My Story – Rising from the Ashes

(Once again, a long post that’s not for the faint of heart. Enter at your own risk)

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Everyone has a story.  Not one is the same as another.

It’s important for us to know our story. For those of us who have tasted the goodness of the living God, our stories include chapters of transformation. It’s vital to our wellbeing for us to remember the ways God has moved in our life – the times we felt Him, the ways He blessed us, guided us, changed us.  Holding onto those experiences renews our hope and passion for the future and keeps our feet steady in uncertain times.  Not that we should cling to them as the only experience we will ever have, and not that we should wish for those times again – for truly I believe we are better off living in the now; we focus on today and we believe for continual experiences with our Creator.

If you live in Southeast Michigan, you may have seen some 2 word stories posted around town.  For example, on my way to get groceries last week I saw three different signs: “Loved?  Loved.”  “Accepted? Accepted.” and “Forgiven? Forgiven.”   It’s part of the EACH movement that has spread across the metro area.  The short of it is, if you could reduce your story of how you’ve been made new in Christ down to one word, which word would you choose?  There are so many I could pick.  But today I’d like to talk about one of my top picks for my 2wordstory: Fulfilled? Fulfilled.

Photo by Nancy Smith

We are born into a broken world.  It affects us all.  I was born into a home that would eventually crumble around me: my parents divorced when I was just 5 or 6 . . . I can never remember which.  It was a crushing time.  My security was instantly pulled out from under me.  I felt alone –  completely vulnerable and afraid, this I can remember well.  I lost my ability to trust and I felt unlovable.  I believed that if I was truly more lovable, more loved, they would have stayed together for me.  From that moment on, I was acutely aware that I was incomplete and imperfect.

Backing up a year or two, I prayed to acknowledge Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior probably every week in Sunday school from the time I was in preschool.   I sang the songs, and believed in Christ with all my heart.  It always made little me so happy to close my eyes and think about a super-hero Jesus that I could secretly talk to just by praying.  Yet, even though I had a relationship with my Maker, when devastation hit, I didn’t quite know how to let Him help me through it.

Continuing in my story, I remember at 8 years old, being at camp with my friends. Standing in a circle in the woods, many of us began to pray in tongues for the very first time.  There was the unmistakable feeling that what was happening was bigger than us.  It was the first time I felt the electrical  presence of the Holy Spirit.  Earlier that year, (or was it later the next year? I am so bad with dates you see… it’s why I failed History again and again) on Valentine’s day (I believe)  I had the joyful experience of being baptized at church by my Uncle Blake.

I remember being a little older, maybe ten, and crying, balled-up on the floor of our church – still feeling broken and alone.  My grandmother came to me and prayed, and once again, as the tears fell, I felt the warmth of the Spirit flood over me.  She spoke to me that she felt that God wanted me to know that He was wrapping his everlasting arms around me and holding me close.  Could it be true? I thought.  Little abandoned me? Loved?

For as long as I can remember I have loved my Jesus and desired only to please and serve Him.  But I never grasped the fact that He is all I need.  I would do whatever it took to follow His Word, but I never understood how to let Him fully heal my broken heart.  I prayed for Him to fix me of course and yet I struggled with depression from ten years old and on, wondering why God just didn’t make me happy.  Was this all there was to my life? I remember hiding in my closet to cry.  I would imagine my death, contemplating suicide often: everyone would miss me then, and finally realize I was loveable after all . . . .

What was missing? Here’s what I think.  I think I was missing trust.  I had let my heart become so scarred and tough. I didn’t want to hurt anymore, so I just didn’t trust anymore.  I didn’t trust that God really and truly loved me as much as He loved other people.  How could He? I was too broken.

Growing into a young woman, I was still talking with God on a regular basis, yet still lacking the completeness of Christ.  I was active at church, and had close relationships with great mentors.  When I was 15, my life began to feel more purposeful when I decided to go to Botswana, Africa for a one month mission during the summer.  One morning, I sat against a tree in Africa and had my morning quiet time.  Among other things, I prayed to God and asked Him to reveal himself more fully to me.  I knew there was more to Him that I wasn’t yet comprehending.  During that prayer time, I was also feeling distraught over the dry land that was all around me.  Botswana was not only in the middle of their dry season, but they had been experiencing years of major drought.  Maybe because I felt like my heart was in the middle of a drought too, I felt so much compassion for the country. I began to pray for rain.  I prayed more fervently and with more faith than I had ever prayed for anything in my life. I desperately wanted rain for the people of Botswana.  Even after quiet time, I prayed for rain with fierceness continually that day.   Later on that day I saw clouds move in.  The wind picked up.  My heart was stirred by these signs and I prayed even harder. I was feeling stretched and brave. I told my friends of my prayer that afternoon and they prayed for rain too.  I laid down in my tent that night, having seen no rain yet, and still I would not relent in my prayer.  And then the drops came. They fell all around with increasing intensity until at last it was pouring. Our things in the not-so-waterproof tents got wet. I believe it rained the entire next day.  We had to move our things from the tents into some raised chalets, where we slept until everything finally dried up.   The locals couldn’t believe it was raining.  It never rains here during the dry season they said.  My heart was rejoicing and laughing.  Yes! I knew Jesus cared for these people. And could I dare to believe . . . He may have even poured down the rain to show me that He cared for me too? I felt hope that yes, perhaps I was valuable in his sight.  Perhaps he was reaching out to me. Perhaps there was more to Him that I would someday be able to find.

