Ana and I first connected over poetry. Wow, how many people can you say that about? Let me explain. I’ve known Ana for around 10 years, although purely as an acquaintance. In the last few years our paths have crossed more and more. One night, I was hanging out with her and our common friend, Chelsea (who wrote last Thursday’s post). Ana busted out Madeleine L’Engle’s “The Ordering of Love” and began to read some of the poems within.
Talk about a kick in the gut.
L’Engle has this way of speaking such truthy, truths about life – both insightful and decimating. The three of us took turns reading poems out loud and then we would pause and let her words sink in deeply. That’s the night Ana and I became friends. Because you can’t connect over poetry and not be friends. That’s not how life works. And I’m glad for it.
I’ve loved how Expand has come together this month. Some posts have been explicitly on the experience of women, while others have made allusion. Both have been desperately needed. Last week I attended ”Take Back the Night”, which gives voice to those who have been sexually abused. It was a heart-breakingly beautiful evening. At one point, one of the speakers brought up the statistics – that 1 in every 4 women has been sexually abused or raped. These stark numbers make today’s post especially necessary. (Trigger Warning: While the details of abuse are not discussed in this post, the occurrence of sexual abuse is mentioned)
Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
-Romans 12:21 The Message
On March 8, 2010, I filed a police report against the man who sexually abused me as a child. I hired a private detective to find him, and the police launched their own investigation. California state law allows only a year for a person to have charges brought against them once a police report is filed (at least when it comes to childhood sexual abuse), so I only had a year in which to find him. They both found his last known address–the police even found his last known picture, and I was able to identify him. It looked hopeful that we could get him.
Tragically, it all fell apart. A couple of weeks of uncertainty turned into a whole year of ricocheting back and forth between hope and despair, between doubt about God’s love for me and certainty that He didn’t care about my life. On March 8, 2011, the deadline passed for the man who abused me to be prosecuted for his crimes. I became suicidal—I made a very specific plan to kill myself and was fully intent on going through with it.
But I didn’t.
To this day, I don’t know why. Maybe it was the idea that others might possibly be hurt if I went through with my plan (I know now that would have been the case). Or something broke through and I realized that I wanted the pain to stop much more than I actually wanted to die. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I didn’t.
Since the deadline passed, every year March 8, for me, is the anniversary of justice, at least on this side of heaven, not happening for me. And I have to live with that. I have to decide, on an annual basis, to live.
This year’s anniversary was a particularly difficult one, and to be frank, I wasn’t really focused on how I need to live. I was focused on how much has died. I constantly struggle with believing my body deserves to be abused and neglected as a result of the abuse. I desperately want to be in a relationship with a man, and also am terrified and ashamed to admit that. I minimize the gifts and talents God has placed in me because I continue to think that I need to do whatever it takes to survive the trauma instead of believing, finally, once and for all, that it’s over. So instead, I am in constant “survival mode”. This past year has been a season of desperately feeling like the evil I have experienced is overcoming me, and I do not know what it will take to finally overcome.
And then I read a very simple Bible verse in Romans: “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. Too often that phrase is blithely spoken in response to profound suffering, akin to a mother telling her child to ignore the taunts of the schoolyard bully who terrorizes and violates on a daily basis. We treat overcoming evil like overcoming a cold, overcoming a slightly strained muscle after working out at the gym, overcoming the snow and finally getting your car freed from the driveway.
No–overcoming evil is being fully committed to fighting evil by creating goodness beyond reason. If evil is creatively and brilliantly destructive in dehumanizing people made in the image of God, then it requires us to be even more creative and brilliant in restoring and healing and bringing hope to others. In an odd way, the best of evil is that it also can draw out the best of us–it is those moments in which the absolute best parts of who God is can shine through us, in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without the evil happening.
I don’t say that to minimize my own suffering (or anyone else’s suffering, for that matter). It’s literally gospel truth. I can shine, or I can succumb to the pain and the doubt. I can shine, or I can agree with my abuser that my dignity as a human being no longer exists. I can shine, or tell God to His face His creation—my very self–is without hope. No matter how much I hurt over this, no matter how justified I am in my rage and my pain, it won’t do good for this world unless I believe in Christ’s power to make it good. To make every single thing, finally and forever, good.
It doesn’t have to look fancy. Sometimes fighting evil means choosing to get up in the morning (congratulations—you didn’t hide from whatever the world will give you today!). Or it can mean holding a wriggling, squirmy puppy and delighting in the joy of it being. For me, getting the best of evil has meant drawing out words and ideas from the depths of my gloriously broken humanity and sharing them with the world, in protest of all I have experienced, to say that this is not the end.
And wonderfully, sometimes getting the best of evil is simply singing a song.
Ana Sanchez is a woman who is trying to follow Jesus. Part of following Christ for her has meant stepping out and owning her identity as a poet, writer, and performer. Being a prophetic witness of Christ in the world by creating outstanding art is something she is really passionate about. She is also really passionate about good food, good friends, and good wine. Ana is currently working on a book reflecting on the power of lament, and is exploring different creative outlets for her musings. She lives in southern California.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Expand posts from this month!