Testimony, Part 3: The Voice

“God loves until what he loves is pure.” Love and War, John and Stasi Eldredge

“When the Holy Spirit speaks, His words come with such sudden, passionate authority that they will produce a holy amazement in you. The authority of His message will strike your inner man with such a blow that it will shake loose your old agenda and replace it with His new one.”

Discerning the Voice of God workbook, Priscilla Shirer

 * * *

sunrise wildflowerSo there I was hating God, rebelling against my Father and my King. Well, anybody who ever disobeyed their daddy knows that bad behavior won’t be permitted to last. My husband and I had been married three years when we bought our first house, and I was in nesting mode, wanting to doll it up, host family and parties, and find anything that filled the emptiness. Mine, not the house’s. Eight months into my plans, God revealed his own. My husband was being transferred to company headquarters in Indianapolis, over 800 miles away from everything we knew.

During the moving process, a deep, supernatural peace overwhelmed me. That, I am sure, is due to my mother’s prayers, because I sure wasn’t praying for it. When the boxes were at last unloaded, and we’d been settled for about two weeks, the peace receded, and for the next two years I was scared and alone. Yes, I learned to lean on my husband and value him in ways I never would’ve otherwise. But in so many facets that I could not explain even to him, I was alone, and I was dying inside. Shriveling up, withering to a husk. That’s what it felt like.

Much of pain came from the fact that my beloved sister was starting her family. Shortly after we moved away, she became pregnant with her son. And, selfish thing that I was, all I could think was “Not now, I’ll miss it! I’m missing all the most important things.”

My sister kept me updated as well as she could through email, but what’s an email compared to being there during the ultrasound and hearing that baby’s heartbeat? Near the end of her term, I flew home for a month, so I wouldn’t miss my nephew’s arrival, and God was good to grant me that gift. But then it was back to Indiana again, and I feared that my nieces and nephews would grow up and I would be the stranger they shied away from when I visited. The thought broke my heart.

Now, some years before, my mother had given me a copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, saying, “Wow, you really need to read this.” Whatever my polite response was, the thoughts in my head were far different. Complete aversion. Hnh, yeah, right. Shoved that book fast into the drawer of my bedside table, where it remained until one fateful day.

You know those little urgings you get deep inside, that quiet, gentle little voice that prompts you to do this, don’t do that? Yeah, I heard that still little voice for years. “Just read it,” the voice whispered, nudging gently. Hnh, yeah, right. Screw off. Well, here’s the turning point. You won’t miss it, I promise.

An email arrived from my sister. My nephew was five months old and he had reached one of those wonderful benchmarks, like sprouting a tooth or speaking his first word. Whatever it was, reading about it from 800 miles away broke me in half. One minute I was cooing at the pictures. The next I was keening, rocking back and forth, wailing in tears. My body felt too small to contain the pain. “Oh, God, help me!” I kept saying. In effect, I was running up the peace flag, surrendering the war. I couldn’t fight him a second longer and survive.

That’s when God shouted at me. In Bible stories we read about a voice like thunder or like “many waters.” I would compare it to someone breaking a wooden baseball bat or a strong, sturdy tree cracking right through. It was positioned about two feet from my right ear, yet I did not hear it with my physical ear. The most startling, bizarre experience, so it’s difficult to describe. Yet the words in the voice were unmistakable. “READ IT!”

I can tell you I stood straight as a pole, stopped crying on a dime, made an about-face and whipped that book from the bedside table. I was crying again before I got through the dedication page: “This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life.” How I needed those words, to tell me that I was worth something. That God had not given up on me, after all. So the tears I cried at that point were very different tears. They came from a welling joy, even more indescribable than the voice. My white knight had swooped in with that sword, which is the word of his mouth, and cut me loose.

I was free! And I was terrified that it was temporary. “God, don’t let me go back there,” was my prayer for months.

Enjoying the sun When the healing process started, I realized how deep in the darkness I’d been when I found myself feeling  like a new Christian must. Nervous, shaky, scared of screwing it all up again. This little girl who used to feel so comfortable, so happy in the presence of Jesus now felt as if she approached a stranger. Or, rather, I felt as if I were the stranger to the party, approaching someone who was asking me to dance. Uncomfortable, odd, but excited to be accepted.

