The S word, Comfort, Redemption

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I was laying it all out on the table with a mentor, my friend perched questioningly on the chair next to me as I covered my face with my hands. I had tried to wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans, it wasn’t working. I couldn’t make eye contact. I could hear the clock ticking obnoxiously, loudly. I had accepted a commitment I felt unqualified for, and here I was sitting in an awkward pause, doing the stupidest thing I felt like I could possibly do. I had felt the burning need to kill shame and finally let my mentor know exactly what he was getting into with me before he completely trusted me with anyone else. It was crunch time. You know that honesty you need to exercise but pre-regret? Yep.

Deep sigh. “This is really awkward, and I don’t even know how to talk about it but…I feel like you should know that…” Word vomit. Confession time. All about issues pertaining to sex, my favorite Midwestern curse word. Curl into the fetal position and cry.

He nodded kindly and quietly. When I was done confessing to the floor and finally looked up. he asked me if he could ask me some questions. “Yeah,” I replied meekly, because he wasn’t killing me. He wasn’t disappointed. I hadn’t been fired yet. After he asked me why I thought some of these issues were surfacing, I got met with the question that iced the cake on my whole year: “Sexuality is really closely tied to identity and what we believe about ourselves. So the question is, what do you think you deserve?” he asked kindly. I was swimming in relief that I was still alive and not totally hated, but this one landed me on my butt. What? What does anyone think they deserve?

“I’d encourage you to sit down and talk to God about that,” he recommended honestly, and let me know that my honesty had just built trust with him, not broken it all. Okay. Phew, resume breathing.

I got home that night, and dared to crack open my journal. I hadn’t done that since my last vent-athalon a few months ago. Looking at my heart had been the scariest thing to do that year, and I bravely braced myself on the floor at the edge of my bed.

“Jesus, what do I think I deserve?” I asked with a sigh, dread, and weak anticipation.

“Not too much,” was the quiet, slightly saddened response I heard back.

Uh. Okay. No…But…okay. What? They don’t teach you what to say to that in ministry school.

Frozen, I asked back, “why is that?”

“You don’t think you’re good. You don’t think you’ve done much in the way of deserving things. You think you need to be perfect in order to deserve things.”

My reaction was equal parts UH OH THAT’S NOT GOOD and Oh, obviously! I thought I had conquered the perfectionism beast in my lifetime years prior, but parts of me definitely knew what I had been quietly thinking about myself all this time. I had actually been taught to think that, I think many of us have. Religion had said, ‘You don’t deserve anything, God redeemed your worthless self and made you lovable again. He loves you, He doesn’t like you, so be good or the rug gets pulled out. He’s a trickster. He’ll take things away when you start to like them, and that’s called love.’

If I had never deserved anything good, I WAS worthless. If the good things were all an undeserved gift, then I should be happy if they came and see it as normal when they didn’t. If I’m unworthy, then I’d better be fine with scraps. That kind of thinking had led me to live one miserable life. I want us to understand the magnitude of what Jesus did for our formerly destroyed selves, but this undeserving business is screwing us up when worth isn’t included in our post-saved lives. When we walk around thinking we don’t deserve goodness, it hurts us everywhere.

Confronted with my staunchly negative but enlightening personal beliefs, I asked God the second question on the checklist: “What do I deserve?” Gut wrench, heavy pause. Body tensed and braced for impact, knuckles clenched.

A long list of kind things began pouring into my ears, and I rapidly started trying to capture the unbelievable, totally abnormal things I was hearing. “You deserve love, care, rest, kind treatment, to be affirmed, tenderness…” As I wrote, my stomach twisted into a knot. Not only did this sound too amazing to ever be real, almost none of it was currently present in my life or my relationships. Oh….kay. %&@$.

I didn’t believe I deserved any of this. It was radically different from some very painful realities and scenarios I was currently living in. I wanted to believe what He said, I felt like I should, and I didn’t. I had spent years of my life jamming truth into my mind, but God was inviting me into a new depth of shaking that truth down 18 inches into my heart. I had no idea what to do, but this mentor throughout the year gave me the most amazing gift. He rarely gave me answers, which at first I hated. Instead, in every problem I brought to him, he welcomed me to go talk to God about it. WHAT? To my own surprise I found that I didn’t want to talk to God at ministry school :l

I liked the idea of Him. I didn’t currently like him.

