Faithful Love

“Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found…”

Have you ever runaway or hidden from someone just to see if they would follow or search for you? It reminds me of the childhood game we would play at recess. We would run and others would try to catch us. I remember screaming in fear of being caught; and yet, there was also the sense of pleasure in the fact that someone would want to catch me.

As a teenager angry with God, I didn’t want caught. I just wanted to curl up somewhere and fade out of existence – to be no more. I was convinced being nothing was the only way I would be able to stop the pain. (Thankfully, I was wrong about that.) I also thought
I could distance myself from God. But He never stopped trying to reach me. Frequently, He would use people to try to speak love and truth to me. Some of their words made a mark on me. Yet, I kept pushing them away. Additionally, He would use songs to connect with me. He still does this as with the song Reckless Love that I have been discussing in my last few articles. The thing I really want to highlight is He never gave up on me. No matter what I did, how many times I pushed away, ran away, shut myself down – He kept pursuing me, chasing me.

He did fight to get my attention, to get me to listen, and to get me to see His love for me. And He didn’t just do this so I could know Him or believe in Him. He loves me so much that He wants me to be whole and healthy. He wants me to know the joy of being in a relationship with Him. He wants me to experience joy in the life He has given me. He was desperate to pull me out of my deep despair and into his loving, healing embrace. Only, this could not happen until I accepted His help. I am so grateful that He fought so hard for me (for over thirty years). I am grateful for his unfailing, faithful love.

Unconditional Love

“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

We have all heard the phrase “unconditional love.” Have you ever experienced it, or does it feel more like something from a fairytale? From a personal perspective, I believe my closest experience of receiving unconditional love would have been from my childhood dog. He loved me no matter what and was always over-the-moon happy to see me. Some of my cats got close; however, cats always seem to have a personal agenda. Things have to be their way. People are more on this line – tending to be more self-centered. And people are easily hurt or offended and will hold on to grudges for a life-time. And being a person, I frequently do things that offend or hurt others. Sometimes I even do them on purpose but mostly unintentionally.

God, on the other hand, looks passed all of this. He knows we are broken and messed up, and He loves us anyway. And here is the reckless part, He even loves us when we hate Him.

“When I was your foe, still your love fought for me.”

Even though I had hatred towards God – being angry with Him for the pain in my life, He did not abandon me. He walked the painful road with me; and when the time was right, He rescued me. And even while I knew He was my rescuer, still I harbored anger against Him. And He never left my side. No one else has ever loved me like this – or could. I am forever grateful to my loving Lord and Savior.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3

Reckless Love

Reckless Love, the song by Cory Asbury, is so impactful to me. It is the spiritual equivalent, for me, of the song Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack. What?!? If you were around in the 70s you will recognize the song (though I believe there has been a recent remake). Really it is just the phrase “Singing my life with his words” nothing else really relates other than the feeling of my deepest, inner being being exposed to the world.  But I have digressed way too far here. This is not the song I want to share with you. Let’s switch back to Reckless Love.

Reckless Love basically sums up my entire testimony – that is, how God saved me and gave me a new life. The reminders in the words renew my gratitude and give me hope for the days ahead as I rest in His promises that He has already fulfilled. “The Lord is my refuge and my fortress.” Psalm 91:2.

I hope you take a moment to read through the words and listen to the song. Maybe you will find your story there as well. Or maybe you will see hope that this could be your story someday. If you want that hope, just ask Him. After all, it is true that “those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10.

“Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me
You have been so, so good to me
Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me
When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

And oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

And oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah”

There is so much here that this brief article would turn into more of a book.  So, for today, I will leave you with the song.  Later, I will post again with a deeper dive into my take on these powerful words.

 

 

The Most Important Lesson

Through all of my lessons from life, the most important is that I can always trust my Lord and Savior. People will always eventually let you down and break your heart.  But my God will always be there.  And I can trust Him to comfort me when no one else will or can.  And because He is trustworthy, I can continue to love others fully – even knowing that someday there will be tears.

