Sunday, August 26, 2007

Real Change

Today marks the anniversary of a turning point in my life. Four years ago today, I stood at a crossroads and had to make a decision. Should I choose the road I wanted, or the one the Lord had for me? I'd been fighting that decision for more than 4 years, but I had grown weary of running from it. I was completey worn out from the struggle of being disobedient and ignoring what God had asked of me. So, on this day, 4 years ago, I chose to turn down the road the Lord had set before me and it has made a world of difference in my life.

My journey with the Lord has been a long and interesting one. It started when I was just 5 years old. It was then that I took my first baby step down the road laid out before me. That little girl knew nothing of struggle or heartbreak, only that she loved Jesus...and that was enough. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that pure heart that trusted so easily and loved with reckless abandon. But, at the same time, I wouldn't trade the lessons I've learned that have brought me to this place.

I've had my heart broken a number of times. I've had my trust abused and my boundaries disregarded. Each one of those times, I became a little more defensive and I hid a little more of myself. With each betrayal, I trusted a little less and I hid myself more. On that day 4 years ago, I looked at myself and saw someone I didn't recognize...someone I didn't want to be. I had bottled myself up so tightly that I was merely a shadow of my former self, and not at all the woman God was calling me to be.

It was disobedience that had taken me to that place. It was a stubborn refusal to listen and obey when God asked me to give something...someone...up. I knew the right choice was to be obedient, no matter how difficult, but I was unwilling to submit my desires to His will and His plan. Oh, how much that stubborness cost me. For nearly 5 years, I held tightly to my choice, all the while believe I was surrendering the rest of myself to the Lord. But, surrender can't be partial...it has to be complete. It took me a long time to see the consequences of my disobedience, and it has taken me a long time to recover.

Since that moment 4 years ago, I have returned to full relationship with the Lord. In fact, in that moment of choice, I could feel the flood of His Spirit returning to fellowship wholeheartedly with mine. It's a moment that I will not soon forget, and one I will not soon relinquish. It's now my heart's desire to never allow anything or anyone to come between me and that relationship. It's meant some hard choices over the last 4 years, but each one has been well worth it.

This year has been one of real change for me. I've told my friends, recently, that I feel like a rockstar who seems to have "made it" over night, but in reality, her success is the product of years of hard work and struggling. That is how this year feels for me. I feel like I've been working so hard on myself and my relationship with the Lord and it is all suddenly coming together. In order for you to understand the change in me, I have to share a little more about what needed to change.

I was very afraid. I had stopped trusting my own instinct and my own heart where anything was concerned. I was full of self-doubt and didn't believe I had the ability to hear what the Lord was saying, or make the right choice. Someone close to me had abused my trust in him and took advantage of all I'd confided in him. He abused my trust, ignored my boundaries, and made me feel dirty. I carried the guilt of that encounter as though it were my fault for many years. And, although it likely wasn't a significant moment in his life and many people would laugh at how minor the encounter was, his hurtful words wounded me in a way that caused me to question and distrust men and hide myself in whatever way possible. I questioned every motive, emotion, and dream. All I knew was that I didn't want to miss out on what God had for me, but I had no idea what that might be. I was a perfectionist who didn't know how to handle failure. My type-A personality barely let me rest and I had been caught up in rules and rituals that had taken control of my life. I knew I was supposed to be using my gifts and talents to serve the Lord, but I didn't feel prepared in the least...I didn't feel capable. Many times I heard friends say things like..."God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called"...but, I felt like I had so far to go. There were a lot of things I knew in my head but couldn't translate to my heart. I knew that God had a plan for me and that He hadn't given me a spirit of fear. I also knew that I was more than a conqueror through Him, but I was so weak and unable to move.

I am more thankful than I can begin to say for the people who walked beside me during this dark and confusing period in my life. There really have been so many who have lifted my spirit and encouraged me when I needed it most. Many of these people will never know how much life they spoke into my heart. There are some people I'd like to mention here as they were highly significant in the last 4 years of my journey. These are by no means ALL of the people who have impacted my journey, they are just the ones with the most direct contact and knowledge of where I struggled.

First of all, my friend Jamie. I am SO blessed to have someone in my life with whom I can share my whole heart and be completely honest without fear of judgment. Jamie has been my "big sister" since I was a freshman in high school and has had a tremendous impact in my life. It was her willingness to share her own weaknesses and struggles that kept me from being trapped by the same. Her warnings helped me identify problem areas before I was consumed by them. She is a bold and honest friend. She has always shared her heart with me and been willing to call me on the carpet when I am being disobedient. And, she has loved me through it. Even when she was boldly telling me that my behavior was destructive, she didn't force me to change, but merely poured love on me and assured me that love would continue no matter my choice. I am more than blessed to have her continually in my life. She has been my mentor, my sister, and my friend and our friendship continues to be a place of safety, and challenge, support and growth.

Another friend who has continually encouraged me has been my friend Joanna. Now, Joanna is one of those people who just glows with the joy of the Lord. I don't know if you've ever met someone like that, but it is truly an experience. Joanna loves Jesus with all of her heart and it shines through in everything she does. She has a tender heart of compassion and an easy relationship with the Lord. In so many conversations, Joanna would invite the Lord in as easily as if He were physically sitting there with us. She always has a way of calling when I need her...even if it's just to pray for me on my voicemail. She is a beloved sister in Christ and one who has meant more to me than she could ever know. I often wonder how it was that I came to be blessed by having such amazing people in my life. I'm just so thankful the Lord saw fit to place them there.

