I don’t have the answers but I’m gonna celebrate anyway

A discussion today made me ponder the question, am I happy?

First, some definitions I found via Google:…

•feeling or showing pleasure or contentment
•delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing: to be happy to see a person.
•characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy: a happy mood; a happy frame of mind.

•Definition: in high spirits; satisfied
•Synonyms: blessed, blest, blissful, blithe, can’t complain, captivated, cheerful, chipper, chirpy, content, contented, convivial, delighted, ecstatic, elated, exultant, flying high, gay, glad, gleeful, gratified, intoxicated, jolly, joyful, joyous, jubilant, laughing, light, lively, looking good, merry, mirthful, on cloud nine, overjoyed, peaceful, peppy, perky, playful, pleasant, pleased, sparkling, sunny, thrilled, tickled, tickled pink, up, upbeat, walking on air
•Antonyms: depressed, discouraged, dissatisfied, miserable, morose, pained, sad, sorrowful, unhappy

•Happy is a feeling of joy, pleasure, or good fortune — exactly how you’d feel if you learned that you won the lottery or got accepted into your number one choice of colleges.

•Happy hails from the Middle English word hap, meaning “good luck.” Many of the early European words for happy actually referred to good luck, rather than a feeling of joy. On its own, happy means an enjoyable or satisfied state of being.

I also found this online:

This devotional is based on Kay Warren’s new book, “Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough.”

Finding joy is a challenge for me. I’m not naturally an upbeat person; I’m more of a melancholy. When I talk about joy, I’m not doing so from the perspective of a generally peppy person who never has a bad day. In fact, it’s because of my own inability to live with joy that led me to explore why my experiences didn’t line up with Scripture.

My problem was my definition of joy. I thought joy meant feeling good all the time. That’s impossible! Even for those who are naturally upbeat and optimistic, that’s impossible. We have to start somewhere more realistic — and close to Scripture.

So here’s the definition I’ve come up with from studying Scripture:

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.

You’ll find nothing in that definition about happy feelings, because, as we all know, happiness is fleeting and temporary.

We tend to think that life comes in hills and valleys. In reality, it’s much more like train tracks. Every day of your life, wonderful, good things happen that bring pleasure and contentment and beauty to you. At the exact same time, painful things happen to you or those you love that disappoint you, hurt you, and fill you with sorrow. These two tracks — both joy and sorrow — run parallel to each other every single moment of your life.

That’s why, when you’re in the midst of an amazing experience, you have a nagging realization that it’s not perfect. And while you’re experiencing something painful, there’s the glorious realization that there is still beauty and loveliness to be found. They’re inseparable.

If you look down train tracks into the brightness of the horizon, the tracks become one. You can’t distinguish them as two separate tracks. That’s how it will be for us, too. One day, our parallel tracks of joy and sorrow will merge into one. The day we meet Jesus Christ in person and see the brightness of who he is, it will all come together for us. Then it will all make complete sense.

I like this analogy! It makes a lot of sense to me.

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Maybe it’s just my temperament…after all, God made me to be that 3 year old who could skip happily through the house singing my made-up song of “Life is miserable!”…or maybe it’s my oblivious non-attention to detail that keeps me from seeing every imperfection and flaw…or maybe it’s being raised by parents who modeled gratitude rather than whiny complaining…or maybe it’s because so much of my early childhood was idyllic and happy…or maybe it’s because a friend once encouraged me to look for a blessing every day…or maybe it’s because I’ve never grown up enough to completely lose my childish sense of wonder…or maybe it’s because I need joy and beauty so much, almost as much as I need food and water…but it takes a lot — as in a LOT — for me to remain in a constant state of unhappiness for very long.

Yes, it seems contradictory. After all, I am no stranger to grief or sorrow. I am the same person who once penned reams of poetry with lines like, “melancholy has stolen my heart”, and who described myself as a “child of sorrow” in a never ending gloomy rain. I’ve experienced clinical depression so severe that it made me overcome my extreme aversion to antidepressants. Despair has almost killed me. Literally.

But joy always broke through.

Always.

The darkest of nights has always, eventually, been followed by a morning when joy came. The “eventually” may have taken excruciatingly long. Sometimes it was a somber joy. Sometimes that “determined choice to praise God in every situation”, as Kay Warren describes it, involved some initial teeth-gritting and an amazement that such great sorrow, and such heights and depths of joy, could exist in the same heart and mind in the very same instance.

