Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Life is Not My Own

I'm 32 years old today. That means it's been 17 years since my freshman year of high school, 13 years since I finished high school, 10 years since beginning my bachelor's degree (at least the one that I completed), 7 years since I completed my degree, and 5 years since my husband and I got married. Lying in bed this morning and looking back at my past, I felt like I was looking down a tunnel...a tunnel of memories. (Cheesy I know.) And I know it's not really that long a one, and one day (if God wills) it will probably be much longer, but it seems really long.

I was laughing at myself this morning, at all the plans that I've made, dreams I've had, and things that I've decided that I would do...most of which have never happened. And then I smiled, and realized how thankful I am that my plans for this life have not worked out, because if they had I would not be married to the man that I am married to today. I would not have the children that I have, and I would be living somewhere completely different, going to a different church, and living an entirely different life...and it would not be nearly as good as the one I am living right now. The truth is, this life is not mine, it's God's. And I don't have to do anything special, or be anything special for that to be simply is the truth...whether I choose to acknowledge it or not. Because God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died so that I could live...and today I am living still because of Him.

And now, I'm getting all choked up, thinking of the goodness and love of God, of which I am so entirely ill-deserving. It's not something I earned, it's something HE gave. It's not something I chose to accept, it's something He chose to give. I am not mine, I am HIS. And the wonder and glory of this is so amazing and undeniable and awesome, that I can't decide whether to laugh or cry, because it's so beautifully overwhelming that I could easily do both. Why is this so wonderful and glorious? Because God is so incredibly good. Incredibly, indescribably good. He gives me grace and love that I couldn't possibly earn, and showers me with blessings that I couldn't possibly gain, ones that I would never know that I needed if it were not for him. Because some of the biggest blessings have been born from the greatest pain, and some of the things that were a curse have been transformed by blessings innumerable... simply by the loving work of my gracious life-giving heavenly Father.

And I realize, at the same time, that I am tired. Tired of trying to figure my life out, tired of trying to plan my life around me. Because I have seen how much better God's plan is, and always has been, for my life. I want to look up at Him, rather than inward at myself. I want to ask Him to show me what it is He is calling me to, each and every day, rather than trying to do what it is that I want and figure out what I "need" to do for myself. I want to live my life intentionally in light of Him, because He's showed me all along that His work is better, that His plan is greater, and that His love is deeper, than anything I could ever come up with on my own. And I amazed by Him and by the undeserved love and favor that He has poured out on me through all the years when I thought I was living "for" Him, but in reality was really just living BECAUSE of him.

Father, Father God,

Thank you for all the years of love and care that you have poured out on me. Years when I thought I was living For you when I was really living for myself, and yet you loved me with that "Never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love." Your love is a love that I could never earn or deserve. And I am amazed and astounded by it. It's such a gift and often I don't understand or comprehend it, but I am thankful for it. I know that all the work that you've done in my life has been a gift, one that I could never have earned or deserved or created on my own. 

I want my life to be centered on you, because you are the center of all things. Because you are my loving Father God. And I am astonished and amazed and awed by you, and how you have continually showed and poured out your love for me all these years, over and and over again. I want each and every day to be intentionally devoted to you, because you are my everything and you make everything in my life a blessing. From the hardest and most painful days, to the easiest and most pain free days. All of them are a wonderful gift because of you.

Show me what it is that you are calling me to, and help me and strengthen me to follow your calling each and every day. Make my life a testimony to you. And show me how and where I can best serve you, in my home, in my marriage, in my church and in my friendships. I'm all-in. There is no other way that I want to live. Make me like Jesus more every day, and show me your truth in every way. 

In the name of my wonderful Savior Jesus I pray, in the power and light of the Spirit...Amen.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Under Grace

Today, after some prayer and contemplation, I decided that I needed to change the name of this blog to The Miraculous Grace of Jesus. I feel convicted that Understanding Purity was a title that kept me too bound to one subject too much and came more from a place of pride, than a focus on Christ. My desire was to bless people, but it was to bless people through MY ministry, rather than to be a part of Christ's ministry. What do I mean? It can be a subtle thing, but it is connected more to wanting to share what I know, rather than a desire to minister the grace of God and record the grace that God has given me. This isn't true of everyone who has a specific ministry, but for me it was. And I think that was why God allowed me to be hindered so much in my writing. Because, by the love and grace that he has for me, it is about him and his glory, rather than about me and what I know...even if that knowledge is from him.

