This weekend I was blessed as I got to attend my church’s Ladies Retreat. It was a time for me to think, to laugh, and to grow. As I sit here on this quiet Sunday afternoon, I have been taking some time to look back over some of the notes I took over the last two days. Looking through my plethora of messy scribbles, I found one statement that stuck out: “When Jesus heals us, He sends us home to tell our story.” Jamy Fisher, our bible teacher, made this statement in reference to the many stories in the bible where after Jesus healed someone, that person went back to their families and towns and shared what had happened to them.
I began my forties hurt, wounded, and pretty angry with God. You see my thirties were dark, difficult years. That 10 year period began with a failed marriage that rocked me to my core. I was hurt, betrayed, devastated, ashamed...the list could go on. The decade ended with my youngest daughter running away from home. Once again the air was knocked out of my lungs as my heart crumbled into a million different pieces. During that time period, my heart cried out over and over “Why?!?!” “Why is this happening?!?!” My faith was shaken and I was angry with God. I knew Jesus was my hope. I knew, in Him, I would find healing. But I didn’t feel like being friends with Him, and I definitely wasn’t in the mood to talk to Him. Even though I knew I should trust Him, I wasn’t sure if I was willing to trust Him with my life, my heart, my future.
During this period I learned that God isn’t afraid of my anger. No matter where I am in life, He loves me just the same. I’ve always believed in the promise that “joy comes in the morning,” but morning doesn’t always come on a fixed schedule. Sometimes we have to thoroughly exhaust our anger and pain before we can move forward. I know God is there waiting to share the hope of a better tomorrow. However, He is also patient enough to let me process and grieve when need be, and I am so thankful for that.
Sometimes, we’re angry for so long though, we clutch tightly to it, we become friends with it.
It becomes something we are so familiar with that we don’t want or know how to let it go. This is what happened to me. I finally came to a place in my life where I wanted something different. I wanted to find that elusive joy. I wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus. But I had a problem. My anger had become my constant companion. I didn’t know how to kick it to the curb.
By my 40th birthday my church attendance had become sporadic, who knows the last time I had opened the pages of my bible, and I definitely wasn’t praying. I had set aside my foundational beliefs in favor of holding on to bitterness. Because that’s what happens to anger when you hold on to it too long—it becomes bitterness. I longed for healing. I longed for restoration. But I was so very lost.
As a side note, I want to say that even then, God loved me. Even then, God’s hand was on me, and He was protecting me. You see in the middle of that 40th year, in the middle of that anger and bitterness, God still loved me enough to send me Robert. God wanted (and still wants) the best for me. And in the middle of all that ugliness, God sent me the best husband (future husband at the time) I could have dared to hope for.
As I saw Robert’s genuine relationship with God, it encouraged me to begin seeking again. Even though I wasn’t “feeling it” I decided to find my way back to church. I made a resolute decision I was going to go. I was going to be there every Sunday no matter what. Can I tell you how hard those first weeks and months were?
Church was the last place I wanted to be.
I’ll be honest; some Sundays I sat and played on my phone during the sermon, but I kept coming Sunday after Sunday. Slowly I began to listen to the sermons more and more. And then I began to ask, how does this sermon apply to me? Please hear me—this was a very slow process—I’m talking months and months.
When Robert and I married, we not only made a commitment to go to church, but to also get involved in Sunday School. I think connecting with small groups is so important. This small group of people have no idea how they have ministered to me. They have loved me sincerely—my rough edges and all. Through this small group I started studying the word again. I found myself reading scripture again and reminding myself of truths I learned as a child. And I began to pray again—to talk to God, and believe and know that He was hearing my heart.
Each step I took back towards the feet of Jesus, I took because I knew that was where I’d find my peace, not because I was “feeling it.” I really want to point this out because I know that many times in my life I have thought that if I didn’t have this big emotional moment with Jesus, then it wasn’t real or legit. Part of what I have learned over the last few years is that I can count on Jesus’s promises whether I’m “feeling it.” or not.
Pain really and truly sucks.
