Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our Gifts are a grace from God

As anyone who knows me or follows my blog knows I grew up in a pretty hard situation. Growing up was not pleasant, easy, or fun. There was a lot of abuse, disappointment, and massive amounts of confusion. What I did come to understand at a very early age was that the more independent I was the better off I would be. I learned pretty early to take care of what needed to be taken care of myself and to have no need for anyone. I learned to be very responsible at a very early age and to even take care of many other people in my life including the adults who were "theoretically" supposed to care for me. My point in all of that is to say that one of the biggest struggles in my life is independence and a sense of self sufficiency.

On a side note, I can see that I have raised my oldest daughter to be the same way. She is such a tremendous blessing; she is beautiful and strong and very capable of doing what she needs to do and not really needing anyone to help her. The self sufficient part of me is so proud; then there is the part of me that is being restored and changed that knows I have done her a disservice. She will have to come to the realization that she is totally dependent on God and that we are all created to need people and be dependent. I can only repent of my sinful mistakes and pray that God will be gentle and gracious as He brings her to the realization of her need and true dependence.

Anyway, if something needs to be done, I just do it. If I don't really want to do something that needs to be done, I am very capable of making myself do it anyway. Many times I can and do push myself further than is healthy. I put unreasonable expectations on myself and make myself take care of things on my own. (To be fair, I am getting better about this as God heals me.)

The strength, independence and sufficiency in me that many people admire and think of in a positive manner is truly my Achilles heal, the weak spot in my armor. I have such a hard time asking for help or allowing people to come along side me because I don't want to be weak. The funny thing is that very tendency is the weakest spot in me. It's like the wondering sheep; I am "strong" and stand up, but it isolates me from the fold and allows the enemy to attack without having to contend with my fellow sheep. Now, I do in a sense realize my dependence on God, but that is not so hard for me because I trust Him. I don't, on the other hand so much trust people. That, though, also stems back to not truly trusting God. If I truly trust God, then I trust Him to put those people in my life that need to be there as well as trusting Him inside of them.

As I was reading this morning I came across a verse that really stuck out to me. I began to meditate upon it and ask God to speak to me. It struck the nerve of this very tendency in me.

I Corinthians 4:7
For who makes you differ from one another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

I began to think of my attitude about where I am compared to where I started out. I have this attitude (which is a very prevalent American attitude) that I have picked myself up by my boot straps. I have said out of my mouth, "I started out this life in a gutter and have clawed and fought to get to where I am today." I have used this especially in dealing with other people who have not had to start out as far below ground zero as I did. "Don't compare my progress in life to someone who has started out in a loving family, who got to have enough resources to survive, go to college, etc." While there is some truth to that statement, I cannot even take credit for the progress. Coming from being a homeless drug addict, with nothing and eating my dinner out of dumpsters does give somewhat of a disadvantage over a supportive home, encouragement, a church background, college, etc. The problem in this whole line of thinking is that "I" have brought myself this far.

What do I have that I was not given? Do I have room to boast of my progress? God called me out of darkness. God has given me to grace to take each step I took out of the gutter and each step I continue to take away from that gutter. Not only did He give me the grace, but He took the steps inside me. Even having started out in the gutter is a gift that God has given me. He has allowed me to know Him in a very special way and to have a very deep sense of appreciation for what I have. That is a gift. When you have always had a bed to sleep in, you might not stop to consider what a blessing it is each day to wake up in a bed. I once owned 1 pair of underwear, 1 shirt, 1 pair of jeans, 1 skirt, 1 pair of Doc Martins, and a leather jacket. Man, am I grateful for my closet full of clothes. I only have to wear my underwear one time in between washings; I could even change them mid day if I should so feel inclined. That is a gift. Most people might not stop to be grateful for their underwear. I didn't teach myself to be grateful for these things. God, in His beautiful grace and mercy, allowed me to have the environment to foster that kind of gratitude. When asked how my day is, I will often respond with ,"It is a good day because I woke up with air in my lungs today." I really mean that. I am not saying I don't ever struggle with my attitude because I do at times. But, there were many days before Christ that I did not want to wake up; there were many days that I should not have woken up (I am sure there are more of those than I am even close to realizing). No one promises me tomorrow, so when I roll over in bed awake, it is a gift I have been given. It is another day to walk this earth and serve my Lord who created me, died to redeem me, kept me alive when I should have died over and over, called me out of darkness, and graciously leads me, heals me, changes me, and uses me each day.

My life mantra, the phrase that usually passed into my mind and heart at least once a day is...

Everything I have You gave me; everything I am You made me; Everything I ever hope to be is tied up in You!!

What do I have that I did not receive? How can I boast about anything? He has graciously given me everything. I did not carry myself out of the gutter. He carried me out of the gutter. I cannot take credit; I cannot boast. I have been dependent on Him for every breath I have taken since me first.

