We were awakened from our restful sleep by the violent shaking of an earthquake. Without warning tragedy had struck while most of us lay sleeping completely unaware that our lives would soon change forever. Stephen ran to the door of our hotel room to open it and see what was going on. When he opened the door he realized that part of the hotel had broken away and was laying in waste at the foot of the hotel. The rooms right across the hall no longer existed and were now part of the rubble seven stories below on the ground. The sounds of sirens came from everywhere. By now the kids were up and were scared. Stephen instructed us all to get on our shoes, grab what we could, and prepare to escape down what was left of the hallway. A portion of the hallway was missing that would grant access to the part of the building still standing. Stephen saw a ladder leaned up against the wall that a painter had been using the night before. He decided that it would make a bridge to access the other part of the building. He went out first to make sure that it was secure enough for the rest of us to walk on. He motioned for Kristen to come behind him. She was afraid, but I encouraged her to follow her daddy. When she had safely reached the other part of the building, Chris followed behind her. Finally it was my turn. I was nervous, but I wanted to be with my family. As I reached the ladder, an aftershock caused it to fall to the ground. Stephen reached his hand out to me, but it was no use. I couldn’t reach him. I begged him to take our kids out of the building and to safety. He could send help for me later.
They were all in tears as they left me to escape the building. I eased my way back to the doorway of our room. All I can do at this point was to wait in our room and hope that it was secure. Minutes later I heard a voice call my name from outside the door. I grabbed my bag and rushed to the door and threw it open. There wasn’t anyone there. I closed the door in disappointment and I went back to sit on the bed praying for help to come soon. Only a few seconds passed before I heard my name again. This time I opened the door and looked more carefully. I still couldn’t see anybody. As I turned to re-enter my room, I heard the voice again. It was familiar. It was the way it spoke my name
I put the bag down and gripped the sides of the doorway with my hands. I cautiously leaned forward seeing only the rubble below me. No one was there. But then He spoke again and I realized who it was. It was God. In a trembling voice, I told him that I was afraid. He reassured me that he had heard me calling Him and that He had come to get me. I told him that I wanted to be with Stephen and my kids. He told me that was why He was here. As I started to pick up my bag expecting Him to take me in His hand, He told me that all I had to do was to jump. Jump? Surely He wasn’t serious. Jump from a door of a seventh story room to chaos and rubble below? That was suicide. Before I could ask any more questions, He spoke again. In a firm but gentle tone, He told me that the only way that I would survive the chaos would be to jump. Tears ran down my face. Freefall? Surely he knew I was terrified of freefall. Me, the girl who couldn’t ride anything that involves freefall at a theme park? Surely He knew that I could not possibly think of jumping. I mean who would jump from a seventh story? He calmly asked me to lean forward and look below so that I could see a single mattress directly below me on the ground. According to Him, that mattress is what would catch me. With a flood of tears streaming down my face, I begged Him for another way. He gently reassured me that He knew I was afraid, but this was the only way and I had to make a choice. As I stood there in the doorway, knuckles white from clenching the frame, my soul could feel Him pulling me towards Him. It wanted to jump. My heart ached to be with my family. Once again He spoke gently telling me that there was no other way except for me to choose to jump. White knuckled clenched fists holding the frame of a doorway showed that I did not want to jump. Pictures of times when He had shown up before flashed in front of me. Had I not always found Him to be faithful? And so in a trembling voice, I whispered the words that I was ready to jump. A gentle quiet voice whispered back that He would catch me. After falling for what seemed like an eternity, I did not land on a mattress, but in the palm of the hand of the Almighty God. And then I woke up. It was only a dream, but my life would never be the same again.
