Back to the Garden

Sin and shame have ruled my life for a very long time.  Since I was a child, I tried to hide it from everyone: from God, from myself, from the world.  As a small child I had experienced a cruel type of shame from the enemy that forced a burden on me that I was not intended to bear.  But the Lord is so merciful, full of forgiveness and abounding with love. What the enemy intended to harm me, God will use for good.  And He is.

I’ve longed to go back to the Garden where I could walk in the presence of God, completely vulnerable, completely trusting, and completely unashamed.  I just didn’t know it. I kept trying to cover myself instead of relinquishing my control to let God cover me. God’s covering is perfect. It protects.  It builds up. It comforts. It surrounds me in love and peace. It is good because God is good. And in the Garden, we communed as one friendship in complete transparency with one another.  I could know Him and He knew me. And it was good.

But the devil tried to steal that from me.  He tried, but he has failed. God never gives up, and He hasn’t given up on me.  Instead, He has tenderly and lovingly guided me back to Him, though the path has been difficult.  All along the journey I have fought with Him. I’ve questioned His judgment and His direction. Can you imagine?  I questioned God! What an oxymoron! But I did it, and I’ll likely do it again. I kept insisting that He not see my nakedness.  I had too much shame. I had too much guilt. I had fear and darkness where their should have been trust and love.

“I acknowledged my sin to You,
And I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to YAHWEH,’
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
Psalm 32:5

When I acknowledged my doubt and fear and shame to Him, He didn’t turn me away.  He forgave me. And again and again He will do the same. What incredible peace there is in that!  It is life changing. As I continue to strip off the layers and layers of shame and guilt and fear that I have built up around myself for so many years, the Lord faithfully and lovingly says, “I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you,” over and over and over again.  Seventy times seven and more. And with each confession I’m drawn closer to Him. I am more and more exposed and I am more and more free.

His presence is the only covering I need.  Shame and doubt and fear have only kept me away from Him.  But as I release control of my covering to the Lord, I am free.  His presence is my shield, my righteousness, my honor, my delight.  To be naked and unashamed in His presence is to be back in the Garden.  And that’s where I want to be.

So, Father, I’m sorry for not trusting You.  I’m sorry for trying to cover all of my guilt and shame with manufactured lies that never gave me the comfort and peace that I thought they would or needed them to.  Real peace can only be found in You. Real comfort is in Your arms. Your presence is mine for the asking when I surrender to You and confess it all. Thank You! I am saved.  Help me to continue to walk in the Garden and not try to cover myself again in anything but You.

Ugly Cry

Last night a younger couple came over to our house for some prayer time.  They are newlyweds. When we were done praying the wife asked me how I was able to be so strong in the Lord when I’ve endured so many trials.  I had to smile.  Most people know I’ve dealt with a lot of debilitating health struggles, but she had no idea what I’d gone through that very day.

I’d spent almost the entire day alone at home.  My spirit was in turmoil. I was beyond overwhelmed.  I literally found myself ugly crying multiple times throughout the day.  I screamed so loud in my anguish that I was afraid the neighbors would think I was being murdered and call the police.  I screamed until my throat was raw. My body shuddered. Snot and tears and saliva gushed out of my face in a torrent of grief.  To say that life lately has been a struggle wouldn’t begin to do it justice.

The enemy hates me.  He hates us. He hates anyone who is actively seeking to serve the King of Kings.  And the enemy doesn’t want to see us free. He wants to see us remain in bondage forever, torn apart by the deeds of our past, and the sins the world has committed against us.  But I’m done with that. I decided that fighting through the pain and torment and fear and anguish were worth enduring for the sake of what lay beyond that.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

If Jesus could walk out suffering for the sake of the world, I can walk out suffering for the sake of myself.  Honestly, it’s the simplest concept, isn’t it? Endure the pain to receive the reward. And for me the reward is to finally be free of the haunting memories of past abuse and torment.  I am working, through the help of a profoundly gifted Christian therapist, by prayer and by tenacity, to move beyond the scars of my past that bind me and into the life of freedom that Jesus gave me on the cross.

So, when my sweet young friend asked me how I manage to be strong and courageous in the Lord when I’ve endured so much, I had to smile.  I looked right in her eyes and said, “Ugly cry.” She chuckled, maybe even a little awkwardly. And I continued, “Ugly cry through the pain and suffering, trusting that the promises of God are true.  That in this world we will have trials. But they do indeed build our faith and strengthen us.”  At that very moment I was shrouded in peace and endurance that only the Lord could provide me.  I was a living testament to God’s ability to comfort through the trial and hold me up by His power.  I’d say that’s worth a little bit of ugly crying…maybe even a lot of it.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18

 

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  

That’s what Jesus said to me a few weeks ago and I’ve been pondering it and pondering it.  A common prayer of mine has always been to ask how I could love Him more. And the words that would come to mind were, “If you love me, obey my commands.”  The only problem with that came when I overgeneralized that statement. I put the focus on me and not on Him. So I worked and worked and worked to be a good Christian, to be a good missionary, to be a good wife, to be a good mom, to be a good prayer warrior, to be good.  It overwhelmed me to the point of panic.

