Wayward Daughter

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“All this,” said David, “the Lord made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans.”              1 Chronicles 28:19

We’re each one different and He speaks to us in individual ways that we can understand. For me, it’s writing. His hand upon me, opening my eyes to see His words etched out by my own hand. A placement of Scripture here in a notebook, and a timely word from someone there, blending together to produce an awakening in my mind. And then, the ah-ha moment. For I once was blind, but now I see. It’s not for them, it’s for me. I had to see all this. Three years to clarity. Beginning with a journal in the Spring of 2010. At first, sparsely made entries with a timid strokes graced the pages. But over time, blue and black ink markings became more deeply inscribed. Some passages underlined so vehemently, the markings can be felt through to the back of the page. Passion and emotion poured out onto paper.

Then came a blog. So much inside to be released lest I burst into flame! And thousands of words poured forth in such a short time. It’s been seven months now. And over the course of time, I began to ride high. Because God revealed Himself to me. To me. And I gained knowledge. And so, up I traversed. But then I’d fall. Only to get back up, and move onward and upward once again. I climbed higher and higher, and felt better and better about myself.

It was in August when a verse came to me. As I ascended the steps of my church, I thought, “A woman shall encompass a man.” It wasn’t even an hour later that we were directed to Jeremiah 31. The verse I had thought of just that morning stared right back at me from the pages of Scripture. And so, I chalked it up to a God moment. I reveled in the thought that God revealed Himself to me. To me. I felt elated and thought that perhaps He was sending me encouragement in that His eye was directly on me. He could see me. But, now, I don’t think it was encouragement. In fact, I think it was a bit of a chastening. Because had I taken the time to read the verse in its entirety, I would have seen what I should have…

“How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth– A woman will encompass a man.” Jeremiah 31:22

A God moment, in deed, for He did see me. And He was, in fact, speaking to me. But in the Pharisaical manner I had adopted, I saw only the good. In my arrogant high, I thought God was encouraging me… not chastening me. Furthermore, I neglected to see that He was instructing me in the way I should go through the verse immediately preceding…

Set up road markers for yourself;
establish signposts!
Keep the highway in mind,
the way you have traveled. Jeremiah 31:21

No, Jeremiah 31:21 didn’t mean a thing to me then, for I thought I was going in the right direction. It wasn’t until everything came to a screeching halt that God’s word spoke to me. Because I had stalled out… I was stuck, so to speak and could not move forward despite my best efforts. And it was around this time that I heard in my mind, “Not another step.” But alas, I figured “not another step” simply meant that God was telling me to sit tight until He provided a way for me to move forward. But oddly, deliverance was delayed. And so, I eventually remembered what I was supposed to be doing. Months earlier I knew I was to go through all of my journals, using them to set up markers for myself. This was the way I had been traveling, but eager steps forward slowly halted to a standstill. No further progress had been made. Not until last week, that is. That’s when I finished what I had started so long ago.

And God tied it all together for me this weekend. His hand upon me, a verse on a piece of notebook paper, and a timely message provided for an ah-ha moment. Because as I read about King David’s great sin with Bathsheba, a light was switched on. See, David sinned… but then he seemed to have just carried on with his life. It was some time later that Nathan the prophet came for a visit and told David a vivid story. The story was about a rich man who took something from a poor man and it was the very picture of what David did with Bathsheba. However, David was blind to his part in the story. Instead, he was incensed. He burned with self-righteous anger as he proclaimed, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!” David was indignant that a man would show no pity and do such a thing. And in the way of a Pharisee, David neglected to see himself in this story.

Do you think David was surprised when Nathan said, “You are the man!” I do. I think David was very surprised. I think that perhaps he had forgotten what he did. I believe that what took place with Bathsheba brought him low (his child died), and he was on his face before God while the child still lived. But then, his life carried on. I feel he may have traversed upward and onward, leaving the past behind. I think that perhaps his great sin diminished in his memory as days and weeks passed by. But, I wonder if David came to a stopping point. I wonder if he arrived at a point in which he could not seem to move forward with God… for how could he with all that lie deep within the recesses of his heart? And so, Nathan arrived with a timely message. Was it when he heard, “You are the man!” that his heart was pierced? Perhaps, this is when David penned Psalm 51… his heartfelt Psalm of confession. For when he saw a picture of himself, he was sorely grieved by his sin and had to confess.

