Shortly after I graduated from high school I moved to Los Angeles and began to live a life far different from the belief system I had growing up. Like most young people, I wanted to get as far away from my parents as possible. I also wanted to make decisions for myself, because at 17, I was oh so wise!
My week-long visit to California turned into years and my journey to “find myself” led me to change my religious commitment. I became enthralled with Scientology and grew to be a new recruit and staff member. I began a journey into what I would later learn was an occult-like cult. I had already opened the door with my Ouija board experience in high school. Scientology simply pulled me further away from the faith I had known all my life. I won’t go into detail now, but suffice it to say, Scientology took control of my life in a way my church never did. I was happy for quite a while living in this community; getting to know celebrities, and throwing my new life in the face of my parents.
Scientology told me I could still be a Christian and believe in God. They even bastardized the crucifix for their symbol to convince believers like myself. And then they told me all the problems I was having in the present were the result of the past. If only I would reach back into the past I could be set free. Of course their past was many past lives, which they manipulated me to believe I had lived. They promised I would be happy beyond belief and have some special supernatural abilities. At that point in my life, I needed to be something more than just the lost invisible child with no future. Anything was better than where I was.
Fortunately, I had praying parents who knew that was all they could do to convince me to come home. During a trip back to Virginia I caught up with some old friends and began to see outside the fog of Scientology. My friends helped convince me not to return to LA and little by little the grip Scientology had on my life was released. As much as Scientology tried to pull me back, I found a supernatural peace sitting in the pews of my church. Although I was back in church most Sunday’s, I worried that others would find out I had strayed and judge me for the disobedience to my faith. I kept a barrier between me and God, just in case this didn’t work out for me either.
Finally, many years later I would be led by our pastor to acknowledge the occult hold Scientology and the Ouija board had on my life. I prayed with others and asked Jesus to be lord of my life instead. I invited the Holy Spirit to be my guide and set me on a new path. I prayed for a purpose that I never had. I discovered that even though I had walked away and broken my relationship with God, he remained faithful and forgiving. On my knees that morning, I discovered the freedom of a loving God and started on the long road of redemption to where I am today.
If something is keeping you from walking back into church, let it go. God already knows all about it and he is waiting for you to come home. No matter how far you have wondered, the door is always open. Sneak in the back if you have to. Sit quietly and wait for that still quiet voice to tell you “welcome home.” Believe that once you cross the threshold into his house, you will feel like you never left. Ask a friend to go with you if it is too hard. Just take a baby step toward God and he will do the rest.
“The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all those who keep his covenant and obey his degree.” Psalm 25:10
So today I started to write my blog as if I were someone else. I wanted to be clever and smart and theological. I wanted to sound like someone who is well educated and has had a successful career. I wanted to sound like the people whom I respect and try to gain their respect. I wanted to get the respect of people whom I think don’t value what I am doing. I stopped being the person God made and the person God led to tell this story. I lost my way there for a moment.
You see, there was a time in my life when I tried really hard to be someone else. If you didn’t like my behavior, I stuffed in the closet. If you didn’t like the way I looked, I starved myself and I stuffed the “fat” me in the closet. If someone thought I was too shy, I stuffed quiet me in the closet and let loud loose me out. Little by little I shoved everything I was into a closet so that other people would be impressed with me or happy with me. It got to the point where I no longer cared about anything, except what you thought of me.
And soon I just stopped feeling.
Then one day, driving down the road, I exploded. I had no idea what was going on, I just knew I had lost my mind. Nothing was real to me anymore. I resented the people that I worked so hard to impress because in the end, they still didn’t care. My closet exploded and all my dirty little secrets came pouring out for everyone to see. I picked up those nasty pieces and made them mine. I ran from everything I had tried so hard to build into a hole of nothingness. I felt deserted by my friends, my church, my priest, and my family.
But God didn’t abandon me. God never left my side. God never threw me out with the trash.
I began to find myself in the rooms of a 12 Step program. I began to find myself crying in the pew on Sunday morning. I began to find myself in the conversations I had with professional counselors. I began to find myself by letting Jesus be my friend and forgive me. I found myself by letting go of the garbage and letting God heal those dark places. I found myself with dear friends who held my hand through the painful journey. Mostly I found myself by accepting that I am uniquely made in God’s image and no matter what anyone else thinks of me—I am special to him and that makes me special to me! The simple fact that God already knows about all that junk in the closet and still loves me is enough. I am who I am because God allowed me to grow through these dark moments and has brought me out of the fire and into the light.
I don’t have any profound scripture or passage to share with you today. All I have today is God’s story of salvation and transformation for me. I am changed because I reached a hand up and he grabbed it and has never let go. Reach out today, in some way, shape, or form and let God reveal how wonderfully made and loved you are and begin to see the possibilities in your future. Be that beloved person God made you to be. Share your transformation story and see how God changes the lives of others. Open the closet and let the real you spring forward.
