“Go back the way you came, & go back into the wilderness.” That’s what God told me; & my reaction, “You’re kidding right God?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about deserts & the wilderness lately. Places that are hard, harsh, dead, dry, the ground scarred with deep cracks… There is no escaping from the power of the desert. Parallel to this I’ve been so aware of & confronted with areas in my life that make me feel like I’m in a desert.
Especially the whole area of fear. I have so much fear in my life. The more it’s exposed the more I think there must be something seriously wrong with me. Do others have this much fear in their lives or is it just me? But while I’m trying to move out of my metaphorical wilderness, God’s saying stay. God why do you want me to stay in the wilderness?
There is always water. Somewhere underground there is water. Today I was thinking in order for life to exist in the desert the roots need to go down deep & far. Then, once it’s established a strong source of water through deep extensive roots, life bursts forth. Isn’t that like our hearts? My understanding of why God is telling me to stay in the wilderness is because He’s going to bring forth understanding & life in the areas of fear & identity.
One thing I’m also very aware of is when various situations happen it seems to really rock my boat. It doesn’t take a lot for me to feel doubtful & insecure. The most consistent theme is fear of rejection. For example, not producing effective & efficient results at work, not having a place in community, not being good enough for a relationship with a guy.
I find God amusing. I don’t know why, but it seems the guy thing & the community thing matter to God a lot because He’s going all out in my life lately in these areas. He’s working on replacing lies with truth, fear with hope, brokenness with healing, confusion with clarity, walls with freedom… grace, mercy, love, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, beauty, He’s turning each sad story into treasures of darkness.
Let me tell you some examples of my experience with guys:
Once upon a time I was trapped for a few years by someone with a dark possessive heart. He controlled what I ate, where I went, who I could be with, when I could sleep, whether I could end a phone call to him or not etc. He blackmailed me emotionally so many times with the words, “If you really loved me you would do this.” My naivety played a role in reducing my self worth but he made me feel literally 1 cm tall. He also worked out that I can be very affectionate when I feel vulnerable. So he made a plan & after a long time of acting on it he decided to inform me of his plan. His strategy was he would deliberately pick something to make me cry, & then after a while would choose to “forgive me” so that I would be more affectionate towards him. It still continued, I didn’t have any strength in me to challenge it or to walk away.
There were other guys. Saying no didn’t stop them. Some of them just laughed after the forced their hands on me. Once a basketball was thrown into my face hard; another time it was a heavy backpack smacked over my head; & a different time it was a milk bottle over my head that caused me to tumble down a whole flight of stairs. I’ve been punched, slapped & grabbed on multiple occasions. I’ve been tricked into a fake birthday party & my drink was spiked. Thankfully nothing happened that time because the drug made me aggressive. Once a guy walked me home & assumed something would happen. When I said no he got violent. I stood behind a locked door as he stood on the other side trying to smash the door down. My hearing, my nose, my back, my feet & my face have been ripped apart with cruel words. I’ve been told many times I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough & that I didn’t deserve any respect.
My experience of guys in that season of life left me feeling afraid, ashamed, guilty, worthless… But then, Jesus entered the story.
Ironically my heart can’t wait to be in a relationship. I can’t wait to be married. I’m so excited & hopeful about doing life with someone else & having a family. That’s God’s power for you. It’s the fear in my head that is the issue.
God cares about the details of our hearts & minds; & so whilst He could snap His fingers, He’s choosing to give me my freedom stories as part of a lifelong adventure of unraveling broken chains. It’s in the wilderness where I’m confronted with the fears, lies & misunderstood identity that I find my Savior.
Undoubtedly my past experiences of guys can & does influence fear, & subsequently the way I think or behave today. God is asking me to go back into the wilderness where I’m afraid because He wants to show me things only He can show. Usually the lies & fear comes to me when I’m in community or around guys. Unlike in my past where I tried to address those fears & lies in ways that were not of God, now God & I are in communication.
This is some of what God is saying to me lately:
I can see the future. I know better than you what you need. Trust Me fully. You are not at the mercy of fate, or tossed about at the mercy of others. You are being led in a very definite way. There is not one want of your soul that I do not supply when you ask. Also, I long to be your all. In the spiritual world there is no empty space. As self, fears & worries depart out your life, the things of the Spirit, the things you crave, rush in & take their places. Complete surrender of every moment to Me is the foundation of happiness, the superstructure is the joy of communion with Me. You are in uncharted waters. But I am the Lord of all Seas. I the Controller of all Storms am with you. Learn to shut yourself away in My Presence. & then, without speaking, you have those things you desire of Me: strength, power, joy, peace. A great work requires great & careful training. It is absolutely necessary. Not to everyone is it so. But only to those who ask to serve Me well, & to do much for Me. Believe that I am with you, & controlling all. When my Word has gone forth, all are powerless to stop it.
