Sep 25, 2013

: shame (and other things I've been controlled by)

Recently I've been reading a book about the shaming effects of sexual abuse. Going into it, I thought to myself, "Luckily I don't have any shame so this should be a quick read" but now I'm in tears after every chapter and on a Jesus-music-only diet until further notice. This book defines shame as the belief that if people really knew who you were, you would no longer be acceptable. Shame drives you into a living a life of secrets, dishonesty, and numbness.

I can't remember a time I felt ashamed before I was abused, but I have vivid memories of shame and embarrassment from every year afterwards. In fifth grade, for example, I was so nervous to say the pledge of allegiance in front of the class I made myself sick and threw up in the trashcan by our lockers. I legitimately felt like it was the end of the world. In sixth grade, I remember the look on everyone's faces when I told them I wasn't allowed to listen to the Spice Girls. In seventh grade, I remember running into the bathroom and crying after all the boys nicknamed me "Savage." In eighth grade, I remember when I cut my bangs too short and a girl in science class said, "Why did she do that to her face?" This was also the first time I remember someone calling me fat. In ninth grade, I remember the shame I felt after realizing nobody was going to ask me to homecoming. In tenth grade, I remember when a boy said he was too afraid to play basketball with me for fear of getting trampled on. In eleventh grade, I remember how embarrassed I was when I didn't get asked to prom. My senior year of high school, I remember feeling ashamed that I didn't wear a bikini on our class beach trip.

I became so wrapped up in toxic shame that I was afraid to do or say anything out of the ordinary. If I'm being really honest, I spent an entire decade of my life creating versions of myself that I believed to be more acceptable than who I really was. When that girl in science class made fun of my bangs, I pinned them up every single day until they grew out. Why? Because I wanted to be more acceptable. When everyone started wearing UGGs, I made my mom go to the mall and get me a pair because I was terrified of standing out. They are seriously the worst, most ugly boots in the entire world, but I still wore them with every outfit in order to be accepted and avoid shame.

It reminds me of a man that Jesus encountered in Matthew 8: “Behold, a leper came to Jesus and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’”

Lepers were marked by shame and rejection. They had to yell, “Unclean, unclean!” if they approached anyone in the town. After Jesus healed the man (by touching him, which is a statement in itself) Jesus told him to go to the priests and offer a gift as proof of his cleanliness. How terrifying would it be to go to the very people who shamed you most and say, “I am ashamed no more. I am accepted. I am clean.” This is what Jesus does, though. He looks at the rejected and says, You are rejected no more. He touches the ashamed and says, You are accepted, there is no condemnation for you. He reaches out to the dirty and says, I have made you clean. While the world has marked you with a scarlet letter and commanded you to stay outside the city walls, Jesus invites you into the center of his Kingdom. Child of God, this is your new identity: accepted, unashamed, known, and loved.

Sep 18, 2013

: on the cusp of eternity

Think for a minute on the sober reality that one day very soon, the credits of your life will roll and you will stand alone before God as Judge. You will have nothing in your hands. You will not be able to point your finger and blame this person or that disadvantage. You will not be able to empty your pockets and show records of your tithing or church attendance. You will not have a world map available to mark every country in which you built a well. It will not matter if everyone on earth revered you as a philanthropic world-changer. All that will matter on the cusp of eternity is how God views you. 

You lift up your head and lock eyes with the Judge. His gaze overwhelms you with the colors of holiness, and now, maybe more than ever before, you understand just how small you are in comparison to Him. You are asked to give an account for your life. Rushing through the first decade or so, you finally get to the part when you were eighteen and listened to that sermon from a pastor in Texas. That was when your eyes were opened and, long story short, you trusted Jesus for your salvation. The Judge smirks and waves his hand for you to continue.

You tell him about the nights you spent on your knees, begging for wisdom. You talk about all the adventures and connections, moments of faith and moments of doubt. Countless celebrations, weddings, birthdays, and memories flash before your eyes. Clear as day, you see how every second of your life- every fiber of your being- shouted hallelujah after all. You cry out, Nothing in my hands I bring, only to the cross I cling, as the old hymn goes. Everything is accounted for and your eternity is staked on the love of Jesus, on the love of the Judge himself.

His gavel drops and thunder runs through your body. Accompanied by the roaring celebration of angels and saints, your life truly begins:

"Well done, my good and faithful servant."

Sep 3, 2013

: trust him when it hurts

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
-Proverbs 3

Trust in the Lord with every bit of heart you can manage to muster. This won't be easy because you've probably been hurt by someone that once held your heart, but still the command remains: Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Trust him with your future. Trust him with your dreams. Trust him when it's easy. Trust him when the entire world screams that He is untrustworthy. Trust him when it hurts. Trust him when you're well. Trust him when you don't understand. 

Trust him when you find yourself at the foot of a sea with an Egyptian army behind you. Trust him when there's no way out. Remember that the One who made the sea and sky and even those Egyptians is with you.

Do not lean on your own understanding because you have a small understanding after all. You cannot predict when the sea will split open and defy the laws of nature in obedience to the will of God. Look for paths in the water, for open doors and burning bushes, and run to them. These are the fingerprints of God in your life: he has given you access to Glory. He has given you access to a new way of understanding.

He has given you access to Himself, cracking open the sea of our transgression and shame and rebellion with his bare hands. He defied reason, time, gravity, and space by wrapping inexhaustible radiance in a hundred and seventy some odd pounds of skin and bones and blood and water. This is a wildly unpredictable solution hailing from a wildly unpredictable God.

This is the One in whom you can trust, the One on whom you can lean.