the long story
The Awakening of My Taste for Glory
I was born and raised in the great plains of Nebraska. The terrain is void of many trees and buildings, resulting in wide-open spaces and a great view of the sky. We lived on the edge of town where the paved street in the front of my house gave way to dirt roads in the back. It was a fitting dwelling place for my family as my energetic mother loved the activity of town life and my father was refueled by golden wheat waving in the wind and the strength of horses submitting to his gentle hand.
My father and I spent many nights on our deck gazing at falling stars, watching storm clouds roll across the skies, and marveling at the flashes of lightening as they ripped through the night. I remember lying in the grass one evening looking into the black sky at the beginning of a brewing storm. The wind rushed across the plains with such strength that it lifted my hair straight off the ground. I was caught up in the exhilaration of God’s power seen through creation. Every goose bump on my body caused me to say with certainty, “How great is God!”
Reading my experience may call forth similar testimonies of your own. Why? Romans 1:19-20 says when we look at the created world we know there is a Creator who is powerful and divine. I do not mean that God’s divine being is part of the stars and the sky. No, no, no. The God of the Bible is not like the pantheistic idea of God whose being is fused together with creation. C. S. Lewis clarifies the concept well by calling the things in creation “signposts” that point us to God.
When we look at the vast universe and splendorous stars, we know the God who made them is powerful and majestic! Creation points us to the God who made it. I could recount many similar experiences growing up under the Nebraska skies. God’s glory resounding through creation was etched on my mind, forming some of the best memories of my early life. It awakened my soul to its taste for glory that God has put in all human hearts. Like a lost member of the royal family who has forgotten her heritage, I felt God’s majestic creation reminding me that I am made for something great . . . something beautiful . . . something glorious. But for what, I did not know.
A Bitter Taste of Humanity’s Fall from Glory
On the extreme other end, my eyes were opened at an early age to the horrors of evil and selfishness through childhood sexual abuse, which took place outside of my loving home. The stuff of humanity’s fall into sin—evil, the unloving and unlovely nature of selfishness, and shame introduced itself to me at a young age. Of course, I did not know what to call these things. But I became profoundly aware of the fact that something is not right with humanity—there is a deformity within us.
This experience set me on a course of selfish survival. The word survival describes my wounded and bleeding soul. I had been overcome and exhausted by evil when I was just beginning life. Feeling young and tired, I deeply desired not to have to fend for myself against the overwhelming realities in this world. And yet I knew I had to go on—to survive. But the word selfish describes the posture of my sinful heart. Instead of turning to God for survival, I was inclined to turn inward. And so I looked to myself to search for “good things” like protection, wisdom, justice, and happiness in this world. My experience echoed the words of St. Augustine who said, “My soul was a burden, bruised and bleeding. It was tired of the man who carried it, but I found no place to set it down to rest.”
The mingling of these two opposite experiences could be described like this: the stuff of humanity’s fall into sin made me aware of the fact that there is a moral deformity within us. I experienced the horror that accompanies paths contrary to God’s good wisdom. And the pain left me feeling like I had died a thousand deaths. Yet there was something that kept me from turning to a grave of hopelessness. The greatness and beauty I saw through creation seemed to impart a kind of hope that there was still something good out there. Though I felt broken and deformed, creation seemed to proclaim that I was made for something great and beautiful. Looking back over my life I can see that the stuff of glory became the objects of my pursuit. I looked for it and sought to attain it:
- I sought for the stuff of glory in relationships with men—thinking perhaps a soul-to-soul relationship with a beautiful man would ultimately fulfill me. As St. Augustine once said, I foolishly loved mortal men doomed to death as if they would never die. In other words, I looked for a significant relationship with men to be the fulfillment of my heart, which was foolish because all people eventually die. And then what would become of my happiness?
- I sought for it in my living environment—thinking perhaps living on the emerald green waters of the Florida Coast would ultimately fulfill my longings.
