We all have our guilty pleasure movies. The movies that objectively aren’t that good but that, for whatever reason, we watch over and over again, simply because we enjoy them. One such movie for both my husband and me is Disney’s “National Treasure” starring Nicholas Cage. It’s US history. It’s adventure. It’s a little romance. And it’s so, so cheesy. And yet… we love it.
A moment that comes towards the end of the movie came to mind recently as perhaps an illustration of something God is trying to teach me. It’s the end of the movie, and Ben is down (trapped) underground along with Riley, Abigail, and his father. The antagonist of the movie has left them there, and they’ve just discovered a treasure room that is… empty. Ben is defeated, but his father has a change of heart and realizes the treasure is real. They’re discussing everything, analyzing it all, but somehow it still doesn’t make sense. Ben then sees something on the wall and says to himself quietly, “could it really be that simple?” In the moments that follow, they discover not only the treasure – but a way out from underground. Escape. Freedom.
That’s the line God is bringing to mind for me. A question, really. But a thought and an idea that has had me thinking.
A little over four years ago God gave me an incredible miracle of healing. It was such a miracle and so unthinkable that I had stopped even asking Him for deliverance in the months prior. For those of you who don’t know, I’m referencing the moment in my life when, for the first time, God revealed Himself to me in such a way that I was able to not only know that He loves and forgives me… but I was able to believe it, too. As a result, a seven year battle with suicidal thoughts was gone. I was able to believe that I am a redeemed child of God with every part of my being. I found the will to live. As I’ve often described it to people, it was the moment when God and I finally got on the same page when it comes to the whole “He still wants me here” thing.
Did all of my mental illness immediately disappear? Not in the least. And I figured that things would likely play out that way, but nothing could prepare me for the road that was just up ahead. Within five months I left behind everything I’ve ever known, moving 3,000 miles from California to Virginia. A month or two later, I had almost completely unraveled… again. I wasn’t fighting a desire to die, but the soul crushing shame had returned. March 2020 wasn’t long after that, and experiencing a global pandemic in a new state with very little community and a heavy burden of shame proved almost impossible to survive. Once again, the desire to take my own life had not returned, but throughout the rest of the year I would experience levels of emotional pain that I had only ever heard about. I remember thinking to myself one night in October 2020 – “Oh, so this kind of pain is why people might numb themselves out with alcohol. Huh. I guess I know why now.” The thought terrified me. And while that thought has come and gone in the years since then, God continues to keep a hedge of protection around me – both for substance addiction as well as any suicidal thoughts.
In December of 2020 I moved to central Illinois. Everything went down with two weeks’ notice, and on December 15, 2020 I arrived in Peoria, Illinois. I was a shell of myself. My situation in Virginia had become so bad that I still don’t know how I made it to Illinois in one piece. But God…
Around this time I began to realize and learn that I have ADHD. Looking back, that knowledge helps so much of my life make sense. But rewriting the narrative of one’s life at age 27 is no small task. By this point the soul crushing shame had returned, but it became more complex. A neurodiverse brain might not take away the need for accountability before God for my sinful actions, but knowing that I do some things simply because my brain is wired differently… well, it’s made the reality of allowing God’s grace to bring healing a whole lot more complicated. I’ve had to work through grief over the lost years and a poor quality of life that happened because of a missed diagnosis. Everything became more complicated. God continued to uphold me with the miracle of no longer wanting to die, but in some ways the journey I began to face became that much harder.
Since moving to Illinois, a lot has happened. I met the man of my dreams who would become my future husband. I switched jobs, giving up work that I loved for a job that would bring so much peace and joy and even healing from the workplace bullying and trauma I experienced in Virginia. I began to get more and more clarity on my diagnosis and why I do so many things differently than the rest of the world. The journey of healing from another round of soul crushing shame has continued, and slowly, over time, things have gotten better. However, some days it still goes back and forth, and this many years later I still have days where the shame is so bad that I can take any situation about anything and find in it a reason why I’m a terrible person who deserves nothing good in this world.
As this healing journey has continued, the rest of my life has continued full steam ahead. In the last twelve months I’ve gotten married, moved out of my apartment into our new place (remember how I moved to Illinois with only two weeks’ notice? Yeah, moving out of that apartment was awful, not to mention retraumatizing). My chronic shoulder pain returned. I got my wisdom teeth removed because I suffer from stress induced nighttime teeth grinding. My husband got a new job, and in the corporate world that’s no small thing. To top it all off – on June 22, 2023, I had shoulder surgery.
