By Sue Bowles
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again. From the bottom of the depths you will bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” (Psalm 71:20-21)
I stood in the arena, packed with nearly 5,500 people. The lights flashed to the pulsating beat of the drums. It was 1985, and the Christian rock band, Petra, commanded the stage.
There was something about the music – about the crowd – that broke through my religiosity. Before the end of the concert, I found myself practically dragging my date to the backstage room, where volunteers told me more about the decision I’d just made – to follow Christ. It was May 31, 1985, and I was 21 years old. It was during the summer before my senior year of college. It took me a year to realize my lifestyle was supposed to change, too.
A year later, I unexpectedly found myself headed to Minnesota to attend graduate school, where I had interviewed for two assistantships at the university. During my visit I “heard” from God for the first time. Mind you, I was new to this Christian thing. The three sentences were very clear: “I want you here for a reason. Don’t ask me why. Just trust me.” At that point, I knew the interviews were just formalities.
The undercurrent during this time, however, was turmoil, brokenness, and depression. Just a year prior, my 15 year secret had found an escape hatch, a couple months before I graduated college, when I “outed” myself to the Dean of Students as a childhood rape survivor. A classmate had raped me after school one day when I was in first grade. I hadn’t told anyone until that day in 1986. Pain, wounds, and brokenness have a way of exposing themselves, despite our best efforts to unknowingly hide them.
I had tried so many ways of concealing my truth; anxiety, over-involvement, drinking, depression, an eating disorder, and being suicidal. I believed I had value when others saw me, so I made sure I was seen. It helped me deflect what was going on inside. My not-so-merry-go-round went like this: if I stayed busy, I didn’t have to think; and if I didn’t have to think, I I didn’t have to feel; and if I didn’t have to feel, I didn’t have to deal with my “stuff.” The words had escaped their silent prison, but I was far from free. In actuality, I ended up hiding even more.
When I left for grad school, I thought a geographic move would be a cure. I was wrong. My parents’ marriage was rocky, my shadows were catching up to me, and I found myself running from Christ, instead of to Him. It was at another Christian rock concert in 1987, Rick Cua, where I found myself ready to quit playing hide-and-seek with God. I had been a believer just two years, and was already rededicating my life to Christ at the concert. This time, I received my first NIV Bible, which would become a prized possession.
One of the ‘reasons’ God had for me to be in Minnesota was Kanakuk Christian Sports Kamp. I ended up working there for five summers after grad school and was baptized there by Joe White. Joe and I had been pen pals for two years before we met. One thing instilled in me at Kamp was how important it was to memorize the Word. In 1992, I came across Psalm 71: 20-21, and called it my ‘life verse.’ I didn’t realize how true it would be.
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again. From the bottom of the depths you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” Psalm 71:20-21
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter…
I sure had that first line defined. It certainly described my life. I am a childhood rape survivor – multiple rapes by the same person that day. I experienced other sexual abuse which came from a neighborhood boy while growing up, then another sexual assault happened in high school. I was suicidal twice and I was rejected by my best friend when I was 16. I didn’t cry a tear for two years. I was raised in an alcoholic home and after 34 years of marriage my parents divorced. Then I developed an eating disorder.
Any one of these things could be a lot for anyone to handle, and for some reason, God allowed all of these to happen in my life. And for decades I wanted to know why. I have had some long nights of my soul being angry with God and with myself. “Where were you when Bobby was raping me? Why did you abandon me? You don’t care! How could you?” I blamed myself for the rape.
In 2014 I finally dealt with the effects of the rape. That left a few decades of extra garbage to dig through as well. I had convinced myself that I was “the holy exception,” that what the Bible says was good enough for everyone else BUT me. I was too far gone and too screwed up for God. My heart had become bitter. I look good on the outside, but I was imploding on the inside.
You will restore my life again. From the bottom of the depths you will again bring me up...
I felt as if I had become friends with the ‘bottom of the depths.’ Think about it. If ‘depth’ is the measure of how deep something goes, then the bottom of the depths is the deepest of the deep. And somehow, God was going to restore my life and bring me up? When I was scraping bottom, redemption was only a dream – just out of reach. It was good enough for everyone by me.
BIO: Sue Bowles is an author, speaker, and Certified Professional Life Coach. She’s the owner of My Step Ahead, commited to breaking the stigma around mental health struggles, and volunteers with the international community Beatingeatingdisorders.com. She is also an international podcast guest and frequent conference presenter. Sue’s first book, “This Much I Know…The Space Between,” was released September, 2019, on Amazon and Kindle. Sue lives in central Ohio, is the caregiver for her mom, enjoys music, her vegetable garden, and is a part of the Walking Stick Retreat Community. Sue can be contacted at my step ahead.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.