Today’s Shameless Woman is my friend Catherine. She blogs about mothering, literature, faith, and life at Life as Lyric Poetry.
I think of my childhood as the Garden of Eden, full of nurture and love and beauty. This is certainly selective memory but I have no adult memories to disprove it. Like the first family in the Garden, a member of my family made a mistake and we were all banished, sent out forever.
I do actually mean this literally. I guage the end of my childhood as the day we were told we had two weeks to leave the only town and community I knew, my entire world. Very few friends were willing to walk this road alongside my family, but Shame? Shame came with us.
For me, it was not the â€œoriginal sin,â€ so to speak that introduced me to Shame, but the seeming rejection of everything and everyone I knew. Discovering that the world was such a place where you could be exiled because of a mistake you had made. Discovering that my family and I were apparently worthy of such an abandonment.
There were two varieties of Shame that became my constant companions. The first came when I was with someone who didnâ€™t know my storyâ€”in other words, nearly all the time given our exile. This Shame sat by my ear and said â€œnever, ever trust. Never, ever let someone know you.â€ There was always something to hide, a desperate need to keep potential friends or aquaintances at an armâ€™s length lest they come close enough to realize we were not fit to be accepted, to be loved in spite of weakness, to belong. This Shame was my closest friend for over a decade, and during that timeâ€”from age 12 to my early 20â€™sâ€”I never told even one person what had happened to me and my family.
No one in all those years knew the secret that made me who I was and accounted for so many of my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Shameâ€™s power, and his walls, were strongâ€”and in obedience to his lies I myself was fortifying them.
The second Shame came in those rare instances when I was around people who knewâ€”family or friends that lived a distance from the community we had left. This Shame sat near my other ear and said â€œnever, ever ask the questions you are wondering; never, ever speak of this out loud.â€ So questions of â€œdo you still love us?â€ and â€œwhat do you think of what happened?â€ and â€œare we safe with you?â€ were never voiced, and never, ever answered. Shameâ€™s power grew stronger, his walls thicker, and weâ€”my loved ones and Iâ€”were his accomplices.
Shame is so powerful because he tells us that we are his slaves. Like anyone exerting wrongful power he hides the truth of freedom in fearful threats, telling us that we can never be free of him because we can never show our face to anyone without him, without Shame. But the freeing truth is the oppositeâ€”we can be seen, we can be knownâ€”and loved, and accepted, and better still we can be redemeed.
I have been exiled, but I have also been redeemed. We cannot pull Shame from our backs, but we can crowd him outâ€”with Friendshp and Truth and Forgiveness and Christ.
I remember the first time I found friendship, the first few people to whom I told the truth with a shaking voice and upset stomach. They loved me, and they love me still. I remember the night I stayed up with my family, talking, crying, praying, forgiving. I remember the very moment I held the hate in my heart and chose forgiveness. I remember the many miraclesâ€”some seen with my eyes, some changed in my heartâ€”that helped me take baby steps on this journey away from Shame. It was a long, hard journey that took the first half of my life span, but Christ and not Shame was the Victor.
I still feelShame, but I no longer have Shame. What redemption does is bring beauty from ashes. The hope and joy and faith that I carry on this side are incomparably stronger than what was lost. So much of what is good in me Christ brought through this long journey from Exile to Shame to Redemption. Without the breaking I could not have been healed; without the exile I could not have been redeemed. Realizing this fact is a redemption in itself.
On the 20th anniversary of leaving Eden I wrote this poem:
I have stood at the center of the world
The primordial Tree, the innocent Beginning
I have been rejected there, exiled
So I wander
Homeless, yet seeking Home.
Marked, yet seeking Redemption
I have traveled so far in my wanderings
That I have changed, and the distance became a chasm
And yet I have stayed so closely tied
Lingering near with hope for Healing
Longing for Redemption
I stand in the place of Anger and Accusation
Watching the last box of bitterness carried out the door
Alone now with the vast emptiness in its place
There’s nothing left to do but this endless
Wandering and Lingering
I have forgiven
But you have forgotten
Even a child casts her own shadow
The past has built itself into my body and soul
And there it is:
The bruised and fallen apple is its own seed
Thank you for hearing my story. I pray that my telling of it crowds out a bit of Shame in your own life.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.