Somebody shared a YouTube link with me the other day and it hit home like nothing I had ever seen before. The video, clearly designed to motivate people to get involved in the foster and adoption process, is called Removed and the sequel to it Remember My Story (click the links to be taken to the video. TRIGGER WARNING for abuse survivors/victims). Although fictitious, the story, which follows a young girl as she is removed from an abusive home and cycles through the foster system, is remarkably true to kids who have gone through the same or a similar ordeal.
The young girl, Zoe, describes her life as like being in a tornado that, despite as hard and as often as you try to escape, it keeps sucking you back in. She makes the observation that just when life is starting to get peaceful and she might be just a bit happy, something happens that stirs it up again and she faces another loss.
I know she’s a fake person. But for the first time in my life, somebody explained exactly how I felt as a survivor of child abuse. Kids who suffer through abuse, who get moved around from home to home in the foster system, and even some who have been adopted can oftentimes face a struggle in trying to figure out where they fit in the world. So where do we go when we find ourselves trying to find our identity?
Truthfully, my ten-year-old self knew better than my fifteen- or twenty-year-old self. When I was ten, late at night when everyone was finally asleep I would turn on a boombox at the end of the mattress I slept on, just loud enough for me to hear but not to wake anyone else. I would rewind the tape that I had used to record music off of the radio and listen to the same songs over and over, crying as I stared out the window up at the sky, asking God when would He help me.
I’m looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world…not a lot to lean on, I need Your light to help me find my place in this world…If there are millions down on their knees, among the many, can you still hear me? Hear me asking, where do I belong?…
As I stared at the stars and moon I wondered who else out there was also looking up, and if God had a family for me that would love me. I would then picture myself walking down a dirt road, free and at peace, as the next song came on:
So much pain and no good reason why…you’ve cried until the tears run dry…why, why, why, does it go this way…why, why, why, all I can say is somewhere down the road there’ll be answers to the questions…somewhere down the road, though we cannot see it now…somewhere down the road you will find mighty arms reaching for you, and they will hold the answers at the end of the road…
In my thoughts I could see myself running to Jesus, who was standing at the end of this dirt road, and He loved me and hugged me and protected me. At that point in my life, everything I knew about myself was in Jesus. He was the reason I was surviving.
And then I would fall asleep only to wake back up to my reality.
Within a year of being in this particular house God did eventually make a way for me to be rescued. Unfortunately, those in my family who took me in wanted me as far away from the church as possible, blaming them for what happened. If only they knew my pastor had tried to help…
The longer I was away from church the further I got from God. I was determined to find my purpose–my identity–a reason for being alive, a talent, something nobody could take from me. I poured myself into school, had straight As in honor classes–but nobody knew how much I struggled because the years I wasn’t allowed to go to school put me significantly back. Everyone thought I was naturally smart. Perhaps God did bless me with the ability to learn quickly, but it didn’t come without a lot of work. I had a lot of friends and was in at least half the clubs the school ran, but still I wasn’t happy. At the end of the day I would drink whatever alcohol I could get and frequently contemplated suicide.
I tried the club scene. I looked older than I was as a teen and so when possible I would go to the nightclubs and bars. I could walk in with a confidence that got people’s attention but deep down was false. By the grace of God, He kept me from illicit relationships. As much as I wanted somebody to love me, I never once assumed I would find it in a significant other or in temporary flings. The drug abuse I saw growing up kept me away from that as well. Somehow the extent of my trying to find myself in the pleasures of the world ended with alcohol and dancing.
Around that same time, God put a father-figure in my life who drove me to make it through school, get into a good college, and make something of myself. But then I was forced to move and while we still emailed on and off, I had lost the only support system I had. My friends were gone, too, as was the reputation I had built up for myself at school. Like Zoe described in the video, it was like everything was coming together and then a tornado comes and tears you away again.
About two years later I ended up making a pact with God–telling Him that if He didn’t change my life one night when I first made the attempt to go back to church that I would go home and kill myself. God was faithful that night and He did change my life. I felt peace for the first time–that peace I always imagined on that dirt road leading to Him. I said goodbye to drinking and partying and found joy in prayer, church, and helping others.
