Our Unchanging God

My husband and I just came back from Kentucky. My mother’s parents grew up there, and my extended family continues to hold a reunion near Pikeville every summer in mid-July. I, myself, lived in a small town named Eminence—about three hours from Pikeville—from age eight through age eleven, and of all the places where I’ve ever lived, this was the one place my husband hadn’t seen—until last Thursday.

I can remember those family reunions in Pikeville from as far back as 1995. I remember the bountiful plot of land my family owned on Marion’s Branch, nestled safely in the Appalachian Mountains. I remember being taught how to make crowns from the wildflowers growing outside the little log cabin that my great, great grandfather had built with his hands. I remember the secluded burial ground where generations of my family had been laid to rest, and I remember the way in which every time we went up those mountains, it seemed to me as though we’d been taken away to another world. It was magical, and I was so envious of my grandmother, just knowing she’d been allowed to grow up in such a place.

Of course, I wanted to show my husband. I wanted him to see what I’d seen—to know what I’d known. But I couldn’t show him. He couldn’t see it—because it isn’t there anymore. The land had been sold years ago, to a local coal company. The cabin had been demolished, and even the graves had been moved to a public cemetery. Even so, just last week, there we were—tromping through the woods, trying to find the place where it all used to be. In spite of all the memories that had been made there, the land was unrecognizable. Even in Eminence, I struggled to find the life I’d known. Had I been blindfolded and taken there without knowing my whereabouts, I never would’ve recognized it. The friends I’d known from childhood are all grown up, and though I was overjoyed to see them again, we struggled to find things to say to each other after eighteen years of separation. And my house—where I’d played and found my shelter every day—is decayed from years of neglect. Merely stepping onto the porch, I was afraid I might knock it down.

Needless to say, the overall experience of returning to my past was somewhat bittersweet. Yet, in my attitude of mourning, I was also reminded of the everlasting steadiness of my Creator, who says: “I am the Lord, and I do not change (Malachi 3:6, NLT).” … “I created you and have cared for you since before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age (Isaiah 46:3-4, NLT).” Though we often yearn for constancy in this world, the only thing constant about it is change. So, we can’t get too comfortable here. We’re not supposed to. Our comfort has always been meant—and will always be meant—to come from God. And He is still here. This world still belongs to Him—it just might be a little more challenging to find Him in it than it used to be. But even though I’ll have to put flowers on my grandmother’s grave now amid the noise of the groundskeeper’s tractor, and within the bounds of established visiting hours, those flowers will be just as beautiful as flowers have always been. And even though Marion’s Branch will soon be the site of an up-and-coming industrial park, just one look at those mountains will be all that is needed to know the majesty of the One who placed them there.




Bride of Christ

There are several places throughout the Bible where we can see references to the Church as the Bride of Christ. We can see it in 2 Corinthians, we can see it in Ephesians, and we can see it in Revelation. Even in the Old Testament, the ongoing dialogue between God and His people is at times very evocative of unrequited love between an adoring husband and an adulterous wife. I must admit that I love this idea— so much more than any other I’ve come to know in my exploration of Scripture. So often, we think of ourselves merely as the children of God, and that identifier is just as true. But from the very beginning of my conversion, I experienced a kind of love in my heart that just couldn’t be bridled by the bounds of a parent-child relationship. At the time, I was completely unaware of the biblical verses that pointed to a spousal relationship between God and His creation. I knew only that I had fallen in love with Him, and I can’t describe how real that love was made when I finally discovered the biblical validation for it.

