"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." Romans 8:1 (NIV)
We've all heard the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Boy, is it ever! We've had a lot going on in our family over the past month.
My precious aunt went to be with the Lord on the night of May 1st; my mom received the call while sitting at the table with me at a Women's Gala where I was getting ready to speak. Literally, I was just a couple of minutes away from being introduced and walking up on stage. I knew from the way my mother answered her cell that my aunt had passed. She was in the final stages of Alzheimer's and had taken a turn for the worse that week. Praise God that He got me through that night. I know my brothers and sisters in Christ were praying for me and didn't even yet know of the entire situation. All I know is I felt a calmness and a peace and was able to speak with ease - to God be ALL the glory! I tried not to look at my mom too much while I was speaking, although I did get a glimpse of her and she seemed okay. She later told me that sitting there listening to me talk was actually comforting to her. Again, totally a God thing. She took off as soon as I finished speaking and then my husband and I drove up to be with my family later that night.
Funny how at our busy stages of life my cousins and I (as with so many other families) seldom find the time to get together and reminisce of days gone by until something tragic brings us together. They had pulled out the old photo albums and started going through pictures. Some were so hilarious - especially the ones from the 70's and 80's.
We then started talking about some of those precious memories - like the time when I graduated from high school and I was still only 17 so my parents wouldn't allow me to go on a beach trip with my friends alone. Therefore, my mom and dad went to the beach along with my friends and stayed in a room next door to us in the Myrtle Beach high rise. If that wasn't enough, my mom invited my aunt, my grandma, and my older cousin to come down that week and stay with her. That plan was fine until my aunt walked my little grandma out on the beach and stopped right in front of my blanket while we were sunbathing with some cute guys we had met. I'll never forget how she said in her sweet voice, "Hey Christy...having fun?" I could have buried myself in the sand because the temperature was in the 90s and my cute little grandma was wearing her sweater and a hat, carrying her pocketbook, and even wearing a nose guard over her nose as she had suffered with skin cancer and had to protect herself!
After talking about these good ol' days of which I eventually forgave my mother for tagging along on my senior beach trip, we wanted to find this picture of my grandma sitting on the beach under an umbrella - all decked out in her granny "beach" gear! My mom searched and searched for it. Finally, she found it! I have posted the picture above. It is just priceless and it was the last time my sweet grandma ever saw the ocean. I'm so thankful she was able to go and enjoy it.
However, as my mom was on the hunt for this one photograph, she ran across countless other ones of me from my college days. I spent about an hour one Saturday afternoon looking through old photo albums - lots of old boyfriends, a Student Government retreat when I was in college, several party pictures of when I was a student at Appalachian State - many of them NOT glorifying to God and actually quite embarrassing for me at this point in my life. It was almost like taking a trip in a time machine and I didn't like the girl I was seeing back then. Except for holding out a couple of pictures, I told my mom to put the albums away. I didn't want my kids to see them. Most of the pictures weren't all that terrible, but I didn't feel that it would be a good example for them to see at this point. I pray that they will NOT make the same mistakes that I made in college and I am reminded why my husband and I support Campus Crusade for Christ.
The one picture that really haunted me was one that I feel could have altered the course of my whole life. In the fall of 1990, I had come home for a weekend to go to my best friend's sister's wedding. At that wedding reception, I met the brother of the groom who was quite charming. He later told my friend that he had met someone he would like to go out with. When he described me, she exclaimed, "That's my best friend!" So that night we all went out to play putt-putt after the wedding. In the meantime, my ex-boyfriend from high school (my current husband) just happened to drop by my house with his mother (who was dropping off something to my mom) and stayed to visit for a bit. I hadn't seen Mark in years and was absolutely shocked that he showed up! After all, I was getting ready to go on a date with someone else! My mom had snapped a picture of Mark and I sitting on the sofa, which admittedly was a little awkward and then she proceeded to take pictures of my friend and our dates. (My mom was/is a picture taking machine!)
I was too proud or too naive to realize that Mark may have actually cared about seeing me again at that point in our lives. Duh! He told me after we had reunited years later (after our divorces) that he had always wondered what I was doing...what I was up to. We had really been best friends for 2 1/2 years of our young teenage years and it was a shame that we had drifted apart in college. Seeing that photo made my mind drift back to what might have been. As it turned out, I ended up dating the other guy for about a year and Mark and I never talked again until a few years later after he was engaged. Then he and his fiance came to my wedding and my new husband and I went to their wedding. Totally weird, huh?
In addition to looking back at old photos this past month, I was invited to come and speak to a group of wonderful teenage girls - my cousin's daughter and her friends from their church. They had been reading and discussing the book by Vicki Courtney, The 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter, and they had asked me to come and share a little of my experience and advice. As I was preparing for the meeting, I was forced to focus on my past mistakes - mainly the ones I made in college and shortly thereafter. The mistakes of putting other relationships before God - chasing after the "perfect guy" - trying to find someone to "complete me" (I hate that line from Jerry McGuire) - how that I "settled" for less than God's best for my life because of my low self-worth, clearly a result of the poor relationship choices I had made.
