When God Unexpectedly Heals

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A few weeks ago my little family went camping in my old stomping grounds, and something unexpectedly beautiful happened. 🙂 But first some background.

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I was raised in an old farmhouse, near a small town, in the middle of Michigan’s “Thumb.” For anyone reading this who is not from my state, Michigan is shaped like a mitten and the Thumb is a peninsula that sticks out into Lake Huron. It’s mostly flat farm fields with a speckling of tiny towns thrown in. We had to drive twenty minutes to get to a Walmart and almost an hour to get to any decent sized city.

My parents sold our old house and moved away from the Thumb when my dad retired, so I haven’t had any reason to go back for years. It’s not like you randomly pass through on your way anywhere else.

I concocted a plan to bring my family back to my hometown for the annual Freedom Festival over the 4th of July. We could swing by my old house, see some of my favorite places, and even visit the lighthouse where we got married. It would be amazing!

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While the first two-thirds of our trip was fun, it was also disappointing. My house looked very different. The trees were much larger, the new owners had changed a ton of things, and they weren’t even home so we couldn’t really poke around. Strangely though, twenty years later, my old swing was still hanging from the tree in the side yard…the swing I asked for when I turned eighteen (because I was a young, homeschooled, old-fashioned eighteen, LOL). It was a bit surreal.

 

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The grassy field next to the lighthouse where we got married surrounded by a cathedral of trees was now filled with an old, beat up, life-saving station that they were refurbishing. The trees had all been cut down due to insect infestation and you couldn’t even tell where we had stood to say “I do.” So much for renewing our vows…

We had a great time playing in the Lake, but it was basically a different place.

 

After these types of experiences, I didn’t go into the Saturday festival at my hometown with very many expectations.

The hour-plus parade was exactly what I remembered, complete with overflowing bags of candy and every emergency vehicle in the county bringing up the rear with horns and sirens blaring. My children were thrilled! We wandered around afterwards, taking in the craft fair, free inflatables, and a strongman competition. While there I suddenly realized that the bald, bearded, tattooed man pulling a semi truck was the naughty, little boy my Jr. Choir director used to make sit next to me so I could help him behave when I was ten and he was five. Life is weird sometimes.

I began to process my life in this small town. We were part of the community when I was little. I knew people from my old church before we joined our cultic organization. Then I spent ten years living in the community but apart from it, before finally coming back to a local Baptist church for a year or two before I left for college. Many of my memories of this town and the people in it were being aloof from them, feeling better, special somehow. But I wasn’t that person anymore. So much change and growth had happened since then.

They were having a community devotion in the evening, kind of like a joint service with the various churches in town. I just knew I needed to go. My kind husband agreed to bring the kids and come with me.

There weren’t very many people in the little park, but that was okay. One of the boys from my old church where I went to Jr. Choir and did Bible Bowl had grown up and become the pastor. He was there along with pastors from four or five other churches. A trio of older musicians led us in some country style worship, a few hymns I knew and some songs I didn’t. A young associate pastor gave a short devotional. Then we celebrated communion.

It wasn’t the quality of the service that affected me. It was the choice to be there and willingly participate without judgement or condemnation. These were the people in my community that I had looked down on as less spiritual and worldly, but now I was here with them worshiping our common Creator and Savior.

During communion, a pastor and his wife from one of the more liturgical churches approached us with a loaf of bread and a glass of grape juice. We indicated that we would like to participate. She tore off a piece of bread and he dipped it into the juice, “The body of Christ, broken for you,” he whispered as he offered it to me. I don’t know how to explain what happened as I accepted and ate that bread, but I’m crying as I write this.

Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a book called Changes that Heal, and one of the things he talks about is good time and bad time. He says,

“When we truly live in time, which is where we are now, we are present with our experience… If we are not aware of our experience, or are not experiencing some aspect of ourselves, that part is removed from time and is not affected by it…. Whatever aspect of ourselves that we leave outside of experience, that we leave in ‘bad time,’ goes unchanged. Grace and truth cannot affect the part of ourselves that we won’t bring into experience.”

It was like the old me was able to reconcile with the new me. Something deep was brought out of “bad time” and was healed.

Since I started telling my story, there was a part of me that always felt the need to justify who I am now. There was a strange defensiveness in my heart. It’s only been a few weeks, but it feels like that part is gone. Like I can just be me and accept my story without needing to prove anything. It’s kind of a beautiful feeling. 🙂

Thanks for listening to some personal ramblings this morning. I don’t have any profound applications to make except that God is good and gracious, and healing can happen in unexpected ways.

