My Story is Painful Too
Like many new participants, I did not know what to expect from TBG. I chose to fill the unknown with cynicism. I convinced myself nothing here could address my struggle; God's silence would prove He did not have an answer. With this "proof" I reasoned that my response to pursue a sex change and no longer identify myself with Christ would be justified. Against my expectations, TBG simply started with people telling their stories. In one powerful night, a woman told of how she too desired to be a boy during childhood and lived as a man during young adulthood—and she had the pictures to prove it. But the LORD called her to a difficult process of walking in Truth, being the woman He created her to be — and she had the life to prove it. In 5 minutes, the LORD spoke through the story of this woman, and it was I who was left speechless and proven wrong. This was just one of many defenses that the LORD would tear down to reach my heart.
Approaching the opportunity as an assignment rather than as a way to share myself with others, I was the first member of my small group to share my story. I came with a checklist in hand to make sure I did not forget what I wanted to communicate. After I was finished, something unplanned happened. I began to sob uncontrollably. I think the truth was clear to everyone but me: I hurt. But all I wanted in that moment was to desperately stop my expression of pain in front of these strangers. Even after finally regaining some amount of composure and another woman thankfully beginning her story, every once in a while my internal turmoil would audibly seep out. When small group was over, I was the first to leave and I vowed in my heart never to return to this place. Although I did not physically keep that vow, emotionally I did. My approach to small group mirrored my approach to life — I detached myself from emotions so I could get through. If the healing and freedom I truly desired deep down, buried beneath my defenses, was to be mine, somehow this strong defense of detachment would have to be broken — I would have to feel and own my pain. Five months went by before I was vulnerable with my group again.
During that time, I started to return my heart to the LORD after 2 years of running away from Him. I read a Psalm and went on a hike every day for many months, come (mostly) rain or shine, with the desire to hear His voice again. One day on my hike, I came upon a place where the earth was violently and massively split as a result of an uprooted tree. I remembered Psalm 29 and expressed anger toward the LORD. "You say your voice thunders. You say your voice can break the cedars. You say your voice can move the earth. So why don't You speak to me?" The LORD was up to my challenge. He was about to speak, but this time His voice would not split the earth. He was about to break another defensive wall around my heart.
I was having a hard time relating my particular struggle with the rest of my group. I eventually talked to my small group leader about my difficulties and she encouraged me to open up my struggle to the others. Idecided to capture scenarios in short sentences of how my struggle played out in my mind and interactions with people on a daily basis. Once again I had a list, but this time my heart was on those two pieces of paper. I had to remove myself from what I wrote or else I would not get through it. I spent the whole day before small group mentally detaching myself from what I was about to read out loud. It was almost as if I removed my heart from my body, put it on the sheets of paper, and became a hollow shell as I pretended I was reading about someone else's life. The next day, my group leader asked how I was doing. I was feeling something, but I did not know what it was. At the time I was going to another PF ministry called Process Group, a place where only emotions could be expressed. Without giving the details of what I shared, I asked the men and women present to help me put a word to what I was feeling after being so vulnerable with the women of my small group earlier in the week. Shame? No, although I shared some embarrassing things everyone was so supportive and encouraging. Exposure? Well, yes, but that was sort of the point. Pain? Oh…, yes…, that is what my heart was feeling. The process group leader then asked me to turn to the person next to me and say, "My story is painful." Now with the added feeling of defeat, I refused. I could not take ownership of my pain. I chose to remain detached.
The next day I went on my trail, not engaging the LORD but wallowing in my failure to accept a challenge put before me. My self pity was more miserable than the cold, rainy February-in-Oregon day. And then for the first time in over two years the LORD broke His silence and spoke to my heart: "MY story is painful too." The impact of those words was like the thundering uprooting of a mighty tree, even though the tone was as soft as a whispering breeze. I was stopped dead in my tracks. It soon became difficult to discern the boundaries between my tears and the rain.
For a lifetime, my response to pain and rejection was to reject myself. The LORD's response was very different — He related to me. His solution was to feel my pain with me. His desire was for me to bring my pain to Him so He could meet me in that place where I hurt, to bring healing and freedom. I could bring my pain to Him. It still amazes me 3 years later to think after I turned my back on the LORD, His first words to me did not carry condemnation or rejection, but brought the attraction found in relating.
As with most revelations from the LORD, this was just the beginning of walking this out. It is work to bring our pain and other emotions before the LORD. It has been said while our self created defenses separate us from hurtful things and people, we incur the additional, unintended, and more costly expense of keeping out those things and people we ultimately need and desire in our lives. My emotional detachment reduced life to the one dimensional world of hurt to be avoided at all costs. But by doing so, I desensitized myself from emotions in general. I robbed myself of the complex, multidimensional life God intended my heart to experience. Along with pain, things like joy, healthy mourning, and passion were blocked too. Not being able to enter into these things myself, I was stunted in celebrating, consoling, partnering, and in many other ways our hearts were fashioned to relate to one another.
Yes, it is work to bring our hearts before the LORD. But as I am walking this out, I am discovering the reality behind the emotions I feel and I am entering into relationship with others. Sometimes all the emotional energy I expend is generated from perceptions that do not match reality. I need to align myself with Truth. Sometimes emotions like self pity reveal there is sin in my heart. I need to let go of self love and other things and turn to the LORD to fill my void. Learning the hard way, sometimes processing emotions does not include telling someone how I feel. I need to own my emotions in silence so that someone else is not destroyed in my process. Sometimes, I am just not ready or able to process my emotions, and darkness remains on that part of my heart. And sometimes, anger or disappointments are, in fact, lined up with reality. I can just allow myself to feel, knowing the LORD is right there with me, but at the same time realizing His Truth is bigger than my reality.
And, oh yes, I am embracing being the woman the LORD created me to be. I am learning it is not men, other women, or even I who define what it is to be a woman. It is the LORD. From the beginning, He said being a woman is very good. Just like my emotions, I can bring my womanhood to Him because He fashioned it. The LORD has never degraded, belittled, abused, patronized, despised, or rejected me for being a woman. Instead He has affirmed me. I like how God the Father and God the Son treat women.
Not too long ago, while on the same hike I walked during my time at PF, I came upon another fallen tree. Originally rooted near but not directly on the path, it caused serious but not impassable trail damage. Pain and rejection are similar to that fallen tree. God never intended rejection. But it happens to all of us along the way. When it comes, you and I have a choice. We can continue on the path God has for us, walking with Him in that pain, despite the way now being made difficult and broken for a while. Or we can blaze our own path that appears to open in the clearing when rejection falls, deciding to go our own way and carrying pain's weight on our shoulders. My encouragement to stay on the path comes from the LORD, who took my rejection as His very own through His Body on the tree He bore, willingly making His story painful too.