You know, the last blog I typed up just before digging into my past was called “What Remains.” And I felt pretty good about it. I thought I was talking to other people about the divisiveness that stirs amongst God’s people. So high was I that I could not see myself in this piece. In the way of a Pharisee, I could not see that what was written was in itself divisive. Indignantly I sat, pointing a finger through every stroke of the key, judging another soul for a bumper sticker she chose to display. Smugly, I tapped out a message about remaining love, but failed to see that my message was not prompted by love. Instead, it was somewhat divisive and a bit self-righteous. I received a comment on that post, but didn’t approve if for a while. Frankly, I am just not as deep as the commenter, and for the life of me I didn’t know if I fully understood her meaning. I was troubled by it, though… was it an encouragement, or was it a chastening? Today, I lean more towards a kindly rebuke.

See… for me, it’s writing. He speaks to me, His wayward daughter, through His very words placed on notebook paper. A verse here, and a timely word from a person there. And then, the ah-ha moment. The blinders removed, I can see. And today, what I hear is, “You are the woman!” And so, not another step takes on a new meaning. Not another step means no moving forward till I get this one right. Because this one I’ve been carrying for way too long. My heavenly Father has spoken and He says not another step until I can leave this one behind. Once and for all. And with all my heart, I believe this time, I will.

For I believe I can hear Him calling. I think He’s telling me, “Carry on, My wayward daughter…”

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

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Miles from Mercy

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Last Spring, this verse knocked me over. I thought “How simple God’s will is.” I thought, “I can do this!” And so, I thought I would write a book to share with everyone the simplicity of God’s commands to us. And write I did, churning out a manuscript called, “My Heart Sings,” completely inspired by this one verse. Here lately, I keep thinking about that book. Because I know something today that I didn’t know then. You see, at the time I wrote “My Heart Sings,” I didn’t have a clue as to what I was writing about! I thought I was wisely proclaiming to everyone else what they should be doing. I didn’t know then that through the writing, God was telling me what I should not be doing. Perhaps, “The Pharisee in Me,” would have more aptly captured the essence of the book. And today, I have to laugh about that. Because I was so incredibly blind. The perfect picture of a Pharisee in that I couldn’t see my own faults. Such a hypocrite in that I was trying to remove the speck from my brother’s eye without first taking the plank out of my own. Matthew 7:5.

Today I look on that verse and am amazed to see that I have not fulfilled one portion of it. The verse that so moved me somehow failed to move me beyond my present state. I was unable to fulfill the most basic of requirements, and today I know why. Because I am a Pharisee… the worst sort of scoundrel that Jesus gave warning to throughout the New Testament. The Pharisee lacked mercy and judged everyone. And it was to them that Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matthew 9:13. And now I realize He’s telling me the same thing: “go and learn what this means…” Because this particular verse jumped off the page at me not that long ago. And I believe it had everything to do with Micah 6:8… see, I thought myself to be somewhat of an expert at doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your God. I thought I had that verse down pat. But what I’m learning about myself lately is that I’m nowhere near mercy. In fact, I’m miles from mercy with so far to go. And I believe learning what Jesus told me to learn is the whole key to conquering my pharisaical nature. Mercy is the key that will unlock the bars of my prison called pharisaicalness.

I know what happened. I know how I became a Pharisee. See, I didn’t become a child of God until I was 24 years old. And I was pretty worldly by that time, accepting of pretty much everything. By that time, I had quite a past… a past better forgotten than remembered. And so, when I finally met my future husband, I somewhat settled down (so to speak). It was just me and him, and I didn’t go out and do all those things I once did. And so, by the time I realized I needed Jesus, I had forgotten much of who I really was. See, I was good by the time I came to Jesus. At least from a worldly point of view. And so, I asked Jesus to save me from my sins – but vaguely. Because my specific sins were better left behind… I never dwelt on them. And so, there I was a 24 year old baby Christian. But I never really knew how much of a sinner I truly was. Because by the time I came to Jesus, my past was buried and left behind.

Over time, I came to where I really wanted God. I needed Him. And so I began to seek Him through His word. I began to acquire the knowledge of God. Hosea 6:6 actually says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Well, there it is… knowledge. This is part of what tripped me up. Because if you add all this acquired knowledge to never really feeling bad about who you were, well, there’s the answer. Knowledge + a false sense of who you really are = Pharisee. At least this is how the equation worked in my life. And there I was, feeling good about myself to begin with and piling on all that knowledge, well, naturally I became puffed up and prideful. Naturally, I became judgmental. And naturally, I became self-righteous. Because the truth is, I never fully realized His righteousness.

