Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Alone, On My Own--Now What???

Job lost his possessions. His cattle, flocks, almost everything. And Job was a very wealthy man.

In the summer of 1999 I lost the family home. The house was paid mortgage. But property taxes were way past due and I didn't have the money to pay them. The house was needing some major repairs and I had no money for those either. Eventually the house was going to go up for sheriff's auction so to try to get more out of it, I put it up for auction through a realtor who helped me get settled in a mobile home of my own fully paid for, with a brand new storage shed, and help paying off my car and getting a car down payment for my son to use to get to and from school and work. I didn't get much for the house, but it covered the needs I had at that time.

I was only working part time, but since I only had a small lot rent to pay and utilities were not bad, I was doing okay. Then in January 2000, I lost that job. I got another job and ended up having to give that up because it caused further damage to my right knee which was already giving me a great deal of pain. I found another job that helped me be able to work and still not be on my feet all the time. It seemed to be working out well, and even though my knee was getting worse, I was able to keep working until I passed the probationary period so I could get medical insurance. Right away I went to the doctor who ordered me to not go back to work until after I talked to an orthopedic surgeon. I had all the necessary tests and had the initial appointment scheduled. About that time, my employer called me and told me I had a choice...either I had to come back to work or be terminated. By that time I had pushed myself so much I could hardly walk, so I really had no choice. They said even though I reached the probationary period where insurance was taken care of, I still needed three more months before I could take a leave of absence. Since they had no idea when I would have my surgery or how long I would be off work, they could not work with me. So, in 7 months time I had lost 3 jobs.

All through the previous year and into this year I had been praying that I wish I could take a vacation. Now really, this was not the kind of prayer we think of when we talk about praying. But I have learned that God hears our prayers whether they are spoken formally, informally, or just a cry out in the night. My prayers for a vacation were more like the cry out in the night kind. For the next six months I tried to find another job, but I was unsuccessful. The money ran out, the help ran out. I was battling with a faith issue at the time about food stamps and other governmental help vs trusting God. The food stamp program administrator was nasty as they come and the stress I was already dealing with that had gone undealt with combined with the current stress was more than I could deal with when I had to deal with that woman on top of it all. I took another leap of faith and stopped all food stamps and other assistance. Very soon after that I was hired for a job, the employer knowing that I had surgery coming up. The wait for all of this was 6 months. About 3 months into the wait, it dawned on me that I had asked for a vacation, so I should be trying to enjoy the time I had. I stopped letting myself be so scared and I started working on making individual scrapbooks for each of my children for their Christmas presents that year.
Getting to have the surgery was something provided by God, but He used government assistance I did not ask for to get it for me. I got a letter concerning medicaid and that since my son was still 18 we both could now get medicaid until he was 19 and because I had been turned down before we each got a free 3 month medicaid card. I got my surgery and all the other medical things done during that three months that I could get done.

It turned out that the company that hired me knowing I was going to have surgery kept me only through the time it took for me to build up my department so they could pass their state survey. They already had their person they wanted for the job in place but she had no certification and had no time to get it before the survey. As soon as the survey was over, they found a bogus reason to fire me. Yet another job lost. What's going on here God?
At this time I was trying to help my daughter with her wedding plans. I had bought all the flowers and decoration things and was working on making all the bouquets and corsages (sorry I can't spell the French word I want). I was out of work for almost a year. How did I survive? Here is an interesting story about God and how He works.

