Another Friday movie night. I don’t remember this weekend’s movie selection. I am pretty sure that this is the weekend that we kept trying to watch a Netflix original movie, Alex Strangelove. We were only supposed to watch G-rated, family friendly movies so the staff kept making us turn it off because there were a “inappropriate” parts, being rated TV-MA.
All weekend during breaks and down time, Kelsey, Gabby, or I would have control over the tv and we’d all look at each other and nod and laugh. “Another five minutes of Alex Strangelove?” This movie was kind of weird and ridiculous and not even that good. We all just wanted to know the ending and to push some limits and see if we could get away with it. Kelsey would put it on and only a few minutes would pass before a staff member would comment, “What is this?” watch for a few seconds and say “Nope. Absolutely not. We are not watching this.” We would laugh and joke that maybe if we watched three minutes every day we could finish the movie by Christmas. Unfortunately we lost control over what was put on the tv after this.
Mail usually came at 8:30 every evening. I would get a letter from my mom, Kristin, Lauren, Nicole, Jackie, Elle, and sometimes a few others every week. At one point during this week or the next, one of my roommates in Oxford mailed me a potato parcel. You know, the business that was featured on Shark Tank a couple years ago where you can mail a loved one a message on a russet potato? Genius, I know.
Joyce, a nurse that worked often on weekends, called me over to let me know that I had a package at 8:30. There wasn’t a name on the return address so I wasn’t sure what it would be. I sat down at the long table next to Joyce. Joyce is one of my favorite nurses and she has been at Renfrew for a long time. She cracked me up. She always looked so intense and serious all the time, and this rubbed some patients the wrong way. I would joke around with her a lot and she’d give it right back to me. Or she would just give me a concerning look and raise an eyebrow. She probably just thought I was a little crazy, so she tolerated me and played along.
After I opened my small package, I laughed so hard. “I am DEAD” I kept exclaiming while I literally had tears in my eyes. My roommate Megan had mailed me one of our inside jokes written on a potato parcel. I showed everyone in the room and Joyce looked at me like I was insane so I laughed even more.
“Do I get to keep it?” I ask her through laughter. And she said, “No you can’t keep the potato. We have to confiscate it.” We weren’t allowed to be mailed any food. Even though I am pretty sure this thing was not edible. I could not stop laughing.
I asked Joyce if I could have permission to use my cell phone for a second to take a photo of my potato. She said, very seriously, “Oh, yes of course.” As if it were the most normal thing on the planet.
She wheeled over, in her electric wheelchair, to the phone mounted on the wall and called the nurses station to relay the message, “I am sending Olivia D down to get her cell phone to take a photo of a potato.” She said it so matter of factly, with no other explanation, and hung up. I walked down the hall to the nurses station, laughing, and Jenny came out with my cell phone and looked concerned, “You’re taking a photo of a potato..?”
Kelsey and I could not stop cracking up all night. I wish I could post a photo of my potato here, but my phone was dead when I got to the nurses station. But every time I would pass by the big, clear window at the nurses station, I could see the nurses looking at it and laughing, which would crack me up all over again.
I looked forward to mail time every evening. The letters I would get from Lauren and Kristin and my mom each week were so encouraging. Before I went to treatment I would talk to Kristin every week on the phone, sometimes for over an hour. Kristin and Lauren have been my cheerleaders basically since I’ve met them. I really missed that all of my people were not only a text away any more. Fortunately when I wouldn’t get mail from them, I’d be able to call them in the phone booths to catch up.
On Friday evening this week, I didn’t stay in the community room very long after dinner. I may have been upstairs with some of the girls watching tv or a movie. I may have been showering and getting ready for bed. Either way, I still made my way down to the long, wooden table in the community room to check if I received mail at 8:30.
A letter was waiting for me on the table. I picked it up and, with surprise, read that the letter was from a friend I used to work with at the HPER in Fayetteville. I sat down at the table and said, “This letter is like eight pages long.” Liv, across the room, asked, “Who’s it from?” I told her that it was from a guy I used to work with at the HPER in Arkansas. She smiled and said, “Ooooohhhh, a boy?” I laughed and said it wasn’t like that at all with him. He is just a good friend.
I read the eight page letter from start to finish. It was poetic, kind, and genuine. At first I didn’t know how to feel about the words at all. I read it all the way through again. I walked upstairs and got into bed. Sarah was still awake so I told her about the letter. I read a few lines out loud to her.
The Mr. Rogers documentary that came out last summer taught me an excellent, important, and beautiful lesson: The greatest gift we can give someone is to let them know that they are loved and capable of loving.
