This is a tough one because I’m actually more afraid now of so many things than I used to be.
Traumatic Brain Injury, Depression, Anxiety and numerous (seemingly unending) ‘knock downs’ in my life can do that to a person.
Today I wanted to write to you about a fear I wrestled with all through my childhood, teens and twenties. I overcame it at a pivotal point in my life when I was 32.
(Then gained it back tenfold a year later, but…let’s stick with the overcoming for now, ok?)
Good vibes only. LOL.
The back story is, I’ve been afraid of not getting approval all my life.
I’ve been constantly scared of being disliked, so I’ve become a seasoned, almost professional – people pleaser.
To be able to survive my family and a harsh school environment, I’ve learnt to quickly ‘read’ a person, figure out what it is they want – and be that person to the best of my ability – which has been crafted as close to perfection as humanly possible.
I hold back on what I’d like to say in favour of saying what’s going to be most readily accepted. I dress modestly when inside I’m a HOE. Ngl lie, guys – I’m outrageous. I take the fastest path to peace in any given situation – if you believe that 2 + 2 = 5, then I’ll agree with you to avoid conflict. That’s the type of person I am.
So travel back in time with me to 2009.
I’d been unhappily married for 7 years. When I say that, for the most part, things with Jon and I were doing okay. I had basically married the male counterpart of myself. When we were first dating, we looked up each other’s “name meanings” and “Janet” is the male version of “Jon” so we were really pleased about that – our fate was written in the stars.
But for some reason that Jon never disclosed to me, we never had sex. I tried sooo many times to initiate it and Jon consistently would deny me. After 7 long, lonely years, I found myself starting an affair with an old ex-boyfriend. What surprised me was how easy it was to cheat on a very busy, Church-dedicated husband. I was getting away with it. Easily!
I knew what I was doing was wrong, so I outed myself to my husband. He immediately told his family – who also happened to be our Church Leaders – so within probably 12 hours, the entire Church community had been made aware that I had cheated on my husband. No one knew WHY and Jon made me promise not to divulge that it was because I was desperate to be TOUCHED after being so faithful and patient for so many years. Instead, I had to bear the weight of being an Adultress and I couldn’t defend or explain myself.
This left me having to face my biggest fear…because now an ENTIRE CHURCH didn’t like me. Not just one person – this was an ENTIRE CONGREGATION who would view me in an unfavourable way.
I stood outside our Church that summer’s morning shaking like a leaf. I didn’t want to go in. This was my first Church service since the news had broken. I didn’t want HUNDREDS of faces looking at me in disappointment. I didn’t want to face the PURE DISLIKE as a consequence of my terrible decisions.
HOWEVER. I’d been an incredibly faithful Christian all my life. I was 32 when the “adultery scandal” hit, and I’d built up a sort of “faith bank” if you will – of prayer and acts of service for God over the years. Now that I was alone and UNDER FIRE, I used my foundations and faith to get me through my fear. I “cashed out” my prayer bank and used it to ask God to stand with me throughout the scandal. I asked for and was given God’s great JOY. It wasn’t joy as I thought I knew it – I wasn’t laughing about my situation – but it was a deep assurance of happiness and peace in spite of my circumstances that God blessed me with. Joy. Joy unlike anything I’d ever felt before.
Feeling assured and protected by God, I walked into Church and faced the music. Literally. I didn’t look at anyone – I looked at Jesus on the cross instead. I sat in a row all alone and I bore the brunt of that pain…but I didn’t bear it alone because I felt God’s arms around me, comforting me and reminding me that even sinners are loved by Him. Especially sinners, sometimes.
I thought I would have to face the entire Church service on my own, but within minutes of arriving, Becci (one of the Youth we worked with regularly – one of my favourites, just quietly) slipped her hand into mine. “I’m here for you, bestie” she whispered; “I’ve got you”. Joey T arrived (another favourite) and stood on the other side of me, briefly squeezing my hand in support “love you” and standing like a protective tower, bless him. More and more youth arrived and before I knew it, I was surrounded by the teenagers both Jon and I had invested so many Friday nights into. The youth had made their own minds up about the ‘cheating situation’ and they chose to love me even though they didn’t know all the details.
Teenagers have an incredible capacity to love and include people who have fallen flat on their faces. I remain thankful to this day for the special sense teens have for honing in on someone hurting and doing their best to surround and protect them.
Facing my fear that day made me stronger and brought me closer to God than I had ever been in my entire Christian walk of faith. Bringing my sin and shame into the sunlight was SO FREAKING EMPOWERING. I can’t tell you how AWESOME it was to be covered in God’s love and protection during the days, weeks and months that followed. One by one, Church members sought me out and asked me for MY SIDE of the story. I honoured Jon’s request to not say anything, but I did tell those who asked that there was a lot more going on under the surface than anyone could know.
It was lovely to have people embrace me and invite me to dinner; choosing to spend time with me even though I had been branded and punished for my sins (I was asked to ‘step down’ from all my Leadership roles in the Music team, youth group and kid’s club). NO ONE from Jon’s family spoke to me for a very long time. I don’t blame them, I would have been FUMING if someone had cheated on my brother/son, too. I get it.
Those months of facing persecution actually made me a stronger person and a better Christian. I’d gone from judging others to being a sinner and knowing first hand how that judgement felt…so I stopped doing it. When you fall from grace and land on your ass, you get a sense of what it must have been like for all the people you judged as a ‘perfect Christian’ and I felt ashamed for being so haughty towards others.
I learnt that no one is perfect, we all fall short. Some are just better at hiding it.
I faced my fear of being disliked and the surprise was that it didn’t kill me. People disliked me and NOTHING HAPPENED TO ME. I thought I’d die of it. I thought I’d spontaneously combust. I thought my limbs would fall off or I’d be covered in leprosy. None of my fears came to be. People took sides in the divorce and I learnt to be okay with that. People judged me and disliked me, and I grew from that. I learnt to like MYSELF when I felt that no one else would – and even that belief got challenged in so many beautiful ways…because all my friends back home took up for me. They rang and emailed EVERY DAY to say they were supporting me. The Youth came to visit so that I wouldn’t have to face days alone.
Jon left me without any food or money to buy food – but families from the Youth’s families – non-Christians – found out about the cheating scandal – and invited me into their homes for meals. It was so lovely to sit on a bench with the Armstrong family all around me, or be surrounded in Jamaican accents and spices when I went for dinner at the Buchnor’s. I got to meet youth in their homes rather than in the Church hall on a Friday night – and it was groundbreaking.
I crossed over from “Holy/Holier than thou” to “Absolute disgrace” and it was the most peace-filled, protected, blessed and love-filled time of my entire life.
I don’t want to come across as condoning cheating, I really don’t condone or support it. I had my reasons and I wish I did things differently but I did what I did and that was that. It sounds awful, I know – but I’m GLAD I followed my heart and not my head just for once. I’m glad I got to see what it’s like to be the SINNER and how life is so very different ‘on the other side’.