once again endured a senseless assault by a clueless do-gooder left me reeling, as did that lady on the talk show.
I reached for Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts Devotional in an attempt to right the churning inside of me. Ann reminded me that giving thanks is declaring my trust in God and that without the ability to trust God there is no joy.
For years I begged God for joy. Instead His offering was to allow seven years of grueling circumstances far beyond my control. I’m beginning to understand Ann’s words, that giving thanks is about joy and about trust and about choosing. It is curling up with the Bread that nourishes my soul.
So I today I wrote little notes of gratitude instead of dwelling on all that angers me. And what came out surprised me.
I thank Him for: freedom air gulped and eventually breathed in natural rhythm.
When I first stepped out of my own crap, of walls self-imposed and imposed by others, of boxes of perfectionism and guilt and performance, I couldn’t breathe freedom every day, every minute, like life. I grasped for it. Looked for it. Begged for it. Gorged on it when I found it.
I found it in grace.
I gulped grace. Sucking it in for survival. Guzzling it. Only pure grace, the truth of it, fed me. The gulps pounded into my malnourished system, setting it free, a little at a time.
I sucked in the grace air as I could understand it, when I could appropriate it.
God’s complete unconditional love and acceptance. The favor He offered even though I didn’t deserve it.
Wiki says it this way: . . grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it”, “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”. It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved” – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.
For years I lived without freedom. I didn’t know it. But I was controlled by the self-condescension of one who could never live up to her own ideals and of one who tried so hard to please others that I lived in a straight-jacket of effort and failure.
I didn’t understand grace saturated the very air I breathed. That I didn’t have to chase after it or fight for it, grabbing and suffocating.
I didn’t get that always, always, always my Creator surrounds me with loving acceptance, cheering me on in my victories, helping me to my feet in my failures, never condemning, only offering Himself and His grace, longing to love me and remake me into one who could love Him, myself, and others.
I had heard about God’s love, about grace, all my life, but I didn’t appropriate it to myself–thus the gulping when I happened upon grace. The gorging on it when I began to understand.
But over time–years, not weeks–I began to feel less desperate. My soul began to know grace would never run out, never be beyond my reach, never disappear.
And I began to breathe normally. Rhythmically.
Once in a while something happens. My throat constricts once again, and I struggle. I am hurt or I hurt others. My imperfections are glaring. And my breathing gets erratic as I take huge, gulping, heaving breaths.
Grace. My lifeline.
As I inhale I stabilize. My breathing becomes natural. Saturated with freedom.
As I type right now I finally understand how all of this comes together. Why in my need to reach for hope, for peace, I seek to offer thanks, to trust God, to hold onto joy. Why in the midst of this churning I wrote those words: freedom air gulped and eventually breathed in natural rhythm.
It’s because of the process of freedom. It’s because when my friend first fought out of an abusive situation she, like me, had to gulp grace bubbles. She couldn’t yet understand the air was saturated, and grace was always there, free.
It’s like my friend and I spent years under putrid water, pressed down by the voices that said we would never be good enough to deserve such freedom as normal breaths. But eventually we had to breathe, to lift our heads out of the water before we drowned. At first we could only raise our head on occasion, could only allow ourselves stolen gulps because we thought we deserved no more. Didn’t even deserve those gulps, really, just needed them so much we had to take them.
Over time we began to understand that the air was ours, given freely by a loving God, and that we didn’t have to earn it with good behavior. We bobbed for a while at the surface where the air was tainted by the smell of stinking water. But it was better. At least we were breathing more often, even with the times we were pulled back under. Then came the day we slowly swam toward shore. Swimmers still get their face wet, but they also have air. And they are moving forward
It was a while before we climbed out, touched the shore, realized how good and pure the air could be and that we were given the right to breathe it.
And sometimes, on bad days, we still forget. That cesspool of unworthiness and condemnation is always there, waiting for us to climb back in.
But we’re getting better, my friend and me. We’re choosing to stay away from the stinky water.
We’ve gulped freedom and are learning to breathe it in natural rhythm.
Breathing with you today, my friend.
Until next time,