Tag Archive | grace

Boundless Mercy

urlAs the years roll by, I become more acutely aware of how much forgiveness God actually has poured out on me.   When I was a little girl and first learned to pray, I had a vague understanding of repentance.   When I was talking to God, I tried hard to think of what I might have done wrong so I could tell Him I was sorry (of course, bossing my two younger sisters around seemed only RIGHT, since I was older and knew what was better for them, so that never made the list of offenses in my mind!).  In fact, I was twelve before I remember having an overwhelming sense of failure and sinfulness.  By that time, I was mired in a deep sense of self-doubt and incipient self-hatred; I recall making a list one day of all my talents (which, from a child’s perspective, still seemed pretty extensive – ha!) and another list, side-by-side with the first enumeration, of my character flaws.   In my estimation, the few character flaws were SO pervasive and wicked that they FAR outweighed anything I could do well (which, by the way, was mostly limited to excelling in a long list of academic subjects).  Hopelessness and a profound sense of guilt entered my heart at this point, accompanied by a boatload of self-condemnation.

My sense of defilement continued to increase as I navigated the murky waters of college life.   I entered university at age sixteen and quickly grasped that the youth culture of those around me was immoral and misguided.   In spite of my academic success and best resolutions in the ethical standards department, I found myself affected by the “frog-in-the-pot” syndrome; when I paused at intervals to examine my heart, I realized I had compromised in some areas and was no better at heart than many of those around me.  How did I cope?   I continued to read my Bible and worked even more assiduously at performing well by worldly standards.   I enrolled in increasingly heavier course loads and even excelled in some graduate courses as a very young undergraduate student.   I finished a triple major in under four years and was catapulted, quite unprepared, into the working world, where I found I could no longer be a college student; I was forced to be a grown-up.   My self-loathing had not disappeared.   I loved God but had no clue how active He longed to be in my life.  I judged myself harshly; regardless of how many awards I had received or how high my grades had been in school, I found myself severely wanting in the righteousness department.  After over three years of pushing myself with campus activities, leadership in various organizations, and heavy course loads, all the while pretending to have a casual attitude about school to avoid being ridiculed by my peers, my health had also suffered.   A success on paper, I left university years behind; however, I also left school anorexic, bulimic, and hypothyroid.   Worse still, I despised myself and knew in my heart of hearts that no successful performance imaginable could erase the heaviness in my heart.

What was the root of my dilemma?   A blindness to the overwhelming power and magnitude of God’s mercy toward me.   Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much is the one who loves much (Luke 7:37).  What I had not understood was that all sin is sin, regardless of how minor it may appear.  The blackness of my heart was not my responsibility once I had given it to Jesus, who DOES forgive and wipe away that blackness of heart.   Somehow I had believed God’s Word but had been incapable of receiving it as truth for myself.   I had somehow become trapped in a paradoxical mindset that regarded myself as somehow better than others because I KNEW what was right, yet far worse than others because I was therefore more accountable to DO what was right and found myself utterly incapable of that perfection.   I thereby had exempted myself from receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy.   However, through all those years, Jesus never left me; He continued to tug at my heart, and as my desperation for deliverance from myself increased, He poured His love out on me and wrapped His arms around me, His broken child.  Ultimately, I found myself at His feet in complete despair.   He responded by speaking to me of His love.  What an incisive revelation it was to me that He really loves me more than I hated myself!   His mercy for me was unlimited; He loved me before He set me free of self-condemnation and the downward spiral of self-hatred.  He had loved me all those years as He watched me descend into the morass of hopelessness I had become.  Ultimately, He met me at the bottom of the pit I had dug for myself (with some assistance from the enemy!).

I am forever grateful to Jesus for pouring His mercy out on me.  I cannot thank Him enough for His acceptance, His goodness to me in spite of my faults, and His willingness and kindness to pick me up every time I stumble.   Now, years later, as I find myself involved in outreach to bring His love to those trapped in some form of slavery, I have great compassion — for I am no different.   I have a message of hope that no one can take away from me.   God’s love is UNFAILING, and His mercy and delivering power are, indeed, BOUNDLESS!  As Isaiah 55:7 states, God “will abundantly pardon.”  As the psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has HE removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever, because HE DELIGHTS IN MERCY.  He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities [good news, huh?].   You will cast all our sins INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA (Micah 7: 18-19).

 

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Supernatural Childbirth

Thirty-two years ago today, our first child was born, a son we called Matthew.  His name in Hebrew means gift from God, and that is exactly what he has been and still is to us.  Thirty-two years ago, natural childbirth was all the rage, to such a degree that a woman was nearly compelled to resist even the mildest form of medicinal assistance to prove herself faithful to everything natural and unmitigated.  Pain, we were told, was natural; gravity was natural.   As one who harbors instinctive but paranoia-level fears of all manner of pharmaceuticals, I was all too willing to join the ranks as a fast dévotée of natural childbirth. 