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What if Salvation is More Like an Ambulance Ride?

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It started with a podcast. I’ve been mentioning Alisa Childers on my Facebook page and blog for a couple of months now. Her podcast and its interviews of various incredibly-smart-Christians has been rocking my brain. And I love it.

My husband, who also started listening to Alisa Childers, found this particular two-part series first. Consistent with his systematic approach to life, my husband started at the beginning and has been slowly working his way through the episodes in numerical order. My approach is more haphazard. Basically I just scroll through the options, see what sounds interesting, and listen to that.

Anyway, my husband asked if I’d listened to the podcasts on Molinism yet. He went on to say that he didn’t really like these episodes because they were complicated and confusing. He also didn’t think he agreed with the guest who seemed to say that everyone was saved unless they rejected Jesus.

What in the world was Molinism? I’d never heard of that before. I expected it to be some strange cult that Alisa and her guest were refuting, but my husband said that they appeared to agree with the theology. I skeptically checked out the podcasts the next day.

And I’ve been thinking and processing ever since.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

Molinism refers to the teachings and theology of Luis de Molina, a Jesuit priest and scholar from Spain who lived in the 1500s. Molina was part of the Reformation, but unlike more well-known reformers such as Luther and Calvin, Luis de Molina chose to stay within the Catholic Church and try to reform it from the inside out. His attempts didn’t work since the Church rejected his teachings.

Molina attempted to reconcile the Scriptures that talk about free will with the Scriptures that also talk about the sovereignty of God. Rather than reject the idea of human free will, like John Calvin, Luis de Molina saw the opportunity for both. He suggested the concept of Middle Knowledge: that God not only knows everything that has and will happen, He also knows all of the “what ifs” that lie in-between. To put it in more modern terms, God knows all of the different timeline possibilities (thank you Avengers). Therefore, God is still sovereign and totally in control, but in at least some instances, He allows humans to choose. This concept is known as Libertarian Free Will.

This intense theological thinking definitely boggles my mind and I know it’s an intellectual stretch from some of my other blog posts. But, I really believe that wondering about theology is good for us! Paul told the Philippians to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

As I skeptically listened to the podcast episodes, Alisa and her guest, Tim Stratton, starting discussing analogies regarding salvation. They agreed that salvation is totally the work of God and tried to explain what little part we play in it. Alisa suggested that salvation is like a sick person going to the doctor and being given medicine. It’s their choice to take the medicine or not. But Tim wanted to take it a bit farther and this is where I’ve been stuck ever since.

He roughly quoted author Kenneth Keathley’s  Ambulatory Model of Overcoming Grace. I know this because after I heard the episode, I looked it up. Here is the blog post on Tim Stratton’s website called FreeThinkingMinistries.com.

And here is Kenneth Keathley’s model in his own words.

“Imagine waking up to find you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the services of the ambulance.”

Tim Stratton, after discussing this ambulance model said these words that have embedded themselves in my brain ever since, “If you do nothing, they will save you.”

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My brain struggled to reconcile this new idea with the theology I’d always been taught. But my heart resonated with a God who was this big and loving. I cried my way through the rest of the podcast.

The idea within this Molinistic view is that God’s grace and forgiveness is available to everyone. (Something I agree with.) We are able to resist God’s grace and reject Jesus. (Something I also agree with.) However, if we do not resist, God will bring us to the place where He saves us. (A new concept I am still wrestling with and yet find myself wanting to accept.)

If you do nothing, they will save you.

When I think about this Ambulance Model regarding personal salvation, I totally resonate with it. Waking up in an ambulance and allowing your EMT’s to take you to the hospital requires just a couple of minor things from you. First, you have to become aware that you are in trouble and need saving. And second, you have to recognize that these guys can save you. Then you have to let them. Is it just me, or does this just scream the Real Jesus?

It’s not Universalism, the idea that everyone goes to heaven no matter what, although I supposed people could take it that way. I am not a Universalist, nor do I intend to ever go there. I’m not saying that by doing nothing, or staying neutral, we will be saved. I still strongly believe Jesus’ words in John three.

“Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” John 3:18.

Jesus death on the cross is the only way to be saved. But, too often God gets viewed as distant and angry. Religious Christianity says that we need to do the right things in order to appease Him. Salvation becomes something we attempt to achieve by a series of correct behaviors.

What if the Divine Trinity is more like a team of EMT’s? They not only want to save us, they are fully capable of doing it. All we have to do is agree that we need saving and let them save us. Just do nothing. 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” Ephesians 2:8-9.

