On her childhood playground she watches the other children play. An impenetrable wall separates her from them, but she doesn’t know why. In her eyes they are one huddled organism, an exoskeleton with its armored back against her.
On the other side is a warm embrace she can’t enter, a wonderful welcome not extended to her. They are in.
She is out.
And she doesn’t notice the dark presence slithering up to her, coiling his hopelessness around her soul, infecting her every experience with nightmarish undertones.
Later they burn her clothes with cigarettes and her soul with sarcasm and she wears that charred brand, her scarlet letter read and understood by all.
E for excluded
As the years go by, she masters the optic illusion of painting achievements and accolades at just the right angles to cover the mark, and sometimes people don’t seem to notice it at all.
But she can always smell the singed flesh, even after trying to conceal it with perfume and an air of unapproachability. And always, always her eyes scan the room for that monster of exclusion, thinking him to be out there.
But he is in here, choking her under her skin, making sure she interprets every circumstance through that strangled feeling of rejection: people going to lunches and dinners without her, sharing inside jokes and vacation plans while she watches alone. So when they do invite her, she knows better than trusting it. She is nobody’s pity project.
She holds her head high, wears her rehearsed smile, waves and leaves before the tears of the little girl inside betray her carefully cultivated image.
But lately the gap between her public persona and her private pain has darkened and deepened. It’s a chasm one might trip into and never reach the bottom. From its caverns, her tormentor’s voice taunts her with increasing volume and venom and her head is exploding. Her mask is cracking. STOP!
She doesn’t cry for help. Who would care? Who would come?
And her dark captor almost wins.
One barely whispered prayer of fading hope…
How long have I been in the quiet place? Where is my constant companion, that vicious voice? Who managed to shut him up?
And the light isn’t harsh; it’s gentle. Am I dead? Is this heaven?
This must be peace? It feels like a soothing blanket inside. No tremors. No anxiety. All the oxygen my lungs desire.
Just to be sure, I gulp in some gigantic breaths and still, there’s no strain. There is enough air for me.
It’s not just absence of pain.
It’s a presence of something I’ve never felt before. It feels good.
And that’s when I grasp it: one alliance has replaced another.
I was never alone.
There is no neutral ground.
Somehow I know this is holy ground and somehow I know I am home.
But I am still in the land of the living.
I breathe in this fresh free air for a while.
And then I turn my head towards Him.
His golden eyes caressing me, He has patiently waited for me to look at Him. All my automatic defense mechanism rush to mobilize and then they pause; I don’t need them anymore. I am safe here.
Safe. That’s what this is.
His hand slowly moves to caress my hair, His eyes asking permission. He will not cross any lines without my consent. I’ve never seen that before.
And then the dam breaks; like lava from all those years of stuffing it down, my heart erupts in cries and questions and shame and anger. One hot stream of purging pain carrying wails and sobs as it leaves my soul.
When it subsides, again I just recognize with wide-eyed wonder that I still feel safe. Whole.
He pulls my head to His chest and tenderly brushes my tears away with His knuckles… and then I hear His voice for the first time, yet somehow my innermost being already knows it from before I was born.
“You were never alone, you know. Even in those nights that broke you. Even in those days that froze you, I was right there with you. There are balances of eternal principles you cannot yet understand, reasons why I must not step in and prevent every violation. But it broke My heart more than you know. And I held you through it, My daughter, and I sang over you and I never let go.
I flung your evil subjugator far from you, but you will need to resist him by your own choice. When he slithers up to you again with his poison of self pity,
When he tries to turn your back against love in isolation,
When you feel his hot breath pushing you away from Me,
It is yours to resolve whom you will obey.
And once you have chosen, I will move heaven and earth to assist you and teach you how to live in this new Life I am offering.
Even when you can’t see Me I am here.
I adore you. I want you to thrive as My daughter. But I will never take your choice away from you.”
And I sigh like a baby who has cried for too long.
“Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!”
(Psalm 139: 7 – 18 The Message)
I am safe.