Here is a link to a sermon our pastor Helen Gwyn gave some time ago, or view it on the Podcasts page. At the time it prompted me to think about my time in the 'desert'. I encourage anyone to listen to it, as we often think in those desert times that we are unique in our feeling of separation, isolation and dryness. And yet the desert experience is profoundly biblical.  

I wanted to write about some of my experience in my desert time, but have baulked at revealing information that could be hurtful to someone else, and in the end I decided on some editing that would avoid shaming anyone else.

I do look back on that time and I am grateful, but it was very hard and confusing being in it. What I want to write about was the amazing things God did in this time - although I had walked away from the church, hardly read my Bible, almost never prayed and emotionally was in a state of breakdown for quite a few of those years. I had two of the most profound encounters with God in that time, one a vision, and one a dream. I never lost my faith during this time, I just lost the ability to be with other Christians, I was hurting so much.

When we left the church in Motueka and came to live in Auckland and subsequently left my husband, I found I could not bring myself to go to church. I felt torn apart - in fact I did go through a time that could be described as mental breakdown. I had a period of intense psychotherapy with a very competent woman. Every week for three years we worked through putting back together my shattered confidence and woundedness of both spirit and mind.  Jesus was very much in my mind through these times, although I felt unconnected with Him. I trusted that He was there from sheer dogged faith and I am quite sure I would not have made it out of the darkness if I had not had Him by my side.

Even though eventually I began to feel well again, I still could not go to church. I was afraid, angry and hurting. Maybe some Christians would have considered me 'back-slidden', (an awful term in my opinion). I never stopped believing in Jesus and never stopped loving Him. I did drift from the ways of the Lord, however. So on the surface I did very much look like a 'back-slider'.  And I did things that were 'not beneficial' (I Corinthians 6:12).

This period of time that I spent away from the church was about 17-18 years and apart from the depression I began to heal from the extreme mental health problems I had.  I continued to have a gnawing depression and emptiness that grew incrementally over the years.  

It was in this desert time that I had the most amazing vision - I call it the Vision of Jesus and and Teletubbies, followed a couple of nights later by an intense dream. I wrote down the vision and the dream after they happened and having just reread my journalled writing at the time I am struck with how clear my memories have remained of these 2 events. And my memory is not my strongest feature!

The Vision of Jesus and the Teletubbies

I was doing some 'new Age' stuff with a friend (not recommended - but I believe God protected me throughout this experience by giving me this vision), and as I closed my eyes trying to visualise a safe and relaxing space this unfolded. I was not driving this, I cannot stress this enough, I was surprised at the clarity and intensity of what was a waking dream, a vision.

I am sitting in the “safe place” I have made for myself over the years of doing relaxation etc.  I haven’t got a safe place and never had one and the place I made up is the best I can do.  It’s like looking at a picture with a lake on the right side and a bit of a slope on the right.  There are some trees and I try to “get into the picture” by leaning my back against the tree and relaxing.

I see darkness, a great darkness being pulled out of me.  I can sense the pulling as it is drawn away.  Sheets of blackness.  I take my mind back to the tree and concentrate on relaxing.  I want to make leaves or wrap myself in fur, but it is very hard to imagine fur.  Then Jesus comes to talk to me.  I’m not sure if He should be here.  He sits beside me and speaks.  He is looking down, not at me.  

“Why are you not looking at me?”  I ask.  "Because you are filled with darkness and I can’t look at the darkness."  

I knew that when the darkness had gone He will  be able to look directly into my eyes and I would like that very much.

I continue to feel the layers being pulled from me.  Not all black, some are red now and there are brown bits.