It’s not a concept that’s discussed very frequently, but I can always feel it poignantly in the hymns—pay close attention to the lyrics of your favorite hymns, and you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. The passion they express is so overwhelming, and they definitely aren’t the words I would speak to my father over coffee. Though it might be a challenging notion to grasp in the limits of our finite world, what God has helped me to understand is that every loving, human relationship we can ever experience here amongst ourselves is a symbol of God’s love for us. There are many aspects to that love, and though the human love we can give and accept from each other has very distinct boundaries—the love of a child for a parent, the love of a parent for a child, the love between friends and extended family, and the love between husband and wife—these separate relationships between us are meant to be the vessels through which we can express love for God and experience love from God—a love that is perfectly infinite, knowing no boundary at all. This understanding has given me the freedom to worship my Creator without restraint, holding nothing back from Him. And upon reflection of my own life, I take unrestrained joy in the knowledge that He has blessed me with a marriage that symbolizes my bond to Him in a way that I could never have even imagined He would. I’d like to share that story with you now, so that you might be able to see a similar blessing in your own stories.

When I was eighteen years old, I met a sweet boy named Adam. I know it sounds cliché, but there was something so refreshingly different about him, and he caught me. Looking back, I think it was the quality of innocence in his face and the kindness in his voice that captured my attention. Most of the young men I’d met up to that point had seemed to have this aloofness about them—a sort of coldness that suggested they had resolved to keep the world at arm’s-length. Not this one, though. This one was actually approachable, and more than that—he wanted to be my friend. At first, I didn’t exactly know how I felt about him in terms of a romantic connection. I just knew that he was special. He wasn’t the kind of boy I was likely to meet again, and I just felt so safe with him. It didn’t surprise me when I found out that he was a Christian, and although my own Christianity was on shaky ground, it drew me toward him all the more. So, we dated for a while, and the closer we became, the more I felt certain that I was falling in love with this sweet, gentle boy who had seen fit to make me such an important part of his life. He was the first thought in my mind when I woke up in the morning and the final thought to depart my consciousness as I drifted off to sleep at night. And for a time, I felt like I was living on a cloud.

He was the first real boyfriend I’d ever had, so I was still very naïve about the nature of human love and how it changes over time. After about three years of being in this relationship with Adam, I started to feel my love growing tepid, and I was very confused. I was finally coming down from that emotional euphoria that happens in the newness of love but that—maybe as a consequence of our brokenness—is always destined to fade with time. Now that I’m older, I’ve come to accept it as normal, but at the time, it seemed like the end of the world. I was so disillusioned, and it wasn’t long before the darkness closing in around my heart prepared a way for further self-destruction. There was another person in our lives at the time who, while I was in the midst of this inner turmoil, confessed to me one night that he had been harboring passionate feelings toward me ever since we’d first met. He had just accepted a job offer in another part of the country, and he knew that he would never see me again, but he told me that he was willing to see me one more time if I would admit my feelings for him. His words were like a poison coursing through my veins, and in my weakness, I agreed to his terms. In my selfishness, I was willing to betray the boy who had been devoted to me since practically the moment he’d first set eyes on me—just so I could feel the euphoria abandoned by my own calloused heart.

It wasn’t the same. It was cold. It was dangerous. It was unloving. And when it was over, I tried to hide from Adam that it had happened. I lied to him for almost a year, and I’ll never forget the night when I finally told him the truth. He didn’t react in anger. He didn’t start screaming and saying hurtful things. He just took it in—as I watched the pain in his eyes. And before he left my house, he took me in his arms. He kissed me softly on my forehead, and he said: I love you. Only in that moment did I fully comprehend what I had done. There I was, breaking his heart when he’d done absolutely nothing to deserve it, and even as I’m doing this—in spite of the torment I’m putting him through—he tells me he loves me? I wanted to die. It was so awful. To see his kindness reflecting off my cruelty was enough to break my heart, too.

I was separated from him for two years after that, and even now, I still see them as the most desolate two years of my life. He wouldn’t see me. He wouldn’t speak to me. And his absence had left such an emptiness inside of me. My world was just so cold and frightening without him, and at times, it was almost unbearable. Almost. Everyone I knew told me I had to move on. They encouraged me to see my time with him as a learning experience—and to accept that he wasn’t coming back. What I actually wound up accepting in time was that, while he had been a precious gift from God to me, I had tried to turn him into God, Himself. I had made him my idol, and I had unfairly burdened him with the task of fulfilling my every need. I asked for forgiveness—from him and from God, and I felt God starting to remind me of who I wanted to be. I felt God drawing me back to Him. The pain in my heart gradually became less sharpened, and I started to find peace. I hoped that Adam had, too.