I think we all have times in our lives when no matter what we do we just can’t seem to find the right fit or we think we are stuck in some life situation and we will never find our way out. Fear sets in. Despair takes over. A dark cloud seems to be our only friend. No matter what we do; we just can’t find the right direction to head and all we do seems for naught. We may see the future but something seems to be in the way of getting to it.
Finding the way out can be difficult. We hear that God is “fair and just” and “does what is right” for us, yet we struggle to believe those words apply to us. And yet, if we can take the first step forward, we might come to believe that God will lead us step-by-step in a new direction and place us back on the path of success.
It is helpful if we can develop an attitude of moving toward something rather than away from something. Ask yourself what it is that you love to do and what makes you smile when you think about it. Develop an image of what you would look like if all the pieces fell in place and you were where you would like to be. Now walk back from that ideal situation and ask yourself how you got to that place. Write the story of your success all the way back to where you are today. What steps did it take to reach your goal? Which people did you need to stop listening to? Did you need to go to school? Did you need to network with others in the field? Did you need to stop doing something so you had time to focus on your goal? What did you need to do first?
This method may seem unrealistic to you, but if you have a dream that you have been holding in your heart and not acting on, it may be that God placed that dream in your heart and is waiting for you to take the first step on the path. You may need to take a risk and step forward in a way you have never done before. I am doing that today. I know where God wants me—I have seen the end goal—and today I am taking the first step by writing this blog and getting a new degree to support me.
There is a path for you. God is with you. He will lead you there if you spend some time in prayer with him. Ask someone you trust to help you sort out your journey. Find a spiritual guide or a coach that can help you learn how to see God’s plan for you. Start today by taking one small step, even if that step is just getting out of bed or turning the TV off!!
“The Lord is god and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in what is right, teaching them his way.”
Psalm 25: 8-9
It took me a long time to accept that this Jesus whom I claimed to believe in would actually forgive me for the things I had done, and would do, in my life. Yet Jesus gave us the prayer in which he directs us to ask for forgiveness—and to forgive others (Matthew 6:9-15). He tells the paralyzed man that he, “the Son of Man have the authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). He even forgave those that crucified him, and yet, I couldn’t believe that he would forgive me and my sins or acts of bad behavior.
I didn’t know about “unfailing love” or “compassion” growing up. There were expectations and measurements for good and bad behavior and I believed I usually fell far below any set standards. I was usually told that I didn’t measure up and would never measure up at the rate I was going. Even after committing my life to Christ in my 30’s, I still felt judged in my churches and less than worthy to be there. I may have been judged by some, but mostly I was judging myself and comparing myself against other people—who were most likely hiding their own shortcomings and failures behind a mask of service and pasted on smiles. I constructed my own roadblock to accepting the love that I read about and believed was only given to the really good people surrounding me on Sunday. I heard stories of change and mercy given but I didn’t think that was meant for me.
And then, sitting in the chairs at a prayer service one night, I finally gave in. I laid down on the floor facing the cross and I said “I’m sorry for what I did.” I cried and began to let go of the things I was holding on to. I began to walk through my youth and my brokenness and to ask God to forgive me for those things. One-by-one, he brought to mind those times I hurt others or hurt myself by my behavior. And one-by-one I felt the burden of carrying that shame lifted from my life. Little by little, I came to believe that God loved me, ME personally, just as much as the nice person sitting next to me on Sunday. Little by little I came to know his mercy and layer by layer he changed my life. I started to laugh again. I could hold my head up. I could smile at someone and reach a hand out and tell them God was there, I was there, and we would make it out of the dark together. Just as I learned to see how God sees me, I am learning to see others as he does, with “unfailing love and compassion.” May you too come to know that peace—it is a prayer away.
“Remember, O Lord, your unfailing love and compassion, which you have shown from long ages past. Forgive the rebellious sins of my youth; look instead through the eyes of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.”
Psalm 25:6-7 New Living Translations
I grew up in an era of sweeping things under the carpet and hiding our real lives from our neighbors and friends. It didn’t matter if the whole neighborhood heard the fights and saw the bruises—we did not discuss it. And many of us thus were taught to be hiders of truth as well. We even learned how to hide the good things like promotions and awards that we should have let our friends celebrate with us. Today I still hide the truth to protect those I love; except those stories will soon come to light on these pages as the God who saved me from shame and healed my brokenness prompts me to share more. My desire today is to be taught and to share what I have learned that others may learn too.
