Friday, September 25, 2015

How Firm a Foundation

In my last blog, I shared one post from November of 2010 and then several from December of 2011. There is a reason why I went from slowly coming to terms with infertility to joyfully choosing Jesus over everything else in my life, and that reason is not my spiritual stature. It was Jesus Himself, Whom I had been coming to know better and better through His grace.

I'm going back now to the spring of 2011 and begin to share that period of time. We had been moved to GA per Army orders (where we now reside) and were hoping to begin the adoption process. In the meantime, we decided to begin attending church.

May 16, 2011

So, Keith and I tried out a church yesterday. We talked about doing this the entire time we lived in Kentucky and never did. I can't say that I regretted such lengthy procrastination; my experiences with organized Christianity have been, generally speaking, off putting.

We went up the steps cautiously; I put my hand on the door handle when suddenly it was swung open with a shriek, a shriek, my friends, of pure delight. We were introduced to everyone in the church, which happened to be four people. By the time the service ended, there were seven people, not counting us.

I noticed the scripture for the service and looked it up, my rusty Bible-chapter-finding skills jumping once more to dim life. Ah, the excitement filled Bible drills of yore. I assisted Keith to locate his scripture with a lightly veiled look of moral smugness, which also, I am afraid, leaped back to dim life.

When I read the text, my eyebrows shot up. I wondered who on earth would plan a sermon around I Corinthians 1:10-17.

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas "; still another, "I follow Christ."

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

It was an interesting sermon. It was thought provoking and reassuring, in the light of my religious past. A church where they preach only the cross of Christ is very much up my alley.

The church had this feeling, an almost disturbing feeling, of reality. Of human reality, to be exact. Though I'm not quite sure how to describe it. There didn't seem to be any pretense. I hugged the pastor's wife as warmly as if she'd been a friend of mine for years, after the sermon ended.

At the end of the service, the pastor gave a call for anyone to come up, to get saved, to rededicate their life to Christ or to join the church. I wrestled with familiar guilt, which gets resuscitated instantaneously under those conditions.

"You are a back slider," said the guilt. "Go up and rededicate your life to Christ, amidst public humiliation, shame and feelings of hopeless for the future, which you will surely mess up. But that means we'll just get to have this conversation all over again, at that future date, when you will feel even more hopeless and sad, because that’s par for the course for you. I look forward to it: it'll be great. I own you. Go up and seal the deal."

Then, thank God, I remembered that no matter how broken my life has been, Jesus never left me. How could I rededicate myself to Him when He clearly has always been dedicated to me? It felt like saying, everything up to this point between us doesn’t count, because it was outside the church. I’m sweeping all that under the rug and beginning again with You; this time I'll be the good, law keeping girl I should be.

But I didn’t want to lose everything precious I had come to know about Jesus. I wanted to continue on growing in Him and leaning on Him. I didn’t want to turn aside from my personal reliance on Him to a public, officially sponsored performance, which, it is true, I have always failed. But Jesus has never failed me, so I’m simply not going to go down that road again.

So then, I lifted my head with this feeling of joy and assurance in Jesus alone, and took in a deep breath of sweet, undeserving victory, because it’s really His victory. Such is grace.

One pitfall of church avoided. Several more to go, I suspect. Despite this, we'll go again.

May 22, 2011

This Sunday in church, the last song came on. By the second go round, I had figured it out and besides, I loved the words.

Because of who You are, I give You glory
Because of who You are, I give You praise
Because of who You are, I will life my voice and say
Lord I worship You, because of who You are
Lord I worship You, because of who You are


Jehovah Jireh, my Provider
Jehovah Nissi, Lord You reign in victory
Jehovah Shalom, my Prince of Peace
And I worship You, because of who You are

I'm singing this and I feel myself getting swept up into it. It's been a long since I've publicly adored Christ, and I feel extraordinarily shy. But the words, and my knowledge of Him, just pull worship sweet and rich right up from the roots of me, so I'm singing my heart out.

