My Story: the Early Years

I was recently challenged during a class at the Bible teaching church I am attending. You see, they value the story. My story. So, I  (as well as some 100 other people) were asked to write our story. My thoughts went to this blog and how it started because I wanted to document what the Lord was doing in my life. I love to write but this is hard. Seeing in black and white some things I am not proud of…looking back at the past and remembering sins I really want to forget…it isn’t easy. But it all is part of my story. Over the next few days, I am going to attempt to capture my story in stages. I pray the Lord guides my words so that maybe my story will inspire or encourage someone else.

The Early Years
I was born December 17, 1980. My parents attended church regularly and they tell a story of their fear of losing me while in the womb. They had asked for prayer. A woman who went to church with them, told them that she was praying. At the same time that I was born, this woman was praying. She saw a vision of a dress. I remember my parents telling me that when they took me to church, the woman came up to them and said I was wearing the same dress as in her vision. My parents had me dedicated to the Lord as an infant. My parents will recall that when I was two, I would raise my little hands in praise of the Lord. So, you see I was raised in the Christian faith from the beginning.
Now, I am not going to go into great detail but I also experienced shame and guilt very early on. In fact, my earliest memory of such emotions happened when I was 5. It was my first experience really KNOWING or FEELING I had a standard to live up to. I recall quite a few bad choices and I remember being very sneaky to get what I wanted. There are beyond numerous sins to count. My Pap-pap died when I was 5 so that was my first experience of loss and grief. I know I described feeling empty inside. Something was just missing.

My parents changed to a different church around the time when I was 6. Memorizing scripture and Bible facts were important. Being baptized (by immersion) was routine. Baptism was typically accomplished by the time one turned 9. You had to be baptized to be saved and you had to be baptized to take communion. I was baptized when I was 8. I remember the pastor coming to our house and showing me a video. I knew it was an important decision but I wanted to be like everyone else too. Looking back, I feel like I chose to be baptized for the wrong reasons. But it was a step in my faith that cannot be ignored. My social life was church. I went to church on Sundays to Sunday school and regular service, Wednesday evening kids programming, and any youth group function. From age 6 to 14, I had a blast in youth group. School wise, I attended various Christian schools from preschool through 4th grade. At this point, God was a list of rules to follow: no drinking, no smoking, no drugs, no sex before marriage (to name a few biggies). The no, no ,no vantage point was something I thought was attainable. I know that by having to always think no, I began to live a fantasy life in so many ways in my play and in my imagination. I really regret the thoughts I had and some actions that followed. It was also during my time at church on Wednesdays that some kids from the public school I had started to attend were in my class. It was evident that we were different in some ways but it was like I held myself higher and it was an odd position to be in because church was my zone where I could totally be me and with these kids there I felt like I couldn’t be myself. It was one of the first times I remember feeling like I cared what people thought of me. It was also one of the first times I felt like I was living a double life: one person at church and one person at school. At this stage, this really boiled down to my personality being more comfortable at church and so I was more outgoing there and participated freely where as in school, I kept to myself and was pretty shy. I didn’t like mixing the two.

I feel like this is back tracking a bit but let me also say that I was an only child until I was about to turn 7. I wanted a sibling more than anything and for whatever reason, it just wasn’t happening for my parents. I am sure I didn’t help by asking them all the time about what the hold up was. I saw all around me teenagers who weren’t married that were pregnant. I prayed for a baby brother and sister and my prayer was answered. I remember that moment as being one of my very first experiences of joy and excitement like none other. We adopted my brother and though he was born with a slight imperfection, he was perfect to me. I felt responsible for him from day one. But it also wasn’t all fun times because I was very used to being the only child and now I had to share things and the people I loved. Sometimes, these people I loved would side with my brother before me. I began to feel a little less loved and jealous. I knew deep down I was loved but sometimes things didn’t seem so fair. I am certainly not proud of how I treated him sometimes especially being older and old enough to know better.

I also experienced a very difficult thing to describe. Even when I was very young, I liked solitude. (Possibly stemming from being an only child for quite some time.) I remember reflecting on God and what He would think of things I thought or how I behaved. In my time alone, I would get goosebumps and chills at the thought of eternity. It was very odd for me especially when I was so young because I didn’t know what to make of it but the feeling happened quite a few times. A sensation of what it meant to live forever with Jesus…a prickle the skin sort of you don’t belong here sort of thing. I could feel myself going into that sensation and try to jolt my way out of it because it was scary to experience. Eventually, I kind of embraced it because I felt like God was sharing himself with me.

I am going to leave off here and will pick up again with Transitioning Churches soon.

