Friday, January 29, 2010

A Journey of Grace: Alone in the Wilderness©

In March 2002 David and I attended one of the last Sacred Romance conferences put on by John Eldredge. When I walked out of that building I knew that I had been awakened in a way I’d never known before. For the first time I could see, God had been loving me for a long, long time. I realized that His pursuit of me had been and would always be, relentless. Little did I know it was the beginning of the end of an era.

At that moment in time I had no idea what God was inviting me into. I had no idea that my life was about to change forever.

Life around me began to be altered. God began to pull me away from the busyness. Friendships either changed or were shut down. All of a sudden I just didn’t have it in me to keep pressing forward. I found myself alone with God, my family and myself. It wasn’t a place that I would have volunteered to go, after all I’m quite the people person. It was by invitation only.

No longer able to strive or perform my way through life opened my eyes to a sad reality. I had become the older brother in the prodigal son story. I’d worked hard to receive the Father’s blessing when all along it had been there waiting for me. I’d been so busy striving “out in the fields” that I had never entered in as one who was loved. I had never lived as a daughter to a Father. I had lived as a slave to a Master.

I had read the passage before, but for the first time I heard the heart of the Father in the words of Hosea 2: 14-16. “Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and will make the Valley of Achor (suffering) a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the days she came out of Egypt. In that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master’”.

In an instant I knew. God was calling me to be alone with Him in the wilderness. He had some things He wanted to tell me. He wanted to break the yoke of slavery so that He might reveal to me the intimacy of His love. It was an invitation into my transformation. The wilderness would become my cocoon.

I had spent so many years living in my own abilities and performances that I didn’t have a clue how to live in the finished work of Christ in me. Truth is I didn’t really know the heart of the one I called Father.

Life as I had known had to be shut down. The grave clothes waited to be removed. They held me back in the land of Egypt, captive to their commands. It was imperative that I know who I truly was, so imperative that God was willing to clear my day timer. He wanted me to know who He saw me to be. That had been stolen from me years before. It was time for it to be restored.

I have been there now with Him for seven years. The change that has come is nothing less than miraculous as I have come to realize who I was made to be.

A caterpillar is already a butterfly it just doesn’t know it. Woven into the body of the caterpillar is the dna of a butterfly. It matures into what is already true about it.

Inside of me is the dna of Jesus. I am fused with Him. God does not see where one starts and the other ends. He and I are woven together as one. The thought of it all continues to leave me undone; that He would choose to dwell in me.

The Creator of the Universe waited to love me into my reality. Once I laid down the plowshares of striving and the oxcarts of performance I opened myself up to receive true, genuine love. It is a freely given, unconditional, unearned love. I can’t do one thing to get it. I can’t do one thing to lose it.

When I unlatched the door of my heart to receive, my ordinary, busy world was overcome by an extraordinary God. I have discovered a love that takes my breath away. Alone, in this wilderness, I have found grace.

©copyrighted: 2010; Julie L. Todd

Next up: Part Seven: Glimpses of the Wilderness

To read the previous parts of my story, click on the link:

Part One: In The Beginning:

Part Two: My Fig Leaves:

Part Three: Lost in Translation:

Part Four: Let Freedom Ring:

Part Five: My Deliver Is Coming:

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Journey of Grace: My Deliverer Is Coming©

Religion had brought me so many wrong views. I didn’t know a Father God who loved. I knew one who expected. I often felt as if I fell short of fulfilling those expectations becoming a disappointment at best. How do you ever know if you’ve done enough? Instead of finding my fulfillment I was tired and empty.

God continued to peel away the layers of my self-protective coverings. He began to restore His image to me. He began to talk to me about love. He invited me to trust.

Everything comes back to trust. If I could not trust Him, I couldn’t find the truth that would set me free. I found that I trusted God with the big things, like having air to breathe or my heart continuing to beat. But I didn’t trust Him with me. I found it easier to trust myself.

As a result I found myself turning to other things to find fulfillment, the most prominent being my husband. If he showed me love well I would know I was wanted. It was a tall order that would never be fulfilled.

I’ll never forget how Jesus came to rescue me.

