Advent means “coming”. We celebrate the coming of Christ, as Messiah, a helpless baby born of a virgin mother. God in arms. Miracle and mystery. Advent also commemorates the coming again of Christ in the last days. We look with hope to the day He will come again for His people, as Redeemer King.
Advent is a time of preparing our hearts for His coming – we light candles to remind us how Jesus’ birth brought light into a dark world. Celebrating Advent happens over the four Sundays before Christmas. The candles we light represent Christ’s gifts to us: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. A fifth candle is lit on Christmas Eve celebrating Jesus, the One who came for us.
What the practice of Advent does is to keep Christ central in all the busyness of Christmas.
Those Sunday advent worship gatherings lead us then to continue in the Word through each week, focused, in particular, on the wonder of God coming so near to us…humbling Himself to enter this human space as an infant…to awaken us to who He was and is and grasp what only He could fully bring to us.
In celebrating the joy and peace we have in Advent, anticipating Christ’s coming, we look to the blessing Paul wrote to the Roman church which, at the time, was enduring terrible suffering.
May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace, in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in HOPE. – Romans 15:13
Let’s rest in Christ’s beautiful word to us. Focusing on all the other stuff of Christmas can be exhausting…and sometimes unsatisfying. Keeping Christ as center is where we experience his hope, peace, joy and love.
This Christ who drew near to us in a humble creche and held nothing back from us, even in His death on a cross. Oh the love, the joy, the hope and peace, we have in Him. Hallelujah!
[Below are images of the Women’s Christmas Event, celebrating Advent, at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia. We were surrounded by beauty and loving hospitality in this experience.]
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send Your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious about many things look forward to Your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of Your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To You we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen. – Henri J. M. Nouwen
So much sorrow and grief in the world…if you clicked on this blog at all, with such a sober title, then you are facing what is true for you, and for all of us.
Take a moment more and let’s sit together over this. Or if you have 2-3 friends or family members you deeply trust, gather them for a talk that will begin the healing of both a current grief or a distant sorrow. Losses, whatever they are, endure in our minds and bodies. If we leave them unshared, we still attend to them, either by the work of keeping them buried or by numbing them with the aid of our idols or addictions.
“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side.” … I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.” – Barbara Brown Taylor
When you think about a sorrow, grief, or loss in your own life (current or past), what comes to mind? Something always comes. We are all experiencing a global sorrow in the war brewing in the Middle East. Here in my town, a young widow and an older one are daily finding their way forward through grief. For you, maybe it is a past loss of great import…or even one you think is only important to you. If it’s important to you, it matters to those who care about you. We self-edit and compare our sorrows, but they stay strong and real in our own life experience.
What can we do to heal the ache of these sadnesses? To refuse to isolate ourselves and our losses from community? To experience hope again?
Adam Young describes the four conditions needed to allow us to work with sorrow and grief:
We own that our sorrows and griefs matter and should be taken seriously.
We need to gradually move from a posture of contempt toward our sorrow and grief to a posture of compassion and kindness and welcome.
We need to find a few people who can be the village for us… allowing us to risk sharing our sorrow and grief with other people.
We need to move our bodies in a way that allows for the integration and release of our sorrow and grief.– Adam Young
We can be very hard on ourselves regarding our sorrow and grief, because somehow we think we should get over it or not care so much or ___________________________ (fill in the blank). Even when we push our grief into the deep interior of our minds, or we try to forget through our “drugs” of choice, it is present. Closer to the surface than we imagine.
In the above podcasts, Adam Young quotes psychotherapist Francis Weller extensively, which is a huge help for those of us who have yet to read Weller’s book The Wild Edge of Sorrow. Weller emphasizes the impact of grief over time, on our minds and bodies and relationships. He encourages community as the place, or people with whom, to release our sorrow.
I’ve been reading The Deepest Place by Dr. Curt Thompson (the fourth book he has written and the fourth book of his I have devoured!). Thompson talks about the common nature of suffering in all our lives. Once we embrace that fact, then we can be more open and honest with “villages” of people who are there for us…and we for them. This has been so healing for me as I’ve opened up about my own sadness regarding the rupture of my extended family and the pain we have all suffered from it.
A group of us just today were hearing an update from a friend who has endured through a chronic illness for which her doctors have found no solution…yet. She is tired and struggling. Reading Thompson’s chapter on perseverance reminded me of her ordeal. Her faith in God and her determination to keep open and close to her community have given us all hope that the future will be brighter for her…and we will be there with her for it.