As much as I adore this view of salvation, I also love this picture of sanctification. So much of our relationship, or rather our lack of a relationship, with God is based on resistance. Whether it’s lies we believe about Him or about ourselves, an idolatrous love of earthly things, or sin we refuse to let go of, it often feels impossible to change. But what if real life and healing is found in letting go? What if repentance is simply changing our mind and admitting that we need saving? If you do nothing, they will save you.

It’s also called surrender.

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Could the Real God be so big, and so powerful, and so full of love, grace, and forgiveness that if we do nothing He will save us? From sin? From lies? From ourselves?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1.

My guess is that when we stop resisting, He will come close. He will do the work He has wanted to do for a long time. We will be amazed at His love and mercy, and His indescribable beauty will cause us to love Him in return. Because we love Him, we will want to obey Him and through that obedience we will experience even deeper closeness. By doing nothing, we will find the life that is truly life.

Imagine that you are on that gurney in the back of the ambulance. What does it look like for you to lie still and let the Holy Team of EMT’s save you?

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Embracing My Strength

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“Do not let your adornment be merely outward…rather let it be…the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” 1 Peter 3:4. (NKJV)

How did this verse get so twisted and taken out of context that it stopped meaning having a heart that trusts Jesus and started meaning having a soft voice and quiet demeanor? I have no idea. Welcome to the crazy place where I lived during my teens and early twenties.

When you spend a decade or more being told that your personality, gifts, and abilities are sin, it takes a while to recover. But I’m working on it.

I know that I’m not the only strong woman out there who has been shut down by the traditions of religious Christianity. I’m not here today to argue theology, but rather to share my story in the hopes that it will encourage you. I want to encourage strong women to flourish in the gifts God has given them, and I want to encourage men to stand up and support women of strength as co-laborers for the kingdom!

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A year ago, my husband and I started attending a small group with our new church. It was amazing to meet with these people who were honest about themselves and accepting of us on our journey. God put that small group together and I loved it.

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But as we drove away that winter night, I was curled in a ball in the front seat, tears running down my face, my heart breaking and terrified. I’d done it again. The bad part of me had escaped and now they wouldn’t like me.

“What is wrong with me? Why can’t I keep myself contained?” I moaned. Then it got real. “How can they like me,” I asked my husband in desperation, “when I don’t even like myself?” Gut level stuff was spewing from a wound that I didn’t even know I had.

Even as I said it out loud, it hit me. “I don’t even like myself.” It was true.

What terrible thing did I do to cause this trauma? It was simple. Our group leaders had shared their stories and, along with the rest of the group, I asked some questions and made comments. Everything was fine until our leader complimented his wife for answering “when Christy came on strong.”

And that’s when I freaked out and shut down. I hadn’t meant to be strong; I didn’t even know I’d been strong! My strength had gotten me in trouble so many times before…

I’ve always wished I was naturally sweet, quiet, and gentle. I even spent three years in my teens pretending I was. But I’m not. I’m loud, and blunt, and passionate. And I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut.

I’ve learned over the years to keep myself in check, but the strength still occasionally escapes. Mostly because I’m not really a quiet pushover. I have strong feelings and opinions. I love truth. I care deeply about people…sometimes too much. I identify with Elsa from Frozen. When my strength finally blasts its way to the surface, it’s usually unhealthy and unhelpful. It gets me in trouble. I do and say things I shouldn’t…

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“Why do you have to control and hide your strength?” my patient husband asked. “Why can’t you just be who God made you?”

Because it’s bad.” was my quick reply.

My experiences, both during my ultra-conservative season and even more recently, told me my strength was dangerous, unwanted, and possibly even sinful. How could God have made me this way?

Why can’t you just be who God made you to be?” It was a valid question. What would happen if I accepted my strength and lived out of it? What if I stopped stuffing it down until it exploded? I decided it was time for help.

Our church has certified counselors on staff. Isn’t that amazing?! I went to see of them. I wanted to know if it was possible to be a strong woman and love Jesus at the same time.

The counselor listened patiently, like great counselors do. Then he made two observations and one suggestion.

  • “I think you have a deep need to be heard.”

I’d never thought about it that way before, but it was true. In fact, just about every big conflict in my life has happened because I didn’t feel heard or understood and then responded with negative strength.

  • “I like your strength and your passion.”

Being told my strength was good, even likable, was amazing.

  • “Try to let your strength come from a place of brokenness rather than a place of needing to be heard.”

