Welcome to the story I never intended to live, write, or share.
I’m a writing professor who took a year off to craft a book of creative nonfiction. I chose its subject: a child of light God gifted to me after a decade of maternal and personal failure. I plotted the book’s chapters. I planned every aspect of my sabbatical: from a frayed hammock to bare feet in my son’s pinwheel garden to pots of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to the manuscript I’d pen beneath a blue sky. I anticipated a season of relaxing writing.
But God had different plans.
At the start of my sabbatical, he gave me a different story to tell, and I’m piecing together the mismatched patches of my new story here: publicly, with much humility and more than a touch of embarrassment, and without apology.
You see, my dangerous, uncomfortable narrative needs to be told because it isn’t unique or special. My broken beautiful may be yours, hers, or his.
My name isn’t Harper. I’m an educated woman, a hands-on mom, and a seasoned community leader who is intelligent and intuitive enough to know what’s what. I’m also a ten-year survivor of domestic violence who recently navigated an abusive divorce and custody battle. When this battle began, and I lost my son for seven months, I sunk into soul grief like quicksand. My bones howled until Grace poured in, and God crystalized my writing purpose.
I’m no longer writing to fulfill a sabbatical contract. I’m not writing because, after two decades of public service, I earned the privilege. I’m not writing to relax. I’m writing for my life and for a redheaded four-year-old whose name is not Eli.
I’m also writing for you, dear readers: to be a glimmer of gold in the hollow black.
Maybe you’re not recovering your voice and dignity after an abusive relationship. Perhaps you’re battling an immobilizing disease or a painful parting or a tenuous future. To be alive is to know the jagged edges of hurt and despair; we recognize their bitter tastes on our tired tongues. Trauma begins at birth. It bullies, and it lingers.
Whatever your trauma or circumstance, you aren’t damned to a life of despair. You needn’t define yourself by your worst infliction–a magnet for fear and shame–for another life beat. (In fact, you needn’t define yourself at all. If you know Grace, your definition is already written upon your heart.)
As you forge a path through pain and suffering, I want you to know that sunshine is a fleeting partner. I want you to know that it’s possible to breathe beneath clouds pregnant with rain. It’s possible to stand rooted in God soil–and with a whole, joyful spirit–when the sky, rain and all, really does fall. It’s possible to live a life exposed by Grace more than circumstance.
Your journey needn’t be treacherous; clutch my promise that a downpour is an opportunity for growth to the person willing to get soaked to the bone.
God gave me a downpour: an unexpected tale of loss, brokenness, and redemption. I can’t foresee the precise shape of this story’s ending, but here’s my truth so far: I was pulled from the torment of abuse and neglect, and my unmaking shaped me into someone new. I don’t need closure–which I suspect doesn’t exist anyway–to recognize that I begin and end at the foot of a wooden cross.
My story’s shadows were redeemed long before my journey began. Grace is good like that.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” ~Jeremiah 29:11-13
photo credit: Mandy Lilly