This painful conversation was the gateway into 100 beautiful, angry, brutally honest conversations I began having with God about my current and past reality. It was the first time in a long time that I’d learned that I could actually be frankly honest with God and have Him be frankly honest back. From his direction, it was never unkind. From mine, at the beginning it rarely wasn’t. I had 1,000 bones to pick with Him, and I had unwittingly kept Him 100 miles from my heart for years. I had let circumstances tell me that my God simply wasn’t interested, and as I found myself in unbearable pain I began to hate him.

The undoing of that is something I’m more grateful for than anything.

A life spent caged up and growling at the smoke screen horror house image of a God who’s actually madly in love with you is futile at best, hell at its worst. He is not that.

Spilling my heart to Him, processing why I felt like I deserved nothing, and confronting Him with pain I felt like he caused was…rough. Roughly brutally awesome, in hindsight.These conversations were the hardest because I had QUESTIONS. Questions guys! They are the worst! Religion says ‘don’t question God,’ and my heart said, ‘that’ll end me.’ So I asked Him why he put me where He did, when He did, and why He allowed…life.

I needed to know how someone who said they loved me would set me up for torment and hell, and I needed to face him with my raging reality and the fact that I saw NO way out of it.

He listened. He loved me. At first I would just feel His presence sit with me as I raged against Him. I let my pent up heart explode in front of him and confront us both. I was overwhelmed by my own hatred and emotion, He was not. At first I was so angry I would just shout accusations at Him. I didn’t want answers, I wanted to get the years of built up poison out of my chest. Everything I’d thought and never said, I screamed at him. He would hold my hand. After two weeks I would begin to feel my rage tank run a little dry, and I’d actually ask him questions: WHY? Add some more tactfully constructed accusations. I would finally leave a pause. He would fill it, with presence, compassion, or with kindness.

Eventually I found out that he wanted to validate me to help me through pain. This was revolutionary to me, because this was the opposite of my callous, cold-hearted, emotionally distant God. No longer was he shrugging and recommending I get over it, but now He was holding onto me and crying with me. What breaks a child’s heart breaks any normal parent’s heart. He began to apologize to me for the places where I thought He’d left me. He apologized for the times I’d felt utterly alone, hopeless, and trapped. He apologized to me on behalf of the people that will probably never apologize. He began to gently bring to the surface issues I’d buried for so long that I’d gone completely numb to them. He would only touch my heart tenderly, with surgeon’s gloves on. He held me in his arms and let me rail against him with the blows that I wasn’t able to direct anywhere else.

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He began to show me Himself as my protector, which was the LAST thing I thought He would ever be for me. That was an area I was sure He’d totally failed me. He would show me a picture of himself holding me and roaring at anyone who was coming my way. “SHE’S STRONGER THAN YOU THINK,” I’d hear him yell over me with unbridled ferocity, passion, and force, and I’d break. How could you not? That kind of dad who believes in you at your weakest, when you like him the least, who doesn’t disregard your broken heart but chooses instead to sit down with you and feel your way through it? That is more love than any one human heart can hold. He won me. He has absolutely won me.

Not because He’s strong, not because of his guns. I have known strength and muscles without kindness. I have run from strength without kindness. It’s actually his tenderness that swept me off my feet.

There are places in my heart that had unmet needs that I was completely hopeless about, in the sense that if you didn’t get what you needed at certain key times in your life, science says you’re screwed for life. I’ll be honest. No hope. I just didn’t get that, I missed it was my self-diagnosis emotionally, and I would have to make due without it. No, actually I wouldn’t.

