Obedience is a really difficult choice. It requires a sacrifice, an action and a continuous walking it out. It requires confidence that God will see you through, and boldness to finish it. You see, we can choose to obey, make the sacrifice and allow God to move in it. Or, we can run. Most of my life I have chosen run. Get out. Get away. Don't worry about it, just get away from it. Mom says no, I say yes. I was a very very rebellious teenager. Funny as it is seems now, my rebellion turned criminal through a simple act of disobedience. That simple act of disobedience took me away from God, my family, and the possibility of a life with way less pain and struggles.
That one simple act of disobedience and disregard turned into one massively huge redemption story. It amazes me today how God can take something so ignorant, rebellious and unwise and turn it into the most amazing story of love and grace that I have ever heard. It is my story. It is hard to think about. Hard to accept. And even harder to understand how His love for me surpasses it all. Though my heart pounds, healing and glory occurs when I open my mouth (lol, or swipe my fingers over the keyboard) and give God the praise He fully deserves. That another life will be redeemed because of the testimony He has allowed me to speak out.
When I sixteen years old, I disregarded the religion and church that I was raised in. I hated the rules, the regulations, the chains that the church placed upon my life, and decided if that was God, I wanted nothing to do with Him. I denied there was a God, and that He was just some big, cruel, coldhearted joke. The words pain me to now to realize how reckless I was. How easily I walked outside of his protection and love all for the sake of me. I was involved with a boy that none of my family, friends or church approved. I ran away to be with him, and am incredibly thankful God's protective hand followed me. Even after I denied Him, offended Him, walked away from Him, He danced all over me. I don't feel the need to go into specific details, but His hand covered drunkenness, sexual immorality, a very unplanned pregnancy and the horrifying miscarriage that ended it. This thought rages within me, that God used for good what the enemy intended to take me down with. When I think back about things my 17-18 year old body was walking through, I have no doubt in my mind that God was there, even in my disobedience and refusal to accept Him.
I got married at the very young age of 18. I knew then, deep down, that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, but really thought love could fix it all. You know, that fairy tale we all think marriage and happily ever after is. At that point in my life, I had suffered a miscarriage at 14 weeks gestation, physical and emotional abuse, and the reality that there was nothing I could do to fix it but get married. I did love him. And, deep down, I know he loved me the best way he knew how to.
By the time I was 21, the marriage had created an amazing daughter, but with the struggles of parenthood came escalating abuse. In addition to the abuse, I was dealing with the trauma of another 3 miscarriages. I left my husband for a brief period when I saw that he was capable of killing me. The night before I left, he tried to strangle me. I realized surviving that night meant things had to be different. I tried to find comfort and solace in the church of my childhood, but was only offered the pain of going back into a violent, terrifying marriage. I loved God, I wanted His protection and His love, and was told the only way to keep all of that was to not break my marital bonds. So, I went back. Human promises were made to me. Promises of hope, a new marriage, and a fresh start. Within 3 months, the honeymoon was over. The emotional abuse, verbal attacks and alcohol was a new burden for me. A very unexpected burden. In my naivety, I expected butterflies and rainbows and unicorns. I realize now that I wish the physical abuse hadn't stopped so that the mental abuse might not have happened or been as severe. Those wounds are far more difficult for me to handle and deal with than the bruises that have been gone for years. And, I begain to completely give up on God loving me. I began the process of convincing myself I was too broken and screwed up for Him to even look twice at me. He wouldn't asnwer my prayers, nor would he fix me, because I disobeyed and I just wasn't worth the time or effort.
Years passed, and my hopelessness turned into desperate despair. Through the grace of God, I found Northridge Church. I was able to recommit my life, and realize that a personal relationship with God was not only possible, but was mine for the taking. I went to a women's retreat while in the early stages of my last pregnancy. A personal relationship between God and I happened. Shortly after the event, He spoke precious, sacred promises over my life and the lives of my daughters. He began to lead and guide my paths, though I was afraid to wade into deeper waters with Him. I wasn't sure what He was going to ask or want from me, so I kept Him at arms length. I wanted love and acceptance and forgiveness and a prosperous marriage, but felt lost and hopeless. I fought with feelings of unworthiness and knowing that I really wasn't worth it.