I was attending a women’s retreat. It was the last day. We were invited to go to the cross set up in the room and lay down what God had asked us to give up that weekend. I approached the cross knowing it was time. I had to lay down my expectations for David to give me value. As I paused to talk to Jesus the tears began to lightly fall down my cheeks. “Jesus, I release David from having to give me value.” Within seconds I heard His response, “I’ve always wanted you.”

The soft tears became sobs at the realization that Jesus had always wanted me. Why hadn’t I known that? He spoke again. “I gave my life to love you. Is it not enough?”

In that moment I realized I had looked to another lover for value when the One who loved me perfectly waited and watched. My heart ached as I considered how many times I had walked right past Him, allowing my heart to seek it’s value in someone who could never give it. What must I have put on my husband in the process?

My Deliverer came for me that day. I’ve not been the same since. It was the beginning of a romance that had been waiting to happen. Jesus would continue to woo me as a bridegroom pursuing the one He loves. He would not stop until I knew that I was not only loved but wanted.

I love the story of Lazarus’ defining moment. Dead for days in the tomb, the One who came to deliver all mankind appears on the scene. Those around think it’s all over. But not Jesus. He knows that it’s just beginning. He tells those standing around the grave to remove the stone. The family was concerned about the stench of death that would fill the air, but not Jesus. He knew the glory of God had come to set Lazarus free.

With a loud voice Jesus declares “Lazarus come out”. Out walked Lazarus, his hands and feet still bound by strips of linen and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to those standing around, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Those placed in his path began to remove the cloths that held Lazarus body bound in death.

That moment at that retreat God called me out of the tomb. Finally someone had convinced me that I was wanted. I walked out that day, grave clothes still wrapped around me, yet alive.

In the years that followed Jesus would begin to peel away the cloths of “religious works” that had covered my body bound in death. He would exchange their ashes for beauty. For my deliverer had come to set me free.

©copyrighted: 2010 Julie L. Todd

Next Up: Part Six: Alone in the Wilderness

Part One: In the Beginning:

Part Two: My Fig Leaves:

Part Three: Lost In Translation:

Part Four: Let Freedom Ring:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Journey of Grace: Let Freedom Ring©

I remember the day back in 1991 when David told me I didn’t respect him. His eyes revealed his pain. I knew he was right. It pained me to admit it, yet I knew I had to in order to move forward. To be honest, I didn’t have a clue what respecting my husband looked like. I had been killing my marriage.

I had been a controlling, woman for so long I didn’t know how to be anything else. Control had become part of my self-protective armor. It’s what you do when you’re afraid, you try to control your world by controlling those around you. Behind the facade of the competent woman was a scared little girl who wondered if she’d ever be enough to be wanted.

I was ready for a change. I was desperate. I couldn’t live like this any longer. So much of how I had lived was wrong. Though it felt overwhelming I later learned that not being able to fix myself was the best place I could be. I couldn’t possibly change this mess I had made.

God brought along an older woman to mentor me. There’s something about having a woman who’s a bit farther down the road involved in your life, especially when your personalities are similar.

I began to learn how to see God from a different view. He invited me to enter a new road, one where I would begin to see things through His eyes. It would take some time to get there. There were many destinations to be visited along the way.

I read a book titled “Hinds Feet on High Places.” I saw myself in the character, Much Afraid. She too wanted to find love. I prayed that God would plant a seed of love inside me to nurture and grow I didn’t realize it was already there.

God began to rescue this damsel in distress, one layer at a time from myself. I can look back now and see how relentlessly He has continued to pursue me. As He began to teach me, my grasp on my tightly controlled life began to loosen. God began to woo my heart to trust.

Learning to trust has been the longest, hardest road I’ve walked. So much of who He was had been distorted to the point that I really didn’t know His heart at all.

Gradually He began to wash away my preconceived ideas. It was slow going at first, much like a patient lover with a woman who had been betrayed. He waited for me to be ready for each and every step of His pursuit and then He came. Like an onion being peeled layer by layer, He has taken me to greater levels of freedom one step at a time.

Special times stand out as mile-markers in my mind. In 1992 I had found a house that I wanted to rent. It was more than we could afford. The owners were discussing whether they could rent it for less. As the clock ticked by I found myself at a pivotal place. Would God love me enough to give me the house? I had always gauged His love based on how He responded to my requests.

