Last year, I started a tradition of writing a gift list, recording the ways God had blessed me by teaching me a new lesson, adjusting my proverbial eyesight, or concreting an abstract concept. As I celebrated New Year’s over cabbage rolls with my then boyfriend and his family, I had no idea what gifts God had in store for me in 2012.
This morning, as I crept out of my newborn daughter’s nursery and quietly filled my mug with coffee, I reflected on how vastly different my world seems now compared to then. And yet one thing remains constant despite the myriad of changes whirling around me–God never ceases to surprise me. He blows my expectations away. He gives me what I do not deserve and withholds harsh and painful consequences that I do deserve. He dusts off places inside me I’d resigned as impossible to clean.
When I look back, I see His beautiful fingerprints all over my life.
These are a few of the gifts given to me in 2012.
- The big picture. Throughout my life, God has allowed many negative and painful things to elapse. One of those things toward the top of that terrible list is the experience of being raped the first time I had sex at the age of 16. As many of you read about over the course of a series of blog posts on this topic, God did what He has rarely done for me before–He allowed me to see the big picture and brought many of the puzzle pieces together before my eyes, revealing to me various reasons and motives behind the question, “Why did this happen to me, God?”
I am not sure why He chose to bless me with the information and insights He shared, but I am grateful nonetheless. I’m grateful for my good friend who shared his secret with me, which shed light on my own story due to the intricate connections between us and the man who raped me. I’m grateful for my counselor who led me through the valleys of shadow, death, and grief as I unearthed years of buried emotions. And I’m grateful for the clarity I found on the other side.
- Forgiveness. As a result of this clarity, I found fuel to forgive the man who raped me. This sparked a series of revelations regarding sins and missteps I’d never forgiven myself for. Five years ago when I began the process of recovery in a twelve-step program for families and loved ones of alcoholics, God showed me in subtle ways that I must first forgive myself before finding fuel to forgive others. Since then, He has presented me with opportunities to apply this lesson learned to real life situations. Forgiving the man who raped me was a mountainous obstacle to overcoming this complicated roadblock to peace.
- Timing. This year, God perfectly timed and ordered my circumstances for my maximum benefit. I believe He has always done this, but I haven’t always noticed. This year, I noticed. I noticed that He healed me from painful parts of my past just prior to surprising us with the news that we would soon be parents. I noticed that He pried the invisible calendar from my hands containing minute details of the order of MY plans for MY life and politely crushed it into a tiny paperwad before tossing it into the trashcan. I begrudgingly let go of my schedule, crossed out all the items on my to-do list, and let God reset the timer. I learned that it’s impossible to plan out every second of my life and that some of the most wonderful things occur when I stop trying.
Patience. Wise friends in recovery have warned me against praying for patience for years–if you ask God for patience, He gives you opportunities (which are often painful) to grow in patience rather than granting your wish and instantly filling you with the virtue. At least that’s been my experience. I did not ask God to let me become pregnant, but He blessed me with my baby anyway. As someone who has feared and loathed pregnancy my entire life, I did not look forward to spending 40+ weeks of my life dealing with the growing pains of pregnancy. Although I did not enjoy being pregnant and hope to avoid repeating that experience, I definitely gained patience as a result of the complications and symptoms I faced during pregnancy which were utterly out of my control. As I sat in my recliner for hours on end, I learned that letting the dust accumulate on the carpet for a few more days would not cause anyone any harm and that taking only one course in the fall semester would simply slow the rate of completion for graduate school, not stop it. I didn’t ask for patience, but I’m glad I got it.
- Security. I’m not sure why, but ever since I was a child I’ve had an unfounded fear of someone breaking in to my house at night and hurting or murdering me and my family. I didn’t watch horror movies or even scary television shows as a child, so I’m not sure where this fear originated. After circumstances surrounding my experience of being raped, my fear of this increased and seemed logical rather than irrational. I have been known to refuse to sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door, to check the locks on doors and windows countless times, and to lie in bed for hours on end, listening to every little creak and groan of the floors, wind, and tree limbs. I’ve been too scared to sleep, literally and not so literally. In July of 2010, when I met my husband, the number of sheep required for counting each night began lowering.
As I watched him choose good over evil, right over wrong, and truth over deception repeatedly, I believed his declaration of love for me more and more. I learned to trust him. This year deepened my trust for him in many ways. He cared for me selflessly during the roughest patches of my pregnancy. He encouraged me to quit my job in order to focus on finishing graduate school and resting during my pregnancy, promising me that he would take care of me financially. Having started working at age 13 as a tutor and never remaining unemployed for more than a few weeks ever since, trusting someone else to meet my needs felt foreign. But as I learned to still my worried mind, and close my watchful eyes, I found myself finally able to rest.
Fulfillment. I thought I’d felt fulfilled before. I’d accomplished plenty. I made all A’s in high school. I graduated from college with honors. I have maintained a perfect GPA in graduate school so far. I have held great paying jobs and managed people, events, and departments. I’ve donated my time and energy to serving others overseas and in my local community. I’ve reached out and helped others and experienced the joy of being used by God as a catalyst for growth and revelation in others’ lives. I had no idea that I’d never felt as fulfilled as I could, and I certainly didn’t expect that I’d feel completely fulfilled by becoming a mother. But I do.
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the unexpected gifts are always the best.