Late one Friday evening in 2012 a woman was on retreat with a small group of people when she heard the words, "I want to feel clean again," come out of her mouth without knowing where they came from or what they meant. It was a Rachel's Vineyard retreat for post-abortion healing and this incident occurred just prior to wrapping things up and heading off to bed on the first day.
The last activity of the evening was a guided meditation on the biblical scene described in Mark 10:46-52 about the blind man Bartimaeus. The group had listened to the account of Jesus healing the blind man and reflected on the areas where they might be blind and in need Jesus' healing. A role-play was in progress as the priest made his way around the circle of retreatants repeating Jesus' words to each one in turn, "What do you want me to do for you."
The woman's brain was spinning as she prayed and tried to think of what she should say when her turn came but there was no answer. Her pulse was racing and she was all but holding her breath when the priest and helper came to her. Kneeling, she spoke the scripted words "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me," heard the priest address her by name and ask, "What do you want me to do for you?" and then the response, which changed the direction of her life - "I want to feel clean again."
The woman in this story is me, and that moment on the Rachel's Vineyard retreat is a miracle that launched my healing journey. I was stunned to hear those words come out of my mouth, and while trying to act normal and not draw attention to myself, I was a disaster inside as I tried to gain control. What the heck!? Lord, what's that supposed to mean? I didn't sleep the whole weekend, and despite feeling God's presence close to me as I wrestled with these words, it would be three months before I started to understand what was happening, and that was during another healing retreat! I was on a Grief to Grace retreat for healing of abuse when a 144-item self-assessment broke through my denial and showed me how trauma, abuse, and neglect from my childhood were still affecting me every day.
It's been eight years since that first retreat and in the time since, I have changed dramatically thank to God's mercy and love for me. I have learned a lot about trauma and abuse both through my own counseling and healing as well as by going back to school for more than five years. Every step of the way I knew God had a plan for me to use what I was learning to help others.
Eventually, I realized that the sexual abuse I had experienced at age nine was responsible for my feeling dirty and unlovable. This is a very common thing, even for people who are psychologically healthy, because sexual abuse is evil and it leaves the soul enveloped in shame. I also learned how mental/emotional abuse, physical abuse, and spiritual abuse contributed to my inability to trust my instincts and intuition, prevented me from being able to see anything good in/about myself, and left me with a deep (subconscious) belief that not even God cared about me. This was the foundation that I was trying to build my life on and I was failing miserably.
Fortunately, the TRUTH really does set us free! I came to see that most of what I believed about myself - and thought others believed about me - was a bunch of LIES. I had lived in an environment that was so negative that I couldn't recognize truly good things until I started setting boundaries to protect my mental health. Like a person who walks into bright sunlight after being in the dark, it took time for me to adjust and it was uncomfortable. I had to learn how to trust people, I had to learn how to form healthy friendships, I had to learn how to take care of myself - really take care of myself, because God showed me that I can't give anything to others (not food or clothing or money or love or compassion) if I don't have it myself or for myself. I can't authentically care for others if I'm not authentically caring for myself.
Jesus tells us this clearly in Mark 12:31 when he says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." For decades I had heard this scripture read in Mass without realizing the question it brought to my heart. "What if you don't love yourself?" The answer is that if I don't truly love myself as God wants me to, then I can't truly love anyone else. For me there is great beauty here because the desire in my heart to help others demanded that I not be a phony. In the process of allowing God to show me what this means and allowing Him to love me, I've received an incredible gift: the joy of knowing that I am good and that I am lovable. I am NOT the piece of garbage I thought I was for so many years - thank you, Jesus!
It's been a long, hard journey; but so VERY rewarding that I am dedicating the rest of my life to helping others as they walk their path.
God wants our healing. He wants us to be whole and happy in this life, not just when we get to heaven, and He uses every means he can (people, music, books, scripture, movies, etc.) to get our attention and draw us to His heart where we will find comfort and peace. If you have ever felt you are defective, unwanted or are a reject, if you have destructive/negative patterns in your life that you hate but can't seem to stop, if you yearn to feel "normal" but can't seem to make it last, there is real hope that your life can be better and I'd love to help you make that happen.