24 The servant of the Lord must not participate in quarrels, but must be kind to everyone [even-tempered, preserving peace, and he must be], skilled in teaching, patient and tolerant when wronged. 25 He must correct those who are in opposition with courtesy and gentleness in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and be led to the knowledge of the truth [accurately understanding and welcoming it], 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2: 24-26
I look at this picture and smile as a long breath escapes in complete amazement. This is not a joke. This is not staged. This photo is not an opportunity to glorify where our story began or how it did or even why. This story is not being shared to boast about ourselves or to humiliate. This photo carries no shame, embarrassment, or false pretenses. This photo, this story is about one thing: the transformational love and power of Jesus Christ. It is a picture of what He won’t or can’t do for you when you come to Him humbly and with a pure heart invite Him in to make you new.
This story begins in a way that I am not proud of. I’d say we met 7 years ago but the truth is we never officially met. We were two women who worked out side by side for years separated by a simple wall. We never said hello. We never waived a good morning or a good bye. We never acknowledged the other’s existence. Yet we knew each other’s name, job, birthdays, details about our families. We knew what type of car each other drove, where each other would hang out. We knew who each other’s close friends were and details about each other that only these friends should know. Our circles were intertwined and connected yet we were as far from each other as could be - by choice. And we liked it that way. We kept it that way. A modern day civil war - woman against woman fighting for what she believed was rightly hers. Offended by the very breath of the other, the very mention of their name.
This is a story of two women who were living life rooted in a worldly, barren and unsure foundation. Two spirits who followed the people's standards of what and who we should be as strong, powerful women. We did well in school, we went to college and graduated with degrees. We went on to the next level and beefed up our resumes by obtaining masters degrees. We gave back to our communities, involved in events that promoted teamwork and a giving spirit. We got up early and slapped on the label of “disciplined”, “determined”, “committed”. We busted our butts in the gym - always stepping up to the challenges of heavy workouts, long workouts, speed workouts. We followed the trends of what “healthy” meant while still managing girls night out because balance. We thrived on self sufficiency and independence. We loved our label of giver, believer, coach. It’s who we were - we worked each day to maintain the top position. You see, she and I were in fact very similar. We loved and enjoyed many of the same things - from fitness to food to style of car to coaching to coffee. We loved the podium we placed our identities on so much we couldn’t see that we were positioning ourselves in a pit of destruction. That our platform was rooted in soil that lacked what our hearts truly needed and as a result we slowly started to rot and wither away.
I hated her. She despised me. It’s as simple as that. And I don’t mean it lightly or frivolously. I hated who she was, I resented her for her career, I scoffed at her workouts. I used her as fuel, self imposed competition, for everything during that period of time. I wanted her to know that I knew. I wanted her to see me. I wanted to convince myself I was better, stronger, prettier, nicer, more worthy than she. I wanted to convince her.. I wanted her to know that I would not back down or go away. That the spot she was fighting for wouldn’t go down without a fight. I wanted her to know that I was in the ring and she wasn’t going to knock me out - that I would win anywhere and anyway I could. I laughed when I knew she was hurting. I felt victory when she failed. All of our labels should have brought us together however we had one label we shared - one we gave ultimate authority to. That label we shared carried a love that drove us to the darkest places, distorting our realities and chained us to identities that we would proclaim we weren’t but in fact we embodied.
I have shared that these past few years have been something quite amazing, nothing short of a miracle. As I was brought down to rock bottom, I had no idea how much God would rebuild me back up. He has moved mountains and slayed giants that tormented me my entire life. I had no idea how much bitterness, anger, sadness and resentment my heart hosted. As time went by and He worked in me, He showed me who I had been and with a blanket of grace held my hand as He shaped me into who He intended me to be. As I prepared to give a statement at my father’s hearing in April 2019, God spoke to me about this situation from my past that I had not thought about in years. A period of time that no longer drowned my thoughts or occupied space in my mind - He brought to the surface and there were the hidden offenses I still had buried deep within my heart. He showed me that I had never properly dealt with all the terrible things I had thought and said, the way I acted towards her and others. I had never sought His forgiveness or theirs for my attitude and actions. I may have had the reasons but I did not have the right. It did not feel good to sit before the Creator of all and admit the truth and take ownership of the offenses I carried far to long. On March 4, 2019, I bowed my head and humbly asked God to refine my heart and continue to separate the dross from it. I confessed that I had never trusted Him and had lacked faith. I needed His help, I wanted my hard heart to be pliable. I wanted to release the role of self protector to the great Defender who promised that He is stronger than that which was in me.
