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named by Godovercoming your past, transforming your present, embracing your future
By kasey van norman
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2012 Kasey Van Norman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFamily Ties
ANYONE WHO HAS SPENT ANY TIME as the passenger while I'm driving will be quick to tell you that I am horrible with directions. In fact, it makes me crazy that my husband, Justin, has this sixth sense when it comes to where we are and where we're going. He can simply "feel" that we need to turn east or west, and what really gets me is that he's almost always right. The truth is, I'm jealous. I want to be able to just sense which direction is right without having to look at a map. And by the time my tearful ramblings force me to pull over and unfold the thing, it is not a pretty sight. By that time I am in such a pride-induced fit of bitterness that I am actually resentful toward the piece of paper. (Yeah, I know, real mature.)
What I find even more troubling, though, is the similar tendency I have when I lose my sense of direction in life. I'm embarrassed to admit that sometimes I'd rather drive for miles in the wrong direction than be told I'm lost and in need of directions. That's because I know that the moment I unfold my map, I'll be forced to acknowledge just how far I've veered off course.
God has given us a map for our lives—a way to make sense of where we've been, where we are now, and where we're going. That map is our past.
For some of us, it makes sense that our past can serve to lead the way. Our past is rich and bright. We delight in it and praise God for it. But for others of us, that sounds like a daunting, if not ludicrous, prospect. We might want to run from our past, ignore it, build a wall around it, or burn it ... but let it be our guide? How could that be possible with such a rocky backstory? Like it or not, however, our past will always be attached to us, just like our shadow. Whether you are an embracer or a runner when it comes to your past, you cannot escape the footsteps that bind you to those who went before you.
Whether thoughts of your past make you want to smile or break out in hives, your past is a defining characteristic of who you are. At this point many are quick to rebut, "I am not defined by my past! I am no longer involved in those thoughts, that environment, those actions. Therefore, I cannot possibly be defined by where I have been."
But what if I told you that being defined by your past does not have to be a bad or scary thing? What if I told you that who you are right this minute has everything to do with who you were days, weeks, months, and even years ago? What would it be like to shatter all our presumptions that the past is some nightmare we are always trying to wake up from and instead embrace the footprints we have left behind (even the muddy ones)? The psalmist expresses this idea beautifully: "My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees" (Psalm 119:71).
Child of God, when you can choose to see your past, present, and future through the filter of Christ, this rocky, winding, pothole-filled road will soon become clear, straight, and paved. Throughout part 1, we are going to dig into God's Word to see the road signs he has been showing us all along the way. We will also be able to see how he can make a beautiful journey of redemption out of even the pitfalls of our past.
Where My Story Begins
My upbringing was pretty normal, I suppose, although who really knows what "normal" is? It certainly wasn't a perfect childhood, but I do have many happy memories. My mother, who worked full-time at the local bank, was as devoted to us as she could be amid debt, laundry, dishes, and the slew of extracurricular activities my brother and sister and I were involved in. My father, who worked for the local electric company, was in and out of our home for much of my childhood. When he was around, he often found his happy place in the garage or at the hunting lease.
With my parents busy with jobs, paying the bills each month, and getting food on the table, we spent ample time with our grandparents. My grandparents were, to my best recollection, the first voices of wisdom I heard in the way of spiritual guidance. On a regular basis one of us would whine, "Gran, I want ..." something or other, and like clockwork, she would lovingly respond, "We should not want for anything. The Lord has provided all we need. What is it you would like to have?"
I grew up in a small town in East Texas. And while being raised in the Bible Belt of the nation certainly had its perks, such as a church on every corner and an openness to talking about faith, below the surface of the shiny steeples and the majestic pine trees lay the most destructive force known to well-meaning Christ followers: complacency.
Church traditions and rituals had deep roots in the soil of my community. Even from an early age, I fell victim to living a life that looked religious from the outside but lacked substance. With so many self-professed Christians in the area, my biggest concern was going to church—and looking the part. Sunday mornings were bittersweet for me because I was constantly striving for perfection but never seemed to have the right outfit to be deemed worthy of mingling with the cool kids. And my parents' SUV was never new enough to park alongside the wealthier vehicles of our fellow churchgoers.
