[Guest post by Nicole Bernard: We’re welcoming back Nicole today to share her perspective on how our sins hurt God.] The Fourth of July can be quite stressful…. at least that’s my experience as a mother to a rescue basset who suffers from anxiety issues. …
[Guest post by Erin Marie Shell: This is a story of God’s love, a story of heartbreak and a story of rediscovery. Thanks for sharing, Erin!]
Exhausted after a full day of work, I arrived home late one night, opened the front door, and entered the darkness. As I walked into the house, my heels clicked on the floor, greeting me with a very loud, unfamiliar echo. Without turning on the lights, I began to realize what had happened.
After 11 years of marriage, he had moved out. The shock of an empty house left me reeling in confusion. I was exhausted with life, exhausted with familiar feeling of not being good enough, exhausted with begging him to see me…really see me.
As though life itself was being drained from my body, I sunk to the floor with my sleeping baby girl in my arms.
Physically, emotionally, mentally, with certainty, I knew that this would be the one that I could never overcome. Surely, this was the blow that would take me completely out. I cried for hours, and I lost track of time. There was no one I could call, there was no one who could understand.
The journey to this point had been traveled imperfectly by him and me alone. We were both responsible for what appeared to be a tragic failure. I had given more than I had to give to a marriage that was never satisfied, a marriage that didn’t care if I suffered, a marriage that refused to justify our existence in it.
I felt dejected, fooled, and crushed with disappointment as I lay on the floor, my body heaving with every cry and breath.
But it was on that floor, in a single defining moment, that God met me, and gently picked up the shattered pieces of my spirit, shattered beyond my recognition.
He met me there, right where I was, and flooded my heart with His love. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was alone – I was accompanied by a great, warm Presence.
God reminded me that in my weakness, He was strong. This was not an opportunity to give up on His abilities, instead, this was an opportunity to give up on my abilities. I had to give up on the belief that I had to do it all by myself, that I was alone, and that I would fail.
This was my opportunity to let go, and allow Him to be God. This was the beginning of my ultimate love-encounter with God.
I began to experience my love-encounter with God, beginning with my own personal meditation practice. This was a time that I dedicated to listening, feeling and recording the knowledge and wisdom that God impressed upon my spirit in a delightful, soothing way.
Just as with anything you devote time and energy to, over time, I came into a deep knowledge of what I was studying – God and my Self. As a result, I was restored, stronger, more radiantly than I can recall with any previous awareness. This delivery of restoration reverberated throughout every aspect of my life, from my spirit and relationships, to my career, business, family, and ministry.
During this period of time, Beautiful Wild Free – Spiritual Healing for Women Rediscovering Themselves, was birthed. Women began contacting me as they experienced the inevitable challenges of life, looking for answers.
“Why?” they asked, and as we engaged in conversation, I discovered that a process of rediscovery was a natural result of having been spiritually broken. It doesn’t really matter what did the breaking – the loss of a child, a marriage, a relationship, health – it was simply the fact that there was a breaking that positioned them perfectly to embark upon a journey of restoration that would exceed any understanding of possibility or expectation.
What would you do to discover peace, to wake up vibrant, to embody radiance that illuminates that life path that you’re walking? At the base of all created things is an energy of love.
Love has the power to restore, create and enliven.
It takes more than just a knowledge of love to accomplish this, it actually takes a love-encounter. An encounter with love brings you to your most authentic self, which is a gateway to true personal freedom. As you learn to love God, then to truly love yourself, you can then love others – even those who have purposefully committed severe acts of hurt and hate against your spirit.
This is where you find true peace and love, and where you learn to position yourself to receive what it is your spirit truly desires…to rejoice in the beauty of love, wildly, freely and with abandon. Beautiful. Wild. Free.
Erin Marie Shell, MBA is a passionate lover of Jesus Christ, bestselling author, compelling speaker and successful businesswoman whose life purpose is to help women achieve spiritual healing by coming into an intimate encounter with God’s love. She is the creator and spiritual catalyst of her women’s ministry Beautiful, Wild, Free: Spiritual Healing for Women Rediscovering Themselves.
[Guest post by Jennifer Kelly: I love Jennifer’s vibrancy for spreading God’s grace. This is her story about salvation, forgiveness and most importantly, Jesus.]
I love it when other women share their personal stories of overcoming grief and pain and forgiveness. It’s like receiving a precious gift when you least expect it. When you stumble upon a story of hope in the midst of hopelessness, healing amidst the pain, or love for the unlovable, it moves you.
I grab onto stories of life found in the desert, and bury them into my soul. In a world where brokenness, selfishness, and evil turn up on every street corner, I am need of a present wrapped in sheer grace. To actually see and hear and listen to how salvation has sprung to life through the lives of others, is so much more than a gift… It is living water.
