Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lessons Learned While Hiking, I still have a long way to climb...

I'm taking a break from what I have been writing. I just got back from an anniversary get away with my husband. We went hiking at Clifty Falls State Park. I had a lot of thoughts on our hikes and for better or for worse I will share a few of them.

We wanted to hike to the bottom of the cliff and hike along the creek bottom. First of all I just want to say, I don't like heights and I don't like water, but I do like my husband so down the cliff to the creek we went. A second thing you should know is that I've spent the last two months at home either being sick or taking care of sick children. On top of sitting around for the last two months, I'm not in very good physical condition to begin with. It was difficult for me to hike to the bottom, I was scared a few times and my legs ached, but I made it down with hand from my husband. Once at the bottom I couldn't help but remember other trips with an abusive boyfriend. I remembered being yelled at for fear and hesitation, being ridiculed for not being fast enough. I was sitting at the bottom of a cliff in a creek surrounded by God's beautiful creation, in one of the most relaxing situations I could wish for, with the kindest man God ever created, and I remember all these bad things. I realized that years later abusive words still hurt. Time doesn't heal all wounds, God can, but time doesn't. I hadn't really given all that hurt to Him, I left it to time.

My husband wanted to cross the creek using a rope to hang on to. That combined two of my biggest fears, water and falling. I became extremely stubborn at this point. I even crossed my arms and told him he could go on, but I was staying right there. Well, after a little bit of feeling bad I at least tried, I made it half way across, found it difficult and turned back, causing my husband to turn back as well. There are so many things I can take from that alone. How many times a day do I let fear hold me back from doing something, in this case I missed out on a chance to see the waterfalls from the creek, what do I miss out on in my day to day life? In this case I caused the man I love most to miss out on something he really wanted to do, how many times do I cause others to miss out on something because of my fear or stubbornness? And the biggest question I ask myself is, if I would have had water proof boots or an easier time getting across, would I still have stubbornly gone back because it was the easiest way?

These thoughts bothered me the whole way back up the cliff, I cried and I was mad, mad at my husband for thinking I could even try to do this, mad at myself for being scared, mad at myself for being weak, mad at myself for being so stubborn, selfish, and non-submissive. It occurred to me that our oldest daughter's strong willed behavior could very well be my fault after all. God healed a lot of my anger on the way up that cliff. He soothed a lot of guilt and shame. He used my husband's kind words to "let it go, it's okay," to ease the hurt and humiliation, and to remind me that I am no longer in an abusive relationship, unless I count the relationship I sometimes have with myself.

After that hike there were several other hikes. I found myself in another unhealthy thought pattern. Instead of focusing on the time spent with my husband, or the absolutely gorgeous scenery, I was thinking about how many calories I was burning.  And when we stopped to take pictures I thought about how fat I looked. In one of my previous posts I wrote about how I still struggle with those thoughts, they do not take a vacation. It is really hard to battle those thoughts when you are trying to relax and enjoy yourself. I want to come to a place in my life that I am fine with how I look all the time. I want to be healthy, yes, but being thin does not equal healthy, especially for me. I know that God can help me to gain victory over the thoughts just like He helped me have victory over the actions of my eating disorder. I just need to actually give up those thoughts to Him every time they come instead of holding on to them, and why would I want to hold on to them...

So, the lessons learned. Obviously, He is still working on me, and will be for the rest of this life. I can choose to give Him my baggage and hurts, my anger and pain, and He can give me victory. I just need to get over my stubbornness. I've taken the first step up the cliff, and if I let Him, He will carry me the rest of the way, and that sounds better than doing it myself, my legs still hurt.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Large Doses of Grace, Part Two, How Quickly Sin Takes Hold

I started high school with the desire to be someone, or at least be someone a little more popular than I was in middle school. I still had big thick glasses, was still in need of braces, and was more developed than most of the girls in 9th grade, but in high school that was a good thing. I also had lost a lot of weight due to taking my anorexic tendencies more seriously over the summer. I had a pretty good summer. I had more friends and I felt a little more confident. I had chosen to go the easy road instead of the harder one. I decided that I was going to fit in no matter how I had to compromise. The biggest problem was, I decided, I had chosen.

