As a teenager, I spent a significant amount of time on South Padre Island. We lived in a little town near Port Isabel, and the beach was close, free, and fun. My favorite times to go to those sandy shores, though, was right after a tropical storm or even better, a hurricane. Things that once rested silently beneath miles of water for decades, or even centuries, would be dredged up and deposited on shore by massive, dangerous waves of water. Ships have become dislodged and been discarded callously on those beaches, unaware of the value of their find. Bobby pins, dishes, beer cans, and more than enough spare tires and toilet seats to be comfortable with, were pretty common items to find. But there was always some surprises, too. It was the coolest kind of treasure hunting, in my opinion. Angry winds and dangerous floods, the last vestiges of a powerful and indifferent storm, weren’t enough of a threat to keep people like me inside. The best loot would be gone within minutes, and the race would be on the minute the car wouldn’t be blown off the road.
I never managed to find anything of real worth, but I was content with my spectrum of sea shells, drift woods, and the occasional artsy photograph I’d snap. The trip to the beach after the storms wasn’t about what I could own; it was about a perfect moment being created just for me. Curiosity and Imagination surged as I sifted and dug, looking for that special something that I would recognize only in the minute I saw it. Each spoon, or thimble, or whatever else I would manage to collect held a history that probably would never be known again. Fanciful, childish stories would begin to form in my mind, and often, I’d find my brain happily focusing on shaping those imaginations into something clever, and nothing else. My incessant, over-analyzing mind would become quiet, feeling safe for a minute or two. The whole experience was almost spiritual for me. With hope beating excitedly in my chest, the sand oozing through my bare toes, and the heat from a cheerful sun gently bleaching my hair as she peaked around gray clouds, life seemed to stand still for me. There was no past, no worries, no fear of the future. Only God’s voice rumbling somewhere far off, the power of the ocean, and I existed in those moments. The rhythmic journey of waves coming and going provided a soundtrack, and tiny crabs danced happily to the mysterious music of the water.. The whole experience was important to me, and I always went home feeling more settled, peaceful, and relaxed. My mind would seem cleaner.
I look back at my footsteps through my life, and the path I’ve traveled is so much clearer to see now. Storms would present themselves in my life — sexual child abuse, betrayal, absent father, the list goes on and on, and those spiritual waters would churn up motivations, disappointments, pain, and other equally disturbing things from the bottom of my heart. As a young woman with three tiny children and a brand new marriage to focus on, behaviors I’d long suspected might be bad for me were simply justified, ignored, and finally accepted, like one would a cane because of a severely damaged foot. I truly believed back then God had just healed all that up, sight unseen, and I never had to think about it again. As time went by, it became easier to leave the past in the past. I was a pretty happy, functioning person who had somehow avoided being truly damaged by on-going sexual abuse by a person I had trusted…. That assumption fell right to pieces when another person I trusted betrayed me. Suddenly, old, unresolved wounds stemming back to childhood became entwined with the present situation with my unfaithful husband. 20+ years of burying those scars as deep as possible hadn’t made them disappear. They jumped readily into the chaos of my broken heart, vivid and clear. I was that powerless, pissed, frightened little girl all over again. My refusal to address the abuse years ago actually made the death of my marriage twice as hard. Ignoring a problem never pays off in the end. They just bide their time, waiting to emerge from the darkness, riding on the back of another devastating storm.
Like any other infection all the band-aids and self-deception in the world won’t make deep, crushing wounds just evaporate. I’d learned to survive in this dog-eat-dog world, as do most people who have suffered trauma so significant as children, but my make-shift coping skills began to break down, and I found myself less and less able to emotionally keep myself stable, productive, and more importantly, in control. Being molested, you learn just how powerless a person can really be in this world, and power becomes the name of the game. Commitment becomes hard; being vulnerable is never an option.Love is hoped for, yet never lives up to the hype. Suspicion lurks deep in the shadows, waiting for the betrayal to come, positive that it is only a matter of time. Every kind word or romantic gesture becomes suspect to even myself about the true motives of my intimacy or my husbands..Sex becomes a currency and love a weakness. Silently, a struggle was always going on between me and my husband, and the effort it takes to act like everything is okay is exhausting. It takes so very little to tip over a life like mine, and when I’d been betrayed by someone so close, all those weak, infected wounds broke open with such anguish, it took months for my soul to stop weeping.
There is quite a bit of debris littering my heart after this latest, greatest storm in my life, and yet, as I mentally pick up and examine memory after memory, unlike the treasures swept up on the beaches of Texas, I’m aware of the history of each one. This storm is over and the healing process is well on its way. I feel He’s re-broken some old wounds to set them correctly this time. The real treasure I will find among all of this wreckage is wisdom, and the healing will be strong and straight, not fragile and temporary. Each storm has made me stronger, and even my failures have value to me now.
Nor is every thing I’m finding in my heart garbage. There are some treasures in there, as well. I’m no longer afraid of what the storms of life will be able to uproot in my heart and drag into the light. I’m proof of God’s enduring mercy despite the blackness of my sins buried deep inside of my heart. Turns out, He wasn’t as surprised at what He found there as I was.
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