It never ceases to amaze me how God will use just about anything or anyone to speak to me. Or how He will orchestrate defining moments in my life with years in between like a puzzle that takes years to complete, and yet they all fit together–almost magically. So how does a preacher, a coffee date, and a story from Chronicles of Narnia all relate together? Read on friend… .
This particular story starts in 1997. I am a sophomore in high school and still dealing with the insecurity and awkwardness that I had fully embraced during my junior high years. Deep down, I knew that despite the struggles with peers, and the ADD, and just the plain awkwardness; there was more inside than even what I could see. I knew there was more than what most others witnessed. But I was constantly haunted by this delusion of failure and inadequacy–like a constant, cruel reflection in a mirror.
If I remember correctly, we were having a special chapel or it was part of our spiritual emphasis week where we would have chapel every day. On this particular day we had a speaker named Gary Zelesky. He was a pastor/speaker/preacher, and he was funny .I remember bits and pieces of the message, but it was the encounter I had afterwards that made a lasting mark on my heart forever. I approached him after the service for prayer. I don’t remember exactly why I even went down for prayer. I just know something in his message stirred me to the point that I needed to go talk to him. Search for something, anything that could put words to where I was at. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first time that someone (who didn’t know me at all),looked into the eyes/heart of an awkward high school girl and called out “it” out. By “it”, I mean he totally read my mail like no one ever had before.
I still remember the look in his eyes as it felt like he was looking straight through me. It’s both awkward and intriguing at the same time. He starts verbally painting this picture of me as a princess, except that I am standing in front of a mirror, and when I look in this mirror, all I see are rags. A princess in rags. As he is describing this picture, I can actually see this scene in my mind. He had nailed it. However, he went on to describe how God saw me in this beautiful gown, and that I was free. He prayed over me and I left. For hours, and days, I replayed the words in my mind. I kept seeing the visual of the full length mirror and the rags.
This whole scenario he described struck a nerve with me. He really had seen the way my mind worked. But more than that, he saw me through God’s eyes and in a way I was not able to see myself. Not for a long time anyway. I caught glimpses over the years, but have struggled to fully embrace it.
Fast forward 17 years.
I had not seen this preacher since that time. In the fall of 2014, we were invited to a River Cat’s baseball team with some friends from church. We walk in, and there he is, in the same luxury box/suite. I kept debating in my mind if I should say something. I waited through most of the night, but then towards the end, I could not resist and I turned to him and said something to the effect of:
“You probably don’t remember me, but a really long time ago, you did a chapel at my high school. Afterwards I came up for prayer and you gave me a word.”
I honestly really didn’t expect him to remember me. He had potentially seen and prayed over hundreds or thousands of youth kids in that span of time. But as I continued to share what he had shared with me, his eyes suddenly lit up. He said, ” I REMEMBER YOU!!!!” And not only did he remember me, but he remembered the word God had showed him and finished it for me.
I was shocked.
His wife was even more shocked. She jokingly said to me, “you don’t understand, he doesn’t remember ANYTHING. He will tell you.” As she is saying this, he is nodding his head in agreement, but then he smiled and said, “I do, I remember you.” I think he was shocked too. To be honest, as fun as that was that he remembered this sophomore girl from 1997, I felt my heart sink a little bit. Why? Because I felt like I was right back where I was on that day in 1997 with my eyes still shielded from the truth.
You see, in that 16 or 17 years, I had gone to college and not finished. I had been married and not been the “super wife” I had wanted to be. I had become a mom 3 times and realized I was not the super mom I wanted to be. I had dreams I hadn’t accomplished and I still struggled with my identity. If I saw failure and rags before, it was even worse now. Sure, I had accomplished some things, but not to the level I desired or dreamed of. Every time I looked in the mirror, I was still that same princess in rags.
Please bear with me as I switch gears now….this all comes together, I promise.
I have a beautiful friend that I used to meet for coffee on Monday mornings every so often. This friend is someone I greatly admire for so many reasons. She has knowledge and experience in so many areas. She is real and raw. On one of our Monday morning coffee dates, I remember sitting across the table and sharing my heart with her. Sharing my journey through finding identity and dealing with the “rags” I felt I couldn’t shake off. She shared a story from one of the Chronicles of Narnia books. It is the scene where Lucy and Edmund’s cousin Eustace had turned into a dragon, and the process in which he turned back. For those who might be unfamiliar with the Narnia books, Aslan the Lion always represented God. I included the exact scene below…
“…Eustace was silent for so long that Edmund thought he was fainting; but at last he said, “It’s been ghastly. You don’t know … but it’s all right now. Could we go and talk somewhere? I don’t want to meet the others just yet…”
“…I won’t tell you how I became a—a dragon till I can tell the others and get it all over,” said Eustace. “By the way, I didn’t even know it was a dragon till I heard you all using the word when I turned up here the other morning. I want to tell you how I stopped being one.”
