Every summer, my church in Orlando picks one book to dive into over the course of 10 weeks. The last few summers have been great opportunities for me to learn more in a community setting, but once the summer ended life just proceeded as normal.
This summer is very different. When this summer’s book selection was announced to the staff, I cringed and wanted to avoid it at all costs. See, the name of this summer’s book selection happens to have the same name as the person who embodies the darkest two years of my life. For me, it is a name synonymous with pain, abuse, betrayal, fear, and total darkness. It is also the name of a dear friend who continues to help me see men in an entirely different light. What used to be a name I wouldn’t even speak out of fear of all the horrible memories it brought back, is now a name I say, text, and write frequently and each time, the name loses a little more of its negative hold on me.
This is still a process for me though – learning to let go of the past and not letting post traumatic stress run my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Learning to not recoil in disgust every time I see or hear or read the name of the person who nearly ended my life. So, sitting in church today, and listening to our lead pastor talking about The James Challenge, I found myself swimming in whirlpool of emotions. I was sitting next to he man who I will marry in 12 short days. The man whose hands are so much larger than mine that he can envelope one of my hands into one of his without stretching. The man who has shown me what love looks like. The man who uses his arms to envelope me in safety and care rather than in force. As I read the Book of James every day this week, I will feel the old fears and shame creep up. And I will wonder if the man who is about to be my husband can see my trembling hands. And I will think of my friend, James, who has invited me into his family and taught me what a real man can be.
And then I will pray. I will pray like crazy that my fear and shame won’t win. That something as simple as a five-letter name can be redeemed through friendship and unconditional love and kindness. I will pray with gratitude that a kind man with a childlike wonder and an enormous heart wants to marry me next week.
And I will remember. I will remember the pain and the hurt and the darkness, but in a way that brings me to my knees in awe of God’s redemption, not in a posture of defeat. For me, The Challenge this summer isn’t in reading every day. The challenge, at least for me, lies in seeing what is right in front of me rather than being afraid of what is behind me.