Healing in the Hands of the God Who Sees

woman standing in the darkI spent most of my adult life hiding while presenting an image to others of the person I wanted them to see. The woman I hoped to be but quite frankly, didn’t see myself as. If asked, I would’ve readily admitted I had an unhealthy fear of rejection.

I knew I overemphasized other’s opinions, but I didn’t understand why. Therefore, I continually fought surface level battles that led to short-lived behavior modification, frustration, and, often, defeat.

Galatians 1:10 was my go-to verse, one I prayed and meditated on countless times. Written by a first century church planter who routinely faced rejection and persecution, it says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

And every time I read those words, conviction squeezed my heart, followed by a commitment to do better. But a week or maybe a month later, I’d find myself battling the same insecurities.

I felt defeated. Stuck.

I wasn’t. Instead, I was held, searched, and known, deeply and intimately, by the one who not only sunset with quote pulled from text.saw my struggles but also the root cause beneath them (Psalm 139:1-2). Through a series of painful events, He allowed an inner lie to surface so that He could replace it with truth.

I was a new, and hugely insecure leader at the time, interacting with wounded and insecure women while still, largely, dealing with my own hurts and fears. I thought I could power through, but in so doing, was living but a fragment of who Christ created me to be.

God wanted to take me to a place of freedom. Therefore, He allowed me to land smack dab in three consecutive, ugly interactions where I felt misjudged, slandered, and attacked.

In response, I began to pull deeper into myself, feeding negative thinking that had been dormant yet festering deep within my heart. Lies I’d thought I’d overcome, had long since moved past, but which the God who searches and knows me saw as clearly as the tears on my face. And as He watched, He was waiting for the perfect moment to reveal them to me—so that He could initiate healing.

One afternoon, while I was moping around the house, my husband said, “You’re acting like you did something wrong.”

In that moment, something clicked, and a thought followed, Because I think I’m bad.

As God’s gentle Spirit ushered in, I realized my intense reaction—the reason the three rejections had hurt so deeply—came from a belief adopted early in my childhood, one I thought I’d long since dealt with but that had been far too engrained through years of hurt and failure to uproot easily.

Bowing my head, I offered my pain and the falsehoods surrounding it to the God who “searched me and knows me, when I sit and when I rise;” and who “perceives my thoughts” the reason behind every action and emotion “from afar” (Ps. 139:1-2, paraphrased and personalized.)

God knows and loves you just as deeply, and wants to bring you to a place of deeper healing and freedom. When emotions and insecurities arise, instead of fighting them in your own strength, surrender them to Christ. Ask Him to show you their root and to, step by step and prayer by prayer, push out all that is false, ugly, and painful with His love and grace.

Let’s talk about this! When strong emotions arise, how do you normally respond? How might turning to Jesus lead to lasting freedom? In what ways have you experienced this to be true?

Cover image for Becoming His Princess Bible StudyShare your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below, and make sure to grab a free copy of Wholly Loved Becoming His Princess Bible study. You can do so HERE. For those who live in the Omaha Metro, join me for live teaching at Christ Community Church, starting March 12th. Register HERE.

And make sure to join me for one of Wholly Loved’s upcoming Fully Alive conferences. Find out more HERE.

 

The Dangers of Pain Avoidance

danger signPain avoidance can lead to devastating, enslaving, and life-squelching results. No one enjoys pain, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. In fact, most of us will go to great lengths to preserve our comfort level—many times, unfortunately, to our own harm.

Admittedly, I’m likely more pain adverse than most. My husband and I became engaged in Nebraska (where I live now), and at the time, one needed blood tests before they could receive a marriage license.

This scared me on a couple levels. First, my past was far from squeaky clean and I’d always harbored a fear that I’d become infected with HIV. Second, I hated needles. So much so that the mere thought of one pricking my skin caused my pulse to rise, my muscles to tense, and my stomach to engage in enough fluttering to initiate a violent sense of nausea.

But I loved my fiancé (now husband) and desperately wanted to spend my life with him! So, each day, I’d drive to the local hospital, add my name to the blood-draw list, and wait. And wait. And wait.

And in my waiting, my anxiety grew until, ten to thirty minutes later, I walked out and drove home in defeat. Finally, my husband took time off work to drive me there himself, sitting with me in the waiting room to make sure I didn’t leave.

