I sit down slowly, my expression thoughtful as I surreptitiously glance back at those brown eyes, still so keen and passionate all these years later. She has always been a little ball of energy, Margaret, I quietly muse. The one with fun, creative ideas and the passion and vision to carry them through. She had always been honest, real, and so deeply in love with Jesus. A natural leader who people wanted to be with and emulate. I have always admired her.
As inquisitive as ever, she asked, “How has your walk with Jesus been? What has your journey with him been like?”
A leader in my early spiritual journey, I now gingerly sit down before her, reflective. I was 19 when I met Margaret, a brand-new Christian and full of fire in my belly. Now, almost 35 years later, what have I learned? Who have I become? These were not easily answered, as my journey has been anything but straightforward and neat.
“Well, I’ve learned so very, very much, and yet somedays it feels as if I’ve learned nothing at all,” I begin reflectively. “Sometimes I feel like God has changed me so dramatically, and at other times I’m amazed at what I can still struggle with. Especially trust, since God has been so faithful to me. But trusting his timing, his path, especially when it seems contrary to what I’d like, is sometimes still so hard. And yet both statements are true. I am so very different, and yet still very much the same.” Margaret nodded knowingly.
“The big things? I’ve learned God doesn’t really need me, not in the sense that I thought. There is literally nothing I do that he couldn’t do better, but despite myself he still chooses to work with me. To co-labor alongside me despite my faults and weaknesses. I am consistently humbled by that.”
“My gifting has always been leadership and teaching. You were one of the first to show me that. Yet the older I get, the more I realize all the work I have felt called by him to do was really more for my growth than for anything else, even though I know he has used those efforts to give blessing and healing to others. But the truth is he could’ve done that through anyone or anything. He simply chose me because I was willing and available. Sometimes I think I have learned far more from those experiences and the lives that I’ve been privileged to be around than anyone else has ever learned from me.”
“I should also add that I am fully aware of the opportunities to be used by God that I’ve missed, the times I wasn’t willing and available. I am humbled by that, too. God still calls me out of my comfort and into the deep waters of faith to co-labor with him despite the times I have refused his call. His grace and constant, steady vision for me melts me to my core; pushes me to do more than I ever thought I could, or in some cases, have the courage to do nothing at all.”
I pause, chewing on my thoughts, trying to sort them and put them in some plausible order. “I’ve grown tremendously in my faith, my confidence, my sense of security and belonging. Incredibly so from the days you knew me. But I am still sometimes haunted by the missteps, you know? The times I went in a different direction than the Lord’s will, usually headlong into hurt and heartache. Sometimes those steps came from a rebellious, hard heart; most often it was from a brokenness deep within me that would take me years to figure out. So, I’m still figuring those things out!”
“Yet always, always, there has been this tenderness. This overwhelming sense of love and grace that has led me through to the other side. He has always worked for my good through every circumstance, every broken step. It truly amazes me.”
“You may not have known this, but I had a lot of generational curses in my family tree. Lots of ongoing heartbreak and pain to get past. Alcoholism. Abuse. Divorce. Adultery. Money issues. Insecurity. Pride. Criticalness. A lot to overcome. While I cannot say I allowed God to successfully break all those cycles in my own life, I can say he has successfully healed me of each one and continues to do so in ever-increasing measure. That gives me hope for my children, and my children’s children. I like to think that through faith I’ve been able to show them something different.”
“In fact, if I could say any one thing, Margaret,” I add, sitting up a little straighter, “it would be that God’s love is so much deeper, so much richer, so much greater than anything I could have ever understood at the beginning. So much more than I could have asked for or imagined. And it has been in the very lowest of my low spots, my desert places, that I have seen the richness of his love and mercy the most. I would never want to go back to those places, not a chance. But if it was the only way for me to learn all the incredible lessons about God’s unfailing love for me, I would do so. That’s how profound those experiences have been for me; how rich and life changing.”