Brokenness…I’ve got lots of that! But, it is interesting to stand back and recognize the way Jesus has used every bit of the brokenness I’ve experienced in both my recent and distant past to make me who I am today. He has humbled and softened me through pain. It’s funny how that works.

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Being broken myself allows me to understand other people’s brokenness a little better. I have more empathy and less judgement. Embracing my brokenness seems to stabilize my strength on a deep level. It is good.

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Probably the most healing part of this journey of living in my God-given strength is the men in my life recently who have encouraged me. It was a patriarchal society that originally told me I was bad, and unfortunately that same attitude often trickles into traditional Christian circles as well.

My wonderfully-opposite-husband, who never even heard the word patriarchal before he met me, has always supported and even pushed me to be the woman God created me to be. He’s never been intimidated by my strength, and from the beginning of our relationship knew how to lead and guide me in a way that encouraged rather than suppressed me.

I’m at a church right now that wants me, with my strength. When I was honest about what happened that night in small group, our leader not only acknowledged my feelings, but let me know that he didn’t mean strong in a bad way. The counselor I spoke with (who is also a pastor) told me he liked me with my strength and gave me pointers to use it well.

We were recently talking to our pastor of young adults. My husband mentioned a conversation the two of us had where I had called him out on something. The pastor laughed, and said, “Christy doesn’t beat around the bush, does she?” But there was no condemnation in his voice, just appreciation. He went on to say, “I want Christy and her passion in this ministry. I am excited to have you guys working with us.”

I’ve got tears in my eyes right now as I write this. Being accepted and loved like that…being appreciated and wanted…is an amazingly powerful thing. 

These days I am embracing words like strong, passionate, and fierce. I am passionate about truth; God has gifted me with strong faith and the ability to love fiercely. Strength can be a beautiful thing when it isn’t exploding in unhealthy ways, even in a woman.

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A Peek Inside My Heart

Welcome to a peek inside my heart… A random collection of my current thoughts and experiences. 

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A year ago I was in the middle of the darkest season I’ve ever gone through. It was bitter, and painful, and long. It felt like the Valley of the Shadow of Death that David talks about in Psalm 23. There were times that I just wanted to die. It completely broke me.

I’ll be honest, healing takes time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing good, and sometimes it still hurts. Last week, memories were coming back in a flood. I stood there in church during worship fighting back tears…just one person among hundreds…feeling so alone.

“Your brokenness was a gift.”

I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper…five words in the core of my heart. And as I recognized the truth, the feelings of pain, loss, and despair slowly melted away…

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” Psalm 23:4.

Jesus WAS with me! I feel like I walked through fire but didn’t get burned. Instead, I got melted. Which is a good thing! 🙂

Good gifts came from my melted brokenness.

I had six sessions with a fabulous therapist who is also a Jesus follower. After our first day, where I just poured out my heart, she spoke these words. “You have been hurt.” Sometimes we just need people who will acknowledge our pain. God used her to start my healing journey.

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I found a book called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. Seriously, every Christian should read this book! It put my experiences as a teen and young adult with Bill Gothard and IBLP into perspective while opening my eyes to more prevalent issues. Any of us are capable of abusing others when we lose sight of (or never experience) a life of grace in Christ.

I am less sure of myself and more willing to listen to others. Which brings me to my next step of learning and discovery…

When I first started the (lengthly) process of writing Impostor Jesus, there were three popular memoirs that irritated me. These authors all came from conservative evangelical Christian backgrounds but became disillusioned and left. They have large followings. I was frustrated because I went through “more extreme” circumstances and I still believed in an evangelical version of Jesus. How dare they lead people astray?! Prideful much?

Then I got melted and things changed. I’m realizing that there is a huge number of people who are angry and disillusioned with the evangelical church, and they have legitimate reasons. Their stories have value. Their hurts need to be validated.

I bought those three memoirs on Amazon and I’m looking forward to reading them. Not as someone trying to pick apart theology or judge beliefs, but as someone feeling their pain.

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Which brings me to my book.

I’m still planning on writing Impostor Jesus, but it’s changing. I’m realizing that my extreme experience in legalism is simply part of a larger problem. The modern Christian church is too often just a religious system instead of a group of people who love and follow Christ. We’ve lost sight of the real Jesus. If He showed up, I’m afraid we’d miss Him. Instead of being disciples, we would be the Pharisees…upset because God doesn’t fit our idea of who He is supposed to be.

It’s time for another revival, for another awakening. The church has been overhauled multiple times in the course of history. Let’s do it again!