Monday, February 16, 2015

Redemption had one more beast to slay...

Why I have to be sitting here writing another heavy post one week later, I do not know...other than the muck and mire runs deep and once pay dirt was hit, God wasn't going to stop digging it all out.

I started another post earlier in the week. It was on redemption. I spent a bit of time on it but didn't get far. Redemption is something I've prayed for for a long time but have yet to fully experience the trueness of it in my heart.

After last weekend, I was beginning to see glimpses of it...but my post never got finished, and I wasn't necessarily compelled to finish it either. I wasn't ready. The shadow of it passing by wasn't enough.

Then, this morning happened, and now I know there was one more step, one more dig that had to take place before I could truly get the view of redemption in my life. Before, I was still angling for personal redemption, a self serving redemption, a redemption that made me right and all others wrong.

God had to show me that if I truly wanted redemption, then I'd have to lay aside what I thought it was and should be, and let Him show me what it truly is.

Before I could write about it, redemption had one more beast to slay and that beast was in me.

If I thought I didn't want to write last weeks' post, multiply that by 10 and you get me right about now.

I felt physically ill pulling into Starbucks, and as I write, my body is like jelly and adrenaline is pumping through me at rates I don't care for.

The only thing that is getting me here to sit down and write is I saw what God did last Sunday...not just for me but for the multitude that ended up reading my post. I've never had a response like that to one of my blogs. I can't tell you how many messages I received, phone calls, emails, and face to face conversations. I'm grateful that so many saw themselves in my post and that it blessed them as they walk and work their own things out with God.

All week Psalm 56 kept pouring over me and through me...God is for you Shelly...just keep walking this out and trusting that God is for you in this. As I felt vulnerable or exposed, as I cried and lost courage, I just kept hearing...God is for you.

I received a phone call from one of my best friends late Tuesday night. We ended up talking for over 2 hours about stuff I had written. Her call was a gift from God because she was able to hash it out with me, to pry a bit more, and to take it down some roads I had yet traveled. It was a gift of His grace.

Toward the end of the call she said, "Shelly, I have to ask you something. I've asked it before and the last time I did, your response was dismissive, one that told me you hadn't even come close to doing it."

I couldn't imagine what she was talking about.

"I have to ask you if you think you have finally forgiven yourself for what happened. Have you forgiven yourself Shelly?"

Tears started flowing. I began to weep.

It hadn't even crossed my mind.

A thought that had always seemed ludicrous and insurmountable, unfathomable and unwarranted, now came crashing through my body. The thought of forgiving myself, the one who should've known better, who grew up with an unbelievable heritage of faith and perseverance with parents who loved the Lord more than life itself, had never been seen as attainable. Forgiveness for my coldness and arrogance had never been an option for me.

I couldn't speak for a minute, but finally, with tears and a freedom I'd never known before I said, "I think I have."

It was in that question I knew God had had that conversation take place. He knew I needed to see that and feel it. What He had done in my life was powerful, but for Him to come in and break the chains I had on myself, absolutely took my breath away. My own sin of self righteousness had kept me in chains for years, from extending grace upon my own confusion, pain, mistakes, and ignorance. I continued to cry and I continued to thank God for washing me with His grace, His amazing, overwhelming grace.

And then, another Sunday...

Six years, one month, and 15 days ago, I laid (grammar police??) in my bed upstairs in my dad's house weeping. My 5 year old son was in the room next to me, and I was staring at my bedroom wall emotionally spent.

I was in full conversation, out loud with God. The decision had been made, the papers served, and I lay there broken...more broken than I had ever been before.

I knew without a doubt I had missed out on love. I knew I was a toxic wasteland for love. At the time, I didn't get it, and all I thought I knew about love was what had happened over the last 10 years. I had glimpses of my part, glimpses of what I wrote last week had come in, but they faded as the devastation and anger flooded in with how the last several years played out.

As I wept, in both anger and relief, pain and determination I begged God to redeem my love story. I told Him I knew I was toxic, and I begged Him to clean me out, to right the wrongs, to rebalance the pendulum, and to redeem love in my life.

"Don't let this be what I live my life thinking love is. Don't let this be my love story. I beg You God, give me another chance!"

The infamous response of, "What if it takes 3 years Shelly?" came next. (blogged about that years ago)

Weeping, I yelled back, "I don't care how long it takes, I beg You God, just redeem it."

As I've blogged over these last 6 years, I've watched and experienced God show me what love is. He placed me in a job where love is the ingredient of every single day...the great kind of love, the easy kind of love...