Until this book, published in 2017, and just now read.
Brené Brown has much studied wisdom on who we are in relationship to others. I’d like to share some of my takeaways from this little treasure of a book. [Sidebar: Not in lockstep with all her conclusions, but some are so rich and needful, I want to offer them to those of you who might not read them yourselves.]
1) Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Brown talks about the crucial work of valuing who you are and what you bring to any community, family, or workplace.
“Even in the context of suffering—poverty, violence, human rights violations—not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. That’s because it has the power to break our heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth. It broke all three for me. And when those things break, there are only three outcomes, something I’ve borne witness to in my life and in my work: 1. You live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting it on others; 2. You deny your pain, and your denial ensures that you pass it on to those around you and down to your children; or 3. You find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way. I certainly tried the first two. Only through sheer grace did I make my way to the third.” – Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, p. 14
2) There are at least four elements of true belonging.
a. People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
b. Speak truth to bullsh*t. Be civil.
c. Hold hands. With strangers.
d. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.
These are chapter headings in Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness. Each could stand alone as inspiring to us in embracing how we are meant to live life. To truly belong. In community that is honoring to those around us, ourselves, and our Creator.
In a capsule, each element (or practice) speaks to the choices we make in leaning in to those both like us and not at all like us. In fact, we can see how we are doing in “braving the wilderness” – dealing with the strange and isolating sides of life – as we examine our daily habits. Am I willing to be in proximity with those different from me, those who think, speak, or act in opposition to me? With those who clearly communicate that I don’t belong. We collude with such opinions if we pull ourselves away, believing we don’t belong. We silence ourselves. We don’t show up. [I’m choosing not to hate as a daily practice and not to be counted out. Full stop.]
We can be civil. If we find ourselves in conversations filled with belittling, loathing, sarcasm, one-up-manship, then it is a sign we have bought into someone’s bullsh*t. Maybe even our own unchecked attitudes or opinions. Do we need boundaries sometimes? Sure…but if we can practice civility (even love) toward someone acting in ways that exclude or diminish us, maybe we can find a place of belonging to meet. To live with that person instead of forever without them.
The courage to take hold of strangers’ hands can open a whole new world of belonging and meaning to us. Concerts, sporting events, volunteering to aid people in need. People who link arms over something larger than themselves. Our children need us to belong and bring them along. I’m not sure if it was 9/11 or COVID or what has moved us to gather in small, tight circles. We miss out on a larger life in this way. A life full of purpose.
Brown uses the acronym “braving” in how to maneuver through whatever wilderness we find ourselves. You can see it in the image below.
3) Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart. I want to return to this element.
Brown closed her book “Braving the Wilderness” with challenge and encouragement. We can have strong backs as opposed to rigid backs. A strong back is one that is capable of carrying burdens, ours and others, without becoming rigid with unmet expectations or misunderstanding. We strengthen our backs with showing up and growing capacity for caring. The soft front comes not from looking for the negative of rejection, exclusion, or insecurity. It comes from honoring what we each bring and what we each need. A soft front encourages, empowers, and elevates. We refuse to diminish our own place at the table, nor do we push others away, because they are not like us. Something to think about. And that wild heart Brown talks about? It’s that heart we can have when we don’t believe lies or attitudes that make us feel small or overlooked or outside the circle.
The heart becomes wild, free if you will, because we believe what is truest and most beautiful about ourselves, about others, and especially about God. The world is still a wilderness, but we don’t have to be afraid.
So…those are my takeaways from this special little book, and its author’s wild heart!
Early riser here. In fact, I rarely need an alarm.
In other seasons of life, the morning came with joy. For some time now, I have struggled with negative thoughts…not so much anxiety or depression as much as a certain sense of feeling undone.
Since reading Tyler Staton’s Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools, my morning routine has changed some. No more mindless scrolling through various social media on my phone. It is no longer within reach. Once up, I make my bed. That lifelong routine continues. However, while still in bed, just barely awake, I now do two things to clear my head and set my heart for the day.
1)I recite the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This is actually the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him to teach them how to pray. Whether you have a relationship with Jesus or not, if you believe in God, this prayer is one you can embrace. A friend, younger than me, said to a small group of women recently in a study on prayer, “We should memorize the Lord’s Prayer”. It struck me as odd because, in my generation, we learned the Lord’s Prayer in school. Led by our teacher, we recited it as a whole class every day along with the Pledge of Allegiance. Whatever our religion or lack thereof. Until 1962, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school prayer (led by teachers) unconstitutional.
