October 2, 2016

Sunday and Rain

I woke up this morning feeling fine. This must be the 5-6th day in a row, and part of me wonders, "so what gives?" I mean, I have spent the better part of the past three years feeling awful -- like down and depressed -- awful. I cannot really explain the change, but suffice it to say, it is a welcome one. In truth, I feel the best I have felt in many years. Sure, I still have aches and pains. Just yesterday, I had a sinus pressure headache that wouldn't quit. My back aches in the morning, and my body is so tired by nightfall, but inside I mean, inside my soul, I simply feel fantastic. I have this sense of purpose, focus, and direction.

Furthermore, I feel so good about where I am, right here and now, and I have this contentment that tells me that no matter what is coming my way, everything, and I mean everything, is going to work out in my favor. I am confident of it. I feel so confident that the Lord is working all these details out now, and that in a short time, I will see the fruits of my labor.

This morning I am giving praise, a sacrifice of praise, to honor the Lord for His goodness toward me. He has shown me His grace day in and day out, and when I stop and think about where I was just three short years ago, well, I simply must marvel at His mercy and His kindness toward me. He changed my life around, gave me a new path to follow, and blessed me with blessing beyond my imagination. I am in such a good place today, such a very good place. I give Him all worship, all praise, and all honor, this good, good day! Selah!

Moving On and Thoughts

I've been writing a lot lately about moving on. Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about fall and the memories I have of growing up in the Midwest. Previously, I have written about moving on from my painful experiences, leaving the past in the past so that I can push on toward my future hope, plans, and work. This whole process of letting go has been difficult for me. I have struggled with letting go for a long time now, and I spent many months, even years, recalling past experiences and events, writing about them, praying through them, etc., in order to get to this place in time. I am ready now to let everything go, and I mean everything, in order to embrace the future life the Lord has in mind for me. You see, I realized rather late in the game, that you cannot embrace the future if you are still holding onto any part of the past. You have to let the past go, bury it, mourn it, grieve for it, and then let it go. You cannot keep digging up past hurts, memorializing them, thinking about them, getting angry over them. You have to let the dead lay dead and buried, know what I mean?

I remember taking this spiritual journey class at my old, old church. I was in my late teens, I think, and this lady came to our church to teach us how to visualize spirituality. In some ways, what she was teaching us was probably a mixture of New Age spiritualism along with some Christian theism. I was attending the Lutheran Church back then and it was the 1980s (just for reference). Whether it was a good practice or not, I attended the training session, and in truth, I did learn quite a bit about my need for letting things go. I remember this lady speaking to us about carrying our baggage with us after the cross. In her words, she was telling us that when we come to Christ, we leave everything at the cross. We walk on without all that baggage, yet for many of us, we attempt to carry our baggage with us. This need to hold on to our sin, our past life, etc., traps many Christians at the foot of the cross. They never can experience freedom and new life because they are stuck at the death part of the resurrection story. In her vivid story telling ability, she described what Christians are like who do this, who remain trapped. They are pictured as being battered, wounded, bloody, and missing body parts. Imagine the horrors of war, and you can get the picture loud and clear. The idea being that when we come to Christ initially we are just like that war victim, wounded and dying. But as we pass through His death, burial, and into His resurrection, we are healed. He bore our stripes, and as a result, we are healed (Is. 53:5).

Her imagery has stayed with me all these years, and I recall that feeling of being weighed down by all my sin. Of course, I was a newly minted Christian, and I was very fresh when it came to confessing my sinful life, past actions, and misdeeds. Yet, for many years, I was that person stuck at the foot of the cross. I never could move on. I could never experience His peace, His restoration, or His healing because I never stepped over into newness of life. Granted, I was fully saved. I simply didn't accept the goodness, the mercy, and the blessing that was mine in Christ Jesus once I passed through the resurrection story. And, as long as I was stuck on the other side (saved, but not set free), I lived imprisoned in my guilt and shame. It wasn't until I experienced the blessing of restoration that I began to see how I had chosen to live a less-than vital life simply because I was unwilling to let go of the past, all that hurt, all that baggage, all that death.

As I have processed all of my life experiences, I have come to realize that even as devoted and dedicated Christians we can still live lives that are not fully set free. We can continue to live in condemnation and shame. Just repeating the words of Paul in Romans 8:1 is not enough. I know, I used to do that all the time, as if the more I said it, the more I would believe it was true. No, saying the words didn't alleviate my suffering. I had to physically choose to leave the past behind, and to walk on in the new life the Lord purchased for me. I had to trust Him before I could walk on and experience the blessing of restoration. Let me explain...