Then, one day, I saw him walking down the street toward me. We must have smiled at each other, and though I hoped for it, I could never have fully allowed myself to believe that I would marry him three years later. I had proven myself unworthy, yet in love, he gave me his name—and I, quite literally, was granted the rare privilege of becoming “Mrs. Love.” Now, every time I sign my name, I’m reminded not only of the love my husband has bestowed upon me, but even more so, the love my Creator has bestowed upon me—even though I don’t deserve it. It humbles me. It amazes me. And it makes me want to bestow my love in return. What in this world could possibly be better than that?




A Holy Kiss

As the years passed, I felt the war in my heart continue to rage. There were moments when I sensed my love for God becoming lukewarm, and I was deeply grieved in those moments. I longed so much for the passion that had overwhelmed me in the beginning— for the rapture of falling in love. But, I’d known at the outset that I could never be worthy of the love that had been bestowed upon me, and every day was just a constant reminder of my sinful nature. Every time I failed to handle something the way I knew He would have me handle it— every time I allowed my selfishness to be stronger than my desire to worship Him— I could feel my connection to Him being severed. To make matters worse, there were these ominous scriptural verses that just kept ringing in my head. There was one in particular from the book of Hebrews that said: It is impossible to restore to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people to repentance again because they are nailing the Son of God to the cross again by rejecting him, holding him up to public shame (6:4-6, NLT).

Those words, more than any others I had come to find, brought so much pain to my heart. I could picture them playing out before my eyes, and the image tortured me. How? I thought. How could I possibly do such a thing to my sweet, beautiful Savior? How could I hurt Him so much— Him, whom I claimed to love? Yet, I couldn’t deny that I had turned away. It had been so easy to be born again and feel the burden of the past lifted off of me, but now, having been baptized, how could I sin even once without knowing the betrayal I’d committed? I had so many terrorizing thoughts and emotions welling up inside me all the time, and eventually, they just became too much. Emotion gave way to apathy, and any trace of Christ in me was buried so deep that I doubt it could have possibly been recognizable to anyone.

Even so, somehow, He never completely left me. I honestly believed that I was parted from Him forever, along with everything that meant. But I could never bring myself to stop believing in Him. No matter how afraid I was of Him, and no matter how many other paths I could have taken to try to alleviate the pain I felt— atheism, agnosticism, or any other of the countless theories the world had to offer me— I just couldn’t bring myself to stop knowing the truth. I couldn’t separate my life from the source of my life. And every once in a while, in the midst of my thrashing, I would experience something so gentle and kind— as though it were a holy kiss calling me back into His arms. These experiences are engraved in my heart, and they have helped me to believe that He loves me still. In them, I find the will to be transformed. And even though I know it requires me to put myself to death, I’m not so afraid anymore to make the effort. I know that by myself, I’ll never be anything more than fallen, but maybe if I just try to be like Him, then He’ll raise me up and carry me the rest of the way. No matter how sinful I am, and no matter how hard it is for me to fight against my nature, I want to make the effort. I need to make the effort, if only to have that kiss again— that holy kiss from the One I love.



Father of Lies

While my baptism granted me the privilege to call God my Father, it also brought a much different father into my life with a seemingly renewed kind of brute force. Jesus called him the father of lies, and from practically the moment I emerged from that water, I know he was there to steal my joy. He’d failed in his attempt to stop my baptism from happening, but he had already proven his skill at flooding my mind with fear— fear so powerful that it could conquer any trace of love I had inside of me.