I went to bed the night of March 17, 2013 just like any other night. I hadn’t watched anything on TV or read anything that would cause me to dream. But that night I would have a dream that would change the rest of my life. I don’t remember the girl who went to bed that night. I do remember that she thought that she had a deep personal relationship with Jesus. I remember that she thought she had grown close to God in her 41 years. But that night, that dream was her invitation to enter into a free-fall relying on him who is faithful to catch her. A week later she would find herself writing her grandfather’s eulogy, preparing to speak in front of a crowd which terrified her, waiting on results to see if her daughter had bone cancer, and more than anything facing an uncertain future. It was only the beginning. The next seven years would be a continuous training session of being asked to jump when she was afraid, to swim in deep dark waters, and to climb blindly out of the blackest of pits. She would learn that His hand always found her before she hit the ground, that He too swims in the deep never leaving her alone, and that after climbing her way up part of the pit wall she would always find His hand reaching to pull her to safety.
So on this day seven years later, may I say that I have never found myself alone. He has been faithful in the darkest of waters. He has been unshakable when I find myself shaking. There has never been a pit so deep that His love was not deeper still. So in a time when our world seems in chaos, may I reassure you that the one who made the stars, formed the universe, and made our very beings, He isn’t taken by surprise. He is still in control. Empty grocery shelves are nothing for the One who feeds the sparrow.The Bible is filled with verses telling us not to be afraid. If you belong to God, your heart should rest in peace that passes all understanding. Nothing can touch us unless he allows it to pass through His fingers to get to us. And if you don’t know Him, please allow me to introduce you to the One who is waiting for you. He who can still the ocean waves can calm your worried soul. This girl has learned that it’s okay to jump because the hand that will catch you holds it all.
Dear SBC Leaders,
There are words that I would love to speak to you, however perhaps they should wait. Perhaps you do not understand the magnitude of the decisions that lie before you. Perhaps you only see the numbers, the statistics, and the urgency of addressing the media. Maybe you don't see them as people. Perhaps you fail to remember that these victims are image bearers of God. Perhaps it would be different if you placed their photos on the wall and looked into their eyes. Maybe if you could see them as children. Perhaps you are like me and have never suffered sexual abuse at the hands of another person, particularly one considered to be a Christian role model. Maybe you have never loved someone who was abused. Maybe some of you truly want to understand but you don't know the questions to ask the victims. From where I stand it doesn't seem that this has been important to you to investigate, but maybe you didn’t understand the gravity of what had occurred.
Maybe if you only knew the questions to ask the victims, perhaps then you would be better prepared to make a responsible decision. In case that is the case, here are some questions you might try to ask.
• Did the abuse cause them to be behavior problems in school?
• What hindrances did the abuse cause in their development?
• Did they grow up having nightmares with flashbacks of the abuse?
• Did they try to tell someone in an attempt to get help but no one believed them because it was somebody at church?
• Did they act out at home and other places only to be punished rather than anyone to question why?
• Did they avoid sports because of the locker rooms because they feared someone could tell that they had been abused when they changed clothes?
• Has it been hard for them to form friendships and other relationships?
• Were their teenage years clouded by confusion about their sexual identity?
• Were they promiscuous as teenagers and as adults?
• In those churches where abuse occurred, how many committed suicide? How many considered it?
• How many of the victims struggle with their view of God and church?
• How many of them have trust issues?
• How many of the victims have or currently identify themselves as homosexual? Bisexual?
• How many struggle with addictions? Alcoholism? Drugs? Pornography?
• How many of their marriages have ended in divorce?
• How many of their marriages suffer because their spouse cannot understand the depth of their pain?
• How many of their spouses were first given a clue into the depth of that pain because they ended up holding them in their arms as they cried on their honeymoon?
• Do they still cry in their sleep because of the flashbacks?
• Do they harbor hate? Shame?
• Do they overwork themselves because they have to stay busy to keep the memories at bay?
• Do they have children of their own now and is the fear to protect them so overwhelming that they are almost paralyzed by it?
I've been told that as a convention that you have done great things to advance the kingdom of Christ. I'm sure that this is true, however by allowing these things to happen and to continue to happen for decades, what have you done to hurt the witness of the Church? What have you done to hinder the cause of Christ? When God looks at the Southern Baptist Convention does He see your good works as far exceeding the current situation or does He see their faces as He watched them suffer at the hands of the very ones who claimed to be His? How does He feel about where we are? Does He understand that there must be deliberations as to what must be done next or does he remind you that He has already spoken to that point when He pointed out that it would be better to have a millstone hung about the neck and be drowned rather than hurt one of His little ones?