After I lost the family home I bought a mobile home. Back when I was a teenager I enjoyed reading David Wilkerson books. In one book he told about how he felt convicted that his family was watching too much television. He was not sure about what to do so he asked God if He really wanted Him to get rid of the television to send someone over to buy it from him. That night someone knocked on the door and before the night was over David had sold his television to the visitor. I remembered that story all the rest of my life. When we couldn't sell our family home while we were living in the other state I believe it was because God knew we would need it when we came back. After almost a year in my mobile home, and having the financial difficulties I was having, and realizing that I would be soon needing to sign another lease for the lot, I prayed. I asked God what He wanted me to do. Should I keep the mobile home and sign another year's lease, or should I sell the mobile home and move somewhere else? At this point, I believed that it just didn't matter if there was a realtor involved and a sign in your yard or not. If God wanted me to sell, He would provide a buyer, just like He provided a buyer for David Wilkerson's television. I asked God to provide a buyer with the price I wanted in time for me to know what to do about the lease if He wanted me to sell. Nothing happened. I stayed another year.
So the year 2000 had been a year of learning to trust God's provision in the midst of being alone, out of work, no income, and a knee needing surgery. When the W-2's came out I found I had survived the year on just around $7000 total income. And I did not go without one thing that I needed. The year 2001, although starting out like it was going to go well, turned into another financially difficult year. I had had my surgery in January, and lost my job the first week of March. What little money I had saved was almost gone. Once again, it was getting closer to time for deciding what to do about signing the lot lease for another year. There is a park not far from where I lived that has a duck pond and it is one of my favorite places to go pray. I once again asked God what He wanted me to do. Once again I asked Him to show me by providing me a buyer at the price I wanted if He wanted me to sell the mobile home and move somewhere else. (As I write this I am realizing that both prayers happened in April because the lease was due to be signed in June. Is there something special about April in my life? Only God Himself knows that.) I reminded God that I had faith that He would be able to do something this seemingly impossible. After all, I had not contacted a realtor about selling the mobile home. All I had done was confide in a friend of mine that I had been thinking about it. After I spent some time at the duck pond praying, I went home. Within 3 hours--yes 3 hours--I was talking to a woman on the phone who had called me wanting to buy my mobile home and she wanted to spend the exact amount of money I had told God I wanted for it! So, the first year I prayed, God sent no one. The second year, He sent someone within 3 hours of my prayer! Not only that, as we chatted, we found out our children knew each other, and we went to the same church. I don't know what you think of that, but I think that is so amazing! God is amazing!

Okay, so I started packing and looking for someplace to move. Laughing at myself I realized I had not put anything about where God wanted me to go in my prayers. So I started praying about that. I was also praying for some way to be able to afford some kind of exercise program to help strengthen my legs after my surgery. Not having an income at that time not only limited the possibilities of finding any exercise program I could afford, it also limited my opportunities at finding a decent apartment. At this same time, I found a part time job doing private duty home health care which gave me a small income to get by on. Plus I had the money from the sale of the mobile home. So how did God provide for both of those prayers?
He did it with just one answer! I got accepted into an apartment complex, fairly new in the area, and very nice. The apartment was on the third floor--36 steps from ground to home! Thirty-six steps to climb up and down at least once every day! Oh how those helping me move complained. I felt so bad for them. Laundry facilities were on the ground floor so that meant I would get plenty of exercise for free just going up and down those stairs every day. God has a sense of humor. The only way I got into the apartment was because I had that part time job. The money I got for the mobile home mostly went toward future rent, future car payments, utility bills, and stocking up on groceries so that I would not have to worry about anything for awhile which would give me time to find another job. My knee was much improved and I had no doubts that I would get a job sooner or later. It turned out to be later...much later. And once again, I ran out of resources, and I ran out of time. For the first time I was facing homelessness and I was threatened with losing my faith.
Through all of this--through everything that had happened from before I lost my marriage--from before I saw my children pulling away from me and from home--I was identifying myself with Job. I was losing everything. What was I going to do? Amazingly, this trial was one that taught me so much about how our wonderful Lord is our Jehovah-Jireh--The Lord Provides. During this year as I continued to try to find a good stable job, the Lord guided me to read the scriptures and whenever I found anything at all about Him providing for His people, I should write it down in a little notebook that I could keep with me all the time. The notebook is still in my purse with me to this day. Whenever I was away from home where I had no Bible to reach for, that little notebook was with me and if I became fearful, all I had to do was pull it out and read what I had written in it up to that point. One day as I was flipping through television channels, some words from a Christian program jumped out at me. The woman was saying that we would never need faith unless we were going through trials. Without trials, faith is not necessary. I hung onto that. I also had a pile of old Guidepost magazines from the 80's. As I read through those I kept finding stories that encouraged me to keep trusting God to bring me through my situation.
So there I was, facing eviction, facing homelessness. At Christmas time. In the middle of winter. God did you bring me to this place to let me fall? Would you lead me on a journey to learn to trust You and then just let me go on alone without Your help? NO! NEVER! All through the holidays, I was learning something new about God's provision. For example, I learned what a "Pentacostal handshake" was. That is when you shake hands with someone and find money in the palm of your hand at the end of the handshake. That happened twice. $50 at Thanksgiving, and $100 at Christmas. I received foodbaskets for the holidays. I found $20 in my coat pocket once and I have no clue how it got there, but it arrived just when I needed it. One person gave me $75 to use when I move and that money ended up paying for a storage unit so I was able to save about half of my personal belongings. But up until the very last day, I had no place to go. The next day I had to be out. I had held on as long as I could, even going to court and getting only 10 days more. This was day 9.
It was time to go to church and a friend was coming to get me. My car had been repossessed. She didn't show up. I wasn't really feeling much like going to church but I thought, one more night of having people pray. Maybe God yet had a solution. So, not living far from the church, I trampled through the snow and bumpy ground and walked to church in the dark. When I got there, my friends told me that about that same time the one who was supposed to pick me up remembered and went to get me. We just missed each other. During the prayer time I once again raised my prayer request. At the end of the service a woman I barely knew approached me. She had not been able to attend church for a few weeks and had not heard of my struggles. She offered me a room at her house and in exchange I could work for her in her home business, helping out a little here and there while I got myself back on my feet! What would have happened had I given up and gone back up those 36 steps and not gone to church that night?
God may cause us to wait. But He is never late. He is always on time. When w-2's came out that year, my income including the sale of my mobile home was just slightly over $8000. Who can live on that without God's provision?

