So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him. Luke 15:29-30 NKJV
He had me where he wanted me. Stuck. Paralyzed. Bitter. I knew it was him. I knew that I didn't belong here, but I couldn't get out. I looked around me and saw the blessings of answered prayer unfolding all around me. Things I had pleaded with God for the last few months were now in place, and His promise of comfort was finally evident. Yet here I sat wallowing in self-pity and bitterness while God flooded me with answered prayers. Here I was, a blood bought anointed and commissioned Jesus girl, stuck in a dark place not understanding at all how I got here.
I was desperate for someone to talk to....someone who could understand. I tried, but I finally decided that this was something that I was going to have to move past on my own with God. This Jesus girl knows that He's all I need, but let's be honest...sometimes you just need a human to be Jesus in the flesh. Someone to hug you, pray with you, and text to see if you're okay. I had arranged to meet a friend to talk, but it fell through and we didn't meet. Discouragement was creeping over me more and more when she sent a text...the text I needed.
"You are the 'good son' again in the prodigal son." The thought had never occurred to me. She was right.
Those who know me best know that my least favorite story in the Bible is a favorite of most preachers and Christians. I have issues with the story of the Prodigal Son. I know that it is symbolic of all of us who as sinners came to ourselves and returned to God. I get the beautiful iconic picture of the father running with outstretched arms to greet his wayward son who has returned home from his wicked ways. I understand that I too was once a prodigal and that God welcomed me with open arms through faith in Christ. But I know something else about that story...I know the older son.
The eldest in the story is often portrayed by preachers to be ungrateful and jealous. He is seen as the bad guy in the story. But I don't see it that way...maybe because I can identify with him.
His little brother had earlier decided to ask his father for his inheritance. Now as the youngest, he wasn't in line to inherit what the oldest could, yet he did have an inheritance to claim. Rather than waiting for his father to pass, he boldly requested his share of the estate while his father was living. He then took his inheritance and squandered it away in a far country wasting it and finding himself alone, homeless, and poor. He found himself hungry and destitute, living and eating among pigs. Finally one day he comes to himself and remembers what he left back at home and decides to return. His forgiving and loving father welcomes him with open arms. His father gives him new clothes and a ring, commands that the fatted calf be killed in honor of his return, and that a party begin to celebrate the occasion. Such a picture of unconditional love...but wait a minute.
While little brother is getting cleaned up for the party complete with a new outfit and a ring, someone is missing. The fatted calf is prepared and the merriment begins, but no one goes to get the older brother. He is out in the fields working. While his little brother was living life in the far country, possibly even with booze, wild women, and parties, he stayed home. He now had to help out around the house even more, carrying the responsibilities that his brother neglected. He had spent a long day in the fields and came home to sounds of music and dancing. He had to ask a servant about what was happening.
He was angry. Every preacher I've ever heard makes him sound like a horrible creature, but is he? I understand him. I want to call him over at this point of the story and tell him that I understand. He did what was right. He stayed. He followed the rules. He tried to please his father. All this time while the prodigal followed his lusts and selfishness, this man had stayed home. He had been the faithful one. He had been the one who remained at his father's feet. He was the one who continued to press on through each day keeping it as normal as he possibly could. And what did he get in return? Not even an invitation to the party.
He was hurt and angry, refusing to be a part of it. His father came out, and begged him to come in and join them. He couldn't understand why his son did not share in this joy felt by the others. I can almost close my eyes and see them there. It was probably dusk when the son returned in from the fields. I see him in tears, clenched fists against his chest, pleading with his father to understand beneath the candlelit lanterns on the house. There he stands with tears streaming down his face, needing his father to look at him and see what he feels. He tells him that all these years he has served him as best as he could. He has stayed faithful. He has diligently tried not to transgress against his commandments, wanting to honor him with his life and his heart. He has devoted himself to his father. He could have done the things his brother did. He could have made different decisions. But he didn't. His brother got the fatted calf...he never even got the honor or recognition of a gift of a goat. He wasn't ready to join Team Prodigal. Especially not if he only got to be the water boy.
I looked in the mirror and I saw him looking back at me. I have been that one in the shadow of the lantern light looking through the window at the party I wasn't invited to attend. I know what it's like to feel forgotten for your efforts. I know the struggle and frustration that faithfulness brings. I know what it's like to try with everything in your being to follow Him even when you don't want to, but you do it anyway. I know what it's like to feel like you sacrificed your heart and dreams to honor God in ways that don't come easily. I know what it feels like to have had the chance to make bad decisions too, yet you don't because you love your Father too much to do it, even though you aren't led there by choice but by grace. I know what it's like to be angry. To desperately plead with your Father to see...to understand...to notice.