You are someone I greatly admire and look up to when it comes to this. You not only have a passion to love others, you go out of your way to make sure that they know you care about them. Baking goods, hosting parties, even just sharing encouragement are your clear love languages. If I could love others half as much as you do, I’m sure I would be a much better friend and brother in Christ. I may be reading too much into this, and I apologize if I am, but I fear sometimes that you work so hard to love others that you may forget to love yourself as much. And you are so worthy of love and affection, Olivia.
… and we are all the better for knowing you.
This paragraph brought tears to my eyes. These are the things I want people to know me for, what I want them to see when they look at me. If someone mailed me a letter detailing how beautiful or fit or skinny I was, It wouldn’t have even a fraction of meaning compared to these words. Because it isn’t even a fraction as important. So why are these the only things I strive for?
He goes on to tell me about a few people who have been moved by my story. He tells me of his community group who has been praying for me. Again, that connection, the feeling of being seen, of being important. It lifted me up.
I do know you and am blessed ten times over as such. I pray for you every day, that you would receive healing that you need, physically and emotionally. This is an odd thing to say, but you are not, and will NEVER be defined by the countless struggles you’ve gone through in your life. No one thinks of you as Olivia, the girl who struggles; you are Olivia, the woman who loves others in tangible, real ways; Olivia the daughter of Jesus who will OVERCOME these trials; Olivia the friend to everyone.
Little did he know that he was telling me every word I needed to hear. I read it over and over again. I wanted to believe it.
This verse has been greatly inspiring me lately, and I share it with all of the people I reach out to in similar manners to this:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings to us so closely. And let us run with endurance the race that is set out before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throng of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2
I love this passage. We are not called to meditate on our flaws and shortcomings, but we are to lay it all aside!! We are more than our flaws. I know that this is a lot easier said than done, but I know that if anyone can do it, it’s Olivia freaking Dyer.
To lay aside every weight and sin – that sounds so freeing. I wanted to do this. I wanted to believe I could do this, that I was capable. But I didn’t. I really wanted to. But how could I just let it all go? How can I believe that I am more than my flaws? What more to me is there? My flaws are all that I see right now.
So I am in awe (and I mean that from the bottom of my heart) of your strength. You might feel like you have “lost” or that he has “won,” but I can assure you that in the lives you have impacted, the love you have given, and the passion you have for a wholesome life, we know you, Olivia. You are incredible.
We sat him down a few days after we found out and asked him to explain his side of the story. He painted a picture that looked like reality flipped on its head. He told about a girl whose name was Olivia, who is cold and manipulative. I’m sorry if that hurts you. But I know that that story was a work of fiction, because the Olivia I know is a valiant, noble, courageous, talented, gifted, ambitious, loving, and steadfast friend of mine. When we reach the end of our days, you won’t answer to him, or your struggles, or anyone else – only the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, who knows the truth and knows you and every part of you.
I read this paragraph over and over. My heart hurt for the things my abuser, his friend, our coworker, probably said about me. I could feel his hatred towards me from miles away. I remembered the lies this person spread about me to people after I posted my blog. This fear of not being loved by everyone on the planet consumed me. I again felt a burden on myself – I did something wrong, something bad. I’m a bad person. I wish that I could say these comments didn’t effect me, but I would be a liar. They hurt. They were being said out of a place of hatefulness and arrogance, but they still hurt. So I tried to focus on the next few sentences my friend wrote me.
Valiant. Noble. Courageous. Talented. Gifted. Ambitious. Loving. Steadfast. All of these things and more that people use to describe me. These are the things they see when they know me. These are the only things I want people to see, but cannot see. I want to hide every other thing, every flaw. All I can see are the flaws, the messy, the dirty, and the broken. And when he says God knows every part of me, how could he possibly still love me knowing all of the darkness in me? That just does not seem possible.
And so that’s where we are now. I know a few other things I can tell you. First, I know that God is good and that he is bigger than this, and that he knows and loves you. And he knows that this is a challenge. Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely, on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so that they have persecuted the prophets before you.”
Second, I know that you are not, and never will be, alone in this process. I pray for you every day. MY community group prays for you. Everyone asks about you and wants to know you will be okay.
And finally, I know that you, Olivia Dyer, are so, so loved, and you have a gift for loving others incredibly.
I felt so conflicted. I want to be this sure, to believe all of these wonderful things about myself and about how God feels about me. I wanted to believe it so badly I could have cried.
After a few days, re-reading and re-reading the letter probably twenty times, I sat down to reply. I thanked him for the encouraging words and the prayers. I tried to sum up what it meant to me, but my words couldn’t describe it.
Then I told him about my crisis. I believe in God. But, especially in the past few years, it doesn’t feel like he’s been there. It doesn’t feel like he loves me.
