We’ve reached the final week of this series, and I really can’t believe it. I’m starting to mourn the month being over! The past few posts have been a little intense and I’m very, very thankful you’re hanging with me. Here’s what the week ahead will hold:
6 guest posters are lined up and their posts will be interspersed with two or three of my own, so there will be a little doubling up. Their content is GOOD, all. Don’t miss it. In my own writing I will take one final look at the word comfort, then consider what it means to comfort others – you know, “mourn with those who mourn” – and finally, do a concluding post to bring it all back home. Thank you for reading, commenting, encouraging, and opening yourself to these words.
Today, I get to share with you a powerful essay by my brother-in-law, Austin. The story he writes made me cry and cry, because I know the man he is now, and I know that the caliber of character he possesses was shaped by the pain in his life.
Experiencing God In Ugly Places
by Austin Way
For as long as I can remember, my parents have not been together.
My parents separation and later divorce have become one of the defining aspects of my life. Their divorce colored my thinking and shaped my personality in so many ways, it is hard to begin to explain it. Most days I feel an ache so deep, it is felt in my bones. The word that I think that closely describes this feeling is grieving. It is the type of grieving that makes a person want to collapse or wail because words fail to describe it. Over time, I have become accustomed to the ache. My pain is made up of a thousand smaller pains that bleed into each other and are hard to distinguish apart from one another. The things I lost are real, but hard to grasp; intangible things that one cannot replace. I lost things like: a home, a family, safety, and hope.
This is my ugly place. I don’t enjoy it and I don’t like talking about it.
The first few years of my life were happy and relatively care-free, but that didn’t last long. Eventually, there was a constant feeling of waiting for the next bad thing to happen. I lost my sense of safety and I was filled with anxiety about the future. I never had family vacations or yearly Christmas traditions because every year was different. Sure, there was a rhythm to the seasons, but nothing stayed the same very long. I moved around lot. I bounced from house to house and was never quite sure whom to call my family. My parents had several partners that came in out of my life for various reasons, but growing up it made hard to feel like I had a family or a home.
Often I felt like I was burden to my squabbling parents. From my perspective, I was often at the center of their disagreements and was used like a pawn in their game against each other. I lost my job of being a kid and became their mouth piece. I lost out on the feeling of being cherished and instead I felt like a biological consequence of a failed union. I felt like I was responsible in some weird way for their happiness, or lack of.
As an adult, I now know that they were trying to be best parents they could be. However, from my young vantage point, I internalized their pain and began to fill the void in their parenting with messages of my own. I started to tell myself that I wasn’t loved or cared about.
School was also difficult even though it was also my haven. I was bullied and ostracized by my peers because I was different. Despite my bullying, I succeeded in academics and felt cared for by my teachers. This care gave me strength to continue my education. However, I suffered from low self-esteem and lacked motivation to get involved with life. Slowly, despair set in, and I lost hope that anything in me could or would change for the better.
Everything came to a climax at the beginning of high school.
A series of events made me ask God some serious questions. I was in a pit of despair. I was lost and called out to God to help me. I was testing him. I was seeing if God was good or even cared about me. God heard my cries and began a season of healing in my life. But –
It took years for my pain to develop, and it has taken years for comfort to set in.
Throughout high school and college, God brought people into my life to comfort me. They listened patiently to my complaints. They held me while I wept. They spoke kind words that build me up. They opened a place for me to stay in their homes when I could no longer stay at my home. They walked beside me when I needed to go to counseling and held me accountable. They made me see that life was worth living. Each of them played a small role in resurrecting me from the dead. They came in the name of Christ, and they gently released His power into my life.
Ultimately, the love of the Father drew me in and changed me.
It wasn’t until years later when I realized that through being comforted, I was also transformed. I was given hope, family, safety, and joy. God is in the process of changing this world into his kingdom. He doesn’t like that we suffer (this is why he sent Jesus), but in the suffering we endure he meets us with comfort. God meets us in our ugly places and makes them beautiful. While He comforts us, we are transformed in to new people, able to help others. I believe I was allowed to go through the things I did when I was younger, in order to comfort others. God does not simply think about one person when he blesses them; He hopes to bless as many people as possible through his blessings.
I have been able to understand Jesus in ways I would have never known if I hadn’t – and didn’t – suffer. Just as my pain fundamentally altered me; God’s comfort also has altered me.
I currently work at a Children’s Home as a houseparent, parenting children who have been abused in some of the most awful ways imaginable. Every day, my goal is the same: to comfort them and help them feel safe, special and important. I use my past to give me strength and understanding. The strength I have, I use to endure the pain radiated by the children. My understanding helps me to be compassionate and tender-hearted. I relate to these kids in so many ways and I have faith that God can use my wounds to help heal others.
This mindset has been able to give me a meaning and purpose that helps me function.
This purpose gives me joyful spirit even in the darkest of times. God comforts the mourning person, and as a result, he can spread the good news of His Kingdom. God, in using my suffering to help others, has given meaning to the chaos. He has given me hope that He truly does care.
About The Author
Austin Way is the best Lego-playing uncle in the world (just ask Harmony’s kids!). He burns with zeal for marginalized young people, and his heart’s desire is to break the cultural stigma attached to mental illness. He and his wife are houseparents for youth who have experienced abuse. Austin loves flannel, birds, coffee, and the community that can be found through the local church.
This post is part of Survivor Songs, a 31-Day series. A full list of posts is found here.