Saturday, June 25, 2016

Living Unashamed

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!" 
2 Corinthians 5:17

As time goes by and we live out our lives, the chapters of our life story are constantly being written. Some chapters bring us joy and good memories. Others bring heartache, and many times feelings of guilt and shame. 

One of the biggest obstacles in my spiritual life so far has been overcoming my past...forgiving myself for the things that I did before Christ made me new. It has been through the difficult process of self-forgiveness that the true power of God's redeeming love has been revealed to me. 

To briefly summarize my testimony, I began struggling with self-hatred, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts at the age of nine, which escalated into a lot of self-destructive behavior in my teenage years, mostly in the form of cutting myself from the ages of thirteen through seventeen. There were times of eating disorders in there as well, and a suicide attempt that I will be forever grateful to have survived. Having gone through all of these struggles and incidents by the age of seventeen, I felt constantly weighed down by every horrible thing that I had already done in my young life. When I was eighteen, a Christian saved and forgiven by God, no longer engaging in constant self-destruction, I found myself still living in a state of unending shame. I was living in constant guilt over what I had done to myself and the hurt that I had caused to those close to me. I would wake up in the morning, see my scarred arms, and instantly be reminded of four years of shameful actions that I deeply regretted. I never doubted God's forgiveness, but it wasn't enough to make me forgive myself. I wasn't hurting my body with blades anymore, but I was hurting my mind and spirit with shame and unforgiveness.

I used to pray every single day that I could hide the parts of my past that couldn't be seen on my skin. I prayed that God would erase the scars off of my body, that my skin would be as unmarked as the day before I first inflicted cuts upon my own body. I wanted to hide and erase the past that I had been saved from, suppress it and pretend it had never happened. If it came up, I would simply make it into a joke so it wouldn't seem so bad and dark. It wasn't until I realized how much shame my own testimony brought me that I finally realized that I couldn't deal with my past on my own. I remember the first time that I surrendered and changed my prayer, when I asked that God would use my scars instead of begging Him to get rid of them. It was the beginning of my past no longer being a story of shame, but healing and redemption. 

Everyone who has accepted Christ has a story, a past from before they were renewed by God. Honestly, it seems sort of easy to just give my present and my future to God, letting go of the anxieties that come with them. Yet it is seemingly so much more difficult to give God my past. It's the past, it's over...I thought, "I can handle it myself", but I couldn't. None of us can. Without God, the past is a heavy weight. It will create shame that will follow you into your new life, hindering the joy and light that we are called to live in as children of God. When you give your past to God and forgive yourself, that will begin the process of healing. When every mistake is in God's hands instead of on your shoulders, and you finally let go of the shame of what you have done, you can truly begin living in freedom as the new creation that you are. Your days of living under the burden of shame will cease and become a life of living joyously, healed, redeemed, and unashamed.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Take It For What It's Worth

*Siren-Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Siren-Crash-Rooster Call-Crash-....*
My obnoxious alarm (appropriately named "Extreme Alarm Clock") goes off at full volume, waking me from the coma-like state in which I sleep. I turn it off and roll back over (I have another six alarms set anyways). The last alarm goes off and I wake up irritated and desperate for either more sleep or a giant cup of coffee. I get ready, wishing I was still in bed, and then start my day.

How many of us wake up in a fashion at least somewhat similar to that every day? Not being a morning person is just considered normal (and anyone who doesn't hate mornings, you confuse me greatly). How many of us focus on how much school or work stresses us out? How many of us get irritated when there is "no food" in the house, yet don't feel like getting in our gassed up cars to go to the store? I'm actually procrastinating a trip to Wal-Mart right now! Our wi-fi goes out, our phone battery dies, it's allergy season and it's harder to breathe...the glass is always half empty.

Blessings...if many of us were to sit down and list all of the blessings we have and encounter within a single day, we could easily list over a hundred. Yet we're constantly stressed, frustrated by at least one thing...and that one thing dictates our entire attitude. Why? We don't truly understand the incredible value in our blessings.

Not everyone alive on earth today will wake up tomorrow. I know that it is a somber and morbid thought, but it's the truth. Yet many of us wake up and press snooze five times because we are irritated at the thought of getting up. We don't see the significance when we open our eyes each morning (and some people don't have coffee makers for morning coffee, which is a less tragic, yet still very sad story). Some people can't afford to go to college or can't find work, yet we get stressed out and irritated because we have homework or a long shift that some people only wish they had. Our phone battery dies and we get irritated by being without a phone...because at this point it is normal for basically everyone to own a device that lets us contact everyone we know, access the internet, play games, and download apps. We find it normal have eveything in the palm of our hand, from the Bible to a flashlight to an app that lets us self-diagnose any little thing (and then convince ourselves that we have some crazy rare foreign disease and are dying). We devalue our blessings because we have turned them into expectations.