I get to love on 10 year olds and they love on me every single day. They tell me I'm pretty, they laugh at my jokes, they buy me a desk full of Valentine's, and they shower me with gifts and notes on my birthday. But, even better than that, through time, God has shown me how the students seem to love me the more I am just me and the less I try to be anyone else. I don't have to perform for them, and the love still flows.

God has used my job to graciously and gently show me how love works.

He's used friends who have faithfully walked tough roads with me, left me sweet gifts on my porch at Christmas time so I had a special joy each night to come home to, they've sent their sons to mow my yard and put up Christmas lights, they encourage me and remind me that I'm seen and worthy. My family laughs and supports me, my son and I go on adventures and I watch how faithful God is to us and how He provides opportunities for precious conversations that would have never taken place without His hand and His goodness.

I've watched miracle after miracle, provision after provision, love after love, Grace upon grace in my life.

So, when last Sunday happened and God broke the barrier of how my own sin was holding me back from truly knowing what love is, and washed me clean of so much mire and muck, it was like being raised from the dead.

The death of self preservation took place and life was rising out of it.

No matter how far He had brought me before, I continued to have this weight, this suffocating weight of never truly understanding something I thought the rest of the world clearly knew.

He was showing me that love includes sacrifice, and sacrifice actually meant sacrifice. It's self giving and self denying, and for this girl who was all about self preservation, love was going to be nearly impossible until she decided to truly let go.

As I chatted with my friend Tuesday night, it became clear that at age 9, I had welded grief and security together, and as I grew up, I never separated them back out.

If I felt grief or even just sadness, it meant my security was in question, so I avoided any pain that could have been associated with sadness and grief.

Here's the problem with that...

Without the risk of sadness, joy is avoided as well. Without grief, love can't be found.

That equates to a very lonely life, a very numb and cold life.

I've always said, looking back on it all, that I don't think I would have ever pulled out of my ways without death and divorce occurring.

Now, I see why.

The fracturing of grief and security had to take place, and that was only going to occur with my ultimate fears and grief happening for me to see that my security was not and could not be tied to something on this earth.

How my marriage ended was always my biggest fear and losing my mom was always going to be the source of my greatest grief.

But, when those 2 things happened, my security remained.

I 've always found it remarkable how for the 6 years leading up to both, I was a complete and total mess, but the 6 years since, I've walked with little rattling my security. They both forced me toward God, God used them both as a slingshot for me to find my true place of peace and rest.

In fact, the relief that came after my divorce was mind blowing...which, unfortunately, allowed me to stay on my high horse for a little too long, but I was about to get knocked off.

Amongst the tragic, I learned that life goes on, that God wakes you up, breathes His strength in, and walks you out...something I desperately needed to learn.

I've become thankful for my grief over my mom. Each time my heart might burst with missing her, I thank Him for giving me a mom worth missing. I was given the greatest incredible mom who loved me immeasurably for 31 years, and that's worth grieving.

I had finally concluded that deep grief meant there was a deep love. God showed me I had been capable of a deep love.

And even more, the grief that came with it, I had survived, and He had carried me through it.

God taught me through my grief that my mom's LOVE had been worth it. I would never trade it for anything...if I wanted that kind of river of love, then grief was the risk, and that was now okay with me.

It makes me want to be a mom worth missing; it makes me want to love in a way that when I'm gone, I'm dreadfully missed.

For 3 years God kept digging and after I hit the infamous 3 year mark, I felt ready. I felt free and I thought my love story would soon begin...after all, my conversation with God had explicitly included the, "What if it takes 3 years?" moment.

So, after year 4 passed and I remained alone and lonely, I began to pull away from God. I blogged about that here and there but my dailiness with Him slowed. I mean I had my usual bullet prayers, conversations, and lonely nights in my room begging Him for relief.

Deep down I knew I was still a lost puppy when it came to love, but I pretended as best I could I was an independent and strong woman.

My friends kept encouraging me, I continued to travel and have my mountain top moments with Him, but I drifted. The time I spent in His word became shorter and shorter.

Some nights my heart would be so sad, I would just sleep next to my Bible, with my hand on it, not opening it, but just wishing I didn't feel so lost and alone. After year 5, I stopped my half-marathons and knew I needed a break from all sorts...the striving, the wonderings, and the wanderings.

I'd have the proddings to dig back in, to read, to spend the year with Him again, but I never could. I just couldn't and I wouldn't, and I was mad and ashamed and hurt by my own pulling away.

