Psalm 23:4: Even though I walk through the darkest valley…

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

In my post about my summer plans I mentioned that I felt a little lost when I returned from Tanzania.  That was a bit of an understatement but I’ve been struggling with the idea of posting about it.  What I’m about to share is very personal but I think it’s necessary to tell you about it.

My whole life I’ve been a hardcore perfectionist and hate letting people see when I mess up or am upset.  College has pretty much cured me of that though and I’m learning how important it is to let other people see my scars and tears.  This newfound openness was put to the test this past year.

As I’m sure you can tell from my posts about Tanzania, I had an incredible experience of God there.  His presence has never been more tangible than it was for those two months.  My relationship with Him became effortless and my faith grew in leaps and bounds.  When I returned home it felt like I had left God in Tanzania and my life was suddenly void of any meaning.

About a week after I returned to the states I wrote this:

I felt so much closer to God when I was living simply in Africa.  I wasn’t surrounded by possessions and my days had a pretty simple routine.  It was easy to connect with God.  But God doesn’t want our faithfulness only in the easy times or only when we’re in trouble.  He wants our love and devotion all of the time.  Carrying over what I learned in Tanzania is the real test.

I am not proud of the person I became during the period of time between coming back and returning to school.  The sudden lack of structured routine and responsibilities drove me to extreme laziness and a complete lack of God.  Once I got back to school this got better:

I’m finally back at school and I feel like I’m alive again.  I have a purpose and a role here.  My break from God is over. I hate that it happened at all but all that’s left to do is forgive myself and try harder.

Then around November, when all my work started piling up, I found myself missing Tanzania more than ever.  I became apathetic and depressed; I no longer cared about what I was doing and lost sight of what God needed me to be doing.

Here’s some excerpts from my journal at that time:

My energy is entirely spent; I have given everything I have.  It takes so much energy just to smile and pretend everything is okay.  My walls are falling down and my mask is starting to crack.  I don’t have the energy to care about anything anymore.  I just want to shut down and forget about everything, pretend the world doesn’t exist.  People are expecting things of me and I have nothing left to give.

A sorrow has seeped into my soul and I don’t know where it came from.  Simple conversations, smiling, takes more energy than I can muster, but I have to do it because I can’t let anyone see my weakness.  I am eternally cheerful – this just doesn’t happen to me.  How can I fight something I can’t name?

Soon after this, the cycle started all over again with Guatemala.  I wallowed in my sadness rather than trying to get help (because I didn’t want to admit that something was wrong) or fight it in any way.   Finally God gave me the kick in the pants I needed:

Last night I was genuinely and completely happy for the first time in months.  The fact that the feeling was completely foreign to me finally made me realize that I have a problem.

A song called “Sunrise” by Brandon Heath helped get me through this period of time.  That moment was definitely my sunrise.

Everything turned around after that.  Anytime I felt sadness overwhelming me, I prayed fervently for God to lift the darkness.  And He did!  As soon as I identified the root of my apathy (missing Africa and a distance from God) it was much easier to fight it with Jesus’s help.

I should add a disclaimer to this post and say that I also suspect that I suffer slightly from SAD(Seasonal Affective Disorder) which probably contributed to my depression occurring during the winter.

While it is unfortunate that this happened, I am absolutely sure that it has made my faith stronger.  In fact many Saints and holy people, such as Mother Teresa, went through periods of darkness and we admire their faith.  I’ve been falling deeper in love with God every day and am trying to learn as much as possible about His incredible love for us.

A while ago I wrote about the dangers of apathy and now I have experienced those firsthand.  It is complacency that will be the downfall of Christians, not horrendous sinfulness.  Take a moment today to really think about the incredible things God has done for you and the wonder that should be your response to that.  Becoming numb and ignorant to the world around me created a chasm between God and myself; don’t let the same happen to you.

Taking Back the Night for Victims of Sexual Violence

See a photo Gallery from Take Back the Night

I think I need to take a class on criminal psychology or understanding criminals or whatever would help me understand why people commit violent crimes, abuse the ones they love and generally hurt their fellow human beings.

As I social work major, it is drilled into my head that I need to empathize with my clients and “tune into” what they are thinking and feeling.  However I find this impossible to do with perpetrators of abuse, murder, rape and other violent crimes.  I just can’t wrap my head around intentionally harming another human to that extent.  It befuddles me how someone can possibly be filled with that much hate, rage or jealousy.  Crimes against children especially disgust me.  How anyone can look at a precious, innocent, vulnerable child and then proceed to harm that child is beyond me.  This is taken a step further when the perpetrator is a parent or other family who should be filled with the instinct to protect and love that child at all costs.  Mental illness aside, there is no excuse for this.

This is on my mind because April is sexual assault awareness month and I have participated in a couple of events having to do with that.  Earlier in this year I helped out at An Empty Place at the Table, which is a memorial to people who have died from domestic violence.  Then I volunteered to help out at Release the Light, my campus’s day for sexual assault awareness.  This all culminated last Thursday night with the nationwide event Take Back the Night.  This rally has a long history, which dates back to October of 1975 in Philadelphia.  Today, cities all over the world hold their own versions of this event.  Here in Scranton, we marched through downtown and then joined with hundreds of students at the University of Scranton for a moving and powerful rally in the courthouse square.

The majority of the night consisted of an open mic during which survivors or friends and family of survivors could come tell their stories.   As person after person went up and told their story, tears began streaming down my face.  There were people from all walks of life; sexual violence does not discriminate.  Some of them had been raped by strangers, others by family members as children and still others by boyfriends who claimed to love them.  The people who shared their stories are only a small percentage of the population of people who have experienced some kind of sexual violence.  Click here for the scary statistics.  I sat there horrified and numbed by the idea of what had happened to these survivors.  Yet, they were survivors and stronger because of what they had gone through.  Gripping my candle for dear life and trying not to melt into a puddle, I vowed to work for a world where sexual violence no longer happens.  Next year I plan to be heavily involved in the RAE (Relationship Awareness and Empowerment) task force.  I feel God tugging on my heart through all of these things and think he may be calling me to work with victims of abuse, especially children.  This has been a surprise since its not really something I had thought about doing before.  This may require me to work with and understand their abusers, which is obviously going to take some work.

I was ruminating on this today and it hit me:  God loves the perpetrators of these crimes.  Jesus died for the people we consider the scum of society: the child molesters, rapists and abusive parents.  He loves them just as much as you and me.  Not only does He love them but we are also called to love them.  Love and forgive them.  These are the enemies we are called to love.  This is what radical Christianity looks like.  How can we learn to love them?  When you figure it out, let me know.

Article from Scranton Times-Tribune