Who Am I Part 1

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

That’s me on that sidewalk, that barrette, those Mary Janes…oo-wee! I was owning toddler-hood! I was probably staring at an ant and watching it scurry around at a fevered pace. I’ve always loved observing ants. They’re so purposeful; even when they are running around crazy they still know where they’re supposed to go and what they’re supposed to do.  I’m not certain I was actually watching an ant since I don’t have any of my own memories from this age. So when  I look at this picture I just see my daughters and how they all look a little like me. And whenever I see them, I see Him. And that makes me want to tell you all that He’s done for me and how I came to know who I am.

It’s not to easy to lay it all out there. I mean, how do you unpack the kind of baggage that most people would want to lose at the airport? Let me tell ya, it becomes a whole lot easier to open that suitcase when you’re confident that all that’s in it has already been cleaned. It has; so I can unpack these garments knowing that they don’t fit me anymore, they’re not my style and I have no desire to wear them again.

These words are my testimony. It’s meant to bring honor to the Lord. It’s meant to expose the schemes of the enemy that seeks to destroy me and you and our families. It is meant to put into plain view what we do our best to disguise and hide from the people inside our church walls, our sin and Christ’s redemption (Why do we do this? Why?). It is to give you hope of how our Father in heaven works ALL things (however big the mess might be) for His Glory.

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents are amazing but they’re people so they’re under construction just like the rest of us. Right before I was born my parent’s became Christians. They already had two kids and were on the brink of divorce when they surrendered their lives to Jesus. Their new faith gave them hope and understanding. It gave them love and forgiveness. It gave them a new life, ten months later I was born. Tada! I was their “God-is-love” child. I grew up with this knowledge that I was the product of God’s redemption; that if the enemy would’ve had his way my parents would’ve divorced and I would’ve never been born. BUT GOD. He did have a plan. He does have a purpose. I am here for a reason…oh and my parent’s have been married for 45 years.

During adolescence that knowledge didn’t resonate in my soul the way God intended. It was twisted by the enemy and whispered differently in my ear. I traded the Truth for a lie without even realizing it. The understanding that I was a child born out of promise and redemption became like a burden or something I couldn’t live up to. It felt like too much pressure. Along the way that pressure turned into perfectionism. That perfectionism was built out of fear of disappointing my parents, of disappointing friends and authority, of disappointing God. (One day soon I will blog about how the enemy wants to bury the kids of Christian families under the lie of perfectionism. Later. ) I genuinely liked doing the right thing and being a good kid. The wrong things scared me but fear without knowledge makes for a terrible foundation.

I wasn’t sure my questions about God and my feelings about the world would be acceptable so I just buried them. I buried them by doing.  I became the best church go-er. I was a people-pleasing, list-making, box-checking Christian. That kind of boundary-setting behavior built walls around me, it separated, it isolated, it made the tasks I was pursuing a higher priority than my relationship with God or others.Did I already say it isolated me? It did. It kept people just outside of seeing me vulnerable. And wouldn’t you know it, staying busy made it easier for me to hide my struggles, my hurts, my issues, my sins too.

In all that doing I was losing my way. I was eager to become all that I was supposed to be, do all that I was supposed to do so I organized my life around “shoulds” and “should nots”. It became a game of, “What should I do?” VS. “What shouldn’t I do?” It was like a score card where I could check boxes or keep track of my points. I rarely asked God (or anyone else for that matter) what I should do. It just became about me, and what seemed to be the best option. Every decision could be broken down into a pro’s and con’s list. It was some days based on logic and some days based purely on emotion.

That’s how I lived most of my 20’s.  I checked all the boxes. I went to college. I moved out. I traveled. I made new friends. I went to church. I went to parties. I met a boy. I traveled more. I graduated. I got engaged. And I tried to serve Jesus. I did. I wanted to serve Him but in my world He was just another box to check. He was just something else I could either get right, or wrong. I just kept checking the empty boxes, I kept trying to fill the empty by my own hands, by my own accomplishments. My Christianity became measurable, I could’ve made a graph chart of my successful or unsuccessful days or weeks as a person of faith (and I use this term loosely). I was mostly made up of fear not faith.

I checked the marriage box at 23 and then I totally freaked out, on the inside that is. I was still too afraid to share any of my feelings of uncertainty, doubt and insecurity. I wasn’t who I’d hoped I’d be. Marriage wasn’t what I hoped it would be. My husband wasn’t who I thought he would be. I knew something was missing but I held it all in. I was starting to crumble because this life I planned out wasn’t perfect like the wedding I had just planned so perfectly. The whole thing was shocking to me. I became terribly depressed and decided I was done trying to do all the things I “should” do. I was ready to try my hand at the “shouldn’t”.

I was so eager to find temporary relief from the things I couldn’t understand that when temptation presented itself I didn’t have to mull it over for very long. I took it. I participated. I escaped.  I made a lot of regrettable choices during that time namely, cheating on my husband. I was so ashamed. I couldn’t figure out how I had become a lying, cheating, depressed, lost person. None of it felt like me. I was lost and heartbroken and so very ashamed. I had picked up that burden of shame and carried it around like it was my kid. I guess it was. It was my sin-kid. And it was so much easier for me to find my identity in that shame instead of repentance.

If shame was the weighted ball then sin was the chains.  It did just what Jesus warned it would do in John 8:34. Sin wrapped chains around me like I was a slave, I was bound by it, bound to do it. It became my god, it consumed my thoughts. I surrendered my will to it more times than I can count because of my separation from God. I no longer knew who I was in Christ so I identified myself by my sin and shame. That was the enemy’s doing. That is how he operates. He identifies you by your sins and fears and failures. He tells you that you are condemned. But God always calls you by your name, by your relationship with Him (my daughter, my son, my child) with LOVE and HOPE. And he has already set you free you just have to receive it.

I didn’t receive it. I just stayed in those chains for so long that I started thinking and acting like a slave, like someone with no rights, no power. I believed lies that said, “you’re a cheater; you’ll never be trusted again; you’ll lose your reputation; your parents will be crushed; your family will lose all respect for you; you’ll never be forgiven; you won’t have any friends; you’ll lose your husband, you’re a liar; you’ll be asked to leave the church; you will be left with nothing” I bowed my head in shame and in agreement.

By my mid-twenties, I was struggling to get back to who I thought I was supposed to be. I was determined to make willful decisions to steer my life down the right path. Translation: I went  back to the “should” boxes. I changed gears and started my career in real estate. As much as I loved my job, it offered me no real freedom from those chains (shocking, I know). I was the same old hopeless mess and within a year I was doing it again. I was lying. I was cheating. I was having an affair again, this time with my co-worker.  And the more I did it, the less shameful and more justifiable it became to me. I thought the new guy was different. I thought everything would be different this time. I thought all of my heartache would disappear. I thought he was the answer. So I planned my escape and soon after this new affair started I divorced my husband. My choices left so much destruction.

This is not the end of my story. Thank God!  But that’s what it looked like when I was in control, when my life was being lived by my own hands by my own understanding. I was blind. I didn’t even know what I couldn’t see. BUT…my Redeemer was writing an epic love story, y’all. In the midst of all of this He was taking my sin, my destruction, my shame and turning into something good. Once I surrendered my life into His hands I could see it being written–that glorious part (His story) will be posted tomorrow.