But maybe it’s not me at all. Because the bottom line is that I can’t praise God for very long — I mean really praise Him rather than mouthing words — without remembering what kind of God He is. I find my perspective changing from “woe is me” to realizing that, even in the most horrific of circumstances, I have reasons for thanksgiving, even if I can’t think of one beyond, “Heaven will be better than this nightmarish horror.”

But then I remember Jesus. And He melts me. And He opens my eyes. Gratitude comes trickling into my spirit as I begin remembering Scripture passages that speak to my pain. It may not happen quickly enough for me, but it is the gratitude that re-orients my thoughts and feelings. Maybe I am just unusually blessed, but it is rare (impossible?) for me to sit in God’s presence for very long without feeling enormously thankful for His extravagant, scandalous grace and generosity towards me.

Eventually more of my feelings follow. There have been valleys in my life, despite the truth of the train track analogy. But, as Corrie ten Boom loved to remind us, there is no pit so deep that Jesus’ love is not deeper still.

Today, incredible as it seems even to me, I thank God for the pits that threatened to consume me, because God’s love won out, every time. Even when I doubted or denied Him, He never gave up. Besides, for every pit there have been mountaintops — a few times, I have felt joy so overwhelming, so extreme, so powerful, so beyond description, that I thought if it lasted any longer with such intensity, my heart would give out and I would die. Seriously.

Because I choose to be grateful, today I choose joy. Today I choose happiness. Today I reach out with trembling, fearful, overly-inhibited, weak and puny little hands towards the abundant life God keeps showering on me. How can I walk with Him, talk with Him, and listen to Him without — once in a while — experiencing a joy that spills over into a happiness that at least borders on giddiness?

A dear friend of mine promised me that, when I first recognized my true freedom in Christ, I would feel almost giddy about it. He was right; I still remember the moment it hit me and I wrote him an email that ended with, “Excuse me while I go out and dance in the streets.”

I know, I know. Happiness should not be our goal. It is a fleeting emotion. In many circumstances, it would be completely inappropriate to feel happy. We should seek holiness, die to self, etc., etc.

But today I choose to celebrate. I won’t dance in the streets, because I’m still too shy and inhibited, but I’m not going to pretend that it’s somehow more spiritual to ignore all of God’s present blessings and put on a serious face just because I’m not in Heaven yet.

Little 3 year old me had it right. Life is miserable. But that’s no reason not to sing and dance at least some of the time — because God is good.

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Note: I don’t know why, but I’ve had to edit this umpteen times. The formatting got scrambled. Entire sentences and paragraphs disappeared. And I kept getting interrupted by life. Very frustrating! I’m no longer feeling quite as celebratory. Haha.

It’s Easter morning and I can’t sleep

Actually it’s not morning yet. It’s still dark night.

There are all sorts of things I would like to write, things more important than mail organizers — the topic of my last post — things that are beautiful and celebratory and all about Resurrection Sunday. But my mind isn’t up to the task. So I will write the words that have been filling my mind these past few moments:

He bore our shame.

Those of us who have been sexually abused know shame. It is our constant companion until we find healing. It baffles non-survivors, sometimes to the point of impatience: What do you have to be ashamed of? they ask, not understanding why we are reluctant to let anyone know about our rape. The shame belongs to the rapist, our supporters say so easily. You are not to blame. Yet the shame clings to us. Deserved, undeserved, it doesn’t matter. It’s there. Only other survivors seem to fully understand how crushing this burden is.

He bore our shame.

Not just our sins — amazing as that is. But He also bore our shame. We don’t need to sort out whether it belonged to us or was put on us by someone else. He took it all. Even the worst of it. Even the parts we think we could never whisper out loud. He carried it so we don’t have to.

Today we celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. The grave didn’t hold Him. He’s alive!

It’s been a few years since the reality hit me that my Savior bore the shame of my rape. I was weary of carrying it. It was crushing me, destroying me. But you know what? All the stuff that got nailed to the cross with our Savior is gone. We don’t have to see if anything fell off that we need to put back on ourselves.

Simple words. Hardly profound. But lifechanging.

