I arrived in London like a turtle. On the exterior, I came off as a strong, independent, confident woman. But beneath my shell was a frightened girl traveling uncharted territory. I pressed on alone. A stranger in a strange land with strange new people. To be honest, not much has changed in twenty years.
I’m even more a stranger in a strange land as a believer in Christ.
I was at a crossroads, becoming a young women but ill-prepared to walk into my future. Coming from a home laced with dysfunction that had been handed-down one generation after another, I was an empty and battered vessel willing to receive any form of attention and acceptance. I was searching for love and security, hope and promise. No one could meet my unrealistic demands.
No one but Him.
In a quiet surrender, I gave my life to the Lord, declaring that I would take the promise of heaven to be my own. I gave up trying to be good enough to get into God’s favor, acknowledging for the first time that my sin was not my own to bear. Based on behavior alone, no one would have known that Jesus became my Lord and Savior that blustery November night in London, but time would certainly reveal to all that Jesus found His place, permanently, in my heart.
When I arrived home shortly before Christmas, I was certainly a changed woman, ablaze with passion for God, wanting every area of my life to be adjusted according to Biblical truth. No more partying. No more cussing. No more unhealthy relationships. A new Bible. A new church. New friends through a Christian group at college. A new routine and lifestyle.
Before long, I was a college graduate, and within the year I was married and living at a Christian boarding and day school with my beloved husband, one of the key players in my journey of faith. Three years later, the Lord blessed us with the birth of a beautiful baby girl, and twenty-six months later, we welcomed the birth of our second daughter.
The outer woman not only had a spiritual makeover, but a life makeover. However, the inner soul was still carrying around old baggage, unsure of how to lay it down at the cross. Even though I believed that God forgave me for all my sins, I didn’t know how to reconcile my past with my present, so I simply suppressed every emotion and feeling. Each day my ordinary experiences triggered painful memories. Not knowing how to deal with what was really bothering me, I blamed everybody and everything else for my short temper and irritability. I developed new routines and constantly adjusted expectations, desperately hoping that would lengthen my fuse. Nothing worked.
It was a tiring and stressful life, trying to be the good Christian girl on the outside and feeling pretty horrid on the inside. The more I read Scripture and sought to live accordingly — especially in terms of having a gentle and quiet spirit — the more I seemed to go in the other direction. My mounting anger reached an unexplainable intensity. It would have been easy to blame it on the stress of my third pregnancy with twins. Or later on sleep deprivation. Or on the traumatic death of a friend.
I was so sad and angry, but no one knew.
When I walked out of the house, my face was perfectly made up, clothes freshly put together, and smile plastered on my face. Yet at home I was unpredictable. Emotional. Frustrated. After one explosive moment with my oldest daughter, my husband attempted to call me in to account. Defensive, I rebuked his rebuke. We were in the crazy cycle of hurts, disrespect, and constant disappointment at the state of our life. It reached a point where he said plainly, “I don’t think you really love me or the kids, or you wouldn’t be treating us this way.”
Life stopped short that very moment.
I felt as if I hit a cement wall and fell flat on the floor from the impact. I knew I needed to get up, but going forward seemed impossible. Retreating may have been my knee-jerk reaction, but pride kept me from sleeking away. I turned to my sister-in-Christ, Emily, for support. She did what a true friend should always do — speak the truth in love. “You need to get help.” I nearly flung my coffee cup across the table at her. I wasn’t convinced it was time, but I knew something had to change. God was moving in my heart.
After years of trying to do life on my own, without full surrender to the Lord, it was time to completely let go of the baggage stored inside my heart.
However, the spiritual surgery required to repair my broken heart required the expertise of a Christian counselor to help me unpack the hardened areas of my heart while bringing me to the Cross in prayer, seeking Jesus as my ultimate healer. About a month into counseling, I came to see that many of my points of anger were deeply rooted in suppressing deep feelings of rejection, shame, guilt, abandonment, and unforgiveness. These are common side-effects for anyone suffering post-traumatic stress linked to any sort of trauma — not only in severe cases such as war, but in ordinary life where anything from the death of a loved one to childhood abuse, violence, poverty, substance abuse of a parent, and many other sources of pain — all trauma has the potential of leaving deep wounds within a soul that are often too hard to deal with at the time. The emotions become suppressed in an effort to survive, yet these hurts and beliefs also stunt spiritual and emotional maturity.
Because I refused to experience the Lord’s full forgiveness for my sin, even though I intellectually knew Jesus already paid the price, and also resisted forgiving those who hurt me, I was stuck in a rut of bitter pain. But as I acknowledged the hurt and identified the circumstances as well as people involved, I was able to release it to the Lord and embark on the forgiveness process.
Slowly, over time, the anger has been replaced with a softness in my responses to others, especially my children. The frustration has been replaced with an eternal perspective and a palpable peace, even in trials. Life isn’t perfect and my reactions aren’t always beautiful, but messy grace marks my reactions more than bitter anger revealing God’s hand at work in me time and time again.
This process of unpacking my stony heart was one of the most painful, most precious, most necessary experiences of my life, but it yielded remarkable and beautiful transformation. And it is ongoing.
Ephesians 3:7 CEV – God treated me with kindness. His power worked in me, and it became my job to spread the good news.
The Lord has graciously taken my greatest wounds, healed them totally, and turned my life story into my life calling, providing endless opportunities to share the Good News and testify about His transforming work as mom, mentor, friend, writer and speaker. Through the sanctification process, God continues to shape me — and you — into the likeness of His Son, writing our stories for His glory and good purposes. May we count it a privlege to tell of them often and boldy to all who are willing to listen to the sound of a Holy God scribing His love into the human heart.
(Portions of this story have been excerpted from Elisa’s ebook, Experiencing Life Transformed.)
Elisa Pulliam is a life coach, mentor, ministry leader, and speaker passionate about encouraging and equipping this generation of women to impact the next generation with relevant Truth. Her deepest desire is to facilitate heart and life transformation in others by offering practical, easily accessible, and Biblically sound life resources, which she shares at More to Be and Passion and Purpose Life Coaching. Connect with Elisa at www.elisapulliam.com and Twitter @elisapulliam.
I met Elisa while serving on the launch team for her book Impact My Life: “Impact My Life will enable you to see yourself being used by the Lord, right here, right now, for the benefit of those people perfectly placed in your corner of the world.”
That’s exactly why I love this book. It helped me to define and embrace my role in my corner of the world. I could finally see myself being used by the Lord, not leaning on myself and my gifts, but truly allowing Him to use me.
Right here. Right now.
And, I don’t need to wait for that magical moment when I am “healed” or “fixed” or “perfect” or “super Christian.”
As Elisa writes in her book, “Our qualifications [to mentor and be used by the Lord] come from the Lord…it’s a willing spirit that matters, not life experience, a gifted personality, or a seemingly perfect life. Expertise and degree qualifications do not matter to hurting hearts, lost souls or women hungry for love wrapped in truth.”
God also used Elisa to teach me that “Each lesson learned is a lesson to share. Each act of God’s grace is an act to proclaim. Each moment of sin overcome by repentance is one to brag on God about.”
That’s why I love stories. That’s why we share stories. That’s the heart of this 30 Days of Story. And…
That’s why Elisa and I are coauthoring a book full of stories that point to Him “for the sake of building others up in the faith and pointing them toward Jesus.”
When Elisa contacted me and asked if I’d coauthor a book, I was honored. Collaboration and writing have begun. You can look for our “yet to be titled” book on May 1, 2013.
Thanks, Elisa, for sharing your story and wisdom!