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Pulled From the Ditch

"I could see under the wall as I lay there, His bloody arm and hand reaching down to me, but the wall prevented me from rescue."

Out of great emotional pain, God has been working in my life, redeeming me and setting me free from my past. He showed me Scripture that spoke to my needs, then gave me a vision to change my way and a song to convict my heart. I am telling my story because I want everyone to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, forgiveness is possible, and there is mighty power in the Word. Whatever ditch you might be in, God can pull you up and out!

I grew up in a family with unhealthy dynamics, even though it was a Christian family. My parents, brother, and I attended church on Sundays. We were involved in church activities and had family devotions. At the age of four, I accepted Christ as my Savior, and I felt the assurance of salvation even at that young age. But my home life lacked warmth and nurture. Now, as an adult, I can better understand the unhealthy roots of my family tree, but as a girl growing up I experienced the scratches of emotional abuse and the bruises of rejection from its branches. When I was eleven years old, my father had an extramarital affair and left the family, cutting off all communication with us. I felt abandoned and betrayed. After a year away, my father returned to the family but shortly left again. At around the same time, my closest friend had a father who was diagnosed with cancer. Members of our church rallied around her family offering emotional and material support. But, in sharp contrast, support for us was lacking. I felt shunned and ashamed and terribly lonely. My dad eventually returned home to stay, but an already dysfunctional home was now worse.

Still, I prayed and survived and went off to college in Michigan, becoming engaged to be married at the age of nineteen. But months later, I discovered my fiancé had cheated on me. Devastated, I completed my undergraduate degree by God’s grace. Instead of continuing my education at Michigan State University as planned, I returned home with this new betrayal heaped on my past hurts. I’d like to say my family welcomed me with love and care, but that was not always the case; one extended member would either ignore me or belittle me at family gatherings, which completely baffled me. This behavior had rippling effects on other family members’ treatment of me. During this difficult time, I leaned on Isaiah 55: 9, which says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I leaned into that verse, drawing closer to God, praying my way through.

Even though I returned to college, earning a Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology at Temple University, a new estrangement from my father, which occurred in my mid-twenties, often troubled me. Then God gave me this verse, as if it were lit by neon: “He is a father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5). When I claimed that verse as my own, there was power in it—when you claim a verse as your own, there is power in it. My whole perspective changed from seeking earthly validation to looking above for care. However, given my “trust issues” and lack of relationship role models in my life, my dating life was hardly satisfactory. So at age thirty I finally prayed to God, my Father, “I can’t choose somebody. If you want me to remain single, that’s ok. But if you have someone for me, then I am asking that you bring him into my life. I’m not looking anymore. Please keep the wrong men away from me.”  I adopted a golden retriever, Rylie, and spent time strengthening my relationship with God through Scripture reading, Christian books, and radio programs. He supplied me with the peace I needed at that time. It would be another five years until I was asked to go on a date again.

Four years after that prayer I had signed up to go on a mission trip to Brazil with my church, but by the due date for the paperwork, I had still not filled out the necessary forms. Oh, there would be other trips, I rationalized. But that night, I could not sleep. I tossed and turned, the Spirit prodding me to complete the forms! So I did and was chosen to be part of the team. While in Atibaia, Brazil, I gave my testimony, moving from shakiness to strength, proclaiming “God is my father” in front of many wide-eyed, searching-for-hope teenagers. I fell in love with the people, food, and beauty of Brazil but thought I would never return. Once back in the States I volunteered to teach a Brazilian couple English. One Sunday, they asked to bring their friend along when we visited a Burlington church to see an Easter play. That friend thought I would be a good match for her Brazilian cousin who lived in Atlanta! Well, that man is now my husband, Guilherme, a man who loves God. Together, we have been back to Brazil five times! Plus, I discovered that Guilherme’s grandmother lived across the street from where I had given my testimony to those teenagers, I had stayed in the same gated community where his aunt and uncle live, and I had visited his childhood camp all while on the mission trip. And in God’s sweet design, my bilingual husband is a mental health therapist married to a therapist who works with communication difficulties!

