i started this post on friday night and continued to edit it on saturday. on sunday night, sitting on the floor of my closet going through clothes for my sister’s yard sale, i heard in my spirit:
mary kathryn, what’s wrong?
is it because you told your story?
(sigh.) yes, lord. (tears.)
mary kathryn, do you trust me?
yes, lord. you know that i do. (recalling a similar conversation during the same time-period mentioned in the story when i said, ‘i love you, lord. but i just don’t trust you.’)
and how did you learn to trust me?
through this story.
through. this. story.
our story. not your story, mary kathryn. our story.
i was there with you, the whole time, just as i promised.
this is our story, mary kathryn.
use it, lord.
* * * * * * * * * *
tamara tweeted at me last weekend:
1.) hello, i’ve been thinking about you.
2.) i bet you have something to add to the ‘worth’ collection.
now, i’m a big fan of tamara but, as it happens…well, i had no idea what she was talking about because i have yet to catch up on my rss-feed in full, but went over to check out what i was sure would be explained in one of her equal-parts paunchy & poignant and always awesome blog-posts.
and it also pointed me to the one she wrote first at a deeper story.
what she had no idea of knowing was that, just. that. morning., i wondered if it was time to tell ‘that’ story…the very one she would ask me about a few minutes later.
the one about how i learned my ‘worth’ as a woman.
and i hesitated even so.
especially in light of what god is doing in my very heart & soul these days, which i will tell you about in coming days, my heart responded to the confirmation tamara offered that, indeed, perhaps it really is time to tell my story.
but because of the what and the who and the how, i have been sitting on it for the last week. it is always my intention to leave out any impertinent details that could hurt anyone else and only share what is necessary to illustrate my own story of the journey to discovering my worth.
(fyi, i just let out a huge sigh.)
it does not make me proud to tell you this part of my story, but i am not too proud to tell it. still, to talk about it now is like talking about a different person all together. it is unfathomable to me that the person i am about to talk about is the person of my own story.
i have done, and continue to do, the work to receive the forgiveness to get the freedom we all need from the parts of our lives we wear like stains.
* * * * * * * * * *
i gave up my virginity when i was 27 to a childhood friend in a drunken one-night stand after a party when we both realized we wouldn’t be going anywhere the rest of the night. it was actually right around this time of year.
i literally remember thinking ‘eff it.’
‘what have i been waiting for all this time?’
i had waited all that time, having been taught that sex was a reward for waiting for marriage but given little other reason to hold on to my purity.
it wasn’t even good. it certainly wasn’t worth it.
he didn’t know it was my first time, and i feel certain it wouldn’t have made a difference to him because it didn’t make a difference to me. we went out on an obligatory dinner date the next week (so i wouldn’t think him a creep, i’m sure) and it was so unbelievably uncomfortable. we didn’t talk after that. as it was my first time, i could only feel shame over the whole experience.
this tryst occurred right around the time i first started seeing karen, which was at the first of two of the lowest points in my life, when my depression was at its worst. as such, i had started drinking pretty heavily that summer but was yet teetering on leaving my crazy church.
it has been my experience that on your way down to the bottom,
and even when you’re on the way back up,
life usually gets worse before it gets better.
over the next few years and more of the same, i chalked it up to, ‘eh, it happens’ and pretended like it didn’t bother me until eventually it really didn’t, but only because my heart had built such an angry wall of bitterness and resentment that i just stopped caring.
that is, i couldn’t feel the caring anymore. my heart was so calloused.
each time it happened, another one-night stand, i would hear in my spirit,
i’m going to turn away from you now, mary kathryn, because light cannot fellowship with darkness.
but i will be here for you when it’s over.
i couldn’t afford to consider any longer that i was breaking god’s heart. the weight of it was too much for this depressed and angry soul to bear, so i would drink all of that away as best i could.
