It's interesting the things that resurface in life.
I recently brought home a box of "stuff" from my parents' house and went through it. The box contained some pictures, a diary from when I was 10, Brain Quest-5th grade edition, a couple random billfolds, photos, and then a small handful of notes.
Only one was positive.
The others had made my heart hurt when I received them, and also when I re-read them. I'm not sure why I kept them, or if I had just missed throwing them out along the way. However it happened, the notes ended up in the shoe box, in my home, and back into my view. They blasted me to the past as I began to think on things and people that hadn’t haunted my memory for a long time.
High school wasn’t an easy time for me. I’ve probably mentioned that a time or two. Maybe it wasn't easy for you either? As a freshman, I began coming face-to-face with abandonment issues...and yet, I was definitely not equipped to manage those big emotions or thoughts. Unknowingly, I reacted to them...and not positively. Then, my brother died when I was a sophomore, and things never really rebounded. That trauma was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back...I was already carrying a load of the past, and while I do have some good memories of high school, those positive experiences weren’t enough to counteract the negative.
I crashed. Hard.
And that box of “stuff” basically could have been labeled Pandora’s rather than Lower East Side, all because of those lined notebook papers covered with ink. But like all things, there were a few good reminders here, now with 20+ years between those letters and me:
In Christ, there is no condemnation. (Romans 8:1)
Even though the reminders in the letters were hard, I read them with a new slant. A new lens. Christ. I have been redeemed. I have been called...and NOT ugly names while walking to my locker. I have a new identity (2 Cor 5:17). And in that new identity, I’m secure enough to say that I wasn’t doing things right. I wasn’t living life in a way that was leading to life. Nope. I was fast-tracking to death. As hard as it was to read words from people who disliked me, and words that were never meant to build me up, I can now say that many of my actions and reactions in high school were sinful. If I would have been more emotionally and spiritually mature, perhaps I could have taken what was delivered in harshness and realize there was some truth to it. But, I wasn’t mature and I was on the defensive.
While I am fairly confident the authors of the letters did not have my spiritual well-being in mind, with my new lens in place, I KNOW my God did. He was doing a new thing in me, even when I didn’t have a clue. Even through words of an enemy, He was giving me a chance to repent. I didn’t take Him up on it then, but I have since. So, while re-reading the old letters could have made me feel humiliated and rejected, loathsome and revolting, resentful and insecure, being able to be reminded of the glory and power of the Gospel over my past was amazing!
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)
I’m thankful that even though my past can no longer condemn me to a life separated from Christ, it can still remind me just how beautiful my new name and identity is! I think it’s a gift to look back, even into the hurt--maybe especially into the hurt--and see it now with a rejoicing hope in Christ.
Reminder No. 2
Words mean something.
Out of our mouths and hearts come words that either build up or tear down. The saying "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me" is a fallacy of epic proportion. Even if we don't mean for it to happen, words can stick. If said enough, words can define.
I will admit that I am sensitive to words. I still want everyone to like me, and if they don’t, I want to change their minds! I’m sensitive to criticism. I am still more likely to accept criticism as full blown truth and carry it forward with me. I'm much less likely to receive affirmation in such a way. If someone shares a positive view of me with me, it needs to be reiterated over and over for it to finally feel real. Here's one reason why: for a whole school year, I was called ugly names every time I walked the halls of my high school. People made rude noises behind my back, but always so I could hear. I never felt safe. I also believed the ugliness and it continually washed over me. I may have been foolish in a spiritual sense at the time, but that doesn’t excuse being bullied with words. It was harmful. Words have power. It has taken much diligence to retrain and renew my mind, taking every thought captive. It's still a battle I face. Perhaps you have a similar struggle?
Even though revisiting those emotions wasn’t necessarily welcome, it was good to be reminded of the power the tongue has in my relationships. I believe that as followers of Christ, we are wise to remember just how powerful words are. Here are a couple examples from God’s breathed-out words to us (2 Tim 3:16):
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21)
“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” (James 3:5-10)
I’m with James when he follows those words by saying, “My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3: 10b) But I also know that I have been guilty of exactly that! None of us are exempt...see the words “no human being can tame the tongue.” It’s good to be ever-mindful of how powerful our words are, and remember that name-calling and harshness do nothing except start fires of destruction. While there is a time and place for admonishment, it is definitely important to have the Spirit bridle our tongues no matter the situation!
Reminder No. 3
He has been there through it all.
The song lyrics “oh and you have been my God through all of it” (Colton Dixon) keeps settling into my mind as I process this part of my past in light of my present. Jesus is my hope and future. He always has been, even when I didn’t know it. Even when I thought that verse from Jeremiah was promising ease and prosperity. My life hasn’t been “good” by typical standards. It has been hard. Full of trial. Full of crisis. Full of things that even now, I don’t consider “good.” But my hope is Christ. My future is Christ. And that makes my life good.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” ( Jer 29:11-14)
God remembered me, even as a high school “exile.” He let me find Him! He has brought me back from the place of despair. He continues to restore me. He continues to gather me. He continues to hear me. And He is so good!
I may have won some, and I may have lost. I may have gotten some right, but often I haven’t. My life has been a journey, and on it I have seen joy and also regret. But God? He’s been God through all of it! (paraphrase of the chorus of “Through All Of It” by Colton Dixon)
God has been and always will be, God! It was worth being transported to the past, just to catch a glimpse of His continual, eternal presence. It was good to be reminded of the past so that as I keep journeying through life, I continue to say “You have been my God through all of it.”
May we all take heart today in our big, eternal, everlasting to everlasting God...the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ❤