My prayer is that you search the heart of God as you make plans for the future. I pray that as you consider not only registries, but that you also consider sources of support for all abuse victims within the church. I pray that you see a need to educate our churches to understand sign of abuse, to teach their children what abuse is and provide a channel where they can report it, and to provide support for abuse victims and their families.
Your Concerned Sister in Christ
It's time. He's been whispering that in my ear for awhile now, but I push it away pretending that I don't hear. But here I am in the first week of February, and He is singing over me. He is reminding me that it is our anniversary...and that it is time. Every excuse I gave Him that day, He has met with an answer...with preparation...with grace.
The day was February 5, 2014. It was a Wednesday That morning started like any other morning had started for the past several months. I awoke more tired that when I had went to bed. I dreaded my day. I dreaded life. I had went to the doctor on Monday after school with extremely high blood pressure. I was put on bed rest the next day and told that I was headed for a stroke. If I still felt bad on Wednesday, I was to stay home from work. Knowing the pressures at my workplace and the demand for a doctor's note. my doctor made my excuse for both days in case I needed it, but clarified that it was only if I needed it. I felt like going that morning so I did, but only for about ten minutes before I was ordered to leave. I gathered my stuff and was ushered out the door being told that someone was coming in for me.
I cried all the way home. I don't know what my blood pressure was that morning, but I do know that I was having chest pains as I went upstairs to change and text to let my husband know the events of the morning. He told me to rest, but I cried for a couple of hours occasionally begging God to just let me have a stroke and die. Things were really hard at work, at home, and at church. Other than my kids and my grandmother, I really didn't see a reason to stick around and live life like that every day. I spent my whole existence wishing to be somewhere else...somebody else. I had given up my Sunday School class that I had taught over a decade and the role of organizer of our church's nativity. Those were my gifts to God, my worship, my ministry. I had been raised to believe that women were not made to lead and so therefore my role was to support my husband in his roles within the church, but now he no longer had roles...he no longer wanted roles. I wasn't sure where that left me. We were at a new church warming a pew. That wasn't who we were. At work I had just received my fourth write-up in less than six months. The conference of concern was scheduled for the next week and although I knew the policy numbers applied to my offense, I truly had no idea what I had done this time. Our marriage was in a rough place which comes with being uprooted from your church and facing new conditions at work and just life. I didn't have a place where I felt safe and my body was feeling it.
The chest pains were increasing as was my desperation. The thought of facing another day was more than I could handle. It hurt to breathe. And on top of all of it, I was failing God. It had been almost a year since The Dream. I didn't understand it at first and I had misread what it held for me, but I was starting to understand it. God had a plan for me still and it wasn't like anything I had known before. The days of holding a Lifeway quarterly with notes scribbled on the sides were over. He was asking for more. He was asking me for what I felt was impossible. He was asking me to write...to speak...and to lead women in ministry. I didn't know how to do that. I just used a teacher's edition of the quarterly to teach a small Sunday School class. I was afraid to speak in front of a group. But I had tried to walk in the direction I felt He was leading me to...at least a little. I had started a blog and enrolled in a writing course. I wasn't exactly being totally disobedient, but I couldn't understand why He was asking me to charter waters I had no knowledge of journeying. I didn't know how to publish a blog...how to write a book...how to speak to a group...how to organize a women's event...how to lead...how to do an online Bible study. How was I supposed to do these things that I knew nothing about?
