Before I Was Myself

Knowing who I am is a reflection of God knowing me, and in knowing me choosing me.

“Since the earliest period of our life was preverbal, everything depended on emotional interaction. Without someone to reflect our emotions, we had no way of knowing who we were.” ― John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You 

No way of knowing who we were. Wow, that quote grabbed me. You see, I was raised by very wounded parents who were unable to reflect my emotions. And for most of my life I have been a blank. Not knowing who I was, even what I like, what I wanted, except to make sure everyone else had what they wanted. I never had a “look” or a “style” except to remain as invisible as possible. My ambitions were manufactured to please someone else. I didn’t even know what color my eyes really were until I was 40 years old and I attended a “find your fashion color palette” class. They looked at me and said, “you have green eyes.” What!? I had been told they were brown, and as I tried not to look at myself too much in the mirror, I thought they were brown.  

Around that time, I was at a weekend, overnight conference and in the middle of the night I got up to use the bathroom. Halfway across the dark hotel room I was rooted to the spot when I heard very clearly, deep in my spirit, God say to me, “You are mine.” It was the beginning of identity. Of course, in my messed-up state, I thought God meant that I was his servant and I needed to DO something. I frantically started searching around for that something. It is true that we have good works which God has “prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10),” but now looking back over 30 years later, I am beginning to see that that is not what God meant as he confronted his green-eyed daughter that night.  

Then the other day I read this wonderful poem by a fellow blogger: 

In HIM Redeemed 

Volumes of silence, powerful prayer 

From love filled praise, or deep despair 

Tangible faith, Father hears our heart 

Lifted belief, His love from the start 

No anonymity, from the bended knee 

He’s waited for our prayer to be 

Surrendered and lost, no longer bound 

Prayer by faith, in Him we’re found 

— Sisylala1 

There is no anonymity when I seek to know my Father. There is no being unrecognized or unseen. There is no being invisible – he looks me in the eye and knows who I am. Though surrendered and seemingly lost, in him my real identity is found. Not by wonderful things I have done. Not by what a “good girl” I have been. But rather by my-heart-to-his-heart knowing. My yearning for him reflected in his yearning for me. Knowing who I am is a reflection of God knowing me, and in knowing me choosing me. Astounding!  

Charles Spurgeon said it well: 

“If he had not loved me with a love as deep as hell and as unutterable as the grave, if he had not given his whole heart to me, I am sure he would have turned from me long ago. He knew what I would be, and he has had long time enough to consider of it; but I am his choice, and there is an end of it; and unworthy as I am, it is not mine to grumble, if he is but contented with me. But he is contented with me—he must be contented with me—for he has known me long enough to know my faults. He knew me before I knew myself; yea, he knew me before I was myself.” — Charles Spurgeon, The Incarnation and Birth of Christ, December 23, 1855 

Oh, my sweet Father God, you knew me before I was myself. You made me who I am. You made me to belong to you. Thank you for your amazing knowing and loving! Eye-to-eye, face-to-face, heart-to-heart, I am yours and you are mine (!) 

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (strengthless, feeble, weak), Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 

But you, O LORD, know me; you see me … Jeremiah 12:3 (ESV) 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” … Jeremiah 1:5 

My beloved is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies. Song of Solomon 2:16 

1https://sisylala.wordpress.com/2022/12/21/in-him-redeemed/  (emphasis mine)

Photo free to use from Pexels, Man Carrying Baby Drawing Their Foreheads, by Josh Willink 

Ashes

(This poem is in response to Emma’s Wednesday Writing Prompt of 11/03/23 )

Our God is a consuming fire 

my life consumed 

seemingly gone 

Ashes rising in the vortex of furious love 

amidst the incense of fire-yielded despair 

by Spirit-breath blown away  

Yet not despised 

Scattered on the soil of 

withered hope 

dying trust 

stunted love 

Nothing is lost 

that is surrendered to 

His fire 

Photo, Flame by Annie Roi https://flic.kr/p/9VB6y7  

… the least of these

I’m beginning to see I have a different standard to follow, a different way to walk. 

Coming home from another exhausting day caring for my widowed mom, I was pondering a popular idea right now of “no contact.”1 See, my mom is a very broken and wounded person, and wounded people wound. She has always been what some call a narcissist. A narcissist is a supremely wounded soul. So, this idea of abandoning her, cancelling her, in order to protect myself, is sometimes, on bad days, fleetingly attractive. But then God, out of the blue, put this verse in my mind: 

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40 

Wow, I was stunned because I don’t think I have ever thought of my own family in this way. It’s always “people out there” who are the least of these. But actually, I realized that I have begun seeing a “least of these” in my mom. There is a broken, hurting little girl in there who is being uncovered as dementia ravages her brain. A hurting little “least of these.” She is telling me terrible and brutal things that happened to her that she has always kept hidden from us.  