Fundamentally Flawed

I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head today. Most of them really hurt my heart because of the simple fact that I have to ponder such things. Readers may think my intent is to attack but I need to take a stand. I think back to history and where was the church…where were the Christians when decisions to make abortion legal were made? We can charge someone with double homicide if an unborn baby is violently killed in an attack on a mother but yet it’s OK for a woman to choose and to force doctors and nurses who took a vow to save life to kill the unborn. That doesn’t even include the abortionists walking around free to do as they please.
Where were the Christians when they removed the Bible from schools…removed prayer from schools…removed God from schools?
Where were the Christians when privacy rights are taken away?
What has happened that society can just change the definition of gender and marriage?
Other than the country and it’s laws and ideals being fundamentally flawed, I have spent too much time in churches who have been infiltrated by the culture. Churches are for more than the growth of the already believer…they are for reaching the lost. But the church has compromised and compromised until we can’t even say the word SIN because  [GASP] we don’t want to offend anyone. Jesus offended many or He wouldn’t have been killed. If I don’t sin, what do I need Jesus for? I must be perfect right? Sarcasm aside, I want to tackle an issue today. Transparency. The United Methodist Church (yes, it practically kills my spirit just to type those words) is a denomination I have attended for years. The latest church, I was a member for 11, a leader on Staff Parish Relations, and served volunteering in children’s ministry, homeless ministry, praise band…the list goes on. Even before this era of my life, I had been exposed to pastors who were false. So, a little piece of paper stating that you are ordained or have graduated from some “theology” school means NOTHING to me. The church I just left had a good pastor. Not perfect of course but he walked with Jesus and it was evident in his life. Yet, because the United Methodist Church follows their book of discipline more than the Bible…because they would rather have bishops make decisions that better their own friendships than to look out for a congregation, the church is now lost with a different pastor who does not exhibit fruits of the spirit. I was basically told that if I don’t like what she stands for then leave. Now that represents their motto of Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors. Of course this motto makes me want to throw up. As a leader, I had no say in the future of our church family. I was told by the bishop that because it is in the discipline, that is what we follow and scripture is all in how you interpret it and my interpretation was wrong. I listened as the district superintendent expressed concern over a growing trend of people leaving denominations and seeking a non-denominational church. His words are true there…that is what I was searching for even as I sat listening to him. Little do the bishop or ds know but that pastor also treats the little book of discipline as something to interpret as well. There was no transparency.
Of course, if I had understood what the motto had truly meant…if I had known the matters that were debated (these matters should never be debated for any Christian)…if congregations were informed of decisions made on their behalf, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. To be fair, I am going to add that I have never followed a religion and even while going to a Methodist Church, I never considered myself Methodist. But I served with people and was apart of some amazing things. I met people who are truly God’s gift to me. My heart hurts for so many people and I want to venture an opinion that instead of having open hearts, minds, and doors that they open eyes. I am praying that congregations don’t sit comfortable thinking oh this petition didn’t pass at charge conference this year so I don’t have to worry about it till next time. Or maybe they are considering that if things are changed that their church will be OK because it will split off and make godly choices. Open your eyes to the fact that you have no say in how your church is run. Your leaders do not have any say and you are at the total whim of any pastor, ds, bishop, godly or ungodly in character, placed in your building. I pray that you listen to those whose eyes are open. Stop financing this craziness and get somewhere that is Bible teaching, God-centered, and transparent in their beliefs with non-believers and believers alike. I really doubted this exists but I have found two churches so I encourage you to seek the Lord in places that don’t compromise.

Through It All

Shards of glass lay in a box on my front porch. Muddy paw prints marked the porch carpet and I noted what a mess it all was. No more window in the tall storm door. Broken pieces still laying on the carpet in the foyer. It is difficult to take in a big thing such as a million pieces of glass. I secretly thanked the Lord I hadn’t been there when our two 14 month old black lab mix puppies slammed into the glass for the last time. I thanked the Lord that my girls were not marred in anyway and somehow both dogs were unharmed as well. It was the beginning of February…our typically coldest month and nothing to stop the wind from getting to our front door…or through our front door. I began to assess life through this experience…I can’t hold anything together, my house is a mess, the dogs can’t be trained, the kids don’t listen…I felt like a failure.

At the end of February, I received bad news about a family member. I felt like God didn’t care about my prayers. I made a conscious choice to praise. The familiar lyrics: “through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You…through it all, through it all, it is well…through it all, through it all my eyes are on You, and it is well with me…it is well with my soul, it is well with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul…” I could not control the flood of emotion and tears. He remembered me in the form of a coloring book. Yes, that is what I said…a coloring book. In bold print, Be Still and Know that I am God. I stared at the title and was touched that God would meet me in a hospital gift shop with my favorite scripture. I went about the rest of my day knowing God was going to take care of everything.