And I'm worried that people are going to think I'm showing off, because my voice has gone all vibrato and full, and I'm hitting all the notes effortlessly. I manage to keep this all to the back of my mind until the end of the song, when I'm swamped with horrible feelings of self-consciousness, distracting my attention from worshiping Jesus.

The basis of it is not necessarily the sound of my voice, but this feeling that I'm not worthy to be experiencing this much intimacy and joy in Christ, because I'm not living my life up to the right standards. I'm like an interloper, and despite all this, here I am, incandescent with the Son of God, all lit up like a paper shade. This feeling becomes unbearable, as the song is drawing to a close, so much so that I actually cry out to Jesus: "Hide me!"

I meant, Make a little cleft in the rock and put me in there, because I can't stand to be visible like this anymore. Wrap me up in something, so no one can see me; such a similar feeling when I was a young girl, and the thought of going down the aisle on my wedding day was unbearable. I wanted a thick veil; I didn’t want to have something so intense and so personal to be seen by others.

I’m feeling this, and then I feel Jesus place His hand on the top of my head, and then His other hand over my eyes.  Throughout my life, I've often felt Jesus place His hand on top of my head. It usually comes at the most unexpected times. It always comes with this profound sense of peace. He's saying, I've got you; you're Mine. I’m with you even now.

However, I have never before felt Jesus place a hand over my eyes. But I understood in a moment what He was saying. He meant, don't be distracted by what you think is out there. Pour your heart out, because this is between you and I, and I delight in you. So I did.

When I sat down in the pew, my body was physically trembling. I felt fragile, as though I'd been hollowed out by all the light that had poured right through me. My hands were shaking. I sat down pressed up against the reassuring bulk of Keith.

I wasn't going to blog about any of this, but I kept feeling like He wants me to. I don't know why. But it's probably the most personal and risky thing I've ever blogged about. Gah.

(Oh. my. gosh. I seriously just hit the publish button by accident. That never happens. Wow. Fine. I understand! Goodness.)

June 12, 2011

I framed the pictures of myself as a child. I have three. One is of me in my baptismal gown, in the woman's bathroom in the cellar of the Sanctuary. Every time I look at my face, with my hopeful, eager expression, my hands nervously clasped, my hearts spasms with love and horror both. How desperate I was to be washed clean!

How I longed for absolution, for belonging, for validation. Poor little girl. Life had to tear me apart before I could be put together again, free of all the broken pieces, like jagged glass, that were, at that very moment, in that picture, tormenting me from the inside out. They never allowed me to believe in the things I longed for, no matter how good a girl I was. But even then, Christ was laying the ground work for the healing that would come later.

In the other picture I am only three. The picture is dark and I can hardly see my face. It's a hazy picture, as though I am fading into the background. I know that at some point, either before or after that picture was taken, my abuse began. So it is as though I am fading away. Pieces of me are being leached out. I don't look at this picture too often, it's too hard to look at.

The last picture is one of myself and my mother at Christmas. I think I am about six or seven. I am curled up in the recliner with her, chewing on my fingernails. My eyes look out from over my hand and they are shinning with contentment and some secret amusement. This picture is for my comfort alone and I look at it the most.

I recently found the song "Jewels," sung by Alison Krauss, and I listen to it... I don't even know how many times a day. At least a half dozen.

It didn't used to be: when I was a child, all I felt when hearing it was anxiety, since I didn't think I was a pure child. I thought I was a dirty, shameful, bad child. I would sing the song with some kind of desperate hope that in some way, I might get squeaked in with all the other children who were surely better suited to be jewels.

Now I don't feel that cloying sense of dismay and doubt. When I hear the song now, all I think about is how deeply and truly and faithfully Jesus loved that little girl in the baptismal gown. He had plans for her that would extend the length of her life. There would be no escaping His love.

June 19, 2011

I had such an intense anxiety attack about going to church today that I almost didn't go. As soon as we got in the church building, we were greeted by the pastor's wife, who caused me to feel as though I was a younger sister of hers or something. It's as though I am long lost family.

