By nature I was one of those children who is compliant, motivated by praise, and for the most part, a stern look could keep me in line. I longed for affirmation, to know I had done a good job and made my parents or teachers proud.
And I loved the Lord. We have walked together since I was nine years old. I longed also to please Him. To be virtuous and good. I loved attending church, singing in the choir, participating in youth group, helping with Vacation Bible School.
When other young ladies dreamed of being romanced and wooed, or having their careers, or becoming moms, I dreamed, literally had sleeping dreams, of Jesus calling out my name on the mountaintops, seeking me to spend time with me. I dreamed of sitting in a garden in the cool of the evening and chatting with Him about the things that were on my young heart.
At 15 I had the wonderful privilege of attending a Christian school for a year, and then going on missions the summer between my junior and senior year, during which time I felt that I was called to full-time mission work. My last year of High School I had to return to public school, but my goal and dream was to go to Bible College and then serve the Lord.
When High School ended, so did youth group, and much of the structure and support that I had previously had suddenly shifted. My parents vetoed my college plans, not believing that I knew what I was doing, or what I wanted, and also not able to pay and not willing to sign financial aid forms.
I was at that normal age when the primary developmental task for a young person, is to differentiate from their parents. But with my one and only plan gone up in smoke, I found myself cast adrift as my friends all moved on with college, engagement, and jobs. I felt God Himself had rejected my desire to serve Him, knowing He could have made a way but didn’t. Everyone seemed to have places to go and plans in place, but me.
I took a job with a great company that was very positive and faith-friendly, had a very high standard in their hiring and training. They invested in their workers, even helping facilitate their education, whether or not they would remain with the company, the goal was to mold them into fine, contributing members of society.
At that point I was in dire need of any help and direction that I could find.
There was a young man whom I worked with, the “company darling” actually, who was a real up and comer: Honor student, white-collar aspirations, all that. He was well-liked by everyone who worked there, and a little older than me, and we found ourselves the center of many match-making efforts.
He was polite, clean-cut, and a very hard worker. And he certainly seemed to maneuver through life as someone who knew who he was and where he was headed. He had his 5-year plan, his 10-year plan, at 21 he already had his retirement plan.
He seemed in agreement with the matchmaking efforts and pursued me for many months, asking me out again and again, while I politely declined. I was not attracted to him though I was impressed by him in many ways.
As more time went on, I began to feel a little like “defective goods”, like a loser, with no goals. Disillusioned in my faith, I was vulnerable, feeling lost, and beginning to feel pretty lonely, until finally one day I capitulated and agreed to go with this young man on a daytime outing, which I did not consider a date, hoping that if I did, maybe that would be the end of it.
But it wasn’t.
He treated me like a princess at first. All flattery. He lavished me with attention and gifts, and praise. He told me I was beautiful and I believed him. He said I made him feel like a million bucks. He gifted, wined and dined me, and it felt good to feel wanted. He made me feel “like somebody”.
But the clean-cut “All-American” boy had another side. Being with him was ultimately like being in a “cult of two”. He found me when I was already questioning everything I ever thought I knew. He had the instincts of the perfect predator. He never had my heart, but I fell for the head game, having never been able to tolerate idling in neutral for very long. He systematically went about remaking me into the “perfect for him” girl he wanted me to be, as the icing on the cake of his perfect future.
Everyone who knew me “before” and “after” would tell you that the person they knew just “went away” and some other person took her place.
He isolated me first, and then stripped away everything that didn’t fit into his plans. And then one day he stripped me of something I would never be able to get back, laying ultimate claim to me in the Biblical sense. That was the moment that the person I once was really did go away. I went away deep inside my mind. It would be years before I could think clearly enough, and muster the courage to break away. And strange as it sounds, I did benefit some from those years. I learned what I was capable of. I did go to college. I did get a career and a means to support myself. But it would be many years before I even told anyone the truth about that period. There would follow more heartache and damage, and loss because once distanced from God, I felt trapped in no-man’s-land. I felt like God had given me a “clean garment” when I was 9 but I grew up and got it soiled. I felt that I was no longer worthy to call myself a Christian, so I didn’t think I had the right to call on God anymore.