“But I’ve also been blessed to see the mountaintop,” I quickly add. “These are the happy, joyous life spaces where every part of my being is vibrating with Jesus’ love and peace. Where I feel the Spirit flowing through me, and in me, pouring out of me even into others. When my words are no longer my own, but divinely given; completely wise and awe-inspiring, and I know I am standing on holy ground. For they’re not my words, not really. They are my father’s as he is speaking through me. These are rich, beautiful spaces, experiences that transcend words. Standing in his presence, humbled and awed, with joyous tears of worship streaming down my face. I cherish each one of those memories, hold them dear and close. They get me through the dark tunnels, the challenging spaces that life throws my way, reminders that God will deliver me back to the mountaintop once again.”
“I suppose that is something I would share, too. There is an ebb and flow to my faith, a rhythm much like the tides of the mighty ocean that roll in and out of the shore. I am learning to embrace both the highs and the lows, to take them part and parcel. Mostly because I’ve seen God work powerfully in all the spaces, even the spaces in between where nothing much seems to be happening. The reality is, I’m simply in preparation for another assignment I have yet to receive or comprehend. I find peace in understanding that rhythm.”
“What about friendships?” she asks curiously.
“Ah, yes. Friends. Relationships. Always tricky. Always worthwhile. Yet so very fickle.” I laugh softly, knowing my next words are the deeper truth. “I can be so fickle, truth be told.”
“There are times I am incredibly gracious to others amidst their bad behavior and lack of loving-kindness, and times where I can be so selfish. So caught up in my own mental web I embarrass myself with my response. Especially when I drive!” I laugh again, my eyes crinkling with the effort.
“But in all seriousness, I’ve learned meaningful relationships are the richest, most fragile gift we receive on this Earth. I have had friends that stuck by me during the darkest, most punishing life seasons, lending me their strength and wisdom. And I’ve also had friends show me an incredible lack of love, caring only for their perspective with no regard or thought of mine. And yes, sometimes it has been the very same person delivering both of those experiences over time.”
With a toss of her shortly cropped brown hair, Margaret then leans forward conspiratorially and adds, “Amen to that sister!”
My smile broadens. “I guess if anything, friendship is something I am learning anew. I am realizing God calls me to such a deeper level of love and forgiveness. He calls me to extend grace every single time; to remind me that just as I lash out from my own place of brokenness, so do others. I am learning to love those who choose to put up a wall of brokenness between us, confusing it as a boundary, and to choose to not personalize their actions.”
A solemn expression has replaced my earlier smile of connection. “That is very, very hard for me, honestly. Very hard. But God is showing me how to love them the way he loves me--unconditionally. Even if they never let me in or choose to work through things with me again. Even if my love will always be at a distance.”
Margaret’s bright alto voice is more subdued as she quotes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
“Yes,” I nod. “This is very hard. Embracing the tough scriptures always is for me, like how often must we forgive.”
“Seventy-seven times seven times!” we both echo together, smiling.
“I am learning a deeper meaning to that,” I conclude. “And through it all, I’m just grateful he holds my hand through the journey.”
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Imagine sitting across from someone who knew you at an earlier stage in your life. How would you describe your current situation? In what ways have you grown? What are you still wanting to see change?
Stopping and taking a personal inventory of your spiritual journey can be inspiring, convicting and humbling in every sense of those multifaceted words. Consider making some space this week to respond to the following:
1. What is a strong area of spiritual growth for me?
2. What is an area where I need greater faith and more study for growth?
3. What is one way I can allow God to use me in both my growth and my need for growth?
Lord, thank you for your ongoing mercy and kindness in my life. I know I don’t deserve it, but you consistently give your grace to me anyway. Thank you that you do not treat me as my sins deserve, that you were willing to physically die for me so I could walk in freedom and joy with you. How righteous you are! How good! Praise you Papa, and thank you for calling me your own. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
To learn more about author & motivational speaker Barb Lownsbury or to have her speak at your next event, CLICK HERE.
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