When she asked me how I was doing, I told her that I was extremely anxious, that going to church to in general made me feel nervous and that the meet and greet part of the service was particularly terrifying. I didn't plan on telling her this; it just came rushing out, breathlessly.

She was marvelous about the whole thing and must have told her husband because he made it a point, before opening prayer, to say graciously and warmly, that church is a refuge from the cares and worries and anxieties of the rest of the world.

I thought that was kind of him to say, but I wanted to tell him that going to church on Sundays was absolutely and without question the hardest thing I have to do every week. I don't see that changing anytime soon, to be honest.

Fortunately, it was our own pastor who gave the sermon this Sunday. His sermons make sense to me. He delivers them with such a great combination of humility and authority. They are presented in a logical and orderly way. Even if I don't agree with him, I can still grasp the point he is making.

When he prayed for people in the church, he also prayed for himself and his family and said that he didn't know what to do, or what the best decision would be. I found that to be a very impressive thing to hear from a pastor.

His text was the prodigal son, from Luke. In talking about it, he touched on the fact that God disciplines His children. As usual, when hearing that, I cringed, wondering when I would feel the disciplining hand of God.

Then I realized that I'm thirty three years old and still waiting for God to come along and hit me viciously again and again over the head with a big stick because that’s what His true love feels like and I deserve it and I know I do, and yet it hasn't happened. If it was going to happen, wouldn't it have happened already?

So, I'm sitting there, fearful and thinking: at any time, I will feel the rod of God's discipline on my back, because doesn’t He love me? Shouldn’t I be perfected? I know I’m far from perfect, and I want Him to love me and perfect me.

Then I am conscious of Christ being close to me. I feel His loving presence behind me. It is as though He has put His arms around my shoulders and He whispers something in my ear, something I recognize as a verse: Jesus says, I am the one that makes intercession to the Father for you. You don't have to argue your case to Him, I stand in your place.

So, I had to look it up when I got home. It is Romans 8:34-

"Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

I don't know how it all works out. I don't know what is the balance or relationship between God's discipline and His loving kindness and mercy. All those questions are a tangle in my mind still.

But I tell you what, I do know one thing. Jesus has a deep seated love for me and one that He demonstrates frequently, with loving attention to detail. God is not just a theory or some vague force out there in the cosmos. He is a Divine Person, with personality and emotions and thoughts and scars. He is not just viewing the world from a distance, as the song says. He is up close and personal.

July 3, 2011

I made a mistake during the church service this week. It was kind of funny, when I think about it, though at the time I wanted the ground to swallow me up whole.

The pastor said, "Raise your hand if you're a perfect person." Only, I thought he said, "imperfect," so I half raised my hand.

I kid you not, I'm still cringing when I think of that mistake. He kept looking directly at me after that point, whenever talking about how we can't be perfect. As if he somehow thought that I might seriously think myself perfect! And serenely raise my hand during church service to publicly claim it for myself! Oh my goodness. Seriously?

On the other hand, it sort of does point out something interesting. I do consider myself to be perfect through Christ and my own imperfections and sins to be His business, since I cannot take care of them on my own. In that light, you might say that I do enjoy an unearthly and peaceful perfection which was bought for me through Christ.

The thing is, if I attempted to describe this to the pastor, I think that we would experience what would be called an impasse. From his sermons, I see that he believes our sin is our business; we must be in the business of personally stamping it out, with Christ acting as coach and cheerleader- from a distance, judging our plays, always pushing us to perform better, giving us the prize when we win, disappointed in us when we don’t.

I don’t want to play that game anymore. When I did win, I felt proud and entitled. When I lost, I felt miserable and ashamed. Either way, I believed Jesus was way over on the sidelines and I was scared of Him and exhausted, trying to win His approval, trying so hard to be His best player.