To say the last five weeks have been unexpectedly hard would be an understatement. The physical pain has been better than expected. But the rest of my well being? Things have been so hard that I’ve become embarrassed to the point of isolating and trying to fight strong desire to hide from everyone. It’s probably a good thing that our plans for our annual vacation to church family camp were made before we knew about my surgery, because if not there’s a very real possibility that I would have tried to back out.
But – I’m here. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan. In the exact spot that came to mind at the end of my therapy session last week when my therapist, during prayer, asked God to give me an image. Something from God to hold onto. It was my first therapy session after surgery, and by the end of it I was a mess. The image that came to mind, and the place where I sit now… it’s facing the lake. On the sand. A completely unobstructed view of the lake. Beautiful, stunning, and… without any walls.
This brings me back to where we started – a question wondering if it could really be that simple.
I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with the continued issue of a shame so deep and so intense that, at its worst, can leave me completely paralyzed. I’ve talked about it with others. God is using the teaching this week to speak to me about it. And I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest things that’s kept me from bringing this burden to the foot of the cross… well, it’s the fear that because I squandered the miracle the first time around, I’m going to squander it again. I’m going to come to a place of wholeness only to struggle again and throw it back in God’s face. And I’m not sure if I could handle that, because knowing myself, the shame would get exponentially worse with each round of failure.
Well, news flash. Of course that’s going to happen again. I mean, DUH. That’s why we need Jesus and the cross. I might not know how it looks to potentially face the battle of setting this down at the feet of Jesus over and over and OVER. I might not even know if I’m ready to take that step.
But when I think about it… could it really be that simple? Could it be that in order to feel the freedom to lay down my inability to silence the soul crushing shame at the foot of the cross, I only have to worry about today?
Over the last several months I’ve come to see my negative thoughts as something similar to an addiction. I know they’re harmful. I know they’re slowly killing me. But I can’t stop because I don’t know how. They fill an empty space in me and I’m not sure I’d know how to live without them. But maybe I’ve been worrying about trying to be perfect in my journey to live a life without them.
Could it really be that simple?
In the early days of getting clean from a substance addiction, you have to take it a day at a time. Sometimes even an hour or a minute at a time. And while the idea of potentially having to fight myself against laying my shame at the feet of Jesus time after time seems overwhelming and maybe even impossible, it has to be better than living inside a prison of shame. Besides, we don’t have to know how. That’s God’s job.
The scripture that comes to mind as an answer to the question of “could it really be that simple” is Lamentations 3:22-23. His mercies are new every morning. Something funny, I have this uncanny way of inserting desperately needed but not always wanted reminders into my life. I’ll sometimes even unknowingly insert them in ways that ensure the reminder will remain there as long as I live. Tonight I’m realizing that I’ve done it yet again – my wedding processional was “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. A beautiful reminder of that promise from Lamentations, set to familiar music that is now tied to an incredibly important day in my life. When I chose the song, I saw it as a testimony and a way to remember and celebrate all God has done for my husband and me. Little did I know that God would use it to speak to me in the future, too.
So, yes, maybe it could be this simple. Maybe the answer to all of this for me is something so straightforward and so obvious that it’s easy to miss. Is it the scarier option? The harder option? Initially, it might be. But God promises to give us what we need. He won’t always meet our needs further out than today, but He WILL give us what we need. That much we can count on.
If you want my honesty, I’m not sure where everything goes from here. I’m not even sure I’m ready to admit the simplicity of the answer God is giving me. But after what feels like some of the hardest battles of shame I’ve ever had up until now, God might finally be giving me an answer. And while it’s not an answer I’m sure I’m ready for today, it’s an answer that I know is true. And an answer that I know will bring healing. I don’t have to know how it all works, we never have to know in order to step back into God’s promises and His best for us. That’s how faith works, though. If we did know, then it wouldn’t be faith.
Lord Jesus, be with me. Help me to accept the simplicity of how to fight this, something I can only do because of Your strength. Help me to focus on today and to know that it’s safe to lay down my burdens at Your feet without having a plan for how to not forget it all tomorrow. And help me to know, believe, and experience all of Your love and grace. Yes, I might have to do the same thing again tomorrow. And the next day. And after a while I might lose count of how many times I have come back to Your feet. But thank You for Your grace that allows me to do that. And thank You for finally helping me see such a big piece to the puzzle – that I don’t have to know how to not squander Your gifts over and over again in order to come to You.
Thank you, Lord. May I slowly begin the journey of learning to see myself in the same way that You see me.