What I only barely understood, however, was the fact that childbirth is an innately supernatural experience.   In the wake of childbirth classes and discussions of back labor, breathing patterns, and pushing techniques, I was aware that, by all rights, I should never even have been able to conceive a child.   Somehow I knew that God, by His grace, had allowed me to get pregnant in spite of the abuse to which I had been subjecting my body.  My female cycle had been out of whack for quite some time, as I was both anorexic and bulimic.  The anorexia would have been evident to a discerning eye, but I had managed to keep the bulimia well-hidden.   My husband and I truly wanted children, and I had personally vowed to myself that I would curtail my secret cycles of binging and purging if God would only allow me to get pregnant.   Miraculously, I conceived.   Predictably, I found myself unable to stop the binges and subsequent episodes of self-induced vomiting.  

My sense of guilt and fear increased exponentially as the months of my pregnancy progressed toward the due date.   In spite of my efforts to remain a toothpick, my body relentlessly packed on the pounds.  The fear of being fat tormented me, yet the fear that I could be damaging my baby also began to haunt me.  I feared this child would be born missing one or more limbs, or mentally retarded due to malnutrition.  The nine months dragged on, and my emotions vacillated between excitement and dread.

Suddenly, one evening, little twinges of the first contractions began.  I knew that something different was happening and chose to focus on the anticipation of meeting our child.  In those days, ultrasound was in its infancy, and I had never heard of anyone having such a procedure.  We headed for the hospital with no knowledge of what lay in store, apart from what we had learned in our childbirth classes and the fact that I was determined to navigate the birth process with no IV and no medicinal aid. 

After a minor altercation with an old-fashioned nurse, I set about the breathing routines we had learned in our classes.   Mercifully and miraculously, everything went according to every description of the ideal birth we had ever read:  no IV was needed, and our firstborn son arrived with no medical intervention other than the doctor’s instruction to push at the proper moment.  To my relief and joy, Matthew had two arms and two legs and a beautiful, lusty cry upon being expelled into this strange world. 

A tidal wave of love and wonder engulfed me as I watched my husband cradle this new life in his arms.  I knew that I had done nothing to deserve this gift, and I was in awe that God had given us this beautiful, healthy baby boy.   God’s grace and goodness were so very evident.

Thirty-two years later, I am still in awe.  Since February 2, 1980, God has been busier in my life than I can express.  He is still laboring to birth new life (although not necessarily in baby form!) and work miracles in me.  Four more children were delivered to us, different from one another but equally amazing expressions of His love and grace to us.  Over the course of those childbirth years, Jesus set me free from the destructive bondage of those eating disorders and the snare of self-hate and rejection.  These many years later, He continues to shower undeserved mercy and grace on us.   As we have practiced parenting over three decades, God has used our children to expand our understanding of His love for us.  Each one is a breathtaking combination of qualities, quirks, and talents that God Himself put together completely on His own, without our direction.  We are amazed and delighted at the young adults they have become, in spite of our ignorance and inexperience in the art of parenting. 

Our children have been powerful examples of the fact that God loves us when we are least deserving of His mercy and kindness.   He has set His heart on us.   He made us for His glory, and He delights in us.   It is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32) and to reveal Himself to us (I Corinthians 2:9-10).  What a grand process God initiated in our lives when “we decided” (ha!) to start a family.   How self-sufficient and full of import we thought we were in making that decision, when, in reality, it was all God’s doing!  He worked His purposes in us in this department in spite of the fact that we initially had little to no understanding of the role He intended to play in our lives, a role of glory, goodness, and redemption of the broken places in our hearts and minds.  In the ensuing years, God has often used our children to speak truth and life to us and to tenderly teach us about Himself. 

God is clearly in the birthing business, whether we understand it, deserve it, or not.  His business is LIFE — creating it, giving it away, redeeming it, resurrecting it.   Now, when I contemplate the births of our children, I am also keenly aware of a multitude of other things God has supernaturally birthed in my life besides our five babies.   I deserved none of those things.  God’s love for me was His reason for birthing His life into my own.  I am grateful to my children, as well, for helping God to show me His goodness and grace.

I continue to ask Him to birth and grow Himself in a greater way in and through me — may His character, His hope, His love, and His life be more real to me and to those around me every day!  (And to you, too!)  

P.S.  Happy Birthday, Matthew!   And thanks!

Matthew with one of HIS babies