I got a lot of attention from older guys at school because I would wear low cut tops. I fit in better with most people because I now spoke the language of a rebellious teenager. It doesn't seem like really bad stuff, I listened to the weekly top 40 and I wore low cut shirts and tight pants and I said a few "naughty" words, big deal right? Wrong! Sin has a nasty habit of taking hold of you when you let it creep in your life even in little ways. There is a reason I personally don't listen to secular music or watch prime time T.V. these days, I know how easy it is to become complacent when you are allowing your heart and mind to be influenced by the world. Very few people realize that when you surround yourself with the culture of the day, you usually start acting like the culture of the day. Sadly, most people don't even realize what comes out of their own mouth anymore because they have become desensitized. Listening to secular music, watching 'Friends,' and being around other people who had never known any better lead to complacency, and complacency lead to down right dirty sin.

I was able to juggle two lives my freshman year and most of my sophomore year. I went to church on Sunday with the family, even sang in the choir my dad directed, I was able to sink back into the other me the rest of the week. There were even times when the music I listened to offended the Sunday me even on weekdays, so I compromised and listened to Classical for a little while. I had a huge crush on a "preacher's boy" during my sophomore year, so I even tried to clean up my act a little bit here and there. Then I had a conflict with one of the other youth group members at church, that was it for me, I was done trying to be the Sunday me any day of the week.

By the end of my sophomore year I had a boyfriend. A"real" boyfriend who was interested in me. What did it matter that he really didn't believe in God at all, he liked me. I wanted someone to like me like that so badly and, after all, the people in the church were hypocrites, I did have that conflict with that one girl. When I compromised in this, it was the end of playing on the edge, when I compromised on dating a non-believer that was the beginning of the Prodigal Years.

I have some good news to report, I made restitution on the graham cracker. (previous post) I will write more about the Prodigal Years and how I came home in my next posts. I want you to notice the patterns of sin and selfishness. I also want you see the mark of grace God has had on my whole life. Even more importantly, I want to remember how easily sin makes us its master. I also want to remember the grace of God. God's grace is making something very beautiful. Thank you, for taking this journey with me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Large Doses of Grace, Part 1, Before I Became a Prodigal

I've heard people laugh at speeches that begin with "Webster's Dictionary defines..." I have also heard one the best blog writers, who happens to be one of the top ten people I admire most, my dad, begin a speech that way, So, while this is not a speech...

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Sanctification as: "the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion," and Grace: " unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification." We will come back to this later, there may even be a test on it...

I grew up in a Christian home. We went to  "non-denominational" churches while I was growing up. My father attended Moody Bible Institute before he married my mother, and when I was six we moved to Wyoming so he could continue his education at Frontier School of the Bible with the goal of becoming a pastor. I attended church at least 2 times a week from the time of my infancy until I was 18. 

I was 4 when I started asking questions about heaven and hell, Jesus and sin. I can actually remember the car ride home from church one Sunday. My mother wasn't there, she was on pregnancy bed-rest, I remember sitting in the front seat asking my dad how I could go to heaven when I died. The conversation continued when we got home, it ended with me praying and "asking Jesus in my heart." I don't know all the details, I do know that I believed that Jesus died to forgive me of all the wrong things I had done, I knew that I was a sinner, in fact I had stolen a graham cracker just the week before....sorry you had to find out like this mom... I also know that I believed that Jesus is the only way to get to heaven and that He loves me, and I believed that I was saved. I also remember my dad telling other people that he believed that I was a Christian based on what I understood. 

I really meant this whole Christian thing. I loved Jesus, and I wanted to obey Him because He loved me. When my brother was born I remember hearing my mother saying something about how she couldn't believe such a sweet little baby could be a sinner. I was shocked, I rolled his walker in my room and I asked him if He wanted Jesus in his heart and got him to shake his little head yes. Thankfully my mother came in and heard me praying the prayer for my non-verbal little brother and figured out that my little 5 year old mind just did not understand that babies would go to heaven because they don't know any better and can't understand what sin is.   

