During the holiday season, I am reminded of the years I felt alone. The years I desired to participate in life rather than striving to survive. I asked God to never let me forget the loneliness and the pain, because I wanted to share with others… HOPE.
Hope that we are not alone even when it feels like it. Hope that God has something more for us if we just trust Him.
In sharing the truths that God brought to the forefront of my life, I must remember the pain and striving so that my words to others who are hurting will truly reach them. But, I also am not to wallow in those memories and carry them around like baggage – that is not my identity.
I have a longtime friend who lost her son to suicide this year. This will be her first Christmas without him. For those who have experienced loss, we could perhaps, lend her and others who are grieving sympathy, encouragement, or even hope. Hope that we got through it and so will they - even though life is forever changed.
It seems when we are facing a dark storm in our life, we try to find the way ‘out’ of these painful moments. But, we are called to “go through".
Going through the storms tenderizes our heart and sharpens our wit. Imagine if none of us ever had to go through anything painful. We would be self-sufficient. Never needing another person …or God. And we just aren't created for that.
After a painful marriage in my life, which that took me away from my faith and lead to divorce, God was drawing me close to Him. Sometimes He allows terrific pain in order for us to see our need for Him. But, getting back in church was hard. The enemy taunted me telling me I was alone and I wasn’t part of the church ‘club’ because it was for families and people who had it all together. That I didn’t fit in. I remember crying and literally running out of churches I visited as I was still raw with bleeding wounds.
But God kept drawing me.
As I kept trying, it got easier and with baby steps, God healed me, He grew me, and soon I was in a season of dance! My life was changing for the better because I had finally given Him the reins. He began restoring what was lost – even beyond what I ever dreamed. He began wooing me and romancing me with Love gifts. Simple things that spoke to me. I knew He was with me. I felt Him.
I began trusting Him to love me even after all I had done. I had forgotten who I was – His daughter. I had left His promises, His ways and I had gone on my own trying to fit things in my life that didn’t belong. He taught me. He sought me. And He Loved me like I never knew.
I was saved at 15 and had a lot of head knowledge of all the things I had learned over the years, but it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I truly believed what I knew to be true. I said I believed it, and I wanted to believe it, but it was suddenly clear to me that if I truly believed God’s promises were for me and that NOTHNG could separate me from His Love, then I wouldn’t have struggled in my own efforts, trying to make things happen that I thought I wanted. I wouldn’t have blamed others for my mistakes.
That insight was over 10 years ago. When God rescued me from a life of being a doormat. Of striving. Of… wanting to die. I was a Christian, but I thought I had lost all hope. And even though it took time, once I committed to trusting that God truly Loved me, and I trusted that His way was best - even when things looked bleak, I never looked back!
I have never gone back to that life of not knowing my purpose. Of always wondering if God heard my prayers or if He meant those promises in the bible for me. I stopped blaming my situations, and I stopped being a victim. I began respecting myself and to not allow certain people to use me or dictate my life. I became courageous. I became strong. I took my role as the King’s daughter and heir.
In order to accomplish this, we have to first ‘let down walls’ and then we must ‘build a different wall’. The walls I had up were protecting me from getting hurt (yet I was constantly being hurt) and I was not letting people in who could actually love me. I pushed good people away. Why? Because of what I thought of myself. I was unworthy. I thought I was unworthy of God’s love and I was unworthy of anything good. I didn’t feel included in the good things of life. Oh I wanted my life to be better, but I kept making wrong choices because I didn’t see myself as the daughter God created me to be.
I dealt with sickness and with loss and I was tired. I was tired of striving, of just existing or doing things my way. Once I finally said, “Lord, I have messed everything up. I have nothing to give you. I have nothing left inside of me. I am nothing. I am broken.” That’s when He said, “Good, now your heart is able to receive My goodness!”
As He healed my hurts, as He taught me, and gave me practice being assertive, and He weeded out those in my life who did not belong (and taught me that it was okay if certain people left my life) He taught me to rebuild.
Only this time I was not rebuilding the walls that pushed the right things out of my life. I was building a wall – ‘the church’ with other believers – a wall to keep out the enemy and to set me apart from the world. You see the enemy is clever and he takes the truth and twists it to confuse us. He gets us to push away the things we shouldn’t and to cling to what is not good for us. When we have done that for so long, even if we see that it brings us pain – it is what we know, so it is comfortable.
The moment in our brokenness, when we see that ‘we are nothing’ – without Christ, is when we will feel ‘worthy’ in God’s eyes. When we lay down our ways of striving, our thoughts on what we think we want; we can pick up that cloak of righteousness and wrap it around us and claim, “I am the King’s kid!” We can know that God sees us with Love because we have Jesus draped around us and His Holy Spirit in us!
When we stop living in the flesh and for ourselves, we will finally get it. We will know that our purpose here is not for ourselves – we are here for the bigger picture. The Kingdom. This is God’s plan. We are God’s creation. Who are we to tell the almighty how we think our lives should go?
Once I began living my life with His purpose in mind, I pushed away the things that did not belong and it got easier and easier. After some years of really seeking FIRST His Kingdom, I watched Him restore to me the things the enemy stole from me. My family, my joy, my identity.
And He blessed me in ways I could never have imagined! I am overwhelmed by His love! I will never doubt Him, I will never turn back.
Now, even after I married Jason whom God gave me, and began my happily ever after, I was still growing.
