Many years ago, I was an overcommitted overachiever who just wanted someone to tell me that I was acceptable and loved as I was. I couldn’t have put it in those words if you had asked me, but that’s really what all the work was about. I tried so many different things in an attempt to feel ok. None of them worked. I did ministry until I was completely burned out. I studied hard in school and was honor-roll level at everything I could be. I tried to do everything people asked of me, regardless of whether or not I should. I searched to find acceptance in men who might love me, in friends who would not leave me, in work that was supposed to define me. What a mess.
I moved to Colorado after a stint in Mexico following my undergraduate work at college in South Carolina. I moved a lot because I realized I could run away from my problems…well, not really, but I could try. I decided I was going to be a counselor and moved to Colorado to do grad work. I figured if I could help people and be incredibly educated, then maybe I would feel like I was doing something right.
The truth was, I was exhausted. I had tried so hard to be loved by people, by myself and by God. But I didn’t think any of it was working. I went to seminary but in the meantime I was working with Mike and Betty Wells, a couple who began to teach me about the genuine love of Jesus and the Life that didn’t require my constant effort to find acceptance. I remember when Mike was talking to me about my past and he said “If I told you that you are beautiful, what would you say?” My bitterness came spilling out as I spat back “What do you want?” I figured everyone was out to use me. I was incredibly self-righteous, which was a façade of course because inside I felt like a train wreck. But if I could judge enough people and show them how much better I was, then maybe I would begin to believe it. Mike wasn’t scared off by this, though, and, like he did with so many others, began to minister to my heart as Jesus softened it.
During this time, I started dating a wonderful man who wasn’t a Christian. We dated for three years before he asked me to marry him, which, in the Christian culture, is a big no-no. I remember Mike, though, doing premarital counseling with us and telling me that he believed I had to marry him because I didn’t believe God would love me if I did. I was finally going to prove to the world that I was as worthless as I felt. To my surprise, though, Jesus met me at the wedding and held me in such love that I was blown away. He wasn’t afraid of my choice, and He wasn’t dismissing me forever because of it. He loves my husband more than I do and is continuing to show him that each day.
This marriage was a death-blow to the image I had set up of myself, so it was a tough summer leading up to it. Most of my Christian past did not take kindly to this marriage, and there was a lot of rejection. I get it. They thought I was making a huge mistake, and really, I know it isn’t the biblical thing to do. But I also watch so many people throughout the Bible make decisions that are really not the thing to do and God still pursues them, and even works through them! I find that a lot of people want to beat up on the choices we’ve made in the past instead moving into the “now what?” phase of things. I am not bitter about the people who rejected me during this time as I had very much been party to the same sort of rejection of others. This was a revelation of how uncompassionate I had been over the years of trying to prove myself as something. Please don’t misunderstand me here—I am not saying to go sin a whole bunch so that you can prove how much God loves you. Sin makes us miserable—that why God tells us not to do it. But He is so much more interested in hearts, as out of the heart comes behavior. And I deal with people who have already made the choice and need to figure out what to do now! Whether it’s a decision that was made for you or a decision you made, you are not without hope.
This destruction of my image was the most freeing thing I had experienced in my whole life. I was finally able to walk forward because I realized I was loved, not because I was trying to find love. And God has used my sweet husband to show me love and companionship in ways I never expected. He’s a pretty cool dude. Some people ask me if it’s hard being married to a person who doesn’t connect spiritually with me. And yes, sometimes it is. But God has allowed me to know Him in this place, and that makes it beautiful. I know for a fact that the answer to your marriage is not to find a different person, though. I really wonder when people think I have a perfect marriage and we never struggle. All I can say is that I’m grateful for God’s grace in the whole thing, and I know that He holds tomorrow, so whatever happens then is in His hands.
When God called me back into ministry, I laughed at Him and told Him that a chick married to an unbeliever isn’t supposed to do ministry. I had failed out, right? I knew He loved me, so that was amazing, and that seemed enough. But He was calling me to ministry because it was a new place of growth for me and because He wanted me to take this news of amazing Love to others who were in places where they felt broken, where they thought they had failed out. That doesn’t make me superior at all—it means that in my weakness, He can do amazing things. I am now privileged to be able to enter into people’s lives and hear their stories in ways that few others get to. And I get to tell them about this Jesus who calls them out of their darkness and says that His light will shine all through the cracks of their brokenness. I get to remind people of hope in Jesus, the one who binds up wounds and restores souls.
The ministry, though, isn’t the point of acceptance for me anymore. His love and acceptance is what grounds me. The ministry is something He does through me, so He is the source and the strength and the energy. There is such freedom in waking up each morning with eyes to Him asking what we are going to do today. Just as each of us can. He hasn’t failed you out—He hasn’t abandoned you. He is bringing beauty out of your broken.