Acts 1:8 (NIV)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Today’s Holy Spirit Story comes from Karen McAdams. I first met Karen through the “There is More” podcast which she leads with her friend and partner in ministry, Rachel Faulkner Brown. I was blessed to be a guest on a couple of their episodes. They also lead Never Alone Widows, which is a retreat and community-based mission; also part of their larger ministry called Be Still Ministries. Karen sent this story a few months back and I knew it would be perfect for this week in which we have explored Romans 8. Here’s the story in her own words and if you listen to the audio, in her own voice.
“You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father,” (John 14:9 MSG).
Everything changed for me one cold winter night nine years ago. It was a few days before my fiftieth birthday and I had begrudgingly gone to my couples small group. It was one of those nights where I just wasn’t “in the mood.” And then to my greater dismay, when I arrived, not a single woman had shown up. Apparently, they weren’t “in the mood” either. When all was said and done, there were only four of us—our leader Larry, my husband, and one other husband, and me. The lonely female. Ugh.
The night began with Larry asking what should have been a benign question. But this question, on this night, was the catalyst that led me into knowing my Abba God in a radically different way.
He simply asked, “How do you experience the Father’s love?”
I remember somewhat smugly answering, “I don’t really relate to that question. I experience Jesus’s love.” Surely that’s enough, right? Isn’t that the good Sunday school answer?
Larry responded to my innocent answer with another question. “Karen, can you close your eyes and ask Jesus, ‘how do I experience the Father’s love?'” What happened next was oddly unsettling because I immediately had a scene unfold in my mind’s eye. I saw myself at the beach and watched as I walked into a very shallow ocean. The farther in I waded, for some strange reason, it never got any deeper than up to my knees. The Holy Spirit flooded my heart with the answer to my question: if the Father’s love is supposedly as deep as an ocean, I had only waded knee-deep. I was shocked. What did this mean?
When I explained what the Holy Spirit had shown me, Larry asked if it would be okay for the men to gather around me and speak the Father’s blessing over me. Whatever that is. My defenses immediately went up. Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut? What’s wrong with me? How does this work? What is the “Father’s blessing” and why do I need it?”
They placed me in the middle of their little three-man circle as I fought my insecurity and embarrassment. One by one these men began blessing me with what they sensed the Father wanted to say. I remember vividly thinking, “Please Lord let me receive this. Let this stick. Clearly, I need this blessing.”
But another image had now crashed into my consciousness. An unwanted image. A seemingly incongruent image for someone who was getting their first “Father’s blessing.”
Gone was the ocean scene, and now I was eight years old dressed in my first communion dress. (Sidenote: this was a season of my life where I was being sexually abused at the same church where I happened to be receiving my first communion.) And on this particular day, when I should have felt innocent, excited, and beautiful in my new white dress and pretty gloves, I felt ugly, dirty, disgusting, and ashamed. I remember thinking, “Why in the world am I seeing this?”
And then what felt like out of nowhere, Father God walked into my scene and knelt down in front of me on one knee. I can see it like it was yesterday. He had on a long, white, nubby robe and had a long beard that my little eight-year-old hands reached out to play with. I was shocked. “What is happening here?”
And then my husband spoke: “Karen, I am seeing an image in my mind. It looks like you are about eight or nine years old and you are in a short white dress. I see the Father kneeling down in front of you on one knee. (And yes, if you’re wondering, if I hadn’t already been sitting, I would have fallen over.) And now he’s reaching out to you and touching your eyes. He says “You are soooo beautiful, Karen. I am giving you new eyes today to see yourself the way that I see you. Beautiful!” and then just when I thought I was gonna come unglued, he added, “He says to tell you, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen me too.” To which Larry added, and he says, “Happy birthday.”
And in that moment, this heavenly Father who seemed so distant . . . so disappointed by me . . . so disgusted by all my unholiness . . . so very unlike the Jesus that I knew loved me—became just like Jesus . . . became my heavenly Papa . . . my good, good Father . . . my kind and gentle and loving Abba . . . my heavenly Daddy who lets me play with his beard.
Nothing was the same for me after that encounter. Nothing. Like the woman at the well, I dropped the bucket that was full of self-hatred and shame, and I have never turned back. Nothing could ever change my mind again. Abba is just like Jesus. Just. Like. Jesus.
Religion has twisted our perception of our heavenly Father. It’s used the imagery of an angry, disappointed, inaccessible Father to try and keep the adherents of the faith in line, compliant, obedient, tithing, and worshipping. But all it does is make servants, and never daughters who are beautiful, free, healed, and whole sons and daughters.
Today, if your image of the heavenly Father differs at all from the Son, perhaps like me you could ask him the question that I was given . . . how do you experience the Father’s love? Is his love as deep as an ocean or have you only waded knee deep?
I bless you today to experience the Father’s love as a radical, soul-altering, mind-bending, many leagues-deep kind of love—the kind of love that knows no depths, no widths, no lengths, and no heights—immeasurable love that leaves you breathless in its wake. I bless you today to experience his love as a tangible, comes-up-close kind of love that pulls you in and lets you play with his beard and feel the texture of his garments.
I bless you today to release every false perception of who you believe him to be that doesn’t line up with the character and likeness of Jesus. I bless you today to experience the redemption of the moment in your youth when the enemy hijacked your identity and convinced you that you were unworthy, unclean, unlovable, and unlikeable to be completely transformed by one touch of your eyes with his gentle hands and to hear his warm voice say, “Oh, but you are so beautiful to me. Behold what I behold.” May you be blessed today to have your language changed from the austere “heavenly Father” to Abba . . . Papa . . . Daddy.
Heavenly Father, our Abba, my Abba, thank you for revealing your heart, mind, and very self to us through your Son, Jesus. Thank you that he brings us into knowing you in such a deep and intimate and life-changing way. Thank you for the way your love brings transformation through deep healing. Holy Spirit, give us the courage to welcome this kind of deep healing into places of hurt and trauma hiding in our memories. Bring us into circles of prayer, faith, and love where we can be set free and move into the depths of your goodness. Thank you for Karen today and we pray blessing on her for her vulnerable sharing of faith. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.
Have you experienced the Father’s blessing? Would you like to? Are there places of pain and trauma in your memory for which you would like deep healing? How might you seek this out? Begin by asking Abba Father today. He will guide you.
Today we will sing one of the great modern hymns by Stuart Townend, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” It is hymn 93 in our Seedbed hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise.
For the Awakening,
P.S. Holy Spirit Stories Welcome
I would love it if you would send a story of faith from your life we might use on a Saturday in the future. We will be glad to attach your name or a pseudonym or anonymity—it’s up to you. It can be a story of coming to faith, a story of transformation, a story of healing, deliverance, suffering and sufficient grace, family reconciliation, prodigal returns, answered prayer, and so forth. A word count of 500–800 words works well. We can’t guarantee publication, but we assure you of our prayerful discernment. You can reply to this email with your story and it will come to me.