Normally a post like this would come at the end of a year, but in light of Thanksgiving week, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on this year and the things I am thankful for. While there are far too many blessings and trials to cover in a post, I am going to focus on the "BIG" ones, which happen to begin with the letter R, so I'm going to roll with it. :)
This year seemed to be marked by many new relationships. I'm not just talking the dating kind, although those are certainly included. There were relationships in Florida, many in Kentucky, and now new ones beginning here at home in Baltimore. Coming back from a year away in Florida and Kentucky, I had to evaluate a lot of my relationships. By the grace of God, I grew abundantly in my spiritual journey the past 12 months, and I came home realizing that if I was going to continue growing, continue pursuing God wholeheartedly, I was going to have to find friends on the same journey. Not to say I had to dump old friends, but I definitely needed to figure out which friendships required the most time and effort for mutual growth, encouragement, and seeking God. It was hard, coming home and feeling like I was starting over, but God, as usual, has proved himself faithful and I have already begun building the foundation of friendship with some amazing, godly brothers and sisters who strengthen and encourage my walk with God by their example and fellowship.
Okay, so this one spans farther than just 2016, it really began in October of 2014, but 2 years later I see the fruit of some intense healing, ultimately leading to the redemption of my life. Redemption is the saving from bondage, evil, or sin. And despite my best efforts to portray a godly lifestyle, I was living a double life so that no one would know the trenches I was really in. In February of 2014, I had my virginity stolen by a man through rape (another "R" I can honestly say I am thankful for!). I hid in guilt and shame for months following. I was angry at God, angry at myself, for allowing this to happen. All my years of saving myself for my husband seemed to be in vain in the blink of an eye. The enemy used my shame and guilt from the rape to draw me away my God, and into a lifestyle of promiscuity. Here I was spending my weekends sleeping with men outside of marriage, and still looking like I had it all together by continually attending church and being involved. I think I also knew that the best way to avoid looking like I was falling apart, was to make sure my life looked similar. If I was still going to church and hanging with godly people, no one would know what I was doing with my life, no one would have reason to believe I wasn't the Sarah they always knew. At the same time, I hated my sin and thought that if I kept myself in church and surrounded by godly friends, that maybe God could convict me and bring me to repentance, because I felt so hopeless and so beyond turning back. This secret life fed my guilt and shame and was a miserable life to live. I was drowning in my own ocean of self-condemnation, but couldn't even see the shore of redemption. God in his mercy REDEEMED me. While the repentance and forgiveness and deliverance from shame and guilt came in a single night, the journey to healing was a long journey, and if I am honest with myself, I am probably still on that road. It took a year of intentionally laying aside romantic relationships to pursue my first love Jesus Christ, it took moving to Florida and living under the mentorship and accountability of a dear friend, professional Christian counseling, a summer in Kentucky with CLOSE Christian community, and ultimately the continual love and grace of Jesus to bring me where I am today. In the two years since that October night of deliverance, I have never experienced shame or guilt. While I remember clearly what shame and guilt feels like, having lived under the weight of it for so long, I don't know what it feels like now. Even when I have stumbled, even when I haven't resisted evil, even when I want to taste the sin God delivered me from, it can never compare with the ultimate redemption and restoration God has bestowed on me. I am finishing up a 6-week study on Hosea, and God is revealing so much to me about his love, the love that proved so irresistible I can't fathom living without it. I don't know that I ever truly understood redemption and love until I was raped, lived in promiscuity, and then was delivered and healed by God. Because of ALL that, I have a love for others that I didn't have before. I was judgmental, a Pharisee really, but now I have this love I can't explain. I don't love perfectly, but I think God has given me to this heart for others that isn't accompanied with judgment, but truly just wants to see their lives transformed by God's love the way mine was.
I think I've finally learned to rest, and I am so thankful for that! I was the girl who found so much of my identity in how much I worked, served, and just did. I was a slave to myself, constantly running on empty. Until I finally learned to rest. I am mostly talking literal rest, by saying no to things that would fill my schedule to the brim, but also resting in Christ as my Savior. I worry a lot less, instead resting in the promises of God. Even in the 3 months that I've been home, I have already had to walk through a job change and relationship trials, and through it all, even when tempted to worry, I found that God's promises were in the forefront of my mind, combating the lies the enemy was seeking to get me to believe.
Like I said, there are so many things I could reflect on. A blog post could never contain the goodness of God in my life, but these are the 3 things that I continually find myself rejoicing in, continually giving thanks to God for his goodness in these areas, the things I have found have transformed my life and my relationships the most.
Thank you Jesus, for relationships, redemption, and rest. You are truly the God of all good things! Thank you for allowing me to be wounded to show yourself as my ultimate healer, for using my pain and my sin to bring me to a deeper understanding of you-- your character and your love. Amen.