Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Story

My first talk at the retreat:

I was born out of wedlock to a mother who was eighteen and a father who was nearly twice her age but still legally married to someone else. They eventually married and went on to have three more daughters but the marriage was rocky. My mom left my dad when I was eight and he killed himself when I was nine.

Needy for love, I didn't know how to refuse those who wanted to use me sexually. I married on my 18th birthday but the marriage seemed doomed from the start. I had grown up fiercely devoted to God and I thought my husband was the same but he soon lost interest in God and, in an attempt to save my marriage, I found myself adopting values that would have shocked me before. Books like “Open Marriage” and “The Happy Hooker” became my diet and, as our marriage grew more and more bleak, I began to look for an affair.

It wasn't as easy to do as I thought, but once I succeeded, the contrast between the ways I was treated was so stark, I knew I couldn't stay in the marriage any longer. I left my husband just before our fourth anniversary and began two years of a very promiscuous lifestyle.

Thankfully, God is gracious to us even while we are still sinners, and he began to woo me back. One day, confronted by my need, I returned to him whole-heartedly and, prompted by the Holy Spirit, reluctantly returned to my husband as well.

The following twenty-odd years were filled with being a full-time mom. My husband hadn’t changed but now the difficulties in my marriage pushed me to God and I learned to depend on Him more and more.

But I had a secret. There was a part of my life that shamed me but I didn't know what to do about it. I had prayed, I had confided in two separate people through the years, hoping that confession would help, but nothing seemed to loosen the grip this secret had on my life.

I believe God uses the sin in our lives to draw us to him. The problem is that we’re ashamed of our sin and so we hide it in a dark corner, furtively bringing it out to play on occassion, hiding it again because we dare not let it see the Light. For me, that sin was lesbianism, the hunger and desire for women instead of men. So long as those women were nameless and faceless, I could pretend I didn’t have a problem.

But that changed a number of years ago when my friendship with a woman I’ll call Pearl became much more than a friendship. I found myself imagining what it would be like to be with her sexually. I carried through with that imagination but when I was done, I felt sick and horrified. Somehow I'd crossed a line and God's Spirit put me under heavy conviction.

I did two things. First, I confessed to Pearl. I also confessed to an ex-lesbian who had shared her testimony in the Online Christian community to which we all belonged and asked her what to do. She told me to do two things that seemed impossible: end my friendship with Pearl and confess to my pastors.

Pearl didn't want me to leave her and when I did, she retaliated by telling our entire community what I had done. She hid my identity but I was terrified that people would figure out it was me and so, preferring to be rejected to my face than have people talking behind my back, I made an equally public announcement that it was me she was talking about. I expected outrage from some and withdrawal by others. What I didn't expect was an outpouring of love that enabled the journey of healing to begin. Bringing our secrets out of the darkness and into the light is one of the most powerful ways to break their hold over us.

Telling my pastors was harder. They had known me as a model Christian who brought her kids to church faithfully, who sang in the choir, played the piano, taught the children and organized children’s programs, battled pornography in the neighbourhood and fully participated with church life in every way. How does one do what I had when all they’ve known is a woman apparently sold out for Jesus? Yes, they were shocked, but their love for me, despite their revulsion for the sin, was immediately apparent. How blessed I was by these men who never wavered in that love!

God used many ways to speak to me and bring layers of freedom. Erin was one woman who spent hours pouring Christ into my life. As I cried in anguish over how to get rid of the demon of same-sex attraction she counseled me to not focus on the problem or even how to solve the problem but rather to make my primary focus God. I watched her life and realized that my relationship with God was superficial. I wanted what she had and pushed toward God with single-minded determination. When we do this, we draw closer to God and he begins to change us.

Someone else introduced me to Exodus, an international organization to help those who don't want to be gay, and through them, found the local chapter and began to receive counselling.

I took an online course for people struggling with sexual addictions and learned how we all have a thirst for God but we go to broken cisterns and muddy wells to fill that thirst instead of going to the well of Living Water. The mentor for that course was such an encourager!

God kept coming to me in amazing ways, such as through a labyrinth of prayer my church created for Good Friday that year. I read how Mary Magdaleine was granted the privilege of being at the foot of the cross. She whose sin was great was granted honour and mention; God’s forgiveness is so gracious. As I sat at a table laid with nails and hammer, I realized for the first time that I too, like Mary, had been forgiven. Jesus took that piece of dead foreskin, my sinful nature, and nailed it to the cross. I was free! I was so excited I wanted to grab the pastor and dance and leap all over the church. Instead, I covered my face with my hair and laughed and laughed with joy.

