Fear. The kind of fear that sends you straight to the feet of Jesus and even there you can feel its grip. Fear that allows you to read fifteen chapters of Job without thinking to take a break. Fear in the heart of a girl who generally isn't fearful. And before you send the verses I already know them..."perfect love casts out fear", "fear not for I am with thee, be not dismayed", etc. I also know Job 1:12, Job 2:6, and 1 Peter 5:8. It's just like teaching. You don't give the hardest tests first. They get harder as you go.
I've had some difficult tests. Most of the really hard ones have been in the last couple of years. I know the God who promises to never leave us, for I have felt Him when I thought I was alone. I know the Perfect Love personally, for it has cast away my fear and allowed me to walk in paths I could not have walked alone. And my favorite verse is Isaiah 41:10, "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." I know Him. I know His love, His strength, and His power.
But I also know 1 Peter 5:8, Job 1:12, and Job 2:6. I know the God who tests us with fiery trials, for I have felt the heat from the fire many times. I know the God who sometimes stays His hand and allows the storm to come in all its fury. I have felt the flame of refining fire, and I have grown to know more and more about my Creator and His love for me. Yet I also know the tests must grow more difficult in order to continue to grow me...and therein lies the fear.
I asked an old friend to pray for me a couple of weeks ago because I knew that I was getting ready to embark on a journey that God had called me to, and that Satan intended to keep me from finishing. It has many facets, some in the near future, and some that seem so very far away and impossible to reach. Some I have dreamed for myself. Some I dare not hardly speak above a whisper because they are from Someone higher than I. The problem is that Satan doesn't like any of them, big or small.
I have grown to learn a lot about who God is. I have also learned a lot about Satan. Our world gets caught up in movies and books that tell them that Heaven is for real. Yes, Heaven is for real....so is Hell. We love that God knows us intimately and knows our every thought and the desires of heart. We don't stop to realize that Satan knows us intimately too. He does his homework. He studies for your test. Not to help you pass, but to ensure your failure.
I have heard the voice of God in a dream. I will never forget it. It was the most amazing feeling, even though I didn't begin to understand at the time just what it was that He was saying. But last night I heard another voice. A voice that instilled fear, and brought out every Bible verse I could draw on in immediate succession. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts otf wickedness in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:12 NKJV. I've read that verse at least one hundred times, but never have I felt the presence otf the battle as I did last night. Never have I been so afraid. But they were hidden on my heart. "When I am afraid I will trust in thee." "Perfect Love casteth out fear." "Fear not, for I am with thee." "You will not need to fight this battle, stand still..." And "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death' because He is with me.
I see a journey that I am beckoned to continue on, but I see the battlefields that lie in wait on the path. There is a place where battles move beyond finances and problems at work. There is a place where the weapons of choice change from daggers and arrows to heavy artillery. I have reached that place. It would be easy to quit. It would be easy to tell God that I am tired, and that I am afraid that one day there will be a test that I will fail, even with Him standing there. I could tell Him that my armor is so cracked and battered from the more recent waves of battle, that I fear that it cannot withstand the weaponry that is sure to come. But it is pointless. It is pointless because I have tested Him and found Him faithful. How can I tell Him what I cannot do so long as He is by my side? And so I go on not knowing. I would not if I might. I would rather walk in the dark with God than to go alone in the light.
Surely he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.
He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:6-7 NKJV
A few days ago a friend sent me this verse in a text. As I read those words, I find myself longing to be that person they describe. Someone who is never shaken, not afraid of evil tidings, with a steadfast heart, trusting in the Lord. But I am not her, but I am growing.
Today marks one year since I started this blog. I looked back today at some of my earlier posts, beginning with my grandfather's eulogy. I look back at that girl who started this endeavor last September, and honestly I barely recognize her. I look at her with a mixture of envy and pity. In some ways I envy where she was last September, the naivety of what was transpiring around her. Still filled with an element of trust and joy that she would learn to lose as time went on. In many ways I pity her, knowing what lay ahead of her.
As I read through my posts, I relived so many milestones of the past year. When I started last September 1, I was officially without a church. It was the Sunday between leaving White Oak and starting Pleasant Ridge. As I read on, I traveled the road of letting go of one church home, and becoming part of a new one. I relived the pain of giving up the drive through nativity, and the beginning of the journey to a new job. I also saw glimpses of another struggle that is beyond words.