At this point, you may be asking yourself, or wanting to ask me--How can I say He is never late? How could He allow me to lose my home once again? How could He want me to go through such fears and emotions? In all honesty, I cannot answer those questions other than to point you back to the story of Job. God is good. There is nothing in all of this that I would ever want to go through again. At the same time, had I not gone through all of it, I would not be the person I am now. I would not have the strong faith in God that I do now. I never would have learned any of the things I know about God without going through all of it. And this story is still not over. I also know that there are things I needed to learn about myself that I was too stubborn to face. There were things buried inside me that I needed to have dug out into the bright open light of day...things I didn't even realize were there. Things I still didn't know about myself.
Please come back for the next part of the story.

Monday, April 14, 2008

He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear...

It amazes me how much God loves us. It also amazes me the lengths He will go to to help us find our way to Him. For some the road seems easy and straight. If we could only see what they have really had to go through, we just might be surprised to find out that their road was not as straight as it appears. Then there are those who seem to end up on a road that is leading them down to destruction. Are we surprised to learn that those roads also lead to Him? Along the way there are forks in every road and we have to make decisions which fork to take. Some forks look so very tempting while others look hazardous. Is there more to it than what we think we see?
Sometimes when we are seeing others going through many struggles and difficulties we question God, or we more likely will question their choices they have made. It is such a common thing to question what a person must have done wrong to have ended up in such a mess in life. But is it a mess in God's eyes, or is it being used to strengthen and mold someone into the person God created him to become? And why are we humans so very quick to judge?