After we moved to Wyoming and my Father finished his schooling we moved to another town in Wyoming and I attended a Private Christian School in 3rd, 4th, and most of 5th grade. We learned everything you would in a public school, although I will say the standards were much higher than public school, and we also learned the Bible, said the pledge to the American flag, the Christian flag, and to the Bible. My teachers lived their faith out before our eyes. It was this that inspired me to study God's Word for myself. I didn't do a very faithful job of it, but it was a start.

When my Grandfather died in January of 1992 we moved back to our hometown in Indiana to be closer to my grandmother. I went back to public school. I was never a leader, I always seemed to follow others never wanting to stand out anymore than I already did, I had huge glasses, crooked teeth, and I was a head taller than the rest of my school mates. Going back to public school away from the influence of a Bible School community, was a very difficult adjustment. The first week at my new school there was a group of kids who were nice enough to include me because I had a popular cousin in our grade, we were on the play ground and they were off in the back playing 'light as a feather, stiff as a board.' Something just did not feel right about this to me. I remembered one of the teachers at my old school talking about the "satanic games" she use to play, and this smelled strongly suspicious to me, so for the first, and sadly one of the last times in my life, I walked away. I walked away from a chance to be popular, I walked away from a chance to be "cool" and I made friends with kids that were a little less popular. Their influence wasn't the greatest either, for example I started saying "oh my god," not realizing that I was blaspheming, and I started saying "that sucks" not realizing what "sucks" really meant. I still refused to listen to any music that wasn't about God. In those days Amy Grant had just started doing secular music, and I was so upset because my favorite song was "El Shaddai." I tried to hold on to the things I held dear, but I felt so different, and being different at the age of 11 is a very hard thing for a girl who just wanted to fit in. 

The fall of my 6th grade year saw us move yet again, this time only about 2 minutes away, but it was a whole new school district, and once again I did not fit in anywhere. I was so alone, and I think that at this time my Bible study and prayer life started to drop off. Funny how the One who could keep me from feeling lonely was the One I started pushing away.   

Middle school was worse, I don't think it is easy on anyone, but I was still taller than anyone else, my glasses were still huge, my teeth were still crocked, but I was developing faster than all the other girls. I was made fun of mercilessly, I was able to make friends with a few other girls, but for the most part I was that different girl who was all religious and backwards. By the end of 8th grade I had had it with being so different, there was nothing I could do about the glasses or my teeth, but I could stop being the goody two shoes everyone made fun of me for being, and I started cursing and listening to the music everyone else did. 

That may not be such a shocker, but when Suzanne does something she usually goes all out, and this was the beginning of my Prodigal thoughts and behaviors. I had started on a promising journey of grace and progressive sanctification only to end up taking the fork in the road that lead me down a long path of self destructive behavior. And, I'm out of time for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dear Friends From The Prodigal Years:

I'm different, to say the least. Some of you are disappointed, you were looking for Suzanne Sommer, you thought that my name was the only thing different about me. I guess I can't say I'm sorry you were wrong, but I can say I'm sorry you were disappointed.

Many of you will remain my friend, on Facebook anyway, some of you may even agree to see me from time to time, but some of you are so offended by my "religiousness" that you don't want anything to do with me anymore. 

I took a mini trip down memory lane, it was painful to realize how meaningless my life seemed back then. I was looking for something, I think I called it "love" I remember crying on the  bathroom floor because I just wanted someone to love me. The good news is, I found the love I was looking for. I found the love of my life, the love that loved me even when I was drunk on that bathroom floor. That love is Jesus. No, His last name is not Hernandez, I mean The Jesus. 

To you I got "religion" but for me I got a relationship with the maker of Heaven and Earth. To you I got a lot of rules I have to follow, and that means no more parties. For me I got a life so full of love and promise that I don't want to, or "need" to party anymore. Truthfully, and you may want to think about this, drinking and smoking and fooling around wasn't really that much fun in the first place. I always felt cheap and dirty afterwards. 