His father answers him. I picture his father laying his hand against his older son's cheek as he looks him in the eye. The father reassures his son that he sees his faithfulness. He knows that this son has sought to remain faithful. He assures him that all that he has belongs to him. His inheritance is yet to come. But for now they must rejoice in the return of the prodigal. So many things could have happened to him and yet, here he is back home again. He needs to be supported and showered in unconditional love by both of them.
I think that the older brother probably got cleaned up and went in to join the party. I see him hugging his brother while his father looks on and smiles. I see an endless line of hugs and well wishes for the prodigal as guests leave. I am sure that the father rejoiced that night as he tucked his wayward son into his old bed in his old room. I think that night as his father made his way to his own room with a heart filled with gratefulness, that he stopped by the room of the older son. I think he looked in as he slept, maybe even going in to adjust his blanket. I think he smiled as he gently rubbed his hair back from his tired face. I see him kissing him on the cheek, and whispering that he loves him and that he has seen it all and is proud of the son he has been. His father has witnessed his demonstration of love, and he will not forget him.
She is like the merchant ships. Proverbs 31:14
I have to admit that I am struggling. I came back from a wonderful holy experience and rather than jumping headfirst into ministry, I have found myself sitting quietly waiting for Him to speak. I found my experience with the Holy Spirit to be so humbling and so life changing that as far as writing or sharing goes, I almost feel as though I am mute. I feel like a sailing ship that has been constructed and fitted with new strong sails, yet I am destined to sit in the harbor. I can feel the tug of the current beneath me, ready at any moment to bear me out into the open seas, yet my anchor is holding me fast to the safety of the harbor.
Here in the harbor I still endure storms. I still feel the wind whip through my sails as if to mock them as though they are useless where I am. They tempt me to venture out from the harbor early, but my Captain has not yet bid me to sail. Part of me longs to have these sails unfurled and allow the wind to catch them and move me out to deeper waters. But part of me...part of me would be content to never have even left the shipyard, to just have been on display and never feel water against me at all.
As I wait here among the other boats, I sometimes grow impatient and feel as though the Captain has decided not to use me after all and has chosen another vessel. Sometimes I catch glimpses of the sails of other boats against the horizon and find myself envious of the picturesque sunset lying in their path. I sometimes wonder if the waters there are tranquil and serene as they look from here in the harbor, or could it be that the waves there aren't peaceful at all but rough and choppy.
I know that my Captain knows best, and that He wants to ensure that I can withstand the tumultuous waves that I am sure to encounter. I know that He has worked to make me as seaworthy as possible in order to keep me from sinking. He has tested my sails and proved them to withstand the fiercest of winds. He has shown me the beauty of life away from the shore.
So I wait here in the harbor, watching other boats leave the harbor knowing not in which direction they will journey. I am often tossed between the desire to set sail and the fear the high seas bring. There is both a beauty and a threat to sailing deep waters. Sometimes just the slightest of waves here in the harbor is enough to cause me to wish to remain on land, yet I must trust that my Captain knows my ship and will guide me when the time arrives to leave the harbor and sail into the unknown.
So until I am called upon to unfurl my sails and leave the harbor, I will watch the sailboats in the distance. I will learn from their voyages and find strength in their journeys. And then one day I too will sail....sail away with my Captain to be a beacon against a dark canvas, casting nets into the sea of life in order to fish for souls.
Three weeks ago tonight I was packing. I stood and stared for a minute at the open suitcase laying on the bed and the dressy clothes that are so unlike me, hanging on the bedroom door. Beside the suitcase lay my book proposal, one sheet, and business cards. It was real, and it was tomorrow.
I found myself in a room with 799 women that I didn't know that weekend. I now find myself desperately missing some of those women who I made connections with, who understood me, and who believed in my calling. That business card that had mocked me all summer was now completely accepted and never questioned.
The girl who questioned several times why she had ever considered this journey now knew the answer. God really did want me to go. He wanted to give me confirmation. He met me there in ways I never expected or dreamed.
I had meetings scheduled with two major publishers. I knew going into the conference that the subject matter that I had been called to write and speak about was a taboo subject for publishers to publish. I knew that all the hours I spent researching and writing my book proposal was quite possibly a waste of time because of this. The problem was that even though I knew it was impossible going into a publisher with this, I knew something else as well. God called me to be His voice on the subject. He not only orchestrated my life to prepare me for it, but He had shown me over and over that it was Him.
Not only did I face publishers who I knew had no interest in my proposal, but I also came without endorsement and a minimal platform. In writers' speak that means I didn't have anyone well known to support me and I didn't have that many people who read my stuff. Turns out there were a lot of women like me who didn't have these things, with many simply coming with endorsement from their home church. I finally asked a local preacher if he would be willing to possibly endorse me, and he agreed. Following that I had another person volunteer to endorse me who happened to be a pastor at a local Quaker church, and had also volunteered to be on my prayer team. Only God would orchestrate that. He knew I needed confirmation that I was in His will.
