When you think of me, if you are someone who thinks I'm a nice person, do you understand why? I use nice person because that's a phrase I've heard my whole life, "You are so nice." I polled Facebook because I wanted to know what words came to mind when friends thought about me or heard my name. Here are some of the words from the comments: Helpful, Welcoming, Humble, Kind, Genuine, Encouraging, Giving, Committed, Faithful, Joyful, Caring, and other similar adjectives. I also appreciate that I can be seen in some of people's eyes as fun and funny. :) I am grateful that people choose to paint a picture of me with positive words. If you commented and now you are reading this, Thank You!
It's difficult for me to write things about myself because you may be someone reading this who doesn't think I'm nice at all, and if that's the case, I am sorry I didn't treat you in a way that showed you the person I wake up every morning with the intention of being, the person I feel called to be. If I knew that my words or actions caused you harm, I would have sought another way to interact with you.
Have you ever wondered why I am the person described? Have you ever thought about what it is that makes me nice? I promise, I'm not amazing, a term I also hear. I live a life far from perfection, and I make a lot of choices that are not always the wisest. What is it though that causes me to strive be the person friends described in comments on Facebook? The answer, My faith in God and my heart's desire to follow the works of Jesus. I hope you'll stay with me here as I write about what this means to me, and why I choose to be this person because I do believe it is a choice. I'm not here to tell you what to believe or how to think. I only want to share with you some insight as to who I am and what it is that helps decide how I will live my life and how I will respond to others.
I'm not going to read off a bunch of scripture and quote from the Bible in this post. The Bible is an incredible book though, and it's an important part of my life. I often go there when I'm feeling lost or looking for reassurance that I am following the right path. However, what I believe in first in foremost is my heart. My heart is connected to God, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and he speaks to my heart. If you watched the movie The Shack you saw a scene where Mackenzie walks to the front of the church during an alter call. As I watched it brought forth my own childhood memories of revival week at the Baptist church in my home town, and I was about 8 1/2 years old. I will never forget the song that was playing during the alter call, "Just As I Am", by Charlotte Elliott. I remember the feel of the smooth wooden pew curling at the edge under my fingers where I was holding on, the soft velvety cushion under my legs, and I remember feeling a physical pull and hearing a whisper in my ear, "GO!" - "Go right now." I waited as the song went on from one verse to the next, "Just as I am - though toss'd about - With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings and fears within, without, -O Lamb of God, I come!". Finally, I told my mom, "I have to go!" I didn't even know where, and my mom, I think, thought I was trying to get up to go to the bathroom before the service ended, but I got up, and I went down into the front of the church, and I knelt down. My mom says I was the only one who knelt, and that it was the first sign I was born to be an Episcopalian, haha, but I also remember that people followed me, adults followed me, to the alter. While I know they weren't actually following me, but answering their own call to their hearts to "Go", I like to think that God called me to go first so that others could release themselves of their fears by seeing a small child kneel in the front of the church, a sign that she believed Jesus was real and she wanted him in her life. It was in that moment that I was told to ask Jesus to come into my heart, but it wasn't until many years later as an adult that I had my own revelation about what that was really all about.
I was always a child who talked to God. I have known God since I was a little girl. Walking down the street, playing in my room, going to bed at night, I talked to God about everything. If you ever see me talking out loud and you don't see anyone with me odds are very good I'm talking to God. I actually didn't realize until I was much older that not everyone talks to God. It seemed so natural to me. I felt his presence and it was a part of my every being. I have always known that my life has purpose and that God had a plan for my life. I didn't know what any of it meant or what the plan was, I simply believed then as I do today that we are each here for a much bigger purpose than we envision. As I got older and life got more complicated there were moments when I did not talk to God because I was busy and talking to him wasn't a priority, but for the most part, even on the dark days, I knew I could call out to him and he would hear me. I'll save the moments that appeared dark for another day, but I want to go back to that "Ask Jesus to come into your heart and to forgive your sins and he will come" think that happened when I was younger at the alter call and again at summer camps and youth groups. I kept hearing over and over to ask God into my heart, and I prayed each night for him to come into my heart. I wish I could remember the moment, but I know I was in college when I discovered that someone forgot to tell me that God never leaves. Maybe you already knew this, but I did not. I prayed each time for God to come into my heart and to forgive me of my sins. I had no idea that my sins didn't send God away. I thought that I had to invite him back in each time I made a mistake. Shame is a terrible feeling, and I believed that God left me in the darkness, and that it was up to me to ask him to come back once I'd realized my mistakes and only then would he be there. I never thought he punished me, but I thought he left when I wasn't actively following him. I thought maybe I was too disappointing for him to watch and it was up to me to call him to come back. Have you ever thought this way?