The events of the morning...the pain of my chest...the feeling of failing God...I found myself so very desperate. I had felt desperation before this moment, but today was different. I just could not go on like this anymore. It was just me there with Him, and so I made my way to my bed and knelt on my knees. If you know me, you know that my knees haven't been strong since a wreck we had several years ago and to kneel can be excruciating within minutes.. But today it didn't matter how bad my knees hurt. My heart needed God to see me there pleading with Him for answers, for strength, and mostly for grace. I'm pretty sure all I did was cry. I don't remember any words for a really long time...just loud sobbing and a lot of tears. Finally I just asked Him to hear whatever the Holy Spirit spoke on my behalf and I went to my sitting room to sit down.
In less than thirty minutes, my phone rang with a Kentucky number. I wasn't going to answer it but something told me that I was supposed to and so I did. It was the husband of Christian author and speaker Liz Curtis Higgs. He had ran across my name and number from a question that I had asked earlier and felt that he was supposed to just give me a call. He spent almost the next hour educating me on the world of Christian speaking, organizing a women's event, how to publish, and women's ministry in general. He even told me that he felt he would hear my name again someday and to organize a couple of women's events and then give Liz a call. Absolutely nothing was different in my life. The problems were still there. The fear of the unknown still lurked beyond the corner where I couldn't see. But I was different because the God who I begged to help me understand how this was to be had asked a complete stranger to call my cell and give me an introduction to the world of Christian women's ministry. And not just any stranger but the husband of one of my favorite Christian speakers and authors. God wanted me to know that He was there...He would equip...and He heard my heart.
So here I am five years later in a very different situation. That very same week I would get an appointment to speak to someone and my situation at work would change. The thing that I thought would kill me was used to move me to a new job with new friends. Those new friends would lead me to a new church and one of those friends would invite me into a women's jail ministry alongside her. Five years later I have experienced training in how to write, how to speak, how to lead, and how to wait. I now understand more about blogging, have met with acquisition editors from major Christian publishing companies and have learned a great deal about publishing. I have learned about how to monetize a blog, create an online Bible study, organize women's events, and lead women in ministry opportunities. The girl who knelt sobbing by her bed has not been unnoticed by her God.
So as I approach this week, I feel the need to remove my shoes for the ground I walk on in my mind this week is holy. It is a Bethel of sorts. It is where I met with God. As I write this partial list of the training and experiences that He has allowed these last five years, I am in awe. To know that I know. To know that no matter what has happened or been said, regardless of what will happen or be said...I have been called and He is equipping me. I don't pretend to understand why and I don't really know how or when He will use it, but it is real. Just remembering the confusion and the pain of that day and now to realize what He has made come to pass...it is beyond words.
God, on this fifth anniversary...let it be said that Your grace is truly sufficient...Your power is truly made perfect in my weakness...and may the power of Your Son work through me to accomplish what it is that You would have me accomplish...whenever...wherever...anything. As long as You are with me...that's all I need.
I was very excited to be given the opportunity to review the new Thomas Nelson NKJV Study Bible Full-Color Edition from the Blythe Daniel Agency, The box containing the Bible was very eye-catching and two of the first things I noticed was the color and print size stated clearly on the box top, both of which are very important to me.
Upon opening the box and seeing the Bible itself, I quickly noticed its rich cranberry color with beautiful artistic design. It could easily be held in one hand comfortably, which is important to me as a women's Bible study teacher. The text is clear and easily readable with a 9-point Comfort Print. This is important to me as my vision has changed over the years making some texts difficult to read.
Each book of the Bible begins with colorful stunning photography and a history of the book including its author, timeline, purpose, and other interesting details. The Bible contains verse-by-verse study notes, notes about cultural history, word studies, timelines, tables, maps, and cross referencing.
I am looking forward to adding this study Bible to my daily Bible reading and study, as well as in preparation to teach. You can check it out for yourself and learn more by watching the video at the link below.
Change. That's what the focus of a new year is all about...change. Some regard change as necessary...something to be desired. Others see change as bad and wish that things could always remain the same regardless if that means that one's life remain stagnant and unfulfilled.
Resolutions are promises we make to ourselves to make changes in our lives, whether those changes be physical, spiritual, or part of our daily routine. All too often we break these promises to ourselves and then struggle with the fact that we feel as though we have failed. Not only do we give up on reaching our goals, but we also tend to stop setting additional goals, excusing ourselves because we see it only as a source of more opportunities to fail.