1999 was my year of rebellion. Rebellion against all I believed in including God. I was angry at God for letting me down and for allowing my family to fall apart. Don't misunderstand me. I had not completely turned away from Christ. If you can picture an upset child refusing to talk to her father because she is angry with him, you can understand a little of where I was. If you can picture this child throwing a temper tantrum, you can really understand where I was. I was not getting my way and I decided if I couldn't have it the way I had wanted it, I would just do whatever I wanted to do. I was tired of everything and decided to just forget all the rules. God apparently didn't care, so why should I? That was my frame of mind for most of 1999.
But life wasn't working out any better in my rebellion. As I have been thinking about how I would proceed from this point on in this story, I have also been doing some bit of photo organizing. In doing this last night, I came across some pictures of some of the people in my life in 1999. One of them was of a young woman who I had met through a self-help group I was a member of. She attached herself to me but as we talked and visited with each other, I grew more and more unable to trust her. Just before I had come to know her, I had contact with someone else who pretended friendship with me and then when I allowed her to use my computer she managed to get contact with my online friends and one by one destroy all those relationships. I don't know what she said to them that they chose to believe her over me when they just met her, but after she had access to my computer most of them would not even speak to me and I could do nothing to change their minds. So, when this new friend entered my group of local friends, and things she did were inconsistent, I became cautious. She and I remained friends through the end of 1999 and into the early weeks of 2000. I can't even remember her name at this point. But over New Years' 2000 as I was thinking about the previous year and all that had happened, as well as my life up to that point, I started thinking about why my life was such a mess. I had tried to be a good Christian believer. What was wrong? Why couldn't I live the way I thought a Christian was supposed to live? Why had everything fallen apart for me?
By the end of January, this friend and I were talking about going back to church. First we had heard of a singles dance that was held on Friday nights somewhere in town. We had also heard about a singles group at a church in town. We decided I should call to find out about the dance and the group. I found out that the dances had been discontinued due to lack of interest, so I let her know about that. That Friday morning when I got up and started my day I was so tired of staying home all the time. I needed to get out of the house. Still rebelling to some extent, and yet also trying to figure out how to live as a Christian, I "told" God that I was going to get out of the house that night even if it meant going to a bar! You have to understand that our little "city" has nothing to offer anyone in the way of entertainment where you can just go out and find something to do anytime you want to. It is either the local WalMart, or a bar. That's about it for the social life. I knew there was no dance that night so I called the church to find out information about the singles group. What I found out was that the singles group sponsored a Divorce Recovery Group once a year for 6 weeks and that it had just started the previous week and is held on Friday nights. Coincidence? Or an answer to a desparate prayer? I was given a phone number of the lady in charge and was immediately welcomed and invited to come join the group that night which I did. On Sunday, I went to church for the first time in a long long time, joining the singles Sunday school class and sitting with some friends I knew from the church for the main service. From that day on for the next seven years I very rarely missed a Sunday service.
My friend decided to check out the singles group, but she eventually decided she did not like the way it was run. She thought it didn't have enough social activities. Somewhere in this same time period I was thinking again about my life and why nothing was working right. Whether it was the Holy Spirit's gentle whispers or something else, I am not sure. I tend to think it was the Holy Spirit. I started thinking that I was living my life sitting on a fence with one part of me trying to be a Christian and the other part of me playing around at life with all non-believing friends. I realized that I had no Christian friends at all that I could really call good friends. And I also realized that my non-Christian friends were dragging me away from God more and more. Finally I made a firm decision that I was not going to participate in any non-church activity or continue with non-Christian friends until I knew I was strong enough to deal with the pulls of temptation.
As I slowly started to come back to God, as a tearful repentant child returns to her father's forgiving arms, I found a new facet to my relationship with Christ that I had never experienced before. God put a kind gentleman in my path from the singles Sunday school class. We became fast friends and he did several kind things to help me out in ways that generally women need a man to do for them. I needed help with car issues...he was a mechanic by profession. I needed help with a drain problem in the pipes under my kitchen sink and he was able to help with that. Aside from those things he did, he talked to me about God and his own ideas about human relationships. He was younger than I by a few years so he had musical interests a bit more youthful than mine and he introduced me to Rebecca St. James, her music, and her message. He also introduced me to Joshua Harris' books and videos I KISSED DATING GOODBYE which talk about the difference between what the world sees as dating and what God prefers which is courtship. With all of this friend's influence in my spiritual growth and return from my rebellion, I, for the first time, had seen a glimpse of Jesus in someone else's life. This is the way Christians are supposed to be. Why don't we see it more often? I stopped and tried to think of anyone else in my life who showed Jesus through his life and I saw my grandpa. What amazing men these two men God placed in my life were! Eventually my young friend married a young lady he had met in a singles group in a nearby city and they moved to her hometown. Through the music he introduced me to, and the reading materials he provided for me, and through the friendships I developed at church, I felt God was actually washing me clean from all the filthy stuff I had gotten myself into during that previous year of 1999. I needed that cleansing. Also, He provided me what people sometimes now phrase, "a soft place to land". I had a place I could fall and not be ashamed. I had a place where I could take time to rest and heal from all the hurts of the past...hurts that went back to my earliest childhood.