Do you know what I think, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” really means? I believe that through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, God provided us with the ultimate act of mercy. He had mercy on His creation in sending us His Son. And He longs to be merciful to us today… but we need to realize what He did. Because when we don’t understand how bad of a sinner we really are, it diminishes what Jesus did on the cross. When we neglect coming to the cross all the way, we tend to start sacrificing over time. We sacrifice by way of obligatory giving, obligatory prayers and obligatory works… because deep down we still feel we have something to atone for. We begin to work for God, and offer up unacceptable sacrifices hoping to atone for something we never brought to the cross to begin with. In fact, we never fully obtained the mercy of Jesus because we never fully realized our sin. How could we know what Jesus really did for us when we never thought we were that bad? How could we fully accept His free gift of mercy and grace, when we didn’t realize we were in dire need of it in the first place?

This is what I’ve been grappling with this past year. Basically, I’m trying to learn what Jesus meant in saying “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And since I have been on this journey towards mercy for a while now, I was taken aback recently when I found myself back at “Pharisee.” Honestly, I was surprised to see how easily those old ways slipped right back in. And so I have to ask myself a tough question… today, do I know what I really am? Because until I know what I really am, there’s no way I can understand what Jesus really did. And until I fully understand what Jesus did, for me – a sinner – there’s no way I can come to understand what Jesus means when He says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Because He is mercy.

As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” I’ll find myself miles from mercy. As long as I’m stuck at “Pharisee,” there’s no way I can fully obtain His mercy. And without receiving it, I’ll have none to offer. And as long as I’m stuck at “works,” trying to pay off a debt there’s no way I can repay, then I haven’t fully understood the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. And as long as I’m working off my debt, not comprehending that Jesus already paid it in full, then I’ll continue to expect others to do the same… working off a debt I’ve accrued in my head… a debt that they in no way can repay. And naturally, when someone falls short of my expectations, I deem them a sinner. I judge them and point my finger, holding them accountable. I want them to work for my forgiveness… like I’m working for mine… completely forgetting that Jesus already came to do just that… forgive sinners.

And so it goes, I try to remove the speck from the sinners eye without first removing the plank from my own. And thus, I find myself miles from mercy, with so far to go.

History repeats itself… or so I’ve heard.

History repeats itself, right? A popular saying that originated from I don’t know where, but I’ve heard it from more than one person. So it must be true, right? Yes, history repeats. The newest saying I’ve heard more than one time is insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but hoping for a different result. Well… if that’s true, then quite clearly, I’m insane. Because after reviewing my journal from 2010, and comparing it to where I am today, I am doing the same thing again and again. And no surprise, the end result is always the same. The most damning piece of evidence was laid bare yesterday morning. The truth is, I hurt my son. It wasn’t a big hurt, but when it comes down to it, a hurt is a hurt – big or small. It happened during the mad dash of getting ready for school. Time just got away from me, and I cut it so close that I had to dress my son. Because bless his little soul, he only moves at one speed called “taking his time.” As I hastily pulled up his jeans, I felt resistance but tugged anyway. Well, his little foot was caught and it hurt him. And so, because I neglected to manage my time, I caused my son pain in the ensuing madness. And honestly, I think his feelings were hurt more than anything. Obviously, I felt like the worst mother in the whole world. And do you want to hear the most awful part? It was a couple of hours later as I perused through my old journal notes of September 15, 2010 that I realized this wasn’t the first time I had done this.  I read my own confession: “rushed and hurt my son.” It’s a fact that I had the same encounter with my son two and a half years later. Thus, it is a proven truth… history does repeat itself. I felt like a terrible mother then, and I feel like one now. And because I am doing the same thing over and over again (rushing in the morning, but hoping for a different outcome), some would classify me as insane. And I would have to agree with them.

If I’ve learned anything in my journey with God, it’s that there are no coincidences.  And when He wants you to see something about yourself, He’ll bring it right to you. He’ll show you a picture of yourself that you cannot deny. My reflected image came by way of a piece of pottery of all things. It’s the bowl I described in “A Bowl Girl.” I realize that I am the bowl. Just not as it is in its present condition. In no way do I resemble that bowl as it rests on my countertop reflecting rays of light. No, I resemble the bowl as it looked some months ago… when it was high and lifted up on the top of my fridge, collecting so much dust that even if the light had reached its surface, it wouldn’t have glimmered at all. Yes, I am just like that bowl when it was on display… just like a Pharisee. And so, I cannot say I was too surprised when I found notes in my old journal that could have been written by my own hand today. Everything that’s happening in my life today is mimicking what took place then. Again, it is proven… history repeats itself. Because I am struggling with the same thing over and over again. As always, same outcome. This is insanity.