Actually, Jesus says this same exact thing to another woman overcome by grief. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14, NIV).
The word ‘life’ that Jesus uses is actually ‘zōē’ in Greek. It is the element of life found in the spirit and soul. The Key Note Study Bible writes, “zōē is a somewhat metaphysical term which denotes the vey life-force itself, the vital principle which animates living beings to breathe”.
Did you catch that? Your soul actually breathes from the saving grace of God.
I can remember what it felt like to need to breathe. I mean, I wasn’t the woman by the well with five husbands and a man on the side. No, I was just a woman by a different kind of well (wine and bars and money and stuff), about to get divorced, having an affair, and no-where-else-to-go. I was a woman who was exhausted, suffocating, and drowning out pain with all sorts of numbing agents. Sure, some scars were not caused by me, most were.
I have had to forgive others for unimaginable transgressions, I find that forgiving my own transgressions are much more difficult.
When the consequences are from your own actions, when the grief is self-prescribed, when you find yourself on the dirt road of bad decisions, shame, and regret.
When it’s all your fault.
Forgiving others and ourselves is excruciating, both are impossible without Jesus. I found grace and forgiveness in the desert of my soul, much like the woman at the well.
Resolving your own sins, shame and guilt can only be done through surrender. This is what makes it nearly impossible. I have a tendency to need or want or try to fix things on my own. Surrender is in direct contradiction to this.
My absolute favorite woman in ALL of Scripture is the ‘sinful woman’ found in Luke. This woman (who only holds all of fourteen verses) beholds a gift wrapped in sheer grace. Scripture describes her as, “a woman who had lived a sinful life” (Luke 7:37). She had the reputation, she held the scarlet letter. But she also displayed one of the most amazing acts of surrender in all of Scripture.
Oh, how I resonate with her. How I feel her pain of longing and suffering.
She pours oil at Jesus’ feet and sobs. She did this in front of the people who would judge her. She did this in front of the people who thought she was less than nothing. Needing the love and forgiveness of a Savior.
Needing the inside of her soul to breathe.
The past two years for me has been a journey of forgiveness and healing. I’ve had to bare my soul and trust that Jesus can really heal, can really forgive, can extend to me a gift of living water. I’ve had to stand in front of judgment and opposition. When people can’t seem to differentiate the sinner from the sin. Jesus does and can.
And every time I approach Jesus in prayer, every time I get on my knees, every time I stand sobbing at his feet, He whispers to me in the deepest part of my soul, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace”. And my soul breathes.
Jennifer Kelly is a very messy wife and mom. She loves reading, writing, philosophy, music, art, theatre, and really anything that is created by an artist. Jennifer currently attends Christian Colorado University where she is studying Biblical Studies. Find out more at jenjkelly.com.
[Guest Post by Jenifer Jernigan – Like all authors meet, we met through social media. I love her vulnerability, her voice, and the desperation behind her story. I am honored for Jenifer to share her story, and if you, like her, have felt like taking your life–you are not alone! I know her story is long but please read the whole thing. You will be blessed!]
The summer months found me serving as a youth intern in a local church, teaching, ministering, and loving on kids who became an important part of my life.
The fall semester ushered in months of studying through the Psalms in my Old Testament class and Paul’s Prison Epistles in New Testament class.
I was happy.
My heart was full.
I was in a good place.
But the heat of the summer months melted away to nothing, and the coolness of the crisp fall air blew through so very quickly. And there I was, in the dead of winter, broken, yet again, into a million pieces, heart cold and calloused, experiencing a death all its own.
We sat there, my friend and I, on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop, he numb from the icy-cold air, me numb from my shattered world. Coffee-shop music played in the background. Bells jingled each time the heavy glass door opened. People hurried in from the cold to warm their bodies with yummy deliciousness. They laughed and shrilled with glee. Some shared secrets and made grand plans. Others came to enjoy time alone away from the busyness of their lives.
It was almost like an out-of-body experience, if such a thing exists. I saw them all, the many who walked past. And I heard the music, the bell jingles, the laughter, and even the ahhs as the warmth of the patrons’ treats made its way into their bellies. Yet, at the exact same time, I saw absolutely nothing and heard not a whisper. I was lost in an ocean of broken dreams; a sea of emptiness enveloped me. And years of innocence lost, wrongs done, and wounds inflicted welled up inside me.
The minutes passed by and turned into hours, how many exactly, I have no idea. My friend was the first one to speak.
“Ya know,” he said, “God has a plan and reason for everything.”
Immediately I felt a fire burn deep within. Slowly I turned my head, looked straight into his eyes, and loudly whispered my rage. “Do not play the Jesus card with me! Do you understand me? Do not tell me everything has a purpose and a plan. Are you f#*&^*$ kidding me?”
