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 gift...an 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.
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 God...life. 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...
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?"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 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?"
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.
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?
WHO'S YOUR NEIGHBOR?
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."
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 love...love 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!