Out of Suffering

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Khalil Gibran
Recently I received a bulletin in the mail with the welcome news that a local church was opening a biblical counseling center. It is a sorely needed resource and I am sure many will benefit from it. I’m not exactly sure what kind of clients and issues they will receive, but Im very excited for the church and the community. Kudos to those involved for reaching out and beginning this ministry.
As I continued to read the bulletin, I found myself remembering my own journey in counseling some years ago. It was not easy and it was not brief. It lasted for two years and every moment and every session was very necessary for me.
 Its Christmas morning and Im ten years old. My brothers and sisters are in another part of the house. Im in my room on the floor, playing with a new toy. The adult (I choose here not to reveal more for my own reasons) comes in, shutting the door.I know right away Im in trouble. The adult demands to know why I did it. I dont know what “it” is and just stare. Again I’m asked why I did it. I bite my lip and look with scared eyes.The adult knocks me on my back and begins pressing down on my neck. It becomes more and more difficult to breathe…I wont go any further except to say on that Christmas morning my terrible crime was…stepping on a crayon. I had supposedly stepped on, and broken, a crayon. This is a small snapshot of one day in that house.
What you read above is a very small part of the life that I lived as a child and teen. Unfortunately, the result of that life echoed long into my adult-hood. I had to work very hard and be committed to counseling, in order to deal with what happened. It was a long drawn-out process. How do you begin when all you know as “normal” is far from normal? The beginning to healing can be quite rocky. But I did begin again and I learned. I learned I will never get an answer as to why because there are no answers. I learned you do not “get over it” but you do learn to live with it. I learned you stop apologising for surviving and I’ve learned to be OK-to be more than just OK.
I know sometimes people harbor the idea that we must sweep it under the rug and not speak of it.When you sweep everything under the rug the pain grows until it explodes and covers everything around you with its’ ugliness.  I haven’t lived in that ugliness, that secrecy, in quite some time now. However counseling was only part of the equation of healing. There is The Healer, and without Him, I could not find the peace I truly needed.
This year at age 48, I accepted Christ, and Pastor A. brought me out of the baptismal waters to be raised with Christ to live with Him.This does not mean the past is magically erased. It is not and I do not want it to be. My past is given to God to shape me and to become the person He wants me to be. I am excited to see what path He chooses for me as He leads me. God took a scared beaten child, a confused abandoned teen, a drifting young adult, a lonely divorced mom–I am all of those things past and present–and gave me His Life and Love.
Life and Love-this is what will make the new counseling center so unique-because while offering counseling services they will also be offering the Love of Christ for all who walk through the door.So as this new center gets under way, please give them both your prayers and support.

A Lamp For My Feet

One of my favorite quotes about the act of writing goes something like this:

“Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

It makes sense. You write, back up, go another way, ask for help, but keep on day after day, until you get where you want to be with the work you value so much. 

Being a new Christian can be like this process of writing. For instance, at the moment things are bumpy and my life is less than perfect. I’m divorced and I can feel lonely and disapproved of at times. I also have a degree but am unemployed. It can and, at times, does hurt.

This week I felt overwhelmed. I tried to find comfort and talked to a friend who texted me and said: “Sometimes we need to lose it all in order to gain what God wants us to have.  It wasnt exactly what I wanted to hear but what, deep down, I needed. That is why he is such a valuable friend. He gave me truth. I am, by all accounts, completely stripped of my former life. But if I had not lost it all would I have completely turned my life over to God? That is a question I could easily lie to myself about.

 In this past week of feeling the pain and acknowledging the loss, I came across a passage from Psalm 119:

Your Word is a lamp for my feet
a light for my path
I have taken an oath and
confirmed it
that I will follow your righteous laws
I have suffered much
preserve my life Lord
according to your word
I was overcome by what I gained there in the reading. Think about it. If it is completely dark and you place a blindingly bright lamp at your feet, the immediate area around you will be lit up but the brightness will slowly fade into the shadows the farther out into the night you go. God’s word is the lamp at my feet and He leads me and guides me along the way. It is not that His Light ever dims but in my humanness, I do not see the entire road, only what is right in front of me. So I must cling to Him, and to His Word, and trust always in Him. 
So as I continue on this journey, new Christian that I am, I do not know what God has in store for me. The old has fallen and been stripped away and in time God will let me know which turn in the road I am to follow. I continually must hold myself out in an act of trust knowing that Jesus won’t ever let me fall. His Word will always be the light for me every step of the way.

