Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It's a Gift....and it can be yours.

I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don't be troubled or afraid.  John 14:27 NIV

'There are times when our peace is based upon ignorance, but when we awaken to the facts of life, inner peace is impossible unless it is received from Jesus.  When Our Lord speaks peace, He makes peace; His words are ever "spirit and life."  Have I ever received what Jesus speaks?  "My peace I give to you"  it is a peace which comes from looking into His face and realizing His undisturbedness.' Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition

It was no coincidence that this was today's reading in 'ole Oswald.  Actually, every time I engage with Oswald, it is far from coincidental...sometimes it just plain freaks me out.  There hasn't been a time when I sat to open the pages of his book that it isn't spot-on, punch-me-in-the-face purposeful!  Did you catch the question he asked of us?  "Have I ever received what Jesus speaks?"  I caught it. I stayed on it long. Swelling in my heart was the answer to the question; burning its way to my lips as if I couldn't get it out fast enough.  "YES!"  My answer is "YES!"  I have received what Jesus speaks...and that is why after 1 year and 7 months almost to the day of my last entry, I am writing this.  I needed to tell you the story, my story; the one that Jesus has written about me.  This blog has several past entries, written by me, from a heart that wasn't quite whole.  They are all true stories about my life experiences, ones full of tears and laughter and God encounters...and they all matter in His pursuit of me and I would choose to live them again.  

"Ozzie", as he is affectionately called around our house,  goes on to say: 'Reflected peace is the proof that you are right with God because you are at liberty to turn your mind to Him.  If you are not right with God, you can never turn your mind anywhere but on yourself.  If you allow anything to hide the face of Jesus Christ from you, you are either disturbed or you have a false security.'  OUCH!  See what I mean...that was a straight up punch in the face!!! This was me not so long ago: self focused and falsely secure.  

My life has been marked by the "Look Good, Do Good, Be Good" mentality. I was really good at being good and really exhausted. I grew up in church, went twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays.  I had amazing grandparents who made a real effort to get me there when my parents couldn't and I rarely missed as a child.  I talked to Jesus and learned how to tell him I loved him because of a song I memorized from Psalty the Singing Songbook (come on, don't pretend you didn't jam it out to Psalty back in the day).  The problem was that nobody really told me (or if they did, it didn't sink in) that Jesus didn't just belong at church and that I could have a real relationship with Him. 

Then I became a teenager (do I really need to elaborate on this...really?)  Pretty much did my thing, attitude and all.  There were lots of times when the 'being good' part of my plan kind of fell to the wayside, but by God's grace I made it to young adulthood without any major derailments.  College was more of the same, but by this time my exhaustive efforts of "Good" were resulting in insecurity, anxiety, and fear.  I would bounce in and out of church whenever it was convenient, or if I am being transparent here and I am, if I felt like getting out of bed to get there on time.

And then enters my knight in shining armor!  Okay, so it wasn't like that at all, but stay with me.  Through a series of events (a terribly unhealthy relationship, parting ways with my roommate of 4 years,  and overwhelming anxiety and insecurity) I found myself applying for a job at a local restaurant.  It was a last ditch effort to make new friends and get out of my funk.  Long story short (because this is a whole other story that is my second favorite to tell next to this one of my redemption) I met my future husband.  He told me how important Jesus was in his life and I thought, "Hey I believe in Jesus, so this is going to work out just fine."  

We had begun attending a new church and in August of 2000 I took a step of courage toward the cross.  I left my seat during an alter call.  This was such a big deal because it meant being known and exposed and wrestling with the thoughts in my head about what everyone must think about me!  Afterall, I was back on track of Look Good, Do Good, Be Good.  I knelt down front and got to dump off a lot of things that day.  When I went back to my seat I had a new fire.  I was hungry to know all about Jesus!  And off I went...to bible studies, book stores, conferences, serving roles, journaling, and anything else I could get my hands on in the name of Jesus!  I strived to learn all I could about Him and I fell in love with Him.  He showed up big time in more than one area in my life.  I tried to do all the things I knew Jesus would want me to do but I was most often frustrated and rarely had joy.  You see, what happened that day 13 years ago was me doing what would make me feel better about myself and getting up from that alter "knowing" exactly what I "should" do for Jesus.  There was a big huge part of that encounter that was missing~an exchange.  It would take years for me to realize it~and in His greatness, Jesus never stopped pursuing me.

I kept filling my head with knowledge and doing good for Jesus.  I went on a mission trip to Malawi, Africa (that you can read about in this blog) that forever changed my heart, and stirred a love in me that I didn't know I could have. I was even baptized because I understood the act of obedience that it was and I wanted to be good for Jesus and the people in my life. We were attending a church near Columbus, Ohio at the time of the baptism and mission trip.  That church was led well, and week after week I soaked up some AMAZING teaching...but all the while I was soaking, spiritual pride was manifesting.  Nothing that was filling my head was getting to my heart!  And everyone assumed I was "good" in my walk with Jesus.  I didn't know any different and neither did they.

While I was still getting comfortable with our move from Indiana to Ohio, God was already planning a major right hand turn in our lives.  Another move....to Kentucky (of all places, the home of horses and college basketball neither of which spark any form of excitement in me).  The weeks before our move a sweet girl by the name of Angie told us about a church in Lexington that she thought we would LOVE!!  We thanked her for her help and set out to 'find our own way'...needless to say we spent weeks church shopping and every week we left empty and frustrated that it wasn't the right fit.  After one more completely brutal Sunday dragging our kids to yet another set of strange faces and leaving defeated, I said to my honey, "Next week, we are going to Quest."