* * * * * * * * * *
you need to know that when i did the fourth and fifth steps with karen a few years later, that i immediately
felt was free from all of this. when i think of these events or talk about this time in my life -if ever i do, which is next-to-never- it’s as if i’m talking about someone else. i don’t remember names or even faces, much less events, anymore.
i burned the list i brought with me to karen’s that day and moved the electronic version to the recycle bin on my computer. and then i permanently deleted the contents of my recycling bin, never to be recovered or recalled.
that person can no longer be found, not one shred.
when i walked out of karen’s office that day, i knew for the first time my slate was literally wiped clean by the blood of jesus. i know that sounds christianese-y and trite, but there’s no other words i can find to describe it. i confessed before god and another person my wrongdoings and knew i was free. immediately. i was no longer, nor would i ever again, carry the weight of the world of those secrets i bore.
i haven’t and i won’t because i know i don’t have to.
they’re gone. forever.
because of the cross of christ.
i will not apologize for my past again, nor will i ever again live in shame from it, because i have already received sufficient forgiveness for it from The One whom it mattered most to receive it,
The One against whom my crime was committed.
* * * * * * * * * *
i started having sex due to the mixed cocktail of confusion, self-hatred and rejection drowning in a broken heart.
i was neither mistreated as a child nor a victim of sexual abuse. i have never been raped or molested. (thank god.)
i was very loved in my home growing up, but there was a lot going on in our house that kept anyone from being completely available to anyone else.
my parents were and remain wonderful people. but like we all have and do, i know now my parents were living with their own brokenness and they did the very best they could by us as young parents. (i was 7 by the time my mom was the age i am now. when i think about how young they were…)
i do not blame my parents for my bad choices.
(and, mom, my bad choices are not a reflection of how well you raised me. in fact, it’s not a reflection of who you and dad are/were at all but a manifestation of my own brokenness, i hope you know that.)
but along the way, i learned that a.) my value would be found in being a proper southern wife and mother, providing a happy home for my family and if that didn’t work out, then b.) the only other thing a woman would be good for would be to give herself away.
to prostitute herself.
and at 27, when a. hadn’t happened as i had planned that it would, i pursued plan b. in spite of myself.
not for money. (not really, anyway). but i had boyfriends who met needs in me, or so i thought, even if only temporarily. they would say the right things, take me out, buy me things, treat me well. (for the most part.) and then there was the expectation that we would go home and play house, which i of course thought was fair at the time.
p.s. i take full responsibility for myself in all of this. i don’t blame, nor am i angry, at any man from my past. i don’t feel like a victim or ‘poor me’ over any of this.
it is what it is and what it is is over and forgiven.
(and i want to tell you that it’s true for you, too -and it is- but i couldn’t have received the freedom i have from it now without confessing out loud every dirty detail to the person i trust most in this world. we’re only as sick as our secrets, as we say in aa.)
what’s most funny (funny-strange-funny, not funny-haha-funny), is that the men i set out to punish with my resentment -the ones who occupied time & space & i paid for by the hour in my therapy- i never even entered into a relationship with at all. any sexual encounter i had -most all of them drunken, mind you- were fueled by anger at one of these two men in my life.
in certain beds (including my own), i found myself thinking (as best as i could think when i couldn’t think at all) one of two things:
a.) really, (specific person i’m lashing out at)? this is what you’ve taught me i’m worth? fine, then. i’ll show you. watch this. aren’t you proud of me now?
or, b.) you don’t want me, (different specific person)? well, this guy does. see how desirable i am? i’ll show you.
(clearly, my plan worked. i really showed them.)
i was very much trying to fill a need in me that was not otherwise being met, and was only temporarily met at the time at best.
i didn’t know my value as a woman because i wasn’t, nor had i seen, the women in my life be valued properly and i projected what i could see with my sad eyes onto the god of my wasted heart.
i sought my worth everywhere but the only place -rather, in The Only Person- in whom i could find it. even though a christian, i was very broken inside and hadn’t wrapped my heart around the message of who he says i am.
and, you know…perhaps this is the real reason my heart wants to minister to women. because it can. because it understands.
because it knows.
but, woman-to-woman, i think this healing can only take place in the deepest parts of our hearts with our god alone. that is, i think it must only be addressed with god alone. even with the help of the most well-meaning friends, my best help came from the combination of god and good therapy. (i will ever say, even though i was raised in a family full of ministers, karen is the singlemost person god has used to change my life.)