This last fall, as year 6 was quickly ending, the prodding began. This time it was different, and I knew it was time for another half. I'd walked a few new roads and saw both victories and some defeats in my personal life in 2014 and was ready to refocus. I'd finally shed some of the hang ups and was ready to hit the restart button and dig back in. I knew where the answers could be found, and I was finally ready to acknowledge I needed some. I told myself I'd sign up for the DC half, and in December I made the decision to read the Bible in a year once more. For the first time in a few years, it wasn't out of guilt, it was out of a calling from deep within my soul.

Year 6 had humbled me enough to the point of me finally admitting I couldn't do this without God any longer.

January 1st was day one of my reading. I haven't missed but a couple of days. And thankfully, God used a ninth grader to thwart my desire to bail on my half. The DC half is in a few weeks.

It's February 15th and I've now had 2 life changing moments with changing.

It makes me wonder if I had just continued 3 years, one month, and 15 days if the conversation I had had in my bed 6 years ago would have been right on.

Or maybe, the voice was mine, or it had really said, "what if it takes 3 years?" and due to my uncontrollable sobbing at the thought of waiting 3 years to be rescued from the torture I was in, I didn't hear the follow up of, "What if it takes as long as it takes?"

The unknown on that night would have killed me. Killed me.

Three years, even though seemed like an eternity, had a time line. I can do time lines.

Unknowns are nearly impossible for me. And by nearly, I mean completely.

So, last Sunday came and God had a meeting with me, and He showed me myself. Psalm 139 at its finest, a mirror to my soul, to my hurt, to the wounds I had and had never let Him in to heal.

Six years ago when all my bandaids of security were stripped from me, my guard had weakened, and so, by His grace, the door had been left open for Him to enter in.

And as He entered, it broke me more, it washed away the toxins, it rebalanced the pendulum, it spoke to me clearly what had always been foreign before.

Allowing Him to search my soul, let me see just how miraculous His grace would be as it made its way through me. His grace had gone from drips, to streams, to now a waterfall.

Which brings me to today...

Cade and I were driving to church. He asked me if I'd help him buy a Valentine for his step mom. I hesitated. I didn't want to.

When he asked me, he used the endearing name he has for her...and by endearing, I mean the one that grates at all my nerves. When I answer him, I use her actual name. I can't handle the other.

I told him I'd take him somewhere and he could buy one for her. (It wasn't my finest moment)

"Mom, I don't have any money left."

I already knew that. I was with him just the day before when he had spent his last penny. I knew there was nothing in his coffers and that was part of me not having my finest moment...but it gets worse.

"You could return one of the items you bought yesterday, and use that money."

"Mom! (exasperated and disappointed) You said you'd help me buy her a Christmas gift, but I earned the money instead, so could we use that money you never spent at Christmas?"

"Maybe you can mow the lawn today and earn some money."

I knew what I was doing wasn't right, but this was Valentine's and for some reason, Valentine's was different than Christmas, and I had no desire to bend on this one.

I didn't like my response but didn't give it another thought because I have lots of fine mom moments, and just this one ugly one wouldn't prove a thing...until I was sitting in church.

In Sunday School as I was listening to the Sunday School yoda talk about taking the blinders off and seeing those around us and what God might have for us, I pondered.

She went on to explain to the room of 7th grade girls how she asks God to make it clear to her if He wants her to do something and that she can always tell it's him because her heart begins to race like 200 beats per minute and He won't let her escape it.

I continued to ponder...

Cade and I went into service. I'd already forgotten how God used last week's sermon to completely shatter some of my walls...because the walls were shattered and I was certain there were no more.

When the singing started, I felt compelled to write something in my Bible. I grabbed it, wrote, put it back in my chair and continued in worship.

As the sermon kicked in, my self righteous voice inside my head kicked in as well. I begged my mind to turn off so I could hear what I needed to hear, but it continued.

I kept waiting to see if he (and by he, I mean, one of the best preachers I've ever listened to) would get the story "right".

My self-righteousness was in full swing...

The same preacher whose sermon SLAYED my self preservation and unwillingness to sacrifice last week...SLAYED it in a way that caused a miraculous shift within me...and I thought it had slayed my self righteousness as well, but I was wrong, oh so very wrong.

I had no idea at the time, but God was about to use this sermon to SLAY my self righteousness in one fell swoop. He was going to use my own weapon against me...and it was going to cut deeper than I ever thought possible.

The sermon series is on being a "Second Mile Christian."

