I was nineteen years old, homeless, in one of the most beautiful tropical tourist cities in Australia, gateway to beautiful islands and the Great Barrier Reef. Where tourists and locals alike basked in the sunlight either sunbathing or playing volleyball on the gorgeous white sand, grains of sand caught in their tangled, windblown hair, or those swimming in the crystal clear blue water. A beautiful and magical place, a place that most people only ever dream of seeing. As far as physical, tangible beauty, I had it made. It was the ultimate scene. But even in beauty, ugliness exists. The monsters are still there, taking over the lives of the vulnerable.
But what was a place of beauty for many had an ugly side, and teen homelessness was becoming relatively common. Of course, the city tried to hide us away as homeless teens tend to behave badly and we were seen as common trash, rather than young people whose lives had been taken over by demons of trauma. Several of the young women I knew made money via dancing, stripping, and prostitution. I wanted so badly to do so, because the money, from what I heard, was pretty good. They were able to use it to buy drugs and alcohol and smokes, because let’s face it, when you’re a homeless teen those are the important things in life.
Our demons of addiction were our constant companions, and meant more to us than anything. And if we couldn’t access our substances, we still somehow always had access to pocketknives or other things which worked to cut oneself with.
But I had grown up in a fundamentalist cult. I was terrified of dying and going to hell. I was scared so very much of going to hell, which isn’t a healthy fear, that I never was able to actually do any of it. I have no judgment of women who turn to sex work, because it’s normally deeply rooted in trauma and desperation, and desperate people do desperate things. In this case, my sheer fear of hell, coupled with the fact that I truly did love God I just didn’t know how, is what kept me from this. I was already messed up in many of my own ways, just like my friends. But looking back, God was there. I tried to destroy myself because the voices of these demons were loud and strong, but God was there.
The Bible says something, I’m not sure where or if I’m even getting the wording right, that even when we make our beds in hell, God is there. I have been to hell. Hell exists here on earth, and I’ve been there plenty.
Even in hell, God is there.
God has always been there.
As we Episcopalians love to say: Thanks be to God.