AJ Bares All

If I was going to most accurately name this post I would probably call it: WTF Just Happened: The Blog Post I’ve Avoided for a Year. But I thought that might be a little offensive, so we’ll just include the title here.

At the beginning of my junior year of college I hated men, feared the world, and felt more alone than I have in my entire life.

During my summer in England I forged a whole new life, full of rich friendships and adventures and intellectual pursuits, and I moved on from America. I came to terms with giving it up, with becoming this new creature — a woman who viciously fights for her own rights, rejects the oppressive capitalist systems of American industry, and wrestles with the ache of her past by steamrolling through the pain. In so many ways, I gave up parts of myself to become the Amethyst I wanted to be. I felt free.

But I also felt afraid. I met parts of myself that had never been exposed. I was tossed around and sexualized by men in a way that I thought I was exempt to. I drank more than I ought to. I partied harder than I thought I could. I struggled to understand centuries worth of patriarchal systems. I fought to understand my place in the world.

And then the summer ended and I had to move back to America and two days later I started my junior year and it felt like I was free-falling without a safety net. I’ve moved a lot in my life, but to say that this was one of the hardest transitions I’ve had to make is an understatement. For months I felt like a part of my soul had genuinely died. Like cutting off a limb. I felt like I was pretending. I felt like the Amethyst who left for England was so drastically changed  that she had no way to express it but to be angry.

And so I was — angry, that is. For months. I took it out on my family and my friends because I was frustrated that no one understood me anymore because while I  was walking through the pain of a severed life and the perceived destruction of my personhood (and womanhood), it felt like everyone else seemed to move on with their regularly scheduled programs. I felt isolated. More alone than I ever had before.

When people ask me about England I tell them that it was two of the best months of my life. But if they ask me in earnest, I follow that with “it taught me how hard it is to be a woman.”

I remember the last day I walked home from the club at two in the morning and how I looked at my friend and said: “this has all been fun, but I’m done now.”

Because the thought of having my butt grabbed on my way out of the club, or being followed down the street and jeered at by middle-aged men, or being grinded on by a forty year old, or kissed by a loose drunk guy in a bar one more time was too much. I was done. And I was angry.

Men were pigs who only wanted one thing. That’s how it was. That’s how I processed the world, because when I thought about it that way then I didn’t have to think about how much I felt like garbage all the time.

All of my brain, my progress, my faith, my future, my past pushed into one thing: my body. The thing that I have always felt so nervous about, the thing I’ve honestly always hated. Beginning with the bullies in the back of the bus to the boy who told me when I was fifteen that my role was simply to “sit there and look pretty” to those who came after and told me that my face was pretty but my body needed work and the others who told me that I had come far, but just not enough — my body was the thing most scrutinized, and suddenly, it was sought after.

I was naive to the overt sexualized culture of Europeans. A stereotype, for sure, but one that I existed in all summer. These men — the eighteen and forty-year olds alike — who deemed me as nothing more than a toy, stole the most dear thing to me: my independence.

I was paranoid. Me. The woman who was so eager to travel the world on her own and feared no man suddenly didn’t want to walk around cities or tour countries herself when she knew that there could be greedy hands waiting for her around every corner. I learned quickly that no didn’t mean stop, it was an invitation. So I lost my freedom and I lost my voice all at once, and suddenly I didn’t know who I was anymore.

And coming back to America felt like moving back to a new planet. It’s been a weird year, to say the least.

And now its finally over and I’m resting because my body has basically decided its time to “tap out” and I’ve fallen ill with a nasty cough and about a pound of mucous in my lungs. So, what better time to process the past year, right?

 

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If I picked a theme for the past year it would be “exposure.”

This winter break I spent most of my time alone while my roommates went back home and I stayed in town to work. It was such sweet time with the Lord, but what it lead me to was the startling realization that in the past six months I had more or less decided that I wasn’t sure I liked Him so much anymore, let alone that He liked me. Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about.

And you know what He said, in the deafening silence of distance? He said: “Come out of hiding. Expose yourself. The light is so much better than the darkness.”

It was a pivotal moment in my life. After a full semester of angst, pain, frustration — He basically asked me, “are you going to continue to be a child? Or will you choose to be a woman and trust me?”

I had a decision to make.