I could go on & on with what God is saying to me. I don’t have it all figured out. I look at the fear & I’m so overwhelmed at the thought of, “will I ever be in a different place to where I am now?” But I do know four things.
(i) God is faithful. (ii) His Grace is unreal. (iii) All He asks for is my surrender of everything so He can deal with it. (iv) Finally, stories are powerful. They are tangible measurements of God’s Love for us. It’s in the telling & retelling of our testimonies that we can fight fear & lies, & that we fall in Love with our God.
Sometimes when I look back on my life I think to myself, “did that really happen?” God has shifted & redeemed so much that when I share some parts of my story, especially in the area of guys, it feels like I’m telling it from the third person perspective.
Whilst my head questions where my chains are, & whilst my heart fills with love and joy for what God has done for me, I do struggle to look people in the eye when I talk. There’s something about vulnerability &looking someone in the eye. I can be vulnerable but most likely I’ll be more honest if I don’t look into the eyes of the person I’m talking to.
Last night I was part of a conversation that led Toes to say to me, “I can’t believe guys have hit you in the past.” Toes was referring back to another conversation we had a couple weeks ago. Chief & Island were also part of the conversation & they were shocked. I shared two stories briefly & they said more than once, “that would never happen here.”
It seems God knew what He was doing sending me to South Africa. In the Afrikaans culture guy’s treat women really well. They offer their chairs, they walk girls to their cars, & they let the girls go through the door way first… All stuff that is simple & nothing more than courteous. But actually, all things that are so powerful to a girl with marks all over her. Emotional marks, physical marks & metaphorical marks.
I don’t feel shame anymore. But I do hide behind humor when I talk about many of the incidences that have happened between myself & guys. There might not be shame but there is still a level of sadness. I avoid people’s eyes when I talk about it. Or if I do look I can’t maintain it for long. I prefer to look off to the side or straight ahead, but I don’t really look at anything, just space.
I think there is another reason for that whole looking into the distance. My heart isn’t hard but it’s very guarded. I became very good at compartmentalizing. Pushing all the pain deep down. I was so good at compartmentalizing things that I could do things & have no shame or fear. I was numb. My brain literally shut down & stopped thinking.
Sometimes I cannot remember things in its truest emotional form because I didn’t feel it. Staring into space when I talk kind of makes me feel safe & like I have a chance to really try to reflect on what happened; to allow me to feel things I maybe refused to feel before.
The beautiful things is God’s stories are so interwoven with my story. His stories of love, grace, mercy, kindness, dignity, restoration… sometimes it’s so hard to remember things because He’s removed it. For example I remember the level of guilt & shame I felt. I remember that awful moment a close family friend said in front of a crowd of people, “Akila you are God’s daughter.” I remember that was the moment I felt the most unworthy.
But I don’t remember the emotion itself, I don’t carry that shame & guilt anymore. Whilst I can tell you that was the most unworthy I felt, I don’t have the emotional recall to that moment. I don’t feel it anymore. That’s how I know for myself how powerful God is. That’s how I know how much He’s done in my life.
Also, my ability to compartmentalize has rapidly disintegrated. God in His mercy helped me to make that very conscious decision the moment I got the news that Mike died. He used Mike’s death to teach me how to feel & how to think. It’s still a journey though, I’ve swung the other way & now overthink everything haha. But knowing where I came from, dealing with overthinking to find a healthy balance is a joy filled journey with God.
Some things are tangibly measurable & others are not. Because it’s heart stuff sometimes only God really truly knows how much He’s done in my heart. One thing that is measurable is the change in my heart towards the future. I never wanted to get married or have kids until about 2 years ago. That’s a whole story in itself that I’ll save for another day but the start of story goes simply like this.
One day I was at work, doing something that was mind numbing boring. I had all my walls down because the task required no brain work; & I heard a voice say to me, “Akila you are going to get married.” Because I had no walls up my heart could give a reflex response. I smiled. & I frigging couldn’t stop smiling. No reasoning, no justifying, no doubting, no unworthiness, just smiles of joy.
Smiles of proof of the marks He’s leaving on me.
SPOILER ALERT: The post I intend to blog after this one will be called, “The Marks you Left on Me.” It will be a little x-rated & a little intense as it shares some of my experiences with guys. Sometimes it’s difficult to show just powerful God is but when we share our stories then God’s power speaks for itself.
