An unintentional testimony.

Unhibited. Dark long wavy tresses hanging loose over hand-me-down sundresses as the little girl who donned them ran barefooted in and out of the sprinkler and around and around her electric green-grassed yard chasing her taunting younger brother on bright summer days. A girl who would deck herself head to toe in Native American garb, with brown-hair braided like Pocohantas and toy bow strapped around her torso, feathers sticking out of her headband and flowers braided into her hair. Bounding from one level of her hilly backyard to the next, often sliding and landing on her bottom, leaving a trail of evidence along the backside of her outfit. Swinging higher and higher in competition with her brother on the set their father had made them, seeing who could land the farthest once they made their mid-air exit and catapulted off; all of this while holding a melting ice cream cone in hand.

Catching and collecting crickets and other critters was commonplace activity, and sometimes, to their mother’s chagrin, a gardner snake, which they would promptly wear around their necks or show to their unsuspecting neighbors… Also, to their mother’s chagrin.

And then there was the infamous mint tea, made with the fresh picked herb growing right outside their door, with crisp cold hose water, all concocted in a tin bucket they found on the back porch. A tin bucket, one that only after they had all but emptied the contents of which into their neighbor’s .25cent cups, this younger brother coyly admitted he had just the day before peed in.

Yes. These precocious, but well-intentioned little children (with the help of their friends, of course) are none other than myself and my brother, and this bubbly, free-spirited little girl grew to be the same, but different, wild and brazen soul that many of you have come to either love or tolerate, in every good sense of the word.

But this little girl did not always feel free to express herself in her natural, unfettered state. For most of her adolescence and into young adulthood she felt stifled, muted, and tamed by everyone who held the power to do so. Whether it be her parents, her teachers at school, her boyfriends, her friends, she felt the resistance coming from every direction with whoever held some place of position or authority over her. And she did what any natural human being or creature does when being faced with opposition: she rebelled.

Her youth was spent talking back to her parents, her high school years running from professors in the halls marching toward her to dole out dress code fines, her late teen years organizing keggers and spending her weekends going from one house party to the next, often sneaking out of her parent’s house or lying about her whereabouts for the night, and other shameful mishaps. And then in college, the worst of her rebellion finally turned on the only true sense of stability and friendship in her life: the God who created this audacious being, and loved her all the more for it.

I will spare you the details, but during these fragile collegiate years she waged an all out war against herself, without even fully knowing it or being aware of the damage she was inflicting upon her precious soul. She had now graduated from rowdy, but fairly innocent binge drinking events with friends, to letting her heart be opened and torn apart by every male that caught her eye, and even ones that didn’t. Just as in the game of chess, when the Queen or King is left open and unguarded, exposed without protection from the other offensive and defensive pieces, she put herself in one vulnerable setting after the next and it took a good deal of time before she finally was hit so hard she realized that she had wandered into enemy territory.

Her heart had taken a beating, but something in her spirit kept prodding her back toward the One who had tried to protect and keep her safeguarded all along. As she had always done, she got to a place where she thought she had found safe harbor with a boyfriend who wasn’t all that bad, and had everything this world could offer to give; but that wasn’t enough. Something deep within her called out for more. And then one day, that more came knocking on the beaten down door of her heart and woke her up with an ultimatum that will forever be burned into her memory: you can choose to follow Me or you can choose to continue on your own, despondent path away from Me.

It hit her like a ton of bricks that morning as she lie awake in a bed that wasn’t hers, next to a boy who she knew she’d have to leave. Truth was, she was miserable, unhappy, and devoid of any of that sparkle or liveliness of the little girl she was but a glimpse of; the little girl who wasn’t afraid to eat honeysuckles and dandelions and faced life without fear or dismay.

who wasn’t afraid to face life without fear or dismay…

So she heeded the call and began the journey back to her Master, the One who had made her and formed her at the very foundation of the earth. And just for the record, I am pretty sure He used an extra bit of dirt when creating this carefree, nature-loving being.

At first, there was a lot of change to make, and like any metamorphosis, a lot of shedding the old and gawkily settling into the new.  It has been a process that has taken shape over several long years, and is even still ongoing.

“…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life… and put on the new self,  created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph. 4:22-24 (ESV)

And in this present day, that same girl is quite thankfully a far long way from the tangent path she had taken for those dark years of her life. But there still was a wee bit of rebellion latching on like a parasite to its host. And to be quite honest, she wanted it gone, eradicated completely. The question lingered, however, that if in relinquishing this remaining rebel within, she would be giving up a large part of the very person she truly thought she was deep down. Would surrendering in complete humility and obedience mean forsaking the free-spirited girl she so believed she had always been?

“It is for freedom Christ has set you free…”

So I come to you now, in first person, and I want to share what the Lord, my gentle, patient, and oh so loving Father has been speaking to my heart in words that have healed wounds far deeper than I even knew they cut.