During the final months of my pregnancy, I sank into the depths of depression. I despised the situation I was in, and felt like God didn't hear my cries or care about the promises He spoke over me. I was frustrated, discouraged and felt completely alone. During this period of time, I was made aware of how out of control my life had become, and started focusing on becoming dependent upon God and trying to be who He wanted me to be. This lasted for almost 18 months. Fighting to maintain a relationship with God, knowing it was destroying my hopes for a solid marriage. Knowing that I couldn't leave, or I would lose my salvation, the personal relationship I had with God. And then, knowing my relationship with God was the most secure thing I had going for me, so I must just have to tough it out. Through months of prayer, fasting and waiting on God, I discovered who He was. That He did love me, and didn't want me to stay somewhere so harmful to the health and safety of my daughters and myself. In this period of my life, I was given release from my marriage. I was frustrated, as I was a Christian woman, and this divorce contradicted everything in my Bible. I made a commitment to my marriage in front of God, and felt so confused as to how and why I could possibly be being freed from it. I felt like I would surely be rejected at church, that people would call me a hypocrite and make me go back. And I was wrong. So wrong.
During the months the divorce was being processed and finalized, my life was a living hell. I was scared. I was alone. I was afraid of my own shadow. Everything my ex-husband had threatened, spoken over me, and promised me would happen was happening. The emotional scars were beyond what I thought could be fixed. I thought I was going to be broken for the rest of my life. I started seeing a Christian counselor, and was quickly diagnosed with PTSD. I would sleep for maybe 2-3 hours each night, only to be woken intermittently with nightmares and panic attacks so severe I literally wanted God to let me die. Fear reigned over my life. I tried to cling to the promises I had been given, cling to the faith that had told me to move. Almost a year into the depression/PTSD/hell I was in, God snapped His fingers and everything just stopped. The nightmares quit happening, the panic attacks slowed down.
You see, I had started speaking life over me. I had started speaking the promises of God over me, over my anxiety, over my stress. I had women surrounding me with love, support and prayers. I started focusing on relieving stress with exercise, conquering anxiety with the Word of God, and eventually started sleeping soundly through the night. I proved the lies of my ex-husband wrong with scriptures I still carry with me daily. I had to be fully broken before God could really begin fixing me, restoring me, redeeming me.
Which leads me to right now. God is amazing. There are no words to describe who He is to me, or how much I know He loves me. I had the amazing experience of serving on a team for an Encounter weekend this last weekend. In preparing for it, I was asked a very simple question. What has God redeemed for you? What have you been redeemed from, Cil? And, wow. I sat there, in complete and utter denial that this question would be posed towards me. I wanted to run. I wanted to get out. I could feel panic bubbling up in my chest. You see, the question wasn't only what I'd been redeemed from, but also stepping out in faith and obedience and telling 90 women what I had been redeemed from, too. I felt God stirring in me, telling me it was time. Let it out. Finally, I stepped out. I told the director that I hated my word, I hated the ugliness. I hated the shame and the guilt that I had allowed another person so much control over me, who I was, and the pain that I allowed that person to cause me. I told her my word. Actually, she told me the proper term for my word, but I stepped out. Within 10 minutes, I had received confirmation from God. My devotion that morning read:
God uses life experiences to mold, train and equip us. Sometimes what we want to hide - those horrible trials we want to forget - are the very things He wants to use the most. We all suffer trials. When we surrender and lean on God, we come out the other side and He is glorified. Nothing is worthless. Everything has value. God uses it all to shape us for our calling.*
At that moment, I knew I had done right by God. I knew that He was going to be my strength, cover my shame, and be glorified. Let me just say this, I underestimated God. I seriously underestimated God. I carried my sign almost a week later. At first, I was ashamed. I was disappointed in myself. And, I was so gently reminded the only reason I would have had to carry the shame was if I hadn't followed God in what He wanted put out. He redeemed me. There is no shame in redemption. There is no guilt, fear or judgement in redemption. I was freed from captivity, and it opened me and prepared me for the most intensely emotional amazing weekend of my life. Over the course of 46 hours, I was reminded exactly who He is and exactly the price He paid so I could live a life of redemption. I am redeemed. I am loved. I am unworthy, but His sacrifice paid my debt. I realized being redeemed had a greater message. I am no longer a victim, but instead victorious.
****Devotion written by Wendy Blight.