I promise I won't try to force you into believing what I do, Jesus doesn't want forced love anyway. I promise I won't try to make you go to church or listen to a sermon. I will share the complete joy I have in Christ, you will not be able to help but notice it, I will share some of the reasons I live the way I live now, but I won't ask you to do anything but think about it. I will pray for you, and care about you like your best friend.

I will have days that I feel cranky and out of sorts, and I may reflect that in what I say and do. You may think then that things haven't changed so much after all, or that my joy is no better than your brief moments of happiness, but I assure you, my bad moments are brief because I can remember Who holds my future.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm better than you, I know I'm not. I do things constantly that I shouldn't, but they don't define who I am any more than they have to define you. 

You want to know a secret, you don't have to believe me, but it is true, Jesus is waiting for you too. He wants a relationship with you too. He wants to take all the broken pieces of your life and glue them back together, and only He can do it. All you have to do is trust Him and believe that He died for you and that He loves you. He even loves you when you are drunk on the bathroom floor.

I can't express all the things I want you to know. Just know that He is there, He is calling, and He loves you. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Prodigal Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day. I love stating the obvious. I'm not feeling very loving or lovely at the moment. The day started off with a major dose of not wanting to get out of bed, I don't feel good, then followed by coughing fits and annoyances of various kinds. The kids got into things they shouldn't have, my oldest was told to pick up the toys or she couldn't join us for breakfast. My husband said there was a problem with the downstairs toilet. And I'm thinking, wow, nothing says I love you like out of control kids and a, "honey, grab the plunger."

So, I had a very selfish start to the day, I focused on me, on what I thought this day of love should look like, and it wasn't coming anywhere close to my ideal. We finally all got to the table for a wonderful blueberry pancake breakfast after opening our Valentine's mailboxes. My husband has been feeling really sick lately, and he was not able to get me a Valentine, so, me in selfish mode, said, "wow, this feels just like school, a couple of obligatory Valentines and nothing from my sweetheart." Thankfully he saw the humor in that. I was a complete grouch, and truthfully, I'm still fighting being a complete grouch.

I got to thinking that this is a Prodigal Valentine's Day if ever there was one. What is the cause of a Prodigal becoming a Prodigal, well, I was going to save that for another post, but it is selfishness and it comes from taking the focus off of God and putting it onto something else. The something else can be anything, yourself, your ideas, money, romantic love, the "high" you get from drugs, but all of it boils down to putting other things in the place of God, and that usually comes from a self centered heart. So, now it is time to give this Valentine's Day back over to God, and pray, pray, pray, that I don't try to take it back.

So, the focus for today: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, will not parish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the word might be saved." -John 3:16,17 This is my Valentine from God, this is your Valentine from God. His grace is enough on Monday, His grace is enough on a self centered Prodigal Valentine's Day.

Now, I need to make sure one of my little Valentines knows I love her and her homemade card, and let another sweet little redheaded toddler know she is just made to hug and kiss on, and I need to go make an apology and "I love you" phone call to a certain sweetheart of mine. Happy Valentine's Day, focus on God's Grace!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cleaning out the Prodigal's Closet

This one is going to be controversial. This one is going to hurt, and if it hurts you to read it, know that it hurt more to write it. I didn't want to, but I feel like there are some things we all need to understand.

I read a Blog the other day written by a former lesbian turned straight Catholic. She wrote about her struggles and how there are some days she has to disconnect from her feelings and emotions, how she has to avoid certain situations and television shows. She wrote how it has affected her marriage and how sometimes she has to avoid intimacy with her husband so that she will not be thinking about women. It was a hard article to read, it was even harder to read the comments, there were a lot about how she was such a poor woman, how terrible it was that she had to deny herself so she could be religious. It went on and on, the funny thing is the woman is happy, she doesn't want to think about being with a woman, she doesn't want to be a lesbian. It was hard to read because I don't think she expressed to others what was really in her heart. She didn't let them know that it is possible to be free, and it is.

