Monday, May 5, 2008

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.

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