Friday, May 16, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thank God For Small Miracles!

When I got this home after leaving the shelter almost two years ago, I didn't plan on getting sick. I had so many hopes and plans for things I was going to do once I got settled here. Even though I didn't feel very good, I was enjoying garage sales and finding items to fill my home with furnishings all over again. I had to start from almost dishes, table, chairs, living room furniture, and so much more. And I wanted to get started back with the Indian cooking I love to do so much, including trying new things I hadn't tried before.
Getting sick less than a week after I moved here didn't slow me down right away. I didn't think when I moved here that I would have any problems taking my laundry to the laundromat, for instance, because I was strong and able to do that without a hitch--even though I didn't relish the idea through the winter. I didn't realize that down the road, within about six or seven months I wouldn't even be able to carry my laundry basket from one room to another, let alone get it outside and into my car. Days when I felt well and convinced myself I could do it, I would get out there, then be so exhausted that I could hardly make it to the laundromat, let alone get back home and carry the baskets back into the house. Shopping was another area that caused me difficulties I never expected. Up until almost Christmas that year I managed to go shopping doing several mini-trips during the week so I wouldn't have to carry more than three or four light grocery bags from the car to the house...whatever I could do in one trip, including my purse, holding my arms straight down. I still remember the night I decided to do some Christmas shopping for my daughter during the overnight hours when I could park close and not have to battle crowds in the store. That was the first time I used a motorized cart for shopping. But I just didn't have the strength in my legs or in my heart to walk through the store anymore. As it was, the new supercenter was so huge that I had never gone through the entire store before anyway. Now I use the cart everytime I go shopping, but I don't go alone at all anymore unless I know I am only getting a few light items I can carry by myself.
Any housework I do myself is done sitting down. I have a chair with pillows on it in my little kitchen area so I can cook and wash dishes sitting there. If I sweep the kitchen floor, which I have only done myself this past month, I do it from that same chair. In the morning I plan on buying my first vaccum cleaner since losing my other one when I lost my home...and a feather duster too. I am planning on finally being able to clean my house by myself, even if it takes doing it in segments with a rest in between.
You see, I am feeling better these past few months. I can breathe with less shortness of breath. Even in the worst of it I would walk as much as I could, from the car to the store, for instance, so I would not lose the ability to walk altogether. Muscles tend to atrophy when they are not used. I have lost a lot of muscle tone over the past two years of being sick. But I am feeling so much better that I am trying to do more and more on my own. When I can clean my own house again, I won't have to pay someone else to do it for me.
When I was sicker than I am now, I lost interest in doing anything other than just managing to survive. I held down that full time job for ten months after getting sick, then came home and managed to fix my supper, watch tv and go to bed just to get up and start all over the next day. I had previously been attending church four times a week including twice on Sundays. By Christmas that year I had cut down to Sunday mornings only which really hurt me, but I just didn't have the strength or energy to do more than that. After Christmas I stopped going altogether except for a rare Sunday morning when I would feel up to trying. Since Christmas 2006, I have only been to church maybe ten times total. I made it back a month ago for the first time in several months. That was a victory. My interest in other areas of my life has come back and I am setting all kinds of goals of things I want to do soon. Along with being able to clean my own house again, I am getting back into cooking the Indian foods and other foods. I still don't cook any real meal more than once or twice a week. The rest of the time I just have either leftovers or simple foods that are easy to fix. That can help or not help in trying to lose weight, too, depending on what I eat.
Today, in this blog, I want to announce a new victory, though it may seem small to you. It is huge to me. In cooking the Indian foods, I cut up several onions. I used a chair at my old apartment for anything that required being at the sink or stove or counter for very long, so I don't know really how long it has been since I have cooked standing up. I do know I cooked at the shelter standing up, but I never cooked much that required standing for very long. If I needed to do anything that took any length of time, I did it at the kitchen table. So, today, I had a victory. An unexpected victory. While I was cutting the onions, suddenly I was tired of sitting there in the chair and I stood up. Even though I had to lean on the edge of the sink, I finished cutting the onions while standing up at the sink instead of sitting in the chair at the sink. It was only for a few minutes, but it felt so good to be able to do that.
My healing is coming in baby steps. I have to work for it. Maybe God would choose to heal me all at once. Maybe I am one of those that is just not ready for that kind of miracle. But for me, today, standing at that sink cutting the onions was a miracle. The mental and emotional improvement as I am getting physically better is a big encouragement that leads to more physical improvement. It becomes a cycle and it is wonderful.
I am off one of the strong and dangerous medications as of last month and I am so glad of that. Being allowed to stop that medication not only helped my budget, it helped my attitude. I feel better not taking that medicine. It is another encouragement that I don't have to take that medication. There are still heart issues and unless God chooses to heal those issues completely, I will live with them the rest of my life. But they are manageable now and I can at least get things done I couldn't do at all last year.
Knee replacement surgery may be an option way down the road. But that would only happen if the heart issues get better than they are now and if I can lose more weight. That's another problem with getting sick for a long period and not being active. The weight seems to pile on much easier than it comes off. So losing weight is something I am working on at the same time I am working on getting better in other ways.
There are some who would say that whatever happens in my improving health comes because of the doctors' efforts and my own efforts. Let me tell you this: The doctors got their talents and intelligence as a gift from God. The fact that they have agreed to help me even though they knew I had no way of paying them...that is a gift from God. The fight in my heart to keep me struggling to keep going no matter what has happened....that is a gift from God. There were many, many times I thought to give up...times that I did give up as I mentioned in previous posts. There were times from my childhood even until various times as an adult that my struggles were so difficult that I contemplated suicide...the fact that I chose to live...that is a gift from God. God has kept me. God has guided me. God has preserved me to this day. He put me here for a reason and He has a plan for my life. I have learned to trust His plan even though I don't know what it is completely. But now, when things get hard, I remember all He has done. I remember He still has a plan, and until He is done working His plan for my life, I will survive on this earth. When He is finished, I will get to go home with Him then, and only then. That gives me even more strength to hold on and not give up ever again. THAT is a gift from God. I know that I know that I KNOW that I would not be alive today apart from His hand in my life.
Quite a long post to report this small miracle today. The funny thing was...when I got tired of sitting there at the sink and stood up to finish the onions, it was as natural a move as any and it wasn't until I was standing that I realized what I was doing. In fact, I did a lot more walking and standing today than I normally do. It has been a GOOD day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Through It All