As the months went by, God continued to prove abundantly faithful as I continued to abide, seek, and surrender every part of my identity, past, my heart to Him. I continued to plow the field and sow the seed in all areas of my life. Five months after writing that letter to Him, as I ended my first full day in Ecuador tired, hungry and uncomfortable from being out of routine - I received a message from the last person I would have ever expected. It was from Julie. She sent me an invite to an event her church was putting on and shared with me that she felt an overwhelming call to invite me. I sat on my bed with my eyes closed because I could not believe that I was sitting in another miracle. I was in the midst of a seed fully exploding into the harvest of blessing He promises. I knew what I had to do and better yet what I wanted to do. I responded to her by asking for her forgiveness for the offense I had held against her for so long and all of the terrible things I had spoken life to during that period of time. God had opened a door and I was ready to jump through it with full confidence. I meant every word I shared with her and because of that moment of acting with faith - this photo took place.
I repeatedly told everyone who knew me during that time that I would rather die than ever speak or spend time with her. And those who knew me, knew I meant every word of it. I drove to the coffee shop smiling and laughing with God yesterday. I rejoiced in His victory because I was on my way to do what I swore would never happen. My heart was peaceful and joyful about it. I stopped by the store to pick up a small bouquet of flowers - you see, every August I had to watch her birthday be celebrated. I would dread that day during those years. I was jealous, I was envious, I was spiteful. I decided to drive another punch to the Devil by reclaiming what her birthday is suppose to mean: celebration. I wanted to honor her and show what our Father desires for each other: genuine love and respect. I waited expectantly with the coffee and flowers at the table. She walked in and I greeted her with a hug as her eyes started to water over and tears of relief spilled. I spent the next three hours with Julie. For the first time in 7 years, with healed hearts and wearing labels of “Chosen”, “Daughter”, “Servant”, “Worthy” we laughed, she cried, I smiled. You read that right - I smiled and meant every inch of it. How good it felt and how good our God is.
I share this with you as a testament to what God will do for you when you truly come to Him with a surrendered heart and call for help. He loves you. He desires to completely restore and redeem ALL parts of your heart, your character, your life. He can make all broken things whole again when you invite Him into the mess. It may take years, it may take a lot of grit, a lot of tears but there will be breakthrough if you stay persistent in your pursuit of Him and His ways. He doesn't care how messy the situation was or how trivial it seems to others on the outside - He cares about all of it. There is enough grace for it if your heart is genuine when you come to Him. He won’t do it until you are ready and invite Him in. He will answer you, in His time and in His way. Your journey wasn’t intended for you to navigate alone. You don’t have to carry the guilt and shame of who you were during a season. You do not have to fear what others will think, you just have to fall into His arms and let Him make possible what you believed was impossible. God wants to heal every little piece of your past so that you can peacefully and powerfully pursue what He has purposed for your life before He knitted you in the womb. This is the Gospel. This is the BLESSING.
I praise you Jesus for this moment that would have never happened if it wasn’t for your transforming power and love. This picture is proof of many things. It proves You are able, capable, willing and loving enough to sew up every single broken or torn apart piece of your daughter’s heart. This is proof that it is only when your daughters come to you and fall to their knees with humility asking you to search their hearts for the things still hidden. You will be faithful in bringing to light all dark areas. You will be there to walk us through the process. I thank you mighty God that no matter how a story gets started you are willing to write an ending that is beautiful and bold. With You as the author, our ending does not have to be determined by the beginning. Thank you for ways that are higher than ours. Thank you for a love does not depend on what we have done or do but that just is. Thank you God for my new friend. Thank you God for Julie. I love you. Amen