I remember after moving to Kentucky, at first when we joined Hardin Baptist together, I loved the church. There was no doubt in my mind that we belonged there. I had moved from Chattanooga to my birthplace of Kentucky and even though it was ‘home’ I was leaving everything I knew for the last 30 years. I was leaving what God had started in me while I gained my identity and purpose. It was a good change, but still a change. He had more for me.
I believe that was when the enemy began throwing ideas in my head that I did NOT like my church. There was no choir, the music was different, the worship was different… whatever ‘reason’ I could find, I fought what God still wanted to do in me. Because I left my family and my job, I guess I thought I needed ‘something for ME’ and for two years I would miss church from time to time or visited other churches thinking I would find something ‘for me’.
The thing is, as a seasoned Christian, I was hearing God’s voice telling me we belonged at this church, yet I still let feelings of uneasiness crowd me. I knew it was the enemy’s work. So I just continued to pray and it took a couple of years, but I finally accepted that this was our church.
Jason and I talked about getting more involved and perhaps joining a Sunday school class whenever we were touched by a certain sermon (or felt convicted from one) but we still reserved only one hour for the Lord each Sunday.
We began reading devotions from Charles Stanley each morning and prayed together before we started our day, but we still kept to ourselves pretty much. We kept our church at arms length.
We both try to say that we are ‘introverts’ because we like our alone time and we love being at home by ourselves. But, my husband is a door greeter at church handing our bulletins and welcoming people. An introvert couldn’t do that. We both know how to engage with others and we like being around others, so our excuse of being an introvert didn’t fly.
When the Lord answers, it is sometimes instantaneously, but more often than not – He takes His time because there are many other variables and the right time, person or place is all in God’s timing.
Well, He prepared just the right sermon at just the right time for us. The sermon Brother Ricky delivered was called “All In”.
For some reason, though it could have been the thousandth ‘all in’ sermon Brother Ricky has preached, this one was the one that opened my heart to desire more of Him in this church.
But leading up to this was also the working of the Lord through my son Jonathan. Another answer to prayer and blessing is that two of my sons and grandchildren moved to Kentucky and go to church with us. Last year, Jon showed me a Bible App from Life Church that not only gave me the Bible accessible on my phone, but countless devotionals to choose from for all sorts of topics. Devotions written by music artists, well-known authors, coaches of winning teams - you name it! I was interested in this more than Facebook! I had something else on my phone I could turn to as much as I did Facebook and…. THIS FED ME! This helped me to be in the Word – daily.
And, I have not missed a day. I still love my leather-Hebrew-Greek Bible to study with, but it was hard to form a daily habit of reading it if it was not in the room I was in when I had time to read or any other excuse I found – it was simply not a habit. So God met me with His word for the palm of my hand, it was light weight and handy! I love it! I can choose to read the Bible alone and/or choose a plan that is a daily devotional. The authors bring things that interest us, and mingles those topics with God’s Word so we are reading scripture as well as another Christian’s thoughts in which we identify. I also got to see my friends’ highlights, memes or what plan they were reading. It was encouraging.
This got me in the Word on a daily basis and when we are in the Word we ‘hear’ His Word. We hear Him speaking to us. So it was after several months of being in His word that I was able to ‘hear’ Him in Brother Ricky’s sermon about being all in.
Then, the next Sunday, I was excited and fired up, ready to find a Sunday school class. Jason wasn’t as fired up (yet) so he didn’t join me. I was shy about it, so I just peeped my head in the class rooms as I passed by. Then, a man name Mike saw me and even though I walked passed the class after a lingering look, he came up behind me and invited me to try that class. I did and it happened to be taught by my husband’s dentist Randy Taylor - and two of our good friends Scott and Wanda Vaughn also attended the class. It made it easy and comfortable (what I thought would be hard).
Isn’t it funny how we think something is hard, but WE are the ones making it hard? God’s way is easy – we just have to let go. Let go of our inhibitions, our fear, and let go of our control.
I had heard our associate pastor, Brother Kory talk about getting ‘plugged in’ when we first joined, but I had let a couple of years pass by before I took that plunge. That first day in Sunday school my friend Wanda texted Jason giving him a hard time (jokingly) about missing Sunday school and he came with me the next Sunday - and he was glad he did. We love the class! We love the small group and intimacy of a Sunday school class that helps us become part of the church.
So you see… God answered my prayer, even if it wasn’t when I prayed it. He was answering, getting things in place for the right place, right time. We think if we don’t see immediate results, that our prayers aren’t answered. Then we look to ourselves to make things happen and it turns out all wrong.
But, once we pass over that huge obstacle (where I was over ten years ago - that obstacle of not trusting and doing things my way) once we have surrendered all, we hear the Lord leading and guiding us.
It just takes that first step of truly trusting.
Answers and provisions may not come all at once, but as I have written for almost eight years talking about the things I have learned on my journey - I still keep learning.
Gone are the days of the past where I was striving as a Christian, where I didn’t really know my purpose or accept the role of who I was created to be.
I still seek answers from God and I still have things come up in my life that may hurt.
Losing my Mama two years ago was very traumatic, but God got me through the deepest pain. The difference now is, I no longer search for a ‘better way’ in life only to come up empty. I seek first HIS Kingdom. I believe His promises - truly believe.
I hope that Christmas time is joyous for you, but if you are struggling, if you are hurting, I pray that you hear what God is speaking to you. He cares. And He Loves you so much – believe it! There is HOPE.