This prayer helps me to turn my thoughts to God and the creeping uneasiness changes more to hopefulness.
2) I recite Psalm 23. This psalm, often referred to by its first line “The Lord is my Shepherd”, was written by David, a shepherd himself before he became king. In meditating on this psalm, I’m reminded of God’s care of his sheep. No matter what happens, he keeps his eye on us. He provides for us, anticipating our every need, and welcomes us Home to be with Him at the end of our lives.
These two passages are easy to memorize and even easier to make part of a morning routine They have done wonders for my waking to a new day.
So what does this have to do with generational trauma? I’ve written often about this previously (and strongly recommend reading these pieces if you haven’t already).
We have all experienced some sort of trauma through our families, across generations. Some (including in my own family) would rather not “go there”, and I understand. However, it is in recognizing our trauma and taking steps toward healing that helps us to avoid continuing the trauma in our children and grandchildren.
“As adults, we want the same things our children need – to be safe (no “bracing for impact” in relationships), to be seen (truly known by those most significant in our lives), to be soothed (our emotions understood and acknowledged, without judgment, even when they are big and out of proportion), and secure (that no matter what, we are loved. Our persons are NOT leaving the room).
Whatever we may have experienced as children, we can alter our present. Whatever we did as young and overwhelmed parents, we can move, with love and insight, to a better situation with our kids. The past is just that…the past. We can be truly with each other, in the here and now…if we are brave and willing to be humble.” – Deb Mills
The major component of trauma in my own life was abandonment. I don’t know about my grandparents’ childhood, but from my grandparents’ adulthood through the present, my family has felt the sting of abandonment. It is generational and can not only affect us but our children as well. Abandonment is a very real source of trauma and can actually find its way back up the family tree, if we don’t do the work of rooting it out. [The longer stories are in my blogs above.]
What better way to start each day praying to and meditating on a Father who will NEVER abandon his children!
[Below you will find further resources on generational trauma and a helpful graphic on the power of showing up.]
I know I’m not the only one. The experience of feeling alone (or invisible) in a crowded room. OK, for introverts this may be a welcome experience. I say, however, that maybe we have different experiences of social anxiety – introverts and extroverts.
It happens to me in the church lobby of all places after the Sunday morning service. If I didn’t walk out into the lobby with someone, it is like I could walk straight through without being seen. Skirting around various little circles – backs to me. Sometimes, I engage with a set of eyes, not wanting to break in or interfere with a conversation, but too often, it’s eyes forward with the exit door in view.
You might be thinking “How weird”. I agree with you. My aim on Sunday gatherings is to watch for loners, new people, those outside of the small group conversations. Dr. Curt Thompson puts it this way: when we come into the world, we are looking for someone looking for us. We have that need for attachment throughout our lives. I want to be that person looking for the someone looking for someone looking for them (was that understandable?).
However…there are days, not just on Sundays but at work and definitely in any large group setting, that my default is awkwardness which is even odd for me. This has not always been my modus operandi. It seems to have crept up on me later in life…but I fight against it!
Just a few days ago, I read a piece and heard a song that have both encouraged and fortified me.
Have you ever read something or heard a piece of music that went right to your core? This:
Singer/songwriter Savannah Locke authored the article and co-wrote the song. She talks about how we can feel orphaned in life for various reasons. Those orphaned especially need to know they have a place – a real belonging somewhere (Psalm 68:4-8). We can take comfort in close friends and family, but the confidence of knowing we always have a place, Locke writes, comes from experiencing the love and care of God.
Abiding in God slowly heals the part of me that is convinced I am on the outside; slowly thaws the part of me that has iced over in hyper-vigilance. – Savannah Locke
It’s been decades since my college years, but there is one book I kept from those days. Through all the moves and all the pain of downsizing our book collections, Paul Tournier‘s A Place for You has remained.
Tournier writes “What we are looking for is not someone who will cut through our dilemmas for us, but someone who will try to understand them. Not someone who will impose his will upon us, but someone who will help us to use our own will. Someone who, instead of dictating to us what we must do, will listen to us with respect. Not someone who will reduce everything to an academic argument, but someone who will understand our personal motives, our feelings, and even our weakness and our mistakes. Someone who will give us confidence in ourselves because he has unshakeable confidence in us…The ideal support, then, is a presence, a vigilant, unshakeable, indefectible presence, but one that is discreet, gentle, silent, and respectful…All [people] are looking, in fact, for God’s support. It is an absolute support that men and women are looking for, a support without limit – and it obviously can come only from God.”
