“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” Brennan Manning

Sunday, April 20, 2014

God Rescues Liars and Pretenders Like Me!

I wake up, two-year-old in my face.  I draw him close to snuggle, buried under covers.  He talks to me in only partially comprehensible language, but I cherish the love we share.  He is safe and secure in my love for him.  After a moment, he makes his requests and says, “Mommy, get up.”  

Today is Easter, a day to remember our Hope is in our Risen Lord.  Thank you, Jesus, for giving your life for me.  What You gave was given back to us all in measureless proportions.  Help me to offer myself to You today.  You never require more from me than I can give.  Whatever parts of myself I give to You today is enough, and You take my broken pieces and make me whole in You.  My true self, identity, is as Your beloved Daughter.  

You know my doubts and flaws, but that doesn’t hinder Your love for me for even a moment.  When I struggle to believe that You are for me, not disappointed with me, and not mad at me for struggling, You show me Your love in what’s right before me - in my two-year-old snuggled close, a whispered, “I love you”, a gentle breeze with the warmth of the sun, a text from a friend.  You remind me that I am not forgotten.  I am loved and cherished by You.

For so many years, I have lived under the weight of shame, believing that You would never accept me because of the darkness I hid.  I tried so hard to dress up my exterior and kill my interior so I could be worthy of love.  When all along, You already accepted me.  You want me to open up my dark places so Your light can illuminate and heal me.  

Opening myself up to Truth and Light has been an excruciating process.  It was easier to bury the pain, deny the unacceptable parts of myself, justify, and pretend all is well; but, I was dead inside.  I lied a lot - mostly to myself.  I lied about my childhood, habits, struggles, emotions, fears, hurts, and failures.  I was so desperate for love, I thought if anyone really knew me, they would abandon me.  Deep down, I believed I would never be good enough for God either.  

I perfected a positive, strong front, saying the right things, and looking good.  But the pain inside gnawed at me and I would turn to food for relief and then purge it out only to start over - AGAIN!  I blamed myself for so much of the dysfunction in my life, and I hated myself all the more.  I soaked up the ‘do more, try harder’ gospel, and made lists and resolutions to ‘do better.’  I punished myself when I failed.  

God, in His love for me, stripped me of my cover-up life.  He took me out of the church that focused on externals so that He could find me - all alone, hurting, and wanting.  He rescued me.  He understood my anger, mistrust, and hatred towards myself and Him.  I was so afraid that He would hurt and punish me, but He gently wooed me with His love.  He proved Himself trustworthy to me, and slowly I opened up my heart to Him.  

Still ashamed, I dared to let my secrets out so His healing Light could touch the dark places of my life.  Sharing with other safe people has been one of the most liberating things in my life.  Truly, Jesus bore my sins and my shame on the cross.  His sacrifice makes me right with God so I can come before Him unashamed as. I. am.  

I admit, living numb and in denial was easier, but I was dead!  My life and suffering were empty and purposeless.  God wants to give us life, to take our suffering and turn it into something beautiful.  Though the path to wholeness and healing is painful and feels like a lot of loss, we gain purpose and hope - which are worth living for.  We find our true selves, hidden in Christ!  He redeems our suffering and His love satisfies and heals our souls.   

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33  

Suffering is part of being ALIVE - it’s part of becoming whole and acknowledging my whole life story.  

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means.” Brennan Manning  

God’s grace is not conditioned by my correct understanding of Him or my performance, but solely on the fact that He purchased me at the cross.  He proved that I am wanted and adopted me into His family.  God accepted me all along even when I was so lost and searching.  He was with me even then.  He is the One who heals and redeems my life.  He is the One who has given me life and enlightens me!  He is in my every breath!  He is everywhere and longs to open my eyes and heart to His great love for me and others.  

In His love, I can rest.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Just BE and REST

Amidst a group of people in a rustic dining hall, I'm invited to a table. Though we only met the day before, there is a commonality we share that connects us in a deeper way.  We talk briefly as two others join in.  The conversation shifts to the great things God is doing in a campus ministry they are all involved in.  I listen, wanting to rejoice, but I'm overwhelmed with feeling ashamed of my life, and I get up and sit elsewhere.