So I headed off to She Speaks almost in secret, with a prayer team of eight friends carrying me in prayer to the throne of grace. The entire experience was amazing, but let me take you to Saturday. On Friday evening I had met with my first publisher who confirmed that her company would not be interested in publishing on the topic. I wasn't surprised at that but was surprised when she encouraged me that she indeed felt that I had been called and that I had to continue. But here I was on Saturday just wanting to get past the second appointment so that I could enjoy the last hours of my conference.
I walked into the appointment with a publisher I was very acquainted with through reading books from some of my favorite authors. I handed the acquisitions editor my one sheet and book proposal, and started to tell her my story. I even helped her by letting her know that I knew the subject wasn't a favorite of publishers which was why I could not find any books available on my topic. She smiled, looked me in the eye, and said, "I'm not afraid of tough topics." The conversation then turned to platform building, blog writing, and speaking. I was in shock.
I stumbled out of the room almost in a daze and headed toward the information desk. The slot for the 2:45-5:45 session was left blank on my paper. I was instructed to go to room I/J for the session "Discovering God's Power for Your Life and Ministry" with Wendy Blight and Micca Campbell. I had no idea that my life was fixing to change.
The personal life stories that both women shared with us were incredible. You could see God's hand at work in their lives. I sat there and took careful notes of their comments and the verses that they used to encourage us. Some of the things they spoke about were things I too had struggled with or had faced in the last few months.
After the second part of the session, it was announced that we would be given the opportunity to be anointed and commissioned. Did I mention that I am a Baptist girl? Did I mention that I am a Baptist girl who has attended three different Baptist churches in her whole life, all of which were small, rural, conservative churches within a ten mile radius of each other? I started trying to figure out if I could manage to go to the bathroom without looking obvious that I was trying to escape? I was going to be anointed? I was already in enough trouble with my writing back at home. If I went back telling that I was anointed, then I would have to switch denominations. My need to sit in the front had now gotten me trapped, and I sat quietly making up my mind that I just wouldn't tell anyone what happened, after all no one knew but me.
A single guitarist started to quietly play from the side of the room while she softly sang. The first row on either side rose to go to the front to be anointed by the two speakers. As I sat there in that almost silent room, I started to feel Him. My mind wandered back to all those moments when He had confirmed the calling. All those nights under the stars when I felt Him so close beside me came back across my mind's eye. I could feel Him beside me. I could hear Him whispering my name.
I suddenly realized that I wanted to be anointed. I wanted to be set apart for the work of God. There was no power in the oil. There was no magic that came from its application. It was simply a symbolic act which represented being set apart for a calling from God. The songs that quietly filled the room were songs that held much meaning for me. As I waited quiet and still in my chair, the song changed to one that is dear to my heart. "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story. This is my song..." The last song my beloved uncle sang before he died...his testimony. Here I was in a room full of women who like me, were trying to follow this call, this call to follow God in ways we would never dream of on our own. Here was this song that had held a special place in my heart for almost thirty years. The first tear fell, followed closely by a second. It was my turn to go forward..
As I stood before Wendy Blight, she smiled and told me hello, spoke my name, and laid her hand on my head. She then prayed for me and that I would go out into the world and share the love of Jesus. As she continued to pray that God would guide me in ministry for Him, I felt the doubts and insecurities that had plagued me in the weeks prior to the conference start to leave. It was as though that single drop of oil followed by her hand on my head had started a process of cleansing in my heart and my mind. The negative comments, the ones who misunderstood the subjects of my writings, the fears I had of going back...they all washed from my head to my feet accompanied by tears of relief and joy. The Creator of the Universe had chosen me for a special task. He had met me here on this day to whisper in my ear and tell me that I was indeed His chosen baby girl and that He was enough. Enough. He was enough for my fears, my insecurities, my pain, and my passion. I went back to my seat and quietly wept while I sat still in His holy presence.
I'm back now...here in reality. The subject of my writing is probably more than likely still being misunderstood and thought to be something totally different than it is. The story of my anointing and commissioning will more than likely not be understood either. Nothing here has changed much...except for me. I have changed. My remaining time on earth is short and my life is at least half over. My story isn't just my story. My story fits inside His story. He has given me a part. He has chosen me to perform a work to increase His kingdom and to bring hope to a dark world. I don't have time to worry about the things of this world, the approval of people, or the cost I will have to pay. I only have this one thing...the knowledge that I have been called and the fact that I am compelled to follow. Nothing else matters.