Doers and Draggers

As a new Christian,  I am on this journey and it is one of change. It is much like a winding road that is neither entirely smooth nor entirely rocky.  I welcome it but at the same time, it is a change I must be aware of and there are times I must make choices. Some of these choices are easy and some have challenged me. Some have to do with habits and some have to do with who I surround myself with. All of these choices have made me step back and reflect on my commitment to Jesus.

For instance, every day now I wake and, instead of checking my email and scrolling through the various social media, I reach for my Bible.Though I do not have an organized reading plan, the place I turn to is usually what I need to take into my heart as I read and pray. I’ve discovered that by making Bible reading and prayer my anchors of the day–first thing in the morning and last thing at night–I am grounded in a way I would not have ever thought possible.I believe it is especially important for me, as a new Christian, to engage in this kind of reading/prayer daily so I don’t become a one-hour-on-Sunday-Christian, but instead, someone who has a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. This will serve as a good foundation for me.

Another step on this journey of change is the whole concept of control. Oh boy, how I loved the illusion of being in control. Even when my life was a hot mess (which was…lets see…most of the time) I wanted to think I had it all in my control. When I turned my life and heart over to Christ, suddenly my life wasn’t mine anymore-not that it ever was anyway. But by consciously giving it over to Him, I have this peace I didn’t have before. I admit, it can be a struggle to relinquish that will and that trust, especially when I’ve never had cause to trust very much before. But God knows. He knows and He will take me exactly where I need to be. And I ask Him to use me in all ways for His Glory. Wow. What an amazing, amazing thing to become a child of Him and say “Thy Will be done.”  It doesn’t mean I don’t feel the struggle-Im a single mom, seeking work and I have all the same burdens most do in today’s economy…the dfference is now I give it all to Him and I know He will lead me as I walk with Him in trust.

On this journey I have found some of the major stumbling blocks will be people you know. And let me tell you nothing is more painful-humiliating, than to hear someone who knows you, sarcastically bringing up a past sin of yours in front of others. There are those who like to do that. I cannot speculate on why they feel it necessary, only that they do. I call them “draggers.” They grab onto others’ sins with all the tenacity of a young puppy dragging its master while on its first walk. He or she will then tell it all, first chance they get, to an audience while in front of you. If you are confronted with a dragger who wants to diminish your relationship with Jesus, simply say this one thing:  “That’s old news to Jesus but let me tell you what I’m doing today that Jesus is *really* excited about.” And it can be a large or small thing in your life but I assure you that Jesus is happy. Don’t let the draggers walk you on their leash away from Jesus. 

So as I walk this journey as a new Christian, I am confronted by the fact that I must be a doer, as a lover of our Lord Jesus Christ. I must read The Word and pray as  my anchors to the day, I must trust and give Him my will even when its a struggle and I must never let old sins become stumbling blocks in the hands of the draggers but always keep my eyes and heart forward on this journey with Christ.

Not A Fan

“And I hope nobody tells them that they’re supposed to act like they’ve got it all together. You don’t often get to see people without a mask. And it’s such a beautiful thing. ~from the book “Not a Fan” by Kyle Idleman. Zondervan books, 2011

 I had not planned on writing another post here until sometime next week. What changed my mind was an unexpected gift my pastor gave me in his sermon last Sunday; the day I happened to be baptized. Pastor L. briefly mentioned a book called “Not a Fan” by Pastor Kyle Idleman. Intrigued, (blame it on my degree in English and Creative Writing) I went home and looked it up. After reading a summary of the book and the rave reviews, I bought it.

Best. Baptismal. Gift. Ever.

It has radically changed my view of what it means to be committed to Christ. How easy it would be to just be a fan and not a  committed follower. It challenged me and stripped away all the niceties that one puts up as barricades for the world and for one’s church family. I could go to church every Sunday, attend bible study, dress the right way, say the proper things, avoid certain music and movies…but will Jesus know me?

What Pastor Idleman sets before me is the truth. I can do all those things but I better have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I better be passionate and committed and never content to just sit. Don’t misunderstand! Bible study, church service, and all that goes with it are good and necessary things to grow in your faith. But what I understand the book to say is that we get so comfortable with the facade of doing these things we become fans instead of followers. It is our mask we present to the world.

As I read about these masks we wear, the pastor wrote of new church members talking about themselves in a very honest way. And he found that beautiful. Imagine: as a pastor he found this kind of honesty, which shows brokenness and imperfection and need, beautiful. He found it to be so because the new members had not learned to hide behind the mask of doing the accepted and the expected.  I want to be that honest for Jesus.