You probably think I could just wrap this story up right here with a bow. However, isn’t it just like Satan to come along and try to steal, kill, and destroy? After eating dinner at a restaurant, I returned to my car to find more broken glass in my life. The passenger window shattered and hanging jagged. My jaw dropped in disbelief as I started to process…glass all over the front seat of my car…my purse gone (I know, I know. I shouldn’t have left it on the front seat)…my gift shop treasure was gone. The thief did not get anything of monetary value but some sentimental and replaceable things. He stole scripture from notes on paper but not my heart.

Today, I sit in my car. It has a new window that has a barcode sticker and fingerprint smudges from the people who put it in its place (annoying my obsessive compulsive self). It has been a little over a week and my husband has cleaned the glass from my car. I have cleaned the glass from my car. I have re-cleaned glass from my car! I glance down and notice a shining piece of glass, edges sharp, glistening in the sun in my cup holder. I feel like I will be finding glass forever. I wondered if there was a lesson about glass and windows that God was trying to teach me. So I searched for the words in the Bible. I came across Daniel 6:10 (NLT).

“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.”

Daniel didn’t let circumstances come between him and his God. I know this lesson is important. God wants me to choose not to let circumstances come between me and Him. I am giving thanks for God’s provision and protection. I know His hand is over my life. I needed this reminder because sometimes things seem really bad, but in God’s hands, if I give it all to Him, it becomes something beautiful. Maybe the thief threw my “junk” away. Or maybe my notes and that coloring book were in the right place at the right time to meet a need that I can’t fathom. When I think to myself a bad thought about the thief and the inconveniences I have had to face regarding my car or the things I miss, I pray for him because his act was out of a desperation that only God can fill. No drug, no amount of money, no purse, no car, no coloring book…NOTHING can fill us like He can. So I am praising Him. Through it all.

Damage Eraser

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So I am doing my daily hair care routine yesterday and I glance at the bottle of shampoo and the words “Damage Eraser” just leap off the bottle and start dancing around in my brain. That voice…you know the condescending inner chatterbox…started it’s agitation: “You really believe that you can erase the damage?” My brain thought. My heart felt. My soul ached. I wasn’t just thinking about split ends. I am a damaged person. I have bumps and bruises, scars and wounds that are not all visible. I admit I am a flawed human being with issues. I am a sinner. I don’t deserve to be loved by God. I don’t deserve anything. And yet…there’s GRACE. It met me there in the shower. A reminder that I WAS damaged. I WAS certainly flawed. But I am NEW. I am FLAWLESS. I have a damage eraser that does work. His name is Jesus. In His mercy, God filled my heart with a song. Please read the lyrics of Flawless by Mercy Me and remember that the cross makes you flawless!

There’s got to be more 
Than going back and forth 
From doing right to doing wrong 
‘Cause we were taught that’s who we are 
Come on get in line right behind me 
You along with everybody 
Thinking there’s worth in what you do 

Prechorus: Then Like a hero who takes the stage when 
We’re on the edge of our seats saying it’s too late 
Well let me introduce you to amazing grace 

Chorus: No matter the bumps 
No matter the bruises 
No matter the scars 
Still the truth is 
The cross has made 
The cross has made you flawless 
No matter the hurt 
Or how deep the wound is 
No matter the pain 
Still the truth is 
The cross has made 
The cross has made you flawless 

Could it possibly be 
That we simply can’t believe 
That this unconditional 
Kind of love would be enough 
To take a filthy wretch like this 
And wrap him up in righteousness 
But that’s exactly what He did 

Chorus

Take a breath smile and say 
Right here right now I’m ok 
Because the cross was enough 

Prechorus

Chorus

No matter what they say 
Or what you think you are 
The day you called His name 
He made you flawless
He made you flawless

No matter the bumps 
No matter the bruises 
No matter the scars 
Still the truth is 
The cross has made 
The cross has made you flawless

That is the beauty of “grace grace God’s grace”. Thank you, Jesus.