There are so many goals I set for myself last year that I failed to meet. Rather than give up, I have determined to continue those same goals for this year hoping that I can redeem myself from where I failed in the past year and to celebrate the smallest steps of progress this year.
For me the hardest part in reflecting back on the past year was seeing the ways I broke promises to God. Breaking promises I made to myself are more easily excused than promises that I make to God and fail to follow through with. But every time I start going over the list of ways I have failed Him, He reminds me of the ways that He has supported me and forgiven me. There's one area in particular that I have failed Him in tremendously. For me that is my foothold...my sin area...the place that I let Satan creep into and whisper things to my heart that it should refuse to hear. He has mastered using the voices of others here too, and I listen because their voices carry some measure of weight. This year above all years I must determine to live only for an audience of One. That is hard to do. It means rejecting those other voices. It means measuring everything against the life of Christ rather than the world's measuring sticks.
The weight of such a decision is so heavy and cumbersome, and yet,so freeing. It is so hard to live for Him....I mean to truly try to follow all His commandments and to deny yourself and what you want to do and say in the flesh. There have been so many times this year that I was completely justified by not only the world's standards, but those of the Bible, and yet the Holy Spirit urged me to be still and wait. Even now I have so many finely sharpened arrows tucked safely within my quiver waiting at a moment's notice to come to my defense, and yet the God of the Universe beckons me not to trust in what is within my own strength and resources, but rather to wholly trust in Him to fight my battles.
And so on this first day of 2018, I commit myself to live for an audience of One....to live out the word JOY...and to write. Yes, I said it. I have failed. I have sinned and come short of the glory of God. He reminds me gently and for some reason He lingers and patiently waits for me to draw from His strength...to trust in His call....and to be authentic no matter the cost, for the cost is high, but when I survey the cost He paid for me, it is as nothing.
August 21, 2017, there will be a total solar eclipse visible to a great portion of the United States. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon is close enough to the earth that it appears to be as big as the sun, and as the moon passes between the earth and sun it will temporarily block the sun making the earth dark as if it were night. This is a rare occurrence and is being widely discussed and celebrated.
Sadly eclipses of the heart and soul are not as rare. They tend to occur all too frequently. Sometimes trials or problems in our lives appear to be bigger than the Son. Although in our heads we know that He is above all things, we become blinded to the light of the Son. Sometimes life is hard and when trials come that overtake us, they tend to appear much larger than they truly are simply because of how close they are to important things in our lives. The sheer proximity of a trial can block our view of the Son, leaving us in darkness, void of God's light in our lives. We lose our reality knowing that there is nothing He cannot handle, and yet during these eclipses we find that we have lost focus on the Son because all we can see is the trial upon us.
Just as special eyewear is available to safely view the eclipse, we too have been given a lens through which we are to view eclipses of the heart. We are to cover our lives with scripture in order to protect our vision during an eclipse of the heart. If we are equipped to look at trials through the lens of God's Word, then we can maintain our focus on the Son and not find ourselves surrounded by darkness, but be able to find the light of His amazing love.
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14-13-14 NIV
Standing still. It seems like such a passive direction, and yet it is anything but passive. In fact it may quite possibly be the hardest thing to do. In 2 Chronicles 20:17, God instructed the Children of Israel as follows, " You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” What an odd battle strategy. To be instructed to go into the battlefield not to fight, but to merely stand still. One would think that it would make more sense to be given a command to take up your weapon, to put on your armor, and yet the command is to stand still. Having read and studied Ephesians 6, I would think that it is assumed that you enter the battlefield fully dressed in the armor of God. I feel that it is an unspoken assumption that any time we are awaiting commands for the battle, that we are already fully dressed in all our armor and that our weapons and shield are in place merely awaiting the call from the Commander of the army. But even in full armor complete with a sword and a shield, these instructions seem out of place.