I am not sure of the date, but sometime prior to May 2000, we had a special revival service where an evangelist came to speak and he spoke on sanctification. Although I had heard that word many times before I did not know what it meant until that revival. After he spoke and taught on sanctification for the first few nights, the last night I knew that I had to do something to take the next step with Jesus and getting myself on the right road. I knew I was getting closer. But since I had been a Christian since I was 14 and had not been properly taught how to live the way I should, I knew it was time for a committed change to how I was choosing to live. As briefly as I possibly can, sanctification to me meant that not only am I set apart for God, but I make a conscious choice to be set live for accept and do His will in my life as He guides me into it...and to put away all parts of my life that do not fit into His will for me. That last is the hard part. But I knew it was time and if I were to get beyond this mess I had made of my life, God's way was the only way. I went forward and declared my commitment to sanctification to my Lord and I have tried my best ever since that time to stick with it. It is a day by day process which we never complete until that time He calls us home. Little by little, baby step by baby step, the Holy Spirit showed me things that I needed to change in me. It amazed me that whatever He would be dealing with me about throughout any given week, that following Sunday, the pastor's message would be about that very same thing. Even the songs that would come to my heart and mind during the week would be the same songs the worship leader would have chosen for the following Sunday services. Confirmation of what God was teaching me was right there in front of me each week.
Changes such as what I need in this messed up life of mine take lots of time. In May 2000 I formally gave up membership in the church I had been a member of for 26 years so I could join this new church that had so welcomed me into its arms. I know some people may disagree with me on this point as it is a common disagreement between Christians. I know that I never lost my salvation in 1999. Just as children do not lose their parents each time they do wrong, but are continuously forgiven with open arms, my loving heavenly Father never let go of me. I had come to the end of my rope, or tree root, or however you want to say it. I had let go and I fell into the softest place I could possibly land. In my Savior's arms.
For questions about my belief that I did not lose my salvation, check the parable of the Prodigal Son. Most of us think that is talking only about people who were never saved, coming to Christ for the first time. I don't think that is what it is saying at all, although that could be part of the story. The story talks about a son who rebelled and left home while his father waited and waited for him to return. He was already a son...a son who had left the path, but returned to a joyous reunion. He never lost his sonship. He was still the son of the father. The next place to look is the passage where Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. When told that they didn't think they were worthy to have Jesus wash their feet and that they were too dirty, Jesus replied that they had already been washed, but since they are walking in the world, they needed their feet washed. I believe that means that even though we are saved, we still mess up from time to time, and when we do, we need to have our feet washed. Sometimes our feet get more filthy than at other times.

This is not the end of the story by far. In fact, the most important parts of this story are still to come. More next time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Identification With Job

If you know the Bible, you know who Job was. Job was a righteous man who was close to God, who prayed often, and who considered his children and their relationship with God by offering prayer and sacrifices for them as well as for himself and is wife. His children were many, and they were grown, living all on their own. Job was also a very wealthy man. The Lord had blessed him with much land and livestock. The Lord was happy with Job and was telling the angels about him, including Satan. Satan challenged God and said that if God took everything away from Job, he would turn and curse God. God then allowed Satan to smite Job as long as he did not take his life. In the process of the next few days and hours, Job's livestock was all dead, his servants were all dead except for the ones who were allowed to live to tell Job what had happened, and all his 10 children were dead. Then, on top of that, Job's body was afflicted with sores and boils. How many of us could have even a part of these tragedies happen and still love and trust God? Then, Job's friends came along. Oh what a comfort they were to him...NOT! Even Job's wife told him to curse God and die.