Breaking Silence

I have been grappling with some crazy issues. My heart and soul have been through some aches and pains…stretching and growing and I have tried. I have tried to keep the faith going despite the hardship. Other Christians have it much worse than this. But, I just never thought things would come to this. And why not? Issue after issue…seeing a church unravel is so disheartening especially when you were a part of the repair process from earlier wounds. Especially when your serving the Lord meant sacrifice to build up and now it is torn down. In a few months time and change of pastoral leadership, the spiral out of control…the lies and deception…I feel some way about this stuff. I know I don’t have many followers and I may lose some of what I do have but I am taking a stand. I am intolerant of tolerance. Everyone else can’t have their “feelings” hurt but the Christian’s opinion? Ya, that doesn’t matter. NEWS FLASH: truth doesn’t change. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So the Bible says sin is sin. Why are we now condoning it and trying to perform same sex marriages in the church? God is not going to bless this. I have seen with my own two eyes a growing, vital church body be struck down because someone’s agenda was not in line with God’s will. It is only going to get worse and how do we stand against false teachers and preachers who want to do their own thing…who lie to us and deceive? Satan is the father of lies so who are we trying to represent to the world? Then I say to these “fellow Christians”, where do you find the Biblical okay for same sex marriage and let’s even throw in where is the Biblical okay for women to be pastors? There is no Biblical okay for these things so they can’t show me. I am in awe that my voice as a leader was ignored and that society’s ill effect took over the church I attended for years. I no longer belong. I never thought I’d find myself not belonging with believers but what do they believe…a wishy washy, pick and choose what you want to believe faith or the hard core truth of what is written??? Yes, I believe you love people but not the sin. It is not our job to condone or condemn a particular sin. We should not embrace sin. We should be turning away from it. Running toward Jesus, our Savior whom we all desperately need. He said, “Go and sin no more”. The religious institutions are appalling with their man made ideas and acceptance of society’s standards. God set a higher plumb line. What are we going to do about it? I will tell you what we should be doing…pray and know the Bible. Read it for yourself and search out God’s Word on these topics and more. Know what you are up against and be a light in the darkness.

Remind Me Who I Am

Listening to the radio yesterday, a familiar song by Jason Gray filled my car and also struck my heart in a way it never had before. The lyrics:
When I lose my way,
And I forget my name,
Remind me who I am.
In the mirror all I see,
Is who I don’t wanna be,
Remind me who I am.
In the loneliest places,
When I can’t remember what grace is.

Tell me once again who I am to You,
Who I am to You.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
That I belong to You.

We all forget sometimes don’t we? I often need reminded who I am to Him. I reflected on my life and the way I have seen God’s hand moving in it. I have had lonely places and I have looked in the mirror and seen who I don’t want to be. But in that place is where reliance on a Savior takes hold. I know I NEED Him more and more. I forget His grace and have trouble receiving His love but then He meets me where I am and gently reminds me who He is and what He did. So I remember.
Romans 5:3-11 (NLT) states:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

He has made a way for us to see ourselves new. So this Christmas season, I challenge you to look in the mirror and see who you are in Christ…a friend of God. He came as a baby to be close to us. To lead us by example. He is a loving shepherd and He knows each of us by name. He knows what we have done. He knows our hearts. He sees you. He sees every part of you. And He loves you. Died for you. He lives for you. May He remind you of who you are as you draw closer to Him.

Through the Hard Times

November 1st…Deep breath. Filling my lungs with Jesus and breathing out his praise even in the midst of sick kids, past memories that haunt, and a general dislike of this month. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Thanksgiving holiday but November can just be a tough month for me. Actually, it’s been a tough year in so many ways. Hard times. Found myself caught between a rock and a hard place so many times. Glad I had people in my life to remind me that Jesus is my rock. Challenged to think of Jesus’ love and grace, these friends of mine bump into my pity party for myself and make Him known. Of course I thought that this was my job in their lives…maybe it is. God gave me this gem of scripture…
All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. 2 Corinthians 1:4 (MSG)
This summed it up for me. God is with me all the time. He provides people who can relate to my hard times and through those relationships, we find ourselves comforted. More than that, the focus becomes less about my personal struggle and more about the spiritual battle raging all around. This is true for my dear friends too. They need me to remind them of the same things they remind me: you are so valuable to Jesus that Satan won’t quit trying to stop you. You are a threat. Get into the Bible and arm yourself with His Word. Hide it in your heart and visit those words often. Put on the armor of God. Be willing to do difficult for each other. Pray. Pray harder. Love. Give grace. Analyze what fruit of the Spirit you are showing. Wait for God. Be still. Be open to learn more.
This is just a glimpse of how blessed I am by the people God has given me to challenge me, encourage me, and comfort me. I am so thankful for them. Not because it’s November but because I praise God for them everyday.

I would be remiss in not mentioning something else God is doing through an amazing author, Tracie Miles. I have been blessed by the words in her new book, Your Life Still Counts. Romans 8:28 has become near and dear to the women who have shared their stories. We recognize that God alone turns hard times into good…that in Him we have a purpose…A purpose He designed for us. My hope is that you will read this book as well and really hold onto God. My hope is that God will stir within you a recognition of His presence in your life and purpose in your pain, hard times, your past. Allow God to move through you. Embrace his grace and love. See you through His eyes. May you be His hands and feet wherever He has placed you and in whatever season you find yourself. You were made for such a time as this.

