No fireworks

On the most memorable Independence Day of my life, there were no fireworks.

DSCN2680Well, that’s not entirely true. I remember glancing across the horizon, over hills and pastures in the Oklahoma prairie, and seeing traces of a firework show in the distance as tears and sweat mingled on my cheeks. I stood alone in a field on an American Indian Reservation, having spent the day helping my fellow volunteers nail shingles and paint rails and complete other tasks to help a growing congregation build a new place of worship.

I was a total phony. I’d been raised in church all my life. I memorized the books of the Bible at age six and had the bookmark to prove it. I led prayers and events for my youth group regularly, but all of the Scriptural knowledge I’d acquired had mostly remained stuck in my head; the bulk of it had not made its way into my heart.

When my life took a tragic turn, I didn’t know how to marry my religious beliefs with reality. I smoked pot, wrote in my journals, and listened to sad, pathetic music instead. This got me through the roughest year of my life, but it didn’t bring me true peace. So on Independence Day, after the longest and most painful and loneliest year of my life, I stood alone in that field, and said the most desperate prayer of my life.

“God, if you can give me real peace, please do it.”

???????????????????????????????And He did. He didn’t need to display Himself with any fancy colors, loud kabooms, or expensive displays. He just moved all of those meaningless words that were stuck in my head down the ladder of abstraction deep into my soul in one fell swoop.

They settled there heavily. I felt full. I felt peace.

That’s a freedom that I’ll carry with me forever.

Let me love you.

I’ve never been spiritually motivated by the idea of being good, doing the right thing, or proving how holy I am. I can’t recall a single time when I made a decision, spiritually speaking, based on these things. Right or wrong, I am driven simply by God’s love.

Over a delightful decaffeinated version of my favorite drink, I had an in-depth conversation with a good friend a few days ago regarding this matter. She admitted that if anything, she had always been too intimidated to screw up and had probably missed out on what God could have done in her life as a result. I could not relate–I have lived my life, until recently, on the other extreme. I’ve never been concerned with what others thought about my choices, and for a long time, I wasn’t even that concerned with what God thought about my choices. I lived my own life, making choices for myself–in essence, playing God.

Thankfully, God circled Himself around me and pulled me in to Himself over and over again, despite my despondence.

Me at 17

After battling inner demons for years, mostly related to spiritual dissonance that had settled itself in my soul after being raped when I was 16 years old, I finally came to terms with the truth that God does love me. He never stopped. He never will.

I recognized this fully for the first time when I was 17. On July 4th, while watching fireworks by myself in the middle of a pasture in Oklahoma, I asked God to give me what I had been unable to find anywhere else–peace. Don’t get me wrong–smoking pot provided some temporary self-medicating relief. So did unhealthy relationships. And so did wallowing in self-pity and drowning myself in depressing grungy 90s music. But nothing afforded me real peace. Nothing lasted.

God did. And then some. From that day on, my heart was His. He developed specific, secret ways of showing me His love. I still don’t share these secrets with others; our love is too intimate to spill it out completely. He sent signs to me that I did not deserve. He granted me opportunities I never earned. He used the world around me–and still does–to whisper Words into my heart. I remember bathing myself in sunlight on the bed in my dorm room in college, which I conveniently parked right in front of the window facing the eastern sky. As the sunlight warmed me, and I relaxed and napped, I imagined God covering me with His light.

Sadly, the inner demons I’d attempted to silence and bury never died. They lay dormant for periods of time; at other times, they reared their ugly heads. Without consciously realizing I was forsaking my Love, I chose paths that seemed easier, less painful, and more satisfying. I broke His heart. In the process, I broke my own.

All the while, He never stopped loving me and reminding me of His love. His pursuit of me has been ridiculous.

I remember when I started dating my husband, after a decade or more of wounded living and hurtful relationships, I was beyond jaded. A father who abandoned me and battled addiction. Being raped the first time I had sex. Losing who I thought to be the love of my life in college. Marrying and subsequently divorcing two men whose addictions proved much more powerful than I’d expected. Needless to say, I was not Pollyanna, even though I had certainly been trying to see the brighter side and rekindle my romance with My Love. I was scarred, and I was scared.

My fear took the form of clinging to control. I could not believe that my husband–then boyfriend–could be as good as he seemed to be. I kept looking for rotten flesh and rattling bones in his closets. I turned the simplest of statements into complicated scenarios in my mind, expecting the worst and fearing to hope for the best. But my husband refused to let my scars and the demons I battled with win.

“Why don’t you just let me love you, Bethany?”

His hands held my face. I couldn’t even look at him.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Our wedding, 2012

Thank God I found the answers, after the most harrowing search through my soul, countless hours of prayer and meditation on Scripture, and the helpful insight of a professional counselor. What started out as a quest to discover how to have a healthier relationship with my boyfriend resulted in total spiritual restoration to the One who had been holding my face in His hands for 16 years, begging me to let Him love me.

I am My Beloved’s, and He is mine.

That’s all the motivation I need.

That is what matters.

The source

As I drove through the sleepy stillness of Velvet Ridge tonight, I felt a few solemn tears slide down my face as I remembered my earlier conversation with my spiritual soul mate, a friend who’s seen me (and loved me) at all sorts of highs and lows over the past 11 years.

A week or two ago, I found my thoughts and prayers turning to her repeatedly. I am no spiritual Sherlock Holmes; I honestly could not discern whether the “thoughts” were stemming from my own mental ruminations or from a supernatural source. A few days ago, God confirmed the source as Himself, and I knew that I’d have to offload the burden He had placed on my chest.

And of course, that was His plan. He spoke to me so I would speak to her. I had no idea how timely or stinging the words He gave me would be. I just knew I had to say them. I did, and I believe they stuck to her soul.

This is not the first time God has whispered words to me, over and over again, until I finally acknowledge that the Voice I’m hearing is not my own. Last week, God used an acquaintance’s request for information to remind me that something I’d had on my mental and spiritual to-do list for months must seriously be done, and now. It took her phone call to confirm that each time I’d contemplated the topic, it wasn’t just chaotic chance that routed my thoughts back to that very thing. It was God tying spiritual strings on the fingers of my heart, hoping I’d finally glance at them and recall the reason for their existence.

How many times will He have to prove to me that the Still, Small Voice I hear is not my own? Who knows. But I know that every time I hear It, and see the Words take shape, It becomes clearer to me.