He bore my shame.

And He is risen.

Best news ever.

Coming out as a survivor

We all have stories. My favorite stories, the ones that yank at my heart and inspire me, are stories of redemption and reconciliation. Maybe that’s why I like the Bible so much. Come to think of it, I have that backwards — the reason that I like redemption stories so much is because of the Bible, and because of how I’ve experienced its truths in my own life. As I wrote a while back:

But I have to believe in the grand theme of Scripture: that the very One I rebelled against is a God of reconciliation and redemption. I believe it brings Him glory when He accomplishes those things in our lives. It is what Satan rages against in a battle he can never win. God snatches us out of the pit, washes us clean, tends our wounds, clothes us, and adopts us as sons and daughters. Those of us who are prone to wander He welcomes back home with celebration. He doesn’t just redeem us — He demonstrates His redemption power over and over again in our lives, giving us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness… He takes the most horrible, vile and ugly things that Satan used for evil in our lives, and He unbelievably, amazingly does the impossible by somehow using those things for good. It’s what He does. It’s Who He is.

Redemption stories are powerful, but they aren’t pretty. In fact, the most powerful ones are messy, very messy. It’s something I didn’t understand the first time I set out to read the Bible from cover to cover, at the tender age of 10. With the exception of Joseph, the Old Testament “Heroes of the Faith” were a deep disappointment when I encountered their unsanitized stories. I couldn’t comprehend why some of the Psalms were in the Bible. I was aghast that a prostitute was not only an ancestor of Jesus, but was mentioned by name in His genealogy! The Bible is quite a shocking book.

That’s because redemption is shocking, and grace is scandalous. Redemption stories are meaningless unless we tell what has been redeemed and what we have been redeemed from. Otherwise, why would we need a Redeemer? And, if we have no wounds, why would we need a Healer?

I don’t think any of us can escape being wounded in some way or another. But some of us have wounds that go deeper than others…wounds that leave us shattered and broken. Some of those wounds are inflicted by others while some are self-inflicted, often in response to what others have done to us. We live in a fallen world, surrounded by evil. Some of us have experienced that evil in traumatic ways.

If this blog is to contain my redemption story, there are things I can’t leave out. Otherwise, my story will make no sense.

By the grace of God, I am a survivor.

image

Many of us have survived things: disease, heartache, poverty, divorce, loss of a loved one, death of our ambitions and dreams…but none of those things inspired me to get the shirt that not too many people have ever seen me wear.

I am a sexual trauma survivor. There are different forms of sexual trauma, and varying degrees of severity. All of it, I believe, is violating, and damaging to the soul in a way that is unique from nonsexual trauma.

Although I have been planning this blog post for months, right now the words are failing me. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I am shrinking back in fear from writing a particular word, from having my name forever linked with it on the Internet for all to see. The world is not always kind to those of us who go public with such a disclosure. Actually, that last sentence ranks up there with some of the greatest understatements I’ve ever made.

So I’m second-guessing myself. Why on earth would I write about this, admit such a thing publicly? After all, eventually readers will find their way to this blog, or follow links I’ve posted to it…why shouldn’t I stick to posting nice, uplifting, safe, G-rated stuff like inspirational quotes, feel-good Bible verses, and pictures of kitties?

Because that’s not my redemption story.

For those of you who wonder why on earth I’m posting any of this, here are two important reasons:

  1. It’s my way of shouting from the rooftop one of the most powerful truths that I know, and that’s that God can redeem anything!
  2. If telling my redemption story will help or encourage even just one other survivor, that will more than make up for anyone whose knickers get all in a twist over what I’m about to write.

Enough preamble.

Significant parts of what I will write in this blog will not make sense without knowing the following about me:

At 23 years of age, I was raped by two of my neighbors. It was evil, so evil that it almost destroyed me. By the grace of God, I have not only survived, but continue to experience His healing and redemption in deeper and sweeter ways.

So this is it. I am coming out publicly as a rape survivor. It feels scary in a way…but also good. Very good. I am finally free to write the things that truly matter to me.

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Note: Don’t worry or be scared off. This will not turn into a “rape blog”, nor will every post be heavy or serious. There is far more to my life than that.Anyone who enjoyed my previous blog (Random Musings) can expect to find much here that will be familiar.