I tend to believe this:

"The plaintive, self-centered, morbid kind of prayer, a dead-set that I want to be right, is never found in the New Testament. The fact that I am trying to be right with God is a sign that I am rebelling against the Atonement. "Lord, I will purify my heart if You will answer my prayer; I will walk rightly if You will help me."
I cannot make myself right with God, I cannot make my life perfect; I can only be right with God if I accept the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ as an absolute gift. Am I humble enough to accept it?
I have to resign every kind of claim and cease from every effort, and leave myself entirely alone in His hands, and then begin to pour out in the priestly work of intercession. There is much prayer that arises from real disbelief in the Atonement.
Jesus is not beginning to save us, He has saved us, the thing is done, and it is an insult to ask Him to do it."
-Oswald Chambers

Whatever is in that church doesn't like my serenity in Christ; my peace in Jesus gets outright attacked or subtly sidelined each time I attend. Each time I go, I have to sort through everything I hear and recognize some teaching that I used to have, to remember how that teaching actually was a stumbling stone, or a weight, or just didn’t work. It promised something that it didn’t deliver.

I keep hearing that it is not acceptable to cease all effort and instead to simply and humbly live in Christ, just exactly as one is, in that moment, and the next moment, trusting in His work and His strength. The teachings I hear all go contrary to that.

It doesn't bother me that the pastor believes something different from me. I don't for one moment believe that I have the whole truth. I'm just walking beside Christ, learning the things He teaches me. So is the pastor. I respect the lessons he has learned and the things that are important to him. But I don't think that we'll be going back to that church.

Over and over again Jesus shows me that He loves me not because of what I do but because of who I am to Him; His own, His creation, His redeemed. Jesus loves me because of His nature, not mine. I am close to Him not because of how I live my life, but because of how He lived His. Of course I want to please Jesus with my life! But I can’t set this lesson aside and go back toward the former things, the former things that I already know to be a dry well, an exhausting, tantalizing mirage.

July 6, 2011

When I was in about sixteen years old, at what I think was the last church gathering I attended, I stood and sang a hymn. I knew Jesus wanted me to sing that exact hymn. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, wresting with Jesus, feeling my heart burning with His insistence until finally, my fear gave over and I obeyed. With a strange buzzing in my ears and in numb and almost blind obedience, I stood up. I walked to the front of the church to sing How Firm a Foundation with no practice or forewarning.

What I could not know was that my entire life as I knew it was about to end. The church I had grown up in was right then beginning to break apart, my family as I had known it was falling apart and I would soon be in pieces myself. It would be a long painful ten years of trying to put the pieces back together and I would make terrible mistakes along the way.

I knew nothing of this; but I knew Jesus wanted me up there, on the steps before the podium. So I went. I sang this:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you that for refuge to Jesus have fled?

"Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake."

(How Firm a Foundation, John Rippon, 1787)

By the time I got to the second verse, tears were pouring down my face; when I looked into the audience, I saw that many others were crying. I could barely sing the fourth verse. It came out in a hoarse croak.

As I sang, it was as though the very roof of the Sanctuary was lifted off; I saw right up through it, into heaven, and I knew that I moved heaven. It was terrifying; it was awe inspiring. It was as though Almighty God moved His eyes right to me and I couldn’t look away, no matter how afraid I was. I was singing His own words to Him.

It took Jesus over a decade to prove to me that His own promises, those promises that I sang to Him, He would keep. Despite everything I had suffered, despite all the selfish, blind mistakes, and in the face even of my despair, Jesus would keep those promised exactly as I had sung them.

Everything I believed about myself turned out to be illusion- all my assumed strength, virtue, wisdom, all that fell to dust but the more the illusions feel away, the more beautiful and rock solid Jesus' faithfulness became, until I could cling only to Him. All the glory goes to Him.


Jesus is the most delicious thing in my life. That verse that says, taste and see that the Lord is good- that verse does not lie. I don't know why He pours His heart out to me in the way He does. But I know that a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He leads justice to victory.
-Matthew 12:20-21


As I was trying to think how best to conclude this blog, Jesus told me that He had already, so I set that concern aside. When I sat down to work on it, He told me to turn the page over on my calendar to tomorrow, September 25. The verse is this:

"That is what God is like.
He is our God forever and ever,
and He will be our guide."
Psalm 48:14 NLT