May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day, and I am here sitting in my room, blogging and thinking retrospectively about my life. I seem to always think about my life, but today, I am thinking more about the fact that I am in such a good place IN my life. I mean, my life is going well right now. Everything, from work to school to home, seems to be running smoothly. I am feeling well, and I am well-rested. I have a sense of overall "goodness" permeating my life, and I am feeling as though everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING is going to turn out well. I am excited for my future, happy to be where I am today, and pleased with my past (yes, all of it). I recognize today that my past is not something to run away from, but rather it is there to accept, to appreciate, and yes, to learn from as life experience. I have so much to be thankful for in my life, so much goodness and happiness. I have memories that are both sweet and sad, but overall, I can say that my life has been so very good, so very, very good.

As I consider my life from this "new" perspective, a perspective that respects the past, enjoys the present, and anticipates the future, all I can say is that it "feels good" to think this way. I mean, finally, I feel like I am free from the past memories, the thoughts, the feelings, and the imaginings of my life as it was lived and experienced. I am not to the point where I no longer remember details or even emotions as they are attached to each memory, I just mean that I am able to think back on the past and sort through the details and remember the "good" that was a part of the experience. Let me explain...

Dealing with the Past

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about a memory I had when I was 12 or 13. My family had come to visit from Ohio, and my parents took all of us to the museums in Chicago. It was a special family trip, and going to the museums, well, that was a huge present. I loved to go to the museums, and since I grew up in the south suburbs of the city, I took regular field trips all through elementary and junior high school. On this particular occasion, while viewing one of the upstairs exhibits, my aunt got to laughing and wet her pants. It was funny back then (now, we would be horrified -- different time and place) and that incident was an oft-repeated family story. As I processed those memories of a happy family trip, I also remembered all the other times associated with that period in my life. In truth,my childhood was a mix of funny parts and difficult parts, of joy and of sadness, of blessing and frankly, of cursing.

This time in my childhood wasn't particularly happy for me. While I can say that I had a good childhood, overall, my time between 4th grade and 8th grade was particularly difficult. Things were at their worst for me when I was in Junior High School. It was during this time when I was regularly abused (verbally, physically, and sexually) by certain kids and one or two teachers who attended and taught there. Thus, when I think back to my time in Junior High School, many of the memories are filled with pain. Yes, this period in my life was not a happy time for me, and those experiences hurt me so deeply, wounded my spirit and my soul, and caused me a great deal of psychological harm as a result.

However, when I think back to that time now, I am able to sort through these experiences and find nuggets of happiness, small memories where there was love, joy, peace, and laughter. It is important to accept the past, for sure, and I have done this. I have accepted the trauma of my youth, how those experiences hurt me socially and mentally, and how many of the more difficult experiences made it very difficult for me to find intimacy in relationships. Yet, once I accepted the past, all of it, I was able to heal, to be healed, and in that way, I was able to finally move past the pain and the emotional hurt.

I read a quote by Christine Caine the other day. She said,
"The long series of disappointments you accumulate in a lifetime can stop you from moving forward into all the goodness God has planned for you – and that means they’ll be stopping not only you, but also all those God has destined you to reach along your life journey" (from Undaunted).
Moreover, in her new book, Unashamed, Caine says that you must, "reveal what needs to be healed" and that you must "embrace the pain of recovery" in order to experience true freedom. I so agree with her statement because I know in my own life that being set free was a process. I would recite Scripture where it says, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36 ESV). The problem for me was that while I believed God's word was true, I didn't feel set free. No, I was still bound in guilt and shame. I was still living in this status where I said "I am free," all the while I was moaning about in chains and dressing in sackcloth.

Overtime, the Lord helped me see that He had set me free. I was no longer bound to my experiences of the past. They were forever a part of me, but I wasn't defined by them. I bore the scars of those events, those terrible and at times, terrorizing events, but I had survived, I had overcome, and as His witness, my life still had purpose. Yes, God had an amazing plan for me, but I couldn't even begin to experience, to envision or engage in that plan until I let the past rest. I had to let it go. I had to accept it, understand it, and deal with it. Once I did, I was truly free to move forward and to begin to enjoy my life.

Preparing for the Future

For the past couple months now, I have been trying to focus on my future. I have been trying to change my mindset so that I look forward to the future, not with fear or worry or doubt, but rather with hopeful expectation of His mighty and merciful goodness. I blog daily, and in doing so, I am often focused on my future hopes. I mean, my work as a professor, my schooling and graduation, and of course, my next stage of life -- being settled some place, perhaps married again, and engaging in ministry -- as the Lord leads, guides, and provides.

The problem has been that while it is a good thing to look forward, to keep an eye on the sky, so to speak, sometimes we are either stuck revisiting the past or we are always off into the dreamy bliss of future expectations. As a result, we rarely are able to enjoy the present, the here and now. Lately, this has been brought to my mind, and as I have meditated on it, I have come to realize that it is good to enjoy everyday living. 