Another time, a friend took me to a couple who walked me through Neil Anderson's steps to freedom in Christ. We'd been friends since our children were babies and her lack of condemnation, when I confessed my sin to her, spoke healing to my heart. Making my way through the steps was hard work and yet, through it, God granted me another layer of freedom. When we walked out of the house at the end of two evenings of painful wrestling with sin, the most glorious display of Northern Lights was spread across the sky. It was as if God was celebrating my victory with joy!

A few months later, I travelled to St. Louis for a Joyce Meyers Conference. God had made it very plain he wanted me to go, though I didn't know why, but it was here that I was baptised by the Holy Spirit. I was so overwhelmed by his presence, I didn't want to leave it. I didn't want to stop praying in tongues. In fact, I discovered that each time I would speak in tongues, God would do a work in me that was inexpressible and powerful, reaching into my very inner being.

But my world was caving in. Months earlier, Erin, my spiritual mentor, cut me out of her life without explanation. Just before the conference another very close friend did the same thing. Together with my loss of Pearl, nearly a year before, the loss was too much and I spiralled down into a depression where panic attacks, suicide and self-injury were predominant themes.

I had begun a course called Living Waters, designed for the sexually and relationally broken. One particular evening I came to class in more pain than usual. I was carrying a knife for the express purpose of hurting myself, as though the physical pain would somehow excise the torment in my soul. Hidden in my clothing, I kept it pressed against my skin through the worship and teaching times.

Afterwards, in our small group, the leader asked what I wanted prayer for. I mentioned several things but she honed in on breaking the generational bond of suicide. She wanted me to renounce the spirit of Death but I couldn't get the words out of my mouth, at least not at first. As I sobbed and looked at the cross I was now holding I realized, "Jesus died so I could live!" I spoke the words of renouncing and handed the knife to the leader. From then on, when death lured and the knife begged to dance, I remembered, Jesus died so I can live, and I could go on.

During another Living Waters class I was asked to go back in my memory to when I first felt rejected. As I did that, I prayed that God would reveal to me anything else I should know. While in that place of remembering, the group leader gave direction and asked questions that put Jesus into a grade two memory and into a powerful dream I had had as a preschooler. The memory and the dream joined into one sequence, and the outcomes changed with Jesus' presence. I realized just how loved and wanted I really am. I often go back to this experience and relive the reshaped memory and dream when I need reminding of God's love.

God showed me his love in another way. Erin had talked about cuddling on God's lap. I tried to imagine myself doing that but the closest I could get was seeing myself prostrate at his feet. On a trip I took to Colorado, I visited a friend who was taking classes in a new-to-me kind of prayer, a way of coming into God's presence in silence and staying there. They spend forty minutes, completely motionless. Could I do it? As I focused on the words, "He loves me," the most amazing thing happened. There I was on God's lap, my head pressed against his chest, his enormous arms enveloping me. I finally knew what it was like to be loved, treasured, valued, wanted, held; like no other arms could give me what he was giving me; like no one else could satisfy me as he was satisfying me. All my imaginations of the past were filthy rags compared with the time I spent in my imagination with God that day. I have returned there often.

On the same trip, another friend spoke to me about the difference between condemnation and conviction. Conviction points to Jesus but condemnation focuses on self. Conviction invites me to God, condemnation pushes me away. Conviction gives me choice, condemnation gives none. Conviction frees me to obey Jesus but condemnation enslaves me. How liberating it was to know that I was no longer condemned!

It had been a year and a half since my secret had become public and since I had walked away from Pearl, but I continued to struggle. The temptations were powerful and I wasn't always successful in resisting them. I'd had so many falls despite the healing and freedom God kept giving me. One night, after a long phone conversation with a particularly close friend I was filled with awe at the love between us. "God, please keep this love holy, pure and honouring to you!" I begged. Amazingly, perhaps for the first time ever, I was able to experience the intensity of my feelings without crossing the line into forbidden thoughts. There was no battle, struggle or temptation. It just was. When I told my counsellor the next day, he asked me why, when I had tasted a new way, would I go back to the old. Why indeed?

God gave me a vision that day. I was in a dark hut, heavy with chains and not eager to leave. And yet I had begged to be removed, so why stay? The struggle was huge. I saw a sliver of light I recognized as a doorway. Would I move toward it? Would I move through it? Why was it so hard to do so? Finally I did and, as I left the hut for the brightness of a grassy meadow, God met me and danced with me, dragonflies joining in the dance, twirling, swirling, leaping with joy. I was free! When I looked back, the hut was gone. I couldn't go back, even if I had wanted to. For the first time, though temptations continued to come, it was evident they had lost their power over me. People remarked upon the glow on my face. I had changed and it was obvious.