However, even as my husband and I became active in the church, leading outreach and discipleship groups, my family’s unkindness, even spreading misinformation and half-truths about me, inexplicably continued. As with anyone living in such dysfunction, there are patterns one learns in order to survive, and for me, these included codependency and striving for “peace” at any cost. Counseling helped to set boundaries and shed light on my poor coping strategies, but in 2011 the Lord chose to draw me out of this mess. After years of struggling, attempting to figure everyone out, and agonizing over unacknowledged issues, God showed me that in order to be free I needed to forgive them. I knew this in my head, but raw emotions of anger and even hate surfaced. The pain was so great within me that it became hard to function. For days I went to work and then straight to bed. At times I wished they were all gone. I was sure that without them my life would be better. I am not proud of those thoughts, but that is how desperate I was to stop the agonizing hurt. Daily I sought the Lord and read the Bible, and while I knew forgiveness was necessary, my heart wasn’t budging.

One night while lying in my bed in pain, having my devotions, God gave me a mental picture. The scene was of Jesus, bloody and beaten, dragging His cross up the hill where He would lay down His life. There were ditches all over the hillside and I was lying in one of them.  He reached out His hand to me. I put my hand out, but I could not get out of the ditch because there was a wall preventing me. I could see under the wall as I lay there, His bloody arm and hand reaching down to me, but the wall prevented me from rescue. At that time, I did not understand the meaning of the wall.

“I could see under the wall as I lay there, His bloody arm and hand reaching down to me, but the wall prevented me from rescue.”

Over the next several days, God gave me the following verses, these salves for the spirit and weapons of truth: Romans 8: 12-17 (For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God…); and Romans 8: 31-35 (If God is for us, who can be against us? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.) In His great mercy, my Father was reminding me of His unfailing love while peeling back the layers of my heart, sin, and hurt.  He was setting the example for me to follow. Remaining in the ditch, I would have died.

On Tuesday, November 8, 2011, while driving to work, I heard the Casting Crowns song “Blessed Redeemer.” Interestingly, I was at a stop light, waiting, when these lyrics reached deep down into my soul and tears rolled down my cheeks:

Up Calvary’s mountain one dreadful morn
Walked Christ my Savior, weary and worn
Facing for sinners death on the cross
That he might save them from endless loss…

“Father, forgive them,” my Savior prayed
Even while His life blood flowed fast away

That same day at work, the song in my mind, I prayed to God in an audible whisper, “I will forgive them.” Nothing profound, but it was a beginning and a cracking of my will. Five days later, I lay in bed reciting the verse from Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” All of a sudden, those words took on new meaning for my painful heart. It no longer meant something generic for becoming a Christian disciple. Those words applied to me at that moment. I needed to deny my SELF with its lingering hatred and need for fairness and worries about justice; I had to take up my cross (family mistreatment) and follow Him. The wall in my mental picture had been my SELF, and God’s word helped me to tear down that wall. I was able to take hold of His bloody hand and through His strength alone, I climbed out of the ditch, following Him up that steep hill to say those words through His example, “I forgive them.” At that moment, the deep debilitating pain in my heart and stomach was gone and I was free!

I am beyond grateful that He met me in my deepest pain and showed me a better way. I am also grateful for my husband, who served as a bridge between me and my family. My parents had been divorced for years, and in the last month of my earthly father’s life, as he was succumbing to cancer, he lived with me and Guilherme, where we were blessed to care for him. When old feelings resurface or new offenses occur in my life, I am reminded to give myself over to the One who has promised to take it all in exchange for an easy yoke and light burden (Matthew 11:28-30).

God has not asked us to continue in unhealthy relationships, but He has commanded us to forgive. It is a process, sometimes a daily surrender of the will, a renewing of the mind, empowered by His strength alone. Today I live a life much more vertical than horizontal. Thank you, Jesus! You are my Redeemer, my Savior and Deliverer, my Healer and Friend, and my everlasting Father.