Nearly two weeks ago I went out for dinner with my friends & as we sat around the table I couldn’t help, yet again, thinking how blessed I am to have this amazing community. Unfortunately the moment was slammed with another thought, “The last time I had an amazing community of friends my brother died. Why do I have this community? Who is going to die this time?”
Lately I’ve been very aware of fear in my life. It’s like my heart is conflicted in a beautiful tension of feeling paralysed & breaking down walls or lies. Let me give you two battle grounds where this is going on.
Firstly, I love my community of friends here; so much so that I made a decision to be very intentional about not letting anything happen to it. For example, our group has guys in it. The fastest & surest way of division happening is to like someone & they don’t like you back.
So I purposely set out to make sure no guys could pick up a signal of interest from me & misinterpret it. In fact I was so set on doing this that it was a surprise to me last Sunday when one guy said to me, “But I thought you didn’t want to be in a relationship. You keep saying you don’t want anything to compromise this community & family.”
I realised then that I can think I’m communicating clearly but what I’m communicating may not be what people hear. I do want to be in a relationship, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid of loss, of rejection, & I’m afraid of losing my best friend (at least you should be BFFs if you’re dating them?! Haha).
After Mike, after my last relationship, after saying goodbye to the UK… I’m not closed to relationships at all, but my heart is fragile to loss & change. This community is my family, I’m scared that too will go away. Yet, if a guy does come along in my life, I do want to be brave enough to jump in.
The second battle ground is this. One of the coolest things about this group of friends is they give me so much permission to be myself… I know what I’m about to say is going to sound like a complete contradiction but bear with me… however, the deeper into community I get, the more this seems to be challenged.
I’m still figuring out who I am. Especially post Mike. A lot changed once he died. Especially the way I see the world, people & life. Certain things became more meaningful & I became a lot more intentional. I like deep conversations, I like encouraging people to be greater versions of who they already are, I like asking people how they are really doing… But in order to do that I first must be vulnerable. Even if my vulnerability is simply asking the question. No matter how great or small the vulnerability, it’s direct contrast is rejection.
The constant threat of rejection is exhausting but lately the consequences of vulnerability seems more intense. Like recently things have happened, or comments have been made to me that were not supposed to be negative but Satan has used it to cut deep into my heart. The thoughts going around in my head subsequently are:
“You drain people Akila”, “People want to laugh & deep stuff doesn’t refresh them”, “Akila people can only handle you in small doses”, “Akila people push you away because you are too intense”, “Akila you are too emotional”, “Akila you think you are trying to treat people the way you want to be treated but really you are just broken.”
I don’t want to be any of those things that are in my head. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I didn’t ask for Mike to die. I didn’t ask for me to change. I don’t want to drain people. I don’t want people to only be able to cope with me in small doses. My heart feel so raw, shaken & vulnerable thinking this could be.
Tonight, before church, I was trying to put on mascara without crying it off & I was talking to God about all this. I said to God, “I want to me just me. I want to be real & intentional. I want the deep conversations. I want to genuinely know how someone is doing. I really love & care for people. Even if people can only cope with me in small doses, I don’t want to change because this stuff matters to me, this is how I show people they matter to me.”
As I’m trying to figure all this out with Jesus a thought came to me, “Akila they’re not running from you, they’re running from vulnerability.”
Later after church I shared my fears with my life group leader & she gave a really beautiful illustration of a needle with thread. The needle point of vulnerability is so sharp that it can be painful for me & for others, but the thread that the needle brings is community.
Community is so much bigger than just a group of people hanging out. If God is the heart then community is what He uses to pump life into our souls. Life that fills our being with purpose. Life that He uses to demonstrate His love, His freedom, His truth. Community is life. Messy, beautiful, adventurous, living life. But it’s His life, & He gives it to us. He calls us to be our Brother’s Keepers.
This fear malarkey is hard core to address, but once upon a time when I was 14 years old God told me, “Akila I made you for people.” I want to be faithful to that calling. It’s my heart, it’s how I’m wired. What an incredible joy it is to be called my Brother’s Keeper. I’m not confused about this, but the fears bury this so that everything dumped on top causes confusion & disunity.
I don’t have a conclusion to this blog post as this is still a journey. But I do know that I don’t want these fears to kill me. I don’t want to change the root of who I am. I do want to grow. I do want to walk in freedom rather than fear. & whilst I’m trying to move away from acceptance in other people’s eyes, I really do hope I can be a good friend to people.
Last week I was walking down Long Street in Cape Town CBD with a group of friends at about 11.30pm when a guy pushed himself against my back and rubbed himself on me. I spun around only to see he was already doing it to another girl who was with us. Then he walked off. It happened so quickly.
