I heard that word again today…
That word that I always struggled with…that made me cringe.
That word that always made me feel like I just wasn’t good enough.
That word that made me feel like I was a fake and fraud.
Before I became a follower, there were people who would talk to me about this guy, Jesus…how he died for me, rose again and had a desire to take up residence in my heart…with words that just fell out of their mouths on my, pretty much, deaf ears. Most of the time, to this young and hard-hearted girl, it sounded like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon, “Wawh, wawh, wawh…” And I don’t mean to be disrespectful at all, because I did appreciated the fact that people even cared about me enough to even try, but I didn’t understand the language they were speaking and honestly, I was never quite sure of their agenda. Sometimes I felt like they were trying to fulfill some sort of quota.
Part of my struggle was that the words coming out of their mouths sounded either like; one) so self-righteous that I felt more like they were looking down their nose at me and sort of speaking “at” me, instead of engaging me in conversation, two) just plain empty. Like, they were speaking all the right words but didn’t have much going on in their own life that showed any sort of change in them, or three) just too simple…that all I had to do was believe and then my heart would just change. Impossible.
I’d also hear some say…“If you don’t change your ways, you’ll go to hell.” Well, let me just say it like it is…to a lost and hurt heart, those words are not soothing or scary at all, no matter how lovingly they’re expressed…when I’d been through, what I considered, hell and back anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that most of these efforts came from sincere hearts. This is my recollection of what it sounded like to a wounded heart. And I do have to give credit where credit is due, because some of those sincere and caring words nudged me, and seeds were most definitely planted. But, even so, I still had that feeling that I was alone in this. No one had walked in my shoes. No one understood where I was coming from. No one had done the things I’d done. No one…
But something in my heart began to wonder, “Was there really something more out there?” There HAD to be. I mean, why else would my heart continue to long for it…for Him? That was the question that always tugged at me. If God wasn’t real…then why was my heart so thirsty for Him?
So, I eventually tried going to church. I was in a service where the pastor clearly explained the gospel message and I felt nudged by it. They started playing some really nice music (I love music…it always soothes my heart) and invited people to come forward to pray and ask Jesus into their hearts. I felt a tug to go forward. I was up there, crying and praying and felt like I was right there…in that moment…when someone came up behind me and touched my shoulder. Moment gone – just like that. I know their intentions were good…they didn’t want me to feel alone, but as they spoke in my ear and started praying, nothing seemed to be reaching my heart. It was like I felt a little connection and then it was interrupted..and gone. But still…I had approached the altar and I thought, “Okay…maybe things inside of me will change now.”
They did a little. I went into wondering-seeker mode. I started going through the motions…going to church whenever the doors were open, getting involved in various studies, and serving, serving, serving…. But the stuff inside of me wasn’t going away. I mean, I would have some really good moments when I felt like life was awesome, but nothing seemed to stick. I went back and forth all the time, feeling confused and sort of overwhelmed. I would be asked questions about witnessing to others…”are you witnessing at work, to your friends?” Epic fail. I seriously felt like the square peg trying to fit into the round hole. I pretty much went to church with one face on, and then lived the rest of my days with another. There was a lot of confusion going on inside of me.
I recall going to a women’s retreat thinking that surely this would kick my rear into gear and I’d be filled with all of the wonderful feelings that other women seemed to have to overflowing. But that was not the case. As I spent the weekend with these women, I felt more alone than ever. I continued to go through the motions of doing my best to soak up the messages, have fun in doing crafts together, listening as they shared their life journeys…and I just sat there feeling like an absolute fake in the midst of them all. I could not, for the life of me, understand the words that were coming out of their mouths.
No kidding, I had this picture in my mind…all of them bright as the sunlight, radiant…just glowing in joyful happiness. And then there was me…a girl with a tremendous amount of weight from the shame I carried everywhere with me. I felt like I might as well have been dressed in black, surrounded by a dark and stormy cloud. I became disillusioned by it all and decided that this just wasn’t the right road for me. I found no peace in this life. I tried and it just didn’t’ work. I was much happier being out there – being the real me, living life my way. I walked away from the church and my heart wandered for another seven years.
