Some trees grow straight and
Some trees grow curved, but they all
Grow in the same woods.
My heart is breaking for those who have walked away from their churches and faith because of people’s opinions, or lack of opinion.
My heart is breaking over any time I didn’t stand up for someone who was being judged instead of loved.
My heart is breaking and I don’t know what to do. So I do what I do, I sit down to write.
Stuart Briscoe, who once helped me through a rough patch at church, said, “Pastors need the skin of a rhino.” And, quite honestly, I don’t know how my own pastor navigates the jungle of opinions, assumptions and presumptions.
And I don’t know what I would have done through the years of losing loved ones, and life transitions, and ups and downs without that same pastor’s Bible-centered teaching and Spirit-led sermons each week, which always begin with his surrender, “May I decrease so You can increase.” He has brought me to tears and knees more times than I can count.
Pastors are just people and the church is filled with people, and thank goodness for a God that indwells people. That’s the only way love can win.
When I was finally out of an abusive marriage and divorced, I was given a second chance at love. With my late brother’s best friend from high school, no less. And I felt I had found home.
I knew my husband was on the “long (curved) path,” which referred to his journey to “believing.” It’s true I have my very own wide-eyed, wondering, personal version of doubting Thomas, my Todd. “I can’t fake it,” he says. I think there’s integrity in that, and also a beauty. God honors honesty. But it doesn’t end there. Honesty is always the beginning of something new.
My dad told me right before Todd and I eloped twenty-three years ago, “Debbie, you will never be a church lady, but you will take the church with you wherever you go.” I liked that. To me, it meant He was saying that I was the same on Sunday as on any other day of the week. For better for worse, I was not faking it. But I don’t know what Dad really meant.
Since then, I realize and accept, Todd and I are a little different than the average bear. Maybe our path has been curved, not straight. But for every curve, God has met me there. God doesn’t waste a thing. He uses it all. I love my church, it’s not perfect, because people are not perfect. Christ’s perfect life reveals all that is imperfect in each of us and conflict is inevitable.
Maybe Dad was right, I am not a typical “church lady,” but over the twenty-three years of our marriage, God was doing a unique work in me, my work in the secular sector became my unique dance ministry.
See, grace flows in to flow out. It has to. Jesus met me, divorced and in great need of deep healing from trauma I wasn’t even aware of because I was so used to trying to fix things and rebuild myself, myself. But being physically violated and spiritually and emotionally oppressed is traumatic. Healing takes time. Let me just say, a long time.
Over the years, I have shied away from situations where I felt I might be judged by my past or my “mixed” marriage. And in my vulnerability at the time, if I felt I had been judged, I might have given up on coming to know God. I might have kept running away instead of turning toward Him. That would have been tragic. I was cautious and so careful about what I shared and with whom, and it kept me at an arm’s length.
But I was also curious. I had to trust more that God had me. When I could begin to let go of shame and pain, I began to open up. I found women so much like me, who had been through such similar situations. Our honesty with each other achieved what our goal is, ultimately, at church or anywhere. To love and be loved. My love grew.
When I took one simple glance toward God, He took one look at my scrawny, worn-out body and shrunken heart, and covered me in His grace.
He said, “Debbie, your life?, it’s all forgiven, never long for what you’ve left. See My hands? See my side? Let Me heal your hurts and wounds. I have something better for you now. You are free, you are Mine. I gave my life for you. Do you know what that means? And I rose to New Life. Do you know what that means? And I gave you new life. Do you know what that means?
Yes, Lord, I began to say. It’s time I give my life, my all, back to You.
He said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).
Then He turned that upside down and said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44-45).
He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). None of us is any worse or any better than any other person.
And He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever losses his life for My sake with find it.” (Matthew 16:24). The cross brought shame. Jesus endured it all, scorning the shame for the joy set before him. (Hebrews 12:2.) He offers us the same hope.
And He said, “Pray always, and be thankful,”
He said a lot more than all this but you get the gist.
The Father greeted his Prodigal son with open arms, he was overjoyed that his son came home, he celebrated. Maybe he asked his scrawny looking, shrunken-hearted son, “Would you prefer a glass of red or white?” Or maybe he didn’t because he already knew he preferred white. But he never asked him to tell him how much he’d squandered. He welcomed him home.
I don’t want to “sit in the seat of scoffers” as Psalm 1 refers to.” I want my delight to be found in Christ, the Word of Life. I want to be on the straight path. I want my life to produce fruit in its season. I don’t want my leaves to wither, I want whatever I do to prosper. And I will stay with church, with a community of believers, to stand for grace. Because when we know this Person, Jesus, He gives us a new family of friends and becomes the best Friend of all.
I am that Woman at the Well. Jesus said to me, “Come and drink of my Living Water, drink so that the Spirit will flow from within you.” I drink from that Well, His Word, every morning and it fills me for the day. What a gift.
It begins and ends with Him, and in between, I stand on the Word of Life, the Gospel of grace and mercy, and no longer on people’s approval and opinions. Thank God.
I am a part of a larger plan now, it’s no longer according to my plan, but according to God’s Kingdom plan. I can’t wait to see what He has for me each day. And this day is all I have.
As I walk with Him and talk with Him, the Spirit shows me the areas of my life that need God’s transforming grace. We both know this takes time. But God has all the time in the world.
Step by step we move together as if in a dance—maybe they’re little steps, sometimes two forward and one back—but we are always moving in His flow. Of grace.
Do you know someone in need of a little grace today? I sure know I do, and that I am. And my Friend, Jesus, is here to offer it to us. Thank God.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. The holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at break of day.” Psalm 46: 4-5