Psalm 71:6
From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother's womb. I will ever praise you.

That was my scripture reading on Northumbria Community for the day.

It goes right along with the theme for the day. God continues to faithfully chip away at that self sufficiency, independence and pride. He reminds me that I did not give myself anything; I daily borrow life from Him. I am so glad that He does not hold my pride and arrogance against me; He just gently reminds me, loves me, and graciously teaches me more about my dependence on Him. I have come light years from where I started out, but it has been Him bringing me, not me bringing myself.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, creator of the universe, redeemer of man kind and lover of my soul.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thoughts on Grace

I have so many thoughts on grace. My understanding of grace has changed and grown more than can even be measured over the years. For me, learning about grace has taken so long. I have a feeling, that stems from experience, that I will look back in ten years and see how little I really understood this mystery of grace today. I certainly had no understanding of grace in the years I first began to walk with Christ. I heard a lot about grace and I knew we were saved by grace, but I didn't really have any understanding of what that meant. When I look back to 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 1 year ago, I can see how far I have come in my understanding of God's immeasurable, consuming grace.

This post is in response to an opportunity to share thoughts in grace that my friend and author, Hillary McFarland (Quivering Daughters Hope and Healing for the Daughters of patriarchy), posted on her blog,

To talk about my experience with grace, first I must give some history. Those who already follow my blog know much of this history, but for new explorers I will give the short version. For the more extensive version look back to; then look for part 2, 3, etc.

I began my life in a very dysfunctional and abusive house which was pretty non religious. My mother was clinically depressed and estranged from her mother. My grandfather (mom's father) had sexually abused all the children in the family from the time of my mother's childhood up to when we completely separated ourselves from the family when I was 15. There some strange religious undertones relating to the grandparents, but there is not enough time to breach that subject today. I began to do drugs pretty heavily at 13, spent many years locked up in rehabs and psychiatric hospitals, and repeatedly ran away, attempted suicide, and practiced self mutilation. I finally ended up living on the streets. At 19 years old I became pregnant; I continued to do drugs and attempted to procure an abortion (thankfully that did not work out). At about 4 months gestation, while very high on LSD and inhalants, I had the experience of going to hell. My mother had previously met Jesus and had been praying for me for several years. When the hell experience happened, I called her. I told her what had happened and asked her what I should do about it. I didn't think I believed in God, but, when I came back from "Hell", I had a sense that I did not ever want to go to that place again and that if I ever did find myself there again, I would not be allowed to leave again. God, being the amazing, gracious Father that He is, put the perfect answer in my mother's mouth. She said to me, "This is what I would say to do; pray and say, 'God if you are real, reveal yourself to me,' if He does then you will know, and if He doesn't then you haven't lost anything and no one even has to know that you prayed that prayer." So I secretly started praying that prayer. About 3 months later I called my mother and asked to go to a Friday night church service with her. She was very surprised, but of course, picked me up and took me. That night, as I stood in the service, I felt the presence of God, but I did not know what it was. I kept having tears flow down my face (which I kept wiping away in frustration). I met Jesus that night and was never the same. I had never felt loved; when I was told that Jesus loved me as I was enough to die for me, it transformed me forever.

What I did not realize was that as I began to learn about Jesus in the church I met Him in, I was taught about rules and striving to please Him. I very quickly learned that He did not love me as I was. I needed to clean up or at least put the ugly broken parts of me away so that I could make the church look good. I was a "trophy". "Look at what we did in her life." I loved Him so much and wanted to please Him however I could. I wanted to be clean and right for Him, but there were so many parts of me that were so broken. Broken is an understatement. There were parts of me that were crushed into finely ground powder. I didn't even know what wholeness was supposed to look like. I wanted to not struggle and walk in habitual sin. I wanted to be free. I was taught that if I just had enough faith, I wouldn't struggle with the pain and sin anymore. I prayed so hard for more faith. I tried to figure out the rules and to be good girl.

I have to interject that I have one of those really structured temperaments that was also conditioned toward a pretty severe Obsessive Compulsive tendency by my childhood environment. I still tend to put things into my life and brain in the framework of boxes and rules. So the legalistic environment fit into the way I tended to experience the world. I wanted rules about how long I was supposed to pray, how many chapters to read in my Bible; if the church doors were open I had to be there. There were a lot of do's and don't in my mind and world. I still tend to be one of those people that others say is "disciplined". What that really equates is my compulsive structure habits. I can get caught in what I call "loops" of behavior; it may be how long I have to work out, or eating habits, or binge drinking. Once I hit a "loop" it can be hard to find my way out of it. It gets easier the longer I walk with Christ and learn to walk in his "unforced rhythms of grace". There were lots of those "loops" in the beginning of my walk.

