“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” Isaiah 49:15
Memories, reflection, and hope for resolution fill me these days. My life’s journey has brought me to a vantage point in time where I look back over the vast plains of my life. More has gone before on this side of terra firma than will be. My 47 year faith journey has held adventure indeed replete with extremes. Bliss and ecstacy, healing and freedom, the murder of my young husband, torture, grief, loss, and brokenheartedness have all filled the landscape. Now, me thinks, the time has come. I want to finish well. Not only for me, as our faith stories are all woven together, “our roots are all tangled together,” writes Sarah Bessey. No, my longing, hope, desire is for you too. That all this wild myriad of broken pieces may come together to form a puzzle as a gift for you. I pray this gift to be a tool, a key to open heaven’s fissures to leak glory and bathe those wounded parts. I wish this for us all.
The coming to faith part of my story began when I was 18. It was 1969 and I was immersed in the hippy drug culture. I was on a mad search to ease my desperate, deep seated, long held pain, driven hard by compulsions lurking beneath conscious thought. I engaged in all the wild excesses du jour: sex, drugs, hitchhiking, homesteading (of sorts) the breaking off from cultural norms with iconoclastic intensity. Little did I know that God had His hand on the pulse of all my longing, exploits, searching, and pain. Little did I know that this wild journey was leading me right into His arms. He was the destiny, the ultimate bliss, the healing balm, the warm soothing welcoming comfort, the mystery, the inexplicable beauty, the wonder. I came home to Him in 1970 in response to an alter call in a small rural church. A lady who prayed with me, the wild hippy type, asked me with seeming incredulity, “Do you want to become a child of God?” My words, my heart, all of my soul resounded echoing in the heavens, “YES”! And so began the journey…
Cool fresh droughts of sweet air currents alive with wild green scents infused the dusk as I floated into the beauty, afoot a winding dirt road. Here the steep rise of a wooded hill flanked the gentle sloping road and echoed the rushing waters of a shallow rocky spring fed stream. At my side as I walked into the fading light, timeless bright murmurs of water song sprang joy to life as they whispered the deep wisdom of the ages. Stepping deeper into the night, I happened upon a clearing filled high with floating blinking fireflies, a galaxy of lights hovering in the dark. Thus, my senses and heart were flooded with delight, wonder and pleasure. All was well indeed. Silhouettes of the barn and silo rose against the soft violet night hues to welcome me. This was my home and my Eden where the great “I AM” came to make me His own. All was bliss. I was young and in love and my whole life beckoned me to discover it.
As the story goes, a snake dwelt in Eden. This serpent who hissed then and hisses now, “Has God said?” “You are free. You are wildly and deeply and eternally beloved. You are perfected in Faith, in Love. I am for you. It is gift. All is gift.” So in my Eden too, the destroyer of souls lurked in the dark places shrouding himself with light to wreak havoc in hearts and lives.
The warnings had been so clear, so tender, so powerful as I devoured scripture. Matthew 7:15-20: 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?” But sheep are notably stupid animals that blindly follow the herd. Unbeknownst to me, wolves in sheep’s clothing dwelt among us. They were there with me in the beginning, but all I saw was sheep.
You see, I did not come from a religious tradition and didn’t know what that looked like. My family was atheistic/agnostic, though we made the occasional visit to the Unitarian Church. However, what was core to my growing up experience was the scarcity of love and affection and the presence of acrimony in my home. Shame became the back drop of my life; and as it grew, expanding and rooting deep, it made me an easy target for abuses. So later as a neophyte believer, I joined a cult that promised healing, safety, life, and family. It was there, in this place where mind control ruled, that I surrendered my free will at the door, the cost of admission.
Caveat here!! Beware the legalistic doctrines! I ended up in this predicament because of my vulnerability. I was spurred on by my recent trauma, desperation, fear, and ignorance to pursue legalistic doctrines as a solution. I then naturally followed all the proverbial bread crumbs of legalism to get to the cult. Thus, the die was cast. I was enfolded into the imprisoning dark.
I used to think damnation lay right below the surface, ready to overtake me if I did not follow ALL the rules. Deeply entrenched enculturated currents of shame and condemnation washed over me and through me if I did not follow all the Biblical interpretations, the church practices, the customs, cultures, styles, the nuanced expectations of others, the ultimate submission. SHAME, FEAR, CONDEMNATION giant “haints” of overwhelming proportion towered over me and ruled my experience. I held a slave mentality, a scarcity mentality, an orphan mentality. I labored under a guilt induced compulsion to “witness,” to be a proselytizer of Christianity. This took on the form of prescribed parroting “in your face” telling, teaching, speaking at people, handing out tracts, rebuking, correcting (incessantly, my poor husband). My self view, my identity was one of being “not of this world.” Thus, I was not able to relate to almost all the people, those who were. Isolated, lonely, and maladjusted I skirted the edges of sanity.