The next day at church during communion I sat thanking Jesus for the cross. Out of nowhere words stopped me dead in my tracks. I wasn’t used to hearing His voice so clearly, yet I knew it was Him. “Whether you get the house or not, is not about my loving you.” “The cross proves my love for you.”

It was my first encounter with the deep love behind the crucifixion. It would not be my last.

He continued to speak to me at random times. Each time I would recognize His voice more easily.

One night I was walking towards our bedroom when out of nowhere words interrupted my thoughts. “I loved you first”. A few days later I sat down to look at my Bible study homework. The verse for that week was “We love because He first loved us.”

I knew then and there that He was breaking through my “Cinderella syndrome”. It was one of those defining moments in my life. He was telling me that He loved me before I could ever think of loving Him. I wasn’t the daughter He had to take because I wanted Him. I was the one He loved first. It would be the beginning of the rest of my life.

©copyrighted 2010; Julie L. Todd

Next up: Part Five: My Deliverer Is Coming

Part One: In the beginning:

Part Two: My Fig Leaves:

Part Three: Lost in Translation:

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Journey of Grace: Lost in Translation©

Part Three: Lost in Translation:

I continued to disguise my shame, putting all my efforts into being a hard working woman. As I entered into Christianity I was given a “to do” list pretty quick. Words like “if you love God you’ll spend at least 30 min. a day in quiet time, preferably in the morning” were spoken frequently. I was encouraged to do more, be more, give more. As a woman who found value in striving those words were music to my ears. I was always up for the challenge. I strove to be the best of the best.

I began studying God. Maybe if I did enough Bible studies I would learn enough about Him to find that place in His heart. The desire was good, but twisted in the mix was this need. Maybe if I did enough I could be loved.

I took a break from men. The dating scene had done it’s damage on me. I wanted the next man I gave my heart to to be the one I married. A year and a half later I met my husband. We married 9 months after that first meeting.

I waited for the other shoe to drop. I wondered when he would wake up and realize the mistake he had made. Even though I had been chosen, I couldn’t grasp that he could really want me.

When David got me, he got my brokenness and my striving. Not only was I going to be the best for God I was going to take my husband with me. We’d be spiritual together. I became a dominant, controlling, manipulative, aggressive woman. What I wasn’t receiving from God I began to demand from my husband.

Four years into the marriage we began to have children. I poured most of what I had into them. They were after all ready to love me. In fact they thought I hung the moon. I began to forward the expectations I felt for myself onto them. I wanted to make them the best they can be too. After all, what mother doesn’t want her children to be successful?

My studies of God increased. I believed that the more you knew the more mature you became. Knowledge became my friend. It became another covering. After all, knowledge accompanied by performance and striving looked good on the spiritual resume.

Eight years into our marriage the foundation fell apart. In the process, I was exposed for who I was, an unsubmissive, controlling, woman who didn’t have a clue how to honor or respect. I began to pour my efforts into learning to be a better wife. If I could just be better maybe things would change. Something had to change.

No matter how much I studied, strived, performed, I found myself living Romans 7: “the things I don’t want to do I still do.” “The things I want to do I don’t do.” The more I tried the more it became apparent I would never do enough to free myself.

Performance based acceptance and conditional love were the only things I knew. For you see I had entered into the doorway of salvation by grace, but once in, grace became lost.

Grace is about receiving something you don’t deserve freely. I had lost the ability to receive. LIfe had become more about me giving and doing. Truth is I was more comfortable there. It made me feel better. What I didn't know was that you can't really give until you receive.

This went on for years. No one in the “church” knew how to free me. In fact, the answer was often “do more” which wasn’t an answer for me. I’d tried that.

I had a friend tell me once, “you are dead in Christ.” My answer to her was, “and I’m going to be the best dead in Christ I can be.” I’ll never forget her response, “Julie, there’s something wrong with that.” What? What could be wrong with wanting to be the best dead in Christ? I had no clue.

But God did.

©copyrighted: 2009; Julie L. Todd

Next up: Part Four: Let Freedom Ring:

Part One: In the Beginning:

Part Two: My Fig Leaves:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Journey of Grace: My Fig Leaves©

Part Two: My Fig Leaves:

Once I entered this world the first people I looked to to give me love were my parents. I didn’t understand how sin had distorted everything. I just wanted to feel good about myself... to know that I was wanted, loved, needed. It was a natural response to the broken world I had entered.

