I sat in a dimly lit room with a handful of other women. Our group had discussed a chapter from the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. This book helps to guide you through profound questions like “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?” Discussions that took us much more than one hour each week to ponder and contemplate. It was Tuesday morning which was our set meeting day together. Have you ever felt like some things just happen to you in life? Things you didn’t plan for or expect? Yeah, well attending this group was that for me.
In 1999, I began working at Word of Grace a large church in Mesa, Arizona. I had three young boys and working part-time at church where my youngest son Gabe could join me was perfect. I was the assistant to the Kindergarten teacher. At this point in my life I had quite a few years of experience working in field of early childhood so this position was a good fit, and I enjoyed it. As time went on I was asked to lead teach a two-year old class and then eventually became the Program Coordinator for the school. A few years later many changes were taking place in the church. One day I was called into the office of the Children’s Pastor (my boss’s boss). It was early in the morning and I didn’t know why he asked to meet with me. “Maybe I’m being fired and they want to do it before everyone arrives” I thought.
I walked in and he asked me to sit down. Oh no, not good. He began by saying “I’m not sure if you’ve heard there are many organizational changes happening right now?” I simply replied “yes”. He said “Well, I need to discuss a part of that change with you.” I thought okay, here we go… ” I would like for you to become the new Director of the Early Childhood Department”. I sat there for a minute and thought “wait, what did he just say?” In my head I was preparing my polite response to my dismissal. He then added “What do you think?” So many things were rushing through my head in that moment. I was clearly surprised but also happy – I knew this was an important position and I didn’t take it lightly. There were so many other qualified people he could have asked and certainly found someone more competent than me. He doesn’t really know me I thought, and will figure out soon I’m a fraud. People don’t know my past or my hang ups and wouldn’t want someone like me. I liked just blending in the background – I was such an expert at it.
I looked him in the eye and said “thank you and yes I will accept, but I want you to know these changes are sudden, and if you find anyone better for this position I will have no problem stepping down.” He just looked at me like I was crazy and said “I asked because you are the right person and I’m not looking any further”. I said okay, thanked him once more and left his office.
Shortly after my promotion our small group was formed with our new children’s ministry team, and I absolutely dreaded having to sit there each week. This type of setting made me uncomfortable – I just wasn’t used to it. I was taught to hide everything and not talk about private matters with others – especially people I didn’t know well. So week after week we separated ourselves from the world and tackled deep life topics. At first I did what came natural – smiled and listened and tried to blend into my surroundings. I would get excited when several people would share and our time would eventually run out. Whew! I felt like I had just dodged a bullet. As time progressed I realized I couldn’t just sit there – I needed to participate. So during the week I would think of safe things I could share. Things that would seem like I was being vulnerable but still not exposing anything too personal.
Almost a year had passed and slowly I began to look forward to our time together. I still had no intention of sharing personal information but it just felt good to learn and listen. Our group was bonding and I had never experienced anything like this in my life. My heart was like a sponge just soaking it all up. I didn’t understand what was happening but I secretly began to relish our time together. At times someone would share a struggle or something deeply personal, and others would encourage or empathize (not judge or try to fix it). Just be there for one another and in the end pray over it and leave it in God’s hands.
There was a shift happening inside me and these women were a part of it. Unknowingly, they encouraged me to change, modeled how to trust, and validated it was okay to be imperfect. I felt like such a fish out of water. Small sprouts of trust began to form in me and my abused heart tried to squash it. For the first time in my life I wanted out of the walls I built around myself, but my fear wouldn’t allow it. I was officially at war with myself – or more accurately at war with my abuse that crippled me. On this particular Tuesday the blinders fell from my eyes and I saw the walls of protection that I built for what it truly was – my prison. I realized these walls had never protected me and kept me safe – they enslaved me. What I thought was a cozy little room with a warm fireplace and a comfy bed was actually a bleak, damp and cold room where I slept on a stone floor without a blanket. I immediately desired to vacate my residency of over 25 years, but I didn’t know how.
I took the next step in my mind and called out to God and asked for help. What happened next I can never fully describe with words. My eyes were closed and somehow I saw myself, but I was so different. It first I saw the back of my head – I had long, beautiful, shiny, flowing hair and when I turned around I couldn’t believe what I saw. The first thing I noticed was my face – it was so radiant. My eyes were alive and danced so much so they almost seemed to be a brighter shade of brown. As I was mesmerized by my eyes I realized I could see past them to my mind. It was different too – it was free of all burden and now curious and carefree and trying to keep up with my transformed heart. It was beating in a way that let me know it was lighter and excited and ready to embrace the future. My heart was lighter but it had grown bigger and was now open to embracing others, new situations and it was filled with wonder and love. I also was still aware of the abuse but it was no longer a factor in my life. The way it had altered and damaged and driven every little and big area of my life no longer existed.
I was completely free!
It felt like I had observed myself for hours but I’m sure it was only a couple of minutes at most. As I opened my eyes and looked around the room I knew I had just been given a gift. I saw who I should have been but more than that – who I could choose to be right now! It was like God had just dangled a carrot in front of me (yes, I know I’m calling myself a donkey) and said “Bita – this is the real you and I can help you become her”. I never wanted anything more in all my life, and then suddenly it hit me – he was offering to show me the way out.
Since the age of five I trusted nothing and no one, and believed my only option for survival was to hide behind my prison walls. I lived that way for over 25 years and never dared to venture out and never looked for the exit. Yes, even though I lived in constant torment and pain and felt alone and worthless – in no way did it ever occur to me to leave my self-created cage. What I failed to realize is that I built these walls when I was a child, because I didn’t know how else to save myself. How could I? I was just starting out in life when my abuse began and my knowledge was limited.
The vision I had of my true self gave me the motivation and courage to finally try to break free and start my journey for healing. As I type these words I’m reminded of how long I’ve been on this path, and as I look up see I still have quite a way to go. I want it just as much today as I did back in that room many years ago. Fighting against depression, anger, fear, sorrow, confusion, self-hatred and bitterness (to name a few) has been very difficult. There have been many days I’ve wanted to run back to those familiar walls and hide. The thing is I now know what it truly offers and I could never go back. Each step towards healing has torn down pieces of those walls.
If I could travel back in time there are so many things I would say to that little girl as she built that wall. I would hug her and hold her and tell her I understand her fear and her pain. As good of an idea she thinks that wall can be – it will never truly save her and in the end only bring more damage. I would look in her wounded eyes and express how proud of I am of her. How she will withstand so much abuse, neglect, pain and betrayal from so many for so long – she’s absolutely amazing. I would encourage her that during those dark moments when she doesn’t feel strong, safe or cherished – to just continue to hang on – because she does in fact survive – and in the end finally finds peace and experiences the love she always deserved.
Finally, I would tell her the perseverance, strength, willpower and fight she had – helped bring me to where I am today, and I will be forever grateful – and now it’s my turn to fight for her because…
I truly love her.