It is common in the "Church" these days to follow the "God is Love" line.  Let's dig deeper here, God is love, he is the maker of it, and only He knows how to truly give and receive it in the way He designed it to be experienced. What people so easily forget is that God is also Holy. God is set apart, like I said, only He knows how to give and receive love the way He intended it. There is a reason people want to follow this line and avoid the rest of God's character, because they know someone with a same sex attraction, or they have a same sex attraction. They have bought into the "this is the way God made me and God is love, so I can be gay," lie. Yes, I can say it is a lie, yes, I can say I know this, not only because the Bible says so, but because, and here it is....I struggled with same sex attraction, and I lived with a woman who I had a relationship with, and I was set free from all of those feelings.

In Genesis, God made the woman for the man, he made them to be together, this might be graphic, but it is logic, He designed them to fit together in every way. You know what I mean. Also, in Genesis, there is a story about Lot, and the city of Sodom. The LORD was angry with Sodom, they were living in a way contrary to how He designed them to live, they were engaging in homosexual sex. It is all in Genesis 19, you should read it. The point there, and the point here, is that God planned for men to be with women. He is a God of love, and for His own purposes, He designed love in a physical way to be expressed between a man and a woman. This may make you angry, it may make you confused, you may do like so many other people do and discount the Bible, or say that the Bible is meant to be taken metaphorically, I won't get into too much of an argument with you on this right now, just know that when you start picking and choosing what parts of the Bible to go with, you run in to a lot of problems, and then you have to question the whole thing, and then what is the point of Jesus' death... I might add that Genesis is by no means the only accounts of God and how He feels about physical love being expressed in a way He did not design, it is all over the old and new testament. But, I want to get to the good news.

My story is not exclusive, I am not the only person who has had "same sex attraction," or as I will call it, and because I'm talking about myself, I will say it, same sex perversion, and found complete freedom from it. I mean complete, none of this, I have to struggle with these thoughts and feelings and deny myself  and make emotional disconnects, no I mean, gone. The skeptics will say that I wasn't really a lesbian, or bisexual, I was just experimenting, etc. I know they will, I've seen those comments on other people's blogs, I'm telling you, I know what I know, you can be free from same sex attraction. You can focus on God, you can stop making romantic love your idol, and you can become what God designed you to be. The truth is no one was born gay, they can't have been, God made them, as I stated before, God made woman for man, and man for woman, there is no such thing as "born gay." A person can struggle with same sex attraction from a young age, just the same as a person can struggle with any sin from a young age, but no one is born gay. I am thankful for the freedom from the thoughts and attractions, I am thankful for the forgiveness for my participation in a lie, I am thankful that God could use someone with a  secret that they feel shame over and give them the strength to tell the truth about homosexuality. You don't have to struggle anymore, you can be free.

How do I help my loved one with a same sex attraction? The same way you should help your loved one in anything. Be there for them, don't abandon them, don't disown them, don't avoid them, don't tell them,"you are going to hell," don't get all crazy on them. Do love them anyway, do tell them the truth in a loving way, do offer your help and support, do pray for them, and pray for them, and pray for them. Getting back to "God is Love," He is, and Jesus came to love and save sinners, He wants you to show that kind of love. What you should not do is help them live this lie. You shouldn't encourage them to follow their heart: Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond a cure, who can understand it." NIV. Following your heart can lead to all kinds of sin, the sin of selfishness, the sin of a relationship that is not what God intended, the sin of a physical relationship that God has not blessed in marriage. Another important thing to remember is that sin is sin. The sin of shacking up with my boyfriend was just as bad in God's eyes as the sin of shacking up with a girlfriend. This is the other side of the coin that the Church can get carried away with. We sit and preach and preach about how terrible gay marriage and gay relationships are, and they are a sin, but some of those same people back off and remain silent when their niece goes and moves in with her boyfriend. They are both sin, they are both punishable by death, God is Holy, He has that right, but what He really wants is for us to give Him our lives, so that He can give us eternal life and forgiveness, no matter what we have done.