I wish I could say my life got perfect there, but it didn’t. As much as being filled with the Holy Ghost (God’s spirit) changes you in ways you never thought possible, your past life, the memories, the hurts, the hangups, etc., they don’t automatically leave you. My obsession with perfection followed me into my life for God and I struggled with the idea of grace–that God could love me even if I couldn’t perform for Him. I allowed that perfection to follow me into ministry, putting unrealistic demands on myself in the name of finding my identity and in proving that I could do great things for God. That was my life for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t all negative, though. The good in my life oftentimes covered the bad and I could forget where I came from. God blessed me with an adoptive family, friends, opportunities to be used in ministry, a great college–truthfully, I felt like I was living a dream. I got to a point where I actually said, “My life is perfect. There’s nothing else I want or need.”
And then I faced a sickness that lasted 8.5 months. I hit burnout. Some people walked out of my life. I moved and got married (this was a positive!) Life eventually got to the point where everything I was was no longer. Again, like Zoe said, I had gotten to a place where I was pretty much out of my tornado, only to be sucked back in. I had to come to the realization that I had found my identity in what I was doing rather than who I was. I was an honor student in school. Eventually the Sunday School Director. The church drummer. The administrator. Youth leader. College graduate. Successful career woman. I also realized that parts of my identity I based on how others viewed me. To some, I was a preacher’s kid. To others who refused to acknowledge that my pastor and his wife had taken me in as one of their family, I wasn’t. With the exception of those individuals, I had been so long in this Mayberry life that most people didn’t even know of my past with child abuse–they thought I was a kid who grew up in church (for the most part I was) who never had any problems (not true) and was perfect (very much not true).
As life changed around me I struggled with finding my identity again. Was I the daughter of a child abuser or the daughter of a pastor? It all depended on who you asked. I let situations and titles become who I was. I had gotten to a place where everything I had become concealed everything I grew up as, but eventually it surfaced in my private life.
I found myself alone at my church one night, sitting on the floor at the altar praying. I was pouring my heart out to God about how deep down I still struggled with abandonment, rejection, and feeling used and unwanted. I felt Him prompting me to get my Bible, and while I rarely just flip open the Bible to a random spot and assume that God is talking, I knew it was Him. I started reading verses about being forsaken.
“I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” -Hebrews 13:5c
“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.” -Psalm 27:10
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” -Psalm 37:25
And then I felt God speak directly to me–giving me my identity, in the last verse:
“Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.” -Isaiah 62:4
All my life, even if I could ignore it at times, I felt forsaken. I had poured so much of my life into finding who I was–where I belonged, what I was good at, building a reputation–that I failed to realized where my true identity was. It was and is in Christ. The whole world can forsake you but He has promised that He never will. We are not forsaken and will no longer be called that, for God delights in us. His love is not based on what we do. Yes, we need to obey His word to be saved–but He has made that simple. He hasn’t put us in a rat race where we have to figure everything out and be perfect. He loves us. HE. LOVES. US.
If you are struggling with finding your identity I encourage you to get into the Bible and spend some time in prayer. What the world tells us is success leaves us empty. The media that tells us we need to find ourselves leads us astray.It is only in Jesus that we will find a constant who will never leave us, who will not reject us, and who will not send us spiraling back into those tornadoes.
We sang a song in church choir a few months ago that I will close with:
I was running and you found me, I was blinded and you gave me sight…You put a song of praise in me…I was broken and you healed me, I was dying and you gave me life…Lord you are my identity…And I know, I know who I am, I am Yours, and You are mine…
You would have to be living under a rock to not be familiar with the Kim Davis story these days. Headlines are all over the internet–and not just about why she made the news–for standing up for her religious beliefs and refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses–but about something completely irrelevant to the story–her personal marriage life.
In a nutshell, she got married, had two children with her husband, then got pregnant by another man and divorced her husband. The man who fathered the twins she became pregnant with was reportedly abusive so she didn’t stay with him. She then met her current husband, whom she married. This marriage also ended in divorce. She then married the father of her two youngest, which didn’t work out and led to divorce as well. Finally, she remarried her second husband who is her current husband. (Whether this is accurate I don’t know–I don’t know Kim Davis–all I know is that this is what is being said on the internet.)
What does this have to do with her being jailed for following her religious beliefs? Absolutely nothing, unless you are trying to find dirt on her to disprove her case that she should have religious rights in the workplace.
That said, I personally believe that Kim Davis’ marriage history is the single most important thing on the news in regards to her story.