This year has taught me many things, but there are two that stand above the rest. The first is that you really do not know anyone as well as you think you do. So many of our relationships are superficial, even when we don't think that they are. I have always found such comfort in knowing that I have some of the greatest friends and family members that anyone could ask to have. I never feared dealing with anything alone, yet this year has taught me that there is a place where no one else can join you. I understand the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I understand the need Jesus experienced to bring the small group of disciples with him farther into the garden to pray. He needed them to be close and to support Him in His final hours before facing the cross. Yet there came a point where He had to withdraw alone to be with God. I have found this year that there are places that you must go alone. There isn't anyone who can go with you. You find yourself alone with God. The other thing that I learned this year stems from the first. When you reach the point that you realize there is no one else to cling to, you find that God really is enough...more than enough. Even when you find yourself so very angry with Him for leaving nothing in your life untouched. Even then, in the pain you find He is all you need. And at some point, you realize that He is all you have.
I look in the mirror now, and I don't look the same. I am not the same. I think God had me begin this blog so that I could go back and read between the lines, and remember where I was, where I went, and where I am today. That girl from last September had a rough year. She was broken more than once in more than one way. She stands stronger, but she bears scars. Some of the broken places are healing, and have grown back stronger and more secure. Some of the broken places bear deep scars, but they tell a story of faith in an amazing God. And some of the broken places are raw and open, and truthfully may never really heal.
So on this one year anniversary of tiptoeing into accepting a much bigger calling, I can smile. I can count it al joy, because in the darkest places I found a Light. Sometimes it was hidden and dim, but it was always there. I am glad He did not show me where this year would take me, because I couldn't have made the journey. There is something to be said for not knowing where the road will go. I am at a new place with God. A place I have never been before. I am in my early forties, and I have found that God has more plans for me than I would have ever began to dream for myself. A God-sized dream for a broken girl. There's a years worth of blog posts here that outline the story...His story for me.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2 NKJV
Sometimes He lets you sit in it for awhile. Sometimes you find yourself wandering around in the wilderness crying out to God, and wondering how long it will last. Sometimes He lets it hurt. Sometimes He lets you feel the strength of the storm, the wind, the rain, and the hail. Sometimes He prunes you, and the cuts are so deep they are almost unbearable. Sometimes He allows others to hurt you, and He waits until you think you can bear it no longer. You find yourself in the darkness feeling alone and defeated.
And then suddenly there is a light. Faint at first, and then almost so bright you cannot remember the darkness you just were experiencing. You look up into the face of your Father, and you know everything will be okay now.
There are times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed. We don't know what to do next, and it seems like there is nowhere else to turn. It is in those times that we must find ourselves being led to the Rock that is higher than we are. So many people have this perception that God is too big to involve Himself in the everyday lives of people, but they couldn't be more wrong. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation and feel that God has deserted us. Rest assured that the Rock is there, unshakable and unmovable.
You must maintain your trust in the Rock. That is the key. You must hold on to your faith even in the darkness of the deepest pit. You must hold on even when it seems like the storms never end. Eventually you will find that your Father will step in and stop the storms.
Paul and Silas were in jail. They had been beaten and imprisoned for their teaching. They were in stocks, and yet they sang praise to God. They had been preaching the word of God, and yet they found themselves in pain and in prison. Why would they sing and praise God when He allowed this to happen to them? They knew that their work was for Him and that He was in charge. They knew a relationship with the Almighty that was personal. Yes, He had allowed them to suffer, but in the middle of the night amidst their singing and praise, there was an earthquake that loosened their chains and set them free.
We are no different than Paul and Silas. I can testify that if you continually go to the Rock that He will take care of you. It is rarely early, but never too late when He shows up. Sometimes it seems like the forces around you are continually knocking you down. Sometimes it seems as if there is no hope of the situation getting any better. Sometimes you just climb in His arms and tell Him that you are okay with whatever comes as long as He is there. And after the storm beats so long that you can hardly stand, you will find that your Daddy will show up and say, "That's enough. She is Mine." Suddenly you will find that the winds have ceased, the thundering is quieted, and the sun is shining. Even though you are still soaked from the storms, you will find warmth in the love of your Father. You will look up to the Rock that is higher, and He will look down at you and smile.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 KJV
I stand quietly in the doorway of her bedroom. She is reading and hasn't noticed that I am there. I see it on her face and in her eyes. I simply walk away because there isn't anything I can say to make it better.
She didn't say anything when she came in from school today. She just headed to her room to read. I saw it in the way she walked, slow and with her head down. I saw in in her face as she sat slumped on her bed reading. She doesn't have to say a word...I know it all too well. I know what it feels like to have your heart relocate to your stomach on a permanent basis. I know what it feels like to have the tears fall into your cereal. I know the sick feeling you get when you head to bed knowing when you wake up you must face it again. I know what it feels like to not dare look in the mirror while you're brushing your teeth because your tearstained face will make you cry again.