This week's was using the story of the Good Samaritan. As he walked us through it and landed at the final, not taking it as far as I would have wanted him to mind you, but certainly opening my eyes to how the Samaritan had sacrificed honor, dignity, time, and money for the injured man...I began to see the weaving of how Jesus was defining love in this story just as much as He was defining neighbor.
The arrogant, self righteous lawyer asks, "How do I inheirt eternal life?"
Jesus replied, "What does the law say?"
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
"You have it right."
"But Teacher, who's my neighbor?"
Years ago, one of my favorite Bible teachers had pointed out that typically, when sermons are given on this story, the neighbor is always the injured man. And the great lesson of having compassion on the injured man is Biblical and helping that injured man is what all of us as followers of Jesus should do, but he pointed out that if one reads the story carefully, that's not the neighbor.

Jesus isn't saying that life comes from loving God with all you have and help the less fortunate.

I think most of us feel a twinge when it's someone who so apparently needs our help.

My unbelievably good preacher didn't go down that road, he didn't land where my self righteous mind thought he should land, but I now see how God used that very fact to expose my deepest sin, and I was about to fall on my own sword.

The way John preached it, concentrating on how the Samaritan sacrificed and what he sacrificed for this injured man, along with my self righteous commentary, was about to SLAY me once more.

Love your neighbor as yourself Shelly.

"But who's my neighbor?" she asks.

And the story of who to love and what love looks like, follows...

There's a man who gets mugged and is left to die on the side of the road. The self righteous and the busy pass by, the one concerned with the law and the one who knows the rules but doesn't sacrifice passes by thinking I do it a lot, for many people, but not today. This one time is fine and the ping in my heart is a sign I'm a good person, so ignoring the ping here and there is fine.

Then a Samaritan stops, bandages the man up, goes out of his way and stays with him. He pays for anything he needs, and makes sure he's taken care of.

The Samaritan loves by sacrificing himself on the man's behalf. He'd sacrificed his dignity, his honor, his time, and his money on behalf of compassion towards another. He had loved.

And, then...And here's where I'd love it if the neighbor is the hurt guy on the side of the road, because the ambiguous, the stranger whose story I don't know and can concoct whatever one I want for them is easy for me to love and show compassion to. In fact, it feeds my self righteousness and makes me feel good about myself. It keeps me from seeing my own sin...but the irony is, God was about to use that very side of myself...the one that would't let the sermon be what it was and kept hounding on whether he would get it "right".. God was going to use that as the mirror of Psalm 139 once more.

See, the story ends with Jesus asking the lawyer, "who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber's hands?"

The man who fell into the robber's hands wasn't the neighbor..the neighbor helped him, so the injured man can't be the neighbor in the story.

And when Jesus asks, "who proved to be a neighbor to the man?" the self righteous lawyer was caught. Jesus had shared a story on how one SHOWS love and at the same time tells the man who God means for him TO LOVE.

The self righteous lawyer had to be so dumbfounded that he thought he might keel over at that very moment.

The lawyer couldn't even say his answer.

He couldn't say the word Samaritan.

See, Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were the dirty, half breeds that didn't do anything the Jews thought made them holy, made them true children of God. I believe Jews would have felt way more compassion on the Gentile because they didn't know better. It would be easy for them to show compassion toward the one who had no shot in life. It would feed their self righteousness even more perhaps. They were the pagan who never knew God, but the Samaritan, that's where the hatred was.

In fact, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well includes the note of how in the synagogue services, the priests would actually say prayers cursing the Samaritans.

The priests would pray that God would CURSE these people.

I stared at my Bible. I stared at the line where the lawyer couldn't even answer with the word, but had to say, "the one who showed mercy toward him."

Then Jesus said, "Go and do the same."

Jesus used what the Samaritan did to the injured man to define what love was, what it looked like.

And then he shattered the lawyers heart with who God told him to go love.

"The one who showed mercy toward him."

The neighbor was the Samaritan, the one cursed in synagogues, the one hated. The one the self righteous thought he had every right to hate.

At that very instant, I felt the pit in my stomach and the question came.

Who's your neighbor Shelly?

And the self righteous one was caught. She was dumbfounded and thought she might keel over.

I sat there with nowhere to run...just me and Jesus. The room around me had gone silent.

Who can you not name Shelly? Who can you not say the name of?
Who is the person you hold a special "justified" hatred for? Who do you slight? curse? jab at? blame? undermine?


My heart began to pound.

It began to race 200 beats a minute.

I literally thought I was going to have a heart attack. If it hadn't been for my Sunday School yoda reminding me how God speaks to her, I would have probably had an anxiety attack right then and there because I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, and I was certain my heart was about to come out of my chest.

I knew the answer. I teared up because I knew the answer.

I crumbled in my chair.

My heart broke.