but then (and only then) can we be made right for any healthy covenant-relationship we were meant to have on the earth. anything less is counterfeit, which is also why i’m not resentful to not be married now.
because god’s continuing to lead me from feeling worthless to knowing heart and soul that i’m worthy in a way that only he can.
because i don’t want to look in another’s eyes to discover my worth but The One who gives me worth because He created me.
i cannot tell you that i’ve arrived anywhere too special in this regard yet (we’re working on it), though i have learned a few things about my worth since those days. like knowing in my knower (and almost in my heart) that I am:
more precious than rubies. (proverbs 31:10)
a lily among thistles. (songs 2:2)
altogether beautiful in every way. (songs 4:7)
created in his image. (genesis 1:27)
fearfully and wonderfully made. (psalm 139:14)
and i wish i could tell you that i became a “born-again virgin” as soon as i walked out of karen’s office after i did my fifth step that day. but the sad truth was, even though i was free from that faded list of blank names of faceless men, i was not yet free from the belief system that my worth could only be found as either a wife or a prostitute. there was still a hole left there that needed to be filled with god’s truth.
when my dad died 2 years ago, i broke up with someone shortly thereafter. i didn’t date again until last summer, but it was short-lived because i just wasn’t ready (not to mention, we just weren’t a fit). i haven’t dated anyone seriously since then, much less compromised myself or pursued pleasure at the expense of my integrity. as a matter-of-fact, i have taken a vow of celibacy ’til death or marriage, ‘whichever comes first’, as leigh says.
and i wasn’t going to bring this up, but just in case you’re thinking it, i’d rather tell you…that, yes. i was (and am no longer) in a position of church leadership during the time i was still trying to figure all of this out and unsuccessfully trying to make best choices.
* * * * * * * * * *
i recently started reading redeeming love by francine rivers (which, incidentally, i haven’t been able to put down). ever since it was written 20 years ago, i have been encouraged to read it. but i’ve never been much for fad-books, especially christian ones, so i only picked it up for the first time last week.
if you’ve been around these parts for a while, you know it’s not the first time i’ve seen myself as a prostitute redeemed by a sacrificial love. (every parent’s dream, i know).
i am still on the journey to understanding on
a deeper the deepest level my value and worth as a woman as god defines.
it is not lost on me that my whole marriage-rant is related to this which, again, you’ll learn more about soon. because perhaps, like angel in rivers’ story, i have used and abused and i have felt used and abused and why waste my energy? and what do you really want from me? and, quite frankly, i’ve dated more duds than studs and just don’t have the time or energy for it anymore if that’s what it’s going to look like and maybe this is why…
maybe this is the reason i built a fortress around my heart.
maybe this is why i’m gunshy.
(there, i said it. i know you’ve been thinking it. but, so you know? i won this.)
because i want to be seen into and not through.
because i want to be beautiful, not just sexy.
because i want to be adored for who i am, not only for what i can do.
because i don’t want to be needed or wanted in the wrong ways again, nor do i want to become codependent again myself.
one last thing? not. one. time. did i give my heart away. not once. i thought i was in love a few times, but no one ever had my heart. even despite my recklessness, it was The One Thing i knew i could not, would not give. it was The One Thing reserved for my Bridegroom and my bridegroom.
for this, i give thanks.
* * * * * * * * * *
to the men with whom i had angry sex, forgive me. for projecting onto you needs only god could meet, i am so sorry.
to the women who would become their wives, i’m so profoundly sorry i slept with your husbands.
to the god i love and am falling more truly, madly, deeply in love with, thank you.
for redeeming me.
for redeeming in me a heart that is meant to be romanced, pursued, adored, loved, chased, betrothed…
to be committed to and enjoyed…
to be safe in the arms of unconditional and relentless love…
thank you, thank you. you give more life to me than any life i’ve known.
for not holding against me my own bad choices and wrongdoings caused by years of both circumstantial and self-inflicted pain and abuse.
you have done this for me.
i am my beloved’s and he is mine.
and to the man who has yet to find me, i am waiting for you and you alone.
because we’re both worth it.