If this blog has reached just one person, than it was worth the pain of having to expose it. You see, even I forgot that sin is sin, and that the sin of my relationship with a woman was just a bad as my living with my boyfriend. May God help us to live the way He created us to live, in every aspect of our lives.

I welcome questions or even challenges on this subject.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ditching the Prodigal Mindset

I am an extremely average person. I have average intelligence, average looks, I got average grades in school. My creativity level is average, my domestic skills are average, although I do put a lot of effort into making them above average. The only exceptions to my averageness are sports, I'm far below average in my sports abilities, and being a Prodigal, I excelled at being a Prodigal.

If you picked one of the issues I've struggled with, you would have a major issue on your hands, I had several major issues. I struggled with: anorexia, bulimia, self mutilation, clinical depression, sexual addiction, alcoholism, smoking, I was in an abusive relationship, I was raped, twice, and for some reason I struggled with suicidal thoughts. See, you pick any of those things and you have a big problem. I juggled all of them, I may not have been super smart, I may not have been super pretty, but I sure was good at having issues.

Why is it important to sometimes dig these things up? Why talk about it? Well, because some of these things get uncovered by things like illness, stress, sleepiness, or stepping on the scale. God delivered me from these things and gave me the recipe to gain victory over them, but sometimes the thoughts of them seem to present themselves when I'm faced with difficult situations.

I'll give you some very personal examples. I can be faced with a lot of stress. My family has been very sickly lately. In fact we've spent the last two months pretty much cooped up in the house with various illnesses. On top of that our house is always in a constant state of construction. We bought an old house with issues of its own, and we've been slowly trying to work on them as time and money allow. That brings me to my next problem, money. My husband injured his back a few years back and has had a very difficult time finding a job he can do in this economy, he started his own recycling business, and it has a lot of potential, but this year has been really hard. Not like, oh I don't get to go buy a new sofa and love seat when I want to, bad, but more like, are we going to be able to keep the house and pay the gas bill, bad. We are dedicated to my staying at home and homeschooling our girls, this is another problem, I feel like I should be doing something to help ease the financial burden off my husband, but we have yet to be given a solution that will not take me out of the house and in turn cause even more stress. So, with all these things on my mind it is really easy for a few thoughts to creep in, like you are in emotional pain, you know that cutting will ease the emotional pain, why not do it... Or, what good are you to this family, if you were gone, they would have money, they would be better off.... Not to mention that my body has not been the same since fighting Preeclampsia with my last pregnancy, when I weigh myself those thoughts of, you need to stop eating until you lose at least 10 pounds, creep in so easily.

How do you get rid of the thoughts that you formerly gave into for years? How do reprogram your mind to put them off instantly? The first thing that can help keep these thoughts few and far between is keeping your nose in God's Word. You need to know what God has to say about the value of your life. You need to know what God has to say about how much He loves you. Having scripture on hand to help you when you feel like the lies are true is so valuable. I've been fighting the depression lately and feeling completely invisible to others, like what I say, what I feel, and my very being is unimportant to everyone else. Genesis 16:13, has helped me to focus on God being a God who sees me, even when I'm an outcast, even when I feel invisible, God sees me, and He loves me.

Another way to ditch the Prodigal mindset is by again focusing on God's grace. I don' think I can say enough about that. My pastor, Greg Lanzen, did a sermon series on Grace about a year ago. We came up with a saying to help us remember what grace is, “God's Grace Is: God's Love, Riches, and Mercy, freely and generously given to help sinful and undeserving me.” When I focus on what He has done for me, me, a sinner, I feel like someone, like all those things don't matter anymore. It is like the principle of living an attitude of gratitude. You focus on what God has done for you, and what He has promised to do, and it lifts you up in those moments of despair.

So, how do you ditch the Prodigal mindset? Focus on what God's Word says, focus on what God has done for you, focus on what He has promised that He will do for you. In other words, focus on who you are in Christ. If that doesn't make you feel a whole lot better, than maybe you need to get away and rediscover your identity in Him, rediscover what you are to Him, and what He has done for you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Prodigal and Hypocrisy

It is early, well, early in this household, this week anyway. The point, the thoughts are doing that relentless “write us down” thing again. See, there are some other things that must be revealed about the Prodigal, this Prodigal anyway, and that is that after the Prodigal has been home and comfy in her new life for awhile, she can start to act like the other brother, that is when she isn’t reflecting on the shame and guilt stuff. So, I want to take us now to the other side of the struggle with the returned Prodigal, and this time I think this one is mostly for me, but we’ll see.