If that offends you or makes you feel uncomfortable I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain. Either one can become overwhelming and drown out everything else around you. I know because I’ve had way too much of both in my life.
However, in life, we seldom get to do what we really want, and unfortunately, you don’t get a day off from Lupus. So, when faced with the potential of debilitating pain—pain that would consume me if I let it. In those moments, what I actually do is bare down, grit my teeth, and become a first class actress who is an expert at manipulating her audience into seeing only what she wants them to see.
You may not realize this unless you’ve lived with chronic pain, but pain, all to often, makes other people uncomfortable. So, I have learned that the way to handle it is to put on a plastic smile and just endure. My closest friends can usually see through my facade, but I’m pretty good at fooling the rest of the world.
I made the decision years ago I wasn’t going to let Lupus stop me from living my life. Sometimes I pay for that decision when it causes my lupus to flare, but I don’t regret the decision.
I don’t know what it is you may be facing today. Maybe it's chronic pain like me, or maybe it’s emotional pain from personal tragedy or trauma, or maybe it’s something else. I want to encourage you to keep going, keep holding on, keep taking the next step. I don’t type those words lightly. I know from personal experience, that sometimes, it might seem easier to surrender—to give in. But on my most difficult days I’ve had two things that have given me strength: the love of family and friends and the hope of a great God.
In Joshua 1:9 it says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” NASB
With love, strength, and God given courage, you and I can continue to embrace life even on the really hard days. Don’t give up my dear friend.
I often feel inadequate about so many things. Like many others, I am my own worst critic. It is so easy to be unkind and harsh with myself. Much of the time I feel like my flaws and shortcomings stick out like a green neon shirt. I definitely can’t miss them, so they must be glaringly bright to all those around me.
What is it in my life that I need to accept? The longer I’ve focused in on the word, the more I found myself looking inward. I came to realize that before I can truly accept anyone or anything else, I need to learn to accept myself. This should be my starting place. How incredibly wise to make this the first word on a list of meaningful words.
I could almost instantaneously start a list of all the things I don’t like about myself or the areas where I believe I fall short. If I’m honest with myself, I often feel inadequate or that I’m a failure.
I feel so flawed and cracked.
My life has been filled with scars and hurts for so long. It’s hard to believe that I can become anything useful and beautiful in God’s sight again. Instead of embracing who I am and choosing to accept myself, I tell myself that “I’m a failure” and “I’m not enough.”
I am coming to realize that I need to clean house and exterminate these destructive thoughts from my life. In dwelling on these negative opinions, I have come to see how detrimental these messages are. I have allowed them to dwell in my heart and mind. Because of this, I view everything in my world through the filters of failure and self-disapproval. None of these thoughts bring glory to God or reflect His truths. Neither do they honor myself or who God made me to be.
The truth is, however, I can be so quick to be overly critical and harsh with myself, when in the same instances or circumstances, I wouldn’t hesitate to extend grace to someone else. Grace is such a beautiful thing. It should be freely given when the need arises, but I am oh so quick to withhold it from myself.
But how would my life look different if I truly could learn to accept myself?
Accept all my imperfections and shortcomings. If, and it’s a big if, if I can resolutely choose to accept myself, if I can choose to show myself grace and choose to receive the Grace that God so freely gives, well, then, God can take the dried, cracked vessel of my life; he can rework and remake it into something completely new.
You see, for a long time I have prayed, “God please make me that girl I used to be. The girl who could be used by you.” But now I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I was praying the wrong thing. Maybe I should be praying for God to remake me into something new. A new, more mature woman with scars that are healed. Scars that might allow me to help someone else along the journey.
Our pastor once told us about an ancient Japanese art of fixing broken pottery called Kintsugi. It is when an artist takes broken pottery and repairs it. Instead of camouflaging the cracks, the repairs are made with gold, silver, or platinum. The artist intentionally calls attention to the cracks by filling them with precious metals. Through this process, the piece often becomes even more beautiful than it once was, while still honoring the history of the piece. What a beautiful picture I can take for my life. God can take all the flaws and difficult pieces of my life. He can put them back together and make me whole again and more beautiful than I was before.