As a child, my church was a second home to me. It’s where I went to preschool, met my best friends, and essentially where I grow up. As a kid, the bible seemed like a storybook. There were always the same stories, the same holidays, and the same traditions. As I grew up with and through the youth group, I began to find a deeper meaning. Although my family faded away from going to church every Sunday, I always went. I learned to read between the lines, and discovered the true meaning of what it meant to love God and live through Him. It was never easy when things got tough, loving God through troubling times; and as I grew older, it made it very difficult to continue to live this way.
Teenage years are the years of anger, heartbreak, confusion, and loss for everyone. You grow to see who your real friends are, and who will always stand by your side through the hell you will inevitably endure. A home, on the other hand, is expected to be the place where you are loved, taken care of, and cherished forever. It hasn’t been easy growing up in my house; I’ve been a victim of abuse for years upon years. I’ve grown up struggling with how to trust; I never have had a pure example of what a trusting relationship truly looks like. I have had to live in constant fear, and in a home I am always afraid to go back to.
It was something I accepted growing up. I was scared to be anything less than perfect, I was terrified I would say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and I was frightened of what else I would suffer. It’s terrible when your earliest memories from childhood involve being tortured by a lady that was hired to ‘fix you,’ because you were accused of being a troubled, manipulative five year-old.
The hitting came from anger, and it always seemed like my deserved punishment. The hair pulling, name calling, and being explicitly told by my parents that they wished they’d never adopted me rooted inside my mind. I took darker roads than others, and felt pain in the deepest parts of my heart that were torn apart and never healed back properly.
It took a toll on my emotional health as well as my social life. I relied on my friends for more than they could provide, I broke apart relationships with my grief and fear, and I wore a masked face and carried a heavy heart for such a long time. I put myself down for things that in retrospect I did well, but never believed at the time were good enough.
It took years of pain and suffering before I decided to actually start praying to God about my struggles, tenderness and hurt. It was probably my sophomore year when I felt like I was climbing a mountain of nails. I kept trying, but it became too painful to bear. I was ready to let go. I shut out my friends, people that loved me, and even my God. I didn’t understand why praying didn’t help me, change how I was being treated, or make me feel any differently. I was ready to give up on forgiveness for the people that tore at the little strings that I had left holding me together. I was ready to quit. Everything that even gave me the slightest bit of comfort was never enough. I felt like my heart had been coated with fear, I felt scared to live the way I was, and I was facing indescribable pain.
My youth group took a trip to Florida the summer before my junior year, and even with my doubts and brokenness in my faith, I tagged along. I was distant, I hardly smiled, and I was facing each day with a shattered self- image. I took a lot of time on the beach walking alone on the shoreline, attempting to free my heavy thoughts to the fresh air and sunset. The goal was to spend a whole week together in the presence of God and one another to become better people through our struggles. To me, it was a waste of my time. I wasn’t feeling anything special; I didn’t feel freed from pain, even with prayer.
The last night we were there, our leader, Mike, took us to the beach for our last discussion. He wanted us to experience the beauty in the work of God, as we discussed. We talked about burdens, and things that we went there with that were heavy on our shoulders and overflowing in our hearts. The sunset had reached the point of many colors, and the breeze had become cooler. The next thing Mike told us to do was the one thing that I had been seeking and praying for. He said, “I want you all to spread out on this beach, and spend several minutes with just you and God. I want you to think of the one thing that you want God to take off your shoulders. The thing that has heavied your heart and really taken control of you through these past months or even years. Once you think of it, I want you to write it in the sand… Close enough to where the water can reach it, but far enough away where you can take a minute with it written there before it washes away. I want you to pray to God and give this burden up to Him. Free yourself from this struggle, and let Him take it.”
I got up off my towel and found a spot on the beach far from the others spread out along the shore. The cloud cover gave the colors of the sunset an extra boost, and the sky became more beautiful with every passing moment. I took a few seconds to think, and I slowly took a breath in as I leaned down to write the word ‘family’ in the sand. I stood up, took a step back and looked down at the word as the waves slowly washed it away. In an instant, my shoulders felt lighter, and my heart felt the presence of God. It was a feeling of relief, and a sudden strength that told me I was going to be okay. I stood for several more minutes watching the rest of the sunset with tears rolling down my face. It was the first second that I knew, God doesn’t give up, even when you are ready to.
Editor’s note: If you or a loved one is living in an unsafe environment, get help. Contact your local police, church, or social services. For more information, please visit http://www.helpguide.org/home-pages/abuse.htm.