I was happily married to the love of my life, and together we were raising a couple of great kids. I had cleaned up a lot of “stuff” in my life and felt really good about that. I figured that this was enough to sustain me and bring happiness and joy. And they did, but in some strange way, I always felt like something was missing. I didn’t dwell in those feelings for too long, though, because doing it my own way just felt better. I had a sense that he was pursuing my heart, but I continued to walk the other way.
But as I said, seven years later and in one of the darkest moments of my life, everything came to a screeching halt, when my dad, who was larger than life to me, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. We were told that, without treatment, he would have four to sixteen weeks to live.
I…was…stunned…and devastated. That dark cloud swirled around me with a vengeance and I experienced a lonely sorrow that I had never felt in my entire life. My heart had never felt so much weight. It was literally crushed and I felt as if I was being destroyed from the inside out.
The night prior to my dad getting these results, I learned that he had put his faith in Christ. I smiled, felt happy for him, and said all of the good things that I knew I should say, but none of it reached my heart. In that moment of time, I fell down a slippery slope of anxiety and rage. I was mad – and I was done.
My mom never left my dad’s side as he began treatments. One day, I took her home so she could freshen up. I was taking care of a few things for her, on the opposite side of the house, when I heard her as she showered. The sound increased…painful heart-wrenching sobs coming through the vents of the home I grew up in. I gasped and covered my ears, but it didn’t drown out the sounds of her pain. The weight of her sadness crushed my heart completely, and then, my sadness turned to rage.
I was standing in the center of the room and while my mom’s sobs came through the rooms of that house I shouted out to Him, “Can you hear her? Stop following me! I don’t want to believe in a God like you! You’re mean and you’re cruel and you’ve allowed this painful devastation and I’m just so…so….MAD AT YOU! Where are you?! Can you even hear me?!”
I thought, in that moment, I would end up a little puff of dust in the center of the room. And honestly, I didn’t care. I couldn’t hold it all in any longer. Exhausted in my anger, my heart returned to sadness as I sat down and just cried it all out of me; years of crushed dreams, and dissolution caused by a reckless life. I pretty much let out a whimpered, “I’m a good girl. Why have You allowed all of this to happen to me?”
And then…something truly amazing happened…something that, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to put into appropriate words. I’d heard the term “grace” come out of people’s mouths so many times over the years, but never understood what it meant. But in that moment…I “felt” grace. It was truly as if I felt the arms of God embrace me…mighty and warm, wrapped around me so tight but, yet, so gentle… I might as well have been floating on a cloud.
And instantly, my body, mind and spirit felt at peace. You know, that “peace that surpasses all understanding” that people talk about? I felt it! Peace. It was as if Jesus whispered in my ear, “Finally. Finally. You finally stopped running and gave me every single piece of you. Rest now, just rest.”
It was one of the most amazingly painful and beautiful moments of my life; one that I will never forget because it’s the moment that I truly met Him for the very first time-and when I finally picked up my cross and followed.
I wish I could say that everything was great after that. But, I can tell you that I walked out of that house with a brand new heart; clean and at peace. My dad went on to live for another two years and I was able to find true happiness in knowing that I would see him again one day. But even so…I’m human, so I still grieve, at times, over the hole that’s been left in my family’s life without him.
I wish I could say that life has always been wonderful, since picking up my cross and following Him. No aches and pains, no more illness, no worries or obstacles, but that would be a lie because life just hurts. There’s just no getting around that. But, I can tell you that I have peace in my heart that I have never experienced before knowing Him. When obstacles come, and they surely do, I know I’ve got a really big Hand to clasp on tight, that will pull me through – and when I reach the other side of my storm, I know that I’ll be all the more stronger and wiser.
I wish I could tell you that dark moments don’t invade my heart. No, they’re there when I least expect it, lurking about. But I can tell you that He owns my heart…when I’m at my best moments and when I’m at my worst. I know that he can handle it and that I can share anything with Him. He never promised me a life without troubles…but a life of victory and a life of never ever being alone again. I have a deeper understanding for all that I’ve been through. I know that He uses it all.
I hope and pray that the words coming out of my mouth will help point another lost, lonely, and worn out soul to Him. I cannot tell you that there won’t be rough moments…but I can tell you that He loves, He cares, He understands and He will always be right there at our side, walking us through whatever life throws our way.
This, my friends, is my story.
This is my song.
This is the gospel message.
This is Jesus…taking up residence…in my heart.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”