- I pursued it through a career in the glistening fabrics of the fashion industry. The problem was not that I pursued glory. We are made for Glory. My problem was that I did not seek the God of glory, but the things He has made in creation to point us to Himself. In other words, I set my affections and hope on the signposts themselves, which became my substitutes and idols for God. As Lewis has said, the disappointment in creation’s ability to fulfill breaks the heart of its worshipper.
In other words, all the things I pursued in this world broke my heart because they were unable to fulfill my deepest longings and were impotent to remedy my pains. And so in my early twenties, I realized I was a broken young woman living amongst others who were broken, as well. We continually fell short of God’s good character and ways, tripping and falling over one another, while sliding further into our sin and misery.
Reconciled to the God of Glory
After graduating from college and beginning my career in the fashion industry I made a frightening discovery. Like Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, I had searched the world over for greatness and beauty that seemed to beckon me from birth. But I realized it was nowhere to be found in this world. Relationships with men, beautiful living environments, and a glistening career were not enough to satisfy my hungry heart. When I realized I had exhausted all worldly avenues I fell into the hopelessness of despair thinking perhaps what my heart longed for was nowhere to be found. Precisely at that point a woman in my office invited me to attend a Bible study.
Through a series of events that took place over a four-month period, I heard and understood the gospel for the first time. The Bible perfectly diagnosed my longings, experiences, and problems. I am made for God. As St. Augustine said, “O God you made us for yourself and our heart remains restless until it finds rest in you.” I, and all people, have sinned and fallen miserably short of God’s glorious character and ways that we are designed to cherish and reflect. But Jesus Christ died for my sin. If I repented of my sin and put my trust in Christ, then I would be reconciled back to God. Repentance sounded like a death to me. And certainly the Bible teaches that it is.
Repentance is turning away—not for a moment but for a lifetime—from our fallen, deformed self and turning to Christ and His glorious ways. I remember wrestling in my soul. I had a lot to give up—an unhealthy boyfriend, hungover mornings, and the like! It seems absurd to me now that I wrestled over surrendering such empty ways of life. But at the time I was saying goodbye to things that had been lifelong companions—though certainly not friends. Nevertheless, God had gracious plans for me.
Faith rose up in my heart, enabling me to trust that while it was an end, it was not the end. The turn of repentance would certainly be an end to my old life, but it was also the beginning of a new life. And so by God’s grace I made that turn of faith. My eyes were opened to see God through Jesus Christ and God drew near. I realized that the beauty and greatness I had tasted in my youth and pursued all my life was a Person. God called me to move beyond the outskirts of His glory as I had seen it through creation to the glory of His inner Person revealed through Jesus Christ.
Re-created Glory by Glory
There are no better words to describe what followed than to say, I became a glutton for God. Each page of Scripture seemed like a work of art in a gallery displaying the character and ways of God. I was smitten by passages like Exodus 34 where God showed His glory to Moses in the cleft of the rock. After inhaling Scripture on my own, I left my career in the fashion industry to pursue a degree in theology. At the time I did not know enough to be intimidated by the word theology. I also hadn’t been in Christendom long enough to have a distaste for the misuse of theology. I just knew the word meant “the study of God” and that was all it took to have me enrolled.
The greatest gift given to believers is that our eyes are opened to see the wonders of God. During my time in seminary I was like a child in wonder of the characteristics of God, the Triune being of God, the Son of God, the salvation of God, and other things pertaining to God. I found myself echoing the plea of the psalmist, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Ps 27:4). It seemed that I could spend the rest of my days with a cup of coffee in one hand and a Bible in the other, reflecting on the glory of God seen through Jesus Christ.
Reflecting Forth God
But then something unexpected took place. God began to surface deep wounds in my heart from the abuse I experienced as a child. As if I were an onion, I felt God uncovering unhealthy and sinful thought patterns layer by layer. How did He bring them to the surface? Quite simple: through everyday life. A statement made by a friend, an unhappy look from an authority figure, simple situations that stirred up unhealthy emotions in my soul. My husband, who is a biblical counselor, guided me to trace the unhealthy fruit to its root in my heart.