All fear stems from pain avoidance, and often, this avoidance ends up costing us much more than what we may have experienced had we simply confronted our fears.

We fear the pain of rejection and so we hold tight to unhealthy relationships or become relational chameleons. But by presenting a false self, we rob ourselves of the gift that comes from connecting with those who know us fully and love us anyway.

When our daughter entered public school after years of homeschooling and a short stint in Christian education, she suddenly found herself in the throws of a completely different culture. One that, at times, could be quite antagonistic to people of faith. I feared her desire to fit in, to make friends, to avoid the sting of rejection and loneliness, would sway her behavior, potentially leading her in a dangerous direction.

Until she told me about an incident during her social studies class. The teacher asked the students, if they could change the world, what would they wish for? Ashley raised her hand and said, “That everyone would be Christians, because then there’d be more love and less hate.”

Knowing how much she longed to make friends in this new environment, I was flabbergasted and asked, “Were you worried how the others might respond?”

“No,” she replied. “I’d rather they know who I am, and either like me or not for that.”

In other words, she was prepared for the possible sting of rejection, and though I have no doubt some amount of fear lingered at the thought, she faced that fear, and in so doing, embraced a deeper level of freedom.

She also discovered her people—friends who loved her for who she was, not who she could’ve pretended to be.

When we think of pain, usually our minds jump to the physical, and that can be daunting for sure. But emotional pain—loss, rejection, betrayal—has the capacity to hurt us most. Because of this, pain avoidance can become our driving motivation. It can cripple us and hinder our ability to live fully alive, if we let it.

But like I did in that hospital lab so long ago, and my daughter did in a middle school classroom, we can face our fears, even if that means embracing potential pain, to live in freedom.

Empty Handed and Expectant; Full Pockets and an Empty Heart

 

Two stark contrasts placed back to back. One an example of complete, unhindered trust and the other of self-reliance.

Parents, do you remember what it was like when your kids were young? When they followed you around everywhere and valued whatever you said? And when life became frightening, they ran to you for comfort and affection.

Little ones don’t worry about where they’ll go tomorrow or whether they’ll have enough to eat or drink.  They simply proceed with their day, laughing, playing, perhaps throwing a fit on occasion, but for the most part, enjoying life.

They come with empty but open hands. And 2,000+ years ago, when they were brought to Jesus, He said, in essence, “Take notice. Watch these little ones and learn. This is the kind of faith that pleases Me.”

And then “He took the children in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 13:15-16), and then He sent them away with peace and joy.

They came empty handed, humble, expectant, and left blessed.

Full.

Some time later, a rich young man came to Jesus with pockets full but heart depleted. Upon seeing the Christ, something within him sparked, and he soon broke out into a run. Kneeling before the Savior, he asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What was the cost? Donate ten denarii to the poor? He’d do it! Say a certain number of prayers each day? No problem. Serve in the temple or in Man prayinghis community? Whatever it was, whatever Jesus asked, he was ready!

Until Jesus required the one thing the man wasn’t willing to give—his money. Upon first glance, it appears Jesus was calling him out for his wealth, calling him to a life of financial martyrdom. But that’s not the case. This went much deeper. Jesus was touching him at his core, asking him to surrender what he’d come to rely on most—himself.

To come humble, teachable, trusting, and with empty but open hands. Trading that which he held so tightly for something of much greater value—freedom.

The man decided that price was too high, and so, he walked away with full hands and an empty heart.

I don’t have great wealth, but I have plenty of self-reliance. So often, like the rich young man, I come to Jesus, longing to experience deeper freedom, while holding tight to the very things, like my agenda or well-thought out plans, that keep me from it. But if I want the joy and peace of a child, I need to learn to come to Jesus as those little ones from so long ago did—with empty but open hands, relinquishing those things I’ve come to rely on. To gain something much greater–intimacy with Christ.

Trusting God to lead me, to provide for me.

To fill me.

For those of you who like to follow my writing online, pop over to my blog on Crosswalk to read my post on living as Ambassadors of the God Who Sees.

And make sure to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter to receive great content, sent directly to your inbox. You can sign up HERE.

Freedom

FreedomversepicSo if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36).