“Fire ahead,” said Edmund.
“Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything——”
“Is that all right now?”
Eustace laughed—a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before—and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm. “There it is,” he said, “and anyone who likes can have it as far as I’m concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then—but, mind you, it may have been all a dream. I don’t know.”
“Go on,” said Edmund, with considerable patience.
“Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it—if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”
“You mean it spoke?”
“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden—trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.
“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.
“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
“But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
“Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me——”
“Dressed you. With his paws?”
“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes—the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
“No. It wasn’t a dream,” said Edmund.
“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been—well, un-dragoned, for another.”
“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.
“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.
“Aslan!” said Eustace. “I’ve heard that name mentioned several times since we joined the Dawn Treader. And I felt—I don’t know what—I hated it. But I was hating everything then. And by the way, I’d like to apologise. I’m afraid I’ve been pretty beastly.”
“That’s all right,” said Edmund. “Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.”
“Well, don’t tell me about it, then,” said Eustace. “But who is Aslan? Do you know him?”
“Well—he knows me,” said Edmund. “He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor over Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia. We’ve all seen him. Lucy sees him most often. And it may be Aslan’s country we are sailing to…”
“…It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy”. To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice…”
…The cure had begun.”
As I sat there in the coffee shop, listening to my friend described this scene from the book; tears were streaming down my cheeks because it was such a powerful visual of what God does with us. It so perfectly emulates the process that I have been in myself as I have unsuccessfully tried to remove my own “scales” or…my own rags. Each time, I think I’ve got them off, only to turn around and realize they are still there. Over the years, it has been an exhausting process.
Fast forward a few more months… My family has just gone through an intense and difficult season of transition. We are in new surroundings, a new church, meeting new friends. One night, we were at our new pastor’s home for a newcomer’s dessert, and guess who walks in??? That same preacher from 17 years ago and from a few months prior at the baseball game. I start to think to myself, “what is God trying to do here?” After the night was over, we all stood around and talked, and laughed. I reminded him once again; “I was that girl who saw you at the baseball game, and reminded you of the word you gave me back in high school…” Once again his eyes light up and he once again remembers what he told me. As I stood there talking to him, I can hear that still small voice in my heart saying, “It’s time… The rags are about to come off”
Fast forward another year or so…
It’s now 2016 and we have been settling into our new church and new season. Things are going really smoothly (on the surface). I was going to school, and working at a pregnancy center doing something I love. I was loving the new friendships that God was bringing my way.
I was still dealing with a roller coaster of shame.
Still frustrated about my weight and health issues.
Still wondering if I can get out there and do what I am supposed to do.
Still wondering how to shake off these rags.
As if this weren’t enough, little by little, some things that I had buried deep inside are floating to the surface. Painful memories from an incident that happened to me in high school are starting to take a different shape in a way that surprise even me. After some reflection, I realized…it’s a new layer. God is pulling back another layer and letting it come up so He can heal it in a deeper way.
Some days I am totally fine, and then other days something will trigger it and send me into emotional hiding. It’s painful, scary and often times feels like a cage. I ask myself, and God, “Why is this happening? Why now after all this time? I thought I had dealt with this.” It then dawns on me that had I not moved to a new season and a new place, I might have never had the opportunity for this deeper level of healing. God knew me too well for that. I needed to be in a different place to process it. I needed to be around the people who would pray, encourage, and hold my hand during this painful process towards healing. He allowed me to gain some ground and build these friendships so that could happen.
On top of this, God is also digging up some unhealthy roots in my marriage. Things that both my husband and I had buried deep both individually and as a couple. Newsflash!! Being in marriage ministry doesn’t mean issues won’t come up! If anything, it forces you to deal with them one way or another. That said, God is catapulting us to a new level of intimacy and friendship that we know will be amazing.
I am learning first hand that healing is not always comfortable. It takes facing whatever infection or wound and cleaning it out so it can reveal new skin. Or it involves digging out that bullet or piece of shrapnel which is preventing true inner healing even if it looks ok on the outside. It feels like stinging antiseptic on an open cut. But without it, it never heals. In my case, it’s allowing myself a chance to grieve the loss, grieve the hurt, forgive, and move on.
God is removing the scales or the rags so that what’s underneath can finally be seen. It’s a painful, process and I am quite honestly going on faith for the finished product because the scales are still coming off.
Why am I writing this? Because I know I can’t possibly be the only person going through this. In fact I know I am one of many. I write this to encourage you and myself in the process. It’s not a quick one. But having seen others recently on the other side of theirs gives me great hope.
Hope is a powerful thing. It’s actually stronger than fear. It’s what pushes you beyond the fear towards the future.