When the World Turns Against You

path across water

Today (in)Courage is featuring a post of mine where I share about one of the loneliest times in my life. It was a season when I had few friends and felt as though far more people were against me than for me. Rejection, resentment, and ridicule gouged gaping soul wounds that later twisted themselves into knotty scar tissue, tender to the slightest provocation.

During those dark days, I held tight to Jesus and to all he is and all he promises. I knew he was near. I felt his presence, guidance and protection. I truly don’t know how I would have survived without my savior. I don’t think I would have. But can I get really honest for a second and let you in on a secret I didn’t want to admit even to myself?

Sometimes God’s love confused me more than it comforted me.

I couldn’t understand why he created me to be so unlikable. How could he make something that he loved so much to have it hated by others?

So I loved him and I relied on him; and yet I doubted him. I didn’t question his existence or his power. Instead, my skepticism circled around how he felt about me. I believed he loved me out of obligation, as if he regretted making me and felt only pity and duty toward his deficient creation.

Awkwardly, I withdrew from God the Father and from the Holy Spirit, but I remained pursuant of God the Son.The more I learned about Jesus … the more I knew Jesus … his character … his holiness … his sacrifice. The truth that radiates from Christ penetrates and permeates a being in a manner that leaves little, if any, room for doubt.

Jesus understands human suffering, because Jesus’ suffering as a human is unmatched.

My question about how God could make something that he loved so much to have it hated by others was answered in one word. Jesus.

I love how Tim Keller explains this in his book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering:

Jesus lost all his glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.”

By drawing closer to Jesus, I then gained a deeper understanding of God’s heart and his love for those he created in his image. There has never been a greater demonstration of  love than what God accomplished on the  cross. You see, sin is expensive. It corrupts. It bankrupts. It destroys. The payment to defeat it had to incomprehensibly exorbitant. But God loved us … me … you … far too much to leave our sin debt unpaid.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I John 4:9-12.

Loving Jesus more fully also enables me to accept the realities of his adoration and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I absolutely cannot claim to love Jesus wholly when I reject what he says about me. I can’t have it both ways. If I believe the old lies that tell me I’m less valuable than others, then I’m not fully accepting that Jesus deemed me worth dying for.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” – Romans 8:14-17

So when you feel like no one in this great big, wild, sinful world is for you, please remember Jesus. Remember that His suffering and your suffering are not without value. And remember that even though you are a being who makes mistakes, your being is not a mistake.

When There’s A Great Big, Sticky, Smelly Mess That Can’t Be Wished Away

There is

As I headed out of the kitchen, trash bag in hand, my load suddenly felt lighter and a wet, sticky sensation swept across my feet. Jabs of pain radiated down my thigh.

Earlier that day I had hastily tossed a broken wire hanger into the trash can. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but apparently the metal stick landed in just the right spot to tear open the bag and simultaneously gash my leg.

I stood surveying the stinky mess that blanketed the floor I had scrubbed two hours prior. What was once pristine was covered in filth.

In that moment I did a lot of futile wishing.

I wished that I had never thrown that hanger away.

I wished that my leg wasn’t throbbing.

I even wished that my name was Carol Brady and that my trusty housekeeper named Alice would clean up the mess for me.

But none of my wishing altered my reality. There was a big ugly mess on my kitchen floor and I was responsible for cleaning it up.

As I examine my life, I can recall many messes made in the corridors of my heart, spirit, and mind. Like the gunky monstrosity caused by the broken trash bag, some of my messes were created by my negligence, sins, and mistakes.

The mirror of my past reflects broken relationships damaged by insecurities, debt resulting from overspending, and angry tirades as I pursued perfection. Instead of cleaning up the messes as I made them, I spent years hiding my self-wreckage in a dark closet of blame and excuses.

There also have been times when I stood in a pile of garbage not of my own making. Verbal attacks, betrayal, and deception pummeled me just like the bag of trash splattered on my kitchen floor.

For years I felt that the messes I didn’t create on my own were not my responsibility. Moreover, I put those into a box labeled “victim,” hid them, and hoped that somehow they would disappear.

Several years ago I discovered a life-changing fact regarding the messes of life: the trash’s origin makes little difference at clean up time.

Refusing to clean a mess that someone else made or started to make doesn’t hide the smell. Stamping my feet and wailing, “It’s not fair,” may garner sympathy but it won’t rid the stain.

There are lots of things I can do with a mess. I can analyze it, call an expert to examine it, investigate its inception, and give it a fancy name like “dysfunctional matter.” I can even cleverly arrange a few pieces into abstract art.

But unless I take action to remove the trash collected during the business of living life, I’ll never be free from it’s stench. The junk will multiply and the dirt will either overwhelm me or numb me. Despair, desensitize or climb out are the only three choices when living in an emotional garbage heap.