Faith must continue. The journey does not end with the telling of the story. Each and every day there are things that I face that I need to bring to God to help me deal with. I don't always know how things are going to turn out. I don't always know what my next step should be. But what I do know is that I am never alone and I am always able to go to Jesus and ask for help. He is always there. As you can tell from the story so far, what I would have wanted to have happen wasn't the way He worked things out for me. There have been times when I was really afraid, but He never left me alone to deal with my fears. And He always had help right there.

Too many times we hear that once you become a Christian life should be without troubles. That is not what the Bible teaches. In fact, many times, for many Christians, life can become harder because of the persecution they have to face for their choices. All you have to do is read about the missionaries around the world who are sometimes tortured for their faith, and the Christian converts who are arrested, tortured, and even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. The persecution we face here in America for being Christian is little compared to what these brave believers face every day. Yet, we also have our trials and tribulations here. It comes with the territory. What we also have is a God who loved us enough to give His precious Son's life to pay the awful price for the penalty of our sins. We no longer owe that debt to Him because Jesus took our sins upon Him on the cross. All we have to do is believe it and accept that gift He gave for us. With everything we end up going through in our lives, nothing compares to what we have in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. I cannot imagine what would have happened to me without Him in my life. One thing I am sure of, I would not be here today.

I don't know what the rest of my life holds in store. I don't know what tomorrow holds. What I do know is that I can hang on to Jesus and I will be okay. Life can be a wild ride--an adventure. Right now I am continuing to trust God in several areas of my life including my health, my in finances, my shelter/home, and my relationships. I trust Him with the little decisions I have to make every day and I trust Him for the major decisions that come my way. Right now I think I need a new place to live even though He is the One who provided this place for me. There are some major things that I need that this place does not offer me so I have been looking for somewhere else for several months now. In fact, I had planned on being moved by this time. But it hasn't happened and I am still looking...still waiting. With God, there is a lot of waiting at times. Other times the answer can come almost immediately. For instance, the car I am driving now was given to me on Mother's Day three years ago. I prayed and asked God to provide me with a minivan the night before, Saturday. The next morning at church a minivan was offered to me through very interesting channels. Basically, I was at one of the entrances greeting people as they came into the church and handing out the bulletins. The church secretary who is also a friend of mine came and asked me if I still needed a car, and I said yes, why? She said she would be right back. She came back a few minutes later and told me another person in the church had a car they were giving away to someone who might need one in the church, so she told him about me. After I was done greeting I met with the gentleman and was offered the car for free, if I wanted it...a minivan. I had possession of it that afternoon, less than 24 hours after my prayer request. On the other hand, there are other requests I have been waiting for much, much longer. And there have been things impressed upon me by the Holy Spirit through various pastors' sermons, Scriptures, and in other ways, that seem impossible...and in human terms are quite impossible. But the Bible says nothing is impossible with God. The Bible says all things are possible with God. And the Bible also says, without faith it is impossible to please Him. So I wait. Somethings I have been waiting to see the fulfillment of my faith in what He has said to me for years. It can get very discouraging at times. But everytime I am discouraged, He shows up with just the right encouragement I need. And I remember that God is never late. He is always right on time.