Being a parent myself as I write those words I feel their weight. What a burdensome expectation to put on others. It’s another one of sin’s misrepresentations brought onto this world. No one can give me love. People can only be expressions of love. God is the giver of love. As a child, I didn’t understand that therefore I looked to many different sources to find something that only God could give.

Once we get out in the world around us it’s easy to look at how others respond. It didn’t take long for me to turn to my peers. Moving into my late elementary school years I began a gradual move towards boys. Maybe one of them would find me pretty. Possibly one would like me. Believe it or not I had a steady boyfriend at 10 years old.

For years men became the outlet that I ran to for the love I so desperately longed for. At the core of every woman’s heart is a longing to be desired. I took my desire to men.

With each failed attempt at finding love I believed things about myself, things that were far from truth, yet I had no clue. Messages were woven into the fiber of my being. After all a child can only reason through the mind of a child, interpreting actions and reactions. With each negative reaction of unfulfilled desire I believed it must be me.

You don’t realize the traps that are set in your path you just get caught up in them. Many traps were set along my way. It seemed one thing after another spoke a resounding message. “You’re not what people want.” It became the programming of my mind.

I grew up in the church, praying a prayer in the third grade out of fear that I would end up in hell. I was the queen of Bible drills, memorized scriptures, attended church faithfully. I knew about God, yet I was far from Him. I remember an old pastor of mine saying to me once, “Just let God be God.” I didn’t have a clue what that meant.

One dating relationship after another left me more rejected than the one before. Would anyone in this world ever want me? I couldn’t see how that could ever be. Alone and empty at age 22 I felt as if I had reached the end of life. Desperate to be loved I knew that if I did not find it, I would surely die. I cried out to the One who is love. He came for me.

At that moment He covered my shame. He exchanged my life for Christ's, giving me a new identity, but I was oblivious. I entered into the relationship with Him much like I did everyone else. Surely I was His Cinderella. He had to take me because I wanted Him. Full of shame, feeling like damaged goods, I felt pity for Him that He was stuck with someone like me. Maybe if I did enough, worked hard enough, somehow He would grow to want me. It became the hope I held to.

We all make our coverings in life. Much like Adam & Eve we turn to things to hide our nakedness and shame. I covered my shame with fig leaves of performance and striving. I became a hard worker for the Kingdom of God and I was good at it. I did things well. I did them fast. You could count on me.

Finally I believed I had found my niche. After all everyone wanted a hard working, religious woman. Maybe now God would be pleased with me. Maybe now I would find a place in His heart. Little did I know it would be the beginning of my demise.

©copyrighted: 2010; Julie L. Todd

To start at the beginning go to : Part One: In The Beginning:

Next up: Part Three: Lost in Translation

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Journey of Grace: In the beginning ©

In the beginning:

I was born October 25, 1957 in Tennessee. Before I tell you more of my story I have to go back to the real beginning; you know, before the earth began.

In the beginning; before all time; there was a fellowship of three. Father, Son and Holy Spirit were together in relationship. In the shadow of the Trinity, the earth was formed.

A command was declared and the earth began it’s existence. Dark and void of life, another word was exhaled and the most brilliant light danced across the universe, invading the darkness.

Each day brought a different gift, preparing the stage for the grand finale. At the beginning of the sixth day, the music of heaven swelled as something astounding happened. God set His image onto the earth.

In the midst of a fellowship of love, God breathed the breath of life into Adam. I can see the image so clearly in my head. After all how close does one have to get to breathe into one's nostrils? Could it be that mankind’s first breath started with a kiss? After all God IS love.

God breathed and man became a living being. He saw that it was not good for man to be alone so He created woman. They were placed in the garden He had prepared especially for them. It was filled with everything they would need for life. They walked in perfect communion with God and each other. They were naked and they were known, for there was no shame. It was meant to be that way forever.

But something went terribly wrong. Evil infiltrated the garden. Man and woman turned away from the One who is love. Sin penetrated a perfect world. Life would be altered from that point on for all who would enter the earth.