I should have seen it coming. After all, my fear of having to publicly expose my sin had nearly kept me from proclaiming my love. But, for a moment, that love was so complete. The depth of my passion was so overwhelming that I would never have believed anything could be strong enough to break it. Yet, soon enough, I began to hear this voice. All of a sudden, this torrent of unwelcome thoughts started rushing through my head— thoughts that I would be mortified to speak out loud, or to write on a page. I can’t even describe how terrible it was, but it made me question everything. I started to doubt my motive for wanting to be baptized in the first place. What if I had just done it because I wanted other people to think I was good? Or worse than that, what if I had done it because I wanted to make myself feel superior to other people? What if this had nothing to do with love at all? Maybe I wasn’t even capable of love. How could I possibly be, if after hearing that beautiful story of God’s love for me, I could do nothing but exploit it for my own selfish gain? All of a sudden, I just felt like a monster. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Evil.

I’d like to say that those feelings eventually subsided, but the truth is that they really never did. They actually began to grow worse the more I tried to grow in my understanding of God. In the course of my Scriptural studies, I found passages that referenced an unforgivable sin, and I became convinced that I had committed it. Furthermore, I began to reason that because I had committed it, I was destined for Hell— no matter what I did from that point on. God no longer wanted me, and it would be of no use to pretend otherwise. Thirteen years old. Thirteen years old, and these were the kinds of things I thought about.

It wasn’t until many years later that I started to allow myself the freedom to draw the connection between my self-image as a pretender and the snares of the ultimate pretender. There’s a reason why Jesus called him the father of lies. It’s what he does. And behind every good lie, there always seems to be some small facet of truth that is just significant enough to make the lie convincing.

I’m not going to say that I’ve triumphed over these thoughts and feelings of self-condemnation— because it isn’t true. Even to this day, I still struggle with them. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe it just means that, for now, I keep fighting. I keep fighting because I know that the only reason why my accuser continues to assault me is to keep me believing his lies. He doesn’t want any of us to know the truth— because the truth will be the end of his lies.


A New Creation

The day of my baptism was January 7th, 2001. Even the date was significant, although I couldn’t have known how significant it was when I chose it. For several members of my family, January 7th recalled the tragic loss of a father, and what I didn’t realize at the time was that, in a much different way, it would someday come to mean the same thing for me. I couldn’t have known that, but He did. Looking back on it now, it’s as if He chose the date for me—as if He were saying: Though you shall know the pain of losing an earthly father, be comforted in also knowing that I will never leave you.

I remember being so excited that day. Happy. Nervous. And I remember that I almost didn’t go through with it. At one point, when I was waiting to be brought out to the water, someone told me that I would have to “make a confession” before being allowed to be baptized. Having a total misunderstanding of what this person meant, I assumed that I would be required to stand before my  family—and an entire congregation of people—and confess in graphic detail every sin I’d ever committed to my knowledge. Of course, what she’d actually meant was that I merely needed to confess that I had sinned. I needed to proclaim my acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, my Savior, and agree to submit my life to Him. In the end, it wasn’t a hard decision to make, considering what I knew He had done for me. But in the anxiety-fueled moments leading up to that confession, I was a teenage wreck. I was trembling. I was crying. I was hiding in a corner thinking, how can I possibly go out there and confess my sins to all these people? I’m grateful that someone finally figured out what was going on and eventually calmed me down. Otherwise, I might not have been baptized at all.

That experience remains with me to this day, because it makes me wonder if the main reason why I’ve hesitated so often in expressing my faith is that I’m afraid to be held accountable for it. I’m sure I sinned on a daily basis before I came to faith in Christ. And I  know I’ve sinned every day since then, too. It’s hard to call myself a Christian in the presence of those who know my failures. It makes me feel hypocritical and fake. Yet, somehow, it also encourages me to try harder. It helps me to be more purposeful in my words and in my actions toward others so that I don’t fail quite as often.

