It was Christmas Eve when I first visited what is now our church.
Loren was working until 11 pm at his new job, I was 19 weeks pregnant, we were in the thick of our adoption-wait, we had just moved less than a month earlier...and I was fragile.
I was tender.
I was hurting.
I was vulnerable.
I believe I had every reason to forever avoid church and church communities. I believe I could have justified (in my heart) never stepping foot into a church building again.
Or at least take a year or two off from The Church.
I could have chosen to let bitterness harden my heart, betrayal reign in my life, and hurt turn to heated hate. And that's okay too, you know?
But don't get me wrong and don't miss this: I had many moments of crying out in anger, yelling about our hurt, and swearing up and down. I didn't walk through the pain of church trauma smiling and happy and thankful for brokenness.
I had many moments of hot, angry tears, words spat through gritted teeth and "How could they?" questions.
I allowed myself to enter into fiery anger, to feel the depths of betrayal. I gave myself permission to name sin as sin—to see darkness and abuse and loss and trauma for what it was—instead of forcing myself to smile and say, "I know God's in control."
I accepted His invitation to be honest. And sometimes that honesty wasn't a pretty picture of a cute Christian girl. Sometimes that honesty was a fiery mess of anger and hurt and even shock.
In my experience, we cannot access full freedom—the fullness of life—until we walk through the darkest, most pain-filled parts of our story. Even when it reveals the ugliness of not only mankind, but of The Church. The entity that should be known for its good deeds and services, but is often known instead for its tragic hurt of others.
I can’t begin to truly forgive those who hurt us and find reconciliation in the deepest parts of me until I give pain the voice it demands. It isn't enough to just feel the pain; I need to be conscious of it, face it, wear it, claim it as mine.
When I invite God into these softened, honest spaces of seeing abuse and brokenness, I become more sad than angry with those who hurt us. The hardened walls of bitterness are shed and replaced with soft sorrow and an invitation to grieve the loss of what should have been.
Forgiveness is for our healing and wholeness. But I cannot find this freedom and joy until I truly begin to walk through the dark parts of my suffering and pain.
Time and time again, I find I cannot skip the night to arrive to the morning. Joy comes in the morning, but the morning comes after the dark night. Sometimes the night lasts longer than we want it to. —Natalie Brenner, This Undeserved Life
Now we are a part of this beloved church community. I do not regret for a second reinvesting in people, in The Church, in risking our hearts to enter relationships again.
I am thankful He makes spaces safe for me to honestly walk through the intense feelings. I am thankful He allows me to be angry at injustice and abuse, loss and brokenness. I am thankful He invites me to be honest, which is also an invitation to be whole.
Because on the other side of these intense, painful, and hard feelings...is an great opportunity for joy. Because I have allowed myself to sit in the pain and acknowledge the darkness, I can fully see and embrace the joy in the morning.
I've found myself asking through the years: What if He really does make beautiful things from the ashes? What if God is taking this undeserved and wretched pain to become something beautiful?
I could tell you all about the different beauties and joys that have come from my pain...but not in an attempt to shut you up about your pain, no, simply to tell you of Him.
I could tell you all about the joy in the morning, but I will never tell you to avoid noticing the night.
It's in the darkness of the night where the joy in the morning becomes so much more vivid and meaningful.
I've come to believe and grab ahold of this: Joy comes in the morning, but the morning comes after the dark night.
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