During the previously mentioned six years from April 1993 until April 1999, as I was in the process of losing everything I loved and cared about, from my marriage, children, home, and more, I could not help but think of Job. Oh how I prayed that God not allow my husband or children to be taken from my by death like Job's children were taken. What a time of learning to trust God this time period was. It seemed like every day something worse was happening. Even my health was beginning to become a threat to me. So many times I prayed and prayed, trying to keep in touch with my Lord, asking Him what was happening and why. We think that we can't question God, but when things happen that we cannot handle, what else can we do but question God? I am so grateful that God held tightly to me during these difficult times because I was losing my strength to hold on to Him.
At the same time...and this amazes me looking back on it all...God was drawing me closer and closer to Him through everything that was happening. The worse things got, the more time I spent reading the Bible and praying. I came to see the Bible in a whole new way during those years. I had always loved reading the Bible, but I have never been one who has been able to discipline myself to read it daily, except in certain sporadic times. Up until 2000 when I went back to church, I was not even a regular church-goer. Church attendance was sporadic as well. But during those six years as I spent more and more time reading the Bible (remember I was not reading any other Christian materials or listening to any Christian programming the first couple of years) God began showing me who He is and how much He really does love me...and loves everyone. He showed me that the Bible is His love letter to each of us. I read the New Testament and even more I read the Old Testament. I had not spent a lot of time in the Old Testament before this time, but during this time period, I spent most of my time there. In the Old Testament I found God: who He is, what He is, how much He loves us, what He can do, and so much more about Him. In the New Testament I found how much He loves us, what He was willing to do for us to prove that love and to keep us with Him forever, what we need to do to receive His love, and how He wants us to live our lives.
During those six years of troubles, I received peace and healing for many past hurts. That peace and healing helped to lay a foundation for me to stand on when things were still getting worse. I do not think I would have made it through everything without God's presence and provision for me through it all. And like Job, I prayed and prayed for my family for God's protection over each of them no matter what else happened. Then, in my prayers I began saying something to Jesus that I knew I meant with all my heart. Having the idea that maybe I was being tested somehow like Job was, and having already been praying for God to not take the life of my children or husband, I added another part to my prayers. It was scarey to say the words, but I meant them with all my heart. "Lord," I said, "whatever is taken from me, whatever I lose, as long as I still have Jesus, I have everything I need." I could not have said those words in my own strength. There is no way I could have done that. I knew it was true, but to speak the words was like jumping off a cliff knowing that I was looking at a long long fall. At the time I had prayed that, things were bad, but the worst was yet to come. As I said in the last post, by April 1999, my marriage was ending, my oldest child had moved out, and my youngest was too stressed to spend much time at home. I had been dealing with various health issues over the years from 1994-1998, probably all having to do with extreme stress in one way or another. By the end of 1998 I was at the end of my rope. I just could not hang on anymore. I even tried to threaten my husband that I would kill myself and he believed me. But it didn't change anything. I convinced him that I was just saying it to get him to see what everything was doing to me, but down inside I always questioned if I really could have done it. I do know that only the Lord's presence in my life, and my children kept me from suicide.
I want you who may be reading this to know that this has not been easy for me to write. I have spoken of these things to only a small number of close friends. But I want you to see the power of the presence of Jesus Christ in a person's life. I would not be here to write this blog if He were not there in my life at that time. There are things in my childhood where I had come at various times to wanting to kill myself. Even then it was Jesus who kept me from doing anything drastic.
Like I said in my previous post, the more I tried to hang on, the worse things got. The more I tried to keep things together, the more they fell apart. Nothing I did helped. After feeling like death was the only way out of my problems and realizing that that would not solve the problems and it would make things worse for my family, I felt I had to do something else or I would die just from the stress of it all. At that time, for the first time, I let go of the rope I was holding onto. I gave up. I could not hold on one more second. And I told my husband that I wanted a dissolution.

Have any of you ever heard the little story about the man who fell off a cliff and found himself hanging onto a tree root for dear life. He had no way to get himself back up to the solid ground, and far down below him were only rocks to land on. He was in a predicament if there ever was one. He started to call out to God for help. After all he was out there all alone and there was no one around for miles who would ever hear him or find him. How would he ever get back to safety? Then he hears a voice. It is God and God tells him He is there to help..."But first," God told him, "you are going to have to let go of that tree root."

How long I had been tightly holding on to the end of my rope. I finally gave up and let go. Do you know I am a very stubborn person? Do you know I need to have control? Do you know that fear drives my life....or at least it did back in those years? Do you know that in letting go of my rope...that giving up...even though my actions after I gave up were very un-Christ-like...very un-Christian...were just what was needed for things to finally start changing? Do you know that when you need to learn something big, like how to trust for example, you are going to have to go through something that is going to require you to trust?