Standing still. To stand requires the body to work together in order to have all its parts united in the effort to keep it upright and maintaining its balanced weight to hold the position. To stand takes work and is not passive as sitting or lying down would be. There is nothing passive about the command to stand. To be still on a battlefield is everything but passive as well. The normal response to impending battle would be to seek shelter, to hide, to defend oneself with weapons. But the command is to remain still. To simply wait and take no action to protect oneself. Standing still is difficult and goes against what we want in order to make ourselves feel more relaxed and secure.
I had a dream once. I was alone in a large field with only tall grass around me with the exception of a two story barn up ahead. The barn's second floor had a door that was open revealing what appeared to be an empty hayloft. As I walked along taking in the sights of the beautiful grassy field moving in the direction of the barn, I was suddenly hit with an arrow in my left shoulder. Shocked, I reached to pull the arrow loose from where it was lodged and as I did I was hit with another arrow in my chest. More and more arrows seemed to come at me first from the direction of the barn, and then from all directions. I was bloody and in pain and wanted so much to lay down in the grass, hoping that if I did so that the arrows would stop. Suddenly there was an angel standing beside me instructing me to stay standing and to be still. As more and more arrows struck me all over my body, I began to beg the angel to let me lay down. He told me no, that I must stand and I must be still. It seemed like the arrows continued to come more quickly and with more force, and I soon found that I could no longer keep them pulled out as fast as they were hitting me. Most of them stayed in my skin. Blood covered every inch of my body and the pain was almost unbearable. My legs quivered, weak, begging to rest. Finally reinforcements appeared and the angel told me that I could lay down. I was so exhausted, nor from fighting, but from standing still.
Exodus 14:13-14 commands us to not be afraid, to stand firm, and to see what God will do. What will God do? He will fight for us. There are so many verses in the Bible that speak about how God will fight for us, how He will help us, how He will bring us through. It is amazing that God Himself cares about us so much that He tells us just to concentrate on standing and being still, and He will do the rest. In Ephesians 6, when Paul is describing the individual pieces to our spiritual armor, he states in verse 13 to "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." He asks us to be fully clothed in the armor that He provides, to be ready to walk onto the battlefield, and then to stand still and watch our Daddy do the rest. How empowering it is to a girl who isn't a great fighter, who sometimes finds her armor too heavy to wear, much less fight in. What amazing grace to know that your Heavenly Daddy merely wants you to be willing to fight, and He promises that if you show up ready and willing that He will fight for you. It doesn't matter that you are smaller than your opponent, that you don't understand the rules of engagement, or that you aren't a great fighter. It only matters to Him that you show up wearing what He has provided you, and then He smiles, tells you to stand still, and He destroys the enemy for you.
"Good morning, Baby Girl. It's over. I need you to wake up today and soak in the Sonshine. The clouds moved out last night. It's spring, and it's time to stop circling the mountain and move." That was Saturday...almost five months since my last post.
It's been easy to hide here in my shell...hidden in a dark place all by myself. Months of being quiet with only two blog posts and a few glimpses as to what is under the shell here with me. It's been a year since I've been consistent with blogging. It's been a year of trial and tragedy. A year of joy mixed with pain. A year when it was almost too dangerous to even dare let the words flow from my heart to the page. A year when the pain was too close to write about...so much to tell from a heart that was too broken to speak it.
But there comes a time when the story must be told...when the ashes become beauty...when the mourning is met with the oil of joy...when the spirit of heaviness must be exchanged for the garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3). He's been patient with me. He has heard each and every time that I told Him that I didn't know how I could bear to lose her...how much I loved her...how much I needed her in my life. I was so careful to praise Him and be grateful for every time He allowed her to stay longer because I knew one day He would say that she had to come Home. I didn't want to let her go. I was selfish and I wanted her to stay here. I wanted to be able to call her every night and listen to her voice. I wanted her to mentor me in the faith...to teach me more about what it means to truly follow Him...to let me sit at her feet and marvel at her love for Him. But she was ready to go Home. She had been ready for a long time, and He was calling her Home.
