The Simplicity of My Testimony: A Memoir
Expected release, June 2022:
Looking back at my past relationships, the twists and turns that my life has taken for the good and the not-so-good, I understand that every single incident, every mountaintop experience and every valley experience is and has all been for purpose. There is no way that I could truly value the blessings without having endured through the trials, and by getting through each trial, God has added a brick of character to my foundation.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that living for Jesus is like riding in the passenger’s seat of a car with a stick shift. I vividly recall when, as a teenager, I would ride with my sister in her Toyota Celica. The car had a manual transmission, and I often found myself in awe watching her drive, clutching, shifting, accelerating, and braking so effortlessly.
Once while stopped, and almost as though reading my mind, she looked over at me and told me to put my hand on the stick shift. She put her hand on mine, and as she pressed down on the clutch, she used her hand on mine to maneuver the stick through each gear, calling out which gear we were in each time, until I had memorized the placement of each. Finally, we were back in motion on the road, and this time, she had removed her hand from mine. Each time she would tell me when and what gear to shift to, I would. She would clutch, and I would shift. Teamwork. Relating this teamwork to living for Jesus, I am constantly reminded that I am not in control. I have to allow Jesus to take the wheel and tell me when to shift, up or down. He is in the driver’s seat, in control of the speed and the destination. Only He knows my worth, and the only place true value and worth could and can be found is in the arms of Jesus.
Knowing and understanding my worth has been an issue for me all my life. Because of past hurts, losses, and traumas, I have been a people pleaser, afraid to disappoint others out of fear that they will abandon, criticize, or reject me. I have found myself repeatedly trying to please others, often at my own expense. I have for the most part taken on a detrimental habit of feeling as though I always have to explain myself, my actions, and my shortcomings, even when an explanation is neither warranted nor asked for. Knowing what I know now about value and worth, I realize that my actions and feelings about myself start with an understanding of who I am, and more importantly, of Whose I am.
I recently had an enlightening conversation with someone, and in that conversation, we found ourselves talking about the transformative power of water. My friend explained how water has the ability to conform to whatever container it’s placed in. Moreover, water also has the ability to go around whatever obstacles are placed in its way. Envisioning these two bits of wisdom, I added a third point: Water also has the power to erode even the hardest surface, such as rocks. Given time, a single drop of water repeatedly dropped in the same place on a rock will create a hole in that rock. The only force greater than water is love.
As we progressed in this conversation, we ended up on the topic of the butterfly, and how a butterfly is first a caterpillar. My friend asked a rhetorical question: “What would happen if that caterpillar said, ‘Nope. I give up. I can’t do it. I don’t want this pain.’” I immediately responded, “No one would ever see the beauty that that caterpillar would or could become.” Reflecting on that conversation and the topic of the butterfly, I believe that God gave me a revelation about the process of becoming a butterfly, and He did so in a way that I found relatable.
A caterpillar spends most of its life eating, devouring as much as it can, and growing as large and strong as possible. It does so because it knows that the next phase of its life will be wrought with struggle and pain. After it reaches maturity, the caterpillar sequesters itself, usually on a plant, then instinctively spins a silk cocoon around itself. Once this process is complete, the painful part begins. The cocoon, or chrysalis, hardens to protect what is inside, as nearly every cell in the caterpillar’s body begins to break down in a rapid degeneration. Only certain cells remain intact, those that will ultimately form the wings, legs, and other parts of the butterfly. As the transformation ends, the butterfly still must break free from the cocoon in order to survive. From studies that I’ve read, I haven’t seen scientific evidence that butterflies feel pain in their wings, as some would argue that these creatures lack pain receptors in their wings. However, while in the cocoon, the butterfly’s wings are thin and delicate, not strong at all. And yet, somehow, it has enough faith and determination that it will escape its hardened silk case. The butterfly has a purpose and within that purpose is an internal roadmap that guides it through perhaps the most difficult struggle it will ever face. The reward for us as human beings is that we get to behold the beauty of the wings that God has painted on an insect that started out as something that looked intimidating, unattractive, and to some, downright ugly. The butterfly’s beauty does not come without a painful cost, but it is a necessary trade-off. The caterpillar changes, and not just in appearance. God changes it completely, transforming it into a thing of beauty!
The pains and struggles of life are like the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. We “eat” on the experiences of life until we can’t eat anymore, when life gets to a breaking point. For me, I had retreated into a cocoon of emotional pain, essentially separating myself emotionally, to shield myself from additional hurt, but also to hide what I was going through. I had built up a wall around myself to keep people from getting too close. I couldn’t let them see me and the toll of brokenness that the marriage and divorce had taken, and much like the caterpillar, I had become almost completely unrecognizable, even to myself. What I didn’t realize at the time was that, while in my cocoon, God was rebuilding my faith, restoring me spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and even physically. I had to fight to break out of my personal chrysalis, and even now my wings are constantly being strengthened and shaped by and through prayer and the word of God. John 6:35 says that “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Rather than eating solely on the sweet, bitter, or tasteless experiences of life, as I have for so long, I chose to purposely eat more on the Bread of Life, and drink of the Living Water. As I emerged from my personal cocoon, so did my joy, my will to live, and my sense of purpose.
Isaiah 62:3 tells us, “Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.” A royal diadem is a jeweled crown or headband worn as a symbol of sovereignty, of power, and authority. I have taken this scripture to heart, personalizing it and comparing it to the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. God does not say that I am like or that I wear a royal diadem, but rather that I am a royal diadem! To God, I am special, priceless, unique, invaluable, rare, irreplaceable, precious, a treasure, and highly valued. The Lord sees me as exceedingly beautiful, and it is He who ascribes value to me. It is He who validates me. People cannot see me the way God sees me because I am created in His image, and no one knows what God looks like. I am His creation. I am His.
For all of the times when I looked in the mirror and could only see brokenness or couldn’t look past the scars on my face that haunted me for more than four years, I am now reminded that when God sees me, He sees His beloved daughter, and I know that this is how He wants me to see myself. To God, I am whole and complete, an exquisite masterpiece unlike anything or anyone else. I am a child of promise and I have a purpose and a calling that no one else can fulfill. In this, I am assured that “Though [my] beginning was small, yet [my] latter end should greatly increase.” (Job 8:7)