McKenna – 2017 Graduate
I was raised in a home where shame and legalism thrived. I was very self-sufficient from a young age and was determined to be the ‘easy child,’ especially when my two half siblings were born. I sought out acceptance in my performance. I found value in my academics, and as I entered middle school, I sought value in popularity and boys. I was physically violated twice in middle school, which brought on copious amounts of shame and guilt. There were times where I was in the pit of depression, and I turned to self-harm to punish myself. I also turned to unhealthy eating behaviors, desperately wanting to find a sense of control. In high school, I still searched for my value in my performance and popularity. At 16, I was raped, and spiraled into a season of losing all sensitivity to my emotions and my conscience. I began living recklessly, having very little value for myself, my body, or anything else. I kept up the facade of perfection, but was broken. I was dealing with anxiety and depression on a daily basis and dreaded each day. I felt abandoned by God and was emotionally isolated from everyone around me.
I found out about Mercy when I was 16 from my mom. However, I didn’t want to apply. I finally applied when I was 18 because I was in such a place of desperation that Mercy became my last option. I thought that I could fake it and graduate quickly, then be able to act better. I walked through the doors of Mercy with an extremely calloused heart. I came in with expectations of learning how to be ‘good,’ how to follow rules, and planned on just getting back into the religion I had known so well. I held onto trying to be ‘good,’ a rule follower, terrified that I would lose the opportunity if I messed up once. I didn’t understand grace. I was in a consistent war with my need for control, and I found myself constantly denying the pain of my past, constantly making what others had done seem smaller. I refused to look at pain others had caused, blaming myself for allowing myself to be hurt. I wasn’t in a position to forgive because I didn’t feel that anyone owed me anything. I was a perfectionist in denial, holding myself and my emotions to unreachable standards. I refused to face the truth of my past or the legitimate pain of the last 18 years.
I had to come to a point where I had to own my story, had to face my past so that I could overcome it. The turning point came with help from the counselors and a few edifying conversations with staff about how ‘plastic’ I had been. I wasn’t able to move anywhere until I was able to get honest with my counselor and myself and recognize the trauma of my past.
God began to show up as a gentle, loving God. He showed me that it was okay that I was mad at Him, which was in opposition to what I had learned. He held me even in the midst of me yelling and ignoring His open hand. He was so patient with me, when I was everything but patient with Him. Slowly, my stone heart became a heart of flesh, and I allowed myself to feel emotions. I never expected to be loved as much as I was at Mercy; I never expected to be told to be human, to hurt, to cry. They loved me enough to want me to face the ache in my heart that I had muted. They showed me God’s grace, and for the first time in my life, I felt unconditionally loved. I learned to see love in them, and began to be able to see God’s love for me through them. I watched what I had known about God go out the window, and I got to know Him apart from all my legalistic assumptions. I learned that having needs was okay, that my existence wasn’t an inconvenience but a planned occurrence. I learned the difference between religion and relationship with Jesus and chose the latter. I realized that I had a choice in my future, and that my voice has power. I began to live wholeheartedly and authentically, something I had never done before. I was amazed by the ways that God came into my pain and healed it in His own time and power.
After Mercy, I plan on attending college for pre-medicine, then going to medical school for cardiothoracic surgery. God has done so much work in my heart and has given me a passion for literally working on the hearts of others. I am so thankful for every single person who has been a part of my process.
To all the Mercy supporters, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to learn that God had so much more for me than I ever could have expected. Thank you for giving me the chance to experience God’s love and acceptance. I am beyond grateful for the prayers. Thank you for supporting Mercy so they can create an environment for girls like me to heal.