Memory Lane

Headed down memory lane earlier today when my husband showed me a non-profit video of a family struggling to live in the Appalachian hills. When I first heard the video describing the setting, my mind went straight to picturing a third world country. Instead, there were the familiar hills and shortly after the heavy drawl of the young man they were interviewing. There home wasn’t much different than a suburban tool shed. It did lack the vinyl siding and framed windows that frequent sheds these days. They also had no bathroom and visited a neighboring friend when one was needed. Their home was located next to the burnt remains of their mobile home.

It seemed quite unbelievable that anyone in the United States could live in such a situation. But I know first hand that it is true. I remember the days of envying my neighbors who had a trailer with electric and running water. To me they were rich and surrounded by comforts until I spent the night and the rat crawled out from under the stove. We may have been quite literally dirt poor, but we did the best we could to keep out the vermin.

Our kitchen was an aluminum shed with a large wood burning pink cast iron stove. That stove was amazing and had a reservoir to keep water warm whenever there was wood burning. Our “bedrooms” (we basically had a corner) were in a mid-size army tent along with a table and a pot belly cool stove. The walls of the tent were boarded up and covered with insulation to keep it warm in the winter. A piece of asbestos covered by roofing tin protected the insulation from the heat of the stove. And a portion of the tent roof had been cut away and replaced with tin roofing so that the stove pipe could exit the tent without causing a fire.

There was no bathroom. We did have an outhouse which my parents had built and dug the hole under. That was a lot of work, but I was grateful to no longer need to traipse out into the woods. We had a small tin tub we use as a bathtub. When the weather was nice, we could bath outside. In the winter, we set it up in the tent next to the stove. I’m not sure how often we actually bathed. It took a long time for the big pan of water to heat on the stove, and it was difficult for my mom to lift it down and carry it to the tub. Dad always washed first, then mom, and then me. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” was unfortunately too relatable of a phrase.

So how do people end up living in these situations? For my family, my dad was insane. For other’s it was family land and life was hard. They did the best they could but struggled to just live let alone make things better. Some were veterans hiding in solitude mentally ravaged by a foreign war. Other people were from a line of family members who learned to get by on disability. I just remember it being a hard place with little hope. The men could either work really hard for not much or make a career of alcohol. The women were lucky to find a man that didn’t beat them. For me, my hope was to escape. And my plan was to do the best I could at school so that I could support myself and get far away from there.

Last Father’s Day

Sunday was Father’s Day. My own husband was proudly wearing his “Rad Dad” t-shirt with a big cheesy grin. At church, there were many smiles and well wishes. Daughters and sons greeting their father’s with loving hugs, and little tikes running about with “I love my Daddy” shirts. At the end of the service, the last note from the worship band faded away, and a video began to say…

“Who…

Read you a good night story.
Taught you to ride your first bike.
Helped you with your scrapped knee.
Always invited your friends to your house.
Chased away the monster under your bed.
…”

To be honest, I can’t quite remember all the things the video listed that dads should do. An account of cherished memories that some people take for granted. My heart was breaking inside of me so I quietly left the room to find a solitary place to work through my tears. A lady stumbled upon me, saw my tears, and knowingly whispered with a nod, “I lost my own father 13 years ago.” I just nodded back with a smile. How do you explain to someone that your tears are not because your dad died but because your dad was the monster under the bed? And yet, she sort of understood my emotions as I truly was filled with grief. Filled with a grief not from the loss of a parent but from the loss of something that would never be. Grief of the absence of the memories so beautifully depicted in the video. Grief over what our relationship should have been.

Some may say that I should be over this by now, but grief is unpredictable. Ask anyone who has lost a spouse or a parent. After they are gone, you are never quite the same, and so many things can trigger your grief. It is the same for me. Some days the grief sweeps in unexpectedly and sometimes powerfully.

But I compose myself and remember the step-father with whom God blessed me. The first years were rocky as he knew nothing of kids and I was an angry and depressed high schooler. As I grew older, I began to appreciate all he did to provide first for me and my mom and later my own family. And he bestowed with me with wisdom to help me live wiser. I am thankful to have him in my life. And my daughter is blessed with sweet memories, similar to the video, made with her Pappy.