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  

Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that arrogant” Isn’t that Humanism?  Isn’t that wrong? I could talk myself out of that thinking a thousand different ways, and all in the name of obedience.  I called it humility. I called it obedience. My fear of disobedience had me hating myself for all the ways I fall short.  All the ways I fail. How could I love a person so covered in the ugliness of sin and shame?

And yet, “If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  He wants me to love myself because He loves me. If I take the focus off of myself, which at the end of the day is true humility, I can see that I can love myself, not for what I’ve done, but for what He has done.  He made me lovable.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

If I don’t love myself, how can I truly know God?  Not loving myself is to not love what God has done in me.  What God has made me. Because God loves me, I have love in my heart through His Spirit, and I have the power and the command to love myself, just as I love others.  That is the evidence of my relationship with God. That is the truth of who God is at His core. He is love.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1 John 4:16

I will abide in Your love, Jesus.  The love You have for me is a love that I can and will embrace by Your power.  I want to turn away from the self-loathing brought about by disobedience and imperfection, and instead embrace the powerful, cleansing flood of your forgiving love.  

I accept Your love, Jesus.

For the Sake of Your Goodness, God

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
   according to your stead fast love remember me,
   for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
Psalm 25:7

All I can think about when I read this Psalm, Lord, is how easy it is for You to forgive my sins and the sins of the world.  I can easily get caught up in the ugliness of my sin and the filth that sin has covered me in. Each moment I feel the death of this world slowly creeping in on me.  My body is dying. The world around me is dying. And every sin I commit leads to more and more death.

But for the sake of Your goodness, you can forgive me.

For your name’s sake, O Lord,
   pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Psalm 25:11

For the sake of Your name, You pardon us of all our guilt.  All of my guilt. Your name is holy and righteous and good. It is perfect.  Your name is above all names. Your glory is revealed in everything You have made.  The majesty of Your breath brings eternal life and peace. Because of Your name, you forgive and cleanse and pardon.  I am forgiven, cleansed and pardoned.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

I don’t need to feel ashamed.  I don’t need to be afraid. I don’t need to feel dirty or broken anymore, God.  I can come to You filthy and broken, and because of Your name, because of Your mercy, because of Your righteousness, You have and do offer me forgiveness through Your beautiful Son, Jesus, my Lord.

I’m sorry for all the times I have walked in shame and fear, forgetting Your goodness and righteousness.  I’m sorry that I have tried to rely on my feeble ability to try and cleanse myself in order to come into Your presence.  So, I ask that You help turn me around, God. Turn me back to Your smile of love and mercy. Turn me back so that I can fall into Your arms of comfort and healing.

I love You, God.  Thank You for being Good.

Consider my affliction and my trouble,
   and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25:18

Teach Me, Oh Lord!

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Exodus 14:14

Jesus, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed.  It seems like taking my next breath is too difficult.  Depression has this way of crippling you down to the deepest part of yourself, and for so long I have scratched and clawed away at life just to find a smile.  It’s been really, really hard. I found myself crying out to You, God, with phrases like, “Lord, just take me!” or, “Lord, come back already! I can’t do this anymore!”  And then I felt frustrated, even angry that You didn’t abide to my demands.

But God, You’ve never been content to let me be swallowed up by my own self-pity or the schemes of the enemy intended to destroy me.  I was too important to You to have my life thrown away because I was weary of fighting. All along You have offered me Yourself, Your Salvation, Your strength.  I cried, “save me!” and Your response has always been, “I am.”

You truly are I am, aren’t You, God?

You’ve taught me so much through these trials, Lord: lessons You weren’t content to let me lose.  Each step of the journey, You have taught me, strengthened me, and helped me. You have made my paths straight, no matter how drunk on my own self-loathing I became.  You pulled me up out of pits of my own folly, and wiped away my tears with the tender kisses of Your breath of Life.

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
   the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?
7 The Lord is on my side as my helper;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
Psalms 118:5-7

No matter where I am, no matter what I do, You will teach me and guide me and strengthen me.  You are God. When I am discouraged, when I am depressed, when I have given up, You remain strong within me, teaching and guiding me and building me up in Your image and molding me to be more like You.  Your Word teaches me, Lord. You are the Word made flesh, Jesus. I will submit to Your teaching.