As I reflected on my own “mask” I realized something. I worry about how my new church family will accept me. I’m not exactly a replica of Aunt Bea on The Andy Griffith show. I have a  past, as I briefly touched on in my first post. I made some choices in my life that hurt. Those things might be easily hidden under a mask of being the “good Christian” who does all the right things in front of the right people and smiles as if she has it all together. What’s not so easily hidden though, are the visible signs of my past life: my tattoos. A couple of them, specifically the one on my left arm, are hard to hide in 90 degree heat.

The tattoos came at a time when I needed to feel as if I were in  complete control. I wanted to feel in control of my life and my body and what I could and could not do.  The temporary “high” I got emotionally and mentally from the tattoos was just that-temporary. The real issues had yet to be addressed but unfortunately the ink could not be wiped away once I had finally faced my problems.

So here I am, new Christian, and at times fretting about keeping covered so “no one knows” even when its melting hot. But after reading the above passage I quoted from Pastor Idleman’s book, I saw myself differently.

Jesus knows those tattoos are there-from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to the Greek mythology to others-He knows what’s on my skin. But more importantly, He knows whats in my heart. And I don’t want to wear a mask or play pretend.

Jesus already knows every thing, every tiny detail, every miserable decision and wrong choice–I’ve given it all to Him. So why do I hold so tightly to this thing of the past when it’s been soothed by His Love? That is the mark of being a fan who wants her mask to stay on for the world to see. Because its easy.

I’m laying that mask down. I am not in control and I have His Peace. God has alot of work to do with me and that’s OK. So maybe next Sunday I’ll wear short sleeves and if my Van Gogh tattoo peeks out now and then, I won’t fret. After all, it’s old news to Jesus anyway. Then I can just focus on being a follower because the last thing I want is to be a fan of Jesus.

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Buried with Christ in Baptism and Raised to Walk with Him…

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased

On June 3, 2012 I was baptized at Spotswood Baptist Church.This may not seem an unusual event. People are baptized at every service in every corner of the world yet, for me, this baptism…this “dying and raising”…. truly marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

 It is nothing short of a miracle that I stood in the baptismal waters with the pastor as he uttered the words that branded my heart. I struggled for many years with all the typical wounds a survivor of physical and emotional childhood abuse has. I had issues with self-esteem, revolving door relationships and sexual  behavior. You name it, I struggled with it. As I say to people: As a teen and young adult I was a walking reaction to the actions done to me by an adult. It took a long time, including serious committed counseling, before I began to emerge from an unspoken need to self destruct. But even then, even in the healing, there was another Healing I needed. Another Love.

The one constant in my life, from my childhood on, was God. That would strike people who knew my family as very odd. I didn’t have faith practiced in my home growing up, in fact the idea of faith was sneered at and treated with utter contempt. But I had grandparents who were, for lack of a better word, devout. They were simple farmers who lived as they spoke-with kindness and compassion and faith. They took me to church whenever they could and those few moments, along with their prayers at the dinner table and their open love for Jesus, stayed with me. It stayed with me during all the years I was angry and defiant and convinced God was for other people and not for me. Funny thing is, God doesn’t go away. He stays. Even in the worst of circumstances, He stays. He stayed with me.

For the last two years my heart has felt this perpetual tugging of wanting to open and to surrender. I fought it, ignored it, explored other religions, and acted in opposition to what was good and right. It made me downright miserable.The more I considered it, the more I felt the sharp edges of my heart melting. I talked for hours with a trusted friend who wisely asked more questions than preached, shared his life rather than admonished, and just listened.

Three weeks ago I gave my life and heart to Christ. The joy overflowed and the peace entered. The Peace. How do I describe this Living Peace which has entered me?  I can only say it is the opposite of what was in my life and it is everything that is and will be.

Lest you think I have “new believer fever” let me tell you what I ask and pray for: I ask that I not be a bright fire that burns itself out too quickly, but instead, a steady flame for Him. That is what I ask.

So this is how I came to be in the baptismal waters on the morning of June 3rd. Joyfully I was buried with Christ and rose to walk with Him.

I realize I didn’t touch on certain issues in depth here with this first post but will probably do so in later ones. This is merely a beginning and a small snapshot of what God is doing in my life. Ultimately I hope this blog serves as a sharing of my thoughts and my journey with Christ and I hope you enjoy reading and sharing with me each step of the way.~Kathryn

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