Mr. Andrae Crouch, over 30 years ago, wrote a song that I have loved ever since the first time I heard it. Below are the words to that song. I was still a teenager when I first heard it, and I didn't have any idea of what my future would be. Now, looking back, how could any other song lyrics fit so well?

I've had many tears and sorrows
I've had questions for tomorrow
Ther've been times I didn't know right from wrong
But in every situation God gave blessed consolation
That my trials come to only make me strong
Oh I've been to a lot of places
And I've seen a millions of faces
But there are times I still fail all alone
He knows lonely hours
Those precious lonely hours
Jesus let me know I was His own

Through it all, through it all
I've learned to trust in Jesus
I've learned to trust in God
Through it all, through it all
I've learned to depend upon His word

I thank God for the mountains
I thank Him for the valleys
And I thank Him for the storms He brought me through
For if I'd never had any problems
'cause I won't know that He could solve them
I'd never know what faith in God's word could do


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Praise Him With Me Tonight!

Tonight I just want to post some moving videos that mean a lot to me and speak a lot about my faith and how it has grown in the past 15 years. I hope you watch and listen and enjoy these videos. They are very special.

Monday, May 5, 2008

RAIN--Rob Bell

The Caves of Ai

In the Old Testament there is a story of when the Israelites fought against Ai. Without going into the story or the details of the battle, I just want to write about one point that was taught at a very special revival at my church. It wasn't that the revival was of any special significance from any other revival service. It was special because of how the Lord reached into my heart and started the process of getting me to face truths I didn't even know were there, and some I did but refused to deal with before this time.
Have you ever had a really infected wound or cut that had to be treated seriously before it would heal? For instance, when I was in elementary school, I had blisters on my hands from playground equipment and much of it had chipped paint and was rusty. The rust got into the open blisters, which healed over without anyone really knowing about the rust being there. When my hand started getting red, inflamed, and swollen, my mother took me to the doctor. The doctor had to take a scapel and cut into the old blistered palm and deep into the flesh. Then I had to go home and keep soaking my hand on and off every 30 minutes in water as hot as I could stand it that had epsom salts in it to draw the infection out. This went on for several days, including wearing a soaked washcloth wrapped in a breadsack to bed at night to keep the wound open. Every day I could watch as the poison would come out of my cut hand.
In much this same way, sometimes we have to go through painful experiences before we have been cut deep enough to get to the poison that is inside of us...the infection that needs to come out. It is not pleasant to go through times like that. But to be the people we were created to be, it is necessary to get rid of all those things hidden deep inside us.
That is what the story of Joshua and the Israelites and the caves of Ai is about. As the battle raged, the enemy kings were captured. Joshua had them thrown into these caves and a guard set to the openings so they would not get away. The message the evangelist taught that night was that Joshua had these kings held there while he continued with the battle. When the battle was over, Joshua went back to the caves and had the kings brought out. There he dealt with them and had them executed. The message for us...for me...was that in life we are busy with dealing with the current battles. We get these important issues that need dealt with, but during the battles we have no time to deal with those issues. So we stuff them back into the caves of our heart. But, unlike Joshua, we don't come back and deal with them. Then they fester and grow until they become an infection in our lives. And the bad thing is, the longer they stay buried there, the more we forget about them. The longer they stay buried, the more we are able to end up deceiving ourselves...that is lying to ourselves...and telling ourselves there is nothing there to worry about. The more they fester and infect our hearts, the more they infect our lives. We have to get it all out. That revival message was a life-changing week for me...just that one message that one night was especially crucial to where I am now.
Oh how sure I was as I listened to the evangelist that night that I had already dealt with everything there was hidden in my life. So why did I feel this gnawing in my spirit that things were not well with me as I believed they were?
That wasn't the only message that week that reached my heart. In fact, I have to say that this particular revival week was the most enlightening one I had ever participated in. It was as though everything that had happened up to that point was groundbreaking and foundation for what was to come. To say that within a few weeks after this revival my entire life direction was changed would be an understatement. Before the revival I thought I was going in one direction and within a few weeks I was going in a totally different direction in just about every area of my life. I was given instruction, guidance, and direction the like of which I had never experienced before. Things became clear to me that I had not seen or had refused to see before this time.
For two months I wrestled with the Lord about the direction He was pointing me in. I didn't think I wanted to go that way at all. And I argued with Him about it. I am so glad He loves us and knows us inside and outside. You see, I am not afraid to argue with my Lord. He knows what I am thinking and feeling anyway. If I hold it back and do not express it, I feel that I am just lying to Him and to myself. In Isaiah, scripture says, "Come, let us reason together." Call my arguing reasoning with Him if you will...only He ends up being the one reasoning with me. He sets me straight when I am willing to listen to Him, even if I disagree. And He is patient enough to wait for me to see things His way. And wait He did. And reason He did. After those two months passed I had finally come to realize He was right all along and that the direction He was pointing me in really was the direction I wanted to go all the time, but had just not thought it possible. So I had convinced myself it was not the right direction for me. He changed my mind about all that.
