How I became me
Once upon a time, there was me. And I felt forgotten by God. Overlooked. Neglected. Abandoned by Him. And I didn’t think warm, fuzzy things about Him. As a little girl I experienced some deep hurt and some super negative church experiences at the hands of some harsh and cold church people. I was a little person with no use for God, and you don’t undo that very easily…
And so it was as a thirteen year-old that I first heard that God loved me at Centrifuge youth camp at North Greenville College. I went for the boys. I went because of my friends. I went for a week away from home, but I left having made a new Acquaintance (and snagged a new boyfriend from Dothan, Alabama).
But the ten years after that were rocky for me and Him. In fact, I am the picture in the Illustrated Bible for Matthew 13:5-6. In my case, the Seed fell on the rocky places; “it sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.” My claim to Christ was not rooted in faith. There was a lot of heart stuff going on (emotions) and a lot of head stuff going on (I began to attend discipleship classes), but there was no root. So when life as a teen and a college student got wild, so did I. I had enough of Jesus to keep me out of hell, but that was absolutely it…
And so knowing that Jesus loved me was cute and all, like the song, but that in and of itself meant very little in the day-to-day living of my life. The knowledge of it was kinda like applying a band-aid to an amputation; it didn’t do much to heal the gash that was in my soul. I did believe that He loved me, but I wondered why He had not loved me before I was thirteen. My adolescent understanding deduced that He started loving me because I bought what He was selling. First, you drink the Kool-Aid then you get the goods: His affection, His protection, His forgiveness, etc… I bought it, but it didn’t all jive with me. I remember sitting in a youth retreat in Garden City, and we were anonymously turning in questions to our youth pastor to discuss as a group. My question was – Why do bad things happen to good people? I was deeply disturbed by who I thought God might be. In my brain He was punitive and selfish and partial and powerful, and to me that was a pretty scary combination. His love was manifest when He withheld punishment that I deserved, which is true but it isn’t the only manifestation of His love. I had a super-limited understanding of God’s character and that tripped me up for years.
There was an absolute disconnect between what I wrestled with in my spirit and in my heart about God and how I lived. In fact, I honestly remember praying for forgiveness in advance of going out to drink way too much (by the way I do now understand that isn’t how forgiveness works). I showed my fanny for a good eight years before college graduation saved me from myself by removing me from the environment that promoted my destructive behaviors.
Chris – who was not a believer at the time – suggested that we (as a new couple) start attending church regularly because that’s what respectable people did; it was a great way to meet people, and it was the right way to start a work week. God took full advantage of having us for an hour a week and began to till the soil of our hearts for future planting; give that Fella an inch and He’ll take a mile every time.
We added Sunday School to our repertoire when we moved to Flotown, and God just kept drawing us in ever so slightly and slowly – almost imperceptibly. And we were willing to be drawn. In large part because God had surrounded us by people who were like us but who loved Him. They were willing to say, “I need Jesus because I totally screw it up on my own!” and we could identify with that. Chris made a new Acquaintance, and we became inchworms for Christ – inching closer and closer to Him, in very small increments, mind you.
I quit teaching after Carson was born and attended my first women’s Bible study, after all what in the world was I going to do all day? I was born to be a student; I love to be a student. It’s why I became a teacher (because no one would pay me to be a forever student, and teaching was as close as I could get. I still got to be in the classroom, smell books, and use newly sharpened pencils). So, I took seriously my role as a Bible student. If the teacher challenged us to pray in the middle of the night in a headstand (which she did not), that’s what I did. I totally think God was humored by my desire to obey and please.
It was in those Beth Moore Bible studies that she gave me permission to be honest with God; she began to press on my gash and whispered to my soul that He was big enough to handle it. And the truth bubbled to the surface. I was angry with God. I was a twenty-eight year-old mom who was angry. With. God. So I put on my big girl panties, and gritted my teeth, and pointed my finger in the air, and began asking the hard questions – Where were you when I was a little girl? Why didn’t I enjoy your protection? How can I trust you? What kind of God overlooks a precious little girl?
And it was there – in that place of brokenness – that the fullness of our relationship began.
And it was as if He said in perfect tenderness, “Thank you for asking; I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this for a long time.”
This conversation occurred in the midst of a study entitled Believing God, and part of the homework was to create a timeline of my life. By answering a host of probing questions, I was to revisit every stage of my life and document how God had been present all along. I fully expected to find no evidence of Him in my early years, but one of the dearest things He has ever done for me was allow me to literally see His fingerprints all over my childhood – mostly in the amazing people He strategically placed around me. He gave me favor with some of the kindest people I have ever encountered, and He loved me through them since I was not in a healthy church situation nor was I in the company of compassionate believers that much at all. The older couple who kept me while my mom worked (sometimes until 9:30 at night); I was their favorite. The family who owned the rental house my mom and I lived in was so good to us. My third grade teacher; I was her pet. Two older ladies who cared for me in Marion. My Nana and Poppa (my new grandparents). He used their arms to hug me; their hearts to love me; their voices to affirm me. He gave me two parents who thought I hung the moon; in retrospect I am allowed to see that there was no shortage of love and there was no absence of God.
With regards to the pain of those years; He assured me that He was as angry and as saddened as I was. He reminded me of His justice. He had not chosen that pain for me, but He had allowed it for this very day – that I might share His faithfulness in the face of life’s ugliness. Through my study of His Word, He promised to heal me, to make me healthy, and to use it all for my good and His purposes. If I would allow Him to…
I was blown away to discover that I had been wrong about Him all along. This life-changing experience piqued my interest to know Him, to know His character, to know His heart. I got real with Him and stopped trying to pray the right things because that’s what I thought He wanted to hear; as if He didn’t know what a liar I was. It’s hard to get really real, even with your own self, but He is safe. He is gentle, compassionate, slow to anger, ever present, abounding in love, all knowing, attentive and involved, patient, perfectly good, perfectly faithful. He has never not kept His Word, and there is no darkness in Him. The Bible is full of His promises of love and hope and peace and joy and comfort, and He has never dropped the ball on a single one.
About the time all of this wildness was going on inside me, a most bizarre thing happened. I never saw it coming. I was really starting to love Jesus and enjoyed learning more and more and more. One Sunday morning the Sunday School teacher called Chris, who was the SS director for our class, and announced that he was sick and was unable to teach in forty-five minutes. That meant that Chris would have to step up; I volunteered to do it because I had been a teacher by vocation. I could barely swallow past the lump in my throat, and I thought I really might throw up. I was the terribly quiet one in class each week who got really nervous about even making a comment (I know that is too far-out there to even believe). I taught that day – with great trepidation and stammering- and burst into flames right before the class (not literally although that’s a pretty cool image). I discovered my life purpose in that cinder block room. I am most alive in this world when I am speaking or teaching or writing about His goodness and His faithfulness. I love it like nothing else.
I can tell you that He has healed my marriage of past sin and past hurts. He has taken every hurt in my life and used it for good. He has allowed me to pray some of the biggest prayers my tiny brain could conceive of and then answered them a gajillion times bigger than I dared dream. He has blessed me with people in my life who push me to be more like Him. He has permitted me to see Him change people’s lives, and He has blessed me with a passion that my skin can barely contain! I just may burst…
And that is not to say that I don’t get discouraged, distracted, angry, impatient, disinterested, self-absorbed, apathetic, etc, etc, etc… I am still flawed, weak Cookie who screws it up regularly. Now I’m just well connected. To. Him.