Thursday, 28 February 2008

A testimony of God`s Saving Grace (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am always amazed at all the opportunities God gives us to start over, wipe the slate clean or start fresh….whether it be the first of the year, the first day of a new season, our birthday or the first day of the week. Basically anytime where we are willing to submit our will to His we can start over.

Most recently I was reminded that it doesn’t take a leap of faith but a mere step because I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. It all starts with a simple prayer asking for help.

It is also about making choices. To paraphrase John Walker and James MacDonald; Who I am today is the sum total of the choices I have made. We could wish this weren’t true especially when things aren’t going well, when we want to retreat from the consequences of our own decisions, blaming it on our parents or our upbringing or our spouse or anybody but ourselves. The truth is life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we choose to deal with it.

Everyday of my life, I have a choice: I can focus on the bigness of the giants that stand before me or I can focus on the one, true God who is pouring His strength into me. My focus will determine my behavior and influence my faith.

Before I go any further allow me to share a little more about myself. I am the mother of two beautiful children. I am also a daughter, a sister, a friend, a divorced woman and a detail driven Executive Assistant. However, I am defined by more than these titles and roles.

Through perseverance and patience I am learning that life is a journey not a destination and in as much as my roles do not define me neither do my struggles. After all, we all have struggles that make us vulnerable and expose our weaknesses. Thankfully if we choose we can be defined in God as He works through our circumstances for good.

In the past my identity and expectations of myself rested in the opinions of others. My decisions were greatly influenced by this because my self worth lied in comparing myself to others. Now my defining moments lie in the God sightings and ah ha moments I have experienced.

I have a co-dependent personality and have live a big part of my life under the bondage of failure, condemnation and addictions.

It wasn’t until recently that I recognized that addictions come in many shapes and sizes. Although I do not struggle with alcohol or drugs, I cover my pain and past hurts by escaping with comfort food, shopping, busyness (work) and I allow worry and anxiety to consume my thoughts. Anyone of these in small amounts is not an addiction however when I become obsessed by it and choose to medicate my pain by escaping to the fantasy world TV provides or worrying instead of focusing on God it becomes an issue.

Looking back on my life I realize that although I didn’t acknowledge it God has always had a hand in my life. My life is a testimony of God’s grace.

For years I attended church regularly and seemingly did all the right things but it was more about head knowledge than heart knowledge. I was not consciously choosing to follow and serve God.

Then in 2006 after facing the same struggles and challenges over and over again without making any steps forward a friend invited me to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. Although my struggles didn’t cease to exist, my burdens began to lift. Despite adversity I could sense peace and contentment. While this was an ah ha moment it was also a process-others had invited me to accept Jesus as my Savior yet til that day I had been resistant, not fully believing in God’s saving grace for myself.

Today I know God more intimately. Through answered prayer and experience my trust in Him has increased tremendously. I now know that God’s love is unconditional and that he accepts me just as I am. His opinion is valued above all others. More importantly my faith has been strengthened and now I consciously choose to put God first in everything I do.

Don’t be fooled, I still stumble and fall however I am learning to get up more quickly without dwelling on each failure.

This transformation has not been instantaneous; to this day it is a work in progress.

Picture an onion, it has many layers of skin, each of these layers needs to be peeled back one at a time to reveal its core-its heart so to speak. The same applies to people; through the years I have covered up my heart with a thick skin, with each hurt I added an extra layer of protection. To the point where I could no longer identify who I was. Therefore, why should I expect the hurts to be healed in a moment? It takes time to heal a wound and breakdown barriers. It also takes an act of faith and for me words of affirmation.

Through Alpha and bible study I have learned that the greatest source of encouragement can be found in the bible. There are verses for every situation in life. The Bible testifies to God’s promises, blessings, provisions and my identity in Jesus.

I am a word picture person therefore many times scripture passages have been a source of comfort and support. These same verses have helped me change my old habits. I believe the WORD to be TRUTH and now I choose to focus my thoughts on the greater things. I am willing to surrender my life to God and allow Him to be in control.

As I say this I realize it is not an easy task and not something that I do consistently. For instance, while I was preparing my notes for today I was going through my journals and noticed that often when I have struggled it has been because I was dwelling-feeding off my emotions and thoughts allowing doubt and fear to direct the circumstances of my life and responding in an attempt to take matters into my own hands. However, when I focused on God through scripture, worship, praise and prayer things improved.

I pray that as I share with you the truth of God’s word you will be blessed with more of Him and a better understanding of the difference He can make in your life.

Here are some of the areas in my life where God’s WORD and GRACE have changed me. All honour and glory is His.

For most of my life I have allowed worry and anxiety to consume my thoughts and direct my circumstances. I was also a perfectionist, people pleaser and would justify my actions at great lengths; often overcompensating and apologizing for things that weren’t even my fault.

I appeared happy on the outside but was a burden bearer on the inside. I portrayed a strong, independent character but truly I was guarded and trusted no one. The thick layers of skin that covered and protected my heart offered a false sense of security.