Do you know that when you ask God to teach you to trust Him, you will go through some tough situations that will require you to let go of yourself and let Him have control of all those things you thought you needed to have control of? Guess what? That is what happens....but through it all, He is the instructor and He will not allow you to fall. He is right there to catch you when you stop clinging so tightly to your rope, or your tree root.

Later on in another post we will talk about what happened with Job. If you can't wait for that, go get the nearest Bible and read about him. He has his own book in the Bible...right before Psalms which is in the center for those who haven't read the Bible in a long time, or ever.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A World Gone Crazy

We were home. But it didn't feel like home anymore. So much had happened in the previous few years and the stress factor had pushed each of us into different directions and none of us seemed able to latch hold of anything to steady us. Instead of getting better when we moved back home, everything began to unravel all around us. Our little world was falling apart and the more each of us tried to hold things together, none of us was working together to accomplish it. The marriage was disintegrating, the children, just beginning to come into their pre-teen and teenage years were rebelling. They were angry about having had to move away the first time, and now instead of being happy to be home again, they were angry about having to leave the new friends they had made. For my part, I was just trying to survive it all and keep hold of everything the best I could to keep it from totally imploding.
Over the next few months life as we knew it would change in ways none of us could have imagined and it impacted us in disasterous ways. Gradually life began to take on this kind of unreal haze that each of us struggled through in his or her own way. It was so out of control that just finding ways to keep us together and calm was a huge task. The next few years were the most difficult years I have ever had to face in my entire life. I cannot speak for the others. But I know it was just as difficult for them as it was for me. Maybe more so since children have a more difficult time understanding the adult world. Let me say this, though. At this time, I didn't understand the world either. I didn't understand anything anymore except that I had to keep my family together. What I didn't know was that the more I struggled to keep us together, the more I was driving us all apart. You can't hold water in your hand and squeeze and still expect the water to stay in your hand. That doesn't work with love and families either.
Six years into my faith journey, my married took the final turn for the worst and we separated for the last time, with our dissolution being finalized almost a year later. I was devastated inside, but would never let myself admit it to anyone, even myself. There is a kind of lying that we don't usually think about. That is the lie we tell ourselves. And when we are lying to ourselves, we are also lying to God. Isn't it wonderful that He knows the real story though? Well, maybe, in the midst of the lie you would rather He didn't know the real story. But He knew what was in my heart all the time I was lying to myself and to everyone else about how I felt about my marriage and my divorce.
Our oldest child who was a young adult by this time was living outside our home with friends. She could not handle the stress of the family anymore. Our youngest was about to graduate high school. We had to give up our family home permanently and he couldn't handle living with me anywhere else, so he spent as much time as he could with his friends when he wasn't in school or working. I had lost my marriage, my children, my home, and everything important to me. But I fooled myself into thinking that I was finally happy being single and on my own for the first time in my life. I played the game but after a few months of it, I realized I was slipping...not only away from my family, but from God. I knew I had to do something to get back on that right path with the Lord and soon. So I got back into church and made a complete turn around. It had taken me a long time to realize that all my Christian life I had been fence-sitting. As one of my mentors told me not too long after she met me: "Cindy, when you came in here the first time I could tell you were living with one foot in Christ and one foot in the world. I wasn't sure at that time which direction you were going to go." Thank God, I realized I had to make the right decision and get both feet on the right side of the fence. It wasn't a hard struggle once I made up my mind. I realized that one of the reasons I had failed to live the life I really wanted to live as a Christian woman was because I was trying to do it without Christian friends. I was indeed living totally in the world, living the world's ways, with no Godly influences in my life outside of what I had in my Bible, Christian television and radio, records and tapes. So very early into the year 2000 I burned my worldly bridges so to speak and closed all the doors to the worldly life, as completely as I could and still live in the world. I knew I was not strong enough spiritually to pick myself up and live the way God wanted me to alone. And I knew I could not do it if I was hanging out with friends who were not in church also trying to live Godly lives. From January 2000 until 2005, I participated in no activities outside of those that included my friends from church. But, in those same years, I participated in activities I never had the courage to even try at any other time in my life. For one, I joined the church drama team and played a lot of crazy, funny characters in lots of skits in which we improvised our scripts based only on the idea of what the skit was about and what the goal of the message was. There was never a single rehearsal or performance that went exactly the same way. And there was never a single rehearsal that I didn't end up laughing until the tears rolled. Believe me, tears are healing in many ways, whether it be through sorrow or joy or laughter. The Bible says in Proverbs that laughter doeth good like a medicine. I think it was in 2003 that I also joined the choir. I am a little fuzzy on the year I made that leap of faith.
I have included a music video I found on YouTube. This is Ray Boltz singing "The Anchor Holds" and of all the Christian music I know, this one really puts into words the things I have tried to say in this post...the things I couldn't say...or didn't say well. The beginning instrumental piece of this music is called "The Storm" and from the beginning of my faith journey onward, I have been through one storm after another. Some have been very very severe, while others not so harsh. There will be more storms to talk about in the next post or two. Please, for now, sit back and enjoy this video and let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