I shared with these young ladies how that I wish I had been in love with Jesus back then and stressed the most important commandment that Jesus himself gave us, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt 22:38) I believe that if we're focusing on loving the Lord in the way He commands us, the rest of our life will fall into place. This is my prayer for each of my children - that they would love the Lord with all of their heart, their mind, and their soul.
I also shared with them that I wish I had been obedient to God and prayed about everything. Those two things go hand in hand. To have an effective prayer life, we have got to be obedient to God. (James 5:13-16; Psalm 66:18-19) I also had to tell them the story of Ruth and how that we should each strive to be a woman of noble character and be obedient to God. (Ruth 3:11) I told them something I had learned from a speaker by the name of Jackie Kendall at a conference a couple of years ago about never settling - NO BOZO! I'm waiting on my Boaz. Of course she can't use that slogan anymore because Bozo the Clown's heirs wanted royalties from her! Can you believe that???
And seek the Truth - I just couldn't stress it enough! I love the Message translation of Jeremiah 29:13 - "When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed. God's Decree." Wow! And I can use a dose of that every day! I want a continued hunger for more of God's Word - His Truth! The only thing that can powerfully help us to discern the "lies" the enemy would have us to believe about ourselves. Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss is a wonderful book for women and it's a resource I used for much of last year when I was teaching a ladies' Sunday school class. There is a Bible study for teen girls, Lies Young Women Believe...that I plan to do with my daughter over the summer.
My daughter is just 5 years away from starting college. I just feel as though time is running out and I don't want to mess this up! I want her to be prepared as she goes off to school and I want her to make good decisions and stand firm in what she knows is right and true. But first, she has to KNOW what is right and true.
Another photo album was pulled out of the closet last weekend at my parents' house - our cruise pictures from Spring Break 1992 - my senior year in college. My mom had taken a picture of me sitting on the edge of something on the cruise ship, maybe a pool? Anyway, I was in a strapless bikini with my big 80's-like hair holding a frozen drink with my legs apart (kind of sitting Indian style - or "criss-cross applesauce" if that is more politically correct these days)! I'm sure that my intent was not to look trashy, but when my daughter saw the picture she said, "Mama, you look kind of like a tramp!" OUCH!
The truth hurt, but she was right. I felt like I was looking at someone else. Aside from the big frizzy brown hair which is now straight and colored blonde; and not to mention the great abs I had before I had 3 babies, I just didn't look like myself at all. But for me, it was because I knew what I looked like on the inside at that time as well and it really wasn't as pretty as the outside. I was an ugly mess. I was getting ready to graduate from college and had my whole life ahead of me, but it didn't take long for me to make some really bad decisions.
Do you ever play your life back to yourself like a movie reel. Sometimes I just wish I could take the scissors and just snip out the parts that make me sad, regretful, or even humiliated. Unfortunately, that's not how life works. NONE of us are perfect and we all have done things in our lives that we're not proud of - especially now that we're in Christ. But God does not want us to beat ourselves up about our past mistakes. If we have confessed them, turned away from them, and we believe that Jesus died for our sins - we are FORGIVEN!
Just yesterday my silly almost teenage daughter asked me, "Mama, you're not gonna look like a tramp at the beach this year, are you?" Gee, I guess that picture was worth a thousand words because it really made an impression! I said, "Madison, are you crazy? I don't have the abs for it anymore!" We had a good laugh because she was of course just kidding with me anyway, but then she said to me, "You know it's kind of funny...you used to have big frizzy hair and look like a tramp and now you have short straight hair and you wrote a Christian book! Hmmmmm. I must admit that comment stung a little, but I am reminded that I am not that girl anymore. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) Satan would like to remind me of my past and hinder me from sharing the Gospel with others, but the Truth is from the beginning God has used all kinds of sinners and people with a less than honorable past to carry out HIS plan! Don't know who said it, but "When the devil reminds you of your past, just remind him of his future!" (Revelation 19:20; 20:14)
However, the events of the past month and the questions she is asking and will continue to be asking over the next several years have really got me seeking God's Word and the things that He would have me teach her. How about you? Do you ever wish you could turn back time and redo parts or all of your life? If we are in Christ, we have been forgiven and we do not have to feel guilty over the past. Move on! Again, God is able to "work ALL things for the good of those who love him." (Romans 8:28) That's the only way someone like me could end up writing a Christian book - because God is so good that He could restore even my life from the mess I had made. A picture from the past may be worth a thousand words, but there simply are not enough words to describe what an awesome, mighty, loving, powerful Savior we have in Christ Jesus! As John said, if every one of the things that Jesus did were written down, he supposed that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written! (John 21:25) AMEN!
To God be the Glory!