The Compulsive tendencies of my personality combined with the "charismatic legalism" that I was spiritually developing in did not equal much understanding of grace. I never felt good enough; I felt driven to pray more, read more, do more and compare myself to others. I would judge and condemn constantly. I had no concept of grace or mercy. I was not kind or loving, b/c I did not really feel loved. I had to hide the black sin that still strangled me like an orangutan on my back. Some of those deep wounds inside of me have just begun to stop bleeding 18 years after meeting Jesus. I was not in an environment in the first years that I could be honest about the devastation and brokenness inside of me so that I could have help baring those burdens and find healing.

My first real brush with the grace of God came out of a pretty big situation of sin.

The church I was in did not believe in dating; we practiced courtship. The courtship, though, really needed "elder approval" to be smiled upon. I had learned that if I rebelled against church leadership, i was rebelling against God b/c He had put them in authority over me. I was supposed to follow what the leadership of the church said, "the Lord wanted." Prophecy was a means of controlling those who would allow themselves to be controlled (my mother and I were very much willing to be controlled). I was engaged to a young man when I had been walking with God about 2 years. We were very careful not to be alone (in the beginning at least). We did not even kiss one another. He was not, however, one that would be controlled. He had many questions about the way the church was being run and the control I was allowing them to have over me. We met in the church through a singles group. He started attending the church, but did not buy into many aspects of the church. This led to many arguments between us, b/c I just wanted him to be "submissive" to the leadership. I was afraid he and I would fall out of favor with God if he wouldn't submit. All of this finally culminated in one of the elders telling me that God said I had to break up the relationship (this was 9 months into courtship and 3 months before the wedding was to be). This broke my heart. I was told, though, that "the heart was deceitfully wicked above all things" and "that he would be a weight to me and would keep me from fulfilling the call of God on my life". When it was presented to me that way, I felt like I had no choice but to submit. I loved Jesus with all my heart and would not choose a man over my Savior. I cried every day for 6 months; sometimes I cried to the point of almost throwing up. I would beg God to help me not love Larry. I wanted to obey God, but it hurt so bad and I could not stop loving him. He was my best friend. He loved me even though he knew about all of the ugly scarred devastated parts of me. I had never loved anyone or been loved by anyone the way he loved me. It ripped both of our hearts out.

After six months of grieving and trying to forget, in a moment of weakness, I went back to him. Being with around him was like being home. At that point, we crossed to line of being involved physically. In the three days we were back together, I conceived my son. Then I was drawn back into the church where I was told to cut ties with him. When I realized, 6 weeks later, that I was pregnant, I was told that God still did not want me to marry him. I also stood before the church to confess my sin. I felt so ashamed; I had let the church down; God was disappointed in me.

As a result, of my perception of God, I thought that God was going to punish me. I was so excited to be pregnant. I wanted another baby. Certain leaders in the church tried to pressure me to put the baby up for adoption and to go as far as lying to Larry about losing the baby so I could leave for the rest of my pregnancy and give the baby up with his permission. I refused. B/c of my sin and my refusal to cave to the pressure to give up the baby, I waited daily to lose the baby. I thought that was how God was going to punish me for me sin of fornication. I would go into the bathroom every time expecting to see signs of miscarriage. I really thought that God allowed me to get pregnant so He could take the baby away to hurt me and punish me. I think I was pretty detached from the baby for most of my pregnancy b/c I was waiting to have him taken away from me. It wasn't until I held him in my arms that I believed that God wasn't going to take him away from me. Through the pregnancy and birth God showed me about grace. As I held him in my arms it was as if God whispered in my ear, "look I gave this treasure to you in spite of your choice". He didn't give me the baby so He could take it away from me. He gave me the pregnancy to show me His grace and mercy. He blessed me with an amazing gift in spite of my sin. That was the beginning of seeing God loves me just b/c He chooses to. I cannot get Him to love me any more or any less. He loves me apart from my behavior and in spite of my wicked heart. B/c He first loved me, I can love Him. That baby is now my amazing and handsome 14 year old son, Stephen. Stephen Isaac (meaning crowned with laughter) is my baby of grace. God used him to teach me about His amazing grace. God would also used baby Stephen to keep me connected to the young man who would eventually ( 3 or so years later) become my husband in spite of the manipulation of the church. Today, September 2, 2010, we celebrated 11 years of beautiful marriage. He is still my best friend and I love him more today than the day I married him. We have an amazing commitment and resilience to our marriage b/c of the path we had to walk to end up together. There are more details on how we ended up together at these posts , ,

I have so many more thoughts on grace, but I have taken up enough time today. I will share more another time. I just wanted to start with the first major brush with grace in my walk.