When I was 5, my family moved to Kentucky. It’s a beautiful place with plenty of churches in every city. I remember running around the bluegrass through creek and forest with the other kids in our church (barefoot) and going to church. After living in the farmlands of Kentucky, we had to move for my Dad’s new job in the city of Danville. It was kind of a shock to stay in the house more since it was the city, but for the first couple years it was fine.
My mom says that I was such a happy baby, but during that time, I changed. My behavior was suddenly more wild, more angry. In the city, I was frustrated by the amount of rules even if they were in place to keep me safe from harm. One day, I rebelled against those rules and experienced what most would call a “traumatic event.”
My friend and I were playing in the creek beside his house after having snuck away from the safety of our neighborhood, when a man walked up to us and began to tell us things. After the interaction was over, I ran home feeling different. I didn’t know to tell my parents, or even that what I experienced wasn’t normal for kids my age, but I knew it was very strange. From that moment on, I felt isolated from the other people in my life. They didn’t talk about the things I had learned and eventually these things were labeled as “sinful” or “inappropriate.” So I buried them in my emotional backyard so that no one would know I was sinful. There was no separation from the knowledge and my identity so I also wore the labels that were on them.
High school and college times in my life were full of depression and an ache for a new identity. I was so tired of feeling anxious, I was so tired of feeling misunderstood. I made a special effort to learn how to communicate so much so that I could help others communicate what their emotions were. It felt like I was helping them, but really I was trying to be their savior. I thought that just by getting them to admit their emotional hurt, I was helping. While being a safe space for someone to air their hurts can be healthy, how can we remove the speck in our brother’s eye when we have a log in our own (Matthew 7:3-5)? Meaning: how can I try to help someone through their emotional pain when I can’t even deal with my own?
At the age of 21, I was hit with the memory of my childhood trauma. Like, struck. I stood in my bedroom just folding laundry and suddenly I remembered being in the creek, playing with my friend, being afraid: everything. It was something that I had tried to forget by pushing the memory down, somewhere I would hopefully never see again.
Yet the pain of the memory still followed me into the moments when I was alone where I was confronted by my pain. That moment in my bedroom, I had a flashback. I know, right? “Flashbacks are real?” Yeah, and they can be really jarring if it’s a really emotional memory (and you’re just trying to get your laundry done (because you sure don’t want to do that paper (which is due in 30 minutes)).
I wish I could say that it had a great song to carry me through the moment, like in the movies, but the truth is I was stuck with the memory and hurt. I didn’t know how to process the memory until months later. During that time after, I spent a lot of time thinking about who God really was. I often said, “God, what can I do? I’m so stuck! Set me free!”
Psalm 18:6 really struck me: But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.
The psalmist was heard from where he was in the midst of turmoil. In distress.
God really hears our cry, even if it doesn’t seem like anything changes. I recently got to sift through my trauma and, after years of depression, I can say that I’ve been set free from the burdens that tried to crush me. It took a lot of processing with friends who have a deep relationship with the Lord. It truly is a blessing to have a group of friends who remind me that Jesus was there in my traumatic moments. In my fearful moments, and even in the crying out moments. He has brought me into a lot of happy moments because we have mourned together what happened to me but also rejoiced over where I am now.
Growing up in the church, I always heard of people with troubled childhoods or traumatic experiences who were brought into love and life. I felt so dead when they explained how loving God is and how freeing the Holy Spirit is. I was constantly stuck falling into perfectionism or rebellion, which are rather drastic swings of living. I thought it just wasn’t enough to be a Christian because I was still depressed. I was still isolated. What changed? I admitted to the Lord that I couldn’t save myself.
After trying to be my own savior for so long, the Lord softened my heart and opened my eyes to the amount of grace I am afforded when I let Jesus be my only savior. Instead of relying on other sources of relief, I told Him: “I can’t do this, nothing else gets the pain off.” Instead of demanding freedom, I confessed my imprisonment to my memories. Instead of holding my broken pieces, I handed them off to a loving God who gives freely to those who ask.
I am forever changed. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ (Galatians 3:2). The moment I told God I can’t save myself and asked for Him to save me, He released me from all my chains. I believed in Jesus because He was all I had left. Since then, everything has changed. I’m no longer relying on alcohol or people or anything but Jesus because no one but Him can forever set me free from my cycles. These cycles of feeling good then guilt then needing a new good. I’m set free because the Holy Spirit has become my great counselor and my desires are forever changed. I can love people and know that only Jesus is enough. I can rest because He came: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 NIV).
There is no thief that can steal the Holy Spirit in me; there is forever freedom for all who believe in Jesus.
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