Even better is my Holy Father who has walked with me down some really dark roads. And He has filled me with His Holy Spirit to protect me spiritually and to continue teaching me better ways to live. Wisdom that will help keep me from walking back down those same, old roads that only lead to destruction. He is my joy and my love. And when my journey here is over, there will be no more grief, no more lost memories, and we will meet in His beautiful, heavenly realm.

The Little Things

My hope over these past months of writing is that those who read will be able to see all that God has done for me. He has been there for me in so many big ways: loving me when I didn’t love Him, rescuing me from hell on earth, comforting me in my struggle to find peace, teaching me to defend myself against an endless barrage of lies meant to tear me down, and even keeping me alive through threats from myself and others. Jesus has been with me through all of these big challenges. Yet, I don’t want to overlook all of the small things He has done as well.

It is easy for us, especially when we long to be strong and independent, to try to maneuver through the every day little things on our own. But we were never meant to navigate life alone. I believe I have mentioned before that I serve on my church’s worship team as a singer. This past week I unfortunately came down with labyrinthitis which is the inflammation of the inner ear. On Tuesday, just opening my eyes sent my entire world into a spin. I could not stand up straight or walk by myself. In fact, the effort of moving unsettled my stomach to the point of sickness. Saturday was the first day that I felt confident to walk on my own without holding onto someone else or a wall. What does all of this have to do with Jesus? Sunday I was scheduled to lead singing. About a third of the way through rehearsal, on Sunday morning, my energy was depleted. It was overwhelming to stand and sing, and I was struggling to get my breathe in order to support my notes. While I tried to rest to regain energy before the start of service, I prayed for God’s strength. The Holy Spirit resides in all of Jesus’ followers – and He is a spirit of strength! He did not let me down, as usual.

Our pastor has frequently been reminding us lately “that we do not have because we do not ask.” And there is more to “have” than just material things. Jesus pours on His people many blessings: love, peace, strength, endurance, wisdom, discernment, and so much more. And there is no shame in asking. He wants us to reach out to Him just as we would want our own children to reach out to us.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:7-11 ESV

Again, we are not meant to walk through life alone. Jesus can be your life line for traversing the big and little challenges of life. And learning to trust Him in the little things will help you to remember and to know His goodness and faithfulness when things get hard.

The Next Climb

Have you ever been hiking and you could see the top of the hill, but your body was crying out to stop? So you do some self talk, “Look how close it is. You can do this. Just a few more steps, and you’ve made it.” With determination, you continue the climb only to find that what you saw wasn’t the top at all. Unbelievably, there is another uphill bigger than the one before. Your heart sinks, and the self talk battle begins again. I had this same experience running cross country in high school. I’d misjudge a lag of the race just to realize there was at least another mile to go, and of course, uphill. I have found forgiveness to be the same kind of animal. Just when you think you are there, another climb begins.

Forgiveness has played a huge role in my healing process. When I was young, I wanted to hold onto my anger against my father. Like somehow my anger would hurt him. Truth is, it only hurt me. It added an even darker element to my already crushed soul. And the darkness grew by its constant hunger for hate and malice which only increased my despair and grief. I could not begin to heal holding onto so much hate. A huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders when I released that hate. At first, I tried empathy knowing that he too had faced some unknown evils as a child. This did not last and basically crumbled like a house of cards. It wasn’t until I began following Jesus that I learned that I could hand my hurts to Him which made forgiving much easier. Then I soon discovered that I kept taking my hurts back from Jesus which would completely knock the air out of my forgiveness. This was a fairly painful cycle until I eventually did learn to stop taking it back. Talk about a slow learner!

Compassion and empathy were a key component for forgiveness; however, I was incapable of extending that kind of love without God. As I learned more about Jesus and the Bible, I found peace in understanding the grace God had given me. God loved me even in my broken down, messed up state. He loved me even though I was a walking volcano of hate – a hate that I spilled out at everyone. He still loved me. And when I asked Him for forgiveness, He forgave me. He calls me to forgive others as He has forgiven me and leave judgment to Him. But again, this was not the final climb. Part of my false peace still remained in the hope that God’s wrath would be poured out on my dad under God’s judgement. I still wanted revenge.

