Going into my attic with Jesus

The Tears
I stood just outside the New Orleans airport, waiting for the shuttle that would bring me to my car. My tears threatened to spill as I juggled my two carry-on bags and searched for a tissue. I smiled a little to myself; I knew what was coming…

I briefly recalled my first real encounter with Jesus. It was just six months earlier on my first Catholic retreat. Oh, how He broke into my world - into my heart - in a new and unexpected way while I sat alone in my room.  

I also recalled the many tears I shed immediately following that encounter. Wonderful. Healing. Joyful tears. Tears that I simply could not hold back as I somehow felt, for the very first time, that I was finally whole – even though I hadn’t realized I was missing any pieces.

As I boarded the shuttle I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. That private retreat room seemed like a more convenient place to succumb to these sobs. But I’ve learned Jesus doesn’t wait to move until we've decided it’s convenient. He’ll grab us and speak into our hearts the moment He knows the time is right. He meets us exactly where we are ... even if that spot is along side the baggage claim at the airport!

Clinging to False "Truth"
I should back up ... 

The day before I graced the airport shuttle driver with my tears, I read something that referenced the presence of spiritual strongholds in our lives. Spiritual strongholds are very strong, yet false mindsets or thought processes that we incorporate into our lives. Even though they are false, we cling to them as if they're truth. The author likened them to brick walls that, over time, we strengthen, brick by brick.

I paused and prayerfully considered what spiritual strongholds were present in my own life. In response, God gently took me for a stroll down memory lane as He flashed countless memories before my eyes:
    Conversations where my tone and words implied I was right and the other person was wrong.
    Conversations where it appeared my only goal was convincing the other person my way was the best way. 
    Conversations where I spent more time belaboring my point than actually listening to the other person.

I wish I could tell you these scenes came as a surprise and were few in number. Sadly, that’s not the case. 

Don’t get me wrong. This not-so-wonderful character trait isn’t intentional. In fact, in the moment, I am usually unaware I’m doing it. But over the years a few close friends and loved ones have bravely brought it to my attention. And several months ago I watched as one of my sons simply stopped responding to me in the middle of a conversation. He would not speak at all, completely clamming up. This, of course, infuriated me, making my behavior worse. The next day, as my husband relayed words my son had spoken to him, “Sometimes Mom is really hard to argue with,” my heart broke. I never ever want my own children to feel they can’t talk to me or share their opinions with me. And to make matters worse, I genuinely thought we were having a simple conversation. I didn’t realize my tone and words had transformed our conversation into something he perceived as an argument.

Since then I’ve tried to do better. Really, I have. I’ve tried to be more aware – in the moment – of my words and tone of voice. And a few times I have succeeded, but usually because I took my son’s approach, biting my tongue and not speaking. Despite what some might say, I know that’s not the solution.

I have so much room for improvement…

Building my Life Around a Spiritual Stronghold
As I sat with these memories, I began to compare these spiritual strongholds to walls in my house. I remember years ago we considered renovating our home and taking down a wall. Brief disclaimer, I am NOT a contractor, but I recall that before a wall could come down we needed to determine whether it was load bearing.  In other words, was it a support wall, actually holding up our house? If so, we wanted it to stay. But if it was a non load bearing wall, simply there to divide two rooms but not hold weight, we could easily tear it down.

I began to view a spiritual stronghold as a non load bearing wall. It doesn’t actually support the house, yet each day I lean on it as if it does. Over time I’ve come to respect this spiritual stronghold – this feeling that I have to be right – as if it’s the thing holding me up.  Supporting me.  Carrying my weight. And just as I would allow a wall to dictate my furniture placement, I’ve allowed this spiritual stronghold to dictate my words and tone of voice, without even a second thought.

The only way to determine whether a wall in my house was load bearing or not would involve going into the attic. I needed to investigate how the house was built and what the wall was attached to. Simply being aware of the wall would not help me tear it down. Just as being aware of my stronghold would not help me change my behavior.

That night I fell asleep with a prayer on my lips … 
God, can You help me understand why I respond this way? 
Can You show me the past events that led me to put up and strengthen these stronghold walls? 
And can You help me tear them down? 

Peering Into the Attic of My Past
The next day, God walked me through the attic of my childhood. He gently escorted me through various early childhood memories. They all involved being told, in one way or another, that what I had done was incorrect. Not good enough. Unacceptable.