I knew I couldn't leave church without telling my preacher who my neighbor was, and it wasn't the hurt and marginalized...even though they are my neighbor as well. But, this self righteous lawyer had another one she was pretending not to have to love and had hoped for years that God believed the same thing she did.

John graciously met with me for a few minutes after everyone cleared out of church.

Cade kept asking me what was wrong. He even asked me if I was going to get baptized again or something.

I told him no. I told him I just had to tell John something.

Cade was bothered. He saw my angst.

I sat with John. I told him the events of the how the sermon played out for me.

I told him that feeding the hurt, homeless man was how I built myself up. It was easy for me to help the sick, the stranger, the one who needs a peanut butter sandwch and a smile. It made me feel good and even fed the beast within me.

And as my lip quivered and tears rolled down my face, I told him that the neighbor God was showing me I needed to love was my very own "Samaritan".

My neighbor was the one I couldn't even name. I told him who it was.

John was kind, listened, prayed and encouraged me.

But, I knew he wasn't the only one I was going to have to tell.

Cade was waiting for me and he now saw the tears.

He put his arm around me as we walked to the car.

We shut our car doors, I turned to him, and I told him.

And when I got to the part where I said, "My neighbor is the person I can't even name." I followed it with the question, "Who can't I even name Cade?"

Without hesitation, he said her name, quickly followed by, "and my dad."

Without hesitation.

Without hesitation.

Even though the years have included me trying my best to not cloud or say or speak ugly, my son knew, without hesitation, the people I struggled loving.

All I could do was apologize.

I told him we were headed to buy them a Valentine's, one that would bless them on the day celebrating their love. He chose a restaurant for a gift card, bought them balloons, and a box of chocolates.

For once, I wasn't doing it out of guilt or to feed my self righteousness by trying to prove I'm better than they are.

I did it because that's what God calls me to do. I did it because if I want love redeemed in my life, then I better drop this self righteous act and start loving the way God calls me to love, by the way He defines love.

Jesus, where is life found?

Love the Lord with all your heart Shelly, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And go your neighbor as yourself.

I love because He first loved me...and I'm truly beginning to see and believe, it's so worth it.

"I suppose that's the point of this book. There's truth in the idea, we're never going to be perfect in love but we can get close, and the closer we get, the healthier we will be. Love is not a game any of us can win, it's just a story we can live and enjoy. It's a noble ambition, then, to add a chapter to the story of love, and to make our chapter a good one.
We don't think much about how our love stories will affect the world, but they do. Children learn what's worth living for and what's worth dying for by the stories they watch us live. I want to teach our children how to get scary close, and more, how to be brave. I want to teach them that love is worth what it costs." Scary Close by Don Miller

I watched my parents walk out a beautiful love story, so I always knew there was more to love, that's one of the reasons I was always so bothered by my confusion. But too many lines got crossed and poor decisions on my part tangled and mangled my view.

But through time...and God's act of redeeming, God has led me down a road with Him. His road, though one of sacrificing my own ideas on life, my own plans and dreams, my own thoughts on how life should work or where I think my security rests, laying aside my control of others and what I think they should do and what they should do for me, a road of unknowns and grey areas and exposing that self preservation is only a weapon that causes self inflicting wounds, His road is one leading to freedom.

It takes me off a road being paved with the broken tools of a broken girl and brings me to the road paved by the Maker of Heaven and earth.

"I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God." Psalm 40:1-3

For this I know, that God is for you Shelly.

For this I know my friend, that God is for you!

In Him,

Monday, February 9, 2015

The longest road and the hardest lesson: how insecurity ran my life

"Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." Psalm 139:23

I don't like that prayer. I avoid that prayer. In fact, not too long ago, as I read it and knowing I should pray it, I actually said out loud, "God, I don't want to pray that prayer."

Now, looking back, I believe that was a culminating moment...a moment 7 years in the making.

I went for a long walk this weekend, outside and alone. Something always happens within me when I go for walks/runs outside. It's forced time alone, with my thoughts, and with God. I have no TV and few distractions, so it doesn't take long for me to end up in the depths with God.

I used to take them a lot, not just long physical journeys, but spiritual ones. For years I traveled alone, completed numerous half marathons, read and contemplated for hours, but these last few years much of that has changed. But when 2015 began, I knew that it was was time to start walking once again.

Two days ago, God woke me nudging me to go on a walk with Him again. I could tell there was something for me. My mind wouldn't stop whirling, thoughts were flooding in, and I knew I had to grab my phone and record some memos as I drove because the stories wouldn't stop, and I had no doubt I was supposed to write them down.

