What Comes First?

There are many things I could write about for the first blog post to go on the CLYA testimonies journal.  I have been miraculously healed, I have prayed over others who have been miraculously healed, I have seen people weep tears of joy as others have prayed over them, I have seen prophetic words touch peoples’ hearts, I have felt a “Holy Spirit haymaker” (as one of my friends likes to put it), and I have given out “Holy Spirit haymakers” through God’s grace.  All of these things are amazing signs of the Holy Spirit at work in Christ’s Church, and many stories related to these topics and even more astounding active experiences will be shared in time.  But for this first post, I want to call attention to the power that is present in love, especially as seen through forgiveness – an action that is often viewed by our culture as being so passive that it is outdated and unnecessary.  Forgiveness may at times be passive, although in many cases it can be very active, but it is the exact opposite of unnecessary.  Christ came to Earth to show us how to love, and he did that by taking our sins upon the cross and then forgiving each and every single one of us.  His example demands forgiveness from us, just as his words do in Matthew 18:21-35.

One of our brothers, Juan, is out traveling across God’s beautiful earth, experiencing Christ in phenomenal ways.  I miss him.  But he keeps us up to date with his own deeply moving blog.  In one of his recent posts, he wrote about Saudade, a Portugese word which has no direct translation to English, but is beautifully summed up in the following way (which I stole from Juan’s blog):

Saudade was once described as “the love that remains”. It is a Portuguese word that has no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. It brings sad and happy feelings together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling. In fact, one can have saudade of someone whom one is presently with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future.

I just graduated from college in 2012.  There, I met a girl who did a significant amount of spiritual damage to me.  I was single going into my senior year, and I met this girl during the first week of the fall semester when my roommates and I helped her and her roommates out by carrying their TV to their apartment, which was very close to ours.  She and I hit it off right away, and I got her phone number.  First problem: she had a boyfriend.  Second problem: she knew exactly how to read and use me.  The bad news started when she sent me a text describing a romantic dream she had that involved the two of us.  I was not in charge of my sexuality nor my emotions at that time, and I wanted her attention so badly – I wanted to fulfill as much of her dream as was possible.

For six months I allowed this girl to manipulate and deceive me.  For the first month she still had her other boyfriend, but convinced me that things were over between the two of them and that she wanted a future with me.  For the second and third month, you could say they had broken up, but things were complicated between her and him.  During the fourth month, it seemed like they had broken up for good.  During all of this she allowed me to take her on dates, get involved romantically, and tell her that I loved her while she told me she loved me back.  Then came month five – Christmas break.  For the entire month while she was home she didn’t talk to me once.  She was seeing her boyfriend back home.  Then we come back to school for the spring semester and she wants to be with me again.  Month six: I decide to give her a second chance because I don’t know how to say no to this girl.  And things are complicated with her boyfriend again.  When he visits one weekend, I’ve finally had enough and things just end between us without closure.

I don’t blame her for everything that happened.  In fact, I very much realize that I am responsible for my decisions, and I chose with my own free will to continue trying to work things out with this girl.  Although I was doing weekly Bible study and consistently feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I routinely tried to repress it so I could do what I wanted to do.  I freely denied God’s call.  During the time all the drama (which I never thought I would be involved in) was going on, one of my roommates called me a homewrecker.  He was essentially right, but I only saw what I wanted to see.  Yet the damage had been done.  We had been intimately connected, and that connection was severed abruptly.  I hurt her, she hurt me, and we were still attached without knowing it.

I proceeded to get into shallow relationships to cover over the pain I had from this other relationship gone wrong, and I know I did spiritual damage to those girls as I let my aggressive “love” loose.  I immediately dated a girl I knew was desperate for a boyfriend, then I dumped her for an ex-girlfriend of mine, then, shortly after graduating college, I dumped her for a new girlfriend almost purely out of lust.

Around Memorial Day of 2012, the girl who had hurt me so much texted me, apologizing for the way she had treated me so badly.  I was surprised, but glad that she had done it.  We were on good terms now.  I said that I accepted her apology and that I forgave her – at least, I thought I had forgiven her.

I dated the final girlfriend I mentioned for almost exactly a year (July 4, 2012 to July 2, 2013), and in that span of a year God reached into my life in a number of very drastic ways.  Some of those ways deserve their own testimony posts.  At the end of that year-long relationship, though, I had a lot of heartbreak to face, stretching back all the way to that first relationship in my senior year of college.  In my most recent meeting with my spiritual director, Fr. John Rapisarda, which was about two weeks ago, I was shocked to find something inside my heart that I did not expect: I had not fully forgiven the girl from my senior year of college for all the pain she had caused me.  At Men’s Group lift that night, I offered up my workout for her.