This is the place we need…this place that bolsters us in times of stress, fear, betrayal. This place, this Person, where our own struggle can point us to those with similar struggles and we can make room for them as well…see them as we are seen.
As I was sharing all the above with a friend, she pointed to a similar point of connection from a podcast she watched. Lysa Terkeurst was speaking about her own social anxiety, entering a room full of people alone. During a quiet moment after such an experience, she sensed a word from God in the following:
“You were walking in that room desperate for acceptance and approval. Instead of walking into that room bringing My acceptance, bringing My love into that room, bringing My peace into that room. Every single person in there is desperate for that same kind of acceptance, approval, and love. I don’t want you walking into any more of those rooms begging others for scraps of all that. Live from the place that I have accepted you; I love you. You are a conduit of My peace, My acceptance, and My love to other people. You walk into that room bringing that with you and the atmosphere will change for you…Doing that practice of walking into rooms eager to give that [peace, acceptance, love] to other people (will) change something in you. Live from a place of love, acceptance, not desperate for it from other people.” – Lysa TerKeurst, YouTube podcast with Louie Giglio, Minute 33:30+
Such a great word for me, too.
So…if you see me in a crowd of people, not engaging, and you also are trying to make a quick get-away, I’m looking for you. You have a place. We can all hold space for each other, especially when we trust in the One who is doing the same for us, and making a place for us…forever.
This week we have a special guest in our home. Dave’s mom. I don’t know about your relationship with your mother-in-law. Hopefully it is a good one. If not, I’m genuinely sorry. If there is any chance at all, don’t miss her…you never know what she would bring to your life if invited (back) in.
My mom-in-law prays. Her life has been one of serving others. Now, she is somewhat slowed down, but her devotion to God and others is still very much alive. Some might say hers is a small life…as my own mom’s appeared to be…to outsiders. This is not so for either of them. Where they lacked ambition to be known or powerful, there was/is no lack of love and wisdom. On the things that matter most.
When she comes to visit, we scramble to find the tv programming that she’s used to…encouraging to her. It’s nothing we watch really when she isn’t here, but when she is here, we catch some of the great music, teaching and reporting she listens to regularly.
Here’s an example. Tonight she was watching Kirk Cameron‘s Takeaways. He had two entertainers on his interview docket for this show. Mark Lowery and Zach Williams. I joined her for the Zach Williams’ interview. I’ve written about his music a couple of times. Gritty lyrics, great deep voice. He knows how to connect with his audiences – whether an arena of church folks or a prison cafeteria. He has stories to tell that touch people – a life going one direction with success as a musician, including drugs, fast living, and a marriage unraveling. Then his life turned quite a different direction.
The Takeaways interview isn’t linked yet, but below are two videos of Zach’s story.
We don’t have to keep going down a road leading nowhere good. I have that in my own life story. It’s for another day, but I’m thankful for my sweet mother-in-law who points us to life-giving attention-getters.
Prayer, focus on truth, and sacrificial love are three great gifts she gives us, whether sitting in our family room, or operating out of her own home.
Who or what helps you to shake off the doldrums and points you to a life of greater purpose and joy? Tonight my attention is captured by a a musician’s experience of a God who was never far from him. When Zach Williams was shaken in his tracks and turned his attention…God was there.
Thankful for a praying mom, mom-in-law, and grandmothers who remind us of a way to live that gives hope, joy, and real confidence. Enjoy some of Zach’s music below…and one piece by Brandon Lake about a praying grandma.
Now, betrayal is not something I have thought much about. Then a few minutes into this TED talk, and a light goes off for me. Therapist Holli Kenley brilliantly describes betrayal, its terrible impact on our lives, and how it affects our sense of self. Different from grief where our loss is another person or thing. Betrayal initiates a loss of self – what we believed about ourselves, in relationship with another person or persons. It can be devastating, and yet, there is a way forward. Always, a way forward.