Later that evening I was talking about it to the girl’s brother, let’s call him Abs, and to another guy friend, let’s call him Toes. Abs asked me did I say something to the guy and I said, “No, why would I put myself in an intimidating situation? I’ve no idea if calling him out on it will cause him to get aggressive with me.” Abs said, “But Akila, you were with 4 other guys at the time who have your back. What did you think would happen?”
I found myself unable to respond but inside thinking to myself, “You have my back? I didn’t even think of you guys.”
The next night it was New Year’s Eve. We were on the beach overlooking Cape Town City and once the firework shows ended we decided to go to the restaurant directly behind us because for NYE they had a DJ. Once we got our faces painted by the staff – literally, it was white paint and looked freakin awesome – we hit the dance floor.
I never really realized this until I was going home, but all night I had been looking around me. The whole time I was on the dance floor I did what I always do, observe what others around me are doing. Who is where, who looks shifty, who should I be alert to, do I need to protect someone…
Do I need to protect someone? The number one question I continually ask myself.
Back home when we go out I’m usually the oldest one in the group and/or with my younger sister. Between her and the younger ones in the group I end up stepping into that protector role every time we go out. There is always at least one guy who gets far too close, physical or friendly. Whilst it’s such an honor to be used as a trusted shield by my sister or our friends, I have to switch off my brain, compartmentalize any fear, and address the guy.
The guy’s reaction 99% of the time is either to then hit on me, or to get aggressive. Once a guy punched me three times in the face and busted my lip when I explained the girl wasn’t interested. Another time the guy grabbed my hair so hard I landed head first on the edge of the street curb which caused my head to bleed.
But on the night of NYE something magically strange happened on the dance floor.
I was dancing next to the sister, the same one who was with me on Long Street the night before, and noticed the guy behind her was bumping his backside against her. So I grabbed her hand and spun her into the opposite direction. But then that left me with butt guy and I was thinking, “Oh no?! Where do I go?! His butt is going to bump into me now?!”
I think I dived to the other side of our circle of friends but when I turned around Toes had moved into the spot where the sister and I were. I wish I filmed it because it was genuinely the funniest thing – Toes had no shame, he just danced the same way as the guy, backside to backside, and soon enough the guy moved away.
After a while the lights dimmed and the music got better so myself and two other girls moved to the center of the dance floor. And we just went for it dancing. I could see this tall, creepy, older dude dancing near us and sure enough he made a move on one girl. I grabbed her away from him but then the creep started hitting on the other girl. I grabbed her too and held onto them while dancing in hope that creep would get the message that we were not interested. But as I looked over my shoulder all I saw was Toes and Abs leading the other guys in our group across the dance floor straight to us. They gathered around us dancing and Toes made conversation with creep.
P.s. creep doesn’t deserve a capital “C”.
I cannot tell you how much that blew my mind. It was so simple and non-threatening but so effective. It never crossed my mind that I wasn’t the only one observing things on the dance floor. I never thought our guys would have our backs like that. I never thought they would step into that protective brother role. I never thought it because I never saw it before.
I know what happens when I say no. I know what it’s like to be hit repeatedly in the face and on multiple occasions. I know what it’s like for guys to force their hands onto me. I know what happens when a guy 60 years older than me kisses me inappropriately. I know what it’s like to not be able to press charges because there, “isn’t enough evidence to make the case stick in court”. I know so much more than what anyone should ever have to know.
More than anything I know exactly what it’s like to be a woman in a world where men are animals.
I didn’t know, genuinely did not know, that a group of guys, like my friends, could exist. I don’t know what overwhelms my heart more with love and gratitude – that these guys exist or that I have the joy of calling them my brothers.
I shared some of my personal life story with a friend on the way back to Pretoria from Cape Town. And after she asked me do I have someone who can help me work through some of the things I’ve been through. I do have people, but I said to her, “Do you know what, God’s really amazing. The stuff He’s doing in my heart is insane. I can’t escape Him. He’s using so many people and situations to address things in my life and to heal my heart. It’s absolutely incredible. Just like the other night the way the guys responded on the dance floor. That whole event has shifted so much in my heart.”
I really wish I could show my South Africa family how much God is using them. I’ve said this before but I can’t help repeating it when I realize how full my heart is when I think of them. I actually kinda get sad at my human limitations in expressing my gratitude to them. But I guess I can only keep encouraging them with words of affirmation; and before God just continually ask that He blesses each of them.
In the mean time, I’m so so so freakin blessed to call them my brothers and sisters. Teddi, thanks for pushing me to write about this.