This week a friend of mine shared her thoughts with me after reading one of my articles, “And, as difficult as it may be to hear … Jesus still loves your terrible, rotten, awful Dad. Apart from His grace (God’s grace), any of us could be as vile and evil as he. Jesus could reach down from heaven, and save your Dad … and redeem him. That to me is unfathomable grace, remarkable grace.”

She is right. And God is calling me to start another climb. A climb to the place where I can be ok if God saves my father the way he saved me. To be ok with someday seeing my father in heaven knowing that he experienced no retribution from what he put me through. That is challenging stuff. But I will be obedient through prayer. I will pray for endurance and strength for myself to follow God’s call but more importantly for my father. I will pray for his soul that he too will be able to reach out and accept God’s perfect grace. I will listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and fix my eyes, with hope, on the next ridge. And holding onto the fact that even though each new climb seems harder, the view keeps getting more and more magnificent.

My First Blessing

In just a few months, it will be a year since I started blogging. And in that time, I still have not shared my blog with my mom. There is so much I have wanted to share with the world in order to help those who are hurting, inform those who just don’t understand, and hopefully stop those who are causing all of the hurt. While I believe my message is important and needs shared, I worry about how my mom would react to reading my words. She walked most of this path with me. I have also watched her beat herself up over and over again no matter how much reassurance I give her.

For those following my writing, you know that I give all the credit to Jesus for rescuing me and leading me down the path of healing. It is important to remember that God does most of His work through other people. My mom was the first blessing God ever gave me. I have never met another person that I felt could have navigated the challenges we went through.

My mom carries a huge burden of regret in not knowing what was happening and blames herself for not protecting me. But she should not. Being apart of this story, I know better than anyone that she was drowning in her own despair. I will not go into any details about my mom as that is her story to tell not mine. But she was living a life that was not her choosing. We make so many choices in life, and unfortunately, many of them are driven by impulse, pushed on us by others and even just pure foolishness. The decisions we make as youth, when we have the least amount of wisdom, have such a huge impact on the rest of our lives.

At the peak of the darkest time of my life, my mom was trying to keep us alive. She was amazing. She grew our food and processed the deer that were our primary source of protein. Everything had to be prepped and canned to last us the year. She strived to keep as safe, clean and comfortable with the limited resources we had available. She was also the one working to provide for us and was also going to nursing school. She was tireless.

She was also the one who pointed me to Jesus though she may not know that. My father would rail on her all of the time for her faith, but she never denied Him. She would quietly bare the attacks as he would try to tear her down through insults, shouting and throwing her limited belongings. I worry that she counts her silence as weakness. To me, she maintained her ground in the only way she knew how. To me, when I think of my mom, I see incredible strength and love.

And who is worth quietly defending in the midst of constant attack? If Jesus wasn’t someone incredible, why would she endure so much for Him? And in contrast, my father was lazy and worthless. There was no love in him, and he did nothing to support us. He thought he was so wise, but there was never any signs of wisdom, only foolishness. So if my mom would endure so much for Jesus and my father hated Jesus so much, then maybe Jesus was worth seeking. And when I had no strength left to endure on my own, I followed my mom’s example and reached out to Jesus. He did not fail me.

Some, including my mom, may wonder how she could not have known. Consider being responsible for as much as she was – our entire household – which was so much harder than anyone living in normal society can even fathom. When she got home and finished cleaning up after dinner, she was completely spent. And over years and years of personal attack at home, she had retreated into herself for survival. She should carry no blame or shame. She did as much as she could – even more than that really. I will forever be grateful for my mom.

I love you, Mom.

Oceans

As a pre-teen, I was so overwhelmed by the pain and betrayal in my life that I was at the point of committing suicide. I was drowning in an emotional ocean of despair and hopelessness with no one to turn to for help. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t bear to keep living either. In a moment of desperation, I called out to Jesus for help. And amazingly, He responded. An unexplainable sense of peace descended on me in such a powerful and tangible way that I looked over my shoulder to see who had wrapped their arms around me. No one was there. And though I didn’t realize it then, I took my first step of faith that night by handing my situation over to Jesus and going to sleep. If I had not, I would not be here to tell my story.

He did not fail me. And while my story of healing spans decades, He has never left my side. With each new ocean, He is always there.

Matthew 14:22-33