November 1, 2013

Finding Restoration

This blog tough for me. I decided months ago that this is something I would not write about. It was too...personal. 

Things have changed though. Rather, God is softening my heart. And the words come...rough and fragmented as they may be. 

The six months I lived in Orlando come up in my conversations often. I beat the subject to death at times simply because I love talking about that time in my life. I learned so much, I felt so many emotions, I made so many friends...but underneath all of that is one big faith was never so tested and never before had it felt so real. At times, often, I felt as though I stood completely alone in the midst of thousands of cast members who laughed at what I believed. Yet every time I reached out in desperateness, I have a matching story of the crazy visible ways that God provided in my life, and one of the biggest blessings in my life was my church.

The story of how I even walked into my church's doors is an incredible story in itself. From the very first moment within those doors, I felt like I was truly home. Whenever my parents visited me they always loved going to church, and when they were gone they would watch the sermons online. Somehow, in a crazy way, I became part of a church that was huge, but it engulfed me into the body of Christ. I was incredibly thirsty for spiritual depth, and it was there that I began to feel like my thirst was being quenched. They upheld me and encouraged me in the midst of extreme trials, tangibly displaying the love of Christ. It became home. 

For our honeymoon, I was incredibly excited to get to take Blake through those church doors. We had one Sunday in Orlando, and I would have rather forgone half a day at Disney then miss a chance to finally be home again. And yet, when our honeymoon came around, I did not walk in those doors. Blake didn't ask, because he knew, he knew I couldn't. Not yet.  

A few days before the wedding my dad came upstairs and asked if I subscribed to the church's newsletters. "Nope." He sat down on the bed, I was on the floor working on something. "It's about the pastor." "Oh yeah? What's he up to these days?" 

"It's not good Manda." 

Sometimes your heros let you down. A few days before our wedding, the church released a very well said letter, announcing the resignation of their lead pastor. A global shaker, a good man, a husband and a father...a pastor. An affair that he had had several year prior had been recently revealed to the church elders, and he was no longer the lead pastor. They seemed to be addressing the situation in an incredibly Christ-like manner, but the pain was evident in their written words.

It's funny really, how sin works. If you know me, I'm known to say that "sin is fluid". A man whom I had never actually talked to in person, but I considered a spiritual leader in my life, had failed in the utmost of ways. Sin, in all its evilness, does not alienate failure. Sin trickles down, painful to all that it touches, into the lives of people so distanced from the original sin that it seems impossible. Somehow, sin trickled down into the life of a girl in Oklahoma, who only lived in Florida for a few months, but a few days before her wedding, the fluidity of sin seeped in. 

I couldn't take Blake to church while we were in Orlando. I didn't know how to walk through the doors when I felt so hurt and betrayed. As we had just stood in front of God and man, vowing our commitments to a union that will last until death does us part, the word "affair" seemed especially harsh and cold. My emotions were rampart. My respect shattered. I kept asking myself, "Was it all a joke? Those six months? Do I even have the gall to say that God was at work then, because it seems like it was all a sham!" I was angry. 

Emotions are strange and it takes time to process them. Blake understood. He's been here before. He knows the stages of anger, grief, acceptance. But now, several months later, there is more to the story. There are some answers to my questions. You see, the actions of one man do not invalidate God's actions. God works through people, even in their sin, and He has used that church to change lives. I cannot ignore this fact. I cannot ignore my own knowledge that my life was changed because of that church. 

You see, if sin trickles into many lives, there is a bigger lesson to be seen, and it is this: grace overwhelms a multitude of lives. Where sin stings, grace overcomes. Where sin burdens, grace upholds. When we fail, and by golly we will fail, grace meets us at that desperate place. There are consequences to sin. There is often unspeakable pain associated with our failures, but our stories do not have to end there. 

I have been trying to find the words to write for several months now. And as I have watched my husband, an amazing man who is seeking God every day, I see how grace works. He's seen pain first hand, but he is not bitter. He's had sin rip apart his world because of the actions of other people, but he still loves and extends forgiveness. Blake has showed me, not through his words, but through his actions, that while sin is fluid, God doesn't let the story end there if you let Him work in your life. Because of Blake, I have wanted to see the bigger picture. 

God is not afraid to operate in the midst of brokenness. It's what he does, actually. He takes brokenness and restores it to something beautiful.

I don't know the answers to the "why" question, but I do know this: 

Grace abounds whereas sin limits. Infidelity is one of the things I hate the most in this world, because I have very few people in my life who have not been touched by it in one way or another. Friends. Family. My husband. Blessed by a godly family, I have struggled to understand the how's and the why's. And I give up. I will never understand them. 

All I know is this: the heart is deceitful and God redeems. 

While our sin is fluid, God makes beautiful things out of the messiness that we create. Our actions may touch a million people...but I am fully convinced that the story doesn't end there. As Christians, we must be vocal about the power of forgiveness. I sometimes feel as though it's easy to preach forgiveness when all we have to say is, "Please forgive me." But in my life, when things get messy, it becomes much harder to say, "I forgive you." 

I forgive you for the hurt that you have caused in my life. 
I forgive you for the pain that you have caused in the lives of countless others. 
I forgive you for the harm you have caused for people's faith. 
I forgive you for the damage you have done to the name of the church. 
I forgive you for failing to meet my expectations. 
I forgive you for not being the leader I needed. 
I forgive you for being...human. 

Those words are much harder for me to type then any other words I have ever written, because they are raw. This kind of forgiveness seems impossible to me, but God is at work in my life asking me, no, telling me, that I have to be able to extend complete forgiveness in order to be forgiven. 

I have to be able to say, "I forgive you for being a complete failure in my eyes." if I am ever to accept the forgiveness that God has given me for being a complete failure in His eyes. 

You see, we all failed Him. We all have sinned. And he redeemed our sin. He extended enough grace to cover us a million times over. 

So I will stutter. 

I will spit the words out. 

I will offer halted prayers. 

I will cry bitter tears. 

But by God, if it kills me, I will learn what it means to forgive. 

To the ends of the earth, I will fight for forgiveness. 

I will keep crying bitter tears until they turn sweet. 

I will keep offering halted prayers until they flow smoothly. 

I will spit the words out until they sound like honey. 

I will stutter until I can sing. 

Seek God while he’s here to be found,
    pray to him while he’s close at hand.
Let the wicked abandon their way of life

    and the evil their way of thinking.

Let them come back to God, who is merciful,
    come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness.

Isaiah 55:6-7