You try to convince yourself that you don't really care, but the hurt screams otherwise. You catch yourself imagining where you could run to and no one would be able to find you just so you can escape for a little while and rest from it. You try to figure out what it was that you did to make her hate you so much, but you just can't put your finger on it. And sometimes if you're lucky, you're able to forget for a minute. You get absorbed in a song or a television show and just for a minute you forget your reality, your darkness, but then it returns to slap you across the face and you find yourself fighting back the tears.
I find myself wanting to take her in my arms and cry with her. I want to tell her that I will protect her. I want to lavish her with compliments and remind her how very special she is and how much she is loved. I want to tell her all the things about her that I find beautiful. I want to give her peace. And yet I know that none of these things will take it away. Nothing I can say or do will remove the darkness she finds herself in or take away the feeling of confusion and hurt. But I know Who can. And I turn from her doorway and I go to a quiet place where I can enter His presence. I beg Him to cover her with His hand. I beg Him to shelter her from this unbearable pain and to calm her fears. And I find peace. This God who created this blessing speaks to this mother's heart and says that He loves her more than I do. He reminds me that I held her in my arms at Pleasant View Baptist Church and we as parents dedicated her to Him and He didn't take that lightly. He reminds me that I am raising an Esther and that much of this bully situation comes from the fact that she belongs to Him.
And as I thank HIm and start to leave, He tugs softly at my heart and whispers. He whispers my name and reminds me that I am His baby girl too. He reminds me that His love for me is no different than this love I have for this hurting girl of mine. He whispers in my ear and reminds me that He understands what I feel for her. He has held me in His arms many times when I was hurting. He too has wanted to lavish me with His love and remind me that in His eyes I am beautiful just the way I am. He reminds me that He wants to give me peace and to take away my pain. And so I carry her to Him in prayer and I am reminded what it means to be His. I am reminded that she is His. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that both of us will be fine as long as we find ourselves in the arms of our Father.
Tomorrow is the first day of March. The majority of events that have proved themselves to be life-changing for me have occurred in the month of March. When I was fifteen, my uncle passed away in March at the age of 33. My life was never the same. Years later my aunt, his sister, passed away as well. Last March was no different. Last March my life changed forever. On March 27, 2013, I lost my grandfather. He loved me unlike anyone else. I wasn't prepared for the hole that his absence would leave in my heart.
But perhaps the biggest change in my life occurred on March 18. 2013. I have heard God speak to me in many different ways, but never really audibly in a dream. I dreamed I was with Stephen and the kids in a tall building and there had been an earthquake. Most of the building had fallen away and we were on an upper floor with only a small section of a hallway to walk on or you would fall to your death. All the doors were locked, but there was a hallway a few feet away that led to safety. We found a ladder to stretch across a missing section of hallway and put a board on it, and Stephen got across and then I sent the kids. They ran ahead to get help and I told them I would follow. As they went out of sight, the ladder fell. I was left standing in a locked doorway clinging to the door facing and was praying. In my dream, God told me to let go of the door facing. I was crying and told Him I would fall. He answered, "Yes, for a few minutes, but then I will catch you." I reminded Him that I can ride any roller coaster, but that I hate free fall. He simply stated, " I know that. That's why I need you to trust Me enough to let go." I let go of the door facing and could feel myself falling and then I stopped in midair landing on a mattress. I woke up and my heart was beating out of my chest.
At the time I thought the dream was to tell me not to worry about some issues we were having with some real estate. Little did I know, but that wasn't it at all. God was getting me ready to learn how to let go and trust Him completely. The year that has followed that dream has been more life-changing for me that any other time of my life. God set me on a path to learning that loving Him wasn't safe and following Him wasn't easy, but it was definitely worth it. In the last twelve months, I have faced many things. I'm not talking about normal everyday issues like family squabbles and finances. I faced mountains and heart breaking moments that made me forget how to breathe. In the last year, I went from clinging in desperation to door facings, like my positions and my personal strengths to holding absolutely nothing and falling helplessly and fearfully into the hand of God.
As March returns tomorrow, I find myself a new creation. I no longer bother to reach for the door facing or any other person or thing. I have learned not only to let go, but to willingly jump when God calls me to do so. The experiences of the last year brought me pain, sorrow, and extraordinary loss. But let me assure you that the experiences of the last year also brought me unspeakable joy and a stronger desire to truly surrender my life to God. There is no joy that compares to when you find yourself in the deepest darkest of pits surrounded by your worst fears having become your reality, and quietly you hear His voice whispering in the darkness that He hasn't left you, and to lift your head for your Father is waiting to hold your heart and dry your tears.
