On May 21, 2017 my beloved friend unofficially overdosed as a result of the opioid epidemic plaguing our country. Social documentation will state cardiac arrest as the official cause of death in an effort to preserve her dignity, and rightfully so. However, a month and a half before she passed away she confided in me that she was using heroin but stated with the support of her fiance she had been clean. She promised she was done with it, and I blindly believed her until word of mouth vibrated through my cell phone and through my bones that she was never coming back–that the bumps in our relationship would never be smoothed and the future I thought I was promised didn’t actually exist.
Minutes turned to months, sorrow morphed into frustration which fueled anger. I was angry at her for lying to me. How could she leave two children behind? However with time I realized that behind the words “How could she leave two children behind” were the words, “How could she leave me behind”? For months I made her death about me–and honestly most days I continue to–but that was because, most of all, I loathed myself. I blame(d) myself for not intervening, I blame(d) myself for taking her at her word even as my gut screamed in dispute and my education in psychology saw the incongruities. Day after day, I imprisoned myself in mental persecution for not bringing her to God sooner and for gossiping about her moment of transparency like her addiction was a cry for attention and not a covert plea to escape bondage.
I’d be lying if I said that, through time, I have found a way to fully absolve myself of my wrongdoings and feel His unrelenting forgiveness. Yes, Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood to make a new covenant in which we are forgiven for our sins when we accept him as our savior. However, there is a difference between knowing forgiveness and feeling forgiven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: for me that means forgiving and earning forgiveness. He is not the cause of her death–sin is–but what is made crooked is set straight through Him. There are days where I am flabbergasted by the magnitude of His love and forgiveness. On the days where I’m blessed enough to catch a glimpse of such grace, I learn to live a little more like Jesus and show a little more mercy when wrongdoings are bestowed upon me. After all, the heart of the wise, and the root of wisdom, is in the house of mourning.
In times of suffering I look to Ecclesiastes 7:1-26 to envelop me in warmth and comfort for it states the day of death is better than the day of birth and it is better to go into the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting. It’s better to gain wisdom and compassion through labour than callousness through laziness and drunkenness. Sew your sorrows into tapestry, twining together words that illuminate His unrelenting goodness, and allow others to reap your crops–for the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
My existential crisis reached its pinnacle five months ago when what was theatrically supposed to be the best time in my life was realistically a period of self-loathing and disappointment. The existential misery that was the post-partum of my college experience consisted of fixating on my loneliness and spiritual disorientation. Why hadn’t I found love like everyone else? Why did it feel like God had taken a summer sabbatical? Why had I found myself in a job that wasn’t my dream, facing a cross road with fifty different routes and no map?
You see over the last four years I managed to earn a bachelor’s degree, maintain honorable grades (and a scholarship), volunteer part-time, work part-time, and babysit my nieces and nephews. However, what I didn’t manage to do was put my heart first let alone God’s will. I focused so much on the contractual obligations I committed myself to that I forgot all about the covenant He made with and for us.
“The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his fellow Christians is in darkness, walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes”.
What was really a frustration with myself was disguised as a frustration with God and a frustration with my friends. As a myriad of friends’ engagements mounted, their professional successes became promotions, and their ever increasing holiness reminded me of all I wasn’t and wouldn’t be—the more I found myself holding hostility for the ones I once claimed to care about. My ill thoughts became venom in my system and without extraction that venom was reaching my heart, forcing my ventricles to pump more toxins into my brain that said, “Resent them”. The more I resented them, the less I loved them and the less counsel I sought in them: leaving me more adrift than before. Thus, I became a snake eating its own tail. I blamed my brothers and sisters for their successes and I blamed God for my loneliness when my burdens were prisons of my own creation.
When I finally picked up my Bible for the first time in months I saw His protection reflected in the words and reflected in my life. For I cannot discern what path He intends me to take if like a child I do not know his intent and subsequently His desires. Four years have passed since I put my heart or His Will first, leaving regression its wake. Regression of the soul means forgetting the very principles and fibers of being and dwelling in fortitude, and if I cannot be I cannot move. After reading Proverbs it became evident that the cement blocks tied around my feet were actually His divine hands holding me still because if I couldn’t move I couldn’t stumble further into the darkness I had already found myself in.
Many like to poke fun at the fact I still study out of a Precious Moments bible as a twenty-two year old woman. My brothers and sisters through church have offered incessantly to gift me a fresher version, an offer I reject but appreciate nonetheless. I can’t fault these people because they see splatters and smears decorating a baby pink vinyl littered with torn seams, however what they don’t see are the words, “We hope you grow to love God as he speaks to you from His book” engraved inside from the people that gave it to me eighteen years ago.
His book has seen far better days but that’s exactly the way a bible should look and subsequently the way I want my bible to be. Our bibles, like our bodies, should be stained with ragged battle scars because just as our skin protects our organs, a cover preserves His word. When we fumble—when we fall—our flesh attempts to heal our wounds with scabs, but often even after healing we still carry tiny imperfections with us the rest of our lives. Consequentially when we are put into similar positions in the future our scars serve as a compass pointing us in better directions.
Thus, I want my bible to look war torn–because it is. My bible has seen the worst days of my life, the deepest of my lacerations and they shouldn’t be concealed because they show each time I returned to my bible after hurt, trauma, offense, and injury. The bruises garnishing its cover tell me, “forgive, repent, and again find the righteous path.” My bible like antique furniture should look like it has a long story because it does: it has my testimonies and triumphs.