Thursday, July 1, 2010

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope

With 4th of July celebrations just a few days away, many of us find ourselves thinking about Freedom. That's why we're talking about Freedom this week at Kingdom Bloggers. David had asked me to also share my testimony this week.

I think one of the biggest ways that being a Christian has made me free is that even in the midst of difficult circumstances, I can experience peace and joy. Part of Freedom in Christ for me is the fact that God takes circumstances that look like ruination, and instead brings about redemption. God turns the effects from those difficult events into something good in my life.

Like most people, I haven't had a perfect life.

I was the third of three daughters, born to my poor father who knew exceptionally little about females. Both of my older sisters were huge handfuls, causing lots of intense problems all the time for my parents. Without even thinking about it, my solution was to be the perfect child, the one who would not add any more pain to my parents' full plates and who would never cause problems. One of the lies of my childhood was that in my own mind, it was somehow up to me to make things right. What I became was invisible. Those feelings of needing to be good enough to make things right, and of being invisible, have been repeat themes in my life.

I’ve often thought about the fact that the Bible is quite clear that when we accept Christ we are new creations, but my experience and observations are that while we have new spirits, we still have the same soul. If my favorite color was green before I accepted Christ, it still is after. If I had emotional baggage before I accepted Christ, usually that baggage doesn’t just disappear after I accept Christ.

The difference after a person accepts Christ is that now the person don’t have to deal with that baggage alone. I can look back at my life and see how God chose to work in my life through His Holy Spirit within me, through the Bible, through people, and through experiences to bring healing, wholeness and even freedom in my life. But that freedom did not come over night, it’s been a process.

I’ve also come to believe that God never wastes any experiences. I’m not saying by any means that everything that happens is His will, because both other people and myself can choose to disobey Him and hurt others, the world is imperfect and bad stuff does happen. But I am saying that God even uses bad events to bring about good things in our lives.

Although growing up in a chaotic household where I felt invisible wasn’t exactly fun, I know God has used it to make me the person I am today. Perhaps because of my very need to be perfect and not a bother; I was often forgotten. My mother even forgot to pick me up from school several times throughout my elementary school years. But I’ve noticed that very experience has made me someone who notices people. If I’ve met you even one time, I’ll remember you. God has used me repeatedly in my adult life to minister to the hearts of people, to have God make people feel loved and valuable through me.

One of the good things about my early years was that my family regularly attended church. I never doubted the existence of the God they taught me about at church; for me He was a fact of life. As I aged, my understanding of God increased. By the time I was in 5th grade I came to understand that I was not perfect (even though I tried really hard), that I sinned, and that my sin separated me from God. I realized that sin requires a payment and that either I could pay for it myself or accept Jesus' death on the cross as payment for my sin. So I chose to accept Jesus' payment and to commit to living my life following after Him.

Another one of the blessings God brought into my life was a group called Campus Crusade for Christ. By the time I was a teen I was having ambivalent feelings about church. I was frequently enthralled by the Sunday morning sermons, and adored getting to sing with others of like faith, but did not particularly enjoy the youth group. It seemed to me that the kids in the youth group were no more interested in spiritual things than their secular counterparts at my local high school. So I felt alone in my faith, that there wasn’t anyone I could talk with when I was excited about something God had shown me in the Word or a struggle I was encountering. But then one day this nice girl who I kind of knew at school invited me to a Bible study at some people’s house who I did not know. In fact, she invited me several times when I did not attend in response to the first invitation. But I’ll never forget that day when I finally did go in response to her sweet invitations. Talk about the blessings of God – I was ecstatic to find other teen agers who loved Jesus, who delighted in the Bible, and who wanted to hang out and share about their faith. I remember feeling like I didn’t want that evening to end, like I’d finally come home.

That particular Bible Study was put on through Campus Crusade for Christ. As I sought out more activities that they sponsored locally, and began attending them, I encountered a woman in her late 20s named Linda. Looking back on it I can see how God used Linda to supply some of what I didn’t receive at home. Linda really saw me, to Linda I was not invisible. She invested in me and helped me begin to see that I was a person of value to God, she helped me learn how to share the gospel and be used by God to bring others come into His Kingdom, how to share a 3-minute version of my testimony in public gatherings, how to plan outreach events, how to lead Bible studies, and how to invest into others as she was investing in me.

By the time I graduated high school I wanted to do more for God. I wanted to separate for God, to be holy and His so He could use me. So I decided to go to a Christian college. The president of the college I chose is a renowned Christian. I’ve seen God bless His preaching to bring many into the Kingdom. He is brilliant when it comes to Bible exegesis. But, still, to this day, when I listen to this man preach, I don’t feel like he really likes me or other sinners. I never feel good enough around people like him. To me it feels like the love is missing. I do not say this to be critical of the man, but more to underscore how this type of Christian culture fit right into my sick need to be perfect. I’d managed, out of all the fine Christian higher learning institutions, to pick one of them that fit me in a bad way. I could continue to pursue an unrealistic goal of perfection and continue to never feel good enough. I could continue to feel like I could never get it right.