And I didn't fall apart when she left because I couldn't. My kids needed me and my daddy was sick and we didn't know what was wrong. By the time Mammaw left, Daddy was in a wheelchair a lot of the time if he was out of the house. When around the house he relied on a walker. We didn't have answers until the first of September, and the answers were the worst ones we could have. We spent the next four months watching his body decline with each passing day, and then on Christmas Eve he was invited Home and healed perfectly just in time for Christmas.
There were other things in the middle...things that brought pain...disappointment...anger. By the time I got to January I felt so defeated. I spent a lot of time in Isaiah. I went there to find my favorite verse, Isaiah 41:10, but He invited to hand out there and look around. There in Isaiah I would find other verses for dark days...for days when I felt alone...for days when I had given up on anything to do with a calling...and He met me there in Isaiah. Gently waiting in the lines of individual verses of scripture...slowly...patiently healing me piece by piece. He reminded me that I am inscribed in the palm of His hand and that nothing can ever change that. No loss in spiritual warfare...no struggle with anger...no failure to follow His calling could remove my name from His palm. When it looked like opposition was stacked against me, He reminded me in amazing ways that no weapon can prosper if I am in His will.
Sometimes I felt like the dark would never end. Sometimes it felt like I was drowning in an ocean of pain and I couldn't get loose from the entanglement of the seaweed around me...not that I was trying all that hard really to get loose because it was easier just to give in to it and let it drown me. I tried to tell myself that the water and the fiery trial was just to make me stronger, for I knew that was His way of strengthening me...but this time I wasn't sure that I wanted to be stronger. It felt darker and lonelier than it had before. And there He was reminding me that I was His and that He would be with me when I passed through the waters, and that the fire might be hot, but I would not be burned. Every wave...every flame...He was there.
And here I am in April... a girl so tempted to remain quiet and slowly let people forget what it was I once told them eagerly that I felt called to do. I wanted to just say that I tried and walk away. Most people find it a little hard to believe anyway, and let's face it...what's so different about me? Why would God pick me for anything? I probably just imagined it, right? I mean, what in the world does God need with a 45 year old woman?
Apparently He has something in mind because He sure does wait for me to get myself together for Him. He took me through Isaiah and reminded me that His word does not return to Him void and that He can make it prosper and accomplish whatever He wants...even through me. I don't understand it either...but then He reminds me that His thoughts are not like mine. He is going to do a new thing...and for some reason He wants me to be part of it. That to me is amazing.
So it's time for me to pull myself up, dust myself off, and figure out that it's April. I have stories to share with you...stories of love and hope...stories of daring and trust...stories that go against the odds....stories of loss and heartbreak...stories of joy and redemption. I have pictures that you have never seen that I want to share...dreams that make my heart sing...and brokenness that leaks the warmest of all light.
It's time for a new thing...and I am so excited to see what He has in mind.
November. There is something about you that frightens me...painful memories...sleepless nights...empty chairs at Thanksgiving...birthdays alone. But November, there hidden among the painful shadows are holy sacred places. For no matter how dark November can be...there is light that shines there whose beauty is beyond words. For within the walls of November lies my El Bethel.
My El Bethel, the place where God came, the place where He revealed Himself to me in a way He had never done before...my El Bethel, the God of the House of God, that belongs to November. That place...that holy most reverent of places, hallowed ground, sacred...that place bids me take off my shoes and bow.
The feeling you feel when you are so tired from the spiritual battle that you are in...when you absolutely have nothing else to give...when you are surrounded by darkness seemingly alone, staring Satan in the eye...when you are ready to quit...and then the wind changes and you literally smell the sweetness of His presence...when the only thing you know to do is to lay prostrate in the damp grass and cry because you are no longer alone in the battle for He now stands between you and the enemy.
