Every one’s got some really good things that helped them develop into the people they are today. Even a scoundrel with barely a shred of decency got that shred from somewhere. And everyone’s got some tough or awful things that helped develop them into the people they are today. Even a bright shiny star of your community has a few dings and scars that are real. A quote that has been attributed to several writers rings true: “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.”
So I’m going to tell a piece of my own story here, and though other players take their parts, I’m not talking about them. I’ve been reading up on “vulnerability”. In hopes of being stronger myself and in hopes of extending a strong hand to someone else, I’m going to go ahead and be raw and vulnerable. If that sounds bad to you, here’s a spot for you to stop reading this and go on to something else. I won’t be offended if you walk out now. And in fact, I won’t be offended if you read to the end and then walk out on my life. I’m just letting you know up front that some of what is coming isn’t pretty.
You’d think a man in his middle-ages would be quite over whatever went wrong in his childhood. Truly, I am much more deeply developed in soul than I was at the beginnings of the school years. But you see, that little boy, though he was the early version of this man, did not contain this man’s life and experience. But this man fully contains the entirety of that little boy. I own the entirety of who he was, what he did, what he experienced, and who he has become. Thus I never get “over” him. I just keep learning how to navigate this full rich life with his ideals and his scars still present.
In general, we men don’t talk about the little boy inside of us. If we are really blessed, we have someone who really loves us as we are and who doesn’t disdain the little boy inside. But all too often, we either hide the boy and his memories and are ashamed of him, or even worse—we keep acting like him with our grown-up body. Guys, it doesn’t have to be that way. And gals, it would sure help if you’d not only hold us accountable to act like men, but also accept that we hold the entire memory of being a boy.
I mentioned in a previous blog post about the fact that I experienced a form of sexual abuse between the ages of five and seven. The results of that in my life have been complex. Having a healthy sexual and emotional development has been a life-long challenge. My history includes a few things which were never reported and for which the statute of limitations have long expired: In early years there were things that happened to me. To my eternal regret and remorse, in late teen years there were things which I did. Self-loathing and thoughts of self-destruction have never been far away.
I remember sitting with my wife and a counselor, talking about anger and control and communication. He’d reviewed our personality profiles. We weren’t there to talk about our sex life. And he asked me, “Were you sexually abused as a child?” Don’t you just love it when a counselor draws on their research knowledge base, reads between your lines, and cuts down into stuff you thought you had stuffed away? The effects of those early sexual experiences, the coercive and secretive context in which they occurred, and the lasting shame, guilt, and twisted memories have all reached forward into the adult life I live as a husband and father.
As we explored those experiences and memories, the counselor asked a probing question that sometimes comes back to me: “Imagine if you will, Jesus at that time. In your life. Where was Jesus while you were in that experience? What was he doing?” I’ll tell you, I sat and thought about that for what seemed a long time before I could come up with an idea. It seemed at first thought that Jesus was entirely absent from those scenarios. Him there?! You’ve got to be kidding, right? But the thought that came to me was a scene in the western bedroom addition on a neighbor’s house. Not one of the scenes from the barn. Not the scene in the old junker car beside the barn, barely sixty feet away from where my mother was working in the garden and I was too scared to tell her what had happened. A memory from the house. Imagining Jesus… He was sitting up on the roof of my house, by the chimney, where he had a view down through that bedroom window where things were happening that shouldn’t. And he was crying. He wanted to go there and stop it, but he couldn’t. Just like he couldn’t do much in the line of miracles, long ago in his own neighborhood, where people didn’t have faith in him, he couldn’t go to that room because there wasn’t enough real faith in my house and in my church for him to do what he wished he could. He cried.
That counseling session was quite a few years ago, and sometimes that question comes back to me. As it did this morning. There now is greater clarity in my mind about it all.
Jesus promised that I would not ultimately deal with all the fallout alone. I have helpers along the way.
My older sister sometimes was a babysitter for the family that lived in that house. One day she opened that bedroom door and discovered my nakedness and what was going on in there. She was too scared and confused to know what to do or to say, or to whom she should go. So she didn’t do anything. In our adult years we’ve talked about why she didn’t get help. That’s another story and it’s more her’s than mine so I won’t tell it. And I have not ever held it against her for not getting help at that time. But finally this morning, many years after that counseling session, and many more years after first talking with my sister about it, and more than forty years after the incident I finally realize:
That is when it stopped. My dear sister, despite your confusions within the system of our lives at that time, Jesus who was restricted to observing from my rooftop, sent you. Even if you didn’t know it, you were sent. You opened the door and the hidden things were uncovered. And the episodes stopped. Chi Miigwetch.
Truly, in time, things change. Situations can find some resolution if we are open to it. Circumstances change. Our capacity to choose our responses matures. In time, a tow truck came and took those junker cars away. More time… and that frame bedroom addition on the back of that old brick house caught fire and burned. Burned good. They tore it down, and in more time Mr. E______ restored that back of the house to its original configuration. In time, a group of Mennonite men tackled a small “Mennonite Disaster Service Project”. No, it wasn’t a flood or a tornado, but that old barn was a disaster in more ways than those men knew. They tore it down and took it away. Now, if you go there, you can see only yards and a nice brick wall. No garden where I couldn’t talk to my mother. No junker cars where things happened with children that should never happen. No barn… But if you look at the back of that house in the right light, you can see some outlines where the mortar is different. Sort of like a scar. It’s strong mortar, the bricks are clean and strong, the new window is made in the exact same style as the other ones that are nearly a century older. But the scar in the mortar is visible.
Maybe you would disdain me for some of the choices I’ve made, or the stuff I wrestle with. I’ve nothing to be proud of, but I will be glad in this: even if my scars still show, and even if the real raw me isn’t always having the prettiest behavior, I believe that Jesus has built me a new life. He’s the one behind any bricks being stacked straight and strong in my life, he’s the one behind the junkers being cleared out and old walls being torn down. He’s the one making grasses green and light to shine. His ministry of reconciliation can reach to the darkest depths of a soul. Darkness cannot overwhelm a shining light. Somethings can put out light, but darkness can’t.
My light may seem to be of shaky quality somedays, but I’m sure that darkness won’t puff it out. And he’s the sort of light that can put fire to your candle too.