Sometimes I have flashbacks. The flashbacks come at inconvenient and unexpected times and feel like they’re pulling me back into a person I was in college, who I definitely don’t want to be. They’re flashbacks of my darkest memories, my weakest moments and the times when I was both self-destructive and destructive to anyone who got close.
During those times I feel like I’m mourning the person I was and the circumstances I went through. I mourn the young girl who felt so in over her head and completely hopeless at times. I grieve over the things that happened to her, that for lack of a better term just weren’t fair. And while I grieve and mourn her suffering, I also find myself terrified of her, more specifically, terrified of becoming her. So I block her out, ignore her pleas for attention and healing and try to fix my eyes on whatever is next in life, not what happened in the past.
However over the last year of counseling, my counselor and I have been working on addressing this part of me. We refer to this part of me as Little Leah. Little Leah embodies the pain and destruction of my first two years in college – the wounds that sometimes still hurt and feel like skeletons in my closet. Little Leah isn’t my favorite topic. She seems weak, needy and even pathetic. I approach her cautiously, afraid she’s like a ticking bomb that could go off at any moment. This week in counseling I admitted that I feel not only afraid of her and the havoc she could wreak, but also angry at her. I am angry that she is a part of me and a chapter of my story. I am frustrated that she still haunts me and ashamed of and angered by the choices she made. She feels like an insult to the person I am now.
My counselor asked me to explain the differences between Little Leah and myself. “Little Leah is completely dependent on other people,” I answered. “Little Leah doesn’t know how to help herself, she is hypothetically and sometimes literally on the floor, unable to pick herself up.”
“Who I am now is stronger. I have the tools I need to live a happy and fulfilled life. I’m proud of the person I am now and the person I am now isn’t hurting everyone around her.”
My counselor nodded and affirmed me. I am different now. I truly believe that and getting to where I am now from where Little Leah was took a lot of time, deep healing and facing tough things. But somewhere in the mix, I buried Little Leah, who she was and what she went through under layers of shame and regret. Little Leah was not just a victim of terrible circumstances, she was a selfish and distraught wild card. It makes sense to not want to be her. The problem was I never wanted to even think of her or the pain she represented. When wounds get buried, they fester and rot. Little Leah was not just a part of me I didn’t like, but also a wound that had never properly healed.
As we talked through my session this week, my counselor encouraged me to let my perfectionistic tendencies fall to the side and see Little Leah not as a malicious black mark on my record, but as a piece of me, as a person who needed love and grace, not harsh expectations and disdain.
We began an exercise where I pictured Little Leah and the person I identify as today interacting. And what I found when I actually listened to that part of myself instead of shutting her out, was that she wasn’t trying to drag me back to a miserable season of life. Little Leah needed attention – not to hurt me, but to heal.
By shutting out who I was in that season, I was denying myself real healing and the ability to move forward without feeling like Little Leah kept tapping me on the shoulder. In the moment I acknowledged her, my anger faded and compassion swelled up.
My counselor asked me to let Jesus join our interaction. And what I realized was that Little Leah didn’t just feel abandoned by me, but by Jesus Himself. There was a deep part of me that truly believed he had abandoned me over those two years. The biggest question Little Leah had was, “Where were You?”
In response to feeling an absence of God’s presence, I completely hid that part of myself and my story from him in the present. I know now that Jesus was there all along, even on days it didn’t feel like it. But I had never relayed that knowledge to Little Leah. When I pictured Jesus interacting with Little Leah – who felt so alone and forgotten – it felt like balm to a raw part of my heart.
To envision Jesus interacting with the part of myself I was most ashamed of and often hid from him caught me off guard. The person I thought was not clean enough for him to see was a part that he loves just as much as the Leah I am today who has it way more together.
When I was envisioning facing Jesus, I showed him every crude and ugly memory I had of Little Leah. I shared every lapse in judgment, the lowest of the lows, the worst moments of sin. Jesus didn’t flinch. Not even once was he appalled or surprised or disgusted. He only responded with love and compassion because that is who he is.
“You are still holy, beloved and Mine,” he proclaimed over Little Leah. And I handed her over – the weakest, most tender and tired part of myself – to Jesus, the One who loves her deeply and ministers to her needs and wounds without judgment or expectation.
I ended the counseling session in tears –not of frustration or pain, but tears of relief and awe that God would enter into my darkest season with the love and light that exposed his greatness rather than just my imperfection.
It’s hard to fathom that what I was most ashamed of and kept hidden under layers of defensiveness and perfectionism was exactly what Jesus wanted to claim as his own. It’s impossible for me to wrap my mind around the fact that Jesus loves my most broken part as much as he loves the part that is a much more compassionate and biblically aligned. But even though I don’t understand it, I know without a doubt that it is true.
He shows up in our darkest seasons even when we don’t feel like he is there or could possibly love us in the midst of it. Jesus is the shepherd that goes looking for the one lost sheep and carries it back with joy and celebration when it is found. He is not harsh or cruel, but tenderly brings us back home and calls us his own.
It’s so easy even after years of knowing Christ to think of him as lacking kindness or understanding even though he is absolutely the opposite. The world keeps a tally of our errors, but Jesus only sees a clean slate. He didn’t die on the cross so our sins would still define us. He died on the cross and rose three days later to show us that He overcomes everything – our worst moments included. He is the God that sees us as pure and debt-free, no matter our past.
When I mourn those two dark years in college, Jesus mourns with me. But he doesn’t mourn with frustration or disdain, he mourns with understanding and also with hope. He knows how the story ends. He knows He has victory, and when we choose Him we get victory too.
To me, hope is the most beautiful part of the Gospel. We get to have hope in every season and situation. We get to know the story has a perfect ending – even if a chapter feels tumultuous. Hope allows us to acknowledge the reality of our situations, which are often less than ideal, but points to what we know lies ahead. Jesus doesn’t pretend our pain doesn’t exist, but he gives us a hope that is solid and stable to hold onto in the midst of it.
Victory is at hand, because Jesus overcame even death itself on our behalf. Victory is won because the greatest love story ever told proclaims it so. Victory is won, despite our sin and brokenness, because we get to love and be loved by a God that sees us as his perfect children, worth waiting for and fighting for.