I was so ashamed, so stripped and decimated. I was all shattered inside. I had trouble even thinking clearly and functioning in my work. One day I was on my way out the door to my job, when I just couldn’t take one more step. I collapsed 2 paces from the front door, and crumbled into a sobbing heap on my living room carpet. I felt like I hadn’t taken a deep breath in years. My wounded heart just ruptured. I was such a far cry from that virtuous girl I had been. And God seemed very far away. But I did cry out to Him: “Lord, you know my life. I have made a real mess of it, and I can’t fix any of it. I have sinned and I have failed You, and there is not much left to offer, but if there is anything of me, or my life that you still want, that you can use, that you can salvage, will you take it Lord? Will You accept me back?
The instant the prayer left my lips, I felt the bands around my chest break loose! The inner turmoil instantly ceased and I had utter peace like I had not known since I was just a child. It just seemed as if the Lord had back-handed the hounds of hell off of me and I could almost hear Him proclaim ” Enough! She is MINE!” That was when I really knew that He had been there all along, only waiting for me to call on Him. It took Him a while longer to help me understand that I had never been “worthy” to be called a Christian to begin with.
I had thought Him a hard master. But I didn’t know Him. I only knew what I had been told. I grew up in a “tradition” that was heavy on rules and piety, and didn’t teach grace.
When I got up off the floor that day, my troubles were not magically gone. My life was still a mess. But I was able to get up off the floor, blow my nose, wash my face, and take one more step. The first step of letting God be not just my savior, but my Lord.
I was never out of His hand. Do you know the implications of that? It means that the scars and wounds were applied while I was in the Master’s hand. He is the potter, and I am the clay, and even evil is used to achieve His ends. God in His wisdom broke me of the notion that I am capable of being good. He showed me the worst of human depraved nature, both my own and that of others who harmed me, and He showed me how destructive that nature is.
Yesterday I had to leave church because I was sick. I was so disappointed because I wanted to be there. But God had a reason in it. I came home and I listened to a friend who webcasts his sermons by live stream. He is all the way in Missouri. But his sermon was meant for me to hear yesterday. God used that pastor’s illustration to bring it all home.
I don’t blame the people who harmed me in this life because I know they act from the very same nature that is in me. “There but by the grace of God, go I”.
God has allowed and used all of it to shape me for a purpose that He has had in mind all along, to be a useful vessel in His hand. Cuts heal into scars that aren’t pretty but are more durable and less vulnerable than untouched skin. Broken areas of bones grow back stronger than the original bone. And wounded and broken people become compassionate and humbled, and therefore useful for God to comfort and reach others.
He didn’t make me a dainty china cup to sit on a shelf and be admired. Though I wanted to be “good” we don’t have it in ourselves to be good. Through life’s trials I am more like that old tin cup that is all dented up, but sturdy and useful. Jesus Himself was not beautiful by the worlds standards. The Bible says “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him”.
I see now that God had a lot to teach me before I could ever really serve Him. The missionary dreams of my youth had more to do with my misplaced admiration for those on the mission field. I thought there being there was like the crowning achievement of “arrival” as a Christian. I coveted “goodness” within myself, and the praise of God. Wanting to be good doesn’t sound like a bad desire. But it is an unrealistic one. Goodness is never achieved. It is not within the scope of human capabilities. When men called Jesus good, He asked them why they called Him good, and said only God is good. This was an acknowledgement that Jesus was God in the flesh. But goodness is only in Him.
I had thought God made me righteous at the age of 9. But I was never righteous. Only Christ was righteous in me. The tradition I grew up in was very unforgiving. When I was faced with the very depths of my own sinfulness as an adult, I was missing any understanding of the part grace plays in salvation. I had the faith. But I didn’t understand that God remembers our sins against us no more. Past, present, or future sins have all been laid to account on the cross, if we have trusted Jesus as our Savior.
It has been a battle of my pride, even this many years later, to finally fully tell my story. I have posted many pages on this blog. Facts and truths about myself that even in their layout here, are buried in layers, and poems and stories.
But I stand today with no longer any pretense of there having ever been anything good in me. And what a relief it is. I am a sinner. The only difference between me, and the vilest offender in the worst prison, or hell itself for that matter, is that I am forgiven.