This morning I sit, after wrestling for 48 hours on this, having entered it thinking I'd be writing on being intentional or the power of community, or surviving loneliness..but no, that's not what God had in mind.

He was taking me somewhere I didn't want to go. Like it or not, it was time for me to face Psalm 139.

I stopped writing last night at midnight, with my final thoughts to Him on how I didn't want any part in publishing this. I still don't. This story I'd like to keep to myself.

He let me sleep until 5 before waking me with an urgency to write down more, and as I squirmed and wrestled with Him, I knew I couldn't run from this.

And as I teared up and pleaded that this healing moment could be just between Him and me, I knew that sometime "publish" would have to be hit. Psalm 56 kept repeating over in my head. I begged God hoping Psalm 56 would play out as I shared more than I ever have. 

His best lessons for me have always been in the depths...if I'm willing to walk it out, He's been ever willing to walk me through it. 

I left my house, opened my computer and showed up to write the story He had in mind. Before I began, I flipped my Bible open...and Psalm 56 was staring at me.

"This I know, that God is for me."

I've often wondered what I would tell my 17 year old self...the very time I see so much of the last 20 years going awry. I've never known what I would have told her.

Almost 20 years to the day, I think I now know...

I'm preparing for a half-marathon again, so I've gotta get off my treadmill and hit the streets to get ready. I didn't want to do it. In fact, I really wanted to bail on the half all together.

It's been over a year since my last one, and it's been long enough that fear and anxiety were kicking in. Last April, I got really sick, almost fainted on the treadmill, and had several anxiety attacks after that. It was awful. It led to about 4 weeks of complete wonkiness in my life. My poor, yet uber sweet friends and family, fielded phone calls at 2:30 a.m., came over at midnight, took me to Urgent Care, and prayed for me incessantly as I tried to carry on with my life as nothing was right physically or mentally with me. It was awful. It was embarrassing. It's something I don't want to go through again.

I've yet to get back up to running at the same speeds I was a year ago...I'm too afraid that might happen again.

Therefore, the thought of a half-marathon, being a form of physical exhaustion, has a cloud of fear surrounding it. I had concluded the risk was too great.

But, due to some God-like circumstances, which that's what it would have taken, I'm going to do it after all.

And with the encouragement of a friend, I left the security and nicely temped gym Sunday, and hit the streets and hills of the Texas hill country.

For several years after my divorce, God used half-marathons to teach me endurance and perseverance; how to get up, keep going, and that the only way to finish, was to actually do it, to go through it, and not quit. Quitting wouldn't get me to my car. Only finishing would.

It all became a metaphor for life, and it's helped me in countless ways; mainly by reminding me I'm a fighter. I'm willing to duke it out. I've got some fight in me, and life takes fight.

But, it's been a little too long, and now I'd seen myself as breakable yet again, and so fear had started to build.

I began to think I wouldn't be able to complete a half.

I was afraid, and anxiety is fear's nasty companion.

Anxiety is a battle of the mind convincing you you can't do something, convincing you you will be completely out of control if you do that.

Anxiety has been part of my life for years. I've struggled with it more at various times, but it's been a struggle for as long as I can remember.

Anxiety used to run my life. It kicked in full blast about 5 years into my marriage and it didn't leave, unfortunately, until my marriage was over.

You can read into that statement as much as you'd like, and I'd probably agree that much of your assumptions are true, but if I'm being honest, which I don't always like to be when it comes to that time in my life, it had more to do with me.

I've been reading some books by a Navy Seal.

Their training is highly focused on resisting stress, coping with immeasurable amounts of it, and being forced to make decisions while still under it.

If their body is broken down and pushed to the max, can their mind still function properly?

Will they break when things are out of their control?

For a long time, my anxiety was linked to my inner security being shot. And since my security was linked to my marriage and my husband, and since neither of those were going that well, I lived in a constant state of fear, the fear of everything falling apart.

Fear is the acknowledgement of no control and anxiety is allowing the thought of having no control scare you to death.

I believe that's why you think you're going to die during an anxiety attack, your mind has gotten to a point that truly believes that...until reality can kick in again.

Anxiety and anxiety attacks do that to you over time. They convince you and remind you that you're breakable, and that scares me to death.

Physical stress can mimic depression, fear, and anxiety, so as I traveled the road of anxiety, my mind began to equate physical exertion and tiredness as something to panic about. The moment my body was put under physical stress, my mind seemed to not be able to handle it anymore. In other words, I'm not Seal material. ;)

So, unfortunately, I've had to battle through convincing my mind, that just because I'm physically tired, doesn't mean I'm under attack. I don't need to panic or shut down. It's taken years to untangle that, and one day, sick on a treadmill, had me questioning it once again.

