Kelly Langner Sauer is a wife, mother, writer, poet, photographer and a self confessed rambler. Her photos are, much like her writing, often beautiful, soulful and breathtaking. I am so pleased she agreed to write a post for me in the midst of the joy and chaos of new motherhood. Here's Kelly:
Her name was Bethany.
It was such a big deal that her name was Bethany. It still stands out in my mind. I get into names.
She said that God had given her that name.
She said that she had known God intimately, the way I wanted to know Him.
She said that God had taught her to surrender fully and completely.
She said a lot of things.
But she never mentioned the name of Jesus.
Just over a year ago, I received an email from a reader, asking me about the poem I have posted on my blog by S. Lewis. (The poem was written and given to me by a dear college friend during a very rough time in my story, during the beginning of the end of my misconception of God.) She identified with my then-description of myself as Gomer, Hosea's wife.
And she referenced something I had said in a recent ramble-post, something I was chewing on, something I had scribbled out without too much thought, something about God calling us to do things sometimes that the rest of the world couldn't endorse.
I had been talking about His calling on my life to love someone. I had been talking about His leading me out of "church" and into Himself.
I was neck-deep in a Flickr addiction at the time. Closed off to my husband. Putting off my daughter. Battling every day to do better before I inevitably gave in and gave out and gave up. Pushing God away for the guilt of it all. The crushing guilt.
At first, Bethany's email was another distraction. A flattering distraction. I pursued the correspondence, looking for more affirmation, looking for her story.
I got her story all right.
And then some.
She said she was a member of what many have termed a cult.
She said she felt she could talk to me because it seemed I was the kind of person who was willing to listen.
She said God had told her it was all right.
She gave me the website for her organization.
After looking at it, my husband and I agreed with the many.
And we weren't so certain that God was behind her invitation to engage her in conversation about her "church."
In fact, I was certain that I was not to engage her. God gave me permission only to speak the name of Jesus.
Billy Coffey wrote about the thin places this week. The places where dark and light collide and mix into inky halflight, the places in our world where there is a crack into another world, the places in ourselves not yet yielded to God in this war between principalities and powers in the strongholds of the spiritual.
I was living in a thin place when Bethany wrote to me.
I had been too willing to pursue knowing God because it was the right thing to do, too willing to leave off Jesus because speaking of Him made me uncomfortable. Embarrassed.
I was living on the edge, and I had no response to her "have you ever surrendered your whole life to God?" I had no answer for her, "I have done that, you can too, if you'll just do what I did."
For two days, my husband and I talked. And talked. And talked. Our conversation was long and deep. We talked about spiritual warfare. We talked about who I was in God, about my misdirected passion. We talked about my failure. I named it as the sin it was. We talked about grace. We talked about Jesus.
Her name was Bethany, a name given to her by the spirit who possessed her.
Her testimony was her surrender, her "higher" right, her knowledge of "God."
My testimony was Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
I had no answer to her story, to her argument, to her deception.
I had no justification for my own sin, my lack of surrender, my thin-place-dwelling.
She needed nothing more than what she had found.
I needed everything. It was a choking, desperate need for redemption.
This is how I learned about the Gospel. This is how I encountered the Truth who is the Way and the Life, the Word who became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain for my justification, from whose hand I can not be removed. This is how I began to speak the name of Jesus, to discern the Holy Spirit from the subtle lies of other spirits.
Bethany had obtained the ultimate surrender. She had become a slave to her god. She was moved by a spirit. She had fellowship with something more powerful than herself.
I had not surrendered everything to God. I still haven't. I still struggle to offer myself willingly to Him, to let go of the things in me that would identify me as a slave to righteousness. I don't always recognize the leading of the Holy Spirit in my life. I don't always feel the nearness of God-fellowship that I want.
But I know this: I am justified in Jesus. Because of Him, I reckon myself dead to sin and alive to God. I am already crucified with Christ, yet I live. My faith is not something I have dredged up through trying to have more faith. It is the gift of God. My redemption comes by this faith in the Son of God who became sin for me.
I still sin. I still fail Him, fail my family, fail myself. I am every day desperate in need of a Savior.
Her name was Bethany, "house of figs."
Jesus cursed a fig tree once for bearing no fruit.
My name is Kelly, "warrior."
Anne means "grace."
His name is Jesus. Immanuel.
"God with us."
"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
"As it is written:
'For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
- Romans 8:31-39
(Image © Informal Moments Photography)
To read more from Kelly, I invite you to visit her at This Restless Heart and follow him on the twitter at @arestlessheart.