There is an unparalleled beauty there in that place. Something so life altering that you know that you will never be the same. The place where He changed the very course of your future...where He forced demons to flee. The place where the darkness crawls away and peels back into the shadows leaving a gentle glow in its retreat. The place where the One who controls the winds and the waves reaches out His hand to pick you up off the ground. The place where He encourages you to follow as He continues to hold your tired injured hand within His that is nail-pierced. The place where you sit with Him in the quiet for hours as He hand-picks verses and opens them in the exposed crevices of your heart. There is a beauty that is only born in brokenness...a place where you come face to face with the God of the House of God...El Bethel.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;. She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth,
Hosea 2:14-15a NKJV
It's one of my favorite verses, and yet I know it's not really about my life....or is it? This verse was given to me at the most difficult time in my life. I had spent the entire day pleading with God for an answer....begging Him for direction...and He pointed me to Job and Hosea. I remember crying and asking Him if this was seriously the best He could do for me as I struggled to remember to breathe. I remember reading these two verses and thinking that surely God did not understand what it was that I needed to hear at that moment...but I was wrong. It was exactly what I needed to hear, for it was my personal promise from God.
The verse is really a reference to the time Israel spent wandering in the wilderness. The Valley of Achor is a reference to a place of tragedy for Israel with it being now promised as a door of hope. I didn't see it at first, but God would show me that it was about me...a promise of things to come.
Most people do not spend their days in areas that are wilderness. Most people don't really enjoy darkness. Most people are content to spend their days in sunny areas surrounded by people. For some the wilderness and darkness mean fear because of what you cannot see...the fear of the unknown. But there are things that you only can see in darkness. There are things that you miss in the light of the sun.
There is beauty in darkness that you can never see in the light. For example, stars are always above us, hovering in the canopy of the sky, but they are hidden by the brightness of the sun. Even at twilight most remain hidden. It is only in the darkness that the beauty of a star-filled sky can be enjoyed. The beauty of a star can only be seen against a background of darkness. Without the darkness one would miss the beauty of the stars.
God wanted to reveal Himself to me in the darkness. He wanted me to linger in the wilderness, not to grow accustomed to the darkness, but to better understand the beauty of lights stretched against its canopy. He wanted to meet with me there. He wanted to allure me...to draw me to Himself. He wanted to show me that He is all I need. He wanted to comfort me in my darkness, and show me that He is my light. He wanted me to trust that He could take a valley of pain and make it have purpose...to transform my Valley of Achor into a door of hope.
I've often thought what I would do if God offered to let me go back and never enter the Valley of Achor. What if He let me erase it from my memory...to never have allowed my feet to cross its threshold. My head shouts an enormous "yes", but my heart....my soul...well, they're not so sure. I remember nights that I just laid in the grass in the dark and cried. I remember nights when I bowed in the yard and sometimes lay prostrate on the retaining wall just pleading with God for peace. I remember nights of struggling to take my thoughts captive and fight to cling to Him although the winds of the storm threatened to tear me loose from His grasp. Why would anyone even consider going through that again?
Because there is hope that flows from Achor. There is a comfort and peace hidden in the darkness of the wilderness. There is a beauty in a star-strewn sky that you only see in the darkness of night. Those nights in the fetal position in the grass...those nights prostrate on the retaining wall....those hours of pleading with Him to put your heart back together because you couldn't find all the pieces. Each and every one of those nights in the wilderness....He was there. Each and every cry that went from the darkness...He heard. He stole my heart in the wilderness. He allured me to draw nearer to Him in a way I had never experienced. He spoke comfort to a broken heart. I learned that there is great fruit that comes from the wilderness...fruit that doesn't grow in mountain top vineyards. And the words He speaks in the wilderness...they are more beautiful than any ever spoken, for the comfort and peace that they bring is indescribable And suddenly you find yourself singing there in the valley....in the deepest darkest crevices of the wilderness you learn to sing. The song born in the wilderness cannot be sung by those who live on the tops of mountains, for they do not understand the words. The song born in the wilderness touches your heart in places it would never have been touched had it not been broken. There is beauty in brokenness...Truth in trial....Depth in darkness that you only find in the wilderness and I wouldn't trade my time there for anything....even if it cost everything.