As I said earlier, these past several years have been one of transformation for me, and I have been lovingly led by my Father each step of the way. About two years ago, He spoke a word to me that I did not fully understand. It came on a long drive back from visiting a friend in Spokane for my birthday weekend. I was listening to a program on the radio, the only one which would tune in at the moment, and concurrently saw a signpost that had confirmed the same message being preached.

“God chasteneth whom He loves.” It seared deep and it left an impression that I have kept close at mind ever since. The more I read and studied about the discipline of God and the more I experienced it for myself, the more I began to see the beauty and honor in this discipline unfold before my eyes. He was refining me because He was readying me for a purpose yet unknown. He was changing my name and identity from rubble to jewel, and from orphan to daughter. From ashes to beauty He has led me, and though I have resisted strongly at times, I have ultimately welcomed His will and purposes for me and vowed to live totally abandoned for Him. Even, after long struggle that still rises and abates, in this current season of sickness. But through it all He has been teaching me who I really am, and firming the foundation of my identity in Him. As one of the pastors at my church recently spoke, “He tells you who you are before He tells you what to do.”

“God “disciplines” His “disciples.” God is training us not just to live here and now, but to have life in the age to come, to share His life and holiness.” Heb. 12:3 (The Voice)

So in it all, I have been anxious and also grateful for the person He has been shaping me into. But somewhere deep inside of me I was hesitant, fearful of the moment when He would ask for the most treasured part of my spirit: my freedom. And again I shuttered at the mere thought of being caged again. I was already caged by my physical limitations, causing me to lose friends, to lose passions, to lose ability to once bound and leap across the gym and run up mountaintops. The ability to control, and the ability to sail my own ship against the crashing waves and changing currents, like I knew the route to go or held the chart which would direct my sail.

He was waiting to bring me into the fullness of my true self, where I could be free to be bold, fearless and full of adventure for the purposes He has set before me

In large part, I was still resistant. Resistant to God’s loving refinement because I was afraid He wanted to change the core of my identity, when the reality was just the opposite: He was waiting to bring me into the fullness of my true self, where I could be free to be bold, fearless and full of adventure for the purposes He has set before me instead of the recklessness that has always threatened to take my life.

All of these fears I wrongly held because I created a wrong belief that in all this refinement God wanted to tame me and not set me free. And oh, when I came to the realization and truth that He so lovingly spoke, like a kiss upon my ear, what profound joy that brought! In all of this work that the Lord has been doing upon my heart, it has all been meant for the sole purpose to mold me into the princess and daughter He has made and sees me as; guiding me into my true self in His light and leading. It became ever so clear, in a moment, that His discipline brings FREEDOM and that He wasn’t taming me to cage me, but refining me to train me to be unstoppable for Him and to ultimately set me free. FREE to be who I was all along. His workmanship, His greatest prize–as we all are as His bride— set apart for His good pleasure, and for His purposes. And oh how I laugh and I let my spirit soar in the beauty of it all!

He wasn’t taming me to cage me, but refining me to set me free.

And on one beautifully sunny, Fall day, when delivered a diagnosis that I have feared would keep me from everything I have upcoming in this next season and in my life beyond, I let loose tears of joy and release as again He spoke and calmed my fears that I would live a small life. I’ve said over and over recently that I don’t want to be heroic in my trek back to the Middle East, to ultimately share the good news of His love despite my critical health, that I will be “content to fill a little space if Thou be glorified,” as I was taught to memorize in school. But He spoke to me ever so clearly on the most cloud-free, sun-filled, bright and crisp and colorful Fall day lying on the beach and soaking up the saltwater air: “Sofia, my daughter, you were never meant for a small life. You were made for heroics.” And though my pride has often tried to intercept the purpose for this original design, I know now more than ever that the breaking has been crucially necessary for the blessing. There, on that beach I grew up skipping stones at and finding crabs, when I was tempted to yet again ignore those moments of stillness with the Lord, He came and confirmed my identity. He is always confirming who we are when we choose to listen and follow Him.

So here I am. Imperfect, but filled with a holy fervor for more of Him and more of His working in my heart, mind, soul, spirit, will and emotions. I don’t have all the answers. I never have. I never will. That comes as part of the wild, exhilirating, breath-taking journey of this precious life. But I do know God loves me, and He loves you too. If He was willing to take this matted-haired, holey-jeaned girl and transform her from that ragged thing into something beautiful, yet to be fully revealed in this life, then He can do the same for you. My heart has always been wild. But it has been wild so that I could run at any chance to set others free. And that can only come through His marvelous, unmistakable and unrivaled, lavish love.

So my ultimate message in sharing is this: Don’t let the enemy take what God meant for good and turn it into ill. Let Him work you and mold you like clay in the hand’s of an unerring potter. Let God bring to life the characteristics and qualities He embedded in you at birth, to will and to work for His glory. I promise, the final product will be worth the toil.

“The father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse to ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so…” Cheryl Strayed

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