Often we think of betrayal as applying to infidelity in marriage, but betrayal can include many more situations. Kenley offers 4 definitions of betrayal:
an investment into someone or something that is met with rejection or abandonment
a profound trust that is profoundly violated
a belief that is shattered or a truth that becomes a lie
when someone who is important to us but is unable, unwilling, or incapable of showing up in the role they have been given and to carry out the responsibilities of that role (parent, spouse, mentor)
Betrayal is a broken trust. When trust is violated, it brings waves of shame and guilt. Why?
We don’t expect it. We especially aren’t prepared by the assault betrayal perpetrates on who we are as people.
Kenley describes 3 states of being that occur with betrayal:
Confusion – we lose our balance. “Why did this happen?” “I didn’t deserve this.” “It’s not supposed to be this way.”
Worthlessness – The confusion then spirals into a sense of worthlessness. “It must be me.” We question our own worth [which is a terrible consequence of betrayal].
Powerlessness – Lastly, as we try to correct the situation by pushing for someone else to make it right or fix it, we find no path forward…or more pain than healing.
Healing is possible, but it won’t be from the outside. We have to right ourselves, Kenley observes. I love how she points us toward the opportunity for healing within the betrayal…through the betrayal.
With the confusion, we reinstate what we know to be true.
When worthlessness washes over us, we redefine who we are.
When powerlessness paralyzes us, we do what we need to do to reclaim our voice and recover our power.
I get that all this sounds too simple when it is extremely complicated…but doesn’t it resonate?! For me, it was a huge encouragement.
If we were having coffee together, we would be able to recall betrayals. Some may not have capsized us. Praise God for that. However, there are those betrayals that require us to right ourselves. To choose not to live under the cover of shame (or denial if it’s too painful) when someone rejects us or destroys our dreams. If we believe the only way we can have healing is if that person makes things right, we put way too much power into their hands. Also, it is a mindset that keeps us powerless.
I’m very thankful for Karen Swallow Prior’s own handling of her life betrayals. If you read her story, she takes a wrong and works something beautiful out of it. The healing isn’t complete but it gives me great hope. As for Holli Kenley’s helps, it’s like being in a wise and kind therapist’s office. It’s a beginning.
Don’t let betrayal have the last word. You matter. Your life. Your worth. Your legacy to next generations. Generational trauma in the family, in the workplace, and in culture can be confronted and stopped…with us. We may not be able to correct betrayals in our past, but we can right ourselves…and demonstrate to our children and grandchildren how beauty can indeed come out of ashes.
[Many of the notes above were captured from the Holli Kenley TED Talk above and the video below.]
“Wonder is my word for this year. It is defined as “a splendid or conspicuous work, a miracle, a marvel”. We are surrounded by wonderful, beautiful, tangible objects, processes, and people. And wonders beyond our reach that cause us to pause and…well, wonder.
Our short-sightedness at such things can be an effect of where we settle our gaze, or hearing, or thoughts. Screens can either point us to wondrous things beyond our experience or shrink our worlds to the size of a phone, tablet, or computer/TV.
Look up. Get close. Be quiet a moment and listen.
Let’s never lose the wonder of the beauty that surrounds us. The beauty we experience…even in hard places. Even in suffering.”
I get lost sometimes in the woes of this world – our national debt, the unnoticed poverty of our neighbors, the myriad ways people find to destroy life and relationships.
It’s a wonder we haven’t already completely annihilated ourselves and that actually speaks to the wonder of God. The fact that we are still here, that Spring comes, and babies are born…all a miracle really.
We take such things for granted and continue to brood over the world’s “going to Hell in a handbasket” condition. Doom’s Day thinking will change nothing.
Today, I choose to be lost in the wonder of God’s provision of all the good in the world – of grace in suffering, of the possibility of finishing life well and dying beautifully. What is our place in all the world’s woes? It isn’t to be so enraptured in the wonder that we don’t wade into the hard.
Wonder takes me to a more hopeful place – of seeing the worst of this world with eyes wide open and holding place with God in ways, small and large, to lighten the load. Leaning into the painful realities of those around us, knowing God is at work everywhere… He doesn’t need me to help…but just maybe He calls us to enter in and discover He’s there, and His presence illuminated through us to those in need.
If you want a quick study on the mercy of God and how He bears with a forgetful and rebellious people, read Psalm 78. Are there consequences of our going our own way and disregarding a loving and holy God? Absolutely. Yet, He is always ready to restore us and to redeem our situations, when we repent and remember Him. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Postscript: The wonder of God in the circumstances of our lives – including when we lean in to the lives of others. What if Wintley Phipps hadn’t responded in comfort to that distressed person (see video below)? – What if the Horatio Spafford, writer of the poem “It is Well with My Soul”, had grown bitter in his grief instead of clinging to God? So much wonder!