 My Father God is amazing, wonderful and incredible. He has given me so much, far more than I ever could have earned or known or asked on my own, and I want to share that amazing, incredible grace with others. Sometimes that might mean writing about purity, but I think, really, it's just going to be about the love of God, poured out through the saving blood and resurrection of Jesus, by the work of the Holy Spirit. I don't know what it's going to look like, how often I'm going to write, or when I'm going to have time to record what God is doing in my life. But I don't think those things are important. What is important, is that I have the unearned, undeserved, unasked for privilege of knowing and being known, loving and being loved by a God who is infinitely more amazing and wonderful than I could ever understand. And because of how amazing it is to know Jesus, I MUST write about it. I cannot keep from writing about it. Because he is wonderful and he deserves to be made much of.

More and more, as God grows me in the knowledge and love of Jesus, I feel drawn to one set of verses in the Bible that entice me and challenge me and speak to my heart deeply. They are found in Romans 11:33-36, which says: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." 

There are tears of awe and joy threatening to well up in my eyes as write, because the amazing wonder and grace of God has been so great in my life, I can barely comprehend even a tiny portion of what it all means. But I know that all the "wisdom" and "knowledge" and all the hopes and dreams that I have had up till now, no matter how right and godly they may have seemed at the time, have all been stripped away and the only thing that matters any more is God. I am sure that this is a place that I will have to be returned to again and again throughout my life. But right now, he is all that I want. And in wanting only him, somehow my love for my husband and my children and my brothers and sisters in Christ and my family are grown more than anything else ever could grow them. In wanting only him, I want my husband more, I want to serve my children more patiently, and I want to work more fruitfully in my home and love others more effectively. It may seem like a contradiction, but somehow it is not it is not a work that I am doing in my own life, it is a work that Christ is doing in me and I am in awe at the greatness of his love and power. 

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o'er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o'er them from the throne!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
'Tis an ocean vast of blessing, 'tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, 'tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee! ~ Samuel Trevor Francis

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Amazing Love of Jesus

I can't believe that it's been over a year since I posted my last blog. More than that, it's been 18 months. So, where have I been? I have been experiencing the amazing love of Jesus and the incredible refining grace of God. But to tell you the full story, I have to go back before I started this blog, to 2010, when I had a beautiful little daughter, she is our first child and she is an incredible gift and blessing from God. But, like many new mothers, I experienced a lot of emotional complications that resulted in a downward spiral into postpartum depression. It crept up slowly. Some days I couldn't get up, some days I just felt listless and worn out, other days I just felt angry and didn't know why. By God's grace I was able to take care of my daughter, but it was really hard. Then, not long after, I became pregnant with our second daughter. Also beautiful, fiery and full of life.

Both girls are treasures, beautiful, wonderful blessings from God. But there were days when it was so hard to see that. At times the depression lessened and almost went away, only to come back worse. And I began to feel guilty, thinking that maybe there was something that I was doing wrong. But I still didn't tell anyone, or open up about what I was dealing with. It just seemed too hard and I was so afraid of what other people would think of me. I had a that all-to-common stigma of depression, thinking that it was something that really good, godly, true Christians didn't get. So I hid it. And I hid it pretty well. The only indication was the constant messiness of my house, that I could never seem to find the energy to conquer. But, generally, people see a messy house and they wonder why the person doesn't just get up off their chair and do something about it. They don't think that this is a struggle that isn't just rooted in laziness. Not that being depressed makes it okay not to keep your house well, because housekeeping is always something I've struggled with, but as I longed to do better in this area, the depression often overwhelmed me leaving me numb and exhausted from fighting making it that much harder to overcome an already overwhelming struggle. So guilt piled on top of the depression, and I was terrified that someone would find out my secret and some unknown "bad" thing would happen. And really, all of that was just a lie, and in my heart of hearts I knew it was...I just couldn't get rid of the fear because I was looking inward rather than upward.

You see, it wasn't the first time that I'd dealt with depression, the first time began when I was 12 years old, and didn't lift until I was 24. That time, as well, I didn't talk to anyone about it for a very, very long time. It wasn't until the spring after I was 24 that I finally really, truly, opened up to someone about what I was struggling with. And when I did, it was like a breath of fresh air and I realized, for the first time, that God didn't judge me for being depressed, that it was a very common illness that many people struggled with and that he loved me through it. The realization came at a church meeting, when two of the ladies at the church did a presentation on depression, what it looks like, and how common it is among Christians. I think I got half-way through the checklist before tears started streaming down my face. I ticked the box on nearly every single symptom, and it was okay. It wasn't my fault that I was struggling with this, and I knew that God loved me in it. Not many months later, God revealed to me some root sins in my heart that I needed to give up to him, and as I turned to him for hope, instead of looking to others, He just lifted the depression right off of me. One day I woke up and realized that God had worked a miracle. I was no longer depressed.