Jesus begins to change my “safe place”.  He begins by creating a forcefield – a clear bubble,  that surrounds the area.  Above and about and I know it is beneath us too.  We are enclosed in a sphere.  The place begins to change, the grass and trees sparkle and there are giant rabbits.  I am allowed to touch one.  “This is like the Teletubbies!”  And there they are!  I want to touch them but change my mind, I don’t want them too close – they scare me.  Jesus makes them move back a bit to where I feel comfortable.  What a wonderful place He has made for me!  Next He lifts the whole globe up, with me inside it and the rabbits and the lovely grass, and places it inside his stomach!  You can’t get much safer than this!   I worry about all the bad and painful things that happened to Jesus on the cross, but He assures me I won’t be hurt inside him, I won’t feel any of it or have to see it.

The sheets of darkness continue to be drawn from me and I see a new one.  Not like fabric or shadow like the others,  but made of steel.

There is a heavy steel sheet over my chest.  It is bolted there.  It will need quite a bit of work to remove it.  Arc welders, bolt cutters, that sort of thing, I think.  Jesus explains to me that it is Fear.  Fear has clamped itself to my chest.  While work commences on the steel sheet I go back to the bubble.  I cannot do the healing myself, Jesus tells me.

He tells me that I will soon have to explore outside the bubble.  Soon I will be ready to go outside.  In a little while.  I can enjoy the safety of being inside Jesus’ tummy for as long as I like.  I see myself for a second as a fetus floating in amniotic fluid in Jesus’ womb and I know that I am really safe.  He tells me that no-one will try to kill me here.  What a wonderful feeling to feel so safe.

He takes my up through a burrow so we can look at the outside world.  He makes it so we are in a little outside bubble attached to the main globe, because I am scared.  He shows me all the people walking around out there and He tells me that I must go out there soon.  “I don’t want to”.  He tells me I must.  The reason is that I am so shiny and beautiful that the people need to see me.  I do not believe Him, but I know I have to believe what He says because He is Jesus and doesn’t lie.  He tells me that He will help me find a way to tell the people I can trust from the people who will hurt me.  I am very glad about that because I don’t know.  Then He shows me what He can do to the bad people if He so chooses.  He went outside the bubble and with the sword in his hand sliced up a bad person like cutting through paper.  The bad person blew away in the wind.

The steel sheet suddenly gave way, I sigh deeply and am aware of the next part that needs healing.

It is loneliness.  It is emptiness.  It is like daggers cutting me through.  Cold and hard and dark.
Jesus explains again that I cannot heal all alone by myself.  I need to let others in to help.  I keep wanting to do it by myself.  I do not want to trust others.  Slowly I relax and know that this too is being drawn from me.

Then we move to grief, a sea of tears, and ocean of mourning and sadness. That is what my stomach represents. I hate my body shape and my fat stomach.  I have every reason for grief, I have lost so much, my sister that I loved, my childhood and innocence, my first born daughter.  My stomach is round, the sea of grief is round like a ball. Jesus speak again and as He speaks I see the ball of water change.  It becomes a bowl, a beautiful hand turned wooden bowl, but its colour is magical.  First purple and then blue as you look at it from different angle. “You are a bowl” He says, “and I will fill you with the finest fruit”  As He says this I see the bowl filling with ripe delicious fruit, pomegranates, grapefruit, melons.

I am afraid again, I don’t want to see anything.  I hear his voice though as I squeeze my eyes tight shut.  

I go to a place where there is nothing.  Not dark or light, hot nor cold.  Nothingness.

On my back there is a burden.  It is so heavy.  It presses down upon me.  Jesus wants me to tell Him what it is. “It is shame” I say in a whisper.

“That is right, this is the shame you carry.  Now is the time to lay that burden down.  It does not belong to you.  Lay it down.”  I do not know how and try to think hard of how to lay it down.  It does not belong to me but to others who hurt me.  They have never had to carry any of it.  It is NOT mine!  It is THEIR shame!  I know now what I must do.  I see the burden come off my shoulders and become a row of little books.  I will write.

The burden laid down reveals another obstacle. “This obstacle,” explains Jesus, pointing to the shiny dark brown sheet over my lower back, “is to do with your will. Your will has been severely damaged and you do things that you really don’t want to do.  You say 'yes' when you want to say 'no'.  Smoking is about this.  You really don’t want to smoke but you allow yourself to anyway.  See the pattern?”  I do.  It is like being victimised by myself.  I understand finally that this is not good.