Hear me out.
Whether you agree with her stance or not, there’s no arguing that all of the talk about Kim Davis is about–well, Kim Davis. “Kim Davis stood up for our rights!” “Kim Davis is a homophobe.” “Kim Davis is an example to Christians everywhere.” “Kim Davis is a bigot.” “Kim Davis stood up for our rights as Americans!” “Kim Davis is a hateful person.” “Kim Davis is what bravery really looks like!” “Kim Davis is a coward.”
And yet, in the small 1 minute or so clip that hit news stations everywhere of Kim Davis making a speech of thanks with Mike Huckabee, she comes out, lifts her hands in worship to God, and then when the crowd starts chanting “We want Kim!” she responds, “I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied, and you are a strong people. Just keep on pressing. Don’t let down, because he is here. He’s worthy.” Her focus was not on herself, but on God.
People can argue about whether or not what Kim Davis did was glorifying to God–depending on your stance the answers will differ greatly. But nobody can argue that God took Kim Davis’ life–a life with failed marriages, with sin, with disappointment, and turned it around to make a woman who is faithful to both Him and to her faith in Him.
“She’s a hypocrite,” her opposers say. Not according to the Bible. Take a look at the Apostle Paul, who is known as possibly the greatest evangelist in the history of Christianity. Paul didn’t start out as a faithful Christian. No, he was a Pharisee, a strict Jew who hated Christians. His mission was to rid the world of Christians, killing and imprisoning as many as possible. He stood and watched as Stephen, a godly man, was stoned to death. The Bible says he breathed out “threatenings and slaughter” against the church. Ananias, called of God to lead Paul to the truth, was scared of him.
Yet God spoke to Paul (whose name was Saul at the time) and confronted him about killing the Christians who were just as much His children as the Jews. Paul came to the realization that Jesus was God come in the flesh and converted to Christianity. He then began to evangelize and tell as many people about Jesus as possible, despite being persecuted himself.
So was Paul a hypocrite? No, because his sin against the Christians happened before he became a Christian. He realized the error of his ways and worked toward getting his life right. No doubt he probably had guilt his entire life for what he did before he became a Christian, but he had to realize that God is merciful, a forgiver, and that he was free from the sin of his past. Being an evangelist–who stood strong in the face persecution–also didn’t mean that Paul never sinned. On the contrary, Paul himself said that he was the “chiefest of sinners”. That didn’t mean that he was going out and living a double life. It meant that he was trying the best he could, but that everybody fails. The Bible says that if a man says he doesn’t sin he is a liar. All Christians sin. We just realize that God is a forgiver of sins and we try our best to change.
Kim Davis’ marital history does not make her any more of a hypocrite than Paul’s murderous history. Kim Davis was not an Apostolic Christian when the marriages and divorces occurred (but even if she was, again, we have to realize that Christians are not perfect–they make mistakes just like everybody else). Saying that she is a hypocrite would mean that we all are. We all lived in sin before choosing to live for God. A hypocrite is someone who says, “Yeah, I am going to judge other people for doing the same exact thing I’m doing, and I don’t care if I say I don’t believe in it, I’m going to do it anyway.” That is hardly the attitude Ms. Davis is displaying. (I also want to say this: hypocrisy is also a sin that can be forgiven. If you feel that you have been a hypocrite it is never too late for you to ask God for forgiveness and change your ways.)
What makes this the most important part of her story on the news, I believe, is that Kim Davis’ forgiveness and restoration after her life of sin and failed marriages shows the world that God can take someone who lived such a life and heal them. He can help us overcome our past mistakes. He is a great God, merciful, and ready to forgive the moment we ask. Her marital history and her testimony of overcoming her past and living a fruitful life for God speaks volumes to people who may be looking at their own lives and thinking, “I’ve failed too much. I’ve made too many mistakes. God can never make anything out of me.” God can. Going through three divorces is hardly the worst thing someone can do. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Paul demanding the imprisonment and deaths of people for their faith is definitely worse.
Kim Davis’ stand for her faith is definitely a commendable thing (and whether you agree with her beliefs or not, if you are a United States citizen you should agree that we are entitled to our religious rights), but in the media it is all about Kim. Kim this, Kim that. The media is not printing headlines that say, “Glory belongs to God.” However, her testimony of how she overcame her life and now lives for God is all about God. It’s about God’s power. God’s saving grace. God’s ability to take a sinner and save them and help them lead a better life. It’s about how God can save me and how He can save you.