It’s been one of those successful months for the Prodigal. She hasn’t had a single reminder of where she’s been. No past friend or “Ex” popping up on the old Facebook Friend Request, no articles read about Planned Parenthood that spark her to say “those guys, again, let me tell you about those evil jerks, I’ve been there for STD testing, and let me tell you…”  A very rare month for the Prodigal, she is feeling comfortable, almost complacent in her stay-at-home wife and mommy, church going Christian role. And then… Then she hears about another Prodigal, this one maybe hasn’t come home completely yet. How does she react? How does she reach out to this “lost one” in her time of need? I’d like to say that she always does the right thing, but, she doesn’t. She forgets that she has a past. She forgets that we are all sinners, and she does the very thing that made it harder for her to come home, she judges.

Now we are really peeling the smelly onion layers off this Prodigal. How we all despise hypocrisy, how I despise hypocrisy, it is, after all the leading cause of teens leaving the church, but my dear friends, I am nothing if I am not honest in this, I too, am a filthy hypocrite.

This former Prodigal is guilty of judging the Prodigals. It is a trap that we can find ourselves in when we let ourselves forget what we have been saved from. It is a trap I have to avoid. I have this sort of catch 22 thing going on. On the one hand dwelling on the past can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, on the other, forgetting the past can lead to feelings of superiority, the “hey, look at me, I’m a church going Christian, and you aren’t” complex. What a nasty pickle to be in! Good News! It doesn’t have to be this way!

Here is something this Prodigal is being worked on, focusing on God’s grace instead of the guilt or becoming a hypocrite. When I do this, and I can not do it without the help of my Savior, I can be made an effective tool for His purpose. When I focus on grace, I can go to the Prodigals of the world, and I can reach out in love instead of judging them. And because I have been there I can go to them with the experience of having been there.

Pray for me. Pray that God will keep me focused on grace and remind me that I may be a church going Christian, but that what really matters is that I believed, and that I can’t get into heaven because of my church attendance, which is really good, because my family have been sick lately and we’ve missed a lot of church, I get to heaven because of grace, because I believe in the one who died for me, and I believe that His grace is enough to save all the Prodigals who come home. Also, pray that in focusing on grace, the guilt and shame that threaten to keep me from His work will stay away.

YAY! The Prodigal Came Home!....Now what do we do with her?

First of all, I am the Prodigal. Second, I don't think anyone thought, "now what do we do with her," any of the four times I came home, or at least I hope not. What this note is really about is what the Prodigal thinks about themselves and about the other people around them once they do come home, and years after they have been home. Maybe this is for the parents of the Prodigals, maybe it is for the Church in general, maybe it is for those who were lost and are found but are still having a hard time finding their place, maybe it is for all of us.

I have wonderful, Godly, forgiving parents. God knew that they were the couple to give Suzanne to, He knew that they would take me back all four of those times, even though a couple of those times it put them and my siblings at risk from a mentally unstable man. He knew that they would take me back when they knew that I'd probably just leave again. God always does know.  I'm thankful for my parents. God wants parents to show the love and forgiveness He does, it is impossible for humans to do that, but with God's help even the impossible becomes possible. It is in the nature of human beings to rebel and try to do things their own way, just not everyone yields to their desires. It is when we yield our desires to God's will that our lives finally make sense. 

When I came home on the multiple times I had a lot of things to "give up" smoking, drinking, cursing, promiscuity, lying, cheating, fooling around with witchcraft. There was indeed a lot to give up. It took so many attempts to finally be at that place where I was willing to give it all up, not just so I could come home, but because of God's grace, because of what He had done for me, and He set me free from those trappings when I was willing, He never takes away an "addiction" unless we are willing. He is God, He does not violate our free will to make us His puppets. He wants our love and devotion because we want to give it to Him, not just because we think we have to to get to heaven, or because we want to come home and crash mommy's sofa because our boyfriend cheated on us. It has to be our choice. 

