Clothed in Grace

It was June 27, 1987. It was my wedding day. I walked down the aisle wearing a blush pink wedding dress. This nontraditional dress was not something I wanted. It was something I was told to wear.

I was raised in a conservative and traditional home, and the youngest of four children. For most of my younger days of life we attended church twice a week as a family. Both of my parents were also church leaders. I loved church, God, and was actively involved in youth group. 

At age 21, I was still living living at home, was working, had recently purchased a car and was dating a great guy. All is well, right?

I made myself a routine doctor visit because I was having bladder infection symptoms, expecting to be given a prescription for antibiotics and to be feeling better in no time. 

My lab results came back differently than what I had expected. “You are pregnant” were the shocking words of the doctor as he held me hands to comfort me. I left his office in a daze, trembling and holding a bottle of prenatal vitamins.  Thoughts bombarded my mind, how will I tell my family? What will church people think of me? More than that, what does God think of me? It was in that moment that the enemy began to plant seeds of shame and fear which would  begin to make me feel separated from how God truly viewed me. Those seeds were watered with some of the reactions of the people around me. 

This didn’t deter me from pursuing God in my life. My husband and I raised our two children in God’s word and pursued a genuine life in Him.

Decades later, I was in a season where God began to unveil past hurts and wounds within my heart. It was in this time, during prayer, that I encountered God’s presence and love in such a way that brought healing and wholeness. This shifted my identity forever and eliminated a lot of false perceptions that I had of myself.

God had never shamed me but was always accepting of me and His astounding love was settled upon my heart.

Now I look back at the young woman who was clothed in the pink wedding dress as one who was clothed in grace. It was recently that I found out what the color pink symbolizes biblically:  right standing with God. This is who I was to Him all along and now I freely walk in that truth. 

There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from Gods passionate love, which is lavished upon us though our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! -Romans 8:39 (TPT)

Prayer: I thank you Father for loving me unconditionally. I ask that You would bring your healing touch to any place in my heart that has been negatively affected by living in this world. Let my heart be completely free: the way that you intended from the beginning, knowing who I was made to be and who I am in You. 

IMG_4938Nadine Zaragoza is a mother of two and has been happily married to her husband Alex for 31 years. She is passionate about spending time in God’s presence She also loves to pray for people that they may experience God’s love in the form of physical healing. She and her husband both serve on the Next Steps Team at the Ventura campus of The City Church.

The Freedom of Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It is at the core of our redemption, it is the foundation on which our faith stands (Ephesians 1:7); yet I struggle with it constantly. I wrestle with its depth and its implications. I want it for myself, but I grip it, bury it, lord it over others when it is time to release it to its rightful owner. I thought about the power of forgiveness as I walked my dog late one evening. I asked God, “Why is it so hard to forgive?” When I contemplate my frustrated response to difficult situations, I try to step back from the triggering event and get to the ‘why’ of my reaction. As I prayed that evening, all of my past hurts played like a slideshow in my head. Every hurt felt tied to my worth. Therefore, every time I forgave, I felt like I was saying I wasn’t worthy of better treatment.

I have battled insecurity my entire life. Growing up in a home where children were to be seen and not heard, I rarely had a voice. Decisions were made for me and there was little room for hurt feelings. “Grow thicker skin!” was my dad’s mantra. I wasn’t taught how to express myself in a healthy way. The message I received from my parents was that I had nothing of value to offer. I wasn’t worthy of being heard. When I was old enough to be heard, I made sure I was the loudest and the meanest. When people questioned my approach, I’d say, “I’m just being REAL.” As if that was enough to excuse my bad behavior. Since then, God has done such a work in me. Three solid years of therapy with a woman who loved me like Jesus and prayed for me like Paul, enabled me to face the brokenness of my past with the Word of God. I learned to believe in the worth that God established for me on the cross, when Jesus decided that I was worth dying for. Knowing helped me to understand why, without it, I was sabotaging all of my friendships and why I struggled to trust anyone. In therapy, we talked a lot about how pain had shaped the way I viewed relationships with people. When I encountered conflict, it triggered responses that came from that pain rather the reality of the new situation. By making me aware of that flaw in thinking, she taught me how to respond from a position of the Truth I know, rather than a reaction to the things I feel. That clarity of mind enabled me to separate my worth from situations of conflict because I knew (from God’s Truth) that I was valued.

It softened me. I learned to respond out of love when I was hurt because I no longer felt the need to defend my worth. It enabled me to extend the benefit of the doubt because my thought life had been renewed, no longer reacting to the wounds of the past. God continues to do work in me. He continues to teach me that I’m not too much, that I am enough. My battle with insecurity has helped me to recognize longing in others and how to create space for it as we learn how to have that need met by God (Philippians 4:19). As women, we can compete and compare. Sometimes we distrust, lack compassion, and lack graciousness. It’s not because we’re heartless monsters. It’s often because we don’t know how to offer ourselves freely. Sometimes I feel so busy protecting my heart – my worth. This isn’t to say that there isn’t genuine love and encouragement and openness in our community, because there is. But there is also pain.

I remember, so vividly, drowning in my own pain. I remember acting out of it and at times, in moments of conflict, I catch myself slipping back into old ways of thinking and responding. I have spoken too harshly, backed out of a conversation, minimized myself, given a look instead of grace, and talked over others whose opinions I didn’t agree with. In those moments, I was either exerting or preserving my worth. It is in that space where my feelings are hurt that I misunderstand someone, or I react with self-righteousness because it’s difficult to see beyond myself (James 3:14-16). Sometimes I forget that my worth is already secure. Sometimes I’m terrified that if I’m open, if I’m vulnerable, someone will swoop in to prove my deepest fears – that I’m not worthy at all. This terror comes on as a feeling and lasts like a spirit — a spirit of offense. Unlike regular offense, a spirit of offense is in direct opposition to reconciliation, to grace, to understanding, and to compassion. A spirit of offense refuses to make amends and keeps (not so accurate) records of wrong. It is one-sided and therefore eliminates opportunity for relationship. At its core it is a lack of forgiveness.

When we’re striving to preserve our worth, a painful event can confirm a lie as truth: I’m not worthy. But it’s not His Truth for us. When we live according to His Truth, we’re able to respond to pain with His forgiveness. That forgiveness isn’t a verdict based on evidence, it’s based on the abounding grace and mercy He has for us. It’s part of how we’re called to love. When we forgive, we are saying “Lord, you’ve already told me I’m valuable. I’m choosing to believe You and allowing them off the hook so I can get back to Your business. Heal me and remind me of Your Truth.”

The more often we forgive, the more opportunity God has to confirm His truth to us and His truth sets us free (John 8:32). He wants to release us from the grip of grudges and soften our hearts. We have access to a God who wants to turn us away from old thinking and toward a life of freedom and hope. That privilege is the right to know God and understand who we are and are intended to be. We’re able to appreciate the gift of salvation when we recognize that we are more precious to Him than rubies (Proverbs 3:15). He adores you. He wants to give you the freedom to live and think and love without fear. Allowing Him to heal you as you release forgiveness is unlike any bliss you’ve ever encountered. It’s in that place of complete surrender that we grow and in that place of growth that we’re able to experience more of Him. Forgive.