When I finally agreed with God about the direction He wanted me to go, it was only then that He started having me start dealing with what was inside the caves of my heart. It's possible that had I not agreed to the change of direction at this point, I never would have dealt with the issues buried in my heart. For when they began coming out, much like the infection coming out of my hand into the hot water, it did not feel good. It hurt. It hurt bad. Why? Because the things the Lord was helping me dig out of my caves was all the things I had buried that I had done wrong to hurt people I loved over the years. The Lord was showing me, slowly and over time, that the pain in my life was not centered around all those people who had hurt me. It was centered around all the things I had done to hurt them.
Isn't it just like we humans to want to always point our fingers at others and what they do to us? Isn't it like us to hide and cover up all our own flaws? We like thinking we are good people. We like thinking we are nice, caring, loving, etc, etc, and etc. But the Lord knows, we are far from perfect. Well, we aren't perfect now are we? We make mistakes. And if we are in pain, if someone is hurting us and we are flinging arrows back at them...we are bound to land a few if not all of them into their soft skin, hurting them in the process. And what if we are the ones throwing the first stones? Or taking the first jabs with our spears of hurt? Then what can we say for ourselves? Shame takes over and we end up buring these things deep inside of our hearts where we hope no one else will ever see them. And we hope we never see them again either. Then, we end up "forgetting" them. But our bodies don't forget them. Sickness happens many times because of the stresses built up in our lives. We also end up with these things called triggers. Triggers are things from our hidden memories that show up unexpectedly and can bring out all kinds of reactions to things around people's actions, and other things. Then when we react, we end up with more shame...and we end up buring even more stuff in our caves...stuff to get more infected and putred over time.
It has to come out. Joshua took care of the enemy kings right away when the battle ended. And he put to death those that were going to cause further damage. When we dig out the things from our caves we have to put to death in our lives those things that are going to cause more damage down the road. If we let them live, we haven't resolved anything and we will end up in another mess. And we can't do what God wants us to do with our lives if we are constantly stuck in battle mode with the past.
So, God took me through this process that took another several months. During all this time I did not yet have a job that could keep me self-supporting, and I ended up truly homeless for the next nine months. I lived in a homeless shelter for women and young children. As I was finishing up this level of cleansing, I ended up going back to school in the local adult vocational training classes for certified medical office assistant. About halfway through the program the school recommended me for a job in a local business working in data entry as a temp employee. I kept that job for 15 months. After the first 5 months I was able to get my own place again. Right after I moved in, less than a week later, I got sick physically. At first I thought it was the usual occassional episode of atrial fibrillation that I had been dealing with for the previous 12 years so I didn't think much about it. But when it didn't go back to normal sinus rhythm I started to worry. I didn't have insurance and I was afraid to go to the doctor because I believed I would get put in the hospital and I would lose my job once again. So I worked sick and got sicker and sicker until I had no choice but to go to the doctor. He worked with me so I could stay out of the hospital. Eventually, though, after 15 months on the job, I was fired for missing too much work. Once again I faced losing everything. God, what would happen this time? I knew I was too sick to go back to the shelter. It was three floors up and I didn't have enough strength to climb more than the few steps into my home.
Once again, it was back to another lesson in faith. From the middle of April until the middle of September I had no income other than occassional help from a couple of churches, and the local Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation which was helping me get set up in a work-from-home job while I was waiting to find out if I would qualify for social security disability benefits. It was a day-by-day struggle to keep my head above water as I dealt with bill collectors and the landlords. But I never missed one month's bills. They were sometimes late, but they were all paid before the next month's bills arrived. God supplied in wonderful ways.
All my life in one way or another, by one person or another, I was told I was no good or didn't measure up to someone else's expectations of who or what I should be. In fact, after going through a childhood like that, I was the biggest offender of all, telling myself I was no good. All through this process I had people telling me I was doing the right things to help myself. I was doing everything I needed to do to get things done so I could make it. For the first time in my life, during this most difficult time, I was being encouraged to keep going and keep doing what I was doing. For the first time in my life I felt like someone believed in me. And mostly I realized the God believed in me. At a time when so many people were beating me down with their words of accusation because I had no money to pay them what I owed them, on the other side of the fence were these wonderful people giving me the encouragement I needed to hang on.