God Knew What We Needed

We had moved from our home to another state for job reasons. However, shortly after the barn fire, the job situation turned and we found ourselves in a place of having to decide what to do next. It had been a hard decision to move in the first place and now we were faced with deciding if we would move back to our former home. We had been gone for almost two years and our former house had been on the market for the entire time. We had had a few nibbles at a sale, but they all fell through eventually. Of course, at the time we could not understand why. But when this turn of events occurred, we knew why. We needed that house to come home to and it was there waiting for us. How great is that? To this day I have never forgotten the lesson in that simple event.
Now, in leaving to return to our old family home, we lost many things along the way. The original move that took us away from home was not something that was easy for any of us because it meant leaving old friends and family behind. But during the two years away we made new friends and now we would be leaving them behind. In addition to this, we lost money when we had to sell this second house. Sometimes, however, you will find that even though you are doing your best to walk in the right paths God is leading, you still stray off now and then. When you do, God still guides you back, but there are consequences to be dealt with along the way from those times when you strayed. Personally, I was the one who had pushed to buy this second house in the first place. Renting would have been the better way to go but when we could not find an adequate rental, buying seemed like the only option left.
Did I know back then that taking this faith journey would not only be a journey of learning to trust God, but also end up being a journey of finding myself? Beginning with the me I thought I was and leading to an often painful but always valuable re-evaluation of my thoughts, values, beliefs, early childhood training, and much more, the Holy Spirit used many methods to reach deep inside of me to burn away the chaff and help me find someone I didn't even know was there. The barn fire was just the simple spark that started this fire going. The move back home taught me my first main lesson, that God knows what we need before we do and He will provide it when it is most needed.
Finding out that we needed this home of ours more than what we even thought we did was the last thing on my mind at the time. We had other issues confronting us. One was that my marriage was in trouble over all the different things I thought I needed to be in control of. Have you ever had to pry a little one's fingers off of something they wanted so badly but you knew it was not good for them? They can hold on very tightly when they want to. It has been the same with me and God--me clinging tightly to control and the Holy Spirit gently but firmly prying my fingers away from each control issue that arose over the next 15 years. Ready to take this ride with me and see what happened? I always knew I was stubborn. The Bible uses a word "stiff-necked". Older folks use the term "mule-headed". I had no idea just how stubborn I was. I also had no idea that I was as determined to have control as I was at the time, or why.
Is trust an issue with you? It was with me then, and still can be if I don't stop and think and pray, making sure I am putting my trust in the Lord instead of in myself, or those around me. When I trust Him, I can let go and trust others He puts in my life. But it took all these years to get to this point. And all these years would have profitted nothing but for the events the Lord walked me through--and often carried me through. Time alone does not bring lessons learned. The next 15 years that have brought me to this time period where I can write about it all were nothing I would ever want to go through again, but at the same time, I would not trade these wonderful lessons, or the person I have found in myself that I didn't know was there, for anything else in the world. Come, take this virtual journey with me.