Each Sunday was the same. First a welcome and some hymns, a special solo, then the sermon (always consisting of a five-letter acrostic), and at last the invitation. I can still hear the booming voice of the well-dressed pastor as he rang out the rote call, almost songlike: "If you have yet to surrender yourself to the Holy Spirit and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, please come to the front and allow me the privilege of leading you in the sinner's prayer."
I am sure that every time he spoke it, he meant it from his heart. Yet to my knowledge, no one ever came. And from what I could tell, no one really cared that no one ever came. Myself included.
Throughout my youth, I believed religion fit into one neat box: "If you're good enough, you'll get to heaven." I knew well the stories of Noah and the Flood, David and Goliath, and the baby Jesus in the manger (mostly due to the small felt cutouts of these characters we directed during our yearly vacation Bible school sessions). But even with the Bible stories and altar calls, somehow I never grasped the true message of what it means to follow Christ. I vividly remember feeling safe, loved, and comfortable within my church bubble as a child. However, with the teenage years just around the corner and a family system quickly fraying around the edges, my cozy bubble was about to burst.
Adolescence brought many changes for me. My father and I were never particularly close, but as I grew into a young woman, we drifted further and further apart. I'm certain that our shared stubbornness had much to do with it. I was a headstrong, independent girl who desperately wanted to know her father loved her, but I was afraid that to ask would show weakness. My dad was a work-driven father who desperately wanted to tell his daughter he loved her, but he was afraid that to say so would show weakness.
My parents' inevitable divorce became final not long after my thirteenth birthday. I commemorated the event by running away from home. I see now that it was a dramatic plea for attention, but at the time, I knew of no other way to cope with the overwhelming sense of loss, doubt, and fear. From my limited teenage perspective, I somehow felt responsible for causing such devastation for my family.
Things Were Not Okay
The five years that followed ushered in one of the most rebellious, pain-filled seasons of my life. I was weak, unsure, and a prime target for the attacks of Satan. After the divorce, my parents seemed to turn into different people overnight. Both of them were racked with guilt from their decision and overtaken with fear of what was to become of our family. I suppose it was their defense mechanism, but for years they were cold and calloused, locking in all their emotions. There was no more laughing, no more crying, no more yelling—just nothing. Every waking moment seemed painful.
At the young age of thirteen I learned the ropes of "mommy-hood." While my friends were going to the movies and getting their first kisses, I was reading bedtime stories, preparing meals, and spending almost every weekend taking care of my two younger siblings. With a desperate desire to fit in, I convinced myself that if I looked normal, people would treat me as such. Therefore, I quickly put together a mask of what I considered "normal." I wore it to school, to church, with my friends—pretty much all the time.
Each night, amid sobs and questions, I would tell myself that the Lord was with me and that it would be okay. But I knew down deep that things were not okay.
Until I was fifteen, I really held it together. In fact, I even surprised myself with what a good girl I was. I didn't go to parties, I never touched alcohol or kissed boys, and I went to church with my grandparents even when no one else in my family would go. I made the honor roll every year, and I devoted myself to my passions—music and theater—as a welcome escape from the shambles of my home life.
My first boyfriend came as a bit of a shock to me. In fact, when he asked me out for the first time, I thought it was some cruel joke. He was "Mr. Everything" at my high school, and I was "Miss Nobody"—just a freshman standing in awe of his "seniorness." In some strange way, I thought this guy was a reward from God for my being a good girl when things got bad, for taking care of my siblings when I would rather have been somewhere else, and for putting up with so much mess that I didn't deserve.
Only a few weeks into our so-called relationship, this boyfriend who claimed he didn't want to kiss until the altar raped me. It was devastating. And the pain didn't stop that day. That wound left scars on my soul that I thought would never heal. I built a protective shell around myself just to make it through each day. But on the inside, the shame I felt kept festering.
One of the most crushing blows from this experience was the effect it had on my faith. Since the moment I entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ at the age of nine, I had sensed his presence. I may not have understood what it meant to follow him completely, and he may have felt far away at times after my parents' divorce, but I had always felt that God was there.