We had been attending Quest Community Church for over a year and I had jumped in right away with a serving role, a women's lifegroup, a couple's lifegroup, even acceptance into Accelerate (our churches leadership development program).  I was doing it completely under my own control. I had no idea that I had never surrendered my whole heart to Jesus and received His Grace and the Gift he was offering me in exchange for my junk. What He wanted to do in my heart was not convenient for me and I fought it, hard.  I was clinging to that moment 13 years ago as MY moment of accepting Jesus and forging ahead with all "his" good!  And I was completely exhausted...if you are on the never ending merry-go-round of the Do Gooders...you know what I am talking about.

It was after hearing a message about Mary and Martha (it has always been one of my favorites by the way) when I realized my life was all about "doing things for Jesus, and rarely about being with Jesus," and that was because I had never given Him access to my whole heart.  It was at baptism three days after that message this past April, that he wrecked me.  Those being baptized shared their stories of redemption from stage. It was Sondra Stakelin's, a sweet little grandma who had lived 60 plus years doing good for Jesus, that spoke to the condition of my heart...it was a foreshadowing of where I was heading in my feat to be GOOD!  It was as if Jesus was saying to me, "You can keep going in the direction that you are going, but I can never give you rest in it".  For the first time ever I was forced to realize that I was drowning in Spiritual Pride.  I was a good girl, I loved people, there was no way I could be prideful (typical of a prideful person).  It was so hard to humble myself because I didn't want all that had happened over the past 13 yrs not to count.  My husband of 12 years, had no idea. As a matter of fact, he had just asked me two weeks earlier, "So do I really know your whole Jesus story?"  I wanted to punch him square in the nose!!  We had been married for 12 years...how could he not know me?  My family had only seen Jesus through my own pride and all I "knew" about Him.  I cheered on friends in my lifegroup who accepted Christ in my living room and I just missed it. Everyone around me had an impression of me that wasn't the real me~it was good, but it wasn't the me He created me to be.  I was embarrassed and ashamed.  Now I understand that all of those years did matter in His pursuit of me; even down to the one where Jesus gave me Isaiah 41:10 as a scared 19 year old on her first airplane flight who packed her dusty bible "just in case".  He NEVER let me go.

I kept seeing a wall, very clearly that night at the service, that I couldn't get over without laying down the control and the pride. On April 17th 2013 two amazing women in my life encouraged me and loved me as I "climbed" over that wall as they led me to Jesus and I made the exchange of my "good" for His best.  The peace in my heart was unexplainable and I could finally just sit at His feet.  I didn't care what anyone thought, my embarrassment went away, I didn't feel like I needed to perform, or even be good!!  I just felt at rest.  Since then there have been several times when my old "good" self wants to lead out, but I can bring everything under Jesus’ authority and believe who He says I am.   
Click the link to see a so sweet capture of this moment:

So on June 2nd, I made the choice to be baptized having received a new heart in Christ.  I got to stand on the stage and share my story to hundreds of people in church and online...you won't believe what Jesus did!  My husband was in the back of the church praying for me as I spoke because He wanted Jesus to show me that it mattered that I didn't keep quiet.  You see, I didn't feel my story was very significant...I wasn't rescued from the pit of despair due to addiction or abuse or abandonment....HE rescued me from myself  and answered the prayer of my honey.  While I was still dripping wet from the dunking, Jesus gave me the sweetest gift.  There was a girl sitting in the crowd, the sister of my dearest friend, who heard my story and said, "that's me".  She responded to hearing the Gospel from our Pastor and gave her life to Christ right then AND had the courage to be baptized on the spot completely unprepared.  Only Jesus can do a work like that and use a once completely prideful good girls story to make a ripple for His Kingdom!  Feeling like an "Amen" is in order in the house ;)!! Here's my favorite pic from baptism:

So here I am with John 14:27...."the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give."  Friends, this is my story.  Jesus' story that is being lived out right here in this passionate-about-a-lot-of-things-not-great-at-any-of-them-girl.  I wrote this because Jesus prompted me to...and I believe that it will matter in one way or another.  In ways that I may never know until I get to Heaven, but I couldn't keep quiet.  I needed to re-introduce myself to you and tell you that you want this kind of eternal peace.  Things are no where near Rainbows and Unicorns (as my little firecracker says) for me, but it's okay.  Even today I peeled that firecracker off my hips and handed her to her teacher screaming, because in her world a five year old needs a pair of shoes to match every outfit and she couldn't see past it...but thankfully (after a long walk, a sweet word from my honey, and a cup of coffee) I can.  I know without a doubt where I will go if these words are the last you ever read from me and getting to rest in that peace is like nothing I have ever known before and it has nothing to do with any "good" things I said or my performance.  Thank goodness I don't have to be in control of my eternity, doing God's "job" is exhausting.  So I will borrow from Ozzie and ask you "Have you ever received what Jesus speaks?"  I love you!  Thanks so much for being in this moment with me.  

A note to sweet Angie:  thanks for your obedience to Jesus in mentioning the church He wanted us to attend.  It has made all the difference. BTW, the Hamilton's are amazing!

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