In the past, I have worried about anything and everything with a “put the cart before the horse” kind of mentality. I would often anticipate the “what ifs” of any situation so that I could be prepared with solutions for whatever outcome-inevitably the “what ifs” didn’t materialize and all that time and stress were wasted. It wasn’t until my divorce and through seeking God that I came to realize that my “worrying” was my mechanism for maintaining control of any given situation and also a way of gaining acceptance from others. After all, if I had all the answers I would be praised for being good and smart….or so I thought!

This has been a difficult habit to break and definitely a work in progress. As the layers were being peeled away healing was taking place. This also showed me that repetition is key to healing and learning.

For example, how often do I repeat the same things, over and over to my children, hoping they will grasp the words and learn the lessons?

God does the same for us however unlike me he doesn’t get frustrated, His patience knows no limits.

So there you have it repetition is part of the process, part of healing. It reinforces my foundation. It is God’s way of refining my character.

Although I am now aware of my struggles with anxiety and worry this revelation has come to light slowly after much repetition. I have discovered that “I have to live it to learn it” and seeing as I don’t always get in the first time, God relies on my experience to get me through.

For instance, in 2005 when I first became aware that my worries and anxieties were an addiction I prayed for strength and courage and meditated on God’s word: But seek first his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. These verses from Matthew 6 reminded me that nothing is worth more than this day and that God will provide whatever I need. Not necessarily what I want but what I need.

It wasn’t until 2007, that another layer was peeled back and I began to understand why I was allowing worry and anxiety to consume me. Beyond it being my control mechanism, I was contingency planning for every task that I undertook to ensure that no matter the outcome I would receive acceptance, love and approval for a job well done.

Most recently I discovered the root of this addiction and with the support of my pastor am looking to my past to break any vows that I spoke.

Words, such as I will never measure up, I will always do things perfectly, spoken in my youth became a part of me because I chose to believe them.

These words also hindered my ability to build healthy relationships because I was more preoccupied with getting the task done. In my mind, I would only gain love and approval once the task was done. In the past I have damaged relationships at the expense of getting the job done.

Words are powerful; they carry much weight. They can have negative consequences but rest assured they can also be a blessing as you will hear later when I speak about healing.

A few weeks ago, I exhibited this “task first” behavior with a work colleague, although I was focused and determined on the task at hand I came across as uncooperative, aggressive, and frustrated; certainly not exemplifying a team player attitude. This was a huge breakthrough and a defining moment.

Already I am walking into God’s plan for this area of my life, building relationships and moving away from tasks. Better yet through answered prayer- supernaturally God has given me enough time both for building relationships and getting the job done.

Despite making progress in many areas of my life, I continued to judge myself harshly. I was disappointed with myself for the length of time it was taking to heal from the divorce and other past hurts kept me in bondage.

Due to my perfectionist nature I had little patience for mistakes and developed and all or nothing attitude. The expectations I set for myself were unreasonable. I was robbing myself of my uniqueness and undermining my ability to forgive, love and accept myself for who I was. Because I desperately wanted to excel at everything I lived under the bondage of failure.

I felt I didn’t pray enough, read my bible enough or witness enough. Being divorced was a huge failure and motherhood was especially difficult. I should discipline better, be more patient, spend more time with them….the list was never ending. Then, I would become overwhelmed and feel like I wasn’t performing to the best of my abilities in any area of my life and ultimately anxiety would once again take hold.

As a result I lived in self-condemnation. Not only would I dwell on how I wasn’t fulfilling my role but I would dig up past failures, refusing to forgive myself for past mistakes and beating myself up for every little wrong doing. This was hindering my growth.

Because I refused to forgive myself I considered myself unworthy in the eyes of God and I didn’t dare ask for blessings. Notice the use of the word I….I was hindering growth….I didn’t forgive….I didn’t believe….I felt and I thought, I feared that I was undeserving of blessings….basically I was trying to keep control over things that were beyond my control. No wonder everything was such a challenge and a struggle…..every month was a rollercoaster of emotions.

My focus was self-centred instead of God centred.

One day while reading Every Woman’s Battle, I was struck by another ah ha moment….the words on the page jumped out and opened my eyes to what I was doing: “Do you know what you are saying about the blood that Jesus shed for you when you refuse to forgive yourself from your past? You are saying that His blood wasn’t good enough for you. It didn’t have enough power to cleanse you.”

In my resistance to forgive myself, I was belittling what Jesus did on the cross for me….I was insulting what God did for me.

In that very instant I asked for forgiveness and meditated on the truth of God’s word from John 3 which reads for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.”

I have discovered that God doesn’t want me to dwell in condemnation. He forgives me and wants me to forgive myself.

Slowly things started to come together. I began to realize that everything I surrendered to God was replaced with more of Him.

Despite knowing that I was forgiven, loved and worthy it took some time for me to accept it, to trust that God could make it happen. I was still resistant in asking for blessings for myself.

For the longest time I believed that healing was not for me. I could step out in faith and pray for healing for others, including my children and each time I witnessed answer to prayer but still it wasn’t for me.

