Nearly 7 years ago, my husband and I packed our belongings for the third time since we’d been married and set off for an adventure. We left behind all of our immediate family, a thriving college ministry, and some of the most intriguing, exciting, Jesus-loving people we will ever know. To say it was painful is an understatement. But, we had full confidence that God was calling us into full-time ministry on staff at a church 9 hours away. So our little family of two (plus a fat dog called Rupert and horrible cat, Gus Thompkins) set out on our own.
Five years, and one beautiful daughter, later we sat amidst piles of boxes, totally defeated. Our life in ministry had been more than difficult. As many do, we went in with a fire in our bellies and walked out with less than a spark. I remember walking into the garage to find my not quite 2-year-old sitting among the stacks of boxes. She hung her head and said in her sweet little baby voice, “I’m sad.” My heart breaks every time I replay the moment, because truly, she was feeling the heaviness that we all carried, and her little heart could take it no more than mine. We, as a family were broken.
Months later we settled into a new home, a new city and a new position of ministry. I tried to let the hope bubble up, but had nothing left. Though I had loved Jesus for many years, my faith, and all that I thought I knew, was rocked to its core. I was standing on a precipice, and felt that one slight breeze would send me hurtling headlong into complete rebellion against the God I felt I no longer knew. Little did I know, that breeze would be a powerful headwind and would come swiftly and painfully.
I reeled when it hit. That final thread in the tapestry of my faith and foundation had been yanked and I unraveled. I remember standing in the bathroom with my husband saying, “If this is what God looks like, if this is what he calls his leaders to be like. If this is what ministry is, I don’t want anything to do with it anymore.” I felt that the pain I had carried, and watched my husband and now my child endure was far beyond the loving Father God that I thought I knew so well. I went into deep mourning. When you are engrained with the truth that there is a God who loves you desperately, to attempt to step out into the world without him is more painful a loss than can be described.
I found out I was pregnant with our second child, and my mourning took a back seat, but only for a moment. As I prepared to face labor and birth I found my pain and grief was still very close to the surface. I began to cry out to the silent white walls that my relationship with Jesus felt like. I could almost feel my heart’s plea bouncing off of them and hitting me in the face, like standing in a closed racquetball room. I remember saying to the void, “I know we are not really anything right now, but I have never done anything without You. I can’t do this without You. Please don’t make me do it alone.”
I continued to call out to Jesus, though the tension I felt toward Him was thick, I knew one thing- I needed Him. So I clung in the way a child clings to her mother’s neck during a tantrum- kicking and stiff, but unwilling to be put out.
When we finally headed to the hospital, I had already been in labor for 22 hours, and had not progressed AT ALL. I was exhausted and beyond myself. My doctor graciously gave me two hours to stay and be monitored. I faced the pains of those 24 hours of labor with my eyes closed. I could do nothing during that waiting period but cry to Jesus. Each wave of pain brought with it, “Please, Jesus,” reverberating through my very bones. I could think of nothing else.
My body was where my heart had been for months: weary and weak from the struggle and pain of labor. But there was no way out but forward, and no strength left of my own. So I called out to Him.
My friend had given me verses that she had used when having her daughter only months before. Each promised Jesus’ strength in place of my own, each ran through my head like a broken record. The nurse returned, and my body had progressed amazingly- Jesus had done the unlikely on my behalf! I could be admitted (AND have an epidural, praise the Lord!)
When the time came, I found myself (eyes still closed) still tapped of any stores of strength- and yet facing a tremendous mission. Between each contraction I laid my head back, and felt Jesus’ peace washing over me. The words of Isaiah and David resting on my heart. And with each push I was fully aware of His power, higher and greater than my own, able to bring life, able to take the pain and the heartbreak and replace it with peace and wholeness. And as we neared the end, or should I say the beginning, I heard for the first time the music my husband had started in the background. The familiar voice rang out, “You make me brave! You make me brave! You call me out beyond the shore onto the waves.”
I knew in that moment that the God Who Sees had done as he always does; been in patient, persistent, unwarranted pursuit of me. He was wooing me back to him, and in my devastation he was welling up new life in my bones. A new fire that would be tested and fanned over the next several months until it burned away the scales and revealed to me who I really was from the beginning: a Daughter of the King.
I opened my eyes for the first time in 32 hours, and looked directly into the wide eyes of my own, newly born daughter: Aulani Varee “The King’s Messenger.”
So why tell this story? Why not just tell my birth story (for the very few that enjoy reading the details!)? Why admit that I gave up on God?
The reasons are endless, but the reality is this: we will all be hurt by others, and more than likely, we will be hurt by at least one Christian, or someone we link to a church. We will all watch from our holy hills as preacher after preacher falls into scandal and ends up on the 5 o’clock, and many of us will feel righteous indignation as we run the other way. It’s not enough to just say, “The church is full of broken people.” Which is very very true. We were hurdling headlong toward hell before Jesus scooped us up.
My mama always says, “Hurting people hurt people.” Let us, as The Church recognize that our actions hold great weight in the life and death of those around us. And then let us pick up the mirror of the Word and be changed by what we see. Let us not continue in our hurt, but allow the true nurturing heart of Jesus teach us to live and accept our radically healed state. And then let it teach us to wrap truth bandages around the wounds of those who step through these hallowed doors.
Did you know that when a branch is grafted into a healthy living tree, the receiving tree will grow new vascular tissue and begin feeding the new branch? I long to see The Church move forward, full to the brim with grafted branches, fed and nourished by the strength of the whole. But I have to do my part in being a healthy member of the Whole, and that means being vulnerable where it matters- in the presence of the King.
The other, and most poignant, reason for writing this is that nothing I experience or enjoy at the hand of Jesus is by my own merit or strength. I have been chased by a skilled marksman. I have been hunted and caught up and I have struggled: hard. But the thing is, once you have known the genuine goodness of God, there is not a thing in this life that will fill that void if you try to forget it. His love, His never ending, never giving up, fight-till-you-call-uncle, passionate love is ultimately irresistible. Not because He is forceful, but because He is patient. His persistence is gentle, consistent force to be reckoned with, and He always wins.
If you have been placing the pain-filled mask of your own church/ministry/human related projections over the true face of Jesus, it’s time to let Him show you what He is really about- let Him call you by what you really are: Son. Daughter. Then let Him reintroduce you to those you will call Brother. Sister. I promise you won’t be disappointed. And then come see me, we can ugly cry together as we revel in our new names.