I have a tattoo. Some of you are cringing and others are thinking, it's not a real one because it's so small, but it's not about you. It's for me. I have a tattoo of a cross and a heart on the inside of my right ankle. It's smaller than a quarter. I have it because I wanted a permanent physical reminder of God's love for me. I wanted something small, not obvious, but in a place I could easily see. I needed something for the really hard days so I would be reminded that I never had to ask God into my heart. He was already there. He created it, and he isn't going to leave it even when I choose not to follow him.
That day of going down to the alter wasn't about asking God to come into my heart at all, or it shouldn't have been, it was instead, me recognizing that he was already there and me choosing to say, "It's ok God. I know you are there, and I'm going to choose to live a life where I will strive each day to listen to you. I want to live a life where I allow you to take my hand and guide me along the path you created for me before I was even here on earth. " I do not believe on that day I "got saved". Instead, I believe I chose to accept salvation and made an agreement with God to work towards living a life filled with joy, the life he designed for me.
I am not perfect. I am forgiven. We are all given free will because God is a loving God who wants us to live a life of joy. We are allowed to choose, and he doesn't hold our choices against us, but he does work to help us feel his love. The day I chose to "Go" was the day I used my free will to decide to follow God's plan for my life instead of choosing to create my own path. There is a quote that FAITH is the antidote to FEAR. My going was me choosing to live a life with FAITH and to walk towards a life of JOY and away from a life filled with fear.
I love this song, "My Story" by Bid Daddy Weave, and the lyrics. I could tell you my life's story in two different ways, and in one version you wouldn't realize it was me. It wouldn't make sense because you would hear things you might not believe have happened in my life. I'm not going to tell that version though. I will continue to work towards telling my story in a way that shows God's Grace, Compassion, Love, and Positive Light. Yes, there have been moments I'm not proud of. There have been moments when I did not want to forgive someone, but I did because I realized that by holding onto the hurt I was holding myself back from being the person I am called to be. I was missing moments of joy. There have been moments when I thought I simply couldn't make it. There have been moments when I absolutely did not love myself or understand how anyone else could love me. We all fall short, even the nice people who always look happy on the outside. Giving Grace to myself is a daily difficult task. The difference in my life, what makes me the person you see, is my unwavering belief that God is GOOD. No matter what you believe about Jesus, historically we know that when he walked on the earth he was kind, compassionate, caring, authentic, faithful, loving, forgiving, joyful, nonjudgemental, and welcoming to all people. I will never be as good as Jesus, but I am good enough to be loved by him and so are you! In return for the love we are asked to simply pay it forward and love others in the same way. How amazing is that?
So the next time you wonder about me and my positive outlook on life you'll know the answer. I believe that God is Good, and I have faith he loves all of us the same. He lives in my heart because he designed it. You see him in me because I choose to listen to him and allow him to help me make heartfelt decisions for my life. The life I live is a gift from God and my way of saying Thank You for this gift is by choosing every single day to find ways to love his people and myself. Whether you believe is not up to me. What's up to me is making the decision to give you love from a joyful heart. What you do with that love is up to you because I'm going to keep on loving you unconditionally.
P.S. - I bet you are a nice person too.
I want to leave you with this. Have you seen or read The Shack? I know it's controversial, but there were many things that stood out to me. Here are a few quotes that I found thought provoking from the movie:
"Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person's throat.”
“Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”
“I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it.”
“You... were created to be loved. So for you to live as if you were unloved is a limitation, not the other way around... Living unloved is like clipping a bird's wing and removing its ability to fly... A bird is not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are defined not by their limitations, but by the intentions I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image. Love is NOT the limitation; love is the flying. I AM love. ”
― William Paul Young, The Shack