The God Who Sees Us1
A story of Creation | Fall | Redemption | Restoration...
I was born in Washington, to a Ukrainian immigrant family who had recently escaped communist persecution in the USSR for their faith. I've always known God, and grew up in church, but had a very confused idea of how to be loved by Jesus.
We grew up dysfunctional, with strained relationships between my parents and siblings leading to verbal and physical fights about everything under the sun. And we grew up in poverty, renting a run-down unit in a government-subsidized housing development in Tacoma, which left me with a nagging, “poor kid” chip on my shoulder. By a combination of those factors and others, I grew up feeling slighted, unseen, and unvalued.
My solution to feeling unseen was to force people to see me. My brothers accomplished this through a series of bad decisions, but considering their tenuous relationship with my parents, I opted for the goody-two-shoes route. Unfortunately, nothing changed. Instead, my efforts initiated a downward spiral of striving. By high school, I convinced myself that the more I did, the more I would be seen and loved. So I did it all. I got straight As in the most rigorous classes, participated in multiple clubs and extracurriculars, ran the Christian club at school, sang in choir and musical theater performances, and served in church by running small groups, playing guitar in the band, and interning for the youth pastors.
But I did not feel seen or valued. If anything, I felt even more slighted because everything I did screamed that I deserved to be noticed, but I did not get any more love.
Trying to fill my soul’s void, I even tried to find a new family. I became exceptionally close with another girl at church who was several years older than me. Her parents were elders in the church, and their family took me in. I stayed at their house constantly and even took family trips. I felt loved and seen, with parents like the ones I'd always wanted, a family unit that felt so much more functional.
The devastating turn came when this friend started to sexually molest me. I wanted it to stop, but getting out meant losing the only place I had ever found love and acceptance. So for about the course of a year, things escalated with her, while I deteriorated. I desperately clung to my image, striving even MORE, projecting perfection to protect a shattered self. All the while, I suffered from terrible depression and countless nights of tear-soaked pillows. I still served in church, prayed daily, and journaled every night asking God for deliverance, but fear of losing that friend and her family kept me shackled.
By God-ordained boldness and mercy, He gave me the courage to set up a meeting with my small group leader under the pretense that I had to talk to her about “something important.” Over an untouched plate of chicken fried rice and a dozen balled-up napkins, I unpacked the past year of my pain. Shocked and admitting she didn’t know what to do, she asked to tell the youth pastors. I’d known them since I was 8-years-old, so I conceded, believing that these people who knew me and loved me would walk with me out of this.
Instead, the following week, I sat down for one cold meeting with the other girl as the pastors instructed us not to interact, text, or talk to each other. I never talked to her parents. My youth pastor sat with me as I told my mom and two siblings, and then told me that no one else needed to know. After that week, no one talked about it again.
No counseling. No processing. No healing. Just a cover up, with one brutally obvious message: you cannot talk about this. Hide it. You must stay unseen.
For months, I brushed my nightly tears aside to chase more clubs, more classes, more training, more volunteering. Teachers and church leaders left and right affirmed my efforts as “incredible,” and I kept going because as long as I never paused to breathe, I could partially numb the gnawing ache in my soul. I was seen, but no one ACTUALLY saw me. They saw my posturing, my mask, my façade, but no one saw the totally broken and devastated little girl on the inside.
I went to college and I may as well have pressed repeat. Four years of the same pattern: highly-effective, perpetually-affirmed hiding. It repeated again as I started my first year of teaching and full-time graduate school, repeated again as I advised clubs and worked athletic events and drove to UW 3 times a week for night classes, repeated again as my job sent me to summer training so I could teach advanced courses, repeated and repeated and repeated until a little over a year ago, sobbing on the drive home from a family dinner, I realized that spiritually, relationally, and emotionally, I was still as broken as I had been at 16, perhaps even more so from all the years of playing cover up. My striving hadn't fixed anything. My hiding hadn't made the problems go away.
"To learn that God cannot love me any more or less than He does today."
Gracefully, mercifully, gently, Jesus reminded me that only He could heal the wounds.
Gracefully, He had a friend tell me about an affordable community counseling service.
Mercifully, He guided me through months of therapy and self-discovery, revealing harmful patterns in my life, showing me His faithfulness even in my fearfulness.
Gently, He walked me through a painfully necessary repentance. To acknowledge that I never have been and never will be perfect out of my own effort. To remind me that He never expected that of me. To recognize my idols of control and perfection and striving. To voice them to the friends who I kept at arms length for years because I feared trusting anyone again. To learn that God cannot love me any more or less than He does today. To hear that I am worthy because I am His. To fall into the loving arms of a Father who has ALWAYS seen me.
And so my long overdue healing began, and continues.
Last summer, I prepared for the academic year by saying no to the list of additional commitments, giving up clubs, sporting events, and extra volunteering.
In the fall, Jesus reminded me that while I had been hurt by the church before, it was still His plan that I engage in that community of equally broken people. So in November I walked into the doors of Doxa for the first time, and wept in prayer with elders after service, acknowledging my own rebellious avoidance of church, making a goal to find relationships here.
This winter, Jesus challenged me to give up my idols in a very practical way, to return to spiritual disciplines that I had lost the time for in the past, and most importantly, to truly Sabbath.
And this spring, I experienced growth. Growth in relationships with others with whom I am willing to be more candid and authentic. Growth as I learn daily to accept my imperfection. Growth in my ability to stop striving and instead create space for meaningful living.
I look forward to Jesus's continued graceful, merciful, and gentle corrections as I learn that I am deeply known and loved by the Creator of the Universe, and that to be with my Savior, act like Him, and do what He did is the greatest life I could ever imagine.