Carmen


The Church is beautiful, messy, and full of broken people. People who have been redeemed and who each have a story. A powerful story of transformation.

Sometimes, instead of following the example of Jesus in honoring, loving, and empowering one another, we tend to let our flesh try to control us by allowing ourselves to shame other people based on past behaviors.

I was fortunate enough to find a place of acceptance in a church community in college, as well as in my awesome roommates my first couple years of college. It’s where I started to feel truly seen and loved for who I was and not based on what I did.

After a mission trip my sophomore year of college, I really started to develop a more personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. But I was still in an unhealthy mindset focused on behavior and performance. I threw myself into campus ministry, spending time with the lonely and broken, wanting to accept them in a way I had not been accepted in the past. Subsequently, I was not letting myself process and heal from my own past rejections.

Which led to becoming more depressed. I had started a full-time job for my internship where I was in a hospital all day, and that was new to me. It was the “real world” and it was a rude awakening. I had been living in a “Christian bubble” and my faith had become very performance-based as I strived to feel worthy of love and affection.

In all of that striving, I started putting a lot of value on one of my close college friends. I looked to her to make me feel better. However, I remember feeling convicted for putting her above the Lord… but I ignored that feeling. I remember being in a fog and not acting like myself at all. I had noticed how things weren’t normal between us, but I wasn’t sure how to handle it. But in my mind and spirit, I know it just didn’t make sense.

Then, something happened between us. Something that I allowed myself to rationalize. I told myself that the occurrence was okay because I didn’t want that long term. I wouldn’t talk about what happened because I felt so much fear and shame. I knew that it wasn’t something I wanted, but I was afraid of what others would say if I told them what had happened.

A couple weeks later, my friend and I finally decided to tell someone. And it was like blinders were lifted. I could see again. All it took was bringing that sin to the light. It wasn’t a thing that ever happened again, but the process moving forward and the shame put on me from others was deeply painful.

There is a song called "New Wine" by Hillsong Worship. One of the lines in that song says, “It's in the crushing.” It's in the crushing where we get rid of all the "extra stuff." Where we come back to the place where only His presence satisfies.

It became a daily surrender to forgive and not become bitter. I constantly felt like I had to defend myself. I felt the need to protect and defend myself. But God kept telling me, “I know you. I know you see how your actions were affecting our fellowship, but I also know that I never stopped loving you. Not even a little bit. You know who you are. Lean into the brokenness. Let me form you. Let me do the fighting. I SEE YOU.”

God saw me in my brokenness. I broke His heart when I took my eyes off of Him and chose other things before Him. He knew I was not living like a loved child of God. I was looking for love in all the wrong places and trying to be what was good for someone else, when I should have been pointing that someone else to God.

It sounds weird but I’m completely overwhelmed with gratitude as I write this. One shouldn’t be thankful for rejection from almost an entire community; however, to walk through a journey of being able to firmly stand on who God says I am and not what others say I am has been an experience I am thankful for.

Sometimes I think about what it would look like for all of us to remember the simplicity of the Gospel… where we are seeking Jesus and the relationship we have with Him.

I learned that what others have to say about me, or even think about me, doesn’t define me. What Jesus says about me is what defines me. Because Jesus paid the ultimate price, I am allowed to see myself for who He says I am. Yes, I mess up. A lot. But those mess-ups do not define me.

That season of life was a painful process: the process of learning how to live unoffended by others, and the process of becoming a little girl again, finding joy in the small things. My heart started to become more tender and I began getting stripped of my pride.

It was hard for me to trust people for a long time. It was hard to trust that they wanted what was best for me and weren’t just trying to control me. It took me a few years to deeply receive love and affection from others. I thank God for the friends I had during that time, the ones who loved me for me and never left.

God led me into a 3 year sitting period with Him. I started going to a church where I found a lot of healing. They spoke truth to me, and they spoke life. When you have the choice to speak death or to speak life, always choose life. Speak life to people. It gives clarity and reminds them of who they are. We all need that reminder every now and then.

The lessons taught to me in the hard seasons were some of the most important lessons I could ever learn. I learned to ALWAYS encourage when sin is brought into the light. There is no need to further tear down the person bringing their sin to the light. They already feel torn down. We serve a God who says there is POWER when darkness is brought into the light.

I also learned the power of vulnerability. Authentic community is made through vulnerability.

My life verse is 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in your weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.'" His power is perfected in our weaknesses. Brene Brown says that for shame to survive, there has to be secrecy, silence, and judgment. Vulnerability brings it to the light, and when you are met with grace instead of criticism, it gives you the courage to walk forward in freedom, living out who you were created to be.

Another thing I learned is that there is NOTHING God can’t redeem. During this season, I was told there should be no restoration between my friend and me. And I was told that I shouldn’t lead anyone else again. But that’s not the power of the Cross. We are called to reconciliation. And there is always hope. There is hope on the other side of the Cross. There is victory. Jesus made a way for our past, present, and future sins to be forgiven, and for us to have the power to forgive any and everyone.

The Church is not a building, and it’s not just gathering on Sundays. The Church is a family. A family that the Cross makes it possible for us to have. So, what does it look like to live like family? It looks like showing grace in those moments where someone comes to you saying that they messed up. The biggest command we have been given is to love one another as Jesus loved us.

In 2017 when I left for an 11-month long mission trip called the World Race, I remember fighting a lie that told me I didn’t have a voice. The enemy told me, “You have no right to lead these people or to even be here.” And then when I became a team leader, and my team went around to speak truth to me, they each said, “When you speak, people listen.” They spoke into the lie that I had shared with no one. God saw me, and He used some incredible people to bring redemption.

You have a voice, and sometimes it just takes vulnerability to realize how powerful your voice is. Breakthrough is on the other side, telling the story of who you are with your whole heart. I still hear the lie sometimes, “People won’t want to follow you.” I think Satan wants us to hear these lies and react in a way that does not mimic Christ. Whereas God wants us to act humbly and remember that He works in our weakness. It’s about people following Jesus anyway, not about people following us.

I learned so much from a season in my life where I thought I was a failure. We shouldn’t be afraid to fail because it’s in the failing that we learn to lean on Him.

Melissa Helser writes, “When He showed them the scars in His hands and His side, He invited us into His cracked, scarred covering. He invited us into His pain and His victory. And He inspired us to be unashamed of the seasons that feel like they have left scars on our hearts. Those scars are the things that give us strength, give us hope. Wear your covering with confidence. Know it is unique and beautiful and shows every moment you gave in to the process of growth. Where the broken and tired world can walk up to and run their hands over our stories and feel and see our brokenness and our victory. May we never stop seeing the Kingdom hidden in the world around us. Those who are alive will always hear the whisper in the most unlikely places.”

I think in those really hard seasons, it’s not just God cheering us on, which is more than enough. It’s all of Heaven. We just have to ask for the eyes to see it. Hebrews 12:1 tells us we have a cloud of witnesses cheering us on. So I encourage you today, ask yourself: What if you saw yourself how God sees you?

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