So, what happened, 5 years later, when I began to struggle with depression once again, in perfectly natural circumstances following the birth of my daughter? I thought that I was being selfless, I thought that I was being helpful, and I thought that I was doing what was right...but really, I was just being selfish and deceived. Because the reality was that I had built a reputation for myself, mostly in my own mind, on being the girl that God had miraculously healed from depression. I was that amazing miracle of God. Which was totally the case, but what I'd done was make that an identity for myself instead of finding my sole identity in Christ. As the struggle continued God led us to a new church at the beginning of 2012 and a rapid succession of life changes that left me reeling and sent me further and further into a depressed state...until the suicidal thoughts that before had caused me merely a momentary shudder, became an hours and sometimes day-long battle to keep moving forward with life. The pain was excruciating.

So one night, when my husband and I were having a rare but difficult argument, I suddenly found myself crying out loud that I just wanted to die. And the whole thing came out. And for a moment, I felt absolutely terrified that my husband, who had always been loving and kind to me, would reject me. Because this seemed like something that was just too bad for me even to admit. But, instead, he looked at me with eyes full of the love of Jesus, and told me that he felt closer to me in that moment, than he had in the past 2 years of our marriage. And I realized how selfish I had been, and how much I had hurt my family by my silence, and I repented and asked my husband to forgive me. Because even though I'd thought I was being helpful and being strong for my family, I'd really just been trying to protect myself. And I also began to see clearly how much God had been loving me all along, all through the dark days of depression and shame and fear.

It was during those days of silence that I had started this blog, I think in the hopes that focussing on a topic that was close to my heart would draw me out of my depression and I just couldn't keep up with it. I had been putting so many things above God in my hopes and dreams. And, in that, I was living a different kind of impurity in my life. I was giving way to the idols of this world: achievement, self-preservation, fear, strength, and security. And letting the world control me, rather than Christ. In the past year, God has been slowly and surely stripping all those things away, little by little. It's a process that I know I will be going through for the rest of my life, as one idol after another rears it's ugly head to tempt me, but it is wonderful because it is being done by God, not by my own power. And seeing God work is really wonderful. More awe-inspiring than any sunset, more amazing than any grand and glorious mountain, more incredible than any musical performance or piece of artwork or work of literature. It is wonderful because God is wonderful and amazing and incredible. My glorious God full of grace and truth and kindness and mercy.

And I began a long process of soul-searching and healing, which is still continuing today. A day or two later it was Sunday, and my amazing husband took me forward for prayer. A godly man from our church talked and prayed with us, and, for the first time I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Many dark and troublesome days followed. But I was so surrounded by the prodigious love of Jesus, and the amazing love of godly Christian community, that even in the darkest times and deepest struggles, I felt as though I was protected by a warm and tender covering. And as I put my hand in the hand of God, and reached out to the wonderful community of faith that he put me in,  I began to see small changes here and there that grew into massive changes, and I began to feel like I was a spectator in my own life. Just standing back and looking on in awe at what Christ was beginning to achieve. And As I was being prayed for, time and time again, I heard God's voice saying to me that I am his daughter and that he loves me. It was the first time that I really, truly felt that that was the case.

In a couple months it will have been a year since I told Brian what was going on with the depression that I was experiencing. I have been ministered to in so many incredible ways, by incredible people, and loved by God in so many wonderful ways...more ways than I can even count. This is such a bare summary of what has happened over the past year, but the long and the short of it is that God is amazing and wonderful and he has showered me with blessing upon blessing. The greatest blessing of all, is now being in a place where I can begin to be a blessing to others and minister to them. Because a few years ago, that was something I was barely capable of. The struggle is not over yet. There are still days when I feel down and feel sad and oppressed. But in reality, those are the moments when the light of Christ shines the brightest into my life, and even in the midst of the storm I know his peace. Not because of anything I have done or will do, but because he loves me and he has already done it all.

You can read more about my struggle with depression in a poem I wrote called Redemption.