A couple of years later, while I was studying Beth Moore’s Daniel, I realized what I had gone through was a Biblical exile: the rebel is uprooted from her place of false refuge and is removed to place where she is exposed and alone, and it is there that God gets her attention. Only six months after that turning point, God moved us back home.

Our God is wise beyond comprehension. He knows us inside out, what will grow us, what will shape us. I’ve heard so many parents voice their worry over children who are walking downward paths, dark paths, and no matter how they plead with those children, the children continue on. If I had heeded wise advice all my life and done what my parents and scripture told me to do, my obedience would be empty, as would my devotion to God and my faith in him. He allows us to have our fits, even years-long fits, for a very good reason. It must be a hard way to grow somebody; it must pain him greatly, and I’m glad I don’t have his job. But the results, he knows, are going to be well worth it.

When we are in the middle of the dark places, we have a hard time seeing the whole picture. But looking back, I can see what God was doing.

Consider what he could have done. In Acts, he caused Ananias and Sapphira to drop dead because they withheld part of an offering and lied about it. He ordered Achan and all his family to be stoned to death because Achan kept some plunder of war and hid it inside his tent. In other words, God could have made this kind of example of me. But he chose something else. He chose to use my rebellion to show me how persistently he pursues those who belong to him. How unconditional and undying his love is for us. How gently he can bring us back into fellowship with him despite our violent and prolonged hostility toward him. That is the picture-perfect display of undeserved mercy and undeserved grace.

So the moral of the story is this: You cannot outrun God. He’s right there with you, loving you all the way.

“Come Follow Me…”

My husband found this awesome picture. Had to post it:

i-literally-want-you-to-follow-me This picture also got me to thinking. When Jesus comes back and sets up his millennial kingdom, the clothes of the day likely won’t be robes and sandals. Can you imagine your Jesus wearing a three-piece suit or jeans and a T-shirt? How about instead of riding a donkey, he’s driving a Honda Accord? Bizarre, huh?

Have a wonderfully blessed and thought-filled day!

Testimony, Part 2: Comes the Darkness

Now comes the hard part. Confession time. So, here’s how it went down.

I grew up loving Jesus. In my first elementary school scrawlings I wrote it everywhere: “I Heart Jesus.” In high school, when I was determined to get straight A’s, I prayed before every exam, “God, help me to remember …” If memory serves, my brain went blank on only one exam in all that time, and that was in Home Economics, so no great loss.

Black Angel by Anthony Wood Then came  college. I loved college. For the first time, my brain was being challenged. Wonderfully refreshing. But the choices I made during those years were not so great. It may have been my sophomore year when, overloaded with work and having too little time to manage everything, I forgot to pray before an exam. I passed anyway. That’s when I made the conscious decision, “What a stupid thing to pray. I’ve been doing this on my own all these years.” So I stopped praying before tests. I stopped involving God in most aspects of my existence. This marks the beginning of the downward spiral, one I couldn’t see until it was too late. When all is going well, and one is flying high on success after success, one has the feeling of being charmed or greatly blessed. The world was at my fingertips, and I would take it by storm.

Someone told me that going to college was entering the real world. I must disagree. One doesn’t enter the real world until one enters the real world. None of my job applications panned out, not even clerking at a bookstore. I was a newly wed learning how to live with a male for the first time. I was writing a novel. Then I wrote another one. Aaaand another one. The affliction that most amateur writers suffer is believing that their work is a work of genius, and that people will gasp in awe when they clap eyes on it and come knocking down their doors with contracts and movie deals. I was no exception.

I began using God as my genie. Believe, believe, believe, ask, and you shall receive. Also, there’s this one: faith without action is dead, so I wrote, and I submitted what I wrote to editors, in full faith that someone would snatch up my novel and make me a sensation. Instead, I opened one rejection letter after another. My “faith” isn’t paying off here, God. What’s up? Helloooo?