Again He finds a new area in me. “Ah, now here is the seat of passion!”  He laughs.  I laugh.  I have such passion at times for the silliest things.  Fads.  “Your passion is so often misplaced,” He says, “You need to have the passion to be yourself!”  I think for a minute what this would be like.  It would be like clothing myself with robes of silk, with purples and golds.  It would be like putting flowers in my hair and running to see my reflection in  the stream.  It would be enjoying every breath of every day.

We are not done yet.
It becomes misty and I cannot see anything clearly.  I catch a brief word or the flash of an image.  “Intellect” “Future” “Aspirations” are some of the words.  I see books.

Then I open my eyes to see my normal room in my normal house. A huge joy fills me. I am alive. I am safe. Jesus has given me an amazing incredible thing I have never before had. I feel safe.

The Dream

(Warning this contains things that may trigger some people - do not read if you are feeling vulnerable)

I am watching a black woman on a TV show.  The show is one of those ones like “America’s Most Wanted”, a crime show where the viewers are urged to ring in with information.  I am watching from inside the show, not watching on TV.  I must be part of the TV production team on the set.  I am to the right and slightly in front of the stage, but can also see the close up of the woman’s face on a monitor.  Her face is very clear.  Stylish black curly hair cut in a bob, dark shiny skin and clear shining eyes.  She is a very attractive woman in her late thirties.  As she speaks I sense a serenity and peace.

She is speaking about a crime that had been committed and asking the public for any information that would bring the perpetrators to justice.  She is giving the details of the crime – she had been gang-raped some years before.

Her spot is finished and she is walking towards me.   I go towards her, I want to talk to her.  I want to say something but I don’t know what the words are.  “Your story”, I begin, “about being gang-raped…” I trail off as those hated words leave my mouth.  She looks deeply into my eyes.  Her eyes are not all brown, there are flecks of green and gold.  They shine.  She speaks.  “No-one, but no-one can know what its like- unless they’ve been there.”  I reach for her and she puts her arms around me.  I start to cry and she holds me and tells me quietly about the things no-one else can know.  How it feels to be used by one assailant after another. How deeply you want to forget even as its happening and waiting, waiting, waiting for it to finish.
I woke. I began to think about how no-one else I know or had met had been able to share that terrible experience.  I have met one other who had been gang-raped and she is still hurting so much her mind is still fighting it.  Getting close to the memories had triggered her into a knife wielding frenzy that scared me very much.  I wasn’t afraid of the knife or getting stabbed, I was afraid to see the damage and the defences like a forcefield which prevented healing.

I am sure I am not unique in my experiences, but very few people make it out the other side to recovery and healing.  I am not quite there yet, but nearly.  To fight off and discard the crippling low self esteem.  “Low self esteem”, now there’s an understatement.  To feel such self loathing and guilt.  Its like a knife ripping into your tender insides.  To not be able to look into the mirror without inwardly shuddering at the ugliness of the loathsome image before you.  I must say that booze and drugs did a good job of keeping me out of the mental asylum, but they turned on me too and I had to stop.  No, “Low self esteem” doesn’t really cut the mustard expression-wise.

It has taken this long for my mind, my soul, my spirit to crawl out of the darkness.  After many years of being free from booze and drugs the fog began to lift.  The darkness in my heart was warmed by a small glow of hope and I  finally admitted what happened to me. I am been healed with great care and compassion by a God I love and trust implicitly.  There has been no magic wand waved over me, every step of the way has been at a pace I could endure - and after what feels like an eternity I can really know what forgiveness is. Both to give and receive. I don’t feel ashamed anymore.  The healing is slow, it has been extremely painful at times.  In spite of everything I am sane.  I have a voice.  I can say to someone as I look into their eyes, “No-one, but no-one can know what its like to be gang-raped unless they’ve been there.” And I know that I can be that beautiful woman that stands tall and strong.