He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful you are and
How great Your affections are for me
— John Mark MacMillan
Summer is upon us again. Hurricanes and thunderstorms, sleeping late and stargazing, sunburns and swimming pools, watermelon and homemade ice cream, lazy days where sameness feels like security and days that change us forever, slipping in beneath the haze of heat to catch us unaware.
It was in summer my father left me, my molester met me, my temptations first bested me. In truth, momentous days can beset us at any moment — hence the word momentous — but it is a score of summer days I find so hard to forget.
This is a story about a kid named Spike. He was, for me, a great affliction. I have asked for forgiveness for thinking of him as such, but I will never forget the “Summer of Spike.”
Jonathan Edwards, preacher and missionary to Native Americans back in the 1700s, and widely acknowledged to be America‘s most important and original philosophical theologian and a great intellect, included affliction among his famous resolutions about how to live his life, which he wrote in 1723. There it was, number 67 out of 70:
Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
Jonathan Edwards read his resolutions every week . . . as if afflictions need a reminder. Jonathan Edwards never spent a summer with Spike.
One encounter with Spike and you would never forget him, no matter how resolved you might be to do so. And though my encounter with him took place only over the span of perhaps three days, I call it the Summer of Spike because I really don’t remember anything else about that summer. He was an impactful kind of kid.
The Summer of Spike might be more aptly remembered as the Summer of Shame. It followed a winter of abandonment and a spring of seduction. Winter being the season of my father’s separation from my life and Spring being the following season of sexual abuse at the hands of the evil one who presumed to take my father’s place as my protector and mentor.
As I moved into that summer, I was a much-too-wise eight-years-old and a bearer of secrets. Secrets deep within me were going through the metamorphosis that would convert them into scars. Silence like a cancer grows? In me, it was more like silence like a cancer flows. I had turned into a bed-wetter. The shame I hid during my daytime interactions with “normal” people seeped out of me at night and multiplied itself. I would try not to drink. I would try not to sleep. I would have tried anything. None of it worked. The stain that had taken hold of my life, which I buried out of sight, would find its way out in the midst of a sad dream and show up in the morning as a stain on my sheets. It was just another reason to wish I had never been born.
I would soon wish someone else had never been born.
My new stepfather’s parents lived on a farm near Stroud, Oklahoma. It was picturesque. A fading red barn with implements and tractors all around, big horses and rowdy cows, bins full of cornstalks, a sawdust floor, an owl in the rafters, ropes hanging from the beams for uses I couldn’t imagine, a rooster in the second-floor window, a weather vane on the peak. And a sorta’ cousin named Spike, whose parents — for some odd reason — had sent him there to spend the summer with his grandparents.
I never caught my step-grandparents’ names and knew them only as “Mom” and “Dad,” which is what my stepfather called them. I caught my cousin’s name right off. I’d never known a Spike and I wonder now how his parents could have been so prophetic in naming their child.
I was a skinny little eight-year-old bed-wetter in the hands of a twelve-year-old bully pursuing perfection for his chosen calling. I wasted no time inviting affliction upon myself. Spike was a farm boy, and by the end of the first night I was so exhausted from all the things he had done to me trying to turn me into his little farmhand, that I fell fast asleep . . . deeply asleep . . . in the same bed as Spike. He woke up yellowed and yelling.
“Mom” chased me into the bathroom on the hall where I ended up standing naked in an old claw-footed bathtub while she poured cold water on me and pronounced me as lazy and stupid. Spike stood outside the open door pointing and laughing.
It gets worse.
The original plan had not been for me to stay at the farm that day when we had visited, but Spike had begged and my mother relented and left me there . . . with only the clothes I had on, which were also the clothes I had later slept in. My clothes were now in the wash and I was stuck wearing a pair of Spike’s shorts. He was not a little 12-year-old by any stretch and my legs looked like they were extending from dual parachutes as we headed to the barn to feed the horses and play in the hay in the rafters.
About halfway up the ladder, I heard Spike’s laughter and looked down to see him pointing. He could see up my –well, his — shorts and was ridiculing me in a way that an experience-damaged little boy can’t just accept as teasing. It was torment and torture. Spike had already wrestled me into surrender on a dusty floor, thrown me into a near-stagnant stock pond, bludgeoned me with a pillow, offered me as a human sacrifice to a bunch of hungry cows and mocked me in a bathtub.
I heard years later that Spike had dived into a shallow swimming pool later that summer while showing off and cracked his burred head. I never saw him again, but heard he had survived, yet would always have a nasty and permanent scar. So did I.
Even after we survive our childhood, I think there are times when we just give in and see ourselves as others sometimes see us, as less than them, as somehow not put together quite right, as willingly astray, pleasurably-broken, struggle-embracing, skinny little creatures paralyzed on a ladder, ridiculed and diminished and deserving to be so.
We need to see ourselves as Jesus sees us. Jesus see us as complete. He doesn’t toss us into stock ponds; He picks us up and wraps us in His arms and simply loves us. He doesn’t wrestle us into forced surrender; He invites us to surrender and soothes us with grace and peace. He doesn’t point and mock, reducing us to shame; He holds and hears and builds us back up with hope.
Jesus doesn’t exploit our weaknesses; He turns them into our strengths. He never makes us wish we had never been born; he makes us rejoice to be born again.
I wish all the afflictions which serve as such fertile soil for the morphing of experiences into the scars that so taunt strugglers could vanish into the night like the hoots of the old barn owl that no longer haunt me. Rather than manifesting themselves into such burdens, I wish these afflictions could be as distant a memory for you as Spike is now for me.
But . . . what of Jonathan Edwards and his resolution that such afflictions are to be turned into good? And, what about Joseph, sold into slavery by his very brothers? That was certainly worse than being roughed up in a hay barn by a crazy cousin.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. — Genesis 50:20
I know it is tough to “count it all joy.” I know it is hard to see how God can intend it all for good. But if we allow ourselves to be trapped inside the vision that others have created for us and wear the label they have fashioned for us, and limit ourselves to their diminished hope, we empower Satan. If we trust God and take Him at His word and obey Him and surrender and find our hope in Glory, we confound Satan.
Our afflictions are eclipsed by Glory. Our earthly afflictions are no match for His heavenly affections. Oh . . . how He loves us.
I rarely think of Spike. He’s probably a kind grandfather somewhere. Maybe when he sees “shortcomings” in his grandchildren he thinks of his “Summer of Thom” and cuts them a little slack. He usually only comes to my mind when a sportscaster notes the futility that leads a quarterback to “spike” the ball. I always think of Spike diving into that pool.
Ahhh . . . summer.
It was in the summer, when I was but a few weeks old, sleeping soft beneath a lullaby, that God loved me.
It was in the summer, waving goodbye as my father drove away, that God loved me.
It was in the summer, lured into a tent with a malicious molester, that God Loved me.
It was in the summer, surrendering my life to Christ, that God loved me.
It was in the summer, first succumbing to homosexual temptation, that God loved me.
It was in the summer, marrying my wife and declaring the past behind me, that God loved me.
It was in the summer, letting the past overwhelm me and pull me into darkness, that God loved me.
It was in the summer, finding freedom and once again, the light, that God loved me.
It was in the summer . . . every summer . . . that God loved me.
Be strong. Be courageous. Be obedient. And when you find yourself being less than what God intends and trapped somewhere in what man pretends, remember how much He loves you. Vanquish the bully in the barn and walk with the One who really knows you.
This is the summer of 2012. And God loves you.
Thom — BridgeBack Ministries