Tag Archives: scars

God-forgiveness-vulnerability

Return to God

Return to me with your whole heart—Joel 2:12

One theme that emerged during my recent retreat was home, as in coming home or being at home.

I had brought last year’s journals with me, and one entry reflected a conversation with a friend who had been going through a rough time but was starting to feel like himself again. He said he had started to feel like he was inhabiting his body again and that he was looking out through his own eyes.

It was as if he was coming home to himself.

I resonated.

For so long, I have felt out of sorts. Great loss and grief can do that. So the idea of coming home to myself is appealing. I want to live in my body and to look at the world through my own eyes.

Another coming home is the actual coming home to the place where I was born and grew up, which is what I did five years ago. Living near my family is a blessing for which I thank God every day.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityA third coming home is returning to God, and in the midst of Lent, I find myself thinking of what it means to come home to God.

Lent invites me to turn away from what separates me from God and turn toward God.

Recently, several people have come to me with questions about prayer or about nonprofit management. After each of these conversations, I am left with a clearer understanding that (1) I have a depth of experience in these two areas, and (2) my experience can be helpful to others.

Sometimes, though, my experience leads me to insights that might be uncomfortable or challenging to those asking for my help.

A young woman came to talk with me about the anger she carries toward the man who raped her. “How can you suggest I forgive him?” she asked with an edge to her voice.

“Your anger does not affect him; it affects you,” I offered. “He doesn’t even know that you are angry; he has moved on.” Not forgiving him does not hurt him in the least; but holding onto her anger keeps her in bondage.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityI think she both wanted to hear that message and did not want to hear it. Forgiveness can be so difficult, and radical forgiveness—forgiveness for some horrible act—can seem impossible.

I know because I, too, hold onto some anger for past hurts. I want to forgive, even the people who hurt me the worst, who left the deepest scars; it is difficult. I pray for the grace to let go, and I look to Jesus’ example for inspiration. At the moment of his death, he forgave those who put him to death.God-forgiveness-vulnerabilityComing home to God, for me, means being true to my history and experiences. It means speaking of radical forgiveness and believing in it.

I want to return to God with my whole heart—and with my heart made whole.

 

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Hidden Girl

During Mass one day on retreat, the priest prayed for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria; afterward, I remembered a girl named Michelle.

Michelle was born to a single mother and until she was two years old, her life was fairly typical. She crawled, walked and went to the doctor for check-ups.

When Michelle was two years old, though, her mother’s new boyfriend moved in with them, and Michelle was not seen again for the next eleven years. She did not go to school or the doctor or, well, anywhere; she was kept locked in a closet.

Her mother went on to have two more children with this new boyfriend, and those children crawled, walked and went to the doctor for check-ups, too. They went to school and their lives seemed like other children’s lives, except that they carried the secret of their sister.

It is difficult to imagine that no one who knew of Michelle’s existence before the new boyfriend’s appearance did not ask about her or report that Michelle seemed to have disappeared. Perhaps her mother made up a convincing story about Michelle and no one questioned it. But her brother and sister knew and eventually one of them told a teacher and Michelle was rescued from the closet. By then, she was deeply scarred—emotionally and physically.

She was severely malnourished and looked more like a seven-year-old than a thirteen-year-old. Her body jerked and twitched as she adjusted to moving in open spaces. Her eyes were vacant and she was incapable of dialogue. One thing that animated her was food, and she made a beeline for anything edible within ten feet. Clearly she had been starved in every possible way.

To make matters worse, her mother’s boyfriend had beat and raped Michelle repeatedly over the years, and her tiny body bore the marks of that abuse. Sometimes she would drift back to an earlier time with a memory and a mantra: “Get off me,” the only three words I ever heard her string together. Once the memory surfaced, she would get stuck as if in a trance, “Get off me, get off me, get off me,” she would say over and over.

At a hearing to sever her mother’s parental rights, Michelle’s mom demanded to have her daughter back, claiming that Michelle was hers and she could do whatever she wanted with her. Fortunately, the court did not agree and Michelle was placed in a group home for people with developmental disabilities.

Neither Michelle’s mother nor her mother’s boyfriend was charged with any crime.

It is estimated that one in five girls in this country is sexually abused and that three-quarters of them are abused by someone they know. Michelle’s story may be extreme, but it is not unique.

So while it is good to pray for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, we don’t have to look that far away to find girls trapped, imprisoned and abused, girls living nearby who also need our prayers.