As for me, I want to start taking my blessings for what they are worth. Life holds no guarantees and no entitlements. I wasn't entitled to wake up today, but I did. I'm not entitled to take my next breath, for my heart to make its next beat, but it does. Today, my eyes see, my ears hear...my nose doesn't smell, but I am blessed to not be able to smell the litter box used by seven cats. The sun rose in the east and today came to be. There's food in the fridge. I have a brain to think, legs to walk, and fingers to type this post. I have a college to return to in the fall, family who loves me, and a God who gave me these things and so many other things as gifts because He loves me.

Maybe I will never be a morning person, but hopefully I will appreciate mornings a little bit more.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Lonely with God?

I would argue that one of the most powerful things to feel is loneliness. Loneliness has a power in the human mind and heart that not many other feelings have. Our level of loneliness can easily dictate our mood, affect how we act, and even affect how we see ourselves. As someone who is very much an introvert, time alone is crucial and precious to me. I love and crave those moments where it's just me (and maybe a couple of cats), and I can just enjoy some peaceful moments away from the hustle and bustle of social life. Unfortunately, alone time can become loneliness if it is overly used.

Most people are familiar with the five love languages (words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch). Our love language is how we best receive love from family, friends, a significant other, or anyone else in our lives. My love language is quality time. When it comes to my relationships, I need and crave genuine, quality time together. If someone is willing to take the time to spend with me, that to me is a true indicator that they love me and value me as a part of their life. Even aside from that, we are created for community. In Genesis, we read that Eve's creation is the result of God declaring that it is not good for man to be alone. We are not meant to live in constant seclusion. I am at the far end of the introvert spectrum, I can (and do) spend days on end with minimal human interaction and am completely content. I am almost never the first to contact someone or initiate time together...it's out of my comfort zone and I mostly prefer being alone anyways. But there is a limit to introversion, a line between being happy alone, and feeling lonely. The line between needing alone time, and needing community. If that line is crossed, we end up in a place of loneliness.

Have you ever been surrounded by people, but felt completely alone? Loneliness doesn't just come from physically being alone. Loneliness comes from a lack of genuinely connecting with people, from not feeling close to anyone. It comes when you feel disconnected physically and emotionally from seemingly everyone. Loneliness has such an intense affect on how we think and feel, and can take away our rationale. Loneliness, if not dealt with on a spiritual level, can lead to more destructive thoughts and feelings. There have been countless times when I have been away for weeks and almost no one contacts me. There are times when I'm in a group, but not included in conversation. While there is a level of personal ownership, those times have often lead to feeling hurt, feeling disliked or unwanted, feeling like I am not good enough, valued, or even loved. Those feelings then lead to me actually being anxious and afraid to send the first text or initiate quality time, because I feel like I will be rejected...because I don't feel wanted...because I first felt lonely...and the cycle repeats itself time and time again. Maybe loneliness doesn't turn into such a vicious cycle for everyone, but I know it does for me and it can for others as well. Yet in the times when no one is around, when no one is contacting me, when I'm beating myself up because I'm not "good enough", that's when God has to be enough.

I will say in complete honesty that I feel lonely, even with God. It's hard to admit, but it is simply the truth. It's easy to feel alone because the fact is that God isn't a physical human being sitting next me. Yet His company in my prayer closet is as real as the company of a friend at Starbucks. Time with Him is always of the highest quality, yet in times of loneliness, it doesn't seem like enough...but why? Do we subconsciously, or even consciously blame God for our loneliness, or the feelings of inadequacy that can come from it? Do we hold back because we feel guilt for letting people take God's place in our lives and depending on other people instead of Him? Do we actually believe the feelings of inadequacy so much that we feel that even God might not want to bother with us? For me, at least, it's a combination of all of the above. Family can fail sometimes, friends come and go, but God is constant. Even in the much needed alone times, He is there in the room. He's ready to spend time with us and love us, if we would only give Him our own time. Were we created for community? Absolutely. But we were also created to depend on God as our source...including our source of community and love. As much as I can sit around being the stereotypical single woman that I am, eating ice cream while binge-watching Netflix with my cats as company while somewhat wishing that I had a boyfriend or a better social life, the truth is that there is no special person or amount of social interaction a person can have that will perfectly fulfill their need and desire to feel valued, wanted, and loved. As much as we can sit around wishing just one person would take the time to text us, that text would not heal our loneliness. The only way we can feel truly loved and valued is if we first find those things in our relationship with God. If we don't let God fill the empty parts of us, they will never be filled.

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."
Proverbs 18:24

People will fail us and hurt us, as we will fail and hurt others. We cannot depend solely on friendships, which fade and grow apart. We cannot depend solely on our spouse or family, who's human nature will come short of our needs sometimes. We want to place our dependence on the imperfect people around us when we have a perfect friend who sticks closer than a brother, who's bond to us and love for us is unfailing, unchanging, and greater than that of any person. We have a relationship with the God of heaven and earth, the God of the universe. As long as we cling to that truth, lean on Him, and whole-heartedly embrace the incredible relationship that God created us to have with Him, loneliness will not be able to hold us captive.