The earliest memory was from kindergarten when I got an “X” in coloring on my report card. (For the record, my coloring skills have significantly improved – even garnishing great praise from my 5 year old niece!) Now I realize as an adult this seems insignificant. Silly, even. But at four years old, I was crushed. (Perhaps kindergarteners shouldn’t get report cards…) And as my little personality was still in development, I internalized and personalized that “X.” I interpreted that "X" to mean I was not good enough. I was wrong. I was unacceptable. And without realizing it, I began to operate in a mode of self-protection. I began to frame the wall. I must prove I am right. When my point is acknowledged and agreed upon, it will indicate that I am good enough. When everyone does things my way,  I will know I am acceptable.

Now clearly everyone who receives an “X” in coloring does not develop such crazy life defense mechanisms! But I think the way we respond to various life events is shaped by our surrounding circumstances and state of mind at the time. And for me, in that moment, I allowed that “X” to speak to my worth. 

Holding my hand, God led the way as we slowly toured the dark corners of my attic. He continued to reveal the childhood incidents that ultimately led me to build out that entire wall. And I now see that as time passed I slowly strengthened, decorated, and planned furniture around it. Each day I lean on that wall and respect it. I allow it to carry weight, even though, at its core, it’s not a real support wall. It's not holding me up and I shouldn’t treat it as such. And it really needs to come down.

“Jen, these are great self-discovery moments you could have probably uncovered with some therapy. But why were you crying on the curb outside the airport?!” (I thought you'd never ask!)

God Restores All Things
This tour of my personal attic actually occurred while I was out of town for a conference. On my return flight I listened to what I thought was a random, unrelated podcast. In it, the speaker shared her recent experience at a retreat focused on God restoring things in our lives. As I deplaned and walked through the airport, I silently whispered ...

God, is there anything You want to restore in my life?

I instantly heard His voice speak into my heart.
Jen, I want to restore YOU. I want to bring you back to that 4 year-old place, where you don’t yet believe the lie that you’re not good enough. Where you’re not yet owning the title of unacceptable. Where you know that you are my beloved. To me, you are always good enough. Always accepted. Always loved. 

And this is where my tears started. As I walked past the baggage claim … out of the airport … and to the curb. Wonderful. Healing. Joyful tears. Tears that, once again, I simply could not hold back.

But First ... I Must Receive
These events happened several weeks ago, at the beginning of Lent. Since then I've questioned how this encounter would actually help me bring down a wall that has been present for so long - for I know this wall must come down for me to change my behavior.

And today, as I type these words, I can see His timing for this encounter was intentional. It is Good Friday, a day good for everyone except Jesus. And reflecting on our Lord's Passion I see ...

Identifying my stronghold wall … is obviously important. 
Understanding its origins, and learning it is NOT a load bearing wall … is key. 
Remembering that my real support wall is God … is paramount.

But there’s one more essential step I must make to bring the wall down … 
I must fully acknowledge and receive that what Jesus did on that cross was for me
Not just for others. 
Not for the collective “all of us.” 
But for me. Individually. 

I must fully receive His sacrificial love. And I must choose to walk in it. Every minute. Of every day. 

And on Easter Sunday, when we celebrate that Jesus has risen … I must choose to join Him. I must walk out of my own tomb. And into a resurrected life with Him by my side.

As we prepare to enter the Easter season, perhaps you feel pulled to reflect on your life along with me …
Ask God to reveal your own stronghold walls, along with their origins.
Ask God what He wants to restore in your life.
Ask God to help you fully receive His love.
Ask God to help you live a resurrected life.

One More Thing ….
If you begin this process of self-discovery don’t do it alone. Bring Jesus. Listen for His loving voice. His is the one that does NOT condemn and does NOT bring shame. 

You may find that your own personal attic is not pretty. Be gentle with and forgiving of yourself.

You may find it is challenging, filled with cobwebs and old boxes blocking the areas you’re trying to reach. Be patient. It may take time for your eyes to adjust to the dim lighting so you can see.

But if you find it’s becoming dark and scary or painful, reach out. Let a trained mental health professional guide you through this with therapy. There are even Christian counseling services available if you are interested.

So today, on this Easter weekend, and on each day moving forward, my prayer is that we can all step out of our tombs and into the resurrected life Jesus calls us to, as we fully receive the love Jesus has for us.

And as always, I’m praying He’ll breathe life into these words.


(blessed by these words? feel free to share, so you can bless others.)


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