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Time is an odd thing.

When I look in the mirror now, it feels like I'm looking at a completely different person. It's not just the faint circles under my eyes or that my hair is longer now and my cheekbones more prominent, nor the constellations dotted over my skin like celestial freckles. I've matured, though most of the change isn't discernable in a way that I can see or put my finger on. I no longer look quite so far below my age, but I don't look much different from my younger self either. There's still the small dent in my forehead, the same wild, flyaway bangs that I still don't know what to do with, and my perpetually tired, too-round, too-big, too-bright eyes. But something about my face has changed and I can see a difference in every mirror. Perhaps it's just something with my countenance. Even though I'm afraid that a large part of me will be forever frozen at 26, something in me has definitely changed, and I find I have to remind myself of my worth less and less now, so I must be getting better. Time has given me perspective and the ability to reassemble bits of myself that I didn't realize were missing, as they'd been worn away slowly, like the edges of a stone in a riverbed. Now I'm slowly rebuilding and recognizing the lost form. Maybe some of that is evident on the exterior as well, but it feels like there's more to it than that.

I was listening to someone recently who said that they blame churches and Christian culture for (sometimes) actively encouraging mental illness in people, especially teenagers, and it's an interesting point. As a lifelong Christian from a very different sect, I have often looked at various friends from other backgrounds and had similar suspicions. Many Christians have been taught from a young age that every feeling or odd thought that they have could be God talking to them, rather than hormones or intrusive thoughts, and it can lead to psychosis or unhealthy fixations and or rash decisions. People are fallible, and when the world falls apart, it's easy to spiral and look for answers or reasons and to cling onto every thought and feeling or to look for signs in everything. Even when someone is not dealing with trauma or teenage hormones, there's also a strong temptation to align or equate God's will with whatever it is that we want and to desperately try to make it fit, like Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off their toes or heel to get their feet into a tiny glass slipper.

My own church's denomination is almost the polar opposite, and while it does teach that God can and often will point you in certain directions, it's a more pragmatic approach where everything has to be backed by scripture and biblical logic. There's also a general understanding and unspoken rule that God does NOT actually talk to you, and you should never trust signs and wonders or make decisions based on how you feel in your heart, liver, kidney or any other organs, and you also shouldn't be surprised if prayers get left on read or are answered with "no". While I don't entirely disagree with this, I feel that at some point this outlook leads to unhealthy cynicism and what almost seems like a reluctance to believe and trust God's promises. People in my church body almost seem surprised when prayers are answered, rather than simply resting as unread items in God's inbox.

As with most things, I find I'm somewhere in the middle. I know God hears me, but I have never heard Him speak to me directly. I've also never seen an angel or witnessed an obvious miracle or had any life-altering spiritual experiences, but I also don't particularly want to. Still, when God says "My sheep know My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me", I believe Him, and I know He's not just referring to theological literacy. He definitely does things- sometimes it's big things, and sometimes it's those funny little ones- to let you know He's listening and He loves you. It's not a feeling or something specific I can describe, but it's real, like an invisible hug or a wink. Or a kick in the pants.

For the most part, I'm happier than ever and I have a lot of positives in my life. I have a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and an amazing person to love, but what happened to me still messes with my head. One of the most damaging things about abuse in any form is that it usually comes from people you care for and trust, and once someone like that does something so awful to you, it sticks with you and makes you feel worthless and ugly in a way that's impossible to quantify. After all, that person is supposed to love you. It makes you wonder what's wrong with you that would make anyone hate you enough to actively harm you. For the most part it's manageable, but sometimes it's very heavy and can feel impossible to shake off.

I had been having a rough day and was struggling, and am still waiting for justice, but an unexpected friend lulled me out of my funk when it fluttered across my path and landed in my hair. It's impossible to feel depressed or ugly with a butterfly on your head, and this strange event led to an unexpected conversation, which then snowballed into a serendipitous afternoon and ended with an utterly spectacular evening. My face still hurts from smiling, and as I lay here, all I can think of is the timing. It truly could not have been better.

No matter how I feel sometimes, I know I'm still loved, still beautiful, and that He's still listening and working in the background. He hasn't forgotten. All I have to do us wait and let Him cook, and enjoy all the strange little coincidences in the meantime.


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