Her testimony is about God.
“And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” -John 8:11
September 1st was the fifth time I had been to a Casting Crowns concert and while I had always been blessed by the music, I had yet to see God work in the way He did this time around.
I went onto Facebook to ask about purchasing tickets for the Crowns concert at the Evergreen State Fair up in Monroe, WA when a complete stranger sent me a private message and blessed my husband and I with free, 5th row tickets. I was excited over the generosity of this stranger but when we arrived at the concert area we almost forfeited our seats to go up to the “nosebleeds” for one reason: it was pouring rain and the good seats didn’t have a covering like the nosebleeds did.
Now, you have to understand that this wasn’t just your typical rain shower. No, this was hardcore, Seattle, torrential downpour. Fair employees were volunteering to dry our seats with paper towels, which, by the time the employee moved for the concert-goer to sit down, the seat was already wet again. Fortunately for my husband and I, we had our umbrella which offered some protection. Until the concert started, that is. At that point all umbrellas would be required to go down. We discussed moving but decided, “Nah, let’s just praise Him in the storm” (ha ha). We decided 5th row seats was worth getting soaked.
This was when the total God moment happened. One of the fair employees, a very sweet woman who we had chatted with several times before the concert, came over to dry off the seats of the people in front of us when a man across the aisle jokingly said, “Come on, God, what’s with the rain?” to which the employee responded, “Yeah, aren’t all of you guys supposed to be praying for Him to make this stop?” I guess it didn’t occur to me up until this point, but not all of the employees working this event were Christian. Based on this comment about us praying, I made the connection that this woman likely wasn’t.
Truthfully, in my mind I was praying for it to stop. I didn’t want to be soaked and cold even though I would’ve put up with it if necessary. All of a sudden a thought came to mind, though. God, if you made this rain stop it would be a great testimony to all of the non-Christians here. They would see what a powerful God You are! Lord, show this woman that You have the power to stop this rain. If she has any doubts, show her that You exist.
It kept raining harder and harder.
When 7:30 hit and the members of Casting Crowns started to come out on stage it was still raining and I thought we would just have to deal with it. Then Mark Hall (the lead singer of the band) stepped up to the microphone, everyone’s umbrellas came down, and just then, the rain stopped.
Not a single drop fell through that entire concert.
Okay, so big deal, it stopped raining.
It was a big deal. After the concert as we were walking away I heard that employee exclaiming to someone else, “Did you see that?! The rain! It stopped!”
It reminded me of two passages in scripture:
In I Kings 18, Elijah challenged the followers of Baal to prove who was the one true God. Was it Baal, or was it Jehovah? God proved Himself in this passage. The followers of Baal could not get their god to start fire to the sacrifice, but God–Jehovah–who would become Jesus in the flesh to die for the sins of the world, despite Elijah drenching the wood in water thus making fire “impossible”, proved Himself.
The other passage is Mark 4:37-41. Jesus and the disciples were in a boat when a massive storm hit. Jesus was sleeping while the disciples were panicking. They woke Him up and asked how in the world can He be sleeping at a time like this! Didn’t He care that they were all going to die in this storm? Jesus wasn’t concerned though. He simply got up and spoke to the storm. He said, “Peace, be still,” and the storm stopped.
The literal storm in Monroe, WA stopped in that very moment. At this precise time, God stepped in and proved Himself–He showed both the believers and non-believers that He controlled the wind and the rain. In the same way, He also spoke into my life (and countless others I’m sure) that He also calms the proverbial storms. The internal storms I was dealing with that night. The pain of rejection. The fear of loss and failure. The doubt of “God, don’t You care that I might perish?” Perhaps He spoke into whatever personal storms that employee was going through. The storms of the cancer survivors who all stood when Mark Hall gave tribute to them. The blind man and his wife who sat one row over from us. The people who sung on stage.
In that moment, at that concert on those little fairgrounds, God said, “Peace, be still.”
“I know the Peace Speaker, I know Him by name. I know the Peace Speaker, He controls the wind and the waves. And when He says “Peace, be still,” they have to obey. I know the Peace Speaker, yes, I know Him by name.”