Because He has swept in with COMFORT, KINDNESS, FEROCITY, PROTECTION, GENTLENESS, SAFETY, SWEETNESS, AND PASSION this year. THIS YEAR. In one year, He has dismantled what feels like a lifetime’s worth of loneliness, hopelessness, and powerlessness. He has shattered and continues to shatter every cruel and unkind image of Him that I have been presented with. Now instead of accusation, I’m able to come to Him with a broken lens in my hand, asking Him, “is this true of you?” He is quick to firmly tell me no, easily laughs with me, and instills a lightness that I have found nowhere else in this world.

It all started with, “what do you think you deserve?” Turns out this has been the question all along.

Because when I’ve embraced that I’m GOOD, whole, and worthy of great things, my tastes naturally begin to change. Porn, fake loveless sex, suddenly had so little appeal. When I experience the overwhelming value that God merits to me as a woman and I begin to realize that women actually deserve love in sex instead of to be used, any suggestion culture presents is easily dismissed. When I tried spending years doing behavior maintenance on my ‘problems’, God has been banging down the door of my heart, dying to get inside and mess everything up with his love. Problem spots are actually just places in our lives that have been aching to experience His overwhelming love and kindness. When I had been fighting for years to ‘act right’ it all came down to deserving. I am FLOORED by how thoroughly and suddenly my life altered itself around the truth that I deserved good things.

Hear me: Temptation hasn’t completely disappeared from my life once I agreed with God, but now I can start to ask myself good questions when it comes up. If I feel tempted about something that’s not who I am, I’m able to ask myself “what’s going on heart? What do you need?”

Over the past year I’ve felt the urge to use alcohol, drugs, and sex as a comforter, all at times when I felt extremely powerless. These aren’t things I act on, but I’d love to break shame if  you’ve felt any of this yourself. Those feelings actually aren’t a commentary on me or my life at all, that’s just my heart grasping at any coping mechanism because it’s actually too scared to get comforted by God. So I begin to ask myself why I’m scared and why I need to cope.

Many times it’s just my heart shouting ‘code blue: resuscitate!’ If I’m actively trying to go numb, something painful may have just happened that I’m ignoring or I’m just overwhelmed by my life. I have grimaced through many a forced conversation with the Lord in these moments that we connected about something painful. It was as fun as pulling teeth and I wanted to bolt out of the room towards anything else but feeling. When I decided to sit with Him and be ragingly uncomfortable, he brought comfort so easily it was astonishing. For the record, He’s always been better than I think.

“You are not what the temptations you resist, you are the values you embrace.” Kris Vallotton.

Believing what God says about what you deserve might look like JUST DECIDING to believe Him when what He says sounds unreal. That’s been my last 4 years. You can do it. It works. It can look like processing through some bad beliefs you developed through painful experiences. Or it could look like letting him hug the hell out of you as you yell at him. There is no perfect process but there is a perfect God, and He wants to go there with you, whatever it looks like.

My God would be absolutely honored to meet you in the hard places.

He only has good thoughts about you and what you deserve. If you’re not thinking great things about yourself, guess who’s wrong. 🙂

When I began to see the love that’s been storming my heart for my whole life, aiming itself full force at me when I was completely oblivious, love began to look a little safer. When He showed me how firmly He loved and protected me, and even celebrated my intentions when I got myself into some hot messes, His grace became irresistible. He is not a stone-thrower, He’s a protective father, a freedom fighter renegade. His heart has always been to pull you out of hell and pain. I can finally stand and say that He’s capable of recovery in the places I was sure He wouldn’t be able to recover.

Worth has been the hardest thing we’ve faced yet, probably because it’s the entire foundation of what we believe about who we are. I tried to build ‘acceptable’ on a foundation that called me worthless, and acceptable didn’t hold for long. Worthy and beautiful turned to dust on contact. If your foundation’s broken, even the most beautifully planned building won’t hold.

I almost want to tell you what you deserve, but I’d rather you hear it from the person who’s obsessed with you, wildly in love with you, and fiercely fighting for your future with you.

My foundation of who I was had been utterly decimated. He has been speaking words that move  dust into form, loving the most painfully shattered places in my heart back to life, and being everything I ever needed him to be.

Everything.

I hated Him, I doubted Him, and I challenged Him. He met me and He won,

If he can get me, He can get you.

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