But my mom has been and continues to be, with even less restraint now because of the disease, hurtful and cutting at times. The idea of turning away is sometimes very inviting. Ah, but then another word comes:  

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28 

OK, I’m beginning to see I have a different standard to follow, a different way to walk. 

If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. 1 Timothy 5:16 (ESV) 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 

Jesus replied, “‘… honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 19:18-19 

Honoring and caring for your father and mother appears to be very important to God. In Ephesians 6:2 Paul writes, “Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—”so that it may go well with you … One of the last things that Jesus did, hanging on the cross dying, was to ensure the care of his mother: 

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27 

Jesus was obeying the commandment, he was pleasing God, he was loving and being Love. There are times, I know, where “no contact” is warranted, physical or sexual abuse in particular. And everyone must hear from God for themselves. But, for me anyway, God is saying to keep loving her, to let Him love her through me. And as he gives me the grace to do it, I am able to see her as God sees her, a sweet, wounded little girl. I am finding that in the face of this God-love, Christ-in-me love, just unconditional-because-it-pleases-God love, she softens, and her real self is exposed. And I see “the least of these” emerge more and more. 

I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need . . . to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being. Often we do not know that the Christ child is within us. — Henri J. M. Nouwen

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 

1A definition of “No Contact” in this context can be found here: https://psychcentral.com/health/does-going-no-contact-with-a-parent-heal-you-the-answer-isnt-what-you-think 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201105/narcissistic-parents-contact-or-not

Image in the Public Domain 

Live With Guts

This is our distinctive mark! That we love each other. Do we have that mark?  

Finally (the end to which all things relate, the aim, the purpose),1  

all of you, be like-minded (share the same perspective, the same mind, be harmonious, enjoying divinely-inspired harmony, i.e. knowing God’s mind, His thoughts, as He reveals it through faith) 

be sympathetic (be “with suffering” for each other, suffer or feel the like with each other, be understanding, mutually commiserative) 

love one another (love like a brother, an affectionate friend, be brotherly, like the love between fellow family-members in God’s family) 

be compassionate (tender-hearted, have good, positive gut-level sympathy, empathy, compassion– i.e. live with guts) 

and humble (lowly of mind, regulated by the inner perspective of having a humble opinion of oneself, a deep sense of one’s moral littleness, lowliness of mind, the inside-out virtue produced by comparing ourselves to the Lord rather than to others, bringing your behavior into alignment with this inner revelation, living in complete dependence on the Lord, with no reliance on self). 1 Peter 3:8 

Peter is writing mostly to fellow believers in the above letter, and he writes that love is the end to which all things relate, the purpose, the aim – a certain kind of love. A love that keeps on walking, though we stumble, towards having the mind of Christ, suffering with each other in the mutual pain of this world as Jesus did and does for us. To love and accept each other as family. (Think of it, we always put up with more from our family than “strangers.”) To live with guts, as Jesus did here on earth, from the center of our being, with empathy and compassion for our fellow strugglers/travelers. To view ourselves from the inside-out, for we know what’s in there, we and God. Yes, that is the aim of this Christian walk. But there is a bigger purpose. 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35 

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples.–The thought of their state of orphanage when He should depart from them is still present. He gives them a bond of union, by which they should always be linked to Him and to each other in the principle of love. The followers of great Teachers and Rabbis had their distinctive marks. Here was the distinctive Christian mark, which all men should be able to read. It is instructive that the characteristic mark of Christianity should thus be asserted by its Founder to consist, not in any formulary or signs, but in the love which asserts the brotherhood of man. The apologists of the first centuries delighted in appealing to the striking fact of the common love of Christians, which was a new thing in the history of mankind; and while the Church has sometimes forgotten the characteristic, the world never has. By their love for each other, for mankind, for God, is it known or denied that men who call themselves Christians are really Christ’s disciples.” — Ellicott’s Commentary 

This is our distinctive mark! That we love each other. Do I have that mark? Is it obvious to people that I am a Christian because of how I love?  

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:12 

Loving each other is how we love the unseen God. Even more wonderful, as we do this kind of love towards God and each other, we become as Jesus walking on the earth. 

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like (just as, corresponding to fully, exactly like) Jesus. 1 John 4:16-17 

And what happened when Jesus walked down here? The meek and the lowly, the people ready to receive Him, were drawn to Him, and they were healed and saved and changed. That is “the end to which all things relate, the aim, the purpose” of this love to which we are called. 