I didn’t want to trust Him. I didn’t even know if that was possible after everything that happened and the terror that it continued to unleash in my life. Every day walking around campus I felt like a foreigner. I felt like a fraud. And I still felt afraid. I sought solace in my women’s studies and creative writing classes, using big words and poignant essays to transcribe the ache into meaning something other than the dull pain. I was afraid all the time. Any time that a man looked at me I wanted to cry. I couldn’t look any man in the eyes. Any time I walked around campus and saw someone that looked even remotely like the one man who pushed me farther than I wanted, I would have debilitating anxiety attacks and lock myself in a bathroom stall until they passed. I clung to anger because I could hide my fear inside of it. And it meant I didn’t have to talk about it in any certain terms — I could just be angry, because, honestly, who isn’t angry today? 2016 was an absolute wreck of a year.

But I sat in my living room and listened to what the Lord was saying and we argued and He said again: “expose yourself.”

And for a few days I wrestled with what that actually meant. I had told people what had happened to me, I had told people how angry I was, I had told people about my fears, but what did “exposure” even mean.

Long story short, I agreed.

The first step was to lie flat on my face in worship. Almost by accident. Because I had spent six months running from the Lord out of guilt for how easy it was to ignore Him when I was mad. I started building my life from the ground up again, refiguring what my future could look like with the newfound vendetta against men.

When I dropped my Communication major I found out I only needed two more semesters to graduate, which basically put me a full year and a half ahead of schedule. Which, as you can imagine, is terrifying. So I had to start thinking about what my life would look like post-graduation.

Fun fact, when the Lord speaks, He speaks.  Sometimes its a shout, sometimes its a whisper, but always it is His voice that doesn’t let you escape. After my first mission trip to Ecuador when I was fourteen the Lord told me to give up two years of my life to missions. And I basically said “that’s dope, but I’m fourteen and don’t have to worry about it now.” At the end of high school I wondered if I should go then but all the doors to WSU seemed to open on their own and I figured it wasn’t my time yet. When I got to college, the reality of my four years in Pullman settled and I pushed his call out of my mind. In fact, I pushed it so far out that I tried to forget it. Behold, greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world, ammirite? Because I tried everything to run from the insecurity of that call but He kept bringing me back.

So I decided, after England, when God and I were on shaky terms (to put it lightly) that I could listen to what He said, but on my own terms. Naturally, the Peace Corps fit the bill. So I ran with it, and I ran so hard and so fast that I sold myself. And I kept running until I hit the wall of reality.

That same winter break that I was alone, I also spent time with the women I served with in Southeast Asia. And one asked me: “when are you coming back to my country?”

And thank God it was night and the lights were off because I can’t imagine what my face looked like as I realized that I hadn’t even prayed about it — not even thought about it — in six months, despite my promise to pray for my return. I told her about my plan to join the Peace Corps and what it could mean for my future — the security (financially, academically, and personally) that it secured. And she asked me “do you want to be a part of ministry?”

And I realized I didn’t know. But she was the first person to ask and it wrecked me. So I spent the next two days praying about it while I drove back and forth from home to a church conference, and at the conference I met up with one of my best friends and I told her everything on my heart and confessed my unbelief and she and I made a deal that we would worship with abandon and earnestly seek the Lord together for the rest of the conference because we had absolutely nothing to lose.

That’s when the Lord laid me flat. We were worshipping, I was on my knees, and I felt the nearness of the Lord, asking for permission to love me wholly, asking me if I was afraid.

“Come home,” He said.

And I started to cry because I knew that I had spent so much time running from this moment, out of fear and disappointment and anger, and I wept into the floor and told him “give me a sign or I will walk away. I can do things on my own.”

Two years. That’s all He asked for. Not even a long time in the grand scheme of life. Six years ago He asked me, out of joy, for two years of my life. And out of fear of what I cannot control I ran from it. And there on the floor, offering Him an ultimatum, He showed up. He always shows up. Usually not in the way that we want, but always. What unfolded after that ultimatum is a series of events and revelations that would take well over a hundred more words to describe, but the end game is this: the Lord asked me if I would trust him.

“Yes.”

I said yes. And it was the scariest yes I have ever given. And the months since then have been some of the hardest in my life. Honestly, this whole year has really just been one of the hardest yet because the thread running through it is the same question: “will you choose to be a child, or will you choose to be a woman?”

IMG_0142With my yes the Lord asked for exposure. Micah 7:8 became my anthem.