Over the years from 2000 until this time period in 2007, God led me from being self-abusing emotionally, mentally, and physically with my overeating to becoming someone I really like and respect. Of all the lessons I learned during these past few years about myself, and what was buried in the caves of my heart, I learned that I am not the person I believed myself to be growing up and moving into young adulthood. There was a constant battle raging within me. On one side was the little girl who felt unloved, a target for abuse, alone, and no good. On the other side was the girl who enjoyed life and had a spirit of laughter and joy that spilled over into every activity she was involved in. And often the sad, hurting little girl got pushed further and further into the cave, there to cry year after year as more of the bad side got shoved in with her. And over the years when the stresses of life got a little too hard to deal with, there would be an eruption in the cave and the nasty would come out and attack those around me. But I wouldn't recognize that and I would bury all the evidence back inside the cave when things calmed down again. By the time of my divorce, the caves couldn't hold it anymore and I was pretty much an active volcano all the time, smoking and sputtering lava words at my husband and my family whenever things went wrong or I thought they were going wrong. What might have happened had I been able to deal with those caves years sooner? I can't tell, only God knows. All I knew at the time was that I felt I would implode if I didn't get out of the marriage. What I thought was going on...what I blamed it all on, of course, was my husband's actions. Not once did I look at myself and admit that I could be causing any of the problems in our marriage. I couldn't allow it. I couldn't look into the caves because if I did, all that ugly stuff would spill out and everyone would see the nasty, ugly me. I had buried it so deeply I didn't even see it there anymore. All I knew was that I was turning into an ugly shrew by the end of 1998 and it could not go on. My solution was divorce. Things calmed down after that and life seemed good again, especially after I got back into church. By the time God used that revival to change my direction and to get me cleaning out the caves, I was ready for just such guidance even if it was painful.

Since September 2007, I have continued to work part time from home, and have been receiving disability benefits. I am financially better than I have been in a long time, and better than I ever have been on my own. Guess what? The caves are not empty yet. God still reveals things to me that need dealt with. Just last week I was confronted with yet another issue that I am still having trouble accepting about myself. Yet, it is there and I need to deal with it. Thank God I don't have to do this alone. God is with me all the time.

So where is the faith journey at this point? Still moving forward as it will for the rest of my life until I am home with my Jesus. Remember Job? He lost his property. His 10 children were all killed. He lost his health. He spent some time with his "friends" who were not very encouraging. Even his wife advised him to curse God and die. After a time God came and spoke with him and helped him see things from His perspective. And after Job talked with God, and prayed for his friends, God restored to him all he had lost, and much more. Including giving him 10 more children. He got double of everything he had lost. Including the chidren. For his first 10 were with the Lord and he would someday be with them again, and now he had 10 more.
All through the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, God speaks of restoration. Restoration of health, restoration of life, and more. God is a God of restoration. God is a God of second chances. And where there is faith, God is pleased and shows Himself strong. Jesus said "Without faith it is impossible to please God." I want to please God. I am glad to have started this faith journey 15 years ago in April 1993. I am now beginning my 16th year of learning to trust God. I wouldn't have it any other way. I believe what He has spoken to me through the revival in Nov 2004 and I follow in the direction He is leading me.

This ends the story as far as the past 15 years is concerned. There may be times when I will tell you a story or two about something I thought of that happened during those years that brought me closer to the Lord. But I will hopefully continue the story as it continues in my life for as long as I feel led by God to do so. My hope is that through all of this you may be encouraged in your own journey to hang on and to trust God with your needs, with your struggles, no matter how difficult they are for you. God knows the beginning from the end. He knows everything that is going to happen before it ever does and He is never taken by surprise. He never panics. Cast all your cares on Him for He truly does care for you. And remember, if you ask for more faith, or to learn to trust Him, be prepared for the lessons of the classroom. But don't worry, it's all worth it in the end.