I stood to my feet, pacing back and forth, heart beating hard and loud, like a thousand bass drums. “Don’t say that to me!” I screamed. “Don’t!”
People stopped dead in their tracks to gawk at my public display of brokenness and pain.
“I can’t do this!” I went on. “Do you know how bad this hurts? I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t feel. Except . . . I feel everything. And my mind races. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end at all!”
A madwoman walking is what I was. I mumbled. I screamed obscenities. I cried; no, I wailed in pain. I lashed out at my friend in unimaginable ways. He sat there, silent.
As I paced with fists clenched, the tears poured from my eyes. The pain, the ache, the emptiness inevitably forced me to my knees. My friend came to my side, trying to ease the burden, to lighten the load of pain that weighed me down because years of hurts and heartaches and things that should never happen to anyone had just broken me.
“Don’t touch me!” I shouted. “Don’t touch me! Please don’t touch me!” I cried uncontrollably, hugging my waist, my head lying against the gravel parking lot.
But my friend didn’t listen. He lifted me up from my puddle of pain so I could see into his eyes.
“I will play the Jesus card,” he said, “because it’s the winning card. And the pain you feel right now will one day subside. And you’ll be able to stand, victorious over this emptiness you feel.”
That was 1998. The pain I felt that cold winter night, the ache that left my heart empty, didn’t vanish in a few short days; it took years. Years of God working and me surrendering. Years of God healing and me accepting His healing and realizing there was purpose for my pain.
But I need you to know something; those years found me broken many more times by the weight of pains.
They also found me searching to be accepted. Searching to be loved. Searching to be heard. Searching for the real me. And my search led me from one unhealthy relationship to the next, from one bottle of alcohol to another, and from one shopping spree to the next door-buster sale. During those years I married and had my first child, but I still searched for more. My searching and pain dead-ended in a courtroom, with me uttering a word I never thought I’d utter: “Guilty.”
I then found myself in an extremely dark place for two years.
On a daily basis I contemplated taking my life; I’d attempted it years before, but this time I knew I wouldn’t fail. I emotionally disconnected from my daughter and husband; I felt nothing for them. I was out all hours of the night, driving dark roads, sitting in empty parking lots, hiding from the world because I was so very ashamed of what I’d become.
Driven face to the ground once again, like Paul, I had my own Damascus road experience. And once again my heart screamed out as tears poured from my eyes, God, I’m a mess. I’m a complete and utter failure. I’m stupid. I’m used up. I’m alone. I hate myself. And believe me when I tell You, You want nothing to do with me! I’m sure there are others far less complicated than me. Others who are better suited and much more deserving than me to be Your child.
My insides were jacked up. I’d been deeply wounded by others and myself. And my wounds were bleeding and festering and stunk to high heaven. I had absolutely nothing to offer God. There were no credentials to my name. No great accolades or endorsements to cause heads to turn my way. I was just a confused, shame-filled, broken-down girl.
But God had purpose for my pain.
The day God chose me and turned my insides upside down and right side out, the day He turned my unlikeliness into something extraordinary in His book, I was a hot mess. But today I stand changed from the inside out only because the Word of God has rocked me to the core, healing the wounds that left me empty and lonely. I stand brave, not fearful. I stand whole, not broken. For those of you who are hurting today, weighed down by an oversized load of pain, heartache, hurt, and complete emptiness, may I lay the Jesus card on the table and say to you, “God has a plan and reason for all your pain”?
It’s okay if you can’t see His plan and purpose right now through your pain; and it’s okay if you scream obscenities at me.
And while the perception may be that you’re “the perfect Jesus girl,” the reality may be that you’re standing in a very different, very wounded place this very moment. People may not see that, but Jesus does. It’s okay. You don’t have to be who others think you should be. It’s okay for you to feel your pain. But what’s not okay is for you to stay buried by it, broken down in a puddle of hurt and heartache.
The time will come, and for each of us it’s different, when you’ll have to look your friend Jesus in the face, choose to allow Him to lift you above the pain, and embrace the healing He offers. The day will come when you’ll have to lay it all at His feet and allow Him to carry the load of your heartache. Until that day comes, even if you’re only able to know this in your head, know that God is actively working, there is purpose for your pain, and one day, you’ll stand on the other side of it, sharing your grace story for His honor and glory.
Jenifer is a Bible teacher whose passion is to equip women to d.i.v.e. deeper into God’s Word, teaching them to study Scriptures for themselves. Her book, Dive Deeper, is a part of Thomas Nelson’s new InScribed Studies Collection. Visit with Jenifer at jeniferjernigan.com.
*Excerpt taken from Jenifer Jernigan’s new book, Dive Deeper: Finding Deep Faith Beyond Shallow Religion. (Thomas Nelson, March 2014. Used with permission.)