Imagine living your entire life as a slave. What would you give for freedom? What would that freedom feel like once it came? And how long, once freed, would it take to shake off your slave mentality?

We don’t think about slavery much these days; I’m not sure we can ever fully grasp what life is like for those living as someone’s property, spending every moment doing someone else’s bidding. To dream of, long for–ache for–freedom. But to believe it is far from your grasp, so far, you begin to give up hope. You stop dreaming and settle into a life of barely existing.

Yesterday the Associated Press posted an article about a Burmese slave who spent 22 years in captivity. Oh, how he longed for freedom, but the one time he asked, he was beaten so severely, he nearly died. And so, he spent the next 14 years resigned to his fate. And yes, that desire, that deep, inner hunger for liberty and the ability to reconnect with those he loved, would not be stilled. Over time, it grew, and grew, until his desire to be free, truly free, overrode his fear of being beat. And so, he asked again. And again, and again, and each time, his owners beat him down.

One day, after his “owner” cracked his skull with a helmet, he ran away, determined to see his family once again… only to land right back into slavery. But his thirst for freedom would not be quenched, so after being chained to a fishing boat for three days, he managed to break free, and this time he ran with every ounce of energy and determination he possessed.

Oh, to be free, truly free! (You can read Myint’s entire story HERE.)

Last Sunday, our family pastor, Robert Conn asked us two questions: Who are you, and, what breaks your heart? You can watch this powerful sermon here:

The answer jumped to mind immediately–I’m redeemed, restored, and made whole by Christ, and I’m utterly devastated to see others in emotional and spiritual bondage. But the good news is, I know the route to freedom! And that is through Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

May everything I do and say point to that truth, because without Christ, man is and will remain in bondage. For eternity.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! How would you answer Robert’s questions: Who are you, and what breaks your heart? More importantly, what might God be asking you to do about it? Who can you point to freedom? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at living by grace on Facebook.

Speaking of freedom, have I sent the Sweet Freedom series? You get them free when you sign up for my (and 7 other authors’) free quarterly newsletter. Although really, we should probably call it an e-zine because it’s much more than news. In truth, it contains very little news, but a SF Front Coverwhole lot of other stuff, life serial story segments, recipes, devotions… Check out our last issue HERE.

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The Power to Forgive

ID-100161689I’ve often said, forgiveness is rarely a one-time event. Nor is it an emotion, at least originally. It usually begins with a choice, sometimes a teeth-gritting, white-knuckling, Lord Jesus please help me, choice. One that must be made again and again and again, every time old wounds and negative emotions resurface.

Forgiveness is rarely easy, but it is possible, with God’s help.

Today my friend, Janet Sketchley, Author of Secrets and Lies, shares her thoughts on Janet Sketchley headshot 350x350 (1)how we can begin to move toward forgiveness, and the freedom and healing that offers.

BUT FIRST I wanted to announce last week’s give-away winner.

LoRee, congrats! You won a copy of When Dawn Breaks! I’ll shoot you an email so we can talk about the best way for me to get that to you. 🙂 In the meantime, you can read the first two chapters here. 

And now, for Janet’s encouraging thoughts.

Forgiveness by Janet Sketchley

“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12, NLT

Someone hurts you. Next day, she apologizes. Do you say it’s okay, not a big deal? Pretend nothing happened, for the good of the relationship? Or do you refuse to forgive? Can you forgive, if it’s a major hurt?

Forgiveness is more about the victim than the offender. We’ve all been both. As the wounded parties, we can find healing and wholeness by acknowledging what happened and letting it go. Otherwise it stays inside us and continues to do damage.

“But you don’t know what she did!” No, but I know the hardest things are beyond our power to forgive without Jesus helping us. It can take years to start forgiving a traumatic hurt, and that may be just the first step. It may need regular repetition until that forgiveness “takes” at our deepest levels.

Forgiveness (1)

Dismissing a hurt, or learning to work around it, isn’t forgiveness. Honest forgiveness is a hard choice and it takes time, and we still have the after-effects of the hurt. If I steal from you and you forgive me, wisdom says you shouldn’t put me in charge of your bank password.

God’s forgiveness is different. If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to buy us back from destruction, He forgives us. Every time we ask with a sincere heart. Even for the same offense, again and again.

