What Happens in Vegas: How Jesus Heals Our Hurts
Until last month, I’d only been to Vegas one time and quite honestly, it would have been fine by me if it was also the last.
Let’s just say my first experience wasn’t a good experience, to say the least.
At the time, I’d just returned from 5 months of studying abroad in London and with me were all the goodies I picked up along the way: a wool sweater from Scotland, a jacket I’d bought for the cold weather of England, and my favorite (or should I say favourite)—a collection of coffee mugs I’d picked up from all the cities I’d visited across Europe. The mugs were from Starbucks’ “City Collection,” and each featured the iconic landmarks of the particular city. They were ADORABLE, and though I’m not much of a collector, they seemed like the perfect way to remember all the places I’d visited during a semester that was very special to me. Each “city mug” could only be purchased from Starbucks locations in that city—not online, not anywhere else.
I’d flown from London into LA, where my family anxiously awaited my arrival, and the start of our road trip back up to the Bay Area, where we live. On the itinerary was a loop down to San Diego, then back up through Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, and finally Las Vegas before heading home.
It was such a sweet time of adventuring with my family, catching them up on everything that had happened in London, and trying to convince them that the slight British accent I was speaking with was real.
When we finally pulled into Vegas, our last stop, the adrenaline was starting to wear off and though I was excited to take in shows and attractions the next few days, I was also finally getting hit with the exhaustion of 5 months of exploring Europe nonstop and oh yeah, jet lag.
In addition to all my international goodies, I had with me several bags filled with all the stuff I’d packed for my semester abroad. I didn’t feel like carrying everything up to our hotel room, so I took what was needed for the night and left the rest in the trunk of the car.
The next morning, I woke up to a phone call from my parents, who had kindly let me sleep in while they and my brother got breakfast, informing me that the car window (of my mom’s brand new car) had been smashed in, and everything had been taken.
Shocked and panicked, I began to run a mental list of everything that was gone: the sweater, the jacket, the city mugs, but more than that. Also, all of my clothes and shoes, my backpacking backpack, all of the jewelry I’d taken to London including my grandmother’s ring, and my retainer—of all things.
I was overcome with both sadness and anger, and I also felt violated as I imagined a stranger rummaging through my very personal belongings.
I was thankful for slivers of grace in an otherwise infuriating situation. “Coincidentally,” my DSLR camera hadn’t been taken because my dad asked me to grab it so he could play around with it. My laptop also hadn’t been taken because last minute, I’d remembered I needed to register for my final semester of classes at Biola, and had taken it up to the room with me. Most importantly I was thankful that my journal hadn’t been taken, (the one thing in the car that wasn’t) a leather bound beauty I’d bought in Italy that held in its pages detailed descriptions of every memory from my time abroad.
Still, I was majorly bummed. To make matters worse, the rest of our time in Vegas was spent getting the car window repaired and filing insurance claims.
All that to say, after that trip Vegas did NOT hold happy associations in my mind, and I really didn’t care to return. They say “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” and I was MORE than happy to let my experience, along with all its negative emotions, stay right there.
Isn’t that our natural tendency when we have a negative experience? Particularly one that brought us hurt, regret or a sense of shame? We want to leave it there and put a big door in front of it, one with a deadbolt and a big sign reading “Do Not Enter.”
Maybe it was a situation that left us feeling rejected, or words spoken over us that made us feel small, or actions we wish we never took. So we avoid that thing, whatever it is, because entering back into that space, into those memories, is painful.
It’s easier to just leave the whole experience there—in Vegas.
I got to thinking about all of this when I found out a few months back that I’d be making a work trip to Vegas, the place I never cared to return to.
Though I was excited I’d get to speak on behalf of the company I work for while there, there was no excitement attached to the place itself like I’d normally have when visiting a new place.
But I began to realize that reentering a place attached to such negative experiences was an opportunity to rewrite those experiences. In fact, it was the only way those experiences could be rewritten.
God is a God of redemption. He loves taking broken, shameful, and painful things and restoring them, turning them into something beautiful and good.
But oftentimes that redemption requires us to first return to the place of hurt. Before things can get beautiful, we have to enter back into the ugly and deal with it, so that we can ultimately be freed from it.
I see this in the Gospels when, during Jesus’ arrest leading up to His crucifixion, Peter denies having known Jesus three times. After Jesus’ resurrection, the two of them have an encounter. Symbolically, Jesus asks Peter not once, but three times, if he loves Him. He asks once for each time that very love was betrayed by Peter’s fear.
Reading this passage, I’ve always empathized with the overwhelming emotion Peter must have felt. Here Jesus was, pressing into and bringing such attention to an area that must have felt so very tender to Peter. His decision to deny Jesus must have brought him much shame, regret and sadness. I’m sure it wasn’t Peter’s proudest moment, but rather an area of hurt he’d rather forget. Yet, here Jesus was, forcing him to walk back into it.
It almost seems cruel…until we realize what Jesus is doing.
Jesus brought Peter back into his place of hurt not to condemn him, but to free him.
Imagine if Peter’s denial of Jesus had never been acknowledged between the two of them. In every subsequent interaction with Jesus, Peter would have felt ashamed. He might have wondered what Jesus was thinking, whether He was upset or whether He even still loved him. It would have been a sort of “elephant” in the room. Something that, left unacknowledged, would have ultimately caused a divide between the two of them, at least in Peter’s mind.
Jesus knew that Peter needed to address what had happened, even if doing so was painful, so that he would no longer be gripped by the fear or shame associated with it.
Jesus knew that Peter needed to re-enter the hurt so that it could be rewritten, and redeemed.
I think that it’s oftentimes easier to avoid the experiences in our lives that have brought us hurt, or that feel shameful, because if we can avoid those experiences and keep them neatly tucked away, then we can hopefully avoid the pain associated with them as well.
But I don’t think that God wants us to use caution tape to keep certain areas of our lives “off-limits.”
I think He wants to redeem them.
Maybe this is through a conversation with or confession to a close friend, within a relationship marked by trust and safety.
Maybe it’s an honest conversation with God, letting Him into the areas we’ve long pretended aren’t there.
God doesn’t want us to open up our places of hurt so that He can poke at them; He wants us to open them up because He knows that doing so is the only way He can infuse them with His healing grace and restorative love.
Vegas round two ended up being a much better experience than the first. In addition to the speaking event, I also got to enjoy good food, spend quality time with colleagues, and even do a little sightseeing.
I had a great time, and my impression of Vegas definitely improved.
But that never would have happened if I hadn’t allowed an opportunity for the initial negative experience to be rewritten.
Waking up in Vegas.
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Total #GIRLBOSS moment getting to present to others in the utility industry, from all across the country!