Things are different for people in today’s society with social media peeking into our lives every day. We post pictures of our trips and adventures. We post cryptic messages when we are angry or sad. We blast at people who have hurt us. We take self-portraits of our moods so everyone knows if we are happy, sad, or drunk! What we don’t do is talk about how we were abused as children or spouses. We don’t talk about addiction in our family. We don’t talk about abortion or the child we gave up for adoption. We hide our divorces in our new marriages. We hide if we are living with someone or in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. We hide if we want or have a relationship with someone of the same sex. We don’t talk about the missed suicide or the suicide that we deny occurred. We hide that our family is struggling with financial burdens or is crying every night because they don’t know how to help their ADD, autistic, or mentally ill child. Those things we still hide from one another.
I have a new truth today. My truth is that God loves me. He sent his son Jesus to save me from my sins and to give me hope in a new life. This God has inspired me to openly share with you the many many sins of my life, and his redemption of that life. Those things above—he let me walk through most of them. God didn’t heap burdens on me that I might fail in life or feel worthless. He taught me to give him my burdens and to let the Holy Spirit help carry them. He gave me you to lift me up when I thought I should die. I want to learn more from him so I spend time in the Word of the Bible. I spend time listening to your stories and I am motivated because I see the potential for change and growth in our lives.
It starts with speaking the truth. Share your burden with someone today. Ask for prayers. Send me a request—it would be an honor to pray with you. Pray for me too. This journey I am entering is not easy. It has painful moments. But I have hope today, hope for you and hope for me. God bless you and bring you truth and hope.
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25:5
Every now and then, even the happiest, most optimistic person can slip into a little pity party or period of sad. Yesterday was my day. It was a day spent with a good friend but also a day missed with another, that I should not have missed. I have found that the best way to combat the negative thinking and self-flagellation is to reach out to others. I reach out first to see how they are and what their needs are or I reach out and tell someone I am having one of those days and need some friend time. Everything changes when I get out of myself.
Jesus spoke to the disciples, as recorded in Mark 10:42-45, about the role of leaders. It is to put others first and to serve others first. There is something to be said about getting out of our own way and into the needs of others. Somehow it lifts our pain. It is not always easy to see the needs of others when we want someone to see our needs. If we are drowning in emotion, it will take effort to put someone else first. It may take tremendous effort to come when called by a friend in need when we think we have nothing to give. Do it any way!
I find I may actually be more willing to expend effort for the benefit of another person than I am for myself. Rather than sit in my robe all day watching mindless TV, I force myself to dress and meet someone. Now I have energy. Now I am motivated to move. Now I have changed from looking at my problems to the joy of spending time listening to someone else. My mood will change, even if just for those few hours away. My alone picture is erased. I have hope. I have peace. I have a warm sense of belonging. All because I let God take me to another place.
Try it. I promise your pity party will change to a have blessing party instead!!
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you first must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 11: 43-45
As much as I complain about winter and snow, there is something cathartic about digging out a pathway through the snow. I usually start out alone, clearing the dusty snow as it falls, hoping to stay ahead of the storm. I will go back at it over and over. My daughter shakes her head at me wondering why I don’t just wait until the snow stops. I tell her it is because it will be too much to do all at once and it is better to clear away a little at a time. Eventually she will join me outside and together we clear the snow away in half the time it took me. And usually there are snowballs involved and much more laughter than when I am alone with my deep thoughts.
Sometimes I think my walk with Jesus is like that. I am digging out and trying to make the right choices on my own. I keep going back at my problem area and trying to figure out how to get out of the latest mess, only to find the path covered up again and myself set on repeat. As I have said, I tend to be a slow learner which is Maggiespeak for “stubborn” or “self-willed.” If I say that I trust in the Lord then why do I not trust in the way that he shows me? Why do I insist on doing it my way? Why am I so afraid of accepting guidance or assistance?
My personal focus these days is on my financial situation. Because I made decisions about the path I would take—one that made it look like I was affording to live the upper middleclass life in DC—I am now drowning in debt. Over the years I made some bad choices about where to live and how much I could afford to spend. I put myself in situations that were too costly, hoping that if I had enough stuff surrounding me I could avoid the pain inside and appear to be successful just like everyone else. And it was working—for everyone but me.
Today I am digging out again but this time I am doing it with guidance from God through others. And it is HARD!! I am getting better at giving back to God what is his. I am better at giving of my time to help others. I am better at reading the Bible and learning more about these principles I hold so dear. I am sitting in a small condo/apartment having given most of my old stuff away to people who actually needed it. I am living on cash only and saying “no,” even when my mind says: “buy it, it will be ok.” His path; not my path. His guidance; not my desires. Slowly I am seeing the light. Slowly the snow is not covering up my mistakes and I am resting for longer periods. Slowly God is turning my life around once again. Little by little the path is clearing. I’ll let you know how it goes but I am thinking this time the path may just stay clear ahead.