At first, I thought it was because of my analytical mind. After all, I was a Med Lab Tech and I believed that science healed; the proof was there, yet the proof was in prayer and God also.

Then I felt that my actions made me unworthy to receive but once I forgave myself this was no longer a barrier.

Finally, I realized that if I could trust a complete stranger to stay in his lane while driving down the road how much more could I trust God who according to John 3 had given his one and only son, that whomever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. As part of my accepting and trusting, I meditated on this scripture often; affirming that my no works, by no deeds, by no actions would I be deserving however through Jesus I was saved….all I needed to do was believe in him and ask expectantly.

In previous experiences God had proven faithful when I trusted my anxieties, emotions, past hurts and troubles to Him so why not physical healing.

Skeptic that I am, I started small and only trusted God enough to heal my right foot. Then as an act of faith I chose to submit my will and asked him to heal my Crohn’s disease. This is an illness I have been struggling with for a better part of 20 years and in early 2007 my symptoms had changed and were causing stress as well as physical challenges.

This disease was something that I identified with, I felt and thought that it identified me so it was difficult to let it go. But once I understood the difference between letting go and completely surrendering to God it became easier.

Although I had hesitantly asked for healing throughout the year it wasn’t until last fall that I admitted to myself that I trusted God enough to take care of me; finally I relinquished my pride and desire to be in control.

Ambassador Ministries in Covenant had established a Recovery Room where people could go and soak in God’s word for healing. I made a conscious choice to accept healing by going for healing prayer as often as I could.

The process was simple; a prayer group would speak and pray God’s word over me time and time again. I began to see change and grasped the knowledge that God’s word has power over my body as well as my thoughts and feelings.

By faith, by decision, by choice I began to pray for healing as though it was already done. I meditated on healing verses three times daily; this was God’s prescription. And as I was choosing to put God first and trust in Him my faith was fortified.

On December 23rd I went for a colonoscopy, while I waited I continued to pray. As I was waiting I found myself allowing anxiety to take control: what if the diagnosis is this or even worse what if it’s that….however, meditating on scriptures such as:

Be joyful in hope, patient in times of trouble and faithful in prayer
I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline
Delight yourself in the Lord and he shall give you the desires of your heart

Reminded me of the significance or persevering, not giving up and keeping a good attitude while we wait on God to provide His blessings.

The truth of God’s word has greatly helped me turn away from my anxious and worrisome traits…I share this yet again only to illustrate that I am not perfect, learning is a process and my struggles are easier with God on my side.

I have noticed that once I appropriate verses for myself, personalize them and make them my own they offer a great source of courage that can carry me through any of life situations! Praise God, all glory is His!

Back to my testimony of healing, the outcome that day was nothing short of a miracle and is still surreal to me. The test results showed no sign of active disease, no inflammation, no polyps, and no need to biopsy. I stand here before you whole and healed….Everyday I thank God for this healing.
Once I studied and understood the difference between submitting my will to God and letting my emotions and thoughts rule my mind I began to pray a simple prayer. A prayer that would align my will with God’s will; I prayed the following often, sometimes hourly…Lord make me willing to be willing to do what you desire, to fulfill the plans you have for me. Amen.

I have learned that God is very uncomplicated; He simply desires that I take the first step so that He can begin to work in me.

As C.S. Lewis says Relying on God has to begin all over again everyday, as if nothing had yet been done. Or better yet as the bible says in Deuteronomy 30 Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh that you would choose life…You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him and committing yourself firmly to him.

God doesn’t force His will on anyone. He lets us decide whether to follow Him or reject Him. This decision however can greatly affect our lives. God would like each of us to choose life. Daily in each situation, we must affirm and reinforce this commitment.

Don’t worry if you get it wrong the first time or subsequently; as I have learned through the past year and in preparing this testimony; we have a lifetime to learn and a very forgiving God.

A year ago I could not of shared this testimony without vetting it through numerous people to make sure it made sense, that it wasn’t too preachy, too matter of fact or too repetitious. Actually, there are many times in this past month that I heard words from song; devotionals or teachings that I thought would be more perfect or better than my own words yet out of a willingness to change my habits I prayed for help and focused on telling my story with God’s grace and wisdom. After all, God loves me just as I am and can use me to touch others despite by brokenness; just as He can use you if you choose to follow Him.

I just wanted to leave you with some words of wisdom that sparked ah ha moments in my life while I was preparing this testimony.

The first is about our character, God has designed us for His purpose and plan; just as we are, so when we are convinced that we need to change let us be reminded to change our traits, in other words how we act & react to life instead of changing our character.

Secondly, all worry is needless, not one day can be added to our life by worrying….also don’t get discouraged or defeated if this problem persists because then you are allowing the enemy to catch you twice, once in worry and then in defeat. As a friend shared with me earlier, instead of focusing on the number of times you have failed focus on the successes and improvements you have made since you asked God into your life.

And finally, I am learning to accept everything in life as it comes, I still plan for the future but my plans are in pencil; this way I can easily change things when God decides He has other plans.

Published February 2008