And so I prepare to march boldly into this month of March, knowing that the God who created everything knows my heart and wishes to heal the broken places. I believe that the experiences that left me broken in the last twelve months, will be the very experiences that prepare me for something beautiful in the next twelve months. God had a lesson for me. He wanted to teach me to free fall. Now that I have learned to trust His hand, I truly believe my next lesson will not be how to fall, but how to soar.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!" Luke 15:17 NIV
I wake up to the blessing of a snow day, and reach to check for messages on my phone. I run across an article, and after reading just a couple of paragraphs I am struck by a truth. I cannot finish reading the article because I lay there almost paralyzed by its words. How does a person become so out of touch with everything and everyone around you that you forget the things or people who are most important? I know how that happens. You settle for the pigsty.
As a firstborn, I have never cared much for the story of the Prodigal Son because I understand how the brother felt. However, today I find myself identifying with the Prodigal himself. In Luke 15, the prodigal finds himself in a place where he is not happy, but must stay in order to survive...or so he thinks. Every morning he awakens only to realize that it is simply another day when he must go and work among the pigs.
Being forced to a level where he had to work with pigs was humiliating for this young man. Not only are pigs filthy animals who find pleasure in wallowing in their own feces mixed with mud, but he was a Jew and pigs to them were unclean in a religious sense as well. This young man who once experienced the luxury of living in his father's house, now found himself so hungry that he would have welcomed the chance to eat the slop alongside the pigs in an attempt to satisfy his hunger. The Bible doesn't say how long he remained in this state, but it is clear to say that one day he came to himself. One day he came to his senses and realized that there was a better life outside the pigsty.
This morning I came to myself. I realized that not unlike the Prodigal, I too am experiencing life in the pigsty. I have at some point accepted that existing in the pigsty is the only way I can survive. I have grown accustomed to life among pigs. Rather than avoid the muck and the smell, I find myself climbing daily into the pen with the pigs, mired up in feces and mud, and breathing in the scent of their filth. Day in and day out, I continue to live in this existence.
And then just as the ProdiIgal, I remember my Father. I remember what my life used to look like when I lived in His house. I remember what it was like to hear laughter and see a table filled with nutritious food. I remember what it was to be happy...I remember joy. I see myself deep in this mire, surrounded by pigs covered in layers and layers of dried feces and mud, and I remember that if I could just see my Father then life could be better.
And so I start the struggle of climbing out of the pigsty, gently raising my feet one step at a time from the mire in order to make my way to the fence. I had failed to notice just how far into the muck I had allowed myself to venture. The distance to the fence can seem so far that you almost decide it might be easier to stay with the pigs. But I cannot continue to stay here in the pigsty because I am hungry. I have grown so hungry that I was almost willing to eat the slop alongside the pigs. But this hunger cannot be satisfied with slop, this hunger can only be filled at the table of my Father.
And so I make my way out of the pigsty. I am on my way to feast at my Father's table. I know that the blessings awaiting me are more than I could imagine and that He is waiting. He has so much more planned for me than to toil among the pigs. I have waited much too long to partake of the blessings from His table, but I am on my way.
Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still. Psalm 107:28-29 NKJV
I woke up to the storm. I didn't realize that it had grown into a storm. I had seen the clouds, but clouds seem to always be present. Even the big fluffy cumulus clouds can temporarily hide the sun, but I have grown to accept that the clouds come and go. This year has been particularly cloudy.
I woke up to a tsunami. This wasn't the usual light rain and gray skies. This wasn't even like when I had experienced the earthquakes or tornadoes. This was a full blown tsunami. And as if that wasn't enough, I found that I had been relocated to a tiny island in the middle of an ocean waking up alone to a tsunami. I wasn't sure how or when I had gotten here, but I knew who had brought me. The island was incredibly small. There was no shelter anywhere on the island except for one tall, skinny palm tree that barely had any leaves and not a lot of girth. There are not a lot of things that I truly fear, but I found myself in a place where fear abounded. All I knew was to hold on to that tree.
I'm still here on my little island alone with this tree. At first it didn't look like that much to me. It seemed to be too skinny to hold up during a storm like I am finding around me. It wasn't a tree of great girth really, although it had grown to be quite tall. Turns out it's roots were deep and well grounded which surprised me with it growing on such a tiny island. Turns out that it was made just right for a storm. It could bend to the point of almost breaking, and yet it's roots and strength were able to bounce back meaning it could bend, but not break. And so I hold to the tree. It's size is just right for me to be able to wrap both my arms and legs around it. I have even found that sometimes my head can rest against it in such a way that I find some shelter from the wind and rain even though the leaves are few.