Over time, I became burnt out on religion and walked away from it all.
The wandering from faith was gradual, seamlessly imperceptible. I did not step out of the doors of the religious institution one day and find myself waking up with bruised and blackened eyes and a tequila hangover the next. That was to come later. In my new institution free days, a sweet comforting faith buoyed me and held me with euphoria and hope. Leaving the cult felt like throwing off the bonds and chains of bad religion to forge a new and free life. And so the life building began. School. Work. Parenting. Friends. But over time as I drifted more deeply into all the ways of popular culture, the sands of my foundation were shifting. Then came the culmination, the crumble and collapse of my life on the heels of betrayal. My spouse and I divorced.
Desperate pain filled my existence. My survival hung in the balance. The grasping search for love in all the wrong places began. Let’s just say, it did not go well. But, God…
As if in a hazy dream of a long lost memory, He was there in the midst of my hedonistic pursuits. There He whispered to me softly and sweetly. His pure sweet breath washed over me stirring hope, recalling beauty and longing. He drew me. Through my waywardness, I came to KNOW what was true. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 In running far from Him, I ran right into His waiting arms. It was as Jesus, the good Shepherd of the fold, said, 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” Luke 15: 4-6
It was decades in the making, this Homecoming. All this wandering and wooing occurred over a 20 year period. Much living, learning, pain, loss, and pleasure needed space…distance…time. Then one day when the time was ripe, I discovered a love letter written with deep pointed intimacy just for me. I opened my Bible to Isaiah 55, and there it was. Love, joy, promise, reassurance, and life spilled out of each word, breaking heaven open and my heart free. Through currents of cleansing tears, my melting heart rejoiced as I wondered at the sheer miraculous astounding beauty of it all. My Love, my Life had never left me. I just didn’t know it. I just thought He had.
“20 Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.21 You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.” Psalm 71:20-21
Older and wiser, I now see things differently. My theology has greatly changed, is still in process. The seeking is gift. The slow, the listening, the leaning in is gift. My herd animal instincts have changed. I hear the warnings. I see the danger. And I turn away from the lies to find PURE astonishing simplicity. To find life. To find peace in the quiet.
“HEAR ME. I AM LOVE, I AM GIFT, the SOURCE of Life. BE Loved, receive my Love, then you too can love others. Apart from my Love, your hands are empty, you have nothing to offer. BE IN ME AND I IN YOU. COME out of hiding to me. I am a safe haven. Nothing about you is a surprise to me. Be who you are! REST in me and I will do the work to RESTORE you. Hush, Shh! BE STILL. ALL IS WELL, and you are loved. FEAR NOT. TRUST ME. I’VE GOT THIS! WAIT FOR ME. I AM here for you.”
It is as Sarah Bessey wrote in her book, “Out of Sorts,” “You may be surprised someday to find yourself right back where you began, but with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.”
My theology now has become expansive rather than restrictive, inclusive rather than exclusive. There is boundless room for awe and all here. I believe the Essence of Humility, infinitely vast and mighty, infinitely minuscule and gentle, is the great “I AM.” The power of His Sovereignty works ALL for good. Really! All the darkest, all the worst is a part of a remaking transformative process. HE makes all things new. Unimaginable beauty and ecstasy await. I believe a new epistle written on our hearts manifests itself in the beating, throbbing, soft, tender heart of Love. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). God’s Love in us. God for us ALL. That we may learn, by the miracle of loving grace, to see the hearts of others with eyes of love. We ALL are the broken sinners, the ‘ne’er-do-wells, the hypocrites. We ALL are created in His image, the image bearers. We are His Masterpiece, the culmination of His work. His children. His bride. His Body. His Church.
He waits for us. “Grace waits for us in the liminal space,” writes Sarah Bessey. His spirit breathes into our scary, painful, difficult change, she explains. This, our Great Transformation. Metamorphosing in all our suffering, we rise, beauty from ashes as we prepare to be with Him. His doors are thrown open wide welcoming us! “Come! Welcome Home!”
“For this my [daughter] was dead, and is alive again; [she] was lost, and is found.” Luke 15:24