On Sunday, before launching into a great teaching on Revelation 2, our pastor settled into a wee rant. On “the blond-haired, blue-eyed Malibu Jesus” represented too often in the images of our Bible Belt childhoods in America. I was taken aback by his passion, and then wondered if I had a blindspot in this area.
Does my own Scottish heritage make me comfortable with this view of Jesus? Being fair-skinned, with brownish-green eyes and brown-hair-turned gray, was my view biased?
Exiting the auditorium after an excellent sermon, I checked out our own stained-glass images of Christ. They seemed true enough to the Middle Eastern Jewish heritage of Jesus. Brown eyes, darker complexion, curly hair (albeit lighter than appropriate?). Stained glass windows have been a favorite art form for me. These did not disappoint, but are they adequate for all who are part of our church? Or offensive to some?
On the way home, I was still distracted by my pastor’s statement: How We View Jesus Matters. Wondering at my own lack of appreciation of how Jesus’ appearance might affect the rest of the world’s humanity.
I will say that my favorite interpretation of his physical appearance, personality, and character is found in the TV show The Chosen. Gentle, loving, fearless, funny, serious, welcoming, truth-filled, good.
Lion and Lamb – throughout history, Jesus has been interpreted in art as both lion and lamb (as he is also described in the Scriptures.
“Recently, I saw an image of a lion and a lamb lying together in the clouds and was reminded of the cosmic truth of history that in Jesus Christ, God’s love and justice meet, His mercy and His authority come together.
J.R.R. Tolkein speaks of the incarnation of Christ as the “euchatastrophe* of Man’s history.” About the incarnation, and especially its climax in the resurrection, he says, “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true.” The greatest fantasy is in fact history.” – The Lion and the Lamb – Darrow Miller
[As I write, it is the day before Independence Day in the US. The 4th of July. Parades, barbecues, gatherings of friends and family, and fireworks gloriously finishing off the day. Our fridge is filled with summer-sweet watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and chicken ready for the grill. Today is quiet and full of introspection. Here’s what’s on my mind.]
I wasn’t born into a Christian family. We weren’t in church until I was 7 or 8. My mom had a church experience as a child and was saved and baptized but had stopped attending church years before I was born. She would say she stopped seeking God somewhere along the way in a difficult marriage. Not sure at all whether my biological father had any sort of faith. To this day, I’m thankful for Christian neighbors who loved us and invited us into their church family.
When I was 9, during a summer Bible school week, the message of God’s love and His deliverance from our self-serving, sinful hearts was immensely beautiful to me. Even as a little girl, I had unsuccessfully tried my hardest to be good for my mama. She worked so hard to keep food on the table for us (with no help from anyone), and I didn’t want to add to her burden. Still, like I said, being good wasn’t always my path forward. Then hearing that God was not put off by that, and, in fact, had made a way for me to be covered by His own righteousness through Jesus…well, it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard.
This wasn’t just a tickling-the-ears sort of experience. Not just a relief-generating tale for troubled child. It resonated with my heart and mind. It sounded truer than anything I had known before. Understanding, even as a child, that God had made a way for me to be free of the burden of my sin was really good news.
My pursuit of God actually followed His pursuit of me. He has never let go of me…even in seasons of my rebellion as a young adult. The shiny things of the world can be mesmerizing – popularity, higher education, professional favor, the stuff and experiences that work affords us.
In my 20s, I had a divided mind and allegiance. To some, it may not have seemed so, but I knew my own heart, and it was, for a time, lured back to old ways – a heart that could be both deceived and deceitful. However, by God’s grace, I did NOT stay in that place forever. He drew me back to Himself.
Reminded of the passage late in Jesus’ public ministry, when some of His followers fell away, He asked the apostle Peter if he would leave, too. Peter answered Him with the question that always brings me back to the reality of life: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There is simply no one else…nowhere else to go. Period. Full-stop.
Well…that’s a bit of my story. Your story may look very different from mine. Since my 30s, as winding as the path may be, or as imperfectly as I follow it…there is no going back.
As we celebrate our freedoms as a nation, freedoms hard-won by those who sacrificed their lives for our sake, I also celebrate the freedom won by Christ whose own ultimate sacrifice won us back to Himself. Hallelujah!