He never denies the effects of our sin, and we may live with  its consequences. He forgives, but He doesn’t brush it off—the chance at forgiveness came at a great cost. But He removes it.

People may struggle to forgive, or may say they do without really meaning it. With God, we can believe that once He forgives, He truly does put the matter away. Not forgets, not dismisses. He marks it “paid.” That allows us to see the depth of the cost, the strength of the offense. But it doesn’t leave us with a burden to prove ourselves or to earn our way back into His good graces.

God knows our hearts and intentions—and our weaknesses. He likely wouldn’t put an embezzler, for example, back into the same position of trust. There are consequences in our world. But He regularly forgives and cleans us up, knowing that despite our best intentions we’ll mess up again. He doesn’t keep a tally that will eventually cut us off. Instead He offers as much help as we’ll take. As often as we need it.

In the mean time, He acknowledges the weight of what we’ve done, minimizing nothing. Jesus Himself paid the price. Now He works in and with us to remake us. How strong a love is that?

***

Janet Sketchley is the author of Heaven’s Prey and Secrets and Lies, two novels of suspense and redemption. She also blogs about faith and books. Janet loves adventure stories, worship music, tea and Formula 1 racing. Like Carol in Secrets and Lies, she loves music and tea. Unlike Carol, Janet isn’t related to a dangerous offender, has a happy home life, and has never been threatened by a drug lord. May those tidbits continue to hold true! You can find Janet online at janetsketchley.ca. Fans of Christian suspense are invited to join Janet’s writing journey through her monthly newsletter: bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews.

Visit Janet online at:

Website: http://janetsketchley.ca/

Join Janet’s author journey – sign up for her monthly newsletter: http://bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews

Secrets and Lies page (includes purchase links): http://janetsketchley.ca/books/secrets-and-lies/

Read a sample chapter here. 

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livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! We’ve all been hurt, betrayed, let down by someone we love. So how do we handle that? How have you dealt with past pains? Did you find forgiveness took effort and perseverance, or did God grant you a miraculous emotional healing and change of heart? Or perhaps you’re still hurting, still trying to fight for forgiveness. If so, did Janet’s post help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. 

Other posts and articles you might find helpful:

Fighting to Forgiveness

490 Forgiveness

Freedom in Forgiveness

How to Trade Bitterness for Blessings

For those of you not on Facebook but who would like to follow my book-launch blog tours, signings, and interviews and such:

Yesterday on Bonnie Leon’s blog, I shared the time I asked God for permission to quit. You can read that here.

Tuesday I chatted with Greg Vogt, station manager of Omaha’s KCRO about my new release and the inspiration behind it. You can listen to our on-air discussion here:

Monday and Tuesday I participated in two blog interviews.

Join me on Kelly Liberto’s blog here.

Join me on Grid-iron Granny’s here.

On Saturday, I visited with Alexis from Capturing the Idea. You can read our chat here.

The Story Behind Breaking Free

Sorry to all my subscribers for the double posting today, but I promised I’d route you over to Nicole Miller’s blog so you could read a little about the story behind my Operation First Novel finalist, Breaking Free, formerly known as Impossible Choices. Last night I watched a DVD my editor at Christ to the World, Art Criscoe, produced and in it, he talked about the beauty and freedom of grace. He used two illustrations that were very powerful: One was that of a bird in a cage. The bird represents us, enslaved by sin, prior to Christ. But then, he opened the cage and although he didn’t use a live bird, the audience could envision this previously caged animal suddenly taking flight and soaring on the wind. Next, he had the audience sing the first line in Amazing Grace. Do you remember it? “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Then he paused and asked a very heart-pricking question: What does grace sound like? And in answer, he picked up a long metal chain and dropped it in a box.

What does grace sound like? It sounds like wings taking flight. It sounds like a melody released from a once bound throat. It sounds like chains falling as the redeemed step out to walk in newness of life.

Earlier today one of my friends asked a question that seems to swirl around the Christian writing community. What can writers write about and just how real should our novels be? In my story, Breaking Free, I write about the enslaved, and God’s love for them. Because truly, we’re all in need of grace. Or, as I wrote on my one sheet, we’ve all got inner demons. Some just scream louder than others. But the good news is God is bigger than our sin and when Christ sets us free, we are free indeed!