Man & woman, now covered in shame, covered themselves with fig leaves and hid from God. Surely God is disappointed now.

But God in His love, knowing fully well what they had done, went after them. After all His heart had not changed.

It was love that caused Him to find them in their sin. He asked them what they had done. Blame became the game of earth. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve.

God saw their attempts to cover their shame with fig leaves. Out of love He sacrificed the first animal, covering them with it's skin. It would be a shadow of what was to come. A plan of redemption would be set in motion. One would come, to shed His blood to cover mankind's shame forever.

Once He had covered their nakedness, He knew they had to leave His beautiful garden. For in the center, the tree of Life was planted. If they stayed in the garden and ate of it's fruit, they would live in their state of sin and shame forever. He couldn't bear it. He loved them too much to leave them there, so He sent them out, and closed the garden forever. It wasn't anger that banished Adam & Eve from Eden. It was love.

From this point on they would face the thorns and thistles of life. The moment sin pierced into the world, the heart of God became misrepresented. A level of doubt now filled the earth. Can you really trust the heart of God?

Something has gone desperately wrong. God's original plan was that I would enter into a world where Perfect love was expressed. People living in perfect love would invite me into living as one who is loved. But that didn't happen. Sin had changed the course of God's original design. Sin had changed the course for my life.

This is the story behind the story of my life. On October 25, 1957, I entered a world covered in sin and shame.

Next up: Part Two: My Fig Leaves

©copyrighted: 2010; Julie L. Todd

*Note: I will be writing my journey of grace in stages. If you want to know when I post you can subscribe to this blog. You will see the subscription link on the side. Once you subscribe you will receive a confirmation email. Reply to the confirmation email and you will be signed up to receive emails when my blog is updated.

Friday, January 1, 2010

I am absolutely complete

As a year ends it’s common to hear the phrase “out with the old, in with the new.” Even though I know God does not measure time in my life by the turning of a calendar page, it always feels to me as if a new day is dawning.

At the end of each year I reflect by reviewing my journals for the year. I then contemplate the year to come as I hear Him ask me, "What do you want me to do for you this year, Jewel?"

It does my heart good to remember all that God has said and done. This time I felt the tug to do something a little different. I heard the Spirit prompting me to go back to 2004 and read forward. So I did. Those who know me, know that's alot of reading as I am quite the journaler. My family often teases me in regards to my many journals.

By the time I got to the end of 2009 I knew what He was asking of me. I could not hold onto the data that filled the sheets of paper any longer. The words rang out clearly inside my head, "forget the former things, I'm doing something new."

I had journals from as far back as the 1990's full of data. It was time to lay them aside and remove all records of wrongs. God keeps no record of wrongs, He was asking me to let mine go too.

Filtered throughout the pages of each journal were accounts of offenses that had been done by me, and to me. It was time to give myself and those who had offended me a clean slate. I had at some level done that as I had forgiven the injustices long before. But dwelling between the covers of each book were well kept documentations that brought the memories back to life. They would continue to dwell there until they were destroyed. Christ beckoned me to let go.

In the wee hours of the morning of New Year’s Eve I knew it was time. I gathered several up and began the process of turning the sheets of pages into ashes as I began to burn each journal.

As the ashes filled the fireplace I knew it was symbolic of what He had repetitively told me through the pages I had just read. He was turning my ashes into beauty.

As the fire burned I pondered the year to come. I decided to look up the Jewish meaning of the number ten, as numbers carried meaning to the Hebrews. Ten means absolute completion.

Suddenly I could see something I'd missed for years. There planted in John, between two tens was my promise for the new year. “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and have it to the full," (John 10:10). The thief has tried to steal me away from my reality. Jesus has come to dwell inside me to make me absolutely complete. Just like my journals, He has burned my past into ashes. It is no more. His life in me realized will be my completion.

As I watched the pages of my life burn my heart cried out. "Beauty for ashes, dear Jesus." "Take the ashes and turn them into the beauty of your life in me realized completely.

The "it is finished" life of Christ dwells in me richly replacing the ashes of the past. His life is my beauty.

On this new day of this new year, my heart cries out. Oh that I might live my reality. I am absolutely complete.

©copyrighted: 2010, Julie L. Todd