I’m glad I don’t have to go about my cleaning by myself; because when I do take that approach I just end up making a bigger mess. In Joshua 1:5 God promises “I will never leave you or forsake you.” When I call out to my savior for help, he comes and often he sends others  as well, because human beings are not designed to go it alone. We need one another for respite … for solidarity … for accountability … for growth … for sanity.

Cleaning up with God isn’t always easy. He is thorough and the labor is exhausting. Sometimes he uncovers dirt behind the dirt that I never knew existed. He asks me to handle hard chores: taking responsibility, repenting, forgiving. He won’t let me hide the clutter in a drawer or sweep dust under a rug. He stays at it until the job is done right.

My Jesus remains beside me each step of the way, brushing back my hair, holding the trash bag, and whispering

Draw closer sweet one, you can do this. I know it’s hard. I know it’s painful, but with me it’s possible. You will see  beauty underneath this garbage. I promise.

Regardless the heap’s depth, stickiness, or odor, it is cleanable. There is no cleaning agent more powerful than the blood of Jesus. And there is no scent more fragrant than the distilling love of Christ.

A similar version of my story above was published at (in)courage in 2009.

Dear Women Everywhere: Let’s Make a Pact to Never Apologize for How We Look Without Makeup

As a child of God(1)

My daughter’s allergies stuffed up her nose, reddened her eyes, and altered her voice to sound like a Darth Vader/Elmo hybrid. Meds were a must and I didn’t have time to apply my makeup before heading to the pharmacy.

So when I got inside the store, I pointed my head toward my feet and walked fast. I needed to get the remedies without being seen by someone who knew me, because cosmetics were my confidence crutch and my face was bare. No foundation. No blush. Not even a few strokes of lip gloss.

I whipped down aisle 9, grabbed a bottle of Zyrtec, zipped around the corner, and smacked my hip against another person’s cart. But this wasn’t your ordinary shopper. Oh no. This was a fellow PTA mom, whose daughter attended school with mine.

Oh my gosh! Angela! I’m so, so sorry! Are you hurt?

I stuttered an apology of my own.

I’m OK, I’m just so sorry you have to look at me without my makeup on.

Seriously.  I said that.

And she gave me a look that oozed, Seriously? Did you really just say that?

My hip was growing a purple lump the size of a tennis ball, and I apologized for not wearing makeup.

When I think back to moments like that one, I recoil with embarrassment.

That night I made myself a promise that I’ve kept to this day. I vowed that I would never again apologize for how I look au naturel.

While I haven’t shunned cosmetics and I feel strongly that there is no shame in a woman’s desire to feel beautiful, there is something horribly wrong with believing that I owe the world an apology every time I don’t look photo-shoot ready.

Thoughts like that are disrespectful to me and, more importantly, they’re disrespectful to God.

I have absolutely zero right to claim responsibility for the coloring of my skin, shape of my nose, or placement of my eyes. I had no part in my physical design, so when I’m criticizing my natural appearance … I’m discrediting God as an artist.

Imagine being given a beautiful pair of earrings made especially for you by a dear friend. Now, imagine wearing those earrings to a small dinner party your friend is hosting and making apologies for the earrings every time someone compliments them.

Oh, thanks. I’m sorry the metal is gold instead of silver; and I know they’d look even better with garnets instead of emeralds so I’m very sorry about that too, but *shrug* this is what I was given.

Your precious friend would be crestfallen and the other attendees appropriately aghast.

When I issue an apology for my less-than-glamorous look, I’m pretty much dissing the creator of the world to his other works of art right in front of him.

Here’s something else I need never to forget. When God looked at his finished creation, he described it with two words “very good.”

 “And God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Very good.

The words he used to describe flowers, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, and the blue hues of the ocean also applied to Eve. They now belong to me. They now belong to you.

Maybe as you were reading my story, a sliver of guilt sliced your conscious. Please understand that I don’t write the words I do to evoke shame or self-hatred. I write to help women find freedom from shame and self-hatred. I share my ugly to empower you to embrace your beautiful.

Because you are beautiful. With or without makeup. In stilettos or sneakers. Ponytail, pixie cut or bouncy curls.  You’re beautiful. And every part of your face was sculpted, proportioned, and placed the way God intended.

Now my blog is probably one of the least interactive spots on the Internet. Back in 2008, I made my readers a promise of guilt-free reading … “read without commenting”, I said. And I meant it. But today I’m going to break that rule and ask you to be brave. If you’d like to join me in promising to no longer say sorry for how you look when you aren’t wearing makeup, would you please consider leaving a comment on this post?

You can share your story, or type simply type “I will not apologize for how I look without makeup” and sign your first name? Or if you’d rather tweet your promise or write it on my Facebook page, that’s fine too.

And if you decide to make that promise, will you encourage a friend or two long the way? Because I think this is important. I think the first step to being the women God created us to be is to stop apologizing for the innate parts of us that—even though we’re responsible for protecting—we don’t own. When we make peace with our personal appearance and accept our mirror’s reflection as God’s good work, we also are better able to focus on the most important type of beauty that dwells from within.