Once we’ve been set free, our job is to show others where to go to find that same freedom. Jesus alone offers freedom.

Visit Nicole Miller’s To the Heart of History to find out more.

(If you are interested in watching the DVD, shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can do.)

Self-imposed Bondage

We live in “the dog neighborhood”. And “the kid neighborhood”. That’s what we were told the day we moved in. Probably to make sure we wouldn’t be one of those fuddy-duddy, don’t let your mutts pee on my lawn and we prefer kids to be seen not heard, type of people. Nope, that’s not us. We love kids and have two dogs, and love the fact that our daughter and our dogs have playmates. Each afternoon, the cul de sac fills with animals, kids and parents. Kids ride bikes, parents converse, and dogs gather in pacs and play chase, or whatever it is dogs play. And at first, our dogs were able to join. But it didn’t take them long to lose their freedom. Our Cocker Spaniel/Scnauzer mix and a Chiweenie are a bit too sneaky, and stubborn, for their own good.

The minute Ajay (the Chiweenie) is off leash, he bolts. Sheba, the Cocker Spaniel mix is a bit smarter. She’ll wait until you’re caught up in conversation or looking the other way to make her escape. And where do they head? To the busy main street, where they’ll end up as pancakes in two seconds flat.

The result? They’re no longer allowed to play with their doggie friends. It’s rather sad, really. Whenever I take them out, they see the rest of the crew romping and playing, and they’re stuck to a leash. How I long to give them freedom! But their desire to “break free” has actually placed them in a position of bondage.

The other day I was talking with a friend on the phone. This person is having problems. I don’t need to go into any more detail than that, except to say, most of their problems are self-inflicted. They are living in bondage. Their heart cries out for a Savior, only they spurn the very Hands that want to give them freedom. And because their deepest need is not filled, they reach and grasp for temporary fillers. Only those temporary band-aides don’t suffice. As I listened to them talk about the leash around their neck–bitterness, selfishness, pride, fear, disillusionment, unfulfillment–I was reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

If we only understood the love of the Father. Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full. Apart from Christ, we are living in bondage. Freedom comes from full surrender.

As you listen to the following song, ask yourself this question: If everything comes down to love, then just what are you afraid of?

And this is God’s love song to you. 

A Heart Laid Bare

Have you ever been blind-sighted by anxiety? Here you are doing something very benign, even mundane, when all of a sudden your pulse quickens and pricks of electricity shoot up your leg and bite at your spine. And you’re baffled. So you close the book you’re reading and search the back cover for some subliminal message that might have bled into the deep recesses of your mind. Nope. It’s a cozy little Christmas romance. So you put it aside and sift through your day planner. Surely you’ve missed something. Only you can’t figure out what it is. There’s no impeding deadlines, no missed meetings. For once in your conveyor-belt life, you’re actually on top of everything. Was it the extra cup of coffee you had this morning? Hormones gone awry? Maybe you’re just weird like all the rest of us neurotic, highly-emotional Americans. Or…maybe there’s something else going on.

Don’t act all spiritual and emotionally stable. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve seen the same, “deer in the headlights” look flash across too many faces to think I’m the only one with issues. My emotional dumpster might be a tad bit fuller than yours, but I know you’ve got some moldy orange peels in there somewhere. We’re sinners living in a fallen world surrounded by other sinners. Emotional baggage is part of the deal. Luckily Jesus is the ultimate garbage disposal, turning a fallen, broken sinner into a new, spring-cleaned creation saved by grace. And yet, this transformation—moving from brokenness to wholeness, from garbage-filled hearts and souls to lives illuminated by grace—isn’t a one time event. At least, not for me. It’s a lifetime process of drawing near to God, allowing Him to loving search the deep recesses of my heart and mind, removing those cancerous tumors, until only my true self remains.

I like the onion analogy, even if it is over-used. The top layer, the one we allow most people to see, is covered by this thick outer skin. When this outer layer is first peeled away, it stinks. And burns. Our eyes water as old wounds resurface, wounds we may have swallowed down so many times, we’ve forgotten they’re there. Until something happens—a look, a word, an image—to trigger those buried emotions. Only we’re not ready to dive deeper. We like living on the surface. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. So we wrap that outer skin around us even tighter, perhaps even adding another layer. And yet, all the while, we peer from beneath the skin with childlike hope, desperately crying out for freedom.