Yesterday morning, I wondered about my being a Pharisee and a hypocrite. Because I had confronted that particular issue last year. And through reviewing my very old journal, it appears it was my struggle two and a half years ago, too. And until this past week, I didn’t really think I was a Pharisee… again. And as I ponder my past, it becomes clear how I arrived to today… to insanity. See, I am a legal assistant and work for a lawyer. The law is important. I’ve always been a rule-follower at heart. Even as a teen and young adult (when I got into things I shouldn’t), deep down I had fear because I knew there was a right and wrong. My fear was that I would get into trouble for breaking rules. And so years later, after I became His and when I finally came to a point in which I was desperate to know God, I sought knowledge. Basically, I wanted to know what His rules were. Because rules I could follow. And although seeking God’s law is not a bad thing, it can be dangerous for someone like me… a rule follower. Because acquired knowledge can cause someone like me to become arrogant and a know-it-all. It can cause someone like me to be prideful. From experience, I know one can begin adhering to one’s own set of scales of justice. And woe to anyone who falls short, because judgment will follow. I know, because this is exactly what happened to me then, it’s what happened to me a year ago, and apparently, it’s happened to me recently. I cannot deny my own handwriting. And so there’s no denying that I am a modern day Pharisee, repeating the history of Pharisees (religious leaders) from long ago. My attitude no different than theirs, and this is insanity!

Pharisees knew the law better than anyone else, and they followed it to the letter… but, their heart’s were unmoved. Pharisees lacked mercy, and when they came face to face with Jesus, they didn’t know Him and His righteousness. Because they had their own self-righteousness. And this is what Jesus had to say to or about them: they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, they despised others, they exalted themselves and thus were abased, they were those who justified themselves before men (but God knew their hearts), they were lovers of money and turned their noses up at Jesus, and they held to what was highly esteemed before men (but was, and is, an abomination before God). A Pharisee knew God’s greatest commandment was to love God above EVERYTHING, and to love his neighbor as himself… but he wanted to clarify and dispute and test Jesus and justify himself. The Pharisee said, “And who is my neighbor?” It’s evidenced that he knew the correct answer when Jesus asked “who was neighbor to him who fell?” The Pharisee said, “He who showed mercy on him.” But head knowledge does not always reach the heart.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

You know, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisee lacked conviction. Because in his eyes, he did no wrong. And it was two and a half years ago when I asked the question within my journal, “Am I a hypocrite… a Pharisee?” One of the most condemning phrases I found to confirm my suspicion was “lack of conviction.” At that time, I knew I judged people. And yet, rather than feel bad about it, I felt justified in my thinking. Because I thought they didn’t measure up. Remember… the Pharisee adhered to his own set of scales.

Like a Pharisee, I know God’s commands and can follow all the outward rules. I can appear very devout, but what about my insides… what about my heart? Like a Pharisee, I am often unmoved, unloving and unmerciful. I’m just like that bowl I kept way up high on the fridge. It was there for display only… cold and hard to the touch. The bowl didn’t know it was useless up high. The Pharisees didn’t know they were useless to God either. And until now, I thought I was. But, history repeats… it’s insanity.

When I was a young girl, my grandfather, Eddie, used to call out to me, “Whoa, Pam!” Sounds similar to what Jesus called out to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Maybe Eddie wasn’t simply calling to me after all… perhaps God gave him insight as to what my future held, and just maybe he was calling out warning instead, “Woe, Pam!” The good news is, whether then or now, I’ve been warned. Because today is the day I see. And the truth is, it’s not at all about history repeating itself… or being insane. Quite frankly, it’s called lack of repentance. It’s called choosing to live in sin. Because to him who knows to do good, and doesn’t… it is sin. In His mercy, God showed me then, and again today. I can no longer deny the truth of what I am… a hypocrite and a Pharisee. This was true two and a half years ago, it was true a year ago… and it’s true again today. I’ve been doing the same thing again and again, hoping for another outcome. They say that’s insanity but today I know better. And the good news is, history does not have to repeat itself. He gives us the choice. And so, I know what I must do… it’s time to stop the insanity… it’s time to REPENT.