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Let It Go

There is something about music that speaks to my heart and in December,  I found myself surprised at how the lyrics to songs in a children’s movie could affect me. I have since bought the soundtrack and once again I am astounded at how much I can identify with this character’s words. She sings, “oh, I’m such a fool, I can’t be free. No escape from the storm inside of me. I can’t control the curse. Oh oh you’ll only make it worse. There’s so much fear. You’re not safe here.” As I hear her struggle I sense this feeling deep inside my chest. A stirring that what she sings is the way I have lived my life. To be the good girl I had to be…to conceal and not feel…and the storm just raged from the inside out. The absolute miracle is that Jesus saw what I was going to do. He knew the storm that would brew inside. He knows every thought. He knows every tear. He died for me anyways. Because of His death and the fact that He lives, I can face the outward storms of life and I can even face the very difficult storm inside my heart and head. The feeling that I cannot escape the curse…This thorn…The fears of letting people in…letting them love me…The pain of knowing God sees and knows the real me…learning to let Him just simply love me has been the source of panic and joy all at the same time. Yet, as I learn to let it go…to embrace myself right down to every fault, I begin to die to myself and let Christ do what He came for. It is in my weakness that He shines through. He has the power to break the chains. He has the power to calm the storm. There is a song that is playing through my head like a beautiful broken record…”I’ll never be the same. No, I’ll never be the same. Cause I know, that you’re alive. You came to fix my broken life. I sing to glorify your holy name, Jesus Christ.”
May everything I do be all for you, dear Lord. May I reflect your light everywhere I go. May my life song glorify You. Thank you, precious Jesus. Amen.

A Tender Spot

There is a place inside of my heart that aches. I have come to recognize it as my tender spot. It is the part of me that I hide from other people. The vulnerable me. It is the part of me that Jesus wants to hold if I would just trust Him with every part of me. He changes me because of that spot. When I feel the ache I remember that I have made mistakes and I face shame in the memories. It causes me to recognize when temptation is closer and more in my face than usual. The ache becomes stronger when I am criticizing myself…again. I know He is not done with me yet. It is in these moments that I feel the fire. To let go of what has been in order to embrace where He is taking me. To be more like Him. To love like He loves. To die to myself and want the best for others. To build up and encourage those around me in His name. To live more fully and not stuck in haunting memories. He wants us to live life to its fullest. Today, my mind was racing with the what ifs of this life. The realities were weighing heavy. I just wanted to pray and no words came and then the ache to remind me that I only need to say Jesus. I don’t know what to say or pray. I can say His name…Jesus. I don’t have all the answers. I have Jesus. He fills the empty places and the tender spot. He gives me strength to keep going and keep learning. I love Him oh so much. My tears flood my eyes in appreciation of how much He has done in my life. Thank you, Jesus.

Beloved

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

I have been absorbed in books and blogs lately. I can’t get enough of other people’s views of God’s truth because it is raw and real and so beautiful. As I read a blog about being kind to myself, the message of accepting oneself as a child of God was strong and insistent. How many times will I need to be bombarded with that message to really hear it…to really believe it? Being (as Matthew West sings) “Child of the One True King” is a relief to the depth of my hurting soul. He doesn’t see me like anyone else does. He doesn’t see me like I see myself. There, on my screen, was a word I have heard before but this time…it held significance and more meaning than I have ever known. BELOVED. What does it mean? My heart quickened and my soul fluttered inside…be loved. It echoes the words of my friend who suggested in the midst of the messiness of life that I should “LET GOD LOVE ME”. I thought that I was letting God love me but I was really trying to live up to and into my own big expectations and maybe some expectations others had of me or even what I thought God wanted of me. I say I am broken but God sees me made whole and becoming the person He created me to be. He called me His beloved and He died for me…sacrificing everything…giving all…what if I lived this life that He gave to me as His beloved, sacrificing everything, giving all of me? The startling reality of an amazing love that I feel I can barely grasp is also for me to give away. Give it away. Maybe that is the message I am supposed to hear during this season of lent. Give the love of Jesus to others…threatens to break down the walls that have been built to protect me. I can’t live into this love guarded. I have to let myself be loved…be reminded of His great grace covering me…of being His beloved and just simply held. Held in His almighty arms. Gentle. Amazing. Wonderful. Forever. Nothing can change His love for me. You can believe this too because you are His. His beloved.