I think sometimes when a person has a conversion experience, all the old habits become suspect. And if not suspect, they remind you of old times when you lived in darkness. Is it okay to do this? A person wonders. I wondered this about my writing.
Writing—and I mean that personal writing I had done for over a decade with glorious abandon as ink, and often tears, flew across the page—used to bring such relief to me. But sometimes, now, it brought guilt. Maybe I hadn’t realized it before, but I was writing to wallow. Writing in the wrong.
That describes some of my writing history. But not all of it. My reasons were not always wrong, I have to believe. At first, they were just survival reasons, like at age fourteen, when I couldn’t talk to anyone. Or at age nineteen, when the ink substituted for blood. But after that I healed a little. And healed a little more each year, until, in my early twenties, writing was part wallowing, part revenge. By the time I had my conversion in 2010, around age twenty-six, I didn’t know exactly what my writing was. All I knew was that it felt uncomfortable now, didn’t seem to fit the new me, and the thought occurred to me: what if I’m sinning?
For a time I had tried to just forget about it, but early in 2012, I felt the old urge creeping up again. Despite the newly instituted seminar papers and thesis writing for a master’s degree, now it was starting to flow out into magazine articles and opinion pieces for the church newsletter and, of course, as always, my journal. I’m on journal number twenty-five since 1998.
But none of it was enough. None of these outlets was fully satisfying my urge. . . .
Nearing thirty, a realization was starting to sink in: I didn’t have forever to get a PhD, or to have kids, or to finally publish that book I’d always wanted to publish, much less do all three! What was I to make of these conflicting messages, and the confusion in my own heart?
I was definitely willing to consider that God had planted this recurring dream in me, like a seed that wanted to grow, but I still didn’t know what to do with it. So, God wanted me to write. But what?
As the summer wore on, I desperately wanted to apply to an MFA program [I am choosing not to reveal which one unless I get in!]. But I still felt I needed permission, somehow. I needed some validation that this was what I was supposed to do. I needed to know that writing could be different than it was before, because I was different.
And then, I met Paul Coneff.
To make a long story short, Paul came to my church to facilitate a week of prayer in March, around the time I was feeling desperate [about my career plans]. In five nights, he unfolded a message he calls The Hidden Half of the Gospel, or the message that Christ died not only for our sin—to give us a “happy ever after” in eternity—but that he also died for our suffering—to give us a happy life while on earth. An indispensible part of the message revolves around individuals finding their true, God-intended identities—restoring the identities that Satan strives to pervert, often through traumatic childhood experiences like mine.
Using a plethora of scriptures, Paul unfolded the story of the Suffering Messiah; Jesus had to suffer, die, and rise for our sins to free us. Because he was “tempted in all points like as we are, yet was without sin,” he is able to help us when we are being tempted. Because he has suffered like us—he was mentally, verbally, physically abused, plus he suffered depression and struggled to surrender his will—he can offer us healing for our pain (Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:15, 16). Because he was attacked at the very core of his identity, he is able to restore us to our true identities, replacing lies from Satan, the Father of Lies (John 8:44), with his truth.
When I heard this message, I was being attacked with lies. I was hearing messages like I’m trapped; I will never be able to write; I’m not good enough to write; I don’t deserve to get to follow my dreams. I have to be stuck in a graduate program that I hate for five years, and then it will be too late for me.
But when I heard Paul explain how Jesus had died not only for our sins, but our suffering, to restore us to our God-given identities, to enable us to follow and fulfill our God-given dreams, I began to feel hope.
At the end of the week, Paul announced that he would be holding discipleship and prayer training in our church for three men and three women. This three-month-long training would prepare participants to embrace their God-given identities, enabling them to become disciples who could, through personally testifying to God’s restoration, lead others to Christ.
This sounded hopeful to me. At least, I thought, How could it hurt?
After I began discipleship training with Paul, he mentioned he was writing a book. He said it with a grimace. The writing was coming hard; he was no writer. But he had to get this book done. As a prolific public speaker, he needed a resource to offer listeners.
At hearing this, I felt another glimmer of hope. But I waited, taking this home with me, too. Now it was June, and I was struggling more than ever over my future, my graduate school plans, my teaching plans, my parenthood plans. I couldn’t find peace. Where was there room for the desires of my heart? More importantly, were those desires even valid?
Later in June when I received prayer for the first time—in this ministry, a prerequisite to discipling others is receiving prayer and healing in one’s own life, first—the prayer time revealed that I had not fully surrendered my will. Paul sent me home with a sample prayer and scriptures to pray day after day to further unfold this issue.
And so, in June, July, and August, I prayed. I cried. I read my Bible with fresh eyes. And like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I learned to pray “Lord, not my will, but yours.” I didn’t know exactly where all this praying, crying, and reading was leading, but I did know that, slowly, layers of remaining hurt were melting off. And within months, I had not only experienced peace to the point of deciding, conclusively, that I wanted kids, but also that I could trust God to make clear my career path in his good time.
By receiving Jesus’ victory over his carnal will, in July I was able lay my burdens at the cross, trusting God to work on my behalf, while I, meanwhile, composed my master’s thesis. Later that month, I had an article accepted by Insight Magazine—a piece I’d sent in over two years ago and had all but kissed goodbye. Because the article was embarrassingly autobiographical (it was actually a Guideposts reject from high school, chronicling my first suicide attempt), I kept it from most friends and family. But since I had five review copies, and since Paul deals with this type of thing all the time and was, moreover, still grimacing over the writing of his book, I figured, What the heck. I would give him one.
The day after he received the article, he called me, excited, saying, “This was really great; this really flowed. I want my book to flow like this.” Would I consider helping him write his book, which tells the stories of other wounded, yet healing, adolescents-turned-adults like myself?
The rest is history. As you read this, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, should be going to press, to be published sometime in 2013. And it’s not about me.
Well, it is a little bit. Paul actually asked me to share part of my testimony in one of the chapters. I was a bit leery at first, wondering the same old question: Would I be writing this for the wrong reasons? But the more time I spent in prayer, both on my own and with our small group, the more peace I found about my career plans, my family plans, and my writing.
A few months ago I picked up one of those Bible verse cards with my name and my name’s meaning on it. This one says “Lindsey—Peaceful Isle,” and it has Psalm 37:4 printed below: “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” This verse, among others I’ve studied recently, has led me to believe that the more I surrender my will to God, the more I actually can “listen to my heart.”
Anyway, after finding the card, I set it on my desk at home, where I was writing my master’s thesis, and then Paul’s book, for most of the summer. As the weeks went by, as I continued to look at that card and ponder its message, I could only marvel at what God had done for me. Several years ago I had not been a “peaceful isle.” I had been a suicidal basket case with control and intimacy issues. But as I continued to delight myself in the Lord, he was slowly giving me the desires of my heart: chief most being the published book that would soon bear my name.