God has extremely intriguing ways of working for those who love Him:  This past Tuesday the girl messaged me on Facebook.  Both of us had a very hard time talking to each other, because our conversation was drenched in some sort of feeling that didn’t have a name in English.  I knew what it was in Portugese, though: saudade.  Upon sharing Juan’s words with her, she said she did not think the feeling could be described any more perfectly.  We proceeded to have a much-needed conversation, where I was able to share the transforming ways God was working in my life.  I can vividly recall saying to her while we were in college, “I don’t know why God has put you into my life.”  As I was conversing with her, I could see so much so clearly:  God had allowed me to make my own decisions even though He did not want the hurt He knew would come with them, Christ continued to pursue me even when I rejected Him, God makes all things work together for the good of His children, and transgressions that are not forgiven will stay with us forever.  God had endured this entire scenario in order to teach me about His character.  That night I was able to fully forgive this girl.  One of the closing comments she said to me was, “I just don’t know how to read you anymore. And I used to.”  That’s a good thing.  I told her that I have a wife waiting for me (it could be the Church, who knows?!), and I need to fully belong to whomever that gorgeous, gorgeous bride is.

As we finished our conversation and I got ready for bed, my heart ached with saudade I no longer desired to have.  I got down on my knees and begged the Lord to deliver me from this saudade, and as I prayed, I could feel it leaving my person.  God has healed me from these wounds – that is clearly demonstrated love.  Thank you, Father.  Thank you, Son.  Thank you, Holy Spirit.

Thinking over all of this, the following two pieces of scripture come to mind, both of which Fr. John is constantly trumpeting to me (he keeps me grounded!) as I pursue the spiritual gifts:

1 Corinthians 13:1-2  If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Galatians 5:22-23  The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.  Against such there is no law.

Notice the things that are not listed as fruit of the spirit.  Notice how important love is in both of these passages.  This past week, I prayed over a young girl who was miraculously healed with one of my brothers in Christ, I evangelized with other brothers publicly in Fell’s Point, I prayed over people who wept tears of joy, I exercised the gifts of prophecy and tongues, and I ministered to prisoners in person.  I could have testified about God’s presence in any of those events.  But in the scripture references above, however, is the reason why the first post of this testimony blog must be about love and forgiveness rather than great works: we must have love first in our hearts.  That is why at the top every page of this blog you will find the words of John 15:12, “love one another as I love you.”

Now that we have our priorities in order, let’s look forward to a plethora of testimonies of all varieties. :)  Thank you, God, for the gift of love.

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4 thoughts on “What Comes First?

  1. Zack,

    Thank you so much for sharing. Thank you for being vulnerable, open and honest. Tears came to my eyes as I read your post… I know too well some of the things you spoke of. Thank you for setting the precedent for this blog and raising the bar for my future husband! =)

    There’s a song I am singing in my heart right now, and it’s funny, because it’s certainly written to God, but you are exemplifying this exact same type of love.

    Your love is amazing
    Steady and unchanging
    Your love is a mountain
    Firm beneath my feet

    Your love is a mystery
    How You gently lift me
    When I am surrounded
    Your love carries me

    Your love is surprising
    I can feel it rising
    All the joy that’s growing
    Deep inside of me
    And every time I see you
    All your goodness shines through
    And I can feel this God song rising up in me

    Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
    Your love makes me sing
    Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
    Your love makes me sing

    Your love is surprising
    I can feel it rising
    All the joy that’s growing
    Deep inside of me
    And every time I see you
    All your goodness shines through
    And I can feel this God song rising up in me

    The love you have for others is none other than pure God song love. God’s goodness shines through you.

    Love,
    Your sister in Christ! Stephanie

  2. Zack,
    Your post is just palpable – It’s as fibrous as it is real. So real that most of us reading this can relate to it even if we’re not honest (or at least willing) enough to describe our own saudade. Perhaps a response to “I just don’t know how to read you anymore; I used to,” is God has always been able to read us, always will. As I think about my own longing for things that could have been-never could have been, I am forced to look to God for healing and empowerment. Thanks be to God for your post. We are all children of God and he will never let us go.

  3. Thank you for sharing the truth honestly. I was crying inside during several parts and the part about Christ continuing to pursue you just to show you about his character really hit home. Additionally, forgiveness is something I’m just coming to truly understand…and as you described, I’m finding how life changing it is. I really appreciate how openly you share and how strongly you stand in the truth. Praise God for the transformative work He has done in your heart and mind!

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