Anxiety had entered back into my life, and even though it left after a few weeks, it reminded me it was a snake in the grass, and I was its prey...(it's a man eating kind of snake!)

My first memory of being anxious is from when I was 9. My mom got cancer, and I realized my world was breakable. As a child, quite rightly, my security was completely tied to my parents, and at 9,  I realized I had no control over my world, and it could be shattered at a moment's notice.

That changed me. It rattled me to my core.

The moment I felt breakable, I saw that my security was up for grabs.

And consequently, I've spent a lifetime trying to avoid the pain that happened at that moment.

But what's ironic is my world was already broken. I had come into a broken world, and I was experiencing the pain of that brokenness. My security was resting in something of this world, and this world is temporary, which meant my security needed to rest in something eternal. I just hadn't come to know that part yet.

Looking back, I wish I'd taken that lesson from it, but for some reason, I didn't. My road would not be one of establishing a close and intimate relationship with God, knowing He was the answer to the chasm that had just fractured inside of me, that my security could rest in Him, the eternal One.

Instead, I was the little girl who saw her security being taken, and I couldn't get my eyes off the pain I was feeling, and I became desperate to not feel that kind of pain ever again.

So, for the next 28 years, I'd be on a search for where to place my security, how to avoid pain, and how to become unbreakable.

I was all about self preservation, and when one is all about self preservation, certain things in life don't work.

See, when it comes to security, control is the key, so situations that are seemingly out of one's control are daunting, are ones I'd walk away from. Needless to say, relationships weren't my forte. I had my people, the ones that I loved and loved me, but I kept them at a distance. I didn't like being vulnerable, because weakness might lead to being broken. I wasn't a fan of making new friends or risking too much. It took me into unknown territory and I didn't like that. I didn't like being in situations I couldn't predict. Unpredictable equaled high potential for pain in my world.

People were unpredictable. Love was even more unpredictable.

So, when one tries to date, it doesn't work out well. My lack of dating was (and is) masked as independence, a strong sense of self, with a vision for my life, but it's actually just a cover up for extreme insecurity. You get to know me and that'll come out. You'll see right through my show.

My seeming strengths and gifts are just a cover up for my extreme weaknesses.

Dating involves high risk and love requires great sacrifice, and since I was about self-preservation, I was not up for any of that, so needless to say, in dating, I unknowingly chose a situation that was seemingly more controllable and didn't require much sacrifice. 

I was an unhealthy teenager, latching onto something unhealthy, and it wasn't going to end well.

It couldn't end well.

No relationship is controllable, but I'd chosen to give it a try. Manipulation and inauthenticity are the tools of self preservation, so it didn't take long for it to show the set up was highly flawed, and just how breakable it was.

Unfortunately, I was married before having to truly face the music on that one, and it didn't take long for me to figure it out. I knew something wasn't right or natural, and I didn't know what to do about it. I knew I wasn't myself, and I was quite certain I felt less secure than ever. Something was missing, so anxiety kicked in early on for reasons of my own doing, as well as others; for the situation I had created as well as the one manifesting out of how we dealt with it.

To this day, nearly removed by 7 years, having reflected on it ad nauseam (as any over-thinker worth her salt would), I believe my marriage was doomed from the get go.

I do.

Many might question that, heck, I do quite frequently, but something happened on that walk on Sunday that made me see something in myself I hadn't really seen before. And yes, I feel the shame of that.

As much as being breakable scared the crap out of me, and I was doing everything in my power to prevent the pain that comes from that, what I hadn't fully grasped was that I was already broken.

I'm a broken pot, walking around trying to hold all of my shards together, wondering why everything keeps leaking and not working.

I'm the girl in the pew who has worked all week trying to make good decisions, being intentional, and striving to make the right choices, because I know what I want, SELF PRESERVATION, and I keep thinking that if I just would follow the stinkin formula, I'd get it.

If I could just keep all these freakin broken shards glued in, painted over, and facing the right direction, then maybe I wouldn't really be a broken pot.

Just give me the formula, and I'll do it. For the love of Pete, just tell me I'm not broken.

And I'm arrogant and blind enough to think I'm doing it. My self-righteousness runs so deep, I'm numb to it. 

If I can build my walls, secure the fortress, be intentional enough then Shelly will make it through. The pain will be less, the resistance will go down, the unknown will become known, the grey won't be so scary, and I can rest secure that it's all going to be okay.

But that's a lie.

I can't do a damn thing to make me unbreakable.

I'm broken.