The most devastating sin I uncovered is that my soul questioned the good character of God. I should have seen the signs. On normal to good days I was able to celebrate God’s good character toward me. But when suffering came into my life, my heart would tremble with anxiety as I bought into the lie that God was against me. When I heard hymns about the goodness of God I would weep profusely. When God worked in my life contrary to the way I expected, I would become discouraged, thinking He was maliciously smirking from the joy of playing games with my faith.
Clearly, I was transferring the sinful characteristics of the abusive authority figure over me to God at various points in my life. And like a good Surgeon, God would bring situations into my day that would stir up the unhealthy views in my heart so He could remove them with precision. And so seminary became a time of spiritual surgery.
When God revealed deep questions in my heart concerning His goodness I “happened” to be studying the good characteristics of God. When God uprooted feelings of shame I “happened” to be studying the work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of sin. And so on. The knowledge of God was not something to store up like folders in the bookshelf of my mind. It was profoundly personal and transforming.
I began to realize that I was experiencing 2 Corinthians 3:18. Beholding the beauty of God through Jesus Christ, I was being sanctified and transformed little by little, degree by degree, glory by glory. I was amazed by God’s precious design for believers. As we participate in the deep joy of beholding God’s being and works, He begins to recreate us into His beautiful likeness. Love gives way to likeness. Astonishing! As you can imagine, when I began receiving invitations to speak at women’s events, my messages revolved around the realities in 2 Corinthians 3:18—as we behold the beauty of God through Jesus Christ we become like Him.
Lessons from My Little Image-Bearer
When God gave me my firstborn daughter, I slowed down from ministry to focus on being a mother. One day when diapers and feedings began to feel mundane I called out to the Lord, “Please show me the glory in your design for motherhood because I cannot see it or feel it right now.” Little did I know God was about to take me to a whole new level of wonderment. He responded to my prayer by leading me to meditate on the biblical teaching of God’s image upon mankind, a topic I had not been deeply acquainted with in the past.
I was absolutely awestruck to see God’s grand design for mankind. When God created the universe He decided to make a creature similar to Himself—humanity! What?! While I considered what it means to be made in God’s image, a little image-bearer laid in my arms day and night. I was in awe of the dignity God has stamped upon each human life and the privilege of being a mother. I began to realize that I was not simply changing diapers and feeding. I was given the profound opportunity to nurture and cultivate the dignity of a little being made in God’s image!
Shortly after this realization, I was reading 2 Corinthians 3:18 and God opened my eyes to a significant word that I had overlooked time and time again: “. . . beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” What is the connection between beholding God and becoming like Him? The answer is stunning! God made us in His image.
As a result, when we grow in the intimate knowledge of God, we begin to grow in the knowledge and understanding of ourselves. Let me give you an illustration: when a woman looks in a mirror, she sees what she looks like—the image of herself. Now remove the mirror and put God in its place. When we look at God, we begin to see and understand ourselves because He has made us in His image or likeness. Furthermore, when people look at us they should see something of God reflected through us because He designed us to represent Him.
God has continued to use my daughter Jade to illustrate the concept of being made in His image. I have a little being made in my image, ever watching me, imitating me, and doing life with me. When I sweep the floor, Jade wants to sweep alongside of me. When I read a book, she wants to read a book snuggled under my arm. When I am typing on my computer she wants to type next to me. When I bake, she wants to bake with me. Thus, my house is filled with little things that mirror my big things—little mixing bowls, a little apron, a little broom, a little coffee cup, little books, and more.
What is at the heart of all this likeness? Love. God has wired Jade to imitate. And the fuel for her imitation is love. She loves Mommy and wants to participate in life with me. Scripture teaches that God is glorious. And He designed humanity to enter into His joy by knowing His glorious character, loving Him, and living like Him in a creaturely way. And though He does not need us, God delights in our love and likeness as a parent who is passionate about sharing life with His beloved child. 2 Corinthians 3:18—beholding God through Jesus Christ and becoming like Him—is about loving a great and beautiful God and being conformed to our Beloved. It is a journey of adoration that leads to transformation, beholding that results in becoming, love that leads to likeness, holiness that leads to happiness.