Jane’s Story

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by jendoop

Winter BluesJane was abused as a child and in that horror she learned to cope by hardening herself, learning to be numb. It was an adaptive behavior, a survival instinct, which protected some small part of herself deep inside. She resigned herself to the evil all around; she couldn’t hope because it broke her heart too often.

When someone like Jane leaves an evil place, her behavior, which was adaptive in that bad circumstance, is maladaptive in a normal world that holds good possibilities (maladaptive meaning not conducive to growth and normal functioning.) Yet these were the skills unknowingly taught to Jane by her abusers, as surely as another child is taught to walk or eat with utensils.

Imagine now the moment when Jane and her maladaptive behaviors walked into an LDS chapel for the first time.

Jane’s maladaptive behaviors might make her look harsh and maybe even scary. In her world showing toughness was a way to protect herself; she talks crudely with profanity, she has tattoos, smokes, and wears only jeans. Her voice is raspy from years of smoking (and crying) and she tells the missionaries inappropriate jokes. Despite her hard exterior and maladaptive behaviors, when she is in the church she feels something penetrating her harshness; it softly touches that small part of her protected deep inside.  It is something different than she has ever felt before and it scares her, while at the same time she clings to it.

Even though Jane goes back to church she knows she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t understand why the way she acts is so different from the way the other people at church act. As much as she wants to act like them, it scares her to be open and soft. That takes her back to her childhood when she was hurt and damaged. She can’t do it. She can’t wear a skirt, or stop smoking; it isn’t possible to change her voice. She does stop telling the missionaries dirty jokes (even though they run through her own mind, even when she doesn’t want them to), and tries to keep her language clean in the church. She never thought anything was wrong with it before. She has never been in a place without profanity until now, not even as a child.

Some people at church looked down on her and didn’t talk to her; that was nothing new. There were a few, though, who were so friendly that Jane thought they were talking to someone else when they greeted her. They were so full of light that when they stood close to her, smiling and sometimes touching her arm, she had moments when fear left. Fear had always been a part of her world. When the fear left, good entered; making her feel short of breath and lightheaded. The more time she spent at church, and with those good people, the more it felt like her internal organs were being replaced one by one with new and improved versions that were lightning fast.

Then, Jane felt safe enough to hope. When the missionaries invited her to be baptized, she accepted, still fearful with what seemed like irrational fears. She didn’t believe that she could stop smoking, but she believed the missionaries could do what they said they could. So she said she would try if they would help her. She wanted to be like a woman who hugged her at church, who smelled like clean sheets and baby lotion. Smoking reminded her of ugly memories anyway.

She was congratulated by many at her baptism. While walking into the warm, clean water in the font Jane was as scared as she had ever been in her life, but not the same kind of fear she had of her abuser. Being baptized was what she imagined jumping out of an airplane would be like: frightening, but also overwhelmingly exciting, as a world full of possibilities opened ahead of her.

———-

dieter-f-uchtdorf-10As Elder Uchtdorf shared a slim version of Jane’s story in April 2013 General Conference I fleshed out this alternate telling of her life in my mind. As true as I’m sure Elder Uchtdorf was to Jane’s lifeline, it is not possible to accurately describe the total journey to healing in a few paragraphs. My creative mind imagined Jane’s details, her feelings and doubts. Some of the added details are from personal experience; some are from watching the journey of others.

Some may have brushed off Jane’s story as another anecdote about finding hope and healing through the gospel. For me it meant much more, especially after the reaction I received from friends and strangers about the Peculiar Minds series. Too many take the journey that Jane did without a hand to hold.

Simple words signaled that Elder Uchtdorf was telling a different kind of story, maybe you didn’t catch them. He said Jane found peace in the gospel, and then “years later, after her abuser had died, Jane was again troubled by the horrible events of her youth. Profound sadness and anger threatened to destroy the wonderful light she had found in the gospel.”

How could this be? If Christ heals, how could it come back?

We who are wounded think that the return of darkness is proof that we can’t heal. Instead Elder Uchtdorf tells us that it is only part of the process, a process that is not about always walking in the full sunshine, but walking in the dark towards the bright hope of God.

Many people feel they are alone in the darkness taking timid steps towards a faint light. I fear that we sit right next to a person that is just as lonely, afraid, and wounded as we are (because we are all lonely at times, afraid in the dark, and wounded by mortality.) What keeps us from reaching across the short distance between us to say, “I am here too, seeking the light.”