It was about 10 years ago when I first encountered the Lord in a new, a fresh way. I had been a Christian for nearly 30 years at that point. I would have described myself as born again, for sure, and as a strong believer and student of the Bible. But in all honesty, my life was a mess. I was spiritually a mess. My life was filled with such horrible doubt, guilt, shame, and I was condemned so heavily that I barely could function most days. I prayed, I cried to the Lord, and I confessed my sin daily. My personal life was in shambles, and my home was filled with unrest. I was caught between the crosshairs of people in my life who wanted me to be and to do certain things. I had no purpose, no direction, no real value (in my view). I was constantly criticized, and I was spending all my time and energy trying to please people who simply could not or would not be appeased. My only choice was to give in to their demands, but in doing so, I gave up my self-worth, my identity and my esteem, simply on the chance that there would be peace in my home. I was miserable, to say the least.

Yet, I loved the Lord (or so I said), and I studied His word, prayed, and was faithful in attending church and in serving in ministry. On the outside, my life seemed good, solid, and secure. On the inside, I was rotting away, slowly dying, and unable to satisfy my deep need for security. I was hopelessly lost in an endless cycle of abuse, verbal and emotional, and over time, I simply gave in to all the pressure. I conformed.

Then one day, my eyes were opened to the truth, the reality of life, and I realized that not everyone was living as miserably as I was. In fact, I witnessed people living vital and important lives -- all without material, physical or emotional wealth or health -- simply by living lives fully and completely devoted to Christ. I could see the difference in their lives, I could see that they were not trapped like I was and that despite different circumstances, they were living free lives and enjoying every single day.

I was desperate for the hope they had, and I wanted so much to be set free. I wanted to live a life that was free -- from the prison I was in, the thoughts, the feelings, the emotions I struggled to deal with daily -- I wanted to be set free!

When I finally confessed my desire to the Lord, my eyes were opened to the truth of my life, my situation, and while the process was not always pleasant and good, I came to see the reality of my life as partly of my own making. You see, I had accepted Christ's gift of salvation as a young person, but I never accepted His gift of restoration for my life until that moment when I accepted my responsibility for the mess I was in. Yes, I was stuck at the foot of the cross. I had confessed my sin, repeatedly, but I never left all of that baggage right there at His feet. I was trying so valiantly to carry everything with me when He was saying to me, ever so gently, "No, my child, you must leave it behind." I struggled against Him. I walked my own way for a time. I refused to listen to Him, but eventually, my ears were opened and my eyes were made clear. I saw the destruction, the desolation, and the depressing situation I was in, and I knew at that moment that the only way out was to walk through the door He was holding open for me.

I took that step of faith, walked through the door, and over time, He has helped me deal with the emotional scars left behind by all my experiences -- traumatic and devastating -- as they once were. I began the process of healing, and over time, yes over many years, I have learned to let the wound heal. I have been healed. I am set free. I am living in newness of life, and that friends, is something so wonderful, so amazing, and yes, so far beyond anything I could have imagined. It is good, so very good.

Letting Go is Symbolic

Some people hate the phrase "letting go" because they see it as a pat answer to life's most pressing problems. It is the "feel good" phrase of 70s style counseling, and as such, they balk at the very thought of simply letting things go. Yet, letting things go is really a biblical mandate. The disciples who wanted to follow after Jesus were told that they had to "leave everything" in order to follow Him (Luke 14:25-27). The people were so enamored of Him, yet they were not willing to sacrifice loved ones, to walk away from their lives, and to follow after a Man who challenged them, comforted them, and counseled them in a new way, an exciting way, a way that offered them life, in the present and in the future (eternity).

Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them,  “If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I longed to follow after Jesus, all the way I mean, yet I was unwilling to let go of everything I held so dear. I was not willing to enter into a sacrificial relationship with Him. I was not willing to let go of my fear, my anger, my response to life -- in order to receive in return -- His mercy, His goodness, and His blessing. I wanted restoration, but not at the price He offered to me. You see, salvation is free. Restoration is not. There is a cost associated with restoration. Jesus will save you based on your faith in Him alone (Eph. 2:8-9 HCSB). 

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.

But in order to experience true freedom from your past, the emotional, physical, and mental wounds you bear after the cross, well that is where one's faith is put to the test. Restoration comes at a great price, and that price is the full surrender, the complete and utter surrender, of one's self in order to be set free from the chains and shackles that bind our minds, our hearts, and yes, even our bodies to the foot of the cross.

I took that step of faith on a sunny day in March of 2006. I cried out to the Lord, begged Him for mercy one last time, and confessed to Him that I was stuck -- so miserably stuck -- in a life of my own making. I was stuck in denial, in hiding, and I wanted to finally be set free, to live in the light and the glory of His mercy, and to begin to experience the goodness that He offered so freely to me. I wanted to be set free, and in doing so, I was willing to give Him everything, my EVERYTHING, in order to experience that freedom.