It was years ago that I made that choice. Years since I came home for good. I met my husband, got married, had two beautiful babies, settled down into the typical church going, saved by grace, pro-life, baptist, housewife. I put my past in the past. Sometimes people who knew me then would say things like "remember when you dated that nasty guy" or remember that time you..." they never do it to hurt me or make me feel guilty, or out of any malicious intent, and I always try to smile and say yes, I'm thankful I didn't marry that guy. In all honesty usually weeks and months can pass by without me thinking about the past, I don't want to most of the time. I made a lot of mistakes, I participated in a lot of sin, but it has been covered by the blood of Christ, and He says He has taken a giant eraser to my past and that according to Him, those things are gone. And then there are those other days... Those days when I'm in church and I feel so out of place because I look around and think, I bet none of these people ever drank themselves silly, or lived with a man who wasn't their husband who abused them. I feel like an alien, like a stranger, like someone who hasn't been bought with a price, like I'm not their fellow heir with Christ. NOT because if these people knew what I did they would judge me, not because of that. I'm fairly confident that if I stood in front of my Church and laid out every sin I ever committed only a handful of people would gasp and not want me there anymore. So, I don't know why, other than the enemy likes to remind us of our past and lie to us about our status with God, I would think that way or feel that way. I also am aware that the Church is made up of sinful people and that every single person making up the family of God is a sinner saved by grace, and I'm sure at least a few of them committed as ugly sins as I have.  I still feel out of place sometimes. Not that I'd want to know but, it isn't like you can wear a shirt that says: "hey, anyone else here ever struggle with alcohol?" Or, "anyone else ever been held at gun point by their crazy ex-boyfriend?" 

The other thing Prodigals face when they come home and have been home is the past catching up with them. God forgives, but sometimes we still have to face the consequences of our past, sometimes those consequences affect the present. Oh, my and the friends we use to hang out with. There is this social network site, called Facebook, I don't know if you're familiar with it, but sometimes your old friends can find you. Wow, do they have some shock when they find out you are one of those church going Christian types who votes...wait for it...conservative. I'm not sure what all they must think, that my family's brain washing ways finally caught up with me, that I wasn't strong enough to face life without a crutch...the Really funny thing is I have heard that before, yes, alcohol and tobacco and sleeping around was the strong choice, God is for the weak, yes, I'm laughing right now. 

So, where does the returned Prodigal fit in? Where can she find a place where she will feel comfortable and accepted, and not afraid of the past catching up with her? I Know the answer is the Church, the family of God, the other sinners saved by grace. So, now how do I convince myself that on the days I'm sure people are not talking to me because they can smell the left over consequence of sin on me or something? The real reason I don't feel I fit in all the time I'm sure is because I let the guilt of the past keep me from close friendship. I'm afraid of those questions that will come up. Like, wow, you got married in February of 2006, and Lilly was born in September 2006? Or, what did you do when you got out of high school. Or when I get on my soap box about Planned Parenthood and they find out I don' t only not like them because they kill babies, but because I've been there and I know how they are. Those things. 

Well, I suppose, if this gets read, the cat is out of the bag. I was a Prodigal daughter, I went away from my family full of their love, their values, their beliefs, the morals they taught me, and I came back used, broken, and empty, but by the grace of God everything that happened in between had been washed away. The good news is, I know my brothers and sisters will not keep a record of my wrongs, but that they will rejoice over my not being lost anymore. The other good news is, is that God is working on me still, He is helping me not to let the pain, guilt, and shame of the past stand in the way of what He has planned for me. I think that soon enough He will help me use the past to help other Prodigals come home. And I think that is the lesson being expressed in this. Your past is forgiven, and it will only be necessary for others to know about it because He can use it to help others, and I think I am willing to face the shame and guilt for His sake, after all, He did save even me.