 I am not sure that we are where God desires us to be yet, at least not me. And I know that I can never be there on my own. And it’s only by fixing my eyes on Jesus, working towards aligning my words and my doings and my guts with his, and putting my powerless hand into his strong one on this rocky path that I am ever going to make it. The only way that any of us will ever make it home. Let’s live with guts! Compassionate, tenderhearted, with gut-level empathy. Let our hearts be broken for each other that we might be like Jesus, bringing life and light. 

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Mark 1:41 (NLT) 

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him … He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh (moan, groan from grief) said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). Mark 7:32, 34 

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubledJesus wept. John 11:33, 35 

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it … Luke 19:41 

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark 6:34 

1Amplification from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, and HELPS Word-studies at Bible Hub.

Photo by Jack Bair

Bring Back Your Heart

But you must return (repent, return to your starting point, be restored, bring back your heart, do it and do it again, turn back) to your God;  

maintain (protect, guard, keep watch, have charge of the garden, keep, preserve)  

love (goodness, kindness, mercies, pity, merciful kindness, lovingkindness, especially to the lowly and needy and miserable)  

and justice (right, rectitude, judgement, the verdict of God),  

and wait for (patiently, tarry, wait on, wait upon, expect, look eagerly for) your God  

always (continually, constantly, daily like the morning and evening sacrifice, with uninterrupted continuity like the Bread that is always there). Hosea 12:6 

Into the dark night

God brought us his heart  

Laid it in a manger 

A baby’s cry echoing our pain 

A tiny fist clutching life of breast 

Then opening on prickly manger hay 

Wrapped shroud-like against the biting cold 

The heart of God 

The heart of the universe 

The heart to be broken and pierced 

He brought his heart into the darkness 

He brings his heart again tonight 

He brings his heart always 

Uninterrupted continuity 

Like the morning and evening sacrifice 

Like a tiny open hand on manger hay 

Bring back your heart. 

Photo by Jack Bair

Reminder

Oh by the way have I mentioned … ?

Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord. Psalm 117 

This short little Psalm  

in the middle of everything 

it almost seems to me like a reminder an  

Oh, by the way have I mentioned God’s love and faithfulness? 

a little bench by the side of the path 

a spot to wait a second and take a breath 

a chapter break to remember his great love and  

his forever-faithfulness 

be soothed, grow still 

this is where the plot is headed 

Praise the Lord, remember? 

get up and let’s walk some more 

Oh, by the way, have I mentioned … 

Photo by Jack Bair

Creaking and Spinning

Help me not to be afraid of the dance of joy. 

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you [spin around under the influence of violent emotion] with loud singing [creaking, singing, shout of joy, cry of gladness, joy, proclamation, rejoicing, triumph]. Zephaniah 3:17 

When I babysit my granddaughter, one of her all-time favorite things to do is to dance around in my arms singing at the top of our lungs. I have done this since she was an infant, dancing and singing to her. Lately, she has joined in with my creaky singing, a little off-key, but exuberantly and loudly. She especially loves to spin around when we are dancing. Her dad says she is an adrenaline junky. There are certain places in certain songs where we absolutely MUST spin around, and certain lyrics that MUST be sung/shouted with absolute joy. Especially, at least for me, joy in our relationship, gramma and granddaughter, and our love for each other. 

When I read the recent blog by Beholding Ministries, The God Who Sings, I saw how our singing and dancing around is a perfect picture of Zephaniah 3:17. And for the first time I was able to realize God’s joy over me described in this verse. His spinning me around I hope will someday soon produce, not out-of-control fear of being dropped, but belly-laughs-birthed-from-complete-trust-and-joy surrender into his strong hands. Because it does feel like I am spinning around these days. I cannot seem to focus on the horizon and I am tempted to panic. But I will remember that he is the mighty one who will save – who is saving no matter what things look like – who rejoices over me, his child, (singing loudly and NOT creaking, I’m sure!) with gladness, joy and triumph.  

Lord help me not to be afraid of the dance of joy. 

Photo by Reilly Images, LLC

In the Middle of Doubt

As sure as the sunrise, whenever I stumble, He reaches out to catch me.

Doubt has been flapping around me like vultures over a half-dead animal. Struggling with the high stress of caregiving and accompanying health problems, wrestling with disappointment and maybe even anger at God about how things have turned out in my life. The unhealed lacerations of past trauma making it hard to feel or receive anybody’s love, God’s love. Feeling that God’s love is conditional toward me. That I haven’t been able to get it right. I haven’t said or done the “correct” thing yet. My daily Word another disapproving censure. Out of yet another dark place I reached out to my sweet (and may I say oh-so-patient) sister. She had this to say: 

“God’s Spirit came to live in believers through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of love. We now live in Roman’s chapter 8 love. No condemnation love. No separation love.”  