That brings me to Jodi. Jodi is a life coach, and a very good one at that. She was made for it. In fact, she's basically been my life coach since we met at the age of 16. She has an amazing gift for helping people see the dreams God has placed within them. She also has a gift for drawing it out of them. That's what she did for me. Jodi was my life coach, formally, for about a year. And, we wrestled with so many things together. She helped me identify the fears that consumed me and also recognize their source. She pushed me to examine dark corners of my heart that I wanted to ignore. She helped me pick myself up and face the things that haunted me. It was VERY hard work, and sometimes too much for me. But, Jodi loved me through it, as she always has. She kept pouring her heart into mine and encouraging me to keep pressing forward. She reminded me what it was to dream and helped me define the dream God placed within me. She helped re-awaken the fire within me while walking beside me as I started to step out of my comfort zone. She was a true "border buddy" for me when I needed her the most. And, although our formal arrangement was for a limited time, she is still one of the strongest influences in my life. She leads her life in a way that is inspiring to me. She is living out the dream God has placed within her and it's exciting to watch. I can't wait to see where God takes her next. I hope that I'm a border buddy for her as she has always been one for me. (http://www.realchangeinc.com).

Then there's Miss Shirley...my second life coach. Our official time together was for only several months, but God used her, and has continued to use her, to push me even closer to my dreams. She is always willing to listen and offer advice, or merely a mirror to reflect my thoughts back to me. She has helped me set tangible goals and kept me accountable to keep chasing them. She helped me dig deep into the fears that were such a huge part of what held me back. It was during my time with her that I was able to clearly define the obstacles in my life, even if I wasn't ready yet to get past them. She is yet another mentor and godly woman to whom I very grateful. She has poured her life into mine making my victories hers as well.

And, as a collective, there is my church family. I started going to Fayette Community Church around this time 4 years ago. It was part of my decision to choose the road God had for me. I was invited to check it out and immediately fell in love with the people. I was overwhelmed by the love I felt in that room and the connection that so obviously exsisted between those people. I had been burned by church in the past, but this felt different. FCC felt real. It has proven to be exactly the place God wanted me. It's been a place where I've been able to step outside of my shell and my comfort zone as a worship leader and a teacher. I've been allowed to hone my talents and use my gifts in so many different ways. I've often called it my "ministry boot camp". My pastor, Brad, has always pushed me to continue to grow in the direction the Lord is taking me. He let me sing, then pushed me to lead when I was ready, and even now has me playing keys and sharing my own music on Sunday mornings. Just last week, I was given the opportunity to share my heart with the congregation and close the service by accompanying myself on the piano as I sang a song that I wrote. There is no way I can even begin to explain what a moment of victory that was for me. 4 years ago, I could never have done that. I would never have been so willing to be vulnerable and open and share where the Lord has taken me...my need for approval and my perfectionism wouldn't have allowed it. There have been so many in my church family who have been part of this victory for me. Sadly, I don't see some of them on Sundays anymore, but there are no less part of my church family. The Bests, the Benges, The Varneys, The Dziesinskis, Miss Nancy, the Mirabellas, the Turpins...all had a hand in what the Lord has done. And those who I still get to see every week...The Gridleys, the Grahams, and so many more have contributed to the victory the Lord has given me in the last year. I'm a very blessed and very loved little girl...and I am more thankful than I can say. (http://www.FayetteCommunity.org)

The breaking point finally came for me in April of this year. Some people very close to me broke my heart in a way I never thought possible. I never believed I could feel pain like that and recover. But, all the work, all the love and encouragement, and all the support the Lord had placed in my life for the last 4 years had been in preparation for this moment. Although I was broken, it was exactly where I needed to be for the Lord to give me victory. In the last few months, I have truly found freedom from so many fears. I no longer feel stuck and afraid of what's before me. I know that the worst can happen and I can survive it because the Lord has a good plan for me. He has worked real change in my heart. He has taught me to rely on Him in all circumstances. Even when the pain makes it hard to breathe, the Lord is walking beside me and He is placing people in my path who will walk beside me and hold me up until I recover. This victory is the Lord's. It is because of Him that I can share my struggles. I sing in the shadow of His wing. I am no longer a slave to the things that would hold me back and keep me down. I can now walk forward in bold confidence into what the Lord has for me. He's placed me in a family that loves me and given me close relationships with my brothers and my sister-in-law. He's given me parents who've always been willing to sacrifice for me. He's placed me in the middle of a support system for which I will be forever grateful. I hope to one day be able to clearly articulate just how good the Lord is. Today, I am just celebrating how far He's brought me in the last 4 years and the people He's used to get me here. I am more blessed than I can say and more excited than I've ever been to see what the future holds.

I've written all of this so that you may rejoice with me in what the Lord has done. It's been amazing to take a moment and look back to where I was in order to see how far I've come and be encouraged as I look at the road ahead. So, please pray for me as I continue down this journey. Pray that I will always choose obedience, no matter the temporary cost. Pray that I will be able to pour my life into others as I've had other pour their lives into me.

Psalm 63