In short order, disillusionment (another word for “reality check”) set in. Taking the world by storm? Ha! This felt more like falling flat on my face. I got frustrated, then I got angry, and I stayed angry. For six years. In the novel I had written, a character says something to the effect that ‘he will make his dreams come true, no matter what.’ That’s where I was. And thus began my war with God.

He was saying, “No, wait.” I was saying, “No, now. And my way. Now.” I kept punching, to the point that I came to resent him for resisting me. Depression set in. Every rebellious thought under the sun, I indulged in. I was a basket case. Crying at the drop of a hat, drinking to feel happy and relaxed.

When things were at their worst, I remember hating God. Hating Jesus. It was so bad that I could not speak the name ‘Jesus’ without feeling myself cringe inside, so I avoided that name at all cost. I felt myself dying inside, shriveling up until there was nothing left. No joy, no peace, no creativity. Though I kept writing, even that became a struggle, and I  stopped submitting my work to editors. Why bother?  Of course, suicidal thoughts became common, though I stopped short of ever trying them out. “How can I get my hands on some sleeping pills?” I remember thinking. “To die, to sleep,” Hamlet said in his famous ‘To be, or not to be’ monologue, “to sleep: perchance to dream.” To have an hour’s peace, to float away from the chaos tearing me up inside. How attractive that sounded.

Fallen by Pan Aeon So at last, I hit the bottom of that downward spiral and there was nothing but darkness and despair. That might sound terribly cliché, but it’s the truth, and what better way to describe it? At that point, I was so far from the fold, the wolves looked more attractive than my shepherd. And the other sheep? Ha! I shuddered to be among them. They looked and talked as foreign as aliens from the moon. My enemy was beautiful to me. I remember saying so, aloud, when I was so shamefully drunk that I could not repress the truth of my situation from spilling from my mouth. Imagine how triumphant our enemy felt to learn from my own lips that he’d won me from my God.

But my shepherd came after this little lost sheep. Let me describe it this way, too, ‘cause this is every little girl’s dream: my prince on a white destrier came looking for me, brandishing his sword, which is the word of his mouth, and rescued me from the dragon’s jaws.

But that’s for next time…

(to be continued)

Introduction – Testimony, Part 1

INTRODUCTION

What better way, what more transparent way, to begin a blog dedicated to my walk with Jesus than with my testimony?

Here’s another bit of transparency for you: I’m nervous. I’m not standing in front of a crowded church or on a street corner with hundreds of strangers passing by, ignoring the story I’m about to declare. I’m sitting in my cozy little house, at my familiar computer desk, with a cup of coffee at my fingertips. Pretty comfortable, eh? Well, yes, until I consider that I’m about to toss out my innermost self and experiences to the great wide world, to a globally connected world increasingly hostile to the Jesus whom I follow. Not the safest decision I’ve made lately. Then why,  under heaven, would I expose myself like this?

Because the Word of God does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). What does that mean? It means that it’s my dearest hope that chronicling my journey will encourage, will challenge, will edify the visitors who stop by, whatever their faith, whatever their past, whatever their walk in life.

Please God, may I never sound pretentious, self-righteous, or hypocritical from now until the internet implodes and I can no longer post. Amen.

So, without further ado …

TESTIMONY, PART 1

a-childs-prayerI first confessed belief in Jesus when I was five. Or was I four? Anyway,  I was too young to have a clear memory of that moment. I remember my mother sitting in bed with me, ready to tuck me in, and we were talking about Jesus and the choice I would have to make one day. I recall saying, “I want to decide now.” Mother restrained her excitement, but I could tell she was happy. Together we prayed the classic prayer in which I asked Jesus to save me and come into my heart. Then I curled up in bed and went to sleep, sure I had done something good and important.

Simple, sweet story. Salvation without firecrackers or burning bushes, without sudden epiphanies or new attitudes or new outlooks on life. Nothing like those stories in which men and women are suddenly released from life-long addictions or abusive behavior. What five-year-old is burdened with such baggage yet?

But the story doesn’t end there. Sweet, innocent lambs grow up, develop opinions, foster false expectations, rebel, and soon decide the dark places are more attractive than the light.

 (to be continued)