Show me the path where I should walk, O, Lord; point out the right road for me to follow.
Psalm 25:4 New Living Testament
“No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.”
Psalm 25: 3 New Living Translations
I grew up believing in Jesus—I went to church and I prayed. We lived in a time when being a Christian was a proud thing, until you did something awful and then that was pretty much that! And if someone else brought evil into your life, they were out of there too. As a young woman I lived somewhere between these worlds. I was disgraced by the behavior of the men in my life and I was disgraced by my behavior as a result of these actions. And I tried to hide all of it.
Following the sexual abuse I was taunted by the boys in the neighborhood. I was an innocent child thrown into a world of sexuality, before I knew what that meant. One day I was the princess being carried around on a makeshift throne. It seems the next day the boys were trying to take advantage of me at every chance. I was now free game and the attention I was getting set a thinking pattern for me that said, “Sex brings attention—sex must be the way to go.” Those I once trusted now became my foes. My belief system faltered because I no longer had the same compass leading me. Some translations of this verse say: “Do not let anyone that hopes in you be ashamed. Let the people that say false things without a reason be ashamed.” I was ashamed to be a Christian who felt tarnished and who also was now drinking, drugging, and sleeping around while trying to convince others that I was still this “good girl.” I simply lost my way.
Through my teen years and those as a young woman, I made a lot of bad choices for myself. I had ‘relationship’ after ‘relationship.’ And yet I kept a foot in the church door. I went to church on Sunday. As a good Catholic, I went to confession, only I never confessed my sexual acting out. I taught Sunday school and brought a number of my hurting girlfriends to church and laid a foundation for their belief in Christ today. I went through the motions and in my heart I clung to the belief that somehow God understood. Somehow, one day God would make this all right for me. What I didn’t realize was that it was up to me to make it right by first accepting it was wrong. I needed to look at myself and quit making excuses and blaming others and literally lie in front of the cross and ask the man who died there for me to help me. I needed to be forgiven and changed. I needed to stop living ashamed and disgraced. With each step toward him, he pulled me closer. As I was willing to let go of the blame and the shame, he brought me new dignity. It has taken a very long time to get here, and I’m still working on it, but I no longer have shame in this story of my life. I have peace that today I am wiped clean and can share this with you so that you too can know this peace and joy.
Are you living with the shame and disgrace of past behaviors? Are you afraid someone will find out? Do you want to stop being that person? I suggest then that you do what I did and recognize that God already knows so you can’t really hide it from him anyway! Tell him your pain. Tell him your disgrace. Give him your tears and let him wipe them away. Visualize Jesus holding you and telling you he loves you, NO MATTER WHAT you did. Read Psalm 25 or find one that speaks to your hearts and pray it every day until you feel whole again. Share your healing journey with someone you trust. Ask them to pray with you. And then share your grace with someone else that needs to hear.
Be healed. Be restored!
“Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.” Psalm 15:2
As a young woman, I carried the shame of being sexually abused with me into nearly everything I did. Pia Mellody, founder of The Meadows, developed the concept of “carried shame,” that which we bring into our adult life from events that occurred in your childhood. These are the events over which we had no power and that sets the stage for negative behavior in our adulthood. Until we can acknowledge this shame, we are somewhat powerless over our behavior. Without validation for what has happened to us, we may think we are worthless and therefore not allowed to be in respected or valued.
The shame I carried with me stemmed from my abuse and the reaction of those who knew back when it occurred. My memories are fuzzy, but I do know that in that era the victim was usually held at least partially responsible for what happened. It didn’t matter that I was only 8 years old. And there was nothing really done to the perpetrator other than to separate them from the child. To this day I am not sure if anyone really understood, including myself. I do know that I went from being one of the girls that the neighborhood boys treated like a princess to the butt of their jokes and sexual harassment. From then on I came to believe my body and my life was of little value. And for the next 40 years I acted that way too.
And then, at The Meadows I found out that this was not my fault. I was not protected by the people who should have protected me. I was a naïve young girl, desperate for someone to notice me, who was noticed and taken advantage of by someone we all trusted and admired. I did not understand how that period of time had polluted my thinking about myself. And in the desert of Arizona I found that God loved me and would rescue me from the shame others inflicted upon me. I could make the decision right then and there to accept God’s love as an incredible gift and to remove the hooks that held me to this carried shame. The shame was that of the man who hurt me. It was the shame of the parents who neglected me. It was the shame of the friends who turned their back on me. It was not mine anymore. God created a new person that day. I began to walk without shame, having sought forgiveness for my own behavior and a willingness to live a different lifestyle.
I was freed.