And then she prayed: 

“Lord, we need revelation to sink down into our hearts! Change us! We can’t do it without you. We want to love you more truly and deeply. Amen.” 

Yes, I need revelation. That flash of Light in my darkness. And, let me say with deep thankfulness that whenever – always, as sure as the sunrise – whenever I stumble, He reaches out to catch me. Almost immediately. I am humbled and undone. 

In my daily reading the next morning were Paul’s writings about Jesus, who came as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, “not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16). That word translated “indestructible” means no, not, or without (in other words it is impossible to) dissolve, disunite, destroy, demolish, overthrow, to render vain, to deprive of success, bring to naught, to render fruitless one’s desires or endeavors, to deprive of force, annul, abrogate.  

Jesus’ life is indestructible and our lives are hidden in His (Colossians 3:3). His plans and purposes, His desire and will, His power, His unity with me in the Spirit, are indestructible, cannot be destroyed, dissolved, rendered vain – not even by my weakness and wounds.  

And then I noticed that in the margin I had written, years ago, “Romans 8:38-39.” Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. Soon after, in my inbox came this from a daily devotional1 I follow: 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 

OK, I’m listening. When this happens, I always know that God has a message for me.  

Well, the very next blog2 I read had this to say (thank you Alan Kearns!): 

“So often in life we are left scratching our head at how things have turned out; despite our best plans or efforts the unexpected has happened. We are left with a handful of question marks … we are mystified by the circumstances we find ourselves in, praying for His light on the matter … Be assured if you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, His Father is in control of your puzzle – He knows what the final picture is!” 

And then a link to this beautiful song. (Remember how I told you that God uses song lyrics to speak to me.) 

God Jehovah, Jehovah Rapha 

You’re our healer 

You and You Alone … 

In the middle of doubt 

In the thick of sorrow 

You say look up 

To where our help comes from 

If everything around us 

Says there is no hope 

We’re never gonna let go 

Of the hem of Your robe … 

We’re leaning on your power 

You’ll do what can’t be done … 

All depression, every worry 

Every sickness Lord, You heal 

All addiction, every family 

Every heartbreak Lord, You heal … 

You and You Alone3 

I looked up what Jehovah-Rapha means and found this at Got Questions. “Jehovah-Rapha has the power to heal physically (2 Kings 5:10), emotionally (Psalm 34:18), mentally (Daniel 4:34), and spiritually (Psalm 103:2–3). Neither impurity of body nor impurity of soul can withstand the purifying, healing power of Jehovah-Rapha.”4  

Yes, I need healing in all those areas – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. I need them all and I know He will do it. Because nothing can withstand His indestructible Life

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37 

He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 105:41 

RAPHA – Stephen Mcwhirter & Jason Clayborn (ART Music & Video) 

1Henri J.M. Nouwen, Daily Meditation, November 5, 2022 

2https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2022/11/05/the-puzzles-of-life/  

3Jehovah Rapha by Stephen Mcwhirter and Jason Clayborn 

4https://www.gotquestions.org/Jehovah-Rapha.html 

Image, A shaft of sunlight pierces the threatening clouds, by Mark Levisay  https://flic.kr/p/J9cBSr   

All That I Had Hoped For (Lamentations 3:18-24)

My bright always 

never 

my perpetual victory 

annihilated 

all that I had hoped for 

gone 

I remember 

over and over 

my mind locked  

in misery 

cast out wandering 

stillborn expectations 

the poison of bitterness 

begetting deformed memories I cannot stop  

and I sink down 

down in the choking dust 

Yet  

my shattered soul won’t let you go 

Yet 

I turn back 

Yet  

I still dare to hope 

Yet  

I bare my envenomed heart for 

Your love never wanders 

Your compassions  

great love, tender, merciful, pity full  

like a mother with helpless child  

they never fail 

they are new 

delivered anew 

every morning 

as the sunrise 

sparkling on newborn manna 

absolute, unfailing hope 

You are my exuberant share 

therefore 

I will travail 

writhe 

twist 

bring forth  

the birthing you desire 

I wait longingly for 

You 

Always-there Love

The old love

and new

looking for the real love

and true

The battered

and scarred

the newly born

unmarred

seeking the pure love

the battered

scarred

and marred love

Yet

always-there love

open-door love

bring-me-home love

invite-me-in love

unconditional

undefeatable

incorruptible

indestructible love

Photo of my mother and her youngest great-grandchild, by Jessica Bair

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