The Bible says that when a person is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside of them, so that they die to themselves and become like Christ. But I don’t think it happens all at once. Like all living things, the Spirit born inside of us has to be nurtured in order to grow. And we can’t expect that to happen if we suppress it out of fear. I admit that I’m guilty of doing this, and I pray for forgiveness because I never want to spurn this gift—this precious gift of new life.



Still, Small Voice

It’s been nearly sixteen years since I first heard the still, small voice of my Creator. My grandmother had been bringing my sister and me to church with her as often as she could since we were born. She had even ensured that my premature birth was mentioned in her congregation’s weekly bulletin, so that everyone would pray for my recovery. I had attended Sunday school and vacation Bible school in addition to the regular Sunday morning services in that congregation as I grew up, and it was a very familiar place for me in my childhood. But it wasn’t until the year I turned thirteen that I finally understood the reason why. Up to that point, I had always thought of going to church as something I did either to appease my grandmother, or to be a “good girl.” I can remember being awakened from a sound sleep on certain Sunday mornings and insisting to my grandmother that I was too tired to get up for church that day, only to be coerced by her warning that the devil was telling me to stay in bed. I also remember the way she would bring notepads and pencils for us to play with to keep us occupied during the hour-long service and, of course, sticks of chewing gum to keep us quiet. For the first thirteen years of my life, such was my experience—until one day, when something began to change.

The funny thing is that I can’t remember what was said. I can’t remember what the preacher was talking about that finally got my attention. I just remember that, for the first time in my life, I was engaged. I actually started to become interested in the story of Christianity, because even though I already knew it in a superficial way, I was ultimately beginning to feel it. As a little girl, I had always been enamored by love stories. My favorite Disney movie, by far, had been “Beauty and the Beast,” and it had been quite a common occurrence for me as a child to be caught daydreaming—most often about the handsome prince who would someday carry me away to his castle in the clouds and make me his princess. As I grew into adolescence, my romanticism about falling in love never diminished—although it might have become slightly more realistic. But, as my knowledge of Christianity grew, I couldn’t help falling captive to what I considered to be the most profound love story I’d ever heard. Just the thought that the Creator of life— far too virtuous to condone evil and to break His own laws—would love me so much that He would become human and die for me, just so I could live with Him forever… Well, suffice it to say that that one expression of love came to mean more to me than any expression I had ever known about before. And I knew that from that day forward, any expression of love I would ever know in the future would be founded upon it. I was spellbound. It was as if I’d been sitting in a darkened room for thirteen years and someone had finally turned the light on for me.  I just couldn’t believe I’d been coming to church there all that time and never understood any of it, and it wasn’t long before I approached that preacher and asked him to baptize me.

As I started to delve more deeply into the words of the Bible and to spend more time with other Christians, I came to understand the way in which God draws us individually to Himself. Having designed each of us uniquely, He knows how best to get our attention. And if we are willing to listen, we can distinguish His gentle whisper to our hearts. Mine is just one of the countless stories regarding how God has sought to passionately pursue and make Himself known to His creation. I have shared it because I believe that in revealing ourselves to each other, we are better able to solidify and affirm our faith. I hope this helps.


In the beginning…

I’ve never tried this before. Not just the whole “blogging” thing, but becoming proactive in my personal spirituality. I’m a very private person, and throughout the majority of my life since I was first brought to Christianity, I regret to acknowledge that my journey in it has been very tumultuous. I’ve struggled a lot—so much more than I could ever try to express tonight. But in spite of everything, and no matter what else has transpired in the nearly sixteen years since that time, of one thing I still remain certain: my life would be nothing without it. I’ve done a lot of floundering in the midst of fleeting moments of transcendence—moments when I felt the embrace of my Creator as genuinely as I could feel anything in this world. I’m holding tightly to those moments as I try to push forward, and I’m writing these things because nothing in this world can ever mean more to me than that embrace. If there’s anyone reading this who feels the same way, I hope I can connect with you. And if there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t, I hope I can connect with you.