I had never stopped mourning Pearl's absence from my life. Surely with all the freedom God had given me, it was now safe to reconnect with her again. I didn't realize how wrong I was. I discovered that my feelings for her hadn't changed at all and learned that she was very much in love with me. What to do? I didn't want to lose her again. Surely we could be in love and still honour God. But where are the boundaries? Frankly I was amazed at how God was protecting me from falling. It was like a wall of saran wrap was between me and all that pulled at me. Temptation isn't tempting if you're being offered something you don't want. I wanted everything that was on the other side of that saran wrap and yet, somehow, though I could see it, I resisted. God truly had freed me!

The sad thing is, if we dance on the line too long, we'll fall off. My friend Jan told the story of a matador who gloriously conquered the bull he was fighting. As the bull lay on the ground, gasping its last breath, the matador turned to receive the adulation of the crowd. Behind his back, the dying bull stood to its feet and, with the last of its energy, dealt the man a deadly blow with his horn. "I've been killed by a dead bull!" he exclaimed. I was nearly killed by my dead bull. In one thoughtless moment I ripped apart the sheet of saran wrap and stepped to the other side.

The next day I was full of remorse. It was like I had thrown away all God had given me the previous two years. I knew God would forgive me but I wasn't sure I wanted forgiveness. Did I still want him? I knew without a doubt that I wanted Pearl. I had never felt so loved and adored as I did with her.

Jan spent many hours that night confronting me. I had come to a fork in the road with God and Pearl going in two different directions. I could choose one or the other but not both. I hated that. I wanted both. According to her, my eternal destiny was at stake and she quoted Hebrews 6:4-6 which says,
"For it is impossible to restore to repentance those who were once enlightened – those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come – and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people to repentance again because they are nailing the Son of God to the cross again by rejecting him, holding him up to public shame."
I chose God and said good-bye to Pearl but I wasn't happy about it. I felt like I had died, and I spent the next week raging at God. How could he do this to me? How could he take me away from the one love I had ever known? I was like Jacob, wrestling with God and not wanting to let go for fear of what would happen when I totally surrendered to him. But that's what I needed to do, surrender. I walked through the steps I learned through Cleansing Stream, another course full of deliverance I had attended, repenting, renouncing, breaking and blessing. When I was done, I felt a joy, peace and calm that I hadn't for a very long time.

As I began to hear God speak again, I realized how I'd withdrawn from God because of Pearl and was grieved. What time I had wasted! God had started to do remarkable things in my life but, because of my choices, I'd become unusable. How could I hear him speak when I was ignoring what he said about Pearl in my life? I began to pay attention to the nudges he gave me and obeyed them.

I also began to evaluate what had happened. Paul talks about being slaves to sin and slaves to righteousness. I had been a slave to sin until that day when God danced with me in the meadow. He had set me free from slavery to sin, from the power of temptation. I'm still convinced of it. But, freed from the ownership of sin, I was, as it were, released into my own recognizance, to self-ownership. I had now proven by my choices that I was not a good owner of myself. When I surrendered all to Jesus, even my love for Pearl, I sold myself into slavery to righteousness. No longer did I belong to myself. I was bought with a price.

In the Old Testament, Jews could own slaves but every seventh year the slaves were to be released. However, a slave could go to his master and say, "I want to be your slave the rest of my life." The owner would then take an awl and pierce the ear of the slave as a sign that he could never be released. I was choosing to be that slave. The day I surrendered all to Christ, having given up what was most dear to me, was the day I said to him, “I want to be your slave for life. I do not want to be my own anymore. Pierce my ear!” And so, for the first time in my life, I had my ears pierced.

God gave me a wonderful picture. Imagine a former slave, maybe a galley slave from Roman times or a slave in a mine. The slave is set free. Wow! Imagine all she can do now! But she messes up her freedom and is sold back to slavery. This time, however, she is bought by the Queen. The slave is washed, dressed in fine clothes and walks through the doorway to a completely new world. Can you imagine the wonderment in that slave's mind as she enters the beautiful palace, not through the service doors but through the main entrance? And, contrary to her expectations, the slave isn't relegated to the kitchen or bathrooms doing dirty drudgery. She is appointed personal aide to Her Majesty, the Queen. She's given the job of sitting by the Queen and running errands for her, of hearing what she has to say and doing it.

I gave much thought to that picture in the following year. Jim Goll, in "The Coming Prophetic Revolution," talks about developing intimacy with God, learning to listen to his voice and speaking out what we've heard. I heard this message repeated at several conferences soon after reading the book. Is this what God has called me to do? I'm thinking yes. It’s one of the reasons why I wrote Searching for Love and why I have a blog. We sing Brian Doerkson's song "Refiner's Fire".
Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver! ...
Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin, deep within. ...
Refiner's fire!
My heart's one desire is to be holy, set apart for you, Lord.
I choose to be holy, set apart for you, my master, ready to do your will.
This is what I want. Despite the pain or the cost, I want Jesus to continue to refine and purify me. I want to be set apart for Jesus, ready to do his will regardless of what it is. What about you?

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