It's a truly remarkable thing that God would show Himself, His love & His forgiveness to man. And I have no greater story to tell than how He did this in my life.
It's easy to see the pretty & polished versions of each other. But we all have a story to tell, with good and bad, and likely highly unexpected portions. I desire to share a bit of my story to give a life example of the love of Jesus and the forgiveness He extends, despite who you are and the transforming power He has in our lives. My life today is all by His grace.
If ever there was a person that didn't seem to belong in church, it was me. Now outwardly I may have been able to look the part. Yet, no one on either side of my family attended church that was living. And as you can imagine, growing up in a small village in farmland, Ohio didn't allow much about my life or the life of my family to be hidden. My town had 2 stop lights, a brick road running through the center, no stranger in sight, and was caged in by many rows of corn. Not exactly the type of place where secrets are kept. And bottom line many other things could have defined me, but not church or God. Too many things tainted me and were known by others to sit comfortably in church. At least that was my impression....if I walked into a church on a Sunday morning I feared everyone staring and thinking, "What is SHE doing here?" This as I would find out later, was not the reality, but how I perceived things. And even more importantly, this was not how God saw me. Yet, church was foreign ground to me. And I liked to be comfortable. Besides, I truly saw no need for God. And ultimately it was an acceptable stance, by and large, because when it's not the Bible-belt, it's more culturally agreeable for God to just not be your thing. It wasn't for many. And it wasn't for me.
Instead, I defined myself by aiming for perfection and making something of myself. In response to the pains I had seen other family members walk through I was mature beyond my years and a very prideful young girl. I had seen mistakes made and the harsh realities that life could dish out and thought I had the answers and the willpower to just make life happen successfully. I was very driven and strove for perfection in everything my hand touched. I worked hard and was successful as a student, an athlete, and an employee. I did not dare disappoint.
God started getting my attention with an Ethics class I was enrolled in during High School. In this class it became apparent to me that experience was my guide. I had seen and experienced a lot and thought those things were the tools I needed to make decisions for my life. Together with my family, we'd walked through several divorces, many moves and transitions, physical and emotional abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, a propane explosion that forever changed my brother's life, and a battle with cancer that ended in death for a stepsister. We were survivors. We were forced to find what it took to get through the difficult things in life. Yet, I realized there were a whole gamete of issues that we hadn't faced. Abortion....when was that OK? Euthanasia....was that ever something we should control? As I aged and realized the weight of my decisions, I didn't trust that experience should be my guide. Some things I simply hadn't experienced....then what? But I saw these other students that had firm opinions as they based their decisions on their belief in God and what He had to say about things. I began to feel small. Who did I think I was?
And then, I had a rattling dream one night. We all dream. But this dream was not just any old dream. I woke up startled with a weight upon me that demanded action. I dreamt that God came into my room. He came in as a bright light and I knew it was Him. I couldn't look at Him, but laid on the ground, on my face, and kept saying over and over, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." And then I woke up. I struggled with knowing if I had just had a dream or if it all really happened. It all felt so real and the weight I felt was definitely real. For the first time in my life I felt sorry for things that were very justifiable to me and those around me before the dream. But now, I had knowledge that I was grieving God with some of my actions. So, I went into my "pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps" mode and decided I would just stop these grievous things. Well, what I didn't know was that I couldn't conquer being controlled by sin on my own. I needed the empowerment of God. After a couple of weeks of giving it my best, I feel into the same patterns and felt defeated.
At this time, I was invited to church by a childhood friend. I went. More pieces of the puzzle came together as lies were silenced about the perceptions I had about the church, the Bible, and Christians. I began to experience this man preaching from the Bible and captivating me with the fact that the Bible applied to my life today. The Bible was not some dusty old history book as I had always seen it. No, it had words of life. It pierced your heart. What? And the people didn't shun me. Thank God, the church I entered embraced me with a love like Jesus had for me, not showing partiality, but embracing me while I was caught in a life of disobeying God. And then I saw baptisms of girls my age, choosing to follow Jesus--making a choice--and making it a public thing. I found myself proud of these girls. What a big decision they had made! After months of going to church, I finally began to piece it all together. I felt the weight of my sin, I experienced the love and acceptance of Jesus in the church, I heard the truth of the sacrifice Jesus had made for me taking my sin upon Him on the cross, so that I may know God and be transformed by Him. My heart pounded deep in my chest and I knew that I had to release control to God. He knew what to do with my life....and buried beneath all my "strength" I portrayed to the outside world was a great awareness of my weakness and need for Jesus.
There is a song written by one of my favorite artists now that puts to words the feelings I had at the time I decided to give my life to Jesus. The song is called "Control" by JJ Heller. Here are some of the piercing lyrics:
"Oh control....it's time to let you go.
Perfection has a price, but I could not afford to live that life.
It always ends the same. A fight I never win.
I'm letting go of the illusion
I'm letting go of the confusion
I can't carry it another step. I close my eyes and take a breath.
I'm letting go....
There were scars before my scars.
Love written in the hands that hung the stars.
Hope living in the blood that was spilled for me." -JJ Heller
Hope. Great hope and love in the portrait of Jesus spilling His blood for us. For us all. No one is outside God's love and pursuit. No matter your past, no matter your present:
"For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God's wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam's one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ's one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone." Rm. 5:17,18
What is greater still is that not only are we saved spiritually to have right standing before God, but God's restorative power to work in our hearts and minds is so real. I am standing before you, basking in the goodness and blessing of God because I have chosen to follow Him and He has begun and continued His transforming work in my life.
Frank Buchman boldly spoke great truth when he said, "I stopped trying to run things the way I wanted to many years ago. I started listening to God and letting Him have His way in everything. If men like you did that, you would find the answers instead of spending your lives beaten by the problems you yourselves create."
My marriage = submitting to His ways for relationships and reaping the blessing. I had only reaped the deep pains in doing things my own way.
The peace I have, despite the trials I face = His Holy Spirit granting me peace this world can't give. When the unexpected comes, His peace is real.
As John 14:26, 27 proclaims - "But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. 'I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.'"
The release I have now to be weak, stop pretending I'm strong and depending on His strength is freeing and right.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12: 9,10)
If you are not following Jesus now, please know this:
- You can never be outside His love and forgiveness. Never.
- Choosing to follow Jesus is not just right spiritual standing, but it's choosing to walk away from the same problems you keep beating yourself up with....the sin that has control over you. God's blessings await those who follow Him.
- You can not follow God's ways in your own strength, you must give your life to Him. He will give you new life spiritually and empowerment from the Holy Spirit.
If you are following Jesus:
- He is faithful to complete the work He has begun in you. More healing, more freedom will come to us! He is making us whole and complete in Him.Let's keep trusting, keep looking to Him.
- Remember the great work He has done in our lives....remember His hand. Allow the testimony He has given you, the ways He has gone before you, to fuel you with faith.