I often follow Joyce Meyer as I enjoy her books, teaching series, and other devotional studies. One of the things she has said over the years is that we must not forget to enjoy every day life. As a victim of abuse, she knows first hand how easy it is to be trapped by your emotional baggage. She understands that it is very comforting to remain a victim, and often we do this as a result of our wounding experience. The problem is that if we choose to remain a victim, we end up imprisoning ourselves in a place where God doesn't desire us to be. In her best-selling book, Battlefield of the Mind, she states, “Our past may explain why we're suffering but we must not use it as an excuse to stay in bondage.” She is right, of course. I cannot wipe away my past, forget that it ever existed, but I can accept it. I can accept what it was and how it hurt me. I can move on from it, learn as a result of it, and in time, share my journey to healing and freedom so others can follow me out of that prison cell of pain, sorrow, guilt and shame.

You see, I was in bondage to my past for too many years, and as such, I missed out a lot on enjoying my life. I spent my days reliving the past or day-dreaming about a different future -- but -- I didn't do anything to change my situation. I just accepted that it was my lot in life to suffer. Finally, after spending time in the Word, studying and listening to gifted preachers teach on the subject, I realized that God gave me the power to say no. I could begin to take control of my life by simply saying, "I am sorry, but this or that doesn't align with the Word of God." I changed my mind, and as a consequence my attitude shifted and I began to see that I had choices in my life. I didn't have to stay stuck in the past or a daydream, but I could begin to make changes today, in the here and now, that would affect my future. Joyce Meyer says, “You can suffer the pain of change or suffer remaining the way you are.” I chose to change my thinking, and in time (not overnight), my life began to change course.

Furthermore, as I took time to allow God's healing power wash over my life, I came to understand that God desired for me to be healed. I am not talking the super-fantastico "healing" that you often see on TV by charismatic holiness pastors and preachers. No, I am talking about true healing, the kind that is available to us through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to bring healing and freedom, and as a Christ follower, that healing and freedom was provided for me at the cross of Calvary. It is up to me to accept it, to embrace it, and to allow it to take root in my life. Meyer says in her book, Beauty for Ashes, “God wants you to be delivered from what you have done and from what has been done to you - Both are equally important to Him.” 

Now that I have been healed from my past -- meaning from the sins I committed and the sins others committed toward me -- I am able to live a life that is free from guilt and shame. I can live my life now without attachment to the past, and my future no longer has to be a dream. My future is now part of my reality, and I choose every day the kind of future I hope to enjoy. Meyer says, “Happiness is not a feeling, it is a choice. To be happy, one must choose to be happy, not respond to a circumstance that now controls your happiness.” As I look to my future, I realize that what I do today, how I enjoy my life today, will have great impact on what my future ends up to be. I can make decisions today that will be in my best interest tomorrow. But, if I am stuck in the past, living in the past, I am not in the right mindset to even think about tomorrow.

Living for Today

Thus, it is vital to grab hold of today. The Word says it this way, "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). We are to take into consideration the days that the Lord has given to us, making wise use of them. James 4:14 tells us to remember that tomorrow is unknown, therefore, we are to not plan on our tomorrows because they are like a mist or a vapor. He writes, "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes."

Our life, our days, are precious gifts from the Lord, and He has a plan for how He desires we spend them. We can go about living according to our own wishes or we can live our lives surrendered to His will. If we choose the former, then our life will be a matter of our own doing. Our choices, our power, our own control. This is a life that doesn't honor the Lord nor does it align with His Word. Thus, as Christian's we are called to follow Him, to let Him lead us into better days. In learning how to abide in Him, to lean upon Him, and to let Him be the Vine (John 15:15), we will come to experience all that is destined to us through Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. Yes, we can come to see that He has a great plan for each of us, and that in His way, He will lead us, guide us, and provide for us. We can be healed from the past, set free from the guilt and shame of our sins and our painful experiences, and we can be established to walk in a way that will bring happiness to ourselves and to our families. This is my choice. This is my choice this good, good day.

As I close out this blog post today, I am sitting here thinking meditatively how great a God we serve. I love the Lord with my whole heart, and I love what He has done for me. He has ransomed me, freed me, and given me a place of honor and of preference within His kingdom. I am His child, and He loves me dearly. I can go and do whatever is asked of me because of His great love for me. He is my King, my Shepherd, and my Lord. I look forward to this good, good day. I look forward to experiencing and enjoying my life each day from now on. I look forward to my future because I know that He is the One who has it planned out for me. I rest in Him completely. I trust in Him, and in doing so, I let whatever He determines for my life to come to pass. As He wills, so be it. Amen. Selah!

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