But in that one awful moment, I was stripped of every security and comfort I had managed to hang on to. Suddenly it was as if everything I had believed about God was nothing more than a fairy tale—just a nice story to calm us down and get us to sleep at night. In the moments that followed the rape, I felt completely and utterly alone, as if a great chasm now separated me from the God I had known. I felt sure that God had grown weary of me and had tossed me aside like a piece of garbage. With every day that passed and with every breath I drew, I felt more alone, more broken, and more abandoned by God. My initial questions for God turned into bitterness, and that bitterness eventually made my heart cold and numb.
With a sense of unworthiness in my heart, and feeling much like a used car, I went in search of love—in all the wrong places, as the old Johnny Lee hit so accurately puts it. The next five years were a blur of pain and insecurity as I engaged in numerous promiscuous relationships, was hospitalized for a severe eating disorder, and was placed in therapy for cutting myself.
The crazy thing about all this was that no one in my life really knew what kind of pain I was experiencing. I had been involved in theater from a very young age, and it turns out I had become quite a good actress. On the outside I wore my dazzling Christian mask, but it was only covering up terrified screams for help. I would leave every sexual encounter in sobs, begging God to help me find satisfaction in him and not in a boy. I would be in the middle of slashing my forearm while at the same time praying for God to make the pain go away.
An Honest Assessment
If you had asked me several years ago to tell my family history, it would have been too overshadowed with bitterness and rage to be accurate. I would have made it clear to you that it was my background—growing up without a father figure, watching my parents go through a messy divorce, and being raped as a teenager—that was responsible for all my bad decisions. I would have told you that those experiences were solely to blame for the open wound of bondage that kept oozing for years afterward. I would have said it was inevitable, after being a victim of such sin, that I would one day lash out in rebellion against God and others. But that was then....
Now, after a few therapy sessions, an emotional breakdown that almost cost me my life, and a monumental move of the Holy Spirit, I have matured enough to see my family through the filtered lens of Christ, not merely with human eyes. This is a gift I pray that you, too, will receive over the course of the coming chapters.
You see, as long as I continued to view my life from a reactive point of view—"They did this to me, and as a result, I did that"—I was still making the story about me ... and completely missing God! It's true that human beings make sinful choices that impact the lives of those around them. But that doesn't have to be the end of our story.
Not long ago my eyes were opened to another angle of my story. Although it's true that harmful things were done to me, I chose to live under this shadow. No family member chose it for me or forced me to live under that curse. Dear reader, in order for us to make a fair and healthy assessment of where we are now in relation to Christ, we must dig deep into our family roots from the perspective of truth, not just emotion. We must choose to see those closest to us in the same way our heavenly Father does—as imperfect people who make imperfect choices. And we must take responsibility for our part in our own baggage and not just dump it all on someone else's doorstep.
For me, this means taking responsibility for the moments I lied to my parents, yelled at them, slammed the door in their faces, and completely disrespected them. I must take ownership for the moments I chose to believe the rank deceptions Satan breathed into my ear. I must take responsibility for my rebellion and disobedience when I knew good and well that what I was doing was wrong and that I was hurting myself and others.
For us to truly experience a life worth living, we must take responsibility, not for what has been done to us, but for our reaction to what has been done to us. As long as I focused on what had been done to me, I could never see clearly enough to discover what God wanted to do within me. It was not my fault that my parents chose to get divorced or that the high school senior chose to rape me. The fallen world we live in ensures that we will endure pain and hardship at the hands of others. It is a guarantee that people are going to hurt us in one way or another. If we do not learn how to respond rightly to those who hurt us, we will continue to live in misery and, because misery loves company, bring others right along with us.
The Bible offers a brilliant alternative to the world's way of dealing with suffering and unfair treatment:
God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 PETER 2:19-21
As long as we focus on the wrongs done to us instead of bringing that hurt before the Lord, we will remain bitter and immobilized by the destructive force of self-pity. When we find ourselves sucked into this vortex of self-pity over things that have unjustly happened to us, our past is making us miserable in the present. And that, my friend, is on us! Psalm 73:21-22 describes that condition perfectly: "I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant—I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you." A self-pitying heart will inevitably grow bitter, and a bitter heart will inevitably grow cold, desensitizing us to the movement of God in our lives. In other words, a self-pitying heart can turn you stupid real quick.
Excerpted from named by God by kasey van norman Copyright © 2012 by Kasey Van Norman . Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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