So who brought me to the island? His name is Satan. He knows me better than most. He knows where my strength resides, yet he knows the weak places and it is there that he works. He picked this island just for me. He knew what I feared the most. He left me here with no boat and what appeared to be no shelter. He saw the tree, but he didn't know what it was made of, or Who planted it. At face value, the tree doesn't look like much, but the Maker of the tree knew what He was doing.
The storm is rough and raging. The tree bends under the pressure of the wind and the tremendous waves that insist on beating it over and over. Sometimes as I hold on to the tree, it bends so close to the ground that I am sure it cannot withstand much longer. But it's roots are deep....apparently deep enough to hold on even in the biggest storm. And it's tall rather than having a large girth which seems like a weakness, but you see it reaches toward Heaven. That tree has grown toward the Light. Beyond the roots and the need for the Light, the Maker used something different when making this tree. Something that Satan couldn't see or understand. This tree that stood vulnerable alone on this island was what he could see, but he didn't understand that the tree isn't made of things that break very easily. The tree consists of years of love, commitment, and learning how to ride out a storm. And so I will continue to hold on to my tree....this tree of faith.
For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. 1 Peter 2:21-23 KJV
They hurt me again, God. I thought if I left then maybe I could start to heal.
God, this isn’t fair. It already hurts so much, why does it have to keep getting worse? And why does it have to be over something that meant so much to me?
And He answers me….,They hurt Me. They defiled My name. They rejected Me and I never did anything wrong. I was brought as a spotless lamb to the slaughter with no sin. If I was crucified, do you not think it is fitting for you to experience
suffering? You are merely a sinner, saved by grace.
I heard a speaker on the radio a few days ago, and he made a statement that has not left me for days. He said that God asks if we would rather have an easier road and bear less fruit, or a harder road and bear more fruit. What a thought. I found myself in the middle of my pain telling God that I would rather bear more fruit. There in the middle of the hurt, the rejection, and the pain, I found myself asking Him to let me bear more fruit even if the pruning process hurts.
In order for a fruit tree to bear better quality fruit and in greater quantities, it must be pruned. The limbs of the tree are severed in order to prepare them for growth. It is necessary to wound the tree in order to enable it to bear better
Sometimes God prunes us. It isn’t an enjoyable experience while it is happening. Sometimes we are wounded and it hurts, but God can use those wounds to grow our faith. He can use it to encourage our growth in Him just as pruning a tree can encourage its growth.
But what about the people who hurt us? And isn’t the hurt worse, when it comes from those who claim to be your brothers and sisters in Christ? A famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi states a very sad truth for today’s church. Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Sadly sometimes that is so true. We Christians can be so unlike our Christ.
But still, it hurts. It is hard to let go of the pain, but when we choose to hold onto it, it leads us to bitterness. According to Anne Graham Lotz, when we hold onto bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, it is the same thing as drinking poison thinking the other person will die. God commands us to forgive, just as He has forgiven us. This is our motivation to forgive.
David had every reason to want to seek revenge on Saul for trying to kill him, yet he did not. Stephen forgave the ones stoning him and asked God to do the same. Jesus prayed from the cross for God’s forgiveness on those who crucified
Him. Who are we to do anything less than that, especially since the God who has forgiven us asks us to do so.
So do we just shut our mouths and let it go? Do we just let them get by with it? That’s hard. I find myself in a place where I have walked away from something dear to my heart and in the middle of that being painful enough, I find myself enduring ridicule and being lied about. I walked away from the situation trying to start to heal and am still being wounded even in my absence. Can I just let that go?
I have to. My big Brother has left me an example to follow. I Peter 2:21-23 tells me that I am to follow in His footsteps. He committed himself to the One who judges righteously, God. He stood before His accusers and remained silent, knowing that His Father who loved Him would set it all straight. He knew that it wasn’t His battle to fight for the battle belonged to His Father and He would make it right in time.
And so I surrender to the pruning. I am willing to suffer the pain of the cutting so that I can see growth and eventually the bearing of better fruit. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Sometimes it hurts so bad that you can barely breathe, but is it worth it? There is no greater joy than growing closer to God. There is no reward
like having a close and personal relationship with the One created the stars. And so I choose to forgive and to move forward. I refuse to drink the poison of my bitterness and be cheated out of whatever it is that my Father has planned for me to do. I can’t move forward by looking backward and it is time to move forward.