By Heather Lobe Johnson
God's Brave Women - Heather's Story
When my now-husband and I first started dating, I was a single mom with a guarded, wounded heart.
I think back to those first few months and examine the heart he encountered—it was a little bit like a minefield with the jagged edges of old shrapnel below the surface.
Although I’d spent years pursuing deep healing in the presence of the Lord, my therapist, and Christian support groups, Ryan’s pursuit of my heart pushed some old hurts and lies to the surface.
When he was good to me, I waited and watched for the “other shoe” to drop. I looked for red flags more than celebrating the green ones. His gentleness and patience were a stark contrast to my expectations. And at times, his loving posture towards me felt like too much.
I didn’t think I deserved it.
"His gentleness and patience were a stark contrast to my expectations. And at times, his loving posture towards me felt like too much. I didn’t think I deserved it."
But still, I could feel God stirring in me a call to plant my feet instead of running. I sensed God calling me to the courage of letting love in, even though I desperately wanted to push it away.
The springtime women’s retreat at our church brought with it an invitation to lead worship for a wonderful group of women, and an exciting chance to get away for a weekend to press into prayer and listening. Before I left for West Virginia, Ryan called me and asked me to consider something.
He gently asked if I needed to let something go—a part of my past causing a big part of my pain. He said there was no rush, and he would be here as I worked through what I needed to.
I knew something deep and rich was stirring in me the moment I arrived for the retreat. The theme of our weekend was “Clean,” and we sang a song by Natalie Grant in each of our worship sets. As we sang the words, they wrapped themselves around my tender heart:
“There’s nothing too dirty,
that you can’t make worthy.
You wash me in mercy,
I am clean.”
Memories rose to the surface from childhood and adolescence, from college and from my former marriage. I saw for the first time that while God had already called me clean and forgiven, I was still wrapping myself in a cloak of my own shame. Although He had already released me from the chains of the past, I was dragging those heavy chains around with me, in shame and self-condemnation.
"I saw for the first time that while God had already called me clean and forgiven, I was still wrapping myself in a cloak of my own shame. Although He had already released me from the chains of the past, I was dragging those heavy chains around with me, in shame and self-condemnation."
During the Saturday afternoon free time of the retreat weekend, I went for a run in the April sunshine. Beautiful walking and hiking trails encircled the retreat center, so I started to jog and pray.
As I found my pace, the path started to slope downwards into a long hill. With delight, I let my feet carry me as fast as they could. An incredible feeling washed over me—one of innocence and childhood and purity. With sunlight bursting through the trees and pouring over my head, I imagined a little girl running down a grassy hill into a field of wildflowers with her arms wide open to scoop up color. I laughed and felt like I could fly with the joy of the moment.
And suddenly, I realized. Breakthrough.
As I ran, I imagined heavy weights falling off my ankles and hands and my heart. I found myself running, wide open and free. I let go of the chains I’d been set free from long ago.
One of my favorite verses is Galatians 5:1, which tells us:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Here, Paul refers to the slavery of legalism and law. But that weekend, it came to mind that we can also carry along with us the old chains of lies, insecurities, bitterness, and unforgiveness which God has already washed in His mercy.
When He calls us forgiven, do we accept it? When He calls us loved, do we see ourselves that way? When He calls us clean, are we convinced we’re too dirty for His redemption?
What would it look like for us to fully let go of the shame of the past and live in freedom?
"When He calls us forgiven, do we accept it? When He calls us loved, do we see ourselves that way? When He calls us clean, are we convinced we’re too dirty for His redemption? What would it look like for us to fully let go of the shame of the past and live in freedom?"
My tender heart wasn’t simply wounded from past broken relationships, but also from the idea that I myself was too broken to be loved by God or others. I carried the chains He’d already loosened for so long, I didn’t know how to live without them.
"My tender heart wasn’t simply wounded from past broken relationships, but also from the idea that I myself was too broken to be loved by God or others."
That weekend was the start of a beautiful new chapter in my life of learning to live free. Together, God and I started to pull the jagged pieces of the past from my heart and release them. Sometimes I still find myself looking back at the shrapnel or the old, heavy chains, but then I hear His tender voice calling me free. So I take a deep breath, let go, and live like I believe it.
I am free.
And so are you, sweet Sister.
Lord, you are the Redeemer and Restorer of all things - even those that seem too far gone, broken, or lost. You make whole what was once shattered. You bind up our wounds. We praise you for your remarkable ability to heal what no one else can.
We pray with boldness for you to heal our broken hearts by washing your mercy over us. We ask you to extract the pain of the past so we can fully embrace a life in your love. Lord, may your voice to be the loudest, clearest marker of our identity. And I pray for bravery for each woman reading this—Lord, help her to release the heavy chains she carries around with her so she can live with open arms and open hands. Help her to truly live free. Amen.
Brave Woman Manifesto
Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story!
And by the way...
You are Brave!
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Heather Lobe Johnson is a writer and worship leader who believes God can redeem the most broken parts of our stories. She hosts the Take These Ashes podcast, loves finding good local coffee shops, and lives in the mountains of Southwest Virginia with her husband and two boys. Her words have been featured at (in)courage, Kindred Mom, and in the book Sister, Walk in Truth. She would love to connect with you on Instagram or at www.heatherlobe.com.