My soul clings to the dust;
   give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
   teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
   and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
   strengthen me according to your word!
Psalms 119:25-28

 

Faith Counted to Me

On more than one occasion I’ve responded to someone who asked about my health with the statement, “If the Lord wants me to live, then no amount of blood lost, or heart failing, will put me in the grave.”  And I believe it. While I know that God made me with a heart and blood and bones and brain to work my body, I also know that I don’t NEED any of those things. God, who gave me breath and life, doesn’t rely on those things and I will not put my trust in them.  

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness[b] of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:18-21

Lord, thank you that I don’t need to put my trust in my own body, my state of health, or my obedience to honor it, but instead I can put my faith and trust in You to see me through until the appointed time.  You are trustworthy and my body is not. Your promises are true. I am in a constant state of faltering but You are faithful no matter what.

No amount of my own unbelief will make me waver, because You have given me faith in You and You have sealed me with Your Spirit, to secure my place with You and secure my faith in You.  It is all from You.

You are sovereign over all things, even me.  I will trust in You and Your promise of my salvation and forgiveness.  I’m sorry for all the times I have doubted and all the times I have failed.  But Lord, I am so thankful that You continue to forgive and continue to teach me and guide me to deeper faith, just as You did with Abraham, and just as You do with all who have believed in Your salvation through Jesus.

22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Romans 4:22-25

So, I know that I can rejoice in You regardless of my current struggles because You are faithful and true.  You are teaching and training me. You are making me stronger and more faithful. You are building my hope and my strength and my trust in You.  What a glorious gift, Jesus! Thank You for being You and for giving so much love to me! Your love is a refining love. It is a forgiving love, and it is an enduring love.  You have generously poured Your love into us who trust You and it feels good! Thank You for Your love and for Your Spirit!

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith[b] into this grace in which we stand, and we[c] rejoice[d] in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5

Wisdom in the Secret Heart

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Psalm 51:6

I’ve been dealing with a lot of old stuff in counseling.  Stuff that’s been hidden deep inside me for a very long time.  And I’ve been realizing how much I have lied to myself to protect myself from the truth of my past.  I’ve lied to myself to stay safe, but I haven’t been safe.  I am wounded.  And healing can only come in the revelation of the wound and the power of God to heal it in me.

I’ve always looked at the idea of “wisdom in the secret heart” as a deep wisdom, a deep understanding or teaching of God’s Word in my inner being.  And that’s certainly true!  But I’ve been discovering just how deep the Lord is willing to go with me if I’m willing to let Him take me there.   And it’s way deeper than human knowledge can even comprehend.

It’s scary.   It’s so scary that I’m writing this blog post right now and instead of my standard “prayer format”, I’m just putting it out there stream of consciousness style.  I guess the details are fine to stay between me and God.  He is showing me the things that have been there all this time.  The things I’ve lied to myself over for many, many years.  I’d let the enemy convince me that keeping it hidden from my own mind would heal me.

But I’ve relied on myself to heal these wounds for a long, long time.  I even convinced myself that I was trusting God to heal me in the midst of my own suffering.  But God has used it.  He is faithful to teach me wisdom in the secret heart no matter how stubborn I am and no matter how many times I fall for Satan’s tricks.  He is patient with me and quick to forgive.

All this sin that others inflicted on me.  All this sin I inflicted on myself to hide with shame what happened.  All of it has been revealed and washed clean by the blood of the lamb.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 56:10

God is able to clean what has been stained inside of me.  God is able to heal the wounds and restore me.  But restoration can only come once the wounds are revealed.  And the wounds couldn’t be revealed until I was willing to acknowledge them.  I can look back at so many experiences in my life and see how the Lord has been gently trying to show me the way and help me to get there.  And through it all I’ve gone deeper and deeper and deeper as I submitted to His teaching and His love for me.

I’ve confessed and cried out to God.  I’ve offered prayers of repentence and cries for mercy.  And the Lord has heard me.  And He’s taken me deeper.  He’s taken me to the deepest knowledge of my broken spirit and my broken heart.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17

But it wasn’t until I gave up everything–and I’m still in the midst of giving it all up–that I’ve realized the truth of this wisdom in the secret heart.  This wisdom of deep repentence, not regret, not fear, but deep and profound repentence for all the years of hiding it I’ve tried to sustain.  It was never hidden from God.  And His love for me remained.  When people stole my innocence and scarred my soul, the Lord was there, and He wanted to heal me.  As He wept for my injury, and wept for my abusers, and wept for the damage it did to all of us, He remembered the cross of Calvary and offered it to me.

And only now have I finally recieved the start of that wisdom from the secret heart.  That wisdom that brings confession, repentence, forgiveness, and restoration.  There is profound peace in that.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
 and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalm 51:12-15