I'm already broken.

And the only person I'm kidding is myself to think I'm not.

And even one step more, the point is I have to be broken for any of this to work.

For years, I linked my security to people. and I quickly discovered people die and people make mistakes.

If my security rests on them, I'm guaranteed to be walking in a world filled with fear. Anxiety will rule my life because I've placed my security in something that is guaranteed to fail.

If I place it in my job, in money, in my ability to pull myself up, if I place it in my beauty, my health, or my children, it's just a matter of time before my security crumbles.

My marriage was doomed because I walked into it placing my security in a person, in a marriage, and, even worse, in having "settled that detail of my life". 

No matter who he was or what he did, he didn't deserve to be set up like that. Marriage deserves more than that. They were both pawns in my attempt to feel secure.

It was about me. I wasn't willing to sacrifice myself, my dreams, my plan, my comfort, or my heart. In the name of self preservation, I wasn't willing to learn how to love, and so, in turn, I sacrificed way more...with wakes larger than my heart can take.

Ya, hindsight. It's a killer.

Love can't flourish under those circumstances, love can't hardly begin or have a chance to grow under that pressure. I chose to make my marriage fill a hole in my life that it was never meant to occupy. I defined it erroneously and it was doomed to fail because the ship was never righted, and I'm not sure it could've been because no matter how much I tried and believe me, the fighter in me tried, but for whatever reason, the ship could never right itself. Maybe too many bridges had been burned, or the two who had said they'd become one had lost too much along the way that they couldn't be found anymore.

Either way, our journey didn't include one of the most beautiful parts of marriage: finding healing and redemption together. And I believe much of that had to do with me not facing my brokenness sooner.

I've walked through life searching for security, because I seemingly lost mine at 9. I've been wandering through life as that scared little 9 year old girl, afraid that she'd be alone, that her heart would break beyond repair, unable to face what was ahead of her. The pain of grief, the feeling of fear, the realization that not a thing was under my control was too much for me to handle.

I would do anything to find security.

I thought I could find that in marriage or in people.

I was wrong.

I was wrong.

I mean it. I was wrong.

It's taken 17 years, including death, divorce, and 6 long years alone walking this out with God to finally face that.

No formulas, no intentionality, no preventive measures or "right choices" could get me out of it.

It's taken 17 long years to stand before God saying I'm broken and I'm sorry Lord. I'm sorry for all the times I haven't thought You were enough. I'm sorry for thinking I am smarter than You, more capable and better than You. I'm sorry for choosing myself and my wishes and my wants before listening to Your words and Your love and Your wisdom and grace.

I'm sorry that I chose self preservation above anything else, and I was too afraid to trust You with my life.

I've let my fear of grief and that gut wrenching pain that makes me question if I can do this rule me. I've allowed my loneliness to tempt me, and I've listened to the lie that I'm not enough and never will be and at the same time afraid that I'm too much and always will be.

God, I've run my entire life trying to not face that I'm completely broken. And I need Your grace to save me Lord. I need Your grace to save me.

Not because someone else broke me, not because of circumstances or anything else, but just because me, Shelly Vaughn is a broken woman, whose sin runs so deep that it takes years to dig it out and for her to even acknowledge it.

I'm the girl on the pew who says, at least I'm not doing that...or why God, I try to do it right, yet still...

I'm the girl who reads a book and has a list of people who really "need" to read it, or if only this person would hear that sermon, then they'd change.

Because if others need fixing, then the playing field is leveled for me.

God, forgive me, for I'm more broken than I want to face, and I've walked around completely blind to that fact and running from it, thinking Your death wasn't completely necessary for me, that all the grace I need is more like a thin sheet, rather than layers of unstoppable forgiveness, and waves of an immeasurable ocean crashing over me, the one that sits here still hesitating to let go.

God, I still don't know how to fully separate my security from people or things. Even after all of this, I'm not even sure I grasp the tip of how broken I am and how much I've missed because I've been too scared and am too arrogant to admit that.

But, I do know that my life is in Your hands, and no matter what might come my way, You'll walk me through it.

The only guarantee I have is, You'll walk me through it.

And I can rest securely in that.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?...
This I know, God is for me.
In God whose word I praise
In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid...
for You have delivered my soul from death,
indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God in the light of the living. Psalm 56

This I know, God is FOR YOU!

PS - Don Miller's books have impacted me for years, but God has used his new one, Scary Close:Dropping the Act and finding True Intimacy,  as an integral part of putting these last few puzzle pieces together for me. I'm so grateful Don wrote it. It was one more catalyst for me to run to God and seek His grace.