Last weekend I went to the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference. It was an amazing time of healing, refreshing, and encouragement. A time I almost missed. In my usual impetuous nature, I signed up for the conference right away. I knew it’d be phenomenal. Great speakers, quality classes, amazing fellowship. But as it grew closer, anxiety mounted. This baffled me. I was about to go on this wonderful spiritual retreat, and I was feeling anxious. No matter how many ways I analyzed it, I couldn’t figure out why.

Don’t worry. God showed me, in His perfect timing. He always does.

Fast-forwarding a few days: I loaded everything in my van and headed to St. Louis to meet my carpool buddies. Which meant I had four hours and ten minutes in the car. Four hours of silence, with no one to talk to but God.

Now that’s dangerous. And life-changing. (And even a little embarrassing. You’d be surprised how many concerned looks you get driving down the freeway talking to the air with mascara-filled tears streaming down your face.)

So here I am, listening to praise music and talking to God, and out comes the scalpel. God showed me the root of my anxiety, and it had to do with a wound I had suffered in the past. It was ironic, really. My pastor had talked about this “thing” a month, maybe two, previously. But at the time, I dismissed much of what he said, thinking, “Nope. That’s not me. I’m good.”

And yet, all the while God knew. But He wanted to wait until he had me alone, stuck in a car, where I couldn’t run from the truth, to show me. Where I couldn’t shove those feelings aside and busy myself with laundry or facebook or whatever else I use to drown out that still, soft voice of my Physician.

Before long, my chin puckers like a prune and tears stream down my face as I hunch over my steering wheel in an effort to see the blurred road in front of me. I can’t run. I’m in a van heading down a freeway at seventy miles per hour, scheduled to meet the rest of my party in two hours. So what do I do? I buck up and change my focus, turning my ears to the radio in a desperate attempt to shove the tumult of emotions aside.

But God wasn’t done and in His merciful grace, He would not leave this opened wound to fester. Just like a loving Physician intent on total restoration and healing, He continued His work until all traces of the tumor were removed, replaced by healthy tissue.

On the radio, Frank Peretti was talking about “wounded spirits.” The title says it all. And as I listened to him talk about some deep wounds that had sliced through his heart, leaving thick scar tissue in their wake, the deep wounds in my own heart resurfaced. By now, I was starting to clue in. I’ve walked with God long enough to know that pain is never wasted. Every tear initiated by my Father’s hand leads to increased freedom. So, instead of fighting Him, I surrendered to the pain, and let His loving arms surround me. And suddenly it all made sense. This retreat had very little do with writing or meetings. God had bigger plans. Better plans. Although I wish He would have kept them in my nice, safe little van. But no. He wasn’t done. Once the lie had been exposed and removed, He needed to pour truth in its place.

Friday night, after having spent a nice quiet day recovering from my emotional explosion on Thursday, I walked into worship excited…and apprehensive. I knew God was going to show up in a mighty way. Although it would have been nice if I’d had the forethought to bring tissue. Needing an extra-dose of security, I sat next to a very dear friend, ready to be filled afresh with the Spirit. And God held nothing back. Song after song, He poured His love into me, telling me I was there for Him, that this was our time, and that He loved me.

“I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Again and again those words poured over me. They broke me, and healed me. Speaking to that hurting child peering behind the onion skins. Once again, the tears came. Slowly at first. My eyes blinked fast as my heart prayed, “Please, don’t make me cry. Not here. Not now.”

The first song they sang was Freedom. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And with every note, God’s love poured stronger and penetrated deeper. Then came the next one: How He loves. By now, I’m sitting in my chair, sobbing uncontrollably, tears streaming down my face, chest heaving and snot dripping from my nose. (Pretty picture, I know. Very lady-like.) My friend is sitting on my right. To my left  is Joyce Hart, the president of Hartline Literary agency. Needless to say, I’m mortified, and yet, no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop crying. But Joyce didn’t judge me or condemn me. She reached out in love and rubbed my back like a mother comforting a saddened child. Or, more accurately, God reached out to me through her, reminding me that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. There is only love, grace, healing, and freedom.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

How Has Grace Changed You?

