With my heart sinking to my knees, I listened to 6 teenage girls share their gut wrenching stories of sexual and/or physical abuse, words spoken to them of threat and hatred, years of jumping from sexually-abusive foster families to loving adoptive foster families, turning to addictive escape methods, and so many more horrors that 7 to 15 year girls should not even know about.
Camp never fails to bring me to my knees with the realization that I cannot do this thing of life on my own. Camp unburies my own memories from the days I was a camper. I have now stepped into the big shoes of Mighty Camp Counselor - and those shoes are a lot heavier than I remember seeing them as. I have spent approximately 20 weeks at various camps throughout this small life of mine. The last 5/20 weeks have been as a Camp Counselor. It never fails to humble me, reminding me of the significant role I am offered to fill at camp. These teenagers register for camp with the hope to encounter Something Big. I get the absolute privilege of digging deep, inviting these girls into raw and honest conversations, pointing to Jesus in relentless ways...for just a few days. I don't want to forsake that opportunity. The main avenue I choose to skip the surface talk and get to Jesus is by asking if anyone wants to share their story - if that intimidates them to their core, which it usually does, I offer to share mine. In doing so, I strip down barriers that were unnecessary. Barriers such as the fear of being known and unloved, the fear of being rejected, the fear of being condemned. Very real things.
Many of the stories I hear at camp force my actual legs to grow numb and I crumble beneath the weight of brokenness this world carries. I break because the stories shared aren't unfolding the way God planned this world of stories to unfold. That may seem contrary to what you've heard...but I believe it as true. I believe that God's intentions, His desire, when He made this world was for us to live in harmony, in peace, without brokenness. That is His design; but He also gave us this wonderful thing called: FREE WILL. The freedom to make decisions, to have within ourselves a will, a desire, a choice-making ability. With this free will often comes free disaster. Disaster like...abuse (sexually, physically, emotionally), abandonment, neglect, loss, lots of yelling, addictions, adultery, murder, and the list goes on and you know all too well what else the list contains. This brokenness, [when in the thick of it], often feels like hell-on-earth; this is because these things are opposite of heaven, they are completely contrasting with what God had intended for us.
Maybe you, my wonderful reader, have lived through [almost]-hell on earth -- moments where so much darkness covered you, you were unsure that a joyful-freedom-peaceful life existed outside of the walls of your own home. Darkness engulfs you and you feel trapped and you don't know that there is any good; can God even see you?
Forgiveness seems farfetched, something for others but not for you. The hurt you have endured is unjustifiable, inexcusable, unforgivable. Forgiveness is for weak people, you may think. Forgiveness is for people who want to set themselves back up for hurt; you will not do that. You will harden your heart if needed, place up extreme boundaries to protect yourself from being hurt in that way ever again. This is where trust and forgiveness differentiate. I am here to tell you that you can whole-heartedly forgive someone, find freedom, without having to trust them. Without having to place yourself in a situation to be taken advantage of, abused, wounded.
Forgiveness of deep wounds does not weaken us, it strengthens us and invites us into a place of freedom. Freedom of peace and joy. You may feel extremely weak, broken to shambles even. But in Jesus, you can gain the unexplainable strength to forgive.
Forgiveness may not happen over night. Forgiveness can be a process, but the crucial tipping point is choosing to enter that process. Choosing to ask Jesus for the strength to forgive, to help you hope the best, believe the best, want the best for ____________. My friends, I so want you in on this. I so want you to join me in this freedom of forgiveness. I am telling you, it is free. It is good. It is lovely and delightful and wild and full of Him. And He is good.
How do you begin this process, this journey of forgiveness? You decide to begin; you commit to yourself and to Jesus that you want to walk down this hard and freeing road. Tell someone who is trustworthy, who may even know the deep wounds you are carrying around. Ask them to help you, to pray for you, to root you on in grace. Pray for this person, these people, and ask Jesus to give you eyes for them as He sees them. Ask Jesus for understanding and compassion; it is highly likely they are battling their own prison and are suffering from darkness. I can almost guarantee it. Ask Jesus to reveal a deep understanding and give you a heart for them; ask Him to help you forgive. Every time their name or face pops into your heart, mind, or vision...instead of hardening your heart that spews bitter blood that tastes like sour vinegar, ask Jesus to guard your heart. Lean on His understanding, lean into His grace, and ask for His heart. You may fail and you must remember that Jesus is the man of grace. God is the God of grace. So pray, and ask Jesus to help you through this process.
"Take me into your freedom of delightful joy, Jesus. Help me forgive, help me see _____ with eyes of grace and forgiveness. Guard my heart."
I have walked this journey and am still walking this journey. I choose to forgive those who have wounded me deeply, though it doesn't always come easy. But boy, is there freedom on the other side. I hope the best and pray for these people, I [most-of-the-time] see them with eyes of grace...but I don't always insert myself in a scenario to be wounded again. When in their presence, I always ask Jesus to guard my heart. I give you my word, friends, forgiveness is worth the work.
[If you have any questions, comments, or prayer requests, PLEASE email me or comment below. It is my utmost honor to pray for people and point towards freedom found in Jesus.]
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