As I was writing my letter in reply, I realized a few things. I didn’t feel like God had been with me, I didn’t feel his love or his protection. I felt anger. He let these things happen to me by people I trust and people who were preaching his name and leading bible studies. These conflicting thoughts about God and where he was for me were overwhelming. It was hard to sit in a church service before I got here because I didn’t feel safe. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone in the room. I couldn’t stop thinking of the things that happened to me the last time I was in a bible study, the last time I was involved in church.
This past Sunday in Oxford, I attended the church I have been going to since I moved here. I was sitting in the farthest row in the back in the middle. I recognized people that I have been doing childcare for and babysat their kids for bible studies. I recognized people I worked with in the nursery. I felt fine, good even. But then the worship started and I was singing along with the band. I kept looking over my shoulder at the entrance to the auditorium. Every few seconds I checked who was walking in, to see if I knew them, if they looked familiar. I was trying to look at every single face in the auditorium full of people. I couldn’t focus on the song. I felt frantic. My entire body was shaking. I thought about how many people there are in this room that I do not know at all. Any of them could take advantage or manipulate. They could preach Jesus’s name to me and I would believe them and trust them and I’d get hurt. It would happen all over again. I couldn’t breathe. I continued to shake. Tears came to my eyes. I picked up my purse and my bible and rushed out of the auditorium into the bathroom.
It seemed empty. I went into one of the stalls and started sobbing. Loud, heaving sobs that continued to shake my entire body. All of the shame and the fear poured out. I was getting light headed so I leaned against the wall of the stall and closed my eyes. Then I hear someone flush and open a door a few stalls away from me. She walks to the sink, washes her hands, and then stands outside of my stall. After a moment, she says to me, “Do you want to talk about it?”
I hesitate and stare at the lock on the door. She sounds nice. Old Olivia would have said, “No, thank you,” and waited until she left the room before bolting out of the building alone. Old Olivia would have gotten in her car and driven to the closest gas station to buy Reese’s and chips and a half gallon of ice cream and a diet coke to stuff herself and numb the panic. She would have gone home and forced all the food back up, purging the feelings of guilt and self hatred. Old Olivia wouldn’t have told anyone about the situation. I considered being old Olivia again. The fear and lack of trust made it extremely tempting.
But before I could talk myself out of it, I unlocked the stall door and stepped out. She asked what was going on and I tried my best to explain. I told her that I struggle with PTSD and anxiety and I was having a panic attack. I continued to hyperventilate and gasp for more air. She got me tissues to wipe my eyes and then put her hand on my arm. At this moment, the bathroom door opened and the woman who is in charge of the church’s child ministry walked in. I knew her and had coffee with her in August when I first started going to this church, so she knew my story. She and the other woman prayed for me with their arms around my shaking body. The childcare director then walked me towards the nursery. “I know exactly what will make you feel calmer,” she smiled at me.
We entered a room with a big screen at the front, playing the service. Sitting around a table were about six moms with their newborn babies crawling on the table and nursing. It is really hard to be panicked when you’re around tiny babies. I sat for the rest of the service in here and tried to deep breathe and calm my shaking, smiling at the little babies around me. The sweetness of the mothers’ pure and endless love for their babies filled the room. They laughed and talked as the babies babbled in their arms.
I’m glad that I didn’t give in to the old temptations of finding calm. New Olivia still had a panic attack, she is still afraid. She is aware of the manipulation and pain that can come from trusting a new person, trusting a new church. But New Olivia worked through it on her own, she faced it. She allowed others to help her and she accepted the feelings head on.
This reaction would not have gone the same way on Sunday, if my friend had not written me the letter he did. For my entire first four weeks that I was in treatment, I denied any sessions with the christian counselor. Liz would offer it up occasionally and I would refuse. I didn’t even want to think about that. I didn’t want to attend the christian groups on Saturdays and Sundays. Nothing about that felt safe. My experiences were not good with people who claim to be christians.
But on Saturday of week four, I found myself approaching the christian counselor who worked on weekends. This was the first conversation I was having with her since I had admitted. Knowing that she was the christian counselor from week one, I actually avoided a lot of the groups she lead. I didn’t want to think about the fact that I’m a bad person for not going to christian group and that I can’t go to christian group because I’m a bad person. So I didn’t think about it at all. I’m really good at avoiding.
I asked Erika this weekend if we could have a session next week. She happily told me, “Of course! I’d love to.” I immediately regret it and didn’t want to go, but I wanted to go. I wanted to be able to feel safe again at church. I have so many things that I want so badly to believe. I want to believe the things God thinks of me, that he can take my burdens from me. I want to lay them aside to Him. I want to feel like God is there again.