Trauma, Love, & Grace

Where grace was found. (I do not own this image.)

Last weekend I was given the opportunity to attend a women-only Cursillo retreat in southern Marin county. Most of the other women attendees experienced an ah-ha, mountaintop moment at some point throughout the weekend. I experienced something different, something that will stay forever etched in my mind and heart. I realized after the weekend that it would make a drastic, lifelong impression on me because of my personal traumatic history.

All throughout the weekend we heard talks, we discussed them at our tables, we were provided with food, we were personally woken up, I could go on and on about how the women running the retreat showered the attendees with love. At one point I wanted to get a refill of water and the woman who was leading our table discussion excused herself and refilled my water for me.

I said aloud several times:

“It is very uncomfortable to be served, I would much rather serve.”

I found myself sneaking my own refills of water and coffee, I even snuck a refill for my table leader! It was uncomfortable to have them clear my dishes. It was uncomfortable for them to carry my belongings to the site for me and retrieve them when we were leaving. I realized they were showing God’s love and as astonishing and beautiful as that was; what truly astounded me was how foreign it felt.

I have experienced glimpses, very few and far between, as an adult where I have been selflessly awarded love. Though I was very well taken care of as a child, my adulthood has been a stark contrast. Only in the past 3 years have I experienced this level of unwarranted, undeserved, radiant love.

There have been moments when people have rescued me from my predators and there they exhibited love, but I was too steeped in trauma to recognize the magnitude of their sacrifice. For instance, I remember when I lived with my brother for a month and my sister for a year and a half, I loved them but couldn't reconcile feeling like a “burden”. Gratitude notwithstanding, I hated having to rely on other people. I loathed being cared for as an adult. Now, I am blessed to allow my trauma-sober and substance-sober self to experience this outpouring.

Last weekend I remembered my father, also a former Cursillo attendee, who passed on 5 years ago with grace and dignity. Knowing him it must have been very difficult to have to learn how to walk again after his first brain surgery. Knowing him it must have been a battle with pride to allow others to feed him and put on his shoes for him. Nevertheless, he humbled himself and exemplified grace during his final years.

I realized last weekend, I possessed none of that grace. About halfway through the second day of my retreat I thought, I need to be more like dad. So I fought my instincts and I accepted that these women were here to serve us. It was very difficult for me but I attempted to let my guard down and embrace the discomfort as much as possible.

This difficulty, as it relates to trauma, is what inspired me to share this experience with you. Trauma has so many different layers, this being one of the (hopefully) final ones. The entire trauma-informed care industry, including myself, talks a LOT about self care and loving yourself. Over time, self love is possible. However, I wasn’t ready for other’s love. Real love. I wasn’t ready for a God-inspired level of love.

I wound up telling another attendee, “[this retreat] is the best boyfriend I’ve ever had!”. And it’s true - we all search for that partner to show us this level, to be doted on, to be understood, to be respected, and to have the opportunity to exhibit grace by accepting their servitude. I thought it would be a partner who would allow me to experience this beauty but I’m eternally grateful that it was this retreat instead. It means so much more that I wasn’t given this because someone wanted my body or money or talent or anything in exchange.

I have healed from a lot of abuse and maltreatment, but these women found the dark chasm of love and grace living within me and brought it to life in abundance.

I ask you, fellow survivors, to seek out an experience where you are being selflessly served. For most of us it is so much easier to serve and give, and give… and give. As rewarded as you may feel by giving, do yourself a favor and find an opportunity to display your grace under service.