Over a year after that divine experience, I was still struggling with an emptiness inside. After returning home from my second mission trip (to India) I started losing hope in Christ and began to give up. I couldn’t understand why I was still having so much hurt and emptiness; God either wasn’t as powerful as I had thought, or He just didn’t care about me enough, or maybe He just wasn’t even real.  I spent a wild six months living life as if there was no God.  Experimenting with alcohol.  Experimenting more with boys.  God wasn’t fulfilling my life, so something else had to work.  I craved love and fulfillment.  Being with a guy felt so good for a moment – almost like I was whole.  If nothing else, finding moments of feeling so good was one way to block out the deeper pain inside. In six months I went from my first kiss to fooling around with complete strangers at hotels. More than a dozen boys in six months.   That all ended though when I got sucked in by a smooth-talking older man on the internet who convinced me to meet him for a bagel.  In one fear-filled hour, that bagel turned into me rushing out of his apartment when he went into the bathroom, throwing on my clothes as  I ran all the way home crying.  That day resulted in my wounds going even deeper, and further etched in me a distrust in people.  It threw up big hurdles that I have to regularly overcome. That day was my wake up call.  I was not finding fulfillment.  I was finding danger . . . and even more pain. 

I was worn out and ragged from the past six months; lying on my bed one night I swore to God that I was done looking for love in all the wrong places.  A few months later . . .

Enter Andrew.  He was different from the guys I used to date.  He respected me and I could tell he wanted to be careful with my heart.  I felt so safe with him.  We married one year after our first date, and I thought all my struggles were over.  At last! I would never feel lonely or incomplete again. I gad a great guy who loved God, and we were going to have a lifetime of happiness.  I completely didn’t realize the expectations I was placing on Andrew to be the one who completes me.  I didn’t realize why I felt so betrayed when we disagreed, or why I felt angry when he accidentally hurt me.  And when he encountered struggles of his own, and when he was doubting whether or not he even wanted to be a married man, I felt the absence in my heart.  As his heart pulled away, I was dragged back into reality and my face was shoved into the awareness of that gaping emptiness and hurt that had been with me since kindergarten. Falling back into old patterns, I sought for acceptance and love from outside the marriage.   Carelessly, I endangered my marriage and family.

It took two years of courage, wrestling, discussion, tears and prayer to climb out of that pit I had dug.  Over those two years, a thought that kept returning to me was that I needed to trust God to be my fulfillment.  No more giving in and doing it my way when I start to feel lonely or afraid.  I finally realized that my fulfillment came from not Andrew, not my children, not being in school, not anything except being accepted for who I am as a daughter of Christ.   Just Amy . . . not unfaithful wife or abandoned daughter.  I stepped out in faith instead of going by feelings. It took time, but I gave him the chance to show me that He really could be all I need. I finally accepted that He was my source for joy in this life. He was my hope and the lover of my soul. It took time, but I slowly allowed God to chip away at the walls of mistrust I had built.  It took time but I learned to hold tight to His hand as He brought me face to face with my lingering sins, like distrust, and showed me how He wanted to conquer them with me and for me.  He taught me that it’s okay for me to trust and love others – while also remembering not to trust them to be my savior.  It is easier to trust others when you know that even when they let you down, you have a God who will not. It’s easier to forgive others when you have accepted His forgiveness.

In the end I came to know that in order to be mended I needed to trust Him with my heart and let him take me through dark valleys where I would confront the pain of my past – instead of just dwelling on it in pity.

Was there a single ‘Ah-Ha Moment’ for me? A day to which I can look back and say “This is the minute my life was forever changed!” ?   No. For me, it was not a single moment, but a lifetime of prayer, and seasons of discovery.  Having accepted Christ as a child, I have had years of encounters with him.  Years of hearing His whisper and feeling His presence.  He has brought me through so many trials beyond what I have written about here.  And while I still have struggles and failures today, there’s a difference: through it all, I don’t feel broken or unlovable. I know He is everything I need to get through and overcome.  He has been my rock.  And He is still writing my testimony.

Fulfilled? Fulfilled.

So.  What’s your story?

(Comments for this post are closed. But please feel free to email me at ellison.amy@gmail.com if you would like.)

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