I didn't understand it at the time, just wondering, "why do I want to hide?"

I tell God about it.  That use to be me: so zealous to ‘do’ great things for God, eager to ‘go’ anywhere and ‘do’ anything.  My dream was to be a missionary and work in the medical field in third world countries.

I married a crazy, ‘sold out’, Jesus freak.  I mean a guy that has “honk if you love Jesus” painted to the back of his thunker has to be serious about following Jesus, right?  He was ‘hard core!' We both were eager to live wholeheartedly and forsake all for Jesus.  

We ‘did’ all kinds of ‘great things for God’: passed out thousands of tracks, organized evangelism training, went street preaching, raised money for native missionaries, sold our possessions, lived in community with others, didn’t claim ownership of our goods, and worked hard to please God and further His Kingdom.

Despite all of our efforts, we ended up on our faces again and again with broken friendships, church outcasts, a shaky marriage, shattered dreams, and lost hope.  “God, we tried to follow and please You, but You led us here?!  Where did we go wrong?  I know that we were sincere.  Why are we just made a mockery?  Why have You forsaken us?”  

The Accuser seizes the opportunity to ream me, “Look at you.  Your faith isn’t real.  You're just a big mistake.” Blame and shame are his weapons to keep me hiding from God, but Jesus says, "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matt. 11:28-30 (MSG)

While I thought I was so strong and competent, my focus was on MY ability, not God's! I am proud! Oh God, please break me of my pride. Thank you for letting me fall so I can learn to depend on You. Thank you for leading me HERE - to this wilderness, this desperate place, where I am the one in need of help.  Brokenness is a gift.

The Superstar Christian life - always trying to do more and be better - misses the whole point of the Gospel!  It’s not what we 'do' for Christ, it’s what He did for us!  He accepts us at our worse. "The One who knows all of your darkness, flaws, that One is the One who loves you the most and there's nothing you can do to make that love go away." Ginny Owens

When I hear of God at work, churches embracing the hurting, children growing up in secure homes, and love being played out, instead of comparing myself and my not-so-pretty story, I can remember it's His story. We are all broken - in need of a Redeemer, and redemption wins.

Yes, it’s okay to grieve the loss of what I wish my life were and feel the pain of growing up in a broken home, being wounded in churches, and suffering severed relationships - but, I don’t need to feel ashamed!  God has purposed my life not in spite of the brokenness, but because He uses broken vessels to make His Greatness known. It's not my work, it's His work in me.  He calls forth Light out of Darkness, Life from Death, and Beauty from Ashes. 

On days I feel ashamed of my broken, needy condition, I remember the words of my friend, Kelli.  
“I felt like God reminded me that Jesus told the story in Matt. 25 about those who helped "the least of these" - that they were actually helping Jesus. I felt like He impressed on me that there may be many Christians who are in the giving place - but not many wanting to be in the Jesus place - the place of being ministered to. That is the place he says is HIS in that story and that is at least one of the meanings of Christmas, and even of Easter: Jesus had need. He was on the receiving end as an infant at his mother's breast. He received the help of others during his passion and crucifixion. And now, we walk in his steps not by holding with tight fists into the idea of being the "strong" ones, but by letting our needs be known and ministered to. This cannot be a shameful place because it is the JESUS place.”
Jesus shows us that humility is depending on God to meet our needs and receive from others.  He loves us enough to let us fall in our own strength so we can stop striving and rest in His finished work on the cross. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me!  It's not my job to change myself; I am God’s work. Even when it looks like I am a lost cause, just a big mess; I am God’s mess and He won’t EVER give up on me!

“Oh God, please hold us close.  YOU are the wonderful counselor and we put our trust in you to speak through others BUT ALSO through your Spirit inside us. We don't pray that you'll make us strong if we need to experience weakness right now as you did, Jesus, in your days on the earth. You have shown us that weakness is not shameful, but rather a way that we can relate to you as you have stretched so far to relate to us. Our hope is in You, oh God. Amen.” ~Kelli

We can rest. We are enough because God has chosen to adopt us as. we. are. He doesn't despise our weakness - He comes alongside us with compassion and asks us to give Him our load and let Him carry us. We don't have to be strong anymore, because He is strong for us.