For the people who contacted me about their search for healing and stability, the insecurities (that are a result of the pain they’ve experienced) keep them stuck in that hurt. There is a fear not only of wondering if you are inherently flawed, but a fear that if you take the chance to reach out you might find that you are the only one, a lonely anomaly. Jane’s story sent light into the darkness that so many wounded saints wander in. Thank you Elder Uchtdorf, for the searchlight of hope emanating from the conference center which was broadcast across the world. And to Christ, thank you for being the Light that never dims.

Yes, we will make mistakes.

Yes, we will falter.

But as we seek to increase our love for God and strive to love our neighbor, the light of the gospel will surround and uplift us. The darkness will surely fade, because it cannot exist in the presence of light. As we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. And day by day, the hope of God’s light will grow within us, ‘brighter and brighter until the perfect day.’

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

4 Responses to Jane’s Story

  1. Paul says:

    Jen, thanks for this lovely post.

    Step Three in any 12-step program is about turning over our will and our lives to our higher power — in the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, to God. It may be surprising to faithful Latter-day Saints who have not lived with trauma in their lives to learn how difficult this step can be! It is not just pride that keeps us from letting go control of our lives; it is the fear you describe so wonderfully here.

    That any of us can learn to submit truly to our Father in Heaven is remarkable, as it is counter to our nature as natural beings. And we should celebrate any small steps we make in that direction.

    I found a great deal of hope in President Uchtdorf’s remarks.

  2. Heather says:

    I too noticed the part of the story about Jane that after she found peace, she was once again filled with pain and darkness. I was very surprised to hear this. I had not ever heard that issue addressed, at least not so specifically, and I was touched in my heart. I knew it was meant for me. Although I have not suffered any traumatic experiences, or any bad things in my life, I have struggled with extremly negative thoughts and feelings. I have been driven to great depths of pain and sorrow. I sought out the light of the gospel, trying to live it more fully than I had before. As I did so, I found new happiness and joy. It was wonderful, and for the first time ever, I felt real happiness and peace. It was bliss. Fast forward many years, and wham! I found myself once again in the deep abysss of pain and sorrow. I had no reason for it, which made it all that much worse. I told myself that this was proof that I could not heal, I would never be able to rise from this. I would never be worthy of Gods blessings again. My heart was broken, I was broken. Over time, I started to entertain thoughts that perhaps I could just try a little, but I still doubted. I still wondered, if darkenss came back then that must mean I am an evil person. That is where I was at when I listened to President Uchdorfs message. It was wonderful to hear his words. He has caused me to know that I am not alone in feeling this way. Further more, Heavenly Father knows my heartache, and spoke directly to it. I always had the impression that once you find the light, the darkness does not come back. (silly now to think of it that way, why would Satan leave us alone?) I was releived to know that just because the darkness came back did not mean that was the end of it for me. I am grateful for this message of hope. I really needed it.

  3. Jendoop says:

    Paul, I often think I’ve handed it to God only to realize I wrestled it back. Maybe that’s what some of the back and forth in and out of the light is, slipping out of trust in the Savior. Other times I think the things in my life throw me back into darkness and I have to increase trust to get through it. A step at a time, wherever we are, the beauty of Christ’s mercy.

    Heather, I’m sorry to hear you were in that bad place but it’s nice to know someone else felt the power of this talk. There is so much more to it than just light and dark, he explained it well, in a comforting, encouraging way. Good luck on your continuing reach for the light. I like what you said, “Why would Satan leave us alone?”

  4. templegoer says:

    I think what Elder Uchtdorf’s talk addresses is that it can take a lifetime to heal our souls, and we are always subject to discouragement not because we are sinful but because we are human.

    What is so useful about that is that it normalises it, and allows us to find permission to be in a process rather than inadequate because we are not yet the finished article.

    I have recently been engaged in the lives of some elderly people who will tell you similar stories of drawing near to Christ and experiencing their own inadequacies.At that point one can become discouraged at all one has failed to do or be-it’s too late to change.

    But it’s never too late to do all that is possible to change and make greater peace,and even if it were too late in this life we have a Saviour who understands our inadequacies and sometimes necessary defences against having our souls wholly broken.

    With such souls it may take more time than mortal life can offer, and we may have to part from those souls knowing that change and forgiveness can continue after this life. Christ’s light is always available to us.

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