“Do not rejoice over me [amid my tragedies], O my enemy! Though I fall, I will rise; Though I sit in the darkness [of distress], the Lord is a light for me.” (Micah 7:8, AMP)

And in the exposure I did things I never thought that I could. I confessed my deepest darkest secrets to my best friends, and after that I was asked to speak at a women’s ministry night where I confessed to a room of over a hundred people all of the toxic lies that I have believed. I confessed and I continued confessing until the Lord reminded me that confession is only one part — he asks for repentance too. Repent and believe. That is the walk of a believer.

So while the world confirmed my ache when I spoke out, and the church told me to pray about it, the Lord said “let’s deal with this, let’s get to the root, let’s deal with the grit of pain and figure this out.”

And with that He has continued to ask me to expose myself on all fronts. To lay it all bare. Because self-help books and morning yoga are great, but none of them fixed the ache. None of them made it hurt less when I considered the past year. And I kept running, but the Lord kept showing up and telling me “let me have it.”

So He stripped me. Of everything.

I told my best friend that I felt like this year I was hung up and skinned alive. Like the flesh was being scraped away from me daily. Like every time I would have to give something up — whether that be a secret, a relationship, control — then a few weeks later it would show back up like salt in the wound. It was excruciating. Sanctification is the most painful process in the world.

And honestly, I’m exhausted. Being skinned alive is a terrible process. But I am clinging to the (maybe senseless?) joy that it isn’t always going to feel like this. It isn’t always going to feel like I’m out of control, shattering my heart into a million pieces to do the right thing. Someday my heart won’t hurt so bad when I think about the men and the women that I have hurt and who have hurt me. Someday I won’t cry on my living room floor when I think about the friendships I’ve had to give up this year. Someday I will be okay.

Right now, I’m not.

But that’s okay.

When I told my best friend how painful the exposure has been she said some of the most prophetic words that I think will ever be spoken over me in my life:

“Amethyst, don’t you realize? The Lord is giving you a new flesh.”

And I hated to admit it, but she was right. Because out of the pain their is joy. Every time I say no to continuing to live as a child, but instead choose to seek the Lord as the woman he has created me to be, I have found the reward of his nearness.

Because I desire comfort, but I will always desire the Lord so much more.

So while I have been laid bare, when I trace back the favor of the Lord through the year it brings me to this:

This year the Lord restored my relationships with men. Let’s be honest, in a single-parent home, with no real constant male figure, they’ve always been shaky. And I prayed that the Lord would redeem men for me, and without my knowing — He did just that. When I wasn’t looking, He allowed me to see my brothers with a whole new light. Because men are frustrating, but they’re only human, and they’re also — contrary to popular belief — not “all the same.”

This year the Lord gave me sisters. I prayed so hard for those I thought my knees might actually permanently host carpet indentations. He gave me a network of loving and supporting sisters who sat with me in the car, in my home, in their homes, in coffee shops while I wept over my own failures as a human being. Sisters who hugged me even after I confessed all the grit deep in my heart. Sisters who pushed me toward gentleness and boldness. Sisters who encouraged me to be exactly who I am. Sisters who embraced whatever it was that the Lord was teaching us and encouraged us to celebrate together. Sisters who reminded me: I am not alone. I am never alone.

This year the Lord restored my heart of peace. I am not naive. I know that this is a gradual process, but I want to trust him more than I want control of my life. He restored my passion for the nations, and reminded me how passionate I am about children and gave me a new passion for women. I want to fight for women, to advocate for them. He stirred in me, and continues to point me toward, what fighting for woman can look like. Because, let’s be real, the art of biblical womanhood often feels lost to our generation.

This year the Lord welcomed me into a life of greater freedom than I could have imagined possible. He took my insecurities, my secrets, my shame and flipped them on their head.

All because he asked, “Will you be a woman?”

“Here’s the love … It’s something you discover in the silence, in the groundedness, in the sacred risky act of being exactly who you are — nothing more, nothing less … if we just keep coming back to the silence, if we keep grounding ourselves, as often as we need to, in God’s wild love, if we keep showing up and choosing to be present in both the mess and in the delight, we will find our way home, even if the road is winding, and full of fits and starts. We will find our way home.” Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist, 232

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2 thoughts on “AJ Bares All

  1. “Sanctification is the most painful process in the world.” I needed that line right there.

    You write SO well!

    I am so, so sorry for the pain caused by men.

    Like

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