One of the memories from that Christian college that really stands out, was when I had to go before a review board. The review board was comprised of students but sponsored and attended by a specific faculty member. The reason I had to go before that board was because I kept missing the night time curfew. I felt like there I was not measuring up, and for some reason that I failed to understand at the time, I also felt angry. As an adult looking back at the whole thing, I just feel sad. Sad and concerned; concerned that the faculty advisor would let things go how they did. No one ever cared enough to try to find out why I kept missing curfew. When I tried to explain, they brushed my explanations aside and told me that following rules that were set by those in authority honored God. As an adult, I can see how the reason why I kept missing curfew was totally important. I missed curfew because of my work schedule and transportation problems. Even though I was a scholarship student, and my parents helped out, like many college students I still needed to work part time. The closest job I could find to campus was at a fast food restaurant where I had the late shift and closed at night. That job still would have allowed me to make the curfew except that, since there were not any buses locally at that time of night, I had to walk the few miles back to campus housing. As an adult I’m horrified to think of an 18 year old woman walking alone in that area at that time of night. I’m appalled that none of those other Christian students on that review board offered to help me; to work with me to allow me to pay them and they provide me with a ride back to campus so that I could not only make the curfew but remain safe. Unfortunately, none of that happened. Instead I got off with a warning that I must come into compliance with the rules. Yet God used that experience in my life to put a fire within me to be merciful, to always realize that things may not be as they appear.

After a couple of years I left that Christian college and finished up my degree at a University of California. I enjoyed my time there, but I still lived a life of striving. I still never felt good enough. I still felt like it was up to me to be the fixer.

I fixed myself into and out of an alcoholic marriage. My first husband loved God and wanted to be a pastor, but never really put corresponding action to those desires. He started drinking again and things went from what I’d call “normal dysfunctional” to chaos as the drinking continued. All my efforts to control his drinking were useless. We were blessed with a son but that only seemed to intensify his drinking. We split up. I did start attending Al-Anon during this time and began to see the roots of my sick perfectionism and began to deal with my need to control. But I was lonely, and couldn’t seem to connect with God to fill my loneliness. My second husband was in a Bible study group that I attended at church. He seemed the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He showered me with attention and it felt great. I just couldn’t get enough. Here was someone to whom I was not invisible. Even when we sinned and got pregnant outside of marriage, he stepped up to the plate and persuaded me to marry him. I thought I’d finally got it right.

Until after 2 years of marriage and 2 more sons. As the years passed by the stress of day to day living hit. As he got to really know the real me and was not at all happy with anything I did. He constantly told me how I didn’t measure up and I constantly believed him. I just kept trying and trying to be good enough and never made it. He was on his second extramarital affair before I finally caught on to what was happening. But, being the product of my background, I felt like it was all my fault. So my response was to work even harder at trying to be a good wife; I thought that if I could just get it right he would love me. I never got it “right”. He left me for the other woman. Or perhaps he just left me because it wasn’t working for him; that’s the reason he gave.

I was devastated. I’d failed twice at marriage!! Not only was I not perfect, but I wasn’t even in the ball park of OK. To say I was discouraged at this point in my life would be an understatement of extreme proportions. As I look back on this time in my life I’m reminded of the beginning of Jesus’ sermon on the mount that’s recorded in Matthew 5:3 (MSG):

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

Because I couldn’t pretend any longer that I could fix the world and make everything right, because the illusion of my control was finally shattered, I finally let go. I stopped trying to control everything simply because I was out of ideas as to how. I reached out to God as never before because there was no where else that I knew to turn.

Then God worked. He blessed me with my job coming to me and offering significantly more money to move. He supplied my sons and I a great place to live. He got my sons into really good schools in our new area. He gave us a church where the boys would be blessed and taught and where I eventually made some of the best friends of my life. He met our financial needs time after time during the next few years. He grew my skills and self confidence through my job. He showered a peace on me through all the tough times during those years, that went beyond anything I could ever imagine.

After several years, God even surprised me by bringing me a man who loved Him and was capable of loving me. I’d assumed that it was definitely a two strikes and you’re out kind of situation. But there was God taking the pieces of my life that I’d messed up, and building them into something good.

After re-marriage we moved. Once again I had to make new friends, start working at a new location. The company I’d worked for during the past 9 years even let me go. But, because of all that I’d seen God bring me through in the past, even though I was hurt and bewildered, I knew I could count on Him. I’ve experienced more of God’s mercy, grace, and love than ever before in my life.

As I’ve stopped trying to be good enough, and just received His mercy and forgiveness for my sin, my inadequacy, I’ve become free. Free of the burden of doing things right all the time. Free to just focus on doing the next thing God puts in front of me through the power of His Spirit.

What about you, what’s God set you free from?


Anonymous said...

Tracy, thanks for posting your story. Father love you :)

photogr said...

I have been set free from a lot of things over the years. Although I felt I was not worthy due to my sins, He have given me many chances to be free of the baggage that kept me from him.

Not a decision happens in my life that I don't trust in Him to guide me. I just have to let go of the controls and allow Him to manage things.

Now I know Him. I just have to keep my part of the coveneant.

EarthboundAngel84 said...

Dearest Tracy,

Thank you so much for sharing your story. This really spoke to me. God has really been working with me on some tough stuff and your story was very encouraging. I can't thank you enough. So much of what you said were words from my own heart. I wish you love, blessings and the very best that God has for your life.