Most of the time when you hear people talk about Christianity and their new life in Christ, you hear a lot about outward behavioral changes. Maybe they’ve given up drinking, or stopped swearing, or maybe they spend more time with their kids when they used to camp out at work. And those are all good things. But by themselves, they’re nothing more than behavior modification. Before each change took place–each genuine change–there was a change of heart. A healing. A restoration. A breaking free from bondage.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ came to set us free.  Free to live authentic lives. Joyful lives. Peaceful lives. As I look back over all the things God has done for me, that is what I value most of all–the emotional freedom. The soul-soaking peace that comes from knowing you are deeply loved. I’m often amused as I think of all the creative ways He’s changed me. Although, not all of them were pleasant. In fact, the ones that penetrated the deepest and brought about the most healing were painful. But looking back, I wouldn’t change a moment. I wouldn’t take back a single tear.

The biggest change in me, and in my marriage, occurred about four years ago when my husband and I found ourselves without a job living in a five hundred square foot temporary apartment. At the time, my heart broke. In under a year, we’d moved from California to Louisiana to Texas then to Missouri. This may sound insignificant to some, especially those who love to move, but it shattered me. Not just because of all the relationships I would be leaving–attaching to one church, only to say goodbye once again. Watching close friendships dwindle to an occasional email. Watching my daughter long for close peer relationships only to move again the moment they were formed.–The majority of my pain came from the emotional garbage each move stirred up. And perhaps if I hadn’t been a Christian, that painful time would have made me bitter, but it didn’t. To be honest, I’m grateful for every single tear I shed. Because looking back, God did so much in my heart during that time, I’ll never be the same. My marriage will never be the same. Our family will never be the same. And I thank God for that.

Prior to this time, I had quite the collection of baggage I lugged around. It colored my marriage, my friendships, even my day to day. I think fear was my dominant trait. Trying desperately to avoid experiences from the past, I had everything down to an agenda. A plan. As long as we had x amount of money in the bank, went on x amount of dates, and had x amount of family time, everything would be okay.

And my husband had his own baggage he lugged around. As you can imagine, our closets were jam packed! And his driving trait? Fear. Same as mine, only instead of running from his past, he was dodging his future. As long as he worked enough hours, got that next promotion, and came up with enough innovative ideas, he was great.

Everything was just peachy.

And most onlookers probably would have agreed with our superficial assessment. But God wasn’t fooled. As the Bible says, man looks on the outside but God looks at the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t hide the dark shadows, the thick cobwebs, and gigantic tears. So what did He do? Like a loving, gentle Father, He began to clear those things away, broom sweep by broom sweep.

If He would have asked me how I’d best like to deal with everything, I probably would have asked for a band-aid. Maybe I’d tidy things up a bit, stack all my luggage in one corner, splashed an extra coat of paint on the walls to go with the smile painted on my lips, and call it good. But God wanted more. God wanted me to be free.

The Bible tells us that Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10) I’m not sure if we really understand what that means, but I do know this: A full life is not one clouded with past hurts. A full life is not controlled by fear. A full life is not tainted with bitterness or anger. A full life–a spirit-filled life, a grace-changed life, is a life of freedom, of peace, and joy. That, my friends, is the life Jesus came to offer us.

But sometimes the getting there is hard. I think if we were honest with ourselves, we have this vision of God sitting up in heaven magically twinkling his nose, instantly zapping our heart to wellness. Now, I’m not saying that instantaneous emotional healing doesn’t occur. I’m just saying I’ve never experienced it. My healing has always been the sweat and tears kind–the result of God bringing me to a place where I would experience anew my greatest fears and deepest pains, but with a twist. A twist of grace. Like He did with our four moves. When all else was taken away, and God showed up and held our family together–actually made us stronger, I realized that I no longer had to. And when my husband’s worst fear, unemployment, occurred, and God stepped up and provided for his family, he realized that he no longer had to. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that a husband should not provide and I am certainly not saying that a woman should not maintain her home. What I am saying is that the responsibility ultimately lands on God. We are called to obey. He has promised to take care of the rest. And sometimes it takes Him stripping everything away, bringing us to the place we fear the most, so that we can see His hand.