I was saved, mind you. I believed in Jesus as Savior. I knew my Bible. I had my doctrine and my theology straight, but I was living a lie, living in solitary confinement along with all that rotten and stinking mess that was my life. I wanted to breathe the clear and clean air, and I wanted a new way of life.

I never imagined what the Lord would allow me to go through in order to be restored. In truth, no one could have seen what happened next in my life. As I began to experience this marvelous new life, my personal life crashed and burned faster than a pile of old newspapers. My life went from seriously bad to amazingly bad in less than a year. The next couple years that followed, my spiritual life was renewed, reignited, and I became a passionate follower of the Lord Jesus, all the while my personal life continued to sink lower and lower into despair. In the end, I was faced with major crisis -- medical at first, martial to follow. 

As 2009 drew to the midpoint, I had to accept the reality that my then husband was well on his way to a full-blown affair, and that he had no interest or desire to hide it from me or return to me. It was nearly 3 years from the date that I confessed my need for restoration that my marriage of 25 years ended. I was looking at spending the rest of my life single, unsure of how I would take care of myself, let alone my then 16-year old son. The Lord pressed on my heart and into my mind to consider returning to graduate school, and I trusted Him enough to step out in faith and apply to a Masters in English Literature program. Three years later, in 2013, I began a PhD in Communication and started teaching college English courses at two local Christian universities. Now, almost three years further down that road, I am about to graduate with my PhD.

Living Sacrifice

You see, my life was upended twice. Once when I asked the Lord to save me from my sins, to forgive me, and to give to me His gift of eternal salvation. That day was back in 1974, when I was just 12 years old. I accepted Jesus as my savior then, and my life was changed in an instant. I was one of those people who experienced an "instant" conversion, meaning as soon as I placed my seed of faith in the Lord for His gift of eternal life, I immediately understood right from wrong, I immediately sensed the powers of darkness, and I immediately was struck by an intense desire to study His word. 

The second time my life was upended was in 2006 when I made the decision to place my entire life into His hands, to fully surrender, and to live a sacrificial life as a wholly devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. This second time was different from the first because what I received was not spiritual gifts of discernment, interpretation, and preaching, but rather it was the whole healing of my mind and my body. It was the restoration of my life, the returning of my life to the plan He had marked out for me as a child. It was as if the Lord lifted me from the place where I was at and moved me to the place where He wanted me to be. In that God-infused move from point A to point B, my life was racked from left to right and turned upside down and inside out. I lost so much in the process, yet I gained more than I could have ever imagined simply because the Lord chose not to let me suffer needlessly. The lessons learned have shaped and influenced my life in such a way that I am now better able to minister to others. I am better able to speak words of life into other people, and in such a way, I am better able to relate to people, to discuss, to sympathize, and to comfort them simply because of what I went through as a child, a teen, a young adult, and as a married woman with a child. Yes, I have experienced so much in my short 53 years, but the cost was significant, substantial, and in some ways, singularly sufficient to prepare me for the work He has ordained that I accomplish. Selah!

What this means to me today is simply this: I am finally experiencing His goodness in such amazing ways, that at times, I cannot believe what I see is true. Today, I am walking out my purpose, I am living the life He has ordained. I am experiencing blessing upon blessing, and in this way, I am overjoyed with a sense of newness, of completeness, of fellowship with the Lord. He has made this possible, and I deserve no credit at all. He has done all of this, and He has permitted me to walk along side of Him, to be His friend, to know Him intimately. He has said, "Yes to me," and in doing so, I am privileged to be able to enter into His presence, to be refreshed by His Holy Spirit, and to learn, to know, and to study His word in so many wonderful and awe-inspiring ways.

As I look forward to this next year, I stand amazed. I mean, it is October 2, 2016, and I have so much wonderful work to accomplish. I am about to be moved to a position of privilege and that means that in time, I will be offered a full-time job. I will be given priority, and He will move me to a place where I can set down roots, where I can live out my days, and where I can work in ways to minister, to encourage, and to equip people to follow after the Lord. I am excited to think about all that has happened in the last 10 years. I have been transformed, given new purpose, a vision, and a ministry mandate that has focused my efforts, renewed my drive and determination, and opened avenues I never thought existed. Now, I am ready. I have let go of the past, I have released the bags, and I have stepped through that portal. I am ready, Lord, please send me!

In Closing

As I wrap up this blog post, I give Him praise, honor, and glory. He alone is worthy to be praised. I take no credit, no glory, no honor in the work I have accomplished. There is nothing I can attribute to my own hand, and though I have been a partner with Him, in